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Title: Cædwalla - or, The Saxons in the Isle of Wight
Author: Frank Cowper, - To be updated
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Cover art]



[Illustration: How they ran ashore on ye Pole Sand at ye bar of
Cissanceaster haven]



                               *Cædwalla*


                   _THE SAXONS IN THE ISLE OF WIGHT_

                                 A Tale


                                   BY

                           FRANK COWPER, M.A.

                        QUEEN’S COLLEGE, OXFORD



                   _With Illustrations by the Author_



                             SECOND EDITION



                                 LONDON
              SEELEY & CO. 46 47 & 48 ESSEX STREET, STRAND
                       (LATE OF 54 FLEET STREET)
                                  1888

                         _All Rights Reserved._



                                   TO

                H.R.H. PRINCE HENRY OF BATTENBERG, K.G.

        _Hon. Colonel 5th (Isle of Wight "Princess Beatrice’s")
               Volunteer Battalion.  The Hants Regiment._

                               THIS TALE
            OF THE DEEDS OF TEUTONIC WARRIORS IN OLDEN TIME
                          IN THE ISLE OF WIGHT
                      _IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED_

                                   BY
                               THE AUTHOR



                               *PREFACE.*


In writing a story of the Isle of Wight in the seventh century, which
shall at the same time be suitable for young people as well as
historically truthful, there are many difficulties.  The authorities for
this period are Bede and the Saxon Chronicle.  The former obtained his
information of the South Saxons and the Wihtwaras from Daniel, Bishop of
Winchester, who was evidently well-informed of the state of the southern
people during the later half of the seventh century.  Eddius, Asser,
Ethelweard, Florence of Worcester, and Henry of Huntingdon all supply
information, more or less accurate, as they are nearer to or more remote
from the time of which they treat; and the valuable remarks of the
modern specialists Dr. Guest, Kemble, and Lappenberg, are useful in
leading the student to a right judgment of the facts.  The historians,
Dr. Milman, Dr. Lingard, and Mr. Freeman are also important helps,
especially the first-named writer.  Neander’s "Memorials of Christian
Life" and Montalembert’s "Monks of the West," have been consulted, with
a view to becoming acquainted with the theology and religious fervour of
the times; and Mallet’s "Northern Antiquities" has been largely laid
under contribution for a clue to the mythology of the period, although
properly belonging to a later time, and to the Scandinavian form of
Teutonic religion.  The author has also had the learned assistance of
the Rev. J. Boucher James, M.A., Vicar of Carisbrooke, and late Fellow
and Tutor of Queen’s College, Oxford, whose antiquarian knowledge of the
Isle of Wight is accurate and profound.

The scenes are all well known to the writer, who has many times threaded
the channels at the entrance to Chichester Harbour, and climbed the
steep slopes of Bembridge and Brading Downs.

As the story has been written for young people, sentiment has been
entirely omitted, the ideas of the author differing from those of other
writers who make their youthful heroes and heroines suffer the
sentimental pangs of a Juliet and a Romeo.

The mode of spelling the Saxon names has been carefully thought over,
and the most commonly received method has been generally adopted.

The name of the outlaw, West Saxon King, and enthusiastic convert to
Christianity, Cædwalla, himself, has offered considerable difficulties,
since there are many ways of writing his name, and probably not a few of
pronouncing it.  Cæadwalla, Cædwalla, Cadwalla, are the most common
forms; while perhaps the most correct pronunciation would be represented
by Kadwalla.*


* The name of Cædwalla bears a singular resemblance to that of Cadwalla,
the British prince who made war upon Ædwin, king of Northumbria.
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Cadwalla was succeeded by
Cadwallader, who died at Rome AD. 689, the very place and date of
Cædwalla’s death, according to Bede.  Could Cædwalla have really been of
British descent?


His brother, Mollo, Wulf, or Mul, as he is indifferently called, is also
a very ambiguous personage as regards nomenclature, and it has even been
suggested that his name was "Mauler," as though he were an awkward man
to deal with in a personal encounter!

A few simple foot-notes have been appended; not that they were necessary
to students of history, into whose hands the author hardly ventures to
hope the little book will fall, but because it seemed some explanation
was required for younger readers.

That the state of the south of England during the latter half of the
seventh century was a very dismal one, is sufficiently clear from all
contemporary evidence, and the author has not attempted to give a more
_couleur de rose_ view of it than his materials justified.

It is, however, quite evident from Bede and other authorities that the
English or Saxons had already developed great intellectual powers, and
where law and order were more firmly established than in the south of
England, general culture and the arts of peace were making steady
progress.

Such learning as that of Bede, such architecture as that introduced by
St. Wilfrid at Ripon and Hexham, such artistic work as that of the Royal
MS. preserved in the British Museum, which may have been the very one
presented by Wilfrid to his church of York, show that the Saxons, who
are so often described as mere jovial, hard fighting, hard drinking,
blustering dullards, had in many instances reached a comparatively high
standard of civilization.

_Lisle Court, Wootton, I.W.,_
       _July,_ 1887.



                              *CONTENTS.*

CHAP.

      I. Stranded
     II. "Freely Ye have Received—Freely Give"
    III. "Under the Greenwood Tree"
     IV. The Surprise
      V. St. Wilfrid
     VI. Extremes Meet
    VII. "Ho!  Watchman; What of the Night!"
   VIII. "Nothing Venture, Nothing Have"
     IX. "I can call Spirits from the Vasty Deep"
      X. "For My Sake, be Comfortable"
     XI. "Memories of Long Ago"
    XII. "The King shall have His Own Again"
   XIII. "Which is the Better Life?"
    XIV. "’Twixt Cup and Lip there’s many a Slip"
     XV. "The Cruel Crawling Foam, the Cruel Hungry Foam"
    XVI. "Blessed are the Peacemakers"
   XVII. "In the Lost Battle, Borne Down by the Flying"
  XVIII. "Let’s Whip the Stragglers o’er the Seas Again"
    XIX. "Be Ready, Claudio, for your Death, To-Morrow"
     XX. "’Tis True we are in Great Danger; the greater should our
         Courage be"
    XXI. "Let us Die in Honour; once more back Again"
   XXII. "Now, by my faith, Lords, ’twas a Glorious Day"
  XXIII. "The Conclusion of the Whole Matter"



                        *LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.*


How they ran ashore on the Pole Sand at the Bar of Cissanceaster Haven .
. . _Front._

Cædwalla heweth a way out of the burning Palace of Edilwalch

How the Skald, the Yokel, and the Jackass strove for the Prize of Poesie

How they talked of many things as they mended the boat at Boseham

How Dicoll and Ædric saw the boat depart

How Deva, Malachi, and Wulfstan were surprised by the Wihtwaras

How Athelhune kept the Roman Ruins

How Corman and Ædric fled before Berchthune

How the South Saxon was held by the mud, and naught could save him

How Wilfrid goeth forth to meet Cædwalla, and biddeth him stay the
Battle

How Wulf the Atheling waited for the onslaught of Arwald, and blenched
not

How Cædwalla won Wihtea, and slew Arwald



                               *CÆDWALLA*

                _*OR, THE SAXONS IN THE ISLE OF WIGHT*_


                              *CHAPTER I.*

                              *STRANDED.*


"How much longer, thinkest thou, must we be here, Biggun?"

To this question no answer was returned, and after a moment the same
voice spoke again rather more feebly.

"Biggun, why answerest thou not?  What ails thee?  Oh, how she does
bump!"  And the child’s voice became tremulous with pain.

"It won’t be a long time now, Ædric, before she floats, I’m thinking;
the tide is making up fast—only if she don’t go to pieces first I’m a
weala,"[1] added the speaker, under his breath.


[1] The general name for foreigners, but applied especially to the
conquered, and therefore despised, British.  The words Wales and Welsh
are the modern equivalents.


"Art thou much in pain, Eddie?" said another younger and brighter voice.

"Oh!  Wulf, it does hurt here so much.  It wouldn’t hurt like this, I
think, if the weary old boat wouldn’t bump so dreadfully—oh!—" exclaimed
the boy, as a rolling wave came in and raised up the large,
awkwardly-built boat; and then, as the white crest of the wave passed on
to break in a long frothy cataract over the shallow sand-bank beyond,
the boat fell back with a bump that made every timber in her strain and
creak and work as though she would go to pieces.

The old man addressed as "Biggun," whose real name was Ceolwulf, but who
was always called Biggun by reason of his height and breadth of chest,
had gone to the bows of the boat as he saw the wave coming, and, calling
to the boy who was addressed as Wulf to take his pole and push hard, had
leant with all his might on his own long pole; and, as the wave lifted
the awkward craft, their united efforts made her give a little.

"There she goes, there she goes; her head is coming round.  Ah, now
she’s aground again!  Well, never mind, the next roller is coming, and
she’ll come off then.  There, have a care not to overstrain thyself,
Wulfstan," said the old man cheerily.  "Wait for the next swell; we want
all our strength, and it is not much either that we’ve got."

The position of the boat was not a very safe one, considering the
condition she was in.  She was lying aground on a sand-bank at the
entrance of a harbour which was then, as it is now, very difficult for a
stranger to find his way into.

The boat had got aground fortunately at the time when the tide was just
beginning to rise, and there was, therefore, every hope that she would
float off again as the tide rose; but there was also the great danger of
her breaking up first, considering how old she was and how badly built,
and the difficulty of getting her off was considerably increased by the
long rollers that came in, with their green and glassy swirl, and lifted
her farther and farther on.  Had there been more strength in the crew it
would have been an easy matter to get her off, or had the boat drawn
less water; but she was such a heavy, clumsy, thing, drawing quite four
feet of water, that it would have done no good to get overboard and
push, for her weight would have only been imperceptibly lightened, while
the depth of the water would have prevented any great strength being
applied by pushing her.  There was nothing to be done, therefore, but
stand in the bows and push with all their might against the sand with
two long poles they had with them.

It was early in the morning of an October day, and owing to the dim
light of the hour before sunrise they had got aground; for although
Ceolwulf, or Biggun, had never been in here before, yet he was
accustomed to find his way into creeks and out-of-the-way harbours, and
would have avoided this bank could he have seen the long rollers
breaking ahead; but in the white mist of the early morning he could not
make them out.  It was true that their dull sound in the still morning
air should have told him there were dangers near; yet the waves were
breaking all around on many similar sand-banks, and it was difficult to
tell how near they were.  As the glow of the coming sun spread over the
sky they could make out their position better.  About two hundred yards
on their right was a high bank of shingle, with nothing whatever to be
seen above it; this bank stretched away to the west until it was lost in
the mist, but immediately ahead of the boat it ended in a point of
shingle, steeply sloping down to the sea; beyond this point nothing
could yet be seen but the oily sea blending with the grey mist; directly
under the bows of the boat the sea was breaking in long glassy rollers,
while beyond them a low and shingly beach stretched away into the mist
again; overhead the grey fog was rolling off in ever-changing wreaths,
and towards the east a warm rosy light told of the rising sun; behind
them the impalpable mist and sea faded into one, only now and then a
dark ridge would rise up and come majestically rolling onwards, the boat
would give a gentle heave, then come down with a heavy bump, and the
wave would pass on to curl over in a sounding deluge of foam, and spread
out in white froth over the bank to join the eddying current on the
other side.

The occupants of the boat were two boys, about ten and twelve years of
age, and the old man.  The eldest boy, who was addressed as Eddie, and
whose name was Ædric, was lying down in the most comfortable position he
could obtain in the bottom of the boat.  He was covered up with a few
skins, and from time to time moved in a feverish, restless way. His head
was all that could be seen, and showed a pale, handsome countenance,
with blue eyes and yellow hair; but the evident expression of pain made
the face look older than it was.  The unkempt hair lay in curling masses
on a pillow of rough cow-hide, and it would have been difficult to tell
if the figure were that of a boy or girl.

Beside him lay a bow and some arrows, a couple of spears, and a
formidable-looking axe.  There were no other articles in the boat, and
the only means of propelling her were three long and very rude oars, a
mast, and one old and patched sail bent to a yard, and hoisted like a
lug-sail, only quite incapable of being set properly, both by reason of
its shape and the weakness of its material.  The halyards which hauled
the sail up were old and worn, and they would have given way at the
least strain put upon them.

There had been a light draught of air from the south during the night,
but it had blown rather heavily from the south-west for two or three
days previously.

The old man called Biggun was a hard, weather-beaten, grim-looking
fellow, his reddish-grey beard and stubbly moustache surrounded a
sunburnt face seamed with wrinkles, and two sharp grey eyes looked out
from under heavy, bushy eyebrows.  He wore no covering on his head, and
his dress chiefly consisted of a leathern coat or jacket, covering a
rough woollen kind of jersey, which formed a kilt below his waist. On
his legs he wore pieces of leather with the hair on, strapped round with
thongs of hide, and rough leather sandals protected his feet.  He was
armed with a sharp knife at his waist-belt.

The other boy was a bright-looking little fellow, of about ten years of
age, fine and well-made; his hair, like that of his brother, hung in
thick masses round his neck, and would have been all the better for a
little brushing and combing.  He was fair, like his brother, and gave
promise of developing great strength in later life.  He was dressed in a
tight-fitting tunic of coarse woollen stuff, and wore short drawers of
the same material, and bare legs.  He also carried a small dagger
suspended from a leathern belt, and leather sandals, strapped on to his
feet and round his ankles, completed his equipment.

"Now, Wulf, hold on to thy pole," called out Biggun, as a dark ridge
rose up silently astern and came rolling on.  The stern of the boat
lifted, and as the wave passed under her, the old man and the boy leant
with all their might on their poles, and Ædric called out: "That’s it, I
feel her moving—there she goes; that’s right, keep her going.  Ah! now
we are off," as Biggun and Wulfstan kept pushing with their poles as the
boat moved astern.

"Well, Wulfstan, thou didst that well, I will say; and thou wilt grow up
yet to pay off the debts of last night upon that nithing Arwald.  Ah,
the robber!  I wish I had got my axe into him, that I do.  That’s right,
keep her head round; the tide will swing us in now, and we can see all
the banks."

The boat was now fairly afloat, and was, as Biggun said, being rapidly
carried into the narrow channel of deep water that led between the steep
shingle point and the outlying spit of sand on which they had bumped.

The sun had risen over the mist, and the grey bank ahead gradually
resolved itself into a low island, covered with bushes and a few
wind-blown trees, which all looked as if a violent gale was then
blowing, although everything was perfectly still.  Their branches
stretched away to the north-east, and all the side towards the
south-west was bare and branchless.  On each side of the island the sea
flowed up in winding channels, with wide reaching mudbanks between the
water and the shore; beyond the lowland and water, rose thickly-wooded
hills, standing back some distance from the immediate foreground.

Slowly the boat passed the shingle point, and was paddled with
difficulty towards the channel on the right.  They had now got into
perfectly still water, and Wulfstan was amused to see how curious the
waves looked as they stood up astern like a low dark wall, and then
suddenly broke up into foam, followed by a dull, heavy sound like
distant thunder.

"Thou art in less pain now, Eddie?" said Wulfstan.

"Yes, Wulf; but the leg hurts a good deal—it aches so.  I wonder what
became of father?  Think of our home all burnt down! and father killed.
Dost thou think he was killed, Biggun?"

"I am greatly afraid of it.  He wasn’t the man to let his goods go
without a fight, and we know how the fight went."

It was an age when men did not sorrow long; they were so accustomed to
slaughter, and robbery, and misery, that the loss even of the nearest
and dearest relations stirred more the feelings of revenge than the
softer emotions.

The South of England in the latter part of the 7th century was not a
place where sentiment could flourish; men had no time then for the
luxury of sorrow.  Hard knocks and little pity was the order of the day.
Ninety, or rather eighty-four years ago, Augustine the Monk had set foot
in the Island.  But that part of it where the events just related were
taking place had not yet heard the Gospel tidings, or, if a faint rumour
had reached the leading Eorldomen, the common people knew little of it.
Quite recently, a few strange men, speaking an unknown tongue, had come
to the inlet, the entrance of which has just been described; they had
come by land, and had forced their way through the vast impenetrable
forest that separated the South Seaxa, or Sussex, from the rest of
England.  There were but four of these men, and their habits were very
simple and harmless, and the rude men of the country saw nothing to gain
by doing them harm.  They let them live therefore; and they had settled
at a convenient spot at the head of a creek that had its outlet to the
sea, upon the sandy bar of which the boat had struck.  This place was
called Boseam, or Boseham, and is known to-day by the very little
altered name of Bosham.

There had also lately arrived a wonderful man, a Skald or Priest, as
Biggun had heard, who had all sorts of charms and spells, and who had
come from foreign parts.  He, like the strange men of Bosheam, never
fought; he wore splendid clothes, and talked in a wonderful way.
Edilwalch, the king of the South Saxons, stood greatly in awe of him,
and so did all the country round.

"But what tongue does he talk?" said Ædric, who was greatly interested
in what Biggun was telling them about this wonderful man.

"He talks English, only in a different way to what we do; rather more
like those men who were wrecked on our coast last year."

"What, those men who came from Bernicia, as they called it, and wanted
to go across the sea?  But, Biggun, what’s that thing standing up in the
water there?" added the boy with eagerness.

Biggun looked, and saw a thing that seemed like a man’s head and
shoulders standing out above the water.  But the face was very flat and
badly formed, with large bristles over the mouth, and bright eyes the
skin nearly black and covered with long hair. For the first moment or so
he was puzzled, not being a man of quick apprehension, but directly
afterwards he called out: "Why, it’s a seal!  You have seen many of them
off our point at the Foreland, Wulf."

The creature did not seem at all afraid of them, but was presently
joined by another, who rose awkwardly up on the shallow sandbank and
flapped its fins at them. They were approaching the Isle of Seals, or
Sealsea.

Wulfstan picked up the bow from beside his brother, and was going to let
an arrow fly at the creatures, when Biggun stopped him, saying: "We may
want all our arrows, and we can’t pick up the beast if thou dost hit it.
Hark! there’s somebody hallooing," and Biggun rested on his oar to
listen.

A loud voice from the shingly promontory they were passing hailed them.
Old Biggun looked leisurely round, and saw a tall, well-made young man.
He was armed with a long bow, and a quiver, full of arrows, hung over
his shoulder by a broad leather strap, and carried a stout boar spear in
his hand, while a bright two-edged battle-axe hung in another belt, and
balanced a long, straight sword that hung at his left hip.  He wore a
loose tunic of leather, covered with little steel rings, sewn one over
the other in a careful manner, and in such a way that the upper ring
lapped over the one below at the spot where it was attached to the
leather tunic; he wore a close-fitting cap on his head, protected by
steel plates and ornamented with a heron’s crest; his legs were encased
in tight leather leggings and stout leathern boots. Altogether he looked
a thoroughly well armed and gallant young fellow—one who would help a
friend, and be likely to make himself respected by a foe. His fair,
curling hair and laughing blue eyes added to his free and handsome
appearance.

Wulfstan, boy-like, was instantly taken with him, and admired him
immensely.  He thought he must be Balder the Beautiful, or perhaps Thor
himself—at least, they could not be finer looking; and he insensibly let
his oar dip into the water, which, as he was rowing on the port or left
side of the boat, had the effect of holding the water and turning the
boat towards the shore.

"What art thou doing that for, Wulf?" growled old Ceolwulf, or Biggun.
"We don’t want to take that stripling on board, and we don’t want to get
too near him neither, until we know who he is and what he wants."

"Ho, there! put me across, will you?" shouted the stranger.

"Aye, aye; but we must know thy business first," bawled Ceolwulf in
return, resting on his oar.

"I want to go to Cymenesora.  Thy crew seems weak.  I might lend thee a
hand at an oar if thou art bound for the same place."

"Maybe we are, and maybe we aren’t," said the cautious Ceolwulf; "but I
don’t see how we’re going to get thee in.  See how the tide is setting
us up?"

"Yes; but, Biggun, if I back water and thou pullest we shall swing
round, and not many strokes will bring us ashore, thou knowest well,"
said Wulfstan.

"That’s all very fine, Wulf; but how am I to know if it’s safe to take
him on board?  We’re strangers in a strange land, seest thou, and it’s
better to keep to ourselves until we know who’s who.  That young man
there is too fine a bird not to be somebody, and he may not be friends
with them who have the rule in these parts, dost understand? or he might
take a fancy to our boat perhaps.  There’s no knowing."

"Now, old man, art going to put me across or not?"

"Do, Biggun, row ashore.  If he is somebody important, we shall be all
the better for having done him a good turn; and, besides, he can get us
to Boseham, or wherever we are going, all the quicker, and then poor
Eddie can be attended to.  And I am dying of hunger, too."

"Well, I don’t much like it, but I don’t see that we can come to much
harm anyway.  Let me paddle a bit, Wulf; she will come round into the
slack water under that point.  There—that’s it."

The tide had already carried them close to the point, and a few strokes
brought the bow of the boat grating against the steep shingle, but not
sufficiently near for the stranger to get in without wetting his feet.
However, taking a run, and using his spear as a leaping pole, he sprang
lightly on board without touching the water at all.

"Well, old man, I don’t see what thou would’st have gained by going off
without me, and thou mayest get some good by taking me with thee.
Hollo, my fine boy! what’s thy name? and what’s the matter with thee?"
he added, seeing Ædric in the bottom of the boat.

Ædric now for the first time saw the well-armed handsome stranger, and,
like Wulfstan, he thought him the most splendid man he had ever seen,
and, boylike, never connecting any thoughts of suspicion with so frank
and prepossessing an outside, did not hesitate a moment to answer him.

"My name is Ædric, and I broke my leg last night when our house was
burnt down."

"And how was that?"

"Ah! that’s a long tale," said Ceolwulf, who did not at all like this
way of telling all about themselves while he knew nothing of the new
comer.  "We can be telling all we know when we are a little nearer the
place we want to go to.  Come, lend us a hand, and let’s get off this
point."

"Why, we are off already," cried Wulfstan.  "How the tide is rising!"

"Here, my boy, let me have thy oar, and go thou and sit down by that
poor fellow there.  Thou art a brave lad, I can see, but thou must not
overdo thyself," said the stranger, with a smile.  "Where dost want to
go, old man?" he added, turning to Ceolwulf.

"Well, to tell the truth, I don’t much care as long as I can find some
shelter and food for those boys. They want it.  They’ve had none since
last evening, and one has had a deal of pain, poor weakling," said
Ceolwulf, grimly and sadly.

"If that’s all thy want, there’s naught better to do than go to Boseham,
and it will do as well for me as Cymenesora; or, better still," he
added, "thou canst put me out just opposite, it’s all in the way to
Boseham."

The old boat went along much faster now, propelled by the vigorous arm
of the young man, and the entrance to the creek was entirely shut out,
the two banks of shingle appearing to join; but before this happened
Wulfstan had turned his head and called out, "There it is.  There’s the
island; good-bye, dear home," and then he burst into tears.

"Don’t cry, Wulfy, perhaps father wasn’t killed; we don’t know, and we
can always go back and see," said Eddie, manfully.  But the tears were
welling up in his eyes too.

"Poor little fellows," said the stranger, looking at them with pity.
"If thou wert to tell me all about them, I might be able to help them
one of these days; what sayest thou, old man?"

"Well, I don’t rightly know; thou seemest a good sort of young fellow,
and I don’t see it can do much harm.  Well, thou must know that these
boys’ father is, or was—for I fear he was knocked on the head last
night—Ælfhere the Eorldoman, who owns all the land at the east end of
Wihtea,[2] where the Wihtwaras dwell, has had a quarrel with Arwald who
held the land round Wihtgarsbyryg,[3] and who has been wanting for some
time to get the upper hand among us Wihtwaras.  Last night, when all
were sleeping, we were roused by smoke, and rushing out, we found Arwald
and his men ready to receive us.  My lord Ælfhere, seeing that matters
were likely to go hard with us, bid me take his two sons here and place
them in a boat, and get what help I could to bring them over to his
wife’s sister’s people, who dwell about Portaceaster.[4]  But all the
men were eager for the fight, and I could only manage this boat, and the
drift of the tide carried us during the night to this harbour, and now
thou knowest our story."


[2] Now Isle of Wight.

[3] Now Carisbrooke.

[4] Porchester.


"But how came the boy to break his leg?"

"In running for the boat in the dark, and as he was turning to look at
the blazing house, he was struck by a spear, and, falling, broke his
leg.  I picked him up as tenderly as I could, but he has suffered a
great deal, poor little one."

"The best thing thou canst do is to take him to the good monks at
Boseham; they will take care of him, and cure him too.  They are
wonderful men at healing, but they are no good at fighting.  So these
are the sons of Ælfhere the Eorldoman, are they? They come of good
stock; I know their mother’s family too.  Their blood is the same as
mine, for their grandfather was Cynegils, and I am a great grandson of
Ceawlin."

"What, the great Bretwalda of the house of Cerdic?" said Ceolwulf, with
awe.

"Even so; and since thou hast been so open to me I will return thy
faith.  I am Cædwalla; and now if thou wilt rest on thy oar, I will just
push the boat to the shore, for I must get out here."

In a few minutes more the boat neared the beach, and, using his spear as
a leaping pole again, Cædwalla sprang to the land, and, waving his hand,
disappeared among the scrub on the top of the shingle bank.



                             *CHAPTER II.*

                *"FREELY YE HAVE RECEIVED—FREELY GIVE."*


"So that’s Cædwalla, is it!  I have heard tell of him many a time!  And
if, poor youth, he had his due, he’d be King of Wessex and Bretwalda[1]
to boot.  And who is king now?  Centwine is it, or Æscuin?  Well, that I
don’t rightly know.  Gytha, the old nurse who came from Readbryg,[2] now
she told me that one of them had been killed at a fight with the king of
Mercia.  Anyhow, Cædwalla is the rightful heir, that I do know; but
what’s he doing here?  Well, he can’t do any harm to me and my boys,
that’s certain; and if he gets his own he may help us to pay out that
Arwald over there. Well, well, we shall see.  Here, Wulf, come and see
what thou canst do with that oar again; we can’t be far from Boseham
now.  It’s a very good thing the tide hasn’t covered the mud, or we
should never see all these lakes[3] hereabouts.  Let me see, that’s the
way to Boseham, down there.  Why, there’s a man fishing! he’ll tell us
the way.  But he’s a mighty odd-looking man.  What’s the matter with his
head? Look, Wulf, he’s got his hair cut off like a half moon on the top
of his head."


[1] The title conferred on, or assumed by, the most powerful among the
various Saxon kings, from Ælla of Sussex to Egbert of Wessex.  The word
occurs first in the "Chronicles" under the year 827, and probably meant
"Wielder, of Britain."  See Freeman’s "Norman Conquest," note B in the
Appendix, vol. i.

[2] Now Redbridge, at the head of Southampton Water.

[3] A lake is the local word for a creek running in among the mud banks.


As the boat passed slowly through the water, it took them some minutes
before they came up to the fisherman, who was seated on three or four
logs rudely nailed together with two cross planks, and moored by a rope
to a stick stuck in the mud.  The man had long hair, cut or shaved in a
peculiar half moon on the top of his head, and wore a long loose robe
made of coarse frieze and fastened round his waist by a cord.  His feet
were bare, and he was sitting on his raft placidly, feeling his line
from time to time, and muttering to himself a low, monotonous chant.

"What’s he saying, Biggun?"

"That’s more than I know.  It isn’t English; it’s a saga of some kind.
Listen!"

    "Verbum caro, panem verum verbo carnem efficit;
    Fitque sanguis Christi merum, et si sensus deficit,
    Ad firmandum cor sincerum sola fides sufficit."


These words the man on the raft sang in a low, deep, melodious voice,
and Eddie longed to know what they meant.

"Ho! there; are we in the right track for Boseham?" called Biggun.

The man paused in his chant and looked up, showing a wistful, anxious
countenance, that made Biggun form a poor opinion of him; but Wulfstan
took directly to him, because of his honest, fearless, trustful eyes.

"Thou art in the right way.  There it is, round that point on thy left,
among those trees," he answered, with a peculiar accent and foreign way
of expressing himself.

"Ask him if he knows where those men live whom that man told us about.
He called them some name I never heard before," said Wulfstan.

"Canst tell me where some men live who know how to cure wounds?"

"Meanest thou the monks of Boseham, or, as some call us, the Irish?"

"Those are the men.  I met a youth who said they could cure a poor lad I
have here who is wounded."

"Row alongside of me and let me look at him.  I am one of the monks
myself."

"Praise be to Thor," said old Biggun, "but the gods seem determined to
make up for their treatment of us last night.  Easy, Wulf, and let the
old boat come alongside."

Gently they glided up to the rude raft, and the monk, who had cast off
his moorings, made his rope fast to their boat, and got over the side
into it.  They now observed that he had a few fish lying on his raft,
and Wulfstan was much delighted at the sight.

"My son," said the monk, stooping over Ædric, "where is the hurt?"

"Here, in this leg," said Ædric, uncovering the skins with difficulty.

"Let me do it, my child," said the monk, gently rolling them back and
exposing a large and deep wound in the fleshy part of the calf, which
had now become very stiff from cold and loss of blood.

"Ah! we will soon put that right," he said, cheerfully, "if there are no
bones broken.  It is only about a mile to our huts, and Brother Dicoll
knows what herbs soothe wounds of body, as well as of mind."

"Shall we find food there?  We are all hungry, and I could eat a bit of
wolf and say thank-you if you would give it me."

"There is not much, but such as we have is freely thine, for what saith
holy Peter: ’_Hospitales invicem sinemurmuratione_.’"

"What curious words he does use, Eddie, doesn’t he?" said Wulf, in an
undertone, to his brother.

"Yes; but I like him.  He’s quite as tender as Nurse Gytha, and does not
make so much fuss; and I am sure he can tell us lots of sagas and
stories."

"And he can show me how to fish and make lines," said Wulfstan.

They were now nearing the little settlement on the banks of the creek or
inlet that has existed from these early days—the year 680—down to our
own, and without much change; in fact, since Harold, about 320 years
afterwards, started from Boseham on his luckless expedition to Normandy,
the addition to the number of houses has probably been very small,
although all have, of course, been frequently rebuilt. But the church
is, in all likelihood, the one in which Harold worshipped, and, if
tradition is correct, the great king Knut, or Canute, himself.[4]  The
piece of sharp practice by which Earl Godwine obtained it from the
Archbishop of Canterbury is hardly worthy of credence or mention.[5]  A
few roofs scattered here and there could be seen nestling among thick
woods which came down from the great Andredesweald, or Forest, which
then spread from where Lewes now is to the borders of Dorset.  This vast
wilderness of trees and bush and scrub was then a great and impenetrable
barrier, which shut off the little kingdom of the South Saxons, founded
by the first Bretwalda Ælla, from the rest of their kin.


[4] According to a well sustained theory the church of Bosham is built
on the site, and its walls partly consist of those, of a Roman basilica
erected by Vespasian.  The tower of the church, tradition says, was
founded by St. Wilfrid.  Thus this obscure Sussex village has been
trodden by Vespasian, Titus, Wilfrid, Canute, Harold.

[5] Walter Mapes (quoted by Camden in his "Britannia," translated by
Philemon Holland, edit. 1637) says:—"This Boseam, underneath Chichester,
Goodwin saw, and had a minde to it. Being accompanied therefore with a
great traine of gentlemen, he comes smiling unto the Archbishop of
Canterburie, whose towne then it was.  ’My lord,’ sayth he, ’give you me
Boseam.’  The Archbishop, marvelling what he demanded by that question
answered, ’I give you Boseam.’  Then he, with his company of knights and
soldiers, fell down, and, kissing his feet with many thanks, went back
to Boseam and kept it."  The point appears to be in the play upon the
word Boseam and Basium, kiss or "buss" which was used in performing
homage—so says Camden.


The abode of the wild boar, the wolf, and all other game that then
roamed free in England, it was also the legendary home of the pixies,
the gnomes, the wehr-wolves, and the witches, in all of whom the Saxons
firmly believed.  It also afforded a secure shelter for all outlaws and
robbers, and had protected Cædwalla from the jealousy of his kinsman,
Centwine.

"There are our poor huts, and there is our Dominus, or Abbas," said the
monk, pointing to a small cottage built of wooden logs, before which
stood a tall and gaunt man, with hollow eyes and sunken checks, but with
the same patient, wistful look that the other monk had.  He was dressed
in exactly the same way, and had his head shaven also.

There were one or two children playing about, and a few men were helping
to push down an unmanageable boat, not unlike the one now arriving.
These all stopped to gaze at the new comers, and before they got much
nearer one of the men called out to know who they were and how many they
had on board.  The monk replied, and the answer appearing satisfactory,
no further notice was taken of their arrival, except that the children
crowded down to the landing-place, and stood open-mouthed with curiosity
to see the strangers get out.

There was a rude kind of quay, made of rough logs laid one on the top of
the other, and kept in their places by piles driven into the mud.  The
tide had now risen sufficiently to allow the boat to come alongside
this, and as she glided up the tall monk came down to meet them.  He
spoke a few words in a language Biggun could not understand to the monk
who had been fishing; and he then said to one of the children:

"Call brother Corman, and bid him bring down a bench, or settle."

Meanwhile Ceolwulf had got on shore, and made the boat fast, and then
slung the axe over his shoulder by a thong, and told Wulfstan to take
one of the spears.  But the monk advised him to put them down again, as
no one was disposed to hurt them, and any signs of suspicion or defiance
might arouse angry feelings.

"What is thy name, my boy?" said the superior monk to Eddie, whom he was
now examining with the other monk, whom they had first met.

Ædric told his name, and the rank of his father, and what had happened.
Such events in that lawless time were far too frequent to cause much
surprise; but the monk seemed distressed nevertheless, more apparently
at this fresh instance of the treachery, rapacity, and cruelty of man,
than by reason of the actual circumstances related to him; for he sighed
and murmured: "_O generatio incredula et perversa quousque ero
vobiscum!_"

By this time another monk had joined the party, and now, under the
directions of the abbot or superior, they carefully lifted Ædric out of
the boat and up to the hut, before which the monk had been standing.
They took him inside, and laid him down on a rough couch, in one corner,
and then they gave him some bread and a little water.

"We will get better food presently," said the superior; "but there is
great difficulty in getting food here at all now, and the people suffer
much."

"Ah! thou mayst well say that," said the first monk, whom the superior
addressed by the name of Malachi. "Ever since that fearsome summer, when
everything died for want of water, after the sun was darkened, the
dearth has been dreadful; and after the dearth and drought came the
plague.  Verily God hath visited us! but what we have ye are welcome to;
for did not our blessed Master say: ’_Beati misericordes quoniam ipsi
misericordiam consequentur_.’"

In attending to Ædric, the good monks had not forgotten Ceolwulf and
Wulfstan, but had given them some of the same coarse fare they had set
before Eddie.

"It strikes me," said Ceolwulf, "that these woods ought to produce
something better than this; and, after we’ve had enough to satisfy our
hunger, we will go out and see if we can’t kill something."

"Oh, do let us, Biggun; they will think much more of us if we can bring
them something we have killed."

The abbot of the little community, whose name was Dicoll, having
finished his attention to Ædric’s leg for the present, came and stood by
Wulfstan, and, stroking him kindly on the head, said that now he knew
who he was, and what accident had driven them on their shore, he should
like to ask him what he was going to do.  "Did they know that Edilwalch,
the king, had an alliance with Arwald, and had received Wihtea[6] as a
grant from King Wulfhere,[6] of Mercia, as a reward for his having been
christened?"


[6] Isle of Wight.


This was news to Biggun, and he did not understand how Wulfhere could
give away what he had not got.  However, it was quite clear if Edilwalch
was a friend of Arwald, he could not well be anything else but an enemy
to Ælfhere, who had always supported the West Saxon domination, and had
fought at Pontisbyryg, by the side of Coinwalch, the last powerful West
Saxon king, when Wulfhere, of Mercia, defeated him.  Biggun began to
think they had only got from the frying-pan into the fire.

"As soon as possible it will be well to go to Wilfrid the Bishop, who
has lately come to Sealchea,[7] and has received eighty-seven hides of
land, and a great number of slaves, all of whom, I hear, he has set at
liberty.  Truly, although he does observe Easter at a different time to
us, and also shaves his head in a way that would have vexed the soul of
the blessed Columba, yet he hath wrought a good work among these rude
and pagan South Saxons, and may the Lord pardon him for his other
irregularities."


[7] Selsea.


"But how can we take the boy there? he has already had enough
journeying."

"Leave him with us.  Edilwalch is now engaged on an expedition against
the men of Kent; at least, I know that two of his chief Thanes,
Berethune and Andhune, have set out, and I understood he was to follow;
so that, busied as he is, he will not have occasion to inquire about the
sons of Ælfhere, even if he should hear that they have come.  It is not,
my sons, that I wish to be inhospitable, but we are poor people, and
cannot treat our guests as we should like, nor could we protect the boys
if Edilwalch were to demand them."

"Well, I think that will be the best thing to do, and may Woden and Thor
shield thee for thy kindness. If ever Ædric there gets his own again, he
will give thee land over at Wihtea, where thou canst worship Thor in
thine own way, and eat plenty and drink more."

"Heathen, may the Holy One grant thee His blessing, and bring thee out
of the darkness of iniquity wherein thou dwellest, and guide thee to a
knowledge of His most blessed faith.  And in that I doubt if thou ever
heardest the name of our blessed Lord, there is much hope that thou
mayest yet be saved. The Bishop Wilfrid will do much to lead thee to the
right way; but be not led astray as to the time thou shouldest keep the
holy feast of Easter.  And, above all, reverence not the way in which
that proud and erring man would have the servants of God to shave the
crowns of their heads.  I much mourn that I may not teach thee myself,
for I perceive there are many errors thou mayest fall into; but the
course I have prescribed I believe to be the best one for the safety of
all.  Wilfrid is a holy man in most respects, but I have cautioned thee
beforehand of his errors."

"Well, Wulf, we will go and get these good people something to eat.
There’s no danger of meeting any who will do us harm, is there, Father?"
said Biggun, yawning.

"Not if thou goest into the forest behind us, and I have heard there are
plenty of four-footed beasts there; but beware of wolves and boars, for
men say they have increased much of late, since all the land has been
withered and wasted under the heavy hand of the Almighty, who has
visited these poor people for their heathenish ways, I doubt not.  We
will care for Ædric here till thy return, and then brother Malachi shall
show thee the road to Wilfrid to-morrow morning, after thou hast had a
good night’s rest."

"Oh, Biggun!  I am so tired of all this talk, let’s go to the forest.
Good-bye, Eddie; we won’t be gone long, and we shall be sure to bring
back something better than they have got here."

"I wish I could go too," said Ædric, wistfully; "it seems such a long
time since I walked, and, really, it is only yesterday that I was all
right.  Oh, what things have happened since yesterday!"

He watched the two figures out of the door, and the tears would well up
in his eyes in spite of himself.

Brother Corman, who was just like the other two monks, except that he
was not quite so sad-looking, came and sat down by him, while Malachi
proceeded to prepare the fish he had caught, singing to himself the
while, and occasionally exchanging a gentle remark with the children
that came to look on as he scraped and cleaned the fish.

The tide had now risen to its full, and the scene was pretty.  The still
grey tones of the autumn day, the silent water, and the falling leaves,
were all in harmony with the monkish chaunt, and the listless forms of
the half-starved children.  For, as Malachi had well said, the times
were dreadful.  Such a sore disease had followed the terrible famine,
that men in these South Saxon marshes had begun to despair of life
altogether, and many times he had seen as many as forty or fifty men,
women, and children, drowning themselves for very weariness.  They had
no strength to till the land, and the land would not produce if they did
till it.  Their condition had become very desperate and pitiful.  They
did not seem to know how to fish, and, until Wilfrid had come, they had
never attempted to get any food out of the sea.  They were able to catch
eels, but had become so utterly weary of life that they had rather
perish than take any trouble to support themselves.

The worthy monks, who, as some men said, came from Scotland, and others
from Ireland, had been doing a noble work.  In the true spirit of
missionaries, taking their life in their hands, they had left their
lonely, but to them dearly loved, island home of Hii, or Iona, hallowed
to them by the life and teaching of Columba, and had gone penniless and
with nothing but the clothes they wore to teach the Gospel of Christ.
"Freely ye have received, freely give," was their motto.  "Humility and
the fear of the Lord" were their weapons, and they did not seek the
blessings attached to these, viz., "riches, and honour, and strength,"
except as they would redound to the glory of Him whom they served.
Simple men they were as regards worldly affairs, naturally clinging to
that wherein they were instructed; they put implicit faith in the
precepts of their predecessors, who had professed and taught
Christianity long before Augustine the Monk had set foot in England.
They felt and believed that their Spiritual Father had been a Martyr for
the Faith centuries before the hated Saxon, or Jute, or Angle, had left
his swampy shore; and that they had received the faith from St. John,
from Anatolius, and from Columba.  While all Europe was overrun with the
waves of barbarism, they had kept the pure light of the Gospel shining
in the Western Islands, and it was gall and bitterness that now they
were to change their customs and their fashions at the bidding of the
emissary of the Bishop of Rome. Were these matters trifles? they urged.
Be it so, then; and why make all this disturbance about them?  Trifles,
alas! in the poor mind of humanity, are very frequently more fought over
than essentials. And to both Augustine and Wilfrid after him, zealous
for the visible unity of the Church, it seemed a ridiculous thing, as
well as pernicious, that these lowly monks, whom they affected to
despise, should obstinately cling to their obsolete and unorthodox
fashion. Alas! that the charity which suffereth long and is kind was so
early forgotten.  The poor Irish or Scotch missionaries were worsted in
the controversy, because the power of the See of Rome was in the
ascendant; but the purity and simplicity of their lives, their utter
self-denial, and the piety of their teaching, made the way easier for
the more famous men who followed after them, and who combined the
fervour of a missionary with the grand ideal of Christian unity.

Corman, who was sitting by Ædric’s side, talked to him from time to time
if he appeared restless, but tried chiefly to get him to go to sleep.
The boy, however, was too much excited by the rapidity of the past
events, and the fever caused by his wound, to be able to sleep, and an
occasional restless sigh showed that he was thinking of his father and
his home.

"When I grow up," he burst out impatiently, "I will wreak full vengeance
on that nithing Arwald, for all that he has done to my house and father.
I swear by Wod——"

"Hush!  Ædric, hush!" broke in Corman, interrupting him, and putting his
cool hand upon the boy’s fevered brow.  "Swear not, my son, by anything;
least of all by the false gods of the heathen.  And when thou hast lived
longer with us, thou wilt not, I hope, wish to avenge thyself on any
being, whatever may be the wrongs he has done thee."

Ædric stared at him in open-mouthed astonishment.

"What, not make those suffer who have made me suffer?  Why, I have
always heard it is the first duty of a hero to deal starkly with his
foe!" exclaimed the boy, indignantly.  "What would my father say when I
meet him in Valhalla if I have not cleft the head of Arwald or died in
the attempt?"

"My son, I trust thou wilt meet him in a better Valhalla; but thou must
not talk too much now. Thou wilt make thy leg worse.  Drink this cooling
drink, and I will tell thee tales which may, perchance, lull thee to
sleep."

Then Corman began to tell in soft, melodious words, a wondrous tale, the
like of which Ædric had never heard before, but which is now so well
known that its very familiarity tends to weaken its beauty.  He told how
all things were lovely, how all things pleased the Creator, how sin
entered in, and then came death, and how death ended in victory.  But he
told it all so simply, and made it so like a saga, that Ædric thought he
was listening to one of old Deva’s tales, and gradually sleep stole over
him, and he sank into profound slumber.

Corman sat silently by his side, fearing to move, lest he should disturb
him.

Presently Dicoll and Malachi came in, and they began the morning
service, but in low tones; while outside the door of the hut a few women
and children stood round to listen.

The inherent reverence of the Teutonic nature showed itself strongly in
these rude, suffering, untaught South Saxons, and the monks already saw
promise of future good.

By the welcome aid of healing arts they had gradually obtained a hold on
the little settlement; and as their practical sympathy with physical
suffering found ready scope in their power to deal with it, so the
purity of their worship attracted the gentler natures of the more
reflecting among the people.

The religion of the South Saxons, like that of all the Teutonic tribes,
was calculated to promote reverence, and was yet so vague in its
teaching as to oppose but slight obstacles to the approaches of
Christianity.  Their deities were the elements, and, like the Greeks,
they worshipped a divinity in every object of nature.  Rude temples they
seem to have had, which, as in the story of Coifi, appear to have had
but little hold on the people; and as there were no material advantages
at stake, so the opposition offered to the Christian missionary was much
less envenomed than is usually the case where vested interests are at
hazard.

Indeed, the Christian missionaries found, in one very important
particular, a decided gain in dealing with the Teutonic peoples as
compared with the Christian but Romance nations.  The sanctity of
domestic life contrasted strongly with the habits and customs of the
laxer peoples of the South, habituated to vice in all its forms, and
among whom the pursuit of pleasure had become almost a science as well
as a passion.

The spirit of scoffing, of ridicule, was absent.  Such a spirit seems
inconsistent with the gloom of the vast primeval forest, of the
solitudes of the hunter, and the earnestness produced by the stern fight
for existence.  Luxury, laziness, the energy of the body directed to the
amusement of a debased intellect, and an intellect pandering to the
unwholesome passions of the body, all these were absent, and the
Christian missionaries found themselves confronted with an almost
primitive state of life.



                             *CHAPTER III.*

                     *"UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREE."*


Ceolwulf and Wulfstan, after leaving the hut of the kind monks, went
first to look to the boat, and moored her securely.  Then they walked
into the thick wood, which was immediately behind the little settlement,
and which stretched without intermission right up to the great
Andredesweald. There were occasional clearings here and there,
especially to the east of Boseham towards Cissanceaster, but owing to
the dreadful drought and consequent famine, and demoralisation of the
inhabitants resulting from it, most of these clearings had relapsed into
a wilderness again.

They had not gone far when Biggun remarked that they had better take a
look at the sun, and see how they were to find their way back again; and
while he was taking a careful look round Wulfstan noticed a rustling
noise amongst the dry leaves on his right, and directly afterwards an
old pig and several little ones came grunting through the wood followed
by a miserable, unhealthy-looking boy, who instantly stopped on seeing
the two strangers, and stared at them with suspicion.

"Whose pigs are those?" said Biggun.

The young swineherd only stared at him the more, and especially eyed
Wulfstan with curiosity, as though such a healthy-looking boy were quite
surprising.  At last, on the question being repeated two or three times,
he shook his head to intimate that he did not understand.

"Come along, Wulf, we’ve no time to lose; let us go down this glade and
keep thy spear ready.  That boy is a Weala."

They now reached a long and natural glade in the forest, and as they got
farther away from the sea the trees grew larger and straighter, and the
view under the branches was more extended, being only interrupted by
clumps of brushwood here and there. There was no sign of any road or
track whatever, only the vast forest stretched in endless solitude to
right and left, and as far ahead as the eye could see.

Wulfstan was delighted with the size of the forest, and eagerly looked
on each side for the chance of some game appearing.  They had now walked
about four miles from Boseham, and were going in a north-westerly
direction, when a gleam through the trees ahead told them they were
approaching some water, and in a few minutes more they had reached a
long winding pool, or lake, from which a large heron rose slowly as they
came out of the forest.

"Biggun, look!  Take a shot at that heron!  I can swim for him if he
does drop in the water."

"He’s too far off, Wulf; we must not waste our arrows.  Wait till we get
a sure mark; we shan’t have to wait long.  If this is salt water,
animals won’t come to drink, but I doubt not we shall find a fresh brook
running into it farther on; and if we find the marks where the beasts
come down to water, we can hide in the bushes, as we used to do at home,
and then we shan’t miss."

They had hardly gone three steps more when a large hare darted out of a
thicket by the side of the water and ran into the wood; but Biggun was
too quick for him, carefully watching as he passed behind a tree, the
instant he appeared on the other side of it, an arrow whizzed from his
bow and rolled the hare over on the ground.

"By Woden, Biggun, that was a good shot; thou timedst it well," cried
Wulf admiringly, as he ran up to the hare and pulled the arrow out,
carefully wiping the shaft and point, and smoothing the feathers; then
taking the animal up by his hind legs he hit it behind the neck to kill
it, for it was not quite dead, then he ran back to Biggun and gave him
his arrow again.

"Be still, my son, and hurry not, if thou wouldst hit anything," said
Biggun complacently, as he put the arrow back in the quiver.  They then
went on again, Wulf carrying the hare and looking with sharp glances all
round him.  Presently they came to a very marshy place and had to leave
the side of the water and enter the forest again.  Skirting the marsh
they came to a kind of track that led them to a deep pool which was
trodden all round and was evidently a place where animals came down to
water.

"We ought to come here to-night, Wulf, but we ought to come in a large
gang, for here be marks we don’t see in our island," said Biggun,
stooping down and examining the "spoor" of the animals that frequented
this place to quench their thirst.

"Hark, Biggun, there is something coming!" whispered Wulfstan, as a
crackling of twigs was heard a little way off.

"Quick, Wulf, climb up that tree there; up with thee!" cried Biggun, as
he hurried the boy hastily to a wide-spreading oak, whose large and low
branching limbs stretched over the pool.  In an instant Wulfstan was
ensconced among the branches, and Biggun had handed him up his spear,
and was just pulling himself up after him, when, with a crash and a
squeal, a huge wild boar rushed through the brushwood, and charged at
poor Biggun, who, old and stiff, was with difficulty getting up into the
first low fork of the old tree.

"Oh, Biggun, get thy legs out of the way!" shrieked Wulfstan in terror,
and without pausing a moment he hurled the boar spear he held right at
the advancing beast.  He threw it with such good aim that it struck the
animal in the shoulder, and although it did not stop his charge, by
reason of the wound it caused, it yet pulled the beast up by catching in
one of the overhanging boughs, and the shaft being made of stout ash did
not break, but widened the wound in the shoulder, and caused the poor
animal to squeal aloud with pain.  Biggun had now got his legs over the
first branch, and, taking steady aim, he shot an arrow into the animal’s
eye. Such was the vitality and courage of the brute that, although it
had the spear still sticking in its shoulder, and was pierced in one eye
with an arrow, it yet charged home to the trunk of the tree, and buried
its tusks in the bark.  Then it stood looking round for its enemy, and
grunting and squealing fiercely.  Biggun drew another arrow up to its
head, and the shaft went home to the boar’s heart, and he fell over
dead.

"Well, I think we have got enough game now, Wulf, for the monks and
ourselves, and we had better make the best of our way home, and carry as
much as we can of this beast with us," said Biggun, scrambling out of
the tree again, followed by Wulfstan, who was very delighted at the
death of the big animal, and greatly admired his formidable tusks and
the thick crest of bristles which grew down his strong neck and
shoulders.

Ceolwulf proceeded to cut up the body with his long hunting knife, and
slinging the two hind quarters over his shoulders, and replacing the
arrows in the quiver, they hung the rest of the quartered boar on the
lowest bough of the oak that had saved their lives, and started to make
their way home again.

Suddenly Ceolwulf pulled his young companion behind a tree, and then,
before Wulf could ask him the reason, he had whispered to him to be
perfectly still, as he saw some men a little way ahead of them.  Very
cautiously Biggun and Wulf crouched down, and crawled to the cover of
some bushes that were near, and from this shelter they saw several men
coming in their direction.  They were all armed, and looked a strong and
formidable body of men.  There were about thirty or forty in all, and
most wore iron helmets, and two or three had hawberks, or jackets of
mail, like that which the young man wore whom they had met in the
morning.  Some carried stout spears, and others large clubs, with a
heavy ball of metal attached by a short piece of chain to the head of
the club, and studded with spikes.  Most had shields of a round shape,
and nearly all carried, in addition to the arms already mentioned, long
swords and battle axes.  The men who had not got jackets of mail wore
leathern tunics, which appeared to be of double thickness over the chest
and shoulders, and which were no doubt sufficiently tough to ward off a
sword cut or spear thrust.  Many of the men appeared to be quite young:
none of them seemed over forty, and the youngest might have been between
eighteen and twenty.  They were a handsome and picturesque-looking set
of men, with their bushy hair flowing out from under their helmets,
their bronzed faces and martial appearance. Some wore close-cut beards,
and some were shaved, with the exception of the "knightly fringe that
clothed the upper lip," and Ceolwulf knew that they must be the
body-guard of some powerful Thane or Eorldoman, and he crouched all the
closer, for the times were very perilous.  They did not seem to be in
any hurry, for they sauntered along, talking among themselves, and
appearing to be under no leadership.  Suddenly one of them uttered a
cry, and walked hastily to the tree where the remains of the wild boar
were hanging, fresh and bleeding from the knife of Ceolwulf.

"Ah, they will track us by the drops of blood from the joints I have
over my shoulders!" said Biggun. "Well, I must even drop them here, and
perchance they won’t find them," he added, with a sigh, as he unstrung
the quarters, and hung them on a bough above him.  He then took Wulfstan
by the hand, and pulled him into the thickest of the bushes, and
crouched down again.  They could hear the men talking about the boar,
and laughing at the unexpected piece of good luck they had fallen in
with.

"This will just do," said one.  "I was getting very hungry, and here we
are where he told us to wait for him.  Let us make a fire and roast some
of these joints."

"That we will," cried another.  "Here’s water to drink and flesh to eat.
What more do we want? Why the heroes in Valhalla can’t have much more!
This boar, I warrant, is every bit as good as Sæhrimnir[1] the
everlasting, and we can do for once without mead."


[1] The author has put into the mouths of the Saxons the mythological
allusions of the Scandinavian sagas, thinking that probably the same
tales were common to the Scandinavian and Jutland peninsula, as well as
to the Saxons and Frisians.


"Aye, and we can cut our enemies to pieces after our dinner just as well
as before; so waste no more time, but get some sticks and make a fire,"
rejoined a third.

"Well, thou canst begin making afire," said the man who had first seen
the pieces of boar’s flesh. "I shall follow this trail of blood, and see
where they are who have killed the boar.  They can’t be far off, or the
track wouldn’t be so fresh, and they can’t be many, or they wouldn’t let
us take their game so easily.  But, after all, there’s no knowing; these
South Saxons, since the plague, have lost all heart."

Hearing these words, several others began to follow on the trail, and it
was not long before they came to the bushes, where Ceolwulf and Wulfstan
lay hid.  A loud shout soon told that they had found the rest of the
animal, and then they were apparently baffled.  But not for long, for a
keen-eyed man saw where a twig had recently been broken off, and then
another where dead leaves had been trodden on and the damp side turned
up, and in another moment Biggun and Wulfstan rose to their feet, face
to face with a bronzed and powerful man peering through the bushes at
them.

"Hark, here!  So! so! my masters.  Here’s the game come to bay!" he
cried merrily, and all the others broke through the bushes to get a
view. Ceolwulf saw instantly it was no use showing fight, and he and
Wulfstan came out and gave themselves up.

They were led to where the others were making a fire, and all crowded
round to look at the captives.

"Well, and who are ye?" said the oldest-looking man.

Biggun had no idea who these men were, and after what he had heard from
Father Dicoll about Edilwalch and his friendship for Arwald, he thought
it better to conceal as long as possible who he was and where he came
from.

"My name is Ceolwulf."

"Where dost come from?"

"From Boseham."

"Why, we know every one who lives in Boseham, and we never saw thee
before, so that won’t pass."

"Nevertheless I come from Boseham."

"Look here, old man, thou hadst better tell us at once all about thyself
and the boy there, both for thy sake and his.  We are not used to be
trifled with, and thou art old enough to know what being made a spread
eagle means."

Ceolwulf scratched his head and looked at Wulfstan, who, boy-like, could
not see what there was to hide, for if they knew every one in Boseham
they must know the kind monks who had so befriended them.

"Now, old man, be quick," said his questioner.

"Well, we come from Wihtea, over there, and have been in a good deal of
trouble," said Ceolwulf, hoping to mollify his interrogator; "and when
we got to Boseham we found some queer sort of men, who gave us some
bread, and we thought we would go out and get something better to eat,
for there seems no heart left in those South Saxons to help themselves."

"Thou art in the right there, my man.  Since the yellow plague all
spirit has gone out of them, and they care to do nothing now but
die—which, after all, isn’t so bad, if thou diest with thine axe in the
skull of thine enemy, but any other way is disgraceful," from which
remark it was clear that this man was a philosopher in his way, although
somewhat crude in his ideas.

"And whose boy is this?  He isn’t thy son, I’ll be bound.  An old wooden
head like thee couldn’t have a son like that," said another man.

"Let me stand out there with my axe, and I’ll soon show thee whether my
head is any more wooden than thine, thou young Weala!"

"He has called me a Weala," cried the young man to the others.  "He
belongs to me to punish; let me have him out here, that I may split his
old timber skull."

"No, no," said the older man.  "We have got to have our dinner first,
and, I think, as he has provided it, he ought to be asked to share it."

"But thou hast not told us who the boy is, old man."

"He is the son of a noble eorldoman in Wihtea."

"What, Arwald’s son?" cried the man with eagerness.

"Now I wish I knew whether he wanted him to be his son or not," thought
Ceolwulf.  Then he added, "Dost thou know Arwald, then?"

"It is not thy business to ask me questions, but to answer mine, and
take care thou doest it," said the man, sternly.

"No, he’s not Arwald’s son."

"All the better for him, then," muttered his interrogator.

But at this moment a most delicious smell of fragrant roast pork floated
past their nostrils, and neither Biggun nor the man could avoid sniffing
it admiringly.

"Well, we can ask thee these questions presently quite as well as now,
and if we are not quick the others will have all the best bits.  Now
promise me thou wilt not attempt to escape, and I will let thee sit down
and eat with us."

Biggun was very hungry, and so was Wulfstan, and they both promised at
once, and then they all sat down, while three of the youngest were told
to divide the joints and distribute them to the others.

It was a picturesque scene: the blue smoke from the fire curled up among
the fast falling leaves of the great forest trees; beyond, fading into
grey dimness, was the forest, while the sinking sun cast its warm rays
aslant the stems of the trees, and turned the red bracken to golden
sprays; the men lay about in careless attitudes, their flashing weapons
gleaming in the setting sun, and above all were the ruddy leaves and
great limbs of the wide-spreading oaks.

Merrily the talk went on, and coarse jest and practical joke made the
echoes of the forest ring, until the noise reminded the man who had
questioned Ceolwulf of the errand they were upon, and which apparently
demanded some measure of secrecy, for he told four of the young men who
had eaten enough to go some distance off and act as scouts, and he also
tried to get the others to be a little less boisterous. Wulfstan enjoyed
the whole feast immensely, and had won universal applause when old
Ceolwulf told how he had speared the boar, and they all vowed he should
be one of them, and should live to be a hero and do great deeds, to all
which Wulfstan listened complacently; but at times he thought of Ædric,
and longed to take him the hare, and he would have liked the good monks
to have had some of that delicious boar, for he thought he never had
tasted anything so good, as he held the end of a chop in his fingers and
munched the juicy flesh.  This was the fourth he had eaten, and he felt
that the world was much more pleasant than it had been lately.

The others were now nearly satisfied, and little of the boar remained,
which, fortunately for the happiness of the party, was a full grown
animal, and in very good condition.  As the men leant back with dreamy
faces, and meditatively gave themselves up to the joys of tranquil
digestion, there came a desire for amusement, and it occurred to the
younger and more mischievous among them to think of the reproach cast by
Biggun on the young man he had called a "Weala," which was regarded as
an insult by the conquering Saxons.

"I say, Beornwulf, I wouldn’t be called a Weala by that old red beard,"
said one, throwing a bone at the young man he addressed, which alighted
on his hand just as he was putting a choice morsel into his mouth, and
knocked the piece of flesh out of his hand on to the ground.

A loud and general burst of laughter greeted this practical joke, which
did not add to the young man’s good humour, and he, being of a fiery
disposition, and so the very fittest subject for a practical joker, rose
up in a rage and hurled the bone back at his aggressor, who, being
prepared for it, ducked his head, and it passed harmlessly over him.

"There, Beorney, don’t get angry.  If thou wantest to fight, fight the
old man there, and then, after he has thrashed thee, thou canst come and
fight us.  We shan’t be afraid of thee then, but thou’rt too strong a
man now, and aimest too straight."

"What is all this about, boys?" said the older man, who had been
comfortably stretched on his back with Ceolwulf and Wulfstan on each
side of him, placidly enjoying the pleasant reminiscences of that
estimable boar.  "What’s all this about?  Why can’t ye enjoy the
blessings the gods give ye without wanting to make a disturbance?"

"Beornwulf here wants to fight that old red beard we caught in the
bushes, who called him a Weala."

"Well, and Beornwulf called him a wooden head first, so I think they are
quits."

"Let them fight, Athelhune.  We’ve nothing to amuse us, and they might
just as well have a round."

"Why, what’s the good, boys?  We want all our strength for to-night’s
work, and he might be here any moment.  Ye see the sun is sinking fast."

"Then they can leave off when he comes."

Athelhune, who really did not much care one way or the other, made no
answer, and this being taken as a consent, the young men, now that they
had roused Beornwulf, set to work to get old Ceolwulf excited, who had
gone tranquilly off to sleep.

They proceeded therefore to pitch a chop bone neatly on to his nose, and
when he started up full of bewilderment at the unexpected shock, another
bone, adroitly thrown, though not very hard, struck him on the mouth.
Boiling with rage, old Biggun got up and glared round for his assailant.

"Here he is, old man; here’s the Weala that did it!" cried several
voices, pushing Beornwulf forward.

"Thou didst, thou nithing thou?  I’ll teach thee to insult a free born
Wihtwara!" cried old Ceolwulf, whose blood was now thoroughly up.

"There, Beornwulf, he has called thee a nithing. Nothing but blood can
wipe out that," called out the others, delighted at the success of their
stratagem.

Ceolwulf was going at once to strike the young man with his boar-spear,
but two or three young men knocked up the point, and told him he must
wait until they had made a ring, and he must have the same arms as his
antagonist.

They proceeded, therefore, to cut wands of hazel and fix them round in a
circle, leaving ample room in the middle for the two combatants, and
then they explained to Ceolwulf that whosoever drew first blood or drove
his opponent out of the ring was to be considered conqueror.  They then
gave Ceolwulf the choice of several battle-axes, and allowed him to have
a helmet like Beornwulf and a shield, and then they led the two
combatants into the ring.

All had now risen from their recumbent position, and were showing much
interest in the approaching fray.  Opinion was divided as to which of
the two was likely to win.  Most inclined to Beornwulf, who was younger
far and likely to be much more active. The older men, however, augured
well from Ceolwulf’s size and experience that victory might declare for
him.

Wearing their shields on their left arms, and holding their battle-axes
in their right, the two men eyed each other steadily, and in order to
rouse them to greater animosity, several young men called out:
"Remember, Beorney, he called thee a Weala."  "And worse than that, he
called thee a nithing," added others.

While to provoke Ceolwulf they called out: "He called thee a wooden
head, and threw bones in thy face."

Poor little Wulfstan looked on with anxious eyes. He did not much fear
for Ceolwulf, in whom he had always had unbounded confidence, but the
thought would occur to him that were anything to happen to their old
servant what would become of himself and Ædric?  He was their only
friend left in the whole world now.  So he thought, and looked on,
angry-eyed and wistful.

And now the fight began.  Beornwulf stepped up close to Ceolwulf and
made a feint at his right arm, which Ceolwulf parried with his axe, and
caught the next blow, aimed with all the young man’s might at his head,
with his round shield.  The force of the blow split the shield and
exposed the arm, so that all thought the old man was wounded, but
Ceolwulf at the moment that the blow descended, struck slanting at the
exposed right side of his opponent, and cut through his leathern jerkin,
causing a crimson stream to flow down his armour.

"A hit! a hit!" they all cried, and then, forgetting their own rules in
their excitement, they called out to Beornwulf to revenge himself.  But
Ceolwulf parried every blow, and called out that the victory was his.
He was very anxious the combat should have a speedy termination, for he
did not wish to kill his opponent, foreseeing that if he did his
position and that of Wulfstan would be rendered much more unpleasant,
and he naturally had no wish to be killed himself.  While all were
excited at the contest a voice suddenly called out, "Why, men, what is
all this to do?  Haven’t ye work enough in hand to-night that ye must
needs be splitting each other’s heads now?"

All turned round astonished, and a universal cry of "Cædwalla!" told
Wulfstan that his handsome friend of the morning was among them.



                             *CHAPTER IV.*

                            *THE SURPRISE.*


The arrival of Cædwalla put an end to the combat, to the great joy of
Wulfstan, who ran up to Ceolwulf with eager congratulations.

"I knew that fellow couldn’t do thee any harm, Biggun; he didn’t know
thee as well as I do, or he wouldn’t have dared to stand up to thee; but
I am glad thou gavest it him as thou didst."

"Aye, Wulf, they will respect us all the more after this.  I thought I
should give him a good trouncing," said Ceolwulf complacently.

"Why, whom have we here?" cried Cædwalla, now for the first time seeing
Ceolwulf and Wulfstan. "Why, it’s the old greybeard I met this morning,
and the stout little son of Ælfhere!  And what art thou doing here?"

The whole of the circumstances were quickly narrated to him, and,
patting Wulfstan on the head, he told him he should make him one of his
Huscarles, or body-guard, which delighted the boy much.  He reproved
Beornwulf for being so quarrelsome, and advised old Ceolwulf not to call
people "nithings" again, or worse would come of it.  As it had turned
out he had drawn Beornwulf’s blood first, and therefore, according to
the laws of the Holmgang, or duel, Beornwulf ought to pay the fine of
the conquered; but, considering how great a provocation Ceolwulf had
given, he should decide that the two were now quits, and there the
matter had better end.  "And now, my men, we must be up and doing.  I
have learnt that the greater part of Edilwalch’s men have gone with the
two eorldomen to Kent, and the king is spending the night at
Cissanceaster; we are now about six miles off, and it will take us till
near midnight to get there and arrange our plans. Beornwulf, as thou art
wounded, thou hadst best take this boy back to his brother at Boseham,
and take care of him until I come.  Bid the monks treat him well, or, by
Freja, I will skin the shavelings; but they are good men," he added,
"and will do that without my bidding.  And as to thee, old man, thou
hadst best take Beornwulf’s place, and make good the damage thou hast
done.  And now, men, fall in.  Athelhune, you will take command of the
rear, I will lead the advance, and do thou, old man, take Beornwulf’s
arms and give him thine to take back to Boseham; after to-night I trust
thou wilt have some of thine own, or else that there will be no want of
any. Remember all of ye that in worsting Edilwalch we are winning a
victory for Wessex, and each victory for Wessex is a step towards my
rightful crown.  Ye have feasted on the flesh of the wild boar which
Woden has put before ye as an omen of victory; remember the sagas, and
how he who dies in battle will feast for ever on Sæhrimnir the Eternal,
and quaff mead from the never-dying Heidrun, and shall for ever and for
ever hack his enemies in pieces.  Who would not rather go there than
live here?  But to obtain honour there we must kill our enemies here,
and the more we kill, the greater our joy hereafter.  Up, men, and earn
an undying name!"

Excited by this speech, and eager for the fray, each warrior clashed his
axe against his shield, and the wild din caused the birds, that were
going to roost, to fly screaming out of the branches, and scared the
beasts of the forest in their distant lair.

    "See, the wild ravens there,
    Woden’s wild birds of air,
    Call us to Nastrond’s fare,
      Call us to battle!"

shouted a warrior, whose eyes glowed with the joy of approaching fight.

    "Hark to the wolves’ wild cry,
    Baying towards the sky,
    Knowing the prey is nigh,
      Hearing death’s rattle!"

cried another answering, tossing his battle-axe high in the air, and
catching it again; for every warrior who wished to be distinguished
affected a talent for verse, and all leaders who desired fame surrounded
themselves with "Skalds," or gleemen, as they were called, who should
proclaim their doughty deeds.

Wulfstan longed to go with the expedition, but Cædwalla would not hear
of it, and he was sent off with Beornwulf, both sulky at their
dismissal, but Beornwulf especially enraged, and vowing vengeance on
Ceolwulf when he got the chance.

"Never mind, Beorney, thou canst practice fighting with the monks, they
won’t hurt thee," shouted some of the young men.

"And thou canst throw stones at the seals, they won’t run away," called
another, as they went off laughing; while Beornwulf, grinding his teeth
with rage, and having no retort ready, disappeared with Wulfstan in the
direction of Boseham.

The others directed their march through the forest towards
Cissanceaster, proceeding at a rapid pace; all noise had now ceased, and
each man settled down to his step with the air of men accustomed to long
expeditions, and who all knew their business thoroughly.  Ceolwulf
wished much his master Ælfhere had had a few dozen men like these the
night before, and he hoped if he could only induce Cædwalla to take up
the cause of his young lords, that they might recover their lands and
revenge themselves on Arwald; he had seen therefore Wulfstan go off with
Beornwulf less reluctantly than he otherwise would have done.

The sun had set, and the mists of the forest rendered it a difficult
matter to see their way, but Cædwalla led them on without pausing or
appearing to be once in doubt as to which way to go.  After they had
gone on in almost absolute silence for about a couple of miles they came
to a circular clearing in the forest; in the centre of this clearing was
a large stone, and Cædwalla went up to it, and, raising his battle-axe
aloft, chanted the following verses:—

    "To Woden, great god, I vow
    Victims to slay enow
    If he to us allow
      Victory to-night.

    Here in the forest glade,
    Under the oaks’ dark shade,
    On my keen axe’s blade,
      Oaths do I plight.

    By the last earthly pang
    Men felt as high priests sang
    When the wild death-cry rang
      Speeding souls’ flight.

    Grant us to win the fight!
    Grant us death’s fires to light!
    Favour the cause of right!
      Woden, all bright!"


Again the dull clang of the axes striking against the shields gave token
of the warriors’ assent, and, once more putting himself at the head of
his men, Cædwalla pursued his march in silence.  That grim stone in the
solemn forest ring had seen many a horrid sacrifice, and had been
stained with the blood of many victims long before the Saxons or the
Romans came into the Island; and if any places could be haunted that
surely ought to have been, considering the horrors that had taken place
there, the cruel and detestable custom of offering human sacrifices
being common to Teuton and Celt alike.

And now it was clear, from the extreme care the advance guard took not
to make any noise, that they were approaching the object of their
expedition. After a few minutes more the column halted, and Cædwalla
directed the band to divide into four equal companies.  He then ordered
three of them to march round the dim cluster of houses, or cottages
rather, which were scarcely distinguishable in a clearing of the forest,
which had been getting less dense for the last mile or two.  Cædwalla
ordered Athelhune to take command of the company that had farthest to
go, and bid them raise the battle-cry, and clash their axes and shields
together as soon as they were ready for the attack.  At this signal all
were to fall on and slay whom they met.  Cædwalla reserved for himself
the right of attacking Edilwalch, and directed that such prisoners as
should be taken should be brought to the altar of sacrifice, and there
be offered up to Woden and the shades of their ancestors.

Silently in the darkness of the night the men disappeared, and Cædwalla
led his party cautiously and in single file closer to the village.  As
they got nearer Ceolwulf could make out that the work before them was
rather more formidable than a mere night surprise on a cluster of
undefended houses.  Before him was a wall about twelve feet high and a
ditch outside the wall.  Supposing none were on the wall to oppose them
it would not be a serious obstacle to active and resolute men; but
should there be a determined foe behind it, the assault would be a
serious affair.  Cædwalla ordered a young man to creep as close up to
the wall as he could, and then, if all were favourable, to climb up it
and reconnoitre the place. Ceolwulf could see that there was a gate a
little further to the right of where they were, but he concluded that
this would probably be guarded, and that was why Cædwalla had not
selected it for attack.

Stealthily the figure descended the bank of the ditch; they could just
hear the sloshing sound made by his feet as he got into the mud, then a
slight splashing, sounding to those listening very loud, then silence,
which was suddenly broken by a wild, unearthly cry, causing them all to
start, and they could hear the young man slip down, and then the
splashing sounds were repeated, and soon after he appeared.

"Well, what was it?" impatiently asked Cædwalla.

"A witch!" said the young man, shuddering.  "I saw her eyes of fire
glaring at me, and I heard her spit—listen!"

Again the strange cry rang out, ending in a kind of sputtering snarl.

"Why, man, it’s only a cat!  Art afraid of a cat? Here, Eadwin, I can
trust to thee; go thou and see if any one is on the other side."

But these young men, all as brave as lions in fight, firmly believed in
supernatural powers, and nothing terrified them more than the idea of
witches and demons; and when they heard that their comrade had seen a
great witch, all covered with fur and a long streaming broomstick
wrapped round with bristles flourishing above her head, and glaring,
fiery eyes staring right at him and uttering fearful cries, which they
had all heard, not one was daring enough to go.

"Out upon ye, men, for a pack of spiritless hinds!" cried Cædwalla,
disdainfully.  "I shall have to go myself; but, mind, as soon as ye hear
me call, or the signal from Athelhune is given, up with ye, witches or
no witches, or ye will go to Nifleheim quicker than ye like."

He was just starting to go on the perilous work when he felt his arm
held, and the voice of Ceolwulf arrested him.

"Atheling, I will go, I have no fear of witches; I have a wolf’s snout
hung round my neck, and no witch can hurt me, be her charms never so
powerful."

"Well, old man, thou teachest these boys a lesson; a stranger and an old
man, thou darest what my carles, young and bound to me by every tie,
dare not.  When I am king of Wessex, as I shall be, I will not forget
thee.  Here’s my hand on it."

Cautiously old Ceolwulf went down into the ditch, and again the sounds
of his progress seemed dangerously loud, then silence, broken by the
wild din of shouting and the clash of arms which suddenly arose.

"There it is," cried Cædwalla, rushing forward, followed by the men
behind him.  "Strike for the golden dragon!  Strike for the house of
Cerdic!  The Valkyrior claim their own!  Tyr scents the battle."
Shouting wildly such war cries, the band plunged into the ditch,
splashed through it, and dashed at the wall.  Old Ceolwulf had by this
time got to the top, and, kneeling down, he helped Cædwalla up.  The two
sprang boldly down into the open space inside scattering a party of
cats[1] that rushed screaming, with their tails in the air, towards the
nearest houses.  Cædwalla instantly seized the omen, and shouted:

    "See how the witches fly,
    Scared by our battle-cry,
    Follow to do or die,
      Follow Cædwalla!"


[1] These domestic cats were most probably the descendants of some which
had accompanied the Roman colonists.  The native wild cat is untamable.


And now an answering cry arose within the town. Lights flashed here and
there, and all seemed confusion.  Shouts of defiance could be heard on
all sides, showing that the attack was completely successful as far as
simultaneousness of action went. The difficulty was to avoid attacking
each other. Cædwalla made for the nearest house, and, smashing in the
door with his axe, cut down the first man that came to meet him.  The
terrified women and children rushed out by a back door, and Cædwalla
instantly called for some straw to be brought him, and, lighting it from
the fire that was burning on the hearth, soon set the cottage in a
blaze.  The flames spread from one building to another, and the
affrighted inhabitants rushed out into the street screaming in terror.
The followers of Cædwalla cut down all the men that offered any
resistance, but pursued their way to the palace of the king.  Edilwalch
was now aware of what was happening, and having hastily armed himself,
accompanied by a few devoted adherents, rushed out to meet his
assailants.

The other bands had not yet made their appearance, and the position of
Cædwalla was rather critical. His little party only numbered fourteen in
all, and although the flames of the burning houses, which were all made
of wood and thatched, allowed him to see where to direct his attack, yet
they at the same time served to expose the fewness of his numbers.
Edilwalch was no coward.  He was fully alive to the importance of
crushing this handful of men before the others, whose battle-cries could
be heard drawing nearer and nearer, could join their companions; and,
leaving a few men to guard the palace—which was no more than a rather
larger house than the other cottages, and thatched like them—he shouted
his battle-cry, and attacked Cædwalla’s party.  Nominally Edilwalch was
a Christian, having been christened at the request of Wulfhere of
Mercia, and had received the Isle of Wight as a reward for his
conversion.  His battle-cry, therefore, should have been different to
that of Cædwalla, but in his excitement he forgot his new faith, and
invoked the Teutonic deities to his aid.

The first to encounter Edilwalch was Eadwine, who was anxious to show
his leader that if he was afraid of witches he was not afraid of men.
But the voice of Cædwalla shouted to him to remember his orders, and
Eadwine turned aside to attack a stout eorldoman who fought by the side
of Edilwalch. Down came his axe at the headpiece of his foe, who parried
it with his shield, and struck furiously back at Eadwine.  The blow was
given with such good will that it shore away his shield above the elbow,
and broke the arm which held it.  Plying his axe vigorously with his
right arm, Eadwine gave the eorldoman a cut across the cheek, but
directly afterwards was knocked down by a terrific blow on his helmet.
Striding across his fallen antagonist, the eorldoman cut at Cædwalla,
who was engaged in vigorous fight with Edilwalch, already wounded and
giving ground; but Ceolwulf caught the blow with his axe, shivering the
handle and sending the splinters flying, one of which pierced the
eorldoman in the eye, and caused him to stagger back with the pain. But
he was not destined to feel pain long, for another crashing blow of
Ceolwulf’s axe avenged the fall of Eadwine, and tumbled the South Saxon
to the ground.  The fighting had now become general, and the din of
weapon striking weapon, the crash of falling buildings, the crackling of
the flames as they leaped high in air, the fierce shouts of the
combatants or the deep groans of the dying, made a wild and fearful
uproar that produced a mad intoxication in the fighting mass.  High
above all rang the stentorian voice of Cædwalla as he plied his blows,
now right, now left, at the devoted body-guard of Edilwalch, who was
badly wounded, and was being led off to his palace.  The small party who
fought round Cædwalla, inspirited by his wild chant and furious blows,
pressed on after the retreating king, and each of their axes seemed
endowed with ceaseless life.  Several had fallen on both sides, and
fearful were the wounds made by these two-edged axes; but now the
affrighted townspeople—if the inhabitants of Cissanceaster deserved the
name at that time—seeing the small numbers of their assailants, came to
the assistance of their king, whom they did not much love, but in whose
success they saw at least safety for themselves and their families.
Cædwalla—who, in the midst of all this wild turmoil and in spite of his
personal part in the fight, never lost the presence of mind essential to
a leader—saw that unless he slew Edilwalch before the people rallied, he
would lose the whole object of the expedition, pressed harder and harder
upon those who opposed him, till at last, with a spring, he dashed upon
the group who were leading the king away.  With hair streaming behind
him, his helmet battered, but the heron’s plume still erect, his eyes
gleaming with wild excitement, his armour stained with blood, and his
shield in pieces, Cædwalla rushed upon the king.  One flash, one groan,
and his competitor was no more.  Right through the axe of the faithful
guard who tried to parry the blow the triumphant weapon of Cædwalla sank
into the brain of Edilwalch, and the king of the South Saxons was
numbered with Ælla, Cissa and his ancestors. But not unavenged shall he
die, for wildly the henchmen turn upon the slayer, and three axes gleam
in the air together.  Ill would it have fared with the son of Ceawlin
had not watchful eyes and stout hands been by: axe meets axe, and blow
answers blow, and the death of all the immediate supporters of Edilwalch
assures Cædwalla the victory.

But where are the other bands?  Where is Athelhune? Where are the
house-carles?  Where is Cædwalla’s brother Wulf?

"Quick, Cædwalla, retreat while yet there is time," shouted Ceolwulf,
who saw the ominously increasing crowds of hostile faces pressing up
behind them. Their own numbers were very few.  Three were lying on the
ground either dead or dying; two more were so desperately wounded that
they could hardly offer any resistance, and reeled as they stood round
Cædwalla, and only two or three had escaped without a wound.

But the chieftain’s eye instantly took in the situation, and without a
moment’s hesitation he ordered all to advance on the palace.  He could
hear the cry of Athelhune, and at last saw by a movement among the crowd
that the other bands were coming up.

With a rush, therefore, they sprang towards the palace gate.  The
defenders were few, for in the excitement of the fight round their king
the men had disregarded Edilwalch’s orders, and had come out to join the
fray.

Daunted by the fierce onslaught, they fled into the interior, and
Cædwalla’s men rushed in, closely followed by a yelling mass of
infuriated townspeople. But two of Cædwalla’s men kept these at bay
until the doors were shut.

The position now was somewhat curious.  Edilwalch was killed, and
Cædwalla occupied his palace—at least some part of it—and was himself
besieged in his enemy’s stronghold; but in the rear of his assailants he
could hear his own men pressing up, and he had little doubt of the
victory in the end.

But now Cædwalla was to feel the effects of that element he had invoked
to his own aid.  A stifling smoke rolling through the rooms where he and
his party had taken refuge told them that the house was on fire, and the
shrieks of terrified women behind them showed how far it had spread, and
how useless it was to seek for shelter by going further into the house.

"There is no help for it, my men—our safety lies in our own hands.  With
them let us hew us out a path; we cannot fight with fire.  I hear the
shout of Wulf, my brother, and Athelhune is pressing on. Let us all make
ready; the moment I give the word and the door is opened, rush out upon
the yelling curs.  Are ye all ready?  Throw open the gate. Follow me!"
and with a fierce shout of fury the eight desperate men sprang upon the
mob.

Then once more began the wild cut and thrust. Scarcely one of Cædwalla’s
men had any of his shield left.  Regardless of their own safety, they
now only thought of selling their lives as dearly as possible, and each
man hewed and stabbed, and struggled, and pushed in the seething,
furious crowd. Woe to him who fell!  there was no hope of his ever
rising again.

All the while the shout of Athelhune’s men grew nearer, and the flames
of the burning palace waxed hotter and hotter, and the whole place and
scene resembled Pandemonium let loose.  Shrieking women, with
dishevelled hair, stood on the outskirts of the mass, and as they saw
their friends fall, seized them by their limbs, and tried to pull them
out of the fray.  But nearer and nearer came Cædwalla’s bands, until,
with a wild rush and shout of triumph, they burst through the men who
were opposing them, and, cutting through the crowd that thronged about
their chieftain, rescued him from his perilous position.

They had not come a moment too soon.  Cædwalla’s axe was broken; he had
received a cut across his arm; not a bit of his shield was left but a
small piece to which the thong was attached that served to strap it on:
his heron crest was shorn off; and his right arm was stiff and weary
with the fight. Ceolwulf was wounded, and not a man but had some hurt,
and the heat from the burning palace behind was growing unendurable.  At
Cædwalla’s feet lay the dead body of Edilwalch, and around lay heaped up
the bodies of the slain.  Truly, the feast for the Valkyrior maidens was
enough.

[Illustration: Cædwalla heweth a way out of a burning palace of
Edilwalch]

When the men of Cissanceaster saw the companies of Cædwalla now all
united, they drew off, and stood sullenly looking at the carnage they
had made, or else went off to put out the fires which were blazing
around them, or to see that no more houses took fire.

Then Cædwalla, seeing that none had any longer a mind for the fight,
stepped forward, and, addressing the inhabitants, said:

"Men of Cissanceaster, and all good South Saxon folk, I came not to war
with ye.  Ye are all my kith and kin, and I would rule ye as well as my
ancestors did; but Edilwalch, who lies here dead, revolted, as ye all
know, from the kindly sway of my kinsmen, and joined the enemies of my
race and yours, the tyrannous Mercians.  Would ye prefer Mercia to
Wessex? the wicked Penda[2] and his son, with their many deeds of
bloodshed, to the wise Ceawlin and his noble descendants?  If ye prefer
war, here am I, and my faithful followers; our arms are not yet weary,
nor is our soul yet low; let us decide the issue now.  If any claim the
crown for Edilwalch or his descendants, either I will fight any man
single-handed, or we will choose man for man and fight it out, and Woden
shall choose the victor. Shall we be friends or foes?"


[2] Penda died in the flight from Winwidfield A.D. 655, but the memory
of his power and ruthlessness remained long after him.


A low murmur of applause greeted this speech, and Cædwalla went on:

"If, my friends, ye prefer peace, and think enough hail has fallen to
Woden, and the Valkyrior should rest appeased, let us then ratify our
friendship and our rule by feasting.  Bring us here such food as ye
have, and we will sup together, and drink to the brave slain who are now
entering Valhalla."

The leading men who were left of the followers of Edilwalch talked
apart, and the rest of the people went off to look after their property.
Cædwalla seeing no one inclined to answer him, again spoke.

"Come, my men, let us be friends, and bring us what we want, that all
may end in peace and pleasure.  We care not to await much longer."

One of the oldest of the South Saxons stepped forward, and said that if
Cædwalla would give Edilwalch a funeral becoming his rank, and would
treat all men as well as Edilwalch had done, they would accept him for
their king.

Cædwalla having accepted these conditions all hostilities were laid
aside, the new king’s followers helped to put the fires out, and, the
bodies being carried away and torches brought, preparations were made
for feasting the conquerors.  The carcasses of some oxen were found
ready roasted in the burnt stalls, and beer and milk were brought out
from the stores belonging to Edilwalch, and which now belonged to his
conqueror; all sat down on rough benches quickly improvised from the
ruins of some of the cottages, and tables were made in the same
rough-and-ready way.

Soon all was laughter and merriment: gaily the jugs of ale went round,
and the half-roasted flesh was devoured with avidity.  Coarse jest and
practical joke accompanied the feast, and when all were satisfied the
warriors slept round the remains of the repast.  Only Cædwalla and his
two lieutenants, Wulf and Athelhune, retired to a room in the half-burnt
palace; a few of the more responsible of their soldiers were left to
guard the door in turns, with orders to rouse every one if any cause for
alarm should arise.



                              *CHAPTER V.*

                             *ST. WILFRID.*


The next morning found Cædwalla and his followers all astir at an early
hour.  The scene as the sun rose was a busy one.  The inhabitants were
clearing away the rubbish of their burnt dwellings, an occupation that
did not make them look with very favourable eyes on the authors of the
destruction; while the armed men of Cædwalla’s party were carrying in
the dead body of Edilwalch, whose arms and shield were already stripped
off him, to become the spoils of his slayer, and were picking up the
weapons and arms of the rest of the body-guard and of their own
comrades.

Some of the leading inhabitants, anxious to be on good terms with their
future king—for most men who could forecast the future augured from his
success in the past night, and from the courage and ability he had
shown, that it would not be long before he recovered the throne of
Wessex, now occupied by his distant relative Centwine—were sending food
for the young prince and his followers.

Cædwalla himself, as he came from the palace, was thanking these men,
and inviting them to stop and share their own hospitality.  The wound he
had received was slight, and the arm was bound round with a bandage.
His helmet was no longer the small steel cap he wore yesterday, but was
one of Edilwalch’s that had been discovered in the palace; it was
encircled by a small wreath of oak leaves, which one of his followers
had made for him in token of his victory.  The shirt of mail that he had
worn the night before was changed for another and more gorgeous one, the
rings of which were gilt.  A new battle-axe hung in a gold chain across
his left shoulder, and his sword was suspended in a broad leather belt
that crossed his right; his muscular arms were bare from the elbows, and
two gold bangles adorned each wrist, inscribed with Runic characters.  A
young and handsome henchman carried a new shield, Wulf and Athelhune
were on each side, and Ceolwulf came close behind him.

The moment of his appearance was the signal for all his followers to
raise a shout of triumph, clashing their weapons together.  Two of the
men, who laid claim to being skalds, or poets, and whose business it was
to celebrate every great occasion by extempore verse, and who had
therefore been racking their brains all the night before to think of
what they should say on the spur of the moment, now came forward, and
the eldest of the two began in a loud voice to shout the following
verses:—

    "See as the sun doth rise,
    Comes he to glad our eyes,
    Winner of battles’ prize!
      Victor Cædwalla!

    Who in the shock of shields,
    Keen axe or broad sword wields,
    Fights till his foeman yields
      More than Cædwalla?

    Surely the Norns[1] have said,
    Through hail of Woden reel,
    Crowns shall adorn his head,
      Crowned be Cædwalla!

    Then, O my comrades, raise,
    To the All-Father praise,
    Pray for him length of days,
      Long live Cædwalla!"


[1] The Norns were the Scandinavian equivalent of the Latin Parcæ, or
Fates, who wove the destinies of men.


At the end of each verse the assembled warriors shouted the refrain with
wild excitement, and clashed their arms with frantic glee; and at the
last line the frenzy became so great that the other skald had no chance
of being heard; for they made a rush for Cædwalla, and, raising him on
the shield which they took from his esquire or henchman, they raised him
on their shoulders and bore him through the principal street of the
town, shouting the last verses over and over again, and every time they
reached the line "Long live Cædwalla," their enthusiasm knew no bounds;
the population of Cissanceaster were quite carried away with the
excitement, which is always infectious, and joined in the chorus.  At
last they came back to the space in front of the palace, and, order
being somewhat restored, they sat down to their breakfast.  The other
skald was determined not to be deprived of his turn, and had only joined
in the excitement of the others with a well-bred and _nonchalant_ air,
as much as to say, "It’s not bad; but if this can evoke your enthusiasm,
wait till you hear my verses, and then see if you can keep the hair on
your heads."

But he was not destined to have his innings yet, for, directly after
breakfast was finished, Cædwalla rose, and gracefully thanked all for
their brave deeds, especially mentioning Ceolwulf, and said that the
property of those killed should be shared among the victors, and that he
would relinquish to them, in addition, the spoils of the palace, only
reserving a fit proportion for the service of the gods.  He then added
that all the people of Cissanceaster and the neighbourhood might go
about their daily avocations as usual; and that they would always find
in him a jealous protector of their interests and defender of their
honour.  He also added that any young men who were desirous of adventure
and wished to mend their fortunes might join his Huscarles, or
bodyguard, after being duly inspected by his brother Wulf and Athelhune;
and he would promise that it should not be long before they enjoyed the
bath of blood that Woden so well loved.

Loud shouts greeted this speech, and the skald now rose to electrify the
assembly, when he was destined to a fresh interruption.

A movement among the bystanders who were looking on at the banquet and
listening to the speeches showed that some one of importance was
approaching, and as the crowd gave way a tall and remarkable-looking
man, accompanied by two other men, who also differed very considerably
from the warriors and country people who crowded the open space in front
of the palace, advanced quietly towards the end of the table where
Cædwalla sat.

The face of the man who now interrupted the skald, in so provoking a
manner would have been remarkable at all times, both from its peculiar
power as well as a certain self-asserting kind of sweetness, if we may
use the expression, which pervaded the whole countenance.  His face was
long and thin, and seamed with many furrows; his eyes were deep-set, and
were very dark and piercing; a clear-cut and slightly aquiline nose; a
thin, firm, and, at the same time, beautifully-formed mouth, sharply
defined at each corner by deep lines; a narrow chin, but broad, wrinkled
forehead, above which rose a loose and peculiarly-shaped dome-like cap,
embroidered in front with a Latin cross, worked elaborately with gold
thread.  Such was the head of this celebrated man.

His dress was rich for those times, and Ceolwulf certainly had never
seen anything like it before.  A large, loose, and comfortable hood
surmounted a long and handsomely adorned cloak, which was fastened below
his neck and across his chest by a large, jewelled buckle, or clasp.
This ample cloak reached down almost to his feet, and concealed a white
linen robe which he wore beneath, and which was fastened round his waist
by a silken cord.  His shoes were of scarlet leather, and marked with a
black and peculiarly shaped cross.  The cloak was made of a
gorgeously-coloured purple cloth, and bordered with gold thread.  On his
hand he wore a large and valuable ring, and some beads, with a cross,
hung down from his girdle.  A few grey hairs peeped out from under his
mitre, made of the same coloured cloth as his cloak.

Such was the celebrated St. Wilfrid, Bishop of York, and now an exile
from his see owing to the animosity of the King and Queen of
Northumbria.

Such a man in such a community was sure either to command great respect
or provoke great animosity. Driven from one kingdom to another, he at
last found refuge in the only part of England that was not yet
Christian, impelled, perhaps, by a desire to do good to his enemies; for
he had been shipwrecked on the coast of Sussex many years before, and
had nearly lost his life through the barbarity of the savage
inhabitants, whom he now came to win to the fold of the Church; but
also, perhaps, because there was really no other safe place for him in
England, seeing that the Queen of Mercia was sister to the King of
Northumbria, and the Queen of Wessex sister to the Queen of Northumbria,
while, for some reason, Theodorus, the Archbishop of Canterbury and
Metropolitan, was opposed to him, and had already helped to depose him
from the See of York.  To a man of Wilfrid’s disposition it was better
to be loved by Pagans than treated as an equal by Christians.  His great
fault seems to have been his dislike to all authority, except the
authority of the Bishop of Rome.  Whenever he found a difficulty at home
he appealed to Rome, and this may explain the opposition which he met
with from Theodorus, Archbishop of Canterbury.

The early Church in England was very nearly in the position of a
missionary establishment in a newly opened up country in our own day.
As clergymen sent out from England naturally look to the parent church
as their authority for all they do, so the missionaries sent by Gregory
the Great looked to Rome for guidance in all points of doubt; and this
natural habit the astute churchmen at Rome soon saw how to turn to their
own profit, and canons were framed which made it indispensable that
every higher functionary in the church should proceed to Rome for the
symbol of his authority.  When once the simple barbarian, accustomed to
the squalor and rude manners of his own country, saw the magnificence of
the buildings, the refinement of life, and the order of the Roman ritual
existing in the everlasting city, he was soon won to its grandeur, and
henceforth believed that whatever was done at Rome ought to be done
elsewhere.  This force of early habit was not easily lost; indeed, it
was only when the corruptions, the pretentions, and the extortions of
the Roman curia became unbearable, that men began to consider whether
they were not paying too high a price for an antiquated idea, and too
great a respect to the doubtful authority of the self-styled successors
of St. Peter.

It was this very claim—early recognised even by legal authority, as
expressed in Imperial edicts—to be the successors of St. Peter, that
gave them so much power; for if it was to St. Peter that our Lord gave
the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and if He had delegated this power to
his successors, it was difficult for the superstitious and simple mind
of a barbarian to refuse him obedience when once he had accepted this
fact.[2]


[2] For the effect of this argument, as brought forward by St. Wilfrid
in his discussion with Colman, before King Oswy, at Streaneshalch (now
Witby), A.D. 664, see Bede, book iii., c. 25.


At this period the arrogance of the Roman Pontificate had assumed
scarcely any of its objectionable features, and the tone of equality
with which St. Columban[3] addressed Boniface IV. upon the subjects in
dispute, reminding him of the peaceful intercourse of Anicetus and
Polycarp, although they could not agree upon the disputed points, shows
that men were not yet crushed into the lifeless mass of religious
formality which they subsequently became, until roused by the trumpet
call of indignation, sounded by Wickliffe, by Huss, by Savonarola, and
by Luther.


[3] St. Columban, founder of the Monastery of Bobbio, in the Apennines,
who lived from 543 to 615, must not be confounded with St. Columba,
founder of Icolmkill, who was born 521 and died 597.


Wilfrid had been early captivated by the glamour of the Roman name.
With an intense love of art, religion, and discipline, he had been
flattered and caressed at the fountain-head of all.  Returning to his
native land, he had received the admiration due to his character for
holiness; and a churchman who had been held in such favour by the
foreign bishops seemed to all the most suitable to fill an English see.
Accordingly he was elected Bishop of York; but, convinced as he was that
the Irish or Scottish missionaries who had converted Northumbria were
stubborn sectaries, he refused to be ordained by them, and, crossing to
France, received a perfect ovation from the bishops there, who saw in
him a determined asserter of the rights of Rome. Returning, he was
shipwrecked on the Sussex shore, and at length reaching his own land, he
found his see occupied by one of the Scottish missionaries, the holy
Ceadda; and he retired to a monastery until called from it by Theodore,
who annulled the appointment of Ceadda, and invested Wilfrid with the
see of York, while Ceadda was consoled by the see of Lichfield.  The
grandeur of Wilfrid’s ideas is shown in his magnificent buildings and
the pomp of his ceremonial.  It is true, it is an enemy that accuses him
of the splendour of his dress and the number of his attendants, "adorned
as they were with royal robes and weapons"; but the accusation seems
accepted by the men of his own time, and certainly Archbishop Theodore
is found subsequently among his opponents.  Once more he went to Rome,
and returning with a Papal decree confirming his election to York, he
was thrown into prison, and only escaped through the superstition of his
persecutress, Queen Ercemburga, of Northumbria.  And now he had taken
refuge in heathen Sussex, where all his virtues were displayed and
little of his faults.  His personal life appears to have been blameless,
and his labours for the conversion and material well-being of the
heathen most unremitting.  To find this great Church dignitary, the
forerunner of Dunstan, of Becket, and of Wolsey, teaching the miserable
natives to fish, himself going out with them and letting down the nets
with his own hands, contrasts refreshingly with his polemical disputes
with Colman and the Scottish monks, or his later apology before the
Synod of Æastanfeld, from whose decisions he once more appealed to Rome.
As a missionary bishop—freeing his slaves, cultivating and improving the
land, teaching useful arts, and social order, and all the time winning
souls to God—he stands as an admirable type, and as such the thinking
laymen of his own times admired and loved him.  No man received such
prodigal grants of land.  Edilwalch gave him all the Isle of Selsea, and
Cædwalla would have given him all the Isle of Wight, had he not refused
to accept more than the fourth part of it; truly, he might be called the
Bishop of the Isles!

As Wilfrid approached Cædwalla, the latter rose to receive him; for
although Cædwalla was a heathen, yet he was far too politic not to
recognise the great importance of securing the support of such a man as
Wilfrid.  Not only was there the moral support of his great reputation
for sanctity which would react upon Cædwalla, but there was the direct
assistance to be got from Wilfrid as a landowner, and the wielder of
supernatural powers, which had already proved superior to the magic of
the local priests or sorcerers—a fact known to all in those parts at the
time of his shipwreck; for while a sorcerer was singing incantations for
the success of the attack of the wreckers, and Wilfrid was praying for
deliverance from them, a stone had killed the sorcerer, but Wilfrid’s
ship had floated off, and he had sailed away in safety.

"Welcome, noble Wilfrid, welcome to our feast—make room there for the
Holy Bishop and his wise men," cried Cædwalla, and places were instantly
vacated, not without a sort of superstitious dread of contact with such
distinguished and powerful beings.

"My son, the Lord has been merciful to thee, and I pray that thou mayest
be guided aright; it is a great duty thou hast taken upon thee, and thou
wilt need much wisdom, but mayest thou be led to the Wisdom from on high
without which earthly wisdom is but dross."

"I thank thee, father, for all thy kind wishes, and doubtless since I
can have more open intercourse with thee now, I shall learn many things
I know not; but to what am I to attribute the honour of a visit so soon?
for I can hardly venture to think that it was to grace my first banquet
as successor to Edilwalch that the all-learned Wilfrid has come."

"Thou art right, my son, I came not to rejoice that Edilwalch is dead.
He has gone to God, and must give an account of his works; whether they
be good or whether they be evil, peace be with him. I come not to
condemn or to approve; he did me good, and received the cross of Christ;
how far the faith entered into his heart I know not—if his faith was to
be shown by his works, I fear not far; but in that he is dead, I trust
he is dead in the Lord.  I came to ask for his body, that I may bear it
off for Christian burial."

"My father, happy am I that I can so readily and happily grant thy first
request to me as prince of this land.  May it be a fair omen of our
future relations. I will see that it is duly performed, and the body
carried whithersoever thou mayest appoint."

"I thank thee, my son.  I felt sure I should find in thee a generous foe
and a noble heart; such soil ought to be watered by the fount of the
spirit of the Almighty.  But my presence longer now would only hinder
the merriment of these young men, and thou must have need of much rest,
after thy fatigues of the past night."

"Not so, my father; many cares I have, it is true, but I shall feel them
much lightened if I might have thy powerful and wise advice.  If,
therefore, thou couldest spare the time, I would fain talk with thee in
private.  And the young men can in the meanwhile amuse themselves."

"Such aid as I can give, which I feel thou prizest more than at its just
worth, is freely thine, my son. What is done cannot be undone, and if
thy right to the crown was better than that of Edilwalch—about which I
am not capable of forming an opinion, seeing I am only a stranger and a
sojourner in the land—the God of battles will uphold thy right; but if I
can in any way help to make this land happy, such services as I can
offer are thine.  And I would, my son, that thou wouldest give heed to
my words, and learn of Him who was meek and lowly in heart, that thou
mightest find rest for thy soul."

"At present, my father, I have not leisure to go into such deep
questions, but when all is at peace here, then I trust I may be favoured
with thy instruction.  Shall we go into the palace?"

The bishop assenting, he and Cædwalla, accompanied by the other two
churchmen, retired from the banquet, and their departure was the signal
for the free flow of merriment.  The skald eyed the departing Wilfrid
with a fiery eye, but satisfaction got the better of his revengeful
feelings; for now the long-wished-for time had come, and he knew he
should win endless praise.  Rising therefore to his feet, he rapped
loudly on the boards that formed the temporary table, and having
procured silence, he began, in an affected, sing-song voice, to chant
the following verses:—

    "What said the God of war
    He who lost arm in maw,
    Wolf’s maw that bit him sore,
      Tyr the stouted-hearted?
    What thought the mighty Thor
    When he from Asgard saw
    How we did yell and roar,
      When we——"

but he was not destined to meet with the success he deserved, for the
last word was lost in a most unmelodious braying set up by a donkey
near.  Whether it were that he was attracted by the similarity of the
tones and words of the skald to his own discordant language, or whether
he simply wished to express his approval, history knoweth not; the fact
remains, however, that the donkey continued to bray "He-haw, He-haw," in
a most pertinacious and obstinate way, and the skald, at last losing all
patience, hurled his axe, with a wild malediction on the whole race of
donkeys, at the misguided brute’s head; but the axe unfortunately missed
the donkey, and buried itself in a muddy ditch, near which the donkey
was standing.  This abortive attempt at revenge was greeted by loud
laughter, and one of the young men, jumping up, said he didn’t see why
he shouldn’t try his hand at verses, since the donkey and the skald had
been having their innings.

    "Once I knew a fine skald
      And he sang a lay,
    But a donkey near stall’d,
      Beat him with his bray.
    Now which is greater poet—
      The skald or donkey, tell?
    When the first began the song
      The latter sang as well.


Loud applause followed this doggerel outburst, which had, at least, the
merit of being impromptu, which is more than could be said for the
skald’s untimely production.  The skald, however, was very angry, and
shouted to the young man to sit down, for he had not finished; but the
latter was now also fired with poetical ardour; he had no idea of his
latent talent until he found how well his doggerel was received, and
attributing this to the success of his wit, and not to the amusement
caused by the discomfiture of his rival, he felt he had as much right to
be heard as the skald, and having once got on his feet he felt all the
delight of a young orator who has made a successful _début_, and,
unfortunately for himself, does not know when to sit down.  He refused,
therefore, to give way, and proceeded to string some epithets together
more forcible than elegant, the poetry of which chiefly consisted in
vigorous metaphor, but whose charms were completely lost on the skald,
who thundered back rhymes of a more classical kind, but breathing none
the less bitter scorn for this miserable upstart who dared to pollute
the pure regions of poesy, and contaminate the rich drink of Woden with
his ditch-water doggerel.  The wordy war waxed fast and furious, and the
other competitor for poetical honours, the donkey, added to it from time
to time by giving vent to a self-asserting bray, which for the moment
silenced the other two completely.

"Look here," shouted Athelhune, "I am getting tired of this; if ye can’t
settle it to your satisfaction this way I’ll show ye another and a
better method; ye have bothered us long enough.  It is only fair ye
should afford us some fun now; catch that donkey one of ye, he’s the
author of all this.  Now drive a stake into the centre of that clear
place there, and do ye, old skald and young skald, come out here."

All were now eager to know what Athelhune was going to do, and the two
men were inclined to refuse to come out; but the jeers of the others,
who accused them of cowardice, at last overcame their disinclinations,
and they both came up to Athelhune.

"Give me a couple of bandages," he cried; and when these were soon
brought from a neighbouring cottage, he proceeded to tie the bandages
tightly round their eyes, thus blindfolding them; he was not able to do
this, however, without assuring them that no harm would happen to them.
When they were completely blindfolded they were led up to the stake, and
each was fastened to it by one ankle with a strong cord about ten yards
long. The donkey was also made fast in the same way, and its two hind
legs were hobbled.  When all these arrangements were completed, two
stout sticks were given to the rival poets, and they were told to punish
the donkey for its utterly uncalled for interruption. The one who kept
on beating longest was to have the right of finishing his
improvisation.[4]


[4] This blindfolded encounter was suggested by the account of a contest
that took place in Paris, in 1425, between four blindfolded men.
Indeed, all through the middle ages such contests were very frequent,
horse-play being greatly admired at all times.


A large crowd had by this time assembled, and Cædwalla’s followers had
all risen from their feast and stood round, and with the sporting
instincts of their race were backing the three competitors: for the
donkey was to have his share in the contest, and he had been muzzled to
prevent his taking an unfair advantage of his vocal powers.

"Is all ready?" called Athelhune.  "Then in the name of Woden begin."
At this order the two poets cautiously approached the spot where they
supposed the donkey was.

The younger man, whose name was Oswald, was not so anxious to hit the
donkey as to get a blow at the skald, for this he knew would amuse the
bystanders; so after he had gone a few paces he stopped and listened, in
order to judge where the others were.  The skald, who was a prudent
fellow, fearing he might come upon the donkey, and so fall over it, or
get tripped over its rope, put his stick in the manner of a feeler in
front of him, and came gently groping his way towards the animal.  This
latter, after a series of violent plunges and kicks, when he found
himself first made fast, had since stood perfectly still, gazing upon
the crowd in a stupid way, and was suddenly roused from his reverie by
feeling the skald’s stick poke him in the ribs.  Giving a squeal of
surprise he jumped to one side, and in so doing came violently against
Oswald, who, not expecting this, was instantly thrown down. The skald,
thinking the donkey was where he had poked it, rained a storm of blows
upon the empty air, and as there was no object for his blows to fall
upon, he overbalanced himself, and fell forward on his face.

[Illustration: How ye Skald, ye Yokel, and Ye Jackass strove for a prize
of poesie]

Loud shouts of "The donkey for ever; give it him, Ikey!" rose from the
crowd, who were convulsed with laughter at the ludicrous scene.  Oswald
had now picked himself up, and hearing a scuffling near him, supposed it
was the donkey, and belaboured the spot where the noise came from with
hearty good will. A roar of rage greeted this manoeuvre, for Oswald’s
stick fell on the miserable skald, who, burning with mortified pride and
desire for revenge, rolled over out of reach of the stick, which Oswald
continued to ply, unconscious that his victim had gone, until he was
suddenly propelled violently forward by the donkey’s heels, which caught
him behind.

Vowing revenge upon the author of their misfortunes and smarting with
pain, the two luckless poets rose to their feet and groped about for the
donkey, which was lazily rubbing its head against the post.  Oswald was
the first to find out where it was, and raising his stick in the air,
brought it down with tremendous force on the poor animal.  Squealing at
the blow, the donkey gave a violent plunge forward and pulled the stick
out of the ground, and instantly upset both the competitors; for their
legs were made fast to it, and the sudden and unexpected jerk threw both
to the ground.  Such was the terror of the animal that it dragged the
poor skalds among the crowd, overturning many of the bystanders, and
throwing the whole place into a perfect uproar.  The captured skalds,
dragged in the train of their victor, clutched at the legs of the
nearest bystanders, and thus brought them down too, who, in their turn,
caught at whatever was nearest to them, until at last the excessive
strain upon the rope fortunately caused it to break, and the donkey went
off with the honours of war.

The uproar and confusion caused by this event brought Cædwalla hastily
from the palace, fearing that some cause of difference had arisen
between his men and the townspeople.  It was, therefore, with relief he
saw the real state of the case; but, in order to prevent merriment from
degenerating into strife, he directed Wulf and Athelhune to call the men
together for the purpose of distributing the spoils they had won.  At
Wilfrid’s suggestion also, he set the idle hands among the townspeople
to clear away the wreck of the palace and to commence rebuilding it,
promising all who would take part in this work remuneration in
proportion to their services; for Wilfrid, foreseeing the advantage it
would be to the cause of Christianity to gain over this young and noble
nature, for whom there was every prospect of a bright future, had told
him that if he were in want of ready means to fit him for his position,
he would advance him the necessary funds, thus preventing the extortion
which would otherwise follow if Cædwalla had to take it by violence, and
the unpopularity which would consequently ensue.  He well knew that the
warmhearted youth would never forget this assistance.

When order had been once more restored, Cædwalla gave directions to have
the funeral of Edilwalch conducted with suitable splendour, and a
procession set out in the afternoon to carry the body to the stone
church that was now rising in Selsea under the direction and from the
plans of Wilfrid, whose taste for building had already been exhibited in
the churches of Hexham and Ripon.



                             *CHAPTER VI.*

                            *EXTREMES MEET.*


A few days after the events narrated in the last chapter, Ceolwulf, or,
as Ædric and Wulfstan loved to call him, Biggun, having obtained leave
from Cædwalla, with whom he had become a great favourite, to return to
look after his young "eorls," was engaged in overhauling the boat that
had brought them to Boseham, and which had been the means of introducing
them to such stirring events.

With the inhabitants of the little settlement, Ceolwulf had become an
important personage.  Cædwalla had for some time rendered his name
respected; for being at the head of a formidable band of outlaws, all
intrepid and well-disciplined men, accustomed to act together, and sure
to revenge an injury suffered by any one of their number, the population
on each side of the Andredesweald were very careful not to give any
cause for offence to so troublesome an enemy.  Cædwalla, with the true
policy of all outlawed aspirants to regal dignity in semi-organised
societies, had carefully directed his followers to molest only the
immediate adherents of Edilwalch or Centwine, and as far as possible to
treat the other inhabitants bordering on the forest with courtesy.  Any
man, therefore, who was in favour with Cædwalla was sure of a certain
amount of respect from the people in the immediate vicinity of the
Andredesweald.

The reputation which Ceolwulf had won on the night of the surprise of
Cissanceaster had already spread round the district, and the poor
thralls of Boseham, as well as the few ceorls or yeomen of the
neighbourhood, were eager to stand well with one who was likely to be
influential when Cædwalla established his power more firmly.

Beornwulf’s wound was nearly healed, but he was still somewhat sullen
with Ceolwulf, and had not entirely given up the idea of taking revenge
on him when he was quite strong again.  The conversation of the worthy
monks was not at all interesting to him, and, except when they went out
fishing, or told him stories from the Old Testament of the fights of the
Israelites and the Canaanites, life was very dull; and he was all the
more disgusted with Ceolwulf because it was owing to him that he had
been deprived of his share in the booty and the glory of the night
attack upon Cissanceaster, and he was now for the twentieth time
grumbling over this grievance.  However, there was a novelty about a
boat that caused him to forget his wrongs for a short time.  Born in the
neighbourhood of Deorham[1], he had never seen the sea, excepting a
distant glimpse of the Bristol Channel, until, joining the band of
discontented and landless men under Cædwalla, he had made occasional
visits to the seashore near Selsea, or to the land of the Meanwaras.
Curiously enough, the art of boat or shipbuilding appears to have fallen
into disuse very soon after the arrival of the first Angle and Saxon
invaders, arising, no doubt, from the fact that, as they had plenty to
do in conquering the Britons, the sons of the first conquerors never
learnt how to build boats, and very rapidly changed from a seafaring to
a partly agricultural, partly warlike people.  One great merit of the
early monks was that they did all they could to improve the condition of
the people.  They taught them gardening, building, fishing, and
agriculture, as well as imbuing them with the softening and intellectual
light of the Gospel, and by their gentle ways and purity of life they
shed a halo of refinement round them, whose brightness, from the
contrast it afforded with that dark and gross age, can scarcely be too
highly estimated.


[1] Now Derham, in Gloucestershire, where Ceawlin, the west Saxon king,
slew three British princes, "Commeail, Condidan and Fariemeiol."


"Biggun, why dost thou put so many places for oars?" asked Wulfstan.

"Because she’s a heavy boat to row."

"Art thou going out in her then?  And if thou art, who are going with
thee?"

"Maybe I am and maybe I am not, Wulf."

"Thou never wilt go without my going too, Biggun?"

"That is as may be," cautiously replied old Ceolwulf.

"Why, Biggun, what’s the matter with thee this morning?  Thou’rt as
difficult to make out as old Mother Deva was on a washing morning.  Ah!
I should like to see old Deva again.  What thinkest thou has become of
her?"

"That I cannot say; but I don’t suppose that Arwald would do her any
harm—leastways if she kept a civil tongue in her head.  No, not that
way, Beornwulf, thou art fixing that "knee" the wrong way up, seest
thou?" added Ceolwulf, testily, as Beornwulf, who really was not to
blame, seeing he had never seen a boat before this one in his life, was
fixing a three-cornered piece of wood which was intended to strengthen
the gunwale, or side of the boat, by being nailed both to it, and also
to the thwart or seat. Not understanding the object of it, he was about
to nail it on flat with the seat instead of on end and edgeways.
Brother Corman was assisting also, and gave a very intelligent hand and
eye to the work.

Ædric was lying on the bank above, stretched on a board covered with a
wolf skin, and brother Malachi and Father Dicoll were looking on; as
usual, a few children were playing around, and one or two untidy-looking
women were sitting at the doors of their cottages spinning flax and
talking gossip.  The tide was nearly low, and a flock of oxy birds were
settled on the mud-banks, occasionally rising and wheeling round in
flickering flight, uttering their shrill cry, only to settle a few yards
farther on; while a solemn heron sat motionless on the edge of the
water, and from time to time stretched out its long neck and dipped its
beak in the sludge; some wild ducks were skimming the surface of the
glassy water, and the distant cry of the curlew and the bittern dreamily
piped across the creek.

At times a dull and heavy thud, followed by a distant roar, boomed upon
the silence as the ground swell of the sea outside rolled upon the
shallow beach telling of some far-off storm away down channel.

In that sequestered nook and sheltered creek all was still save for the
birds and the children, the chatter of the women, or the occasional
remarks of the men.

It was a lovely autumn day, and the warmth of the sun was considerable
on that southerly sloping bank. The golden shadows of the oak trees were
mirrored in the glass-like water, and the distorted shadow of the heron
came wavering across the channel in the eddies caused by its own beak.
No sound could be heard from the far-reaching forest behind.  There all
was silent, mysterious, and profound.

There is no mystery so profound as the depth of a vast forest.  The
occasional rustle of a leaf flickering to the ground, the absolute
silence, the dim glories of the misty blue vistas, athwart which a ray
of sunlight falls upon some gnarled and twisted branch. That which is
seen as well as that which is not seen alike serve to enhance the awe.

"There is one thing the Saxons can’t do," said brother Corman, as he
neatly fitted a new plank into the bilge of the boat, which had become
leaky and was cracked from her heavy bumping on the Pole sand at the
entrance to the harbour.

"What’s that?" said Beornwulf.

"Why, they can’t make those light fishing boats which the Wealas, as
thou callest them, make.  What sayest thou to a boat that one can fish
from with ease, then paddle ashore, and on getting out can put upon
one’s back and carry home?"

"Oh, I wish I had a boat like that!" cried Wulfstan; "how are they made
so light?  What are they made of?"

"Thou couldest make one if thou mindest to, Wulf; only patience is
needful."

"Could I?  Dost really think I could?  Then I could go out fishing
without asking any one!" cried Wulfstan, delighted, who already in his
imagination saw endless lines of fish coming ashore.  "When shall we
make it, Corman?"

"The first thing to do is to cut down a great many withies, then wattle
them into the form of a large basket, and then thou must get a large
skin, dress it well with fat, and stretch it all over the basket-work.
Thou must make the basket rather longer than it is wide, and more
pointed at one end.  Then put a stick across the middle, and thou canst
either sit in the bottom of the boat and lean back against this stick,
or thou mayst sit upon the stick itself; and then if thou needst to
carry the boat, thou must put thy head inside the basket, between the
stick and the inside, and rest the stick against the chest.  In this way
it can be carried some distance without feeling much weight."

"That does sound well; let’s begin making it at once; there are some
withy trees, come along, Corman," cried Wulfstan, rushing off.

But brother Corman shouted after him that he had plenty to do, and when
he had cut as many of the longest withies as he could carry, he had
better come back with them and then go and get some more. However,
several of the children of the village, with whom Wulfstan had become a
great favourite, rushed off after him, and a great cutting down of
withies instantly took place.

Ædric, who was watching all the proceedings with an amused and
interested eye, uttered a sigh of regret that he could not go with the
others, whose merry babble harmonised with the still melody of the other
peaceful sounds.  Ædric had been learning a good many things during the
many hours he lay upon his couch; the kind monks seldom left him alone,
unless he were asleep, and he was gradually beginning to understand the
beauty of a life that cared nothing for itself, but gave up its whole
existence for others.

He was a very affectionate boy, and as he thought over his lost home,
and his noble father, almost certainly killed, he could not help crying
sadly to himself.  If Father Dicoll were by at such times, or came in
while the sad fit was on, he would lead the conversation to the
delightful assurance of ever-lasting life which those who believed on
our Saviour had to console them.  And as he talked on these solemn but
comforting subjects, Ædric would listen with wondering curiosity, and
gradually feel comforted in spite of himself.

"And after all," the worthy monk would say, "what are affections?  If we
loved our Lord as He loved us, our whole thoughts would be so full of
Him, and the desire to do His work, that we should have no room to think
of earthly affections, or earthly sufferings."

"Must not I then love my father, or my brother? My mother died before I
could remember her, so I could not love her, thou knowest; but I liked
old Deva, when she was not cross, which, by the way, she was often
enough."

"Certainly, my son, thou shouldest love thy relations; and, indeed, it
is difficult enough not to do so," added Father Dicoll, with a sigh, as
he thought of his own father and mother, away in the lovely, sunny home,
near the beautiful Vale of Avoca, where he had been brought up; and the
bright eyes, and winsome smile of his sister.  "But what I mean is, we
should attain to the heavenly calm which allows us to love all mankind
as brothers in the Lord, being sons of God, and heirs of the kingdom of
heaven.  Sorrowing when our nearest and dearest go, or we go from them;
but not sorrowing overmuch, for we know it is but a little time and we
shall be with them.  Some day I will tell thee the story of my own life,
and thou wilt then see how hard it is to die to the world when once thou
hast known its evil passions and wild affections.  But, thanks be to the
Lord who giveth us the victory, even these are overcome by prayer and
fasting, and that faith without which all else is profitless.

"Who knows, my son, but that the Almighty, in His mercy, has so ordered
matters that thine accident was sent that thou mightest be plucked as a
brand from the burning, and in thy boyhood might turn to Him, and, like
the blessed Timothy, ’follow after righteousness, godliness, faith,
love, patience, meekness,’ and being led by the Spirit to this
wilderness, that thou mightest learn to ’flee youthful lusts which war
against the soul.’  Does the life of one who from youth devotes himself
to the Lord seem to thee, with thy roving northern instincts, devoid of
adventure? Many, far too many for thy weak strength, are the dangers
thou wilt have to encounter.  Dost thou enjoy the wild pleasure of a
fierce wolf hunt?  The devil goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom
he may devour.  Attack and kill him if thou canst. Wishest thou for
weapons in the combat?  The King we serve will give thee the best, and
such as have never been known to fail; there is the sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God, the shield of Faith, the helmet of Salvation,
and the hawberk of Righteousness. Dost thou wish for a reward for thy
toilsome fight?  When the day’s work is over, and thou art wearied with
thy strife, a clarion call will sound, and thou wilt hear a gentle Voice
say, ’Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy
of thy Lord.’  ’Be thou faithful unto death, and thou shalt receive the
crown of life.’"

Ædric used to listen, charmed by the flow of words, as well as by the
earnestness of the speaker; for, after all, earnestness and manifest
conviction go far more to persuade than many subtle arguments that
appeal merely to reason, and are delivered only as the cold syllogisms
of a faultless logic.  Instinctively the youngest intelligence that
deserves such a name feels there is so much that can never be explained,
that facts which would stagger a mind accustomed to approach all
subjects from the standpoint of human reason are accepted without demur,
just as they know the sun gives heat and the countless stars are hung in
the firmament; but who can explain the one or know anything about the
other?

Ædric loved to hear the wonderful stories out of the Bible, all quite
new to him: the glimpses he got of other lands; the marvellous deeds of
Samson, of David, and of Gideon; the magnificence of Solomon; the weird
awfulness of the wonders of the Red Sea, and that strange land of
Ham—all came to him with the interest of novelty, and many times he
could not understand what the monks were telling him.

It took him a long time to grasp the beauty of such a sacrifice as that
of our Lord; the voluntary offering of Himself to such keen physical and
mental suffering for the sake of those who in countless numbers would
reject Him, astonished him.  He could understand that no man hath
greater love than to lay down his life for his _friend_; but it was
incomprehensible that he should do so for an _enemy_.

But gradually, as the beauty of forgiveness dawned upon him, he came to
see that if one really forgives, there comes with the sense of
forgiveness a desire to benefit the forgiven one, and, the crowning
triumph of all, to make him feel one in thought and action with Him who
forgives.  Slowly but surely the "Beauty of Holiness" was entering his
soul; and as the monk talked to him of the objects and duties of life,
and of how little worth was earthly wealth or station, or pleasure,
compared to the eternity of existence, and the necessity of our fitting
ourselves for it, Ædric, with the ardour of youthful impressions, longed
to consecrate his life to God, and to renounce the world, the flesh, and
the devil, in the only really earnest way that seemed possible to the
most religious minds of that age—by vowing himself solemnly to God from
his youth.

But Dicoll, to whom he one day timidly ventured to talk upon the
subject, very wisely told him he must first prove himself; he could not
tell yet whether the wish for a holy life were merely the passing
sentiment of an imaginative temperament, intensified by the physical
exhaustion of a serious wound and acted upon by the beauty of an
entirely new set of ideas; for there would be great danger to his
lasting happiness if, after solemnly dedicating himself to God, he was
then to cast longing looks at the world and sigh after its pleasures and
its vanities.

[Illustration: How they talked of many things as they mended a boat at
Boseham]

Such thoughts as these were passing through Ædric’s mind as he lay on
the wolf-skin and watched the boat being mended, or listened to Wulfstan
as he chattered to the children, who were helping him carry the cut
withies to a place near brother Corman, who was going to show him how to
make his boat, or coracle as he called it.

Corman was improving the occasion, as he helped Ceolwulf and Beornwulf
to mend the boat, by telling them the story of the making of the ark, in
which his hearers were much interested.

"Why, that reminds me of what our gleeman used to tell us of Bergelmir
the giant, who, when the sons of Bor slew Ymir, and his blood drowned
all the race of Frost Giants, went on board his boat with his wife, and
so floated away when everyone else was drowned," said Ceolwulf; "but I
have heard of two larger boats than that.  One was Skidbladnir, which
was built for the gods by the dwarfs, the sons of Ivaldi, and it was so
big that it could take all of them on board at once with their war
stores and weapons; and it was a very useful boat, for when it was not
wanted, Frey, for whom it was made, could fold it up like a piece of
cloth and put it in her pocket."

"That must have been a wonderful boat, truly," said Beornwulf, "and must
have had many spells and enchantments used over her, doubtless.  But
what was the other boat thou saidest thou knewest of that was larger
than Bergelmir’s!"

"I can’t say I know much about that boat, but they call it Naglfar, and
it is made of dead men’s nails; and thus if men’s nails are short when
they die, the ship will take a long time to be finished, and so I was
told we always ought to keep our nails short, for we cannot tell when we
may die."

"And that’s true enough, Ceolwulf," said Corman, "and the sooner thou
ceasest to believe all those old wives’ tales the better thou wilt be.
’Cease to do evil, learn to do good;’ make preparation with the heart
for the hour that all must pass through, and think not of the body,
excepting in so far as it may be presented faultless before its Maker,
which could never be by our means," added brother Corman.

At this moment Wulfstan ran up with a large bundle of withies, saying,
"See here, brother Corman, we have surely got enough now, haven’t we?"

"Well, yes, I think thou hast, to make a beginning with, anyhow.  Thou
must have a great deal of patience, or else success will not come.  Now
lay the longest and stoutest withies on the ground, at about a hand’s
breadth apart.  That’s right.  A little closer those on the left; you
have not got the spaces quite regular.  Now peg them all down on the
ground in the middle.  Aye, that will do.  But, Beate Columba! whatever
is that noise about?" broke off Corman in astonishment, as a distant
roar of men’s voices, mingled with the clash of metal, was borne over
the forest from the direction of Cissanceaster.

All stopped to listen.  The noise and tumult went on for some minutes,
and then gradually died away.

"_Quare fremuerunt gentes!_" murmured Father Dicoll.

"What thinkest thou it is, Ceolwulf?" asked Wulfstan.

"That I can’t say, rightly speaking, but I should say that there was
something going on," oracularly replied Biggun.  "But, anyhow, we had
better get on with this boat; so, Beornwulf, just help me to lift her a
bit more over on her bilge, and then I can drive in these plugs a bit
better.  There, that will do."

"Look!" said Ædric, "there’s brother Malachi coming round the point.  I
wonder if he’s caught many fish?"

"He doesn’t come very fast," said Wulfstan.

"How can three logs pushed by a monk get along fast?" said Biggun
contemptuously, who, ever since the first time of their meeting, had
formed a very poor opinion of brother Malachi.  He did not think much of
any of the monks, whom he regarded as poor-spirited fellows.  He thought
Corman had the makings of a good sort of man in him, for he seemed to
know a few practical things, but Malachi he looked upon as not being
"all there," he appeared so dreamy and abstracted.

However, brother Malachi approached, slowly but surely carried by the
tide, which was now rising rapidly.  A few fish could be seen lying on
the board in front of him, which caused Beornwulf to take much more
interest in him.

"There now, Corman, I do believe she’s quite fit for sea again," said
Biggun, complacently viewing the result of their shipbuilding efforts.
"The next thing is to overhaul her gear and see if we can’t get that
sail to set a bit stiffer."

Certainly the poor old tattered sail did look as if it wanted a little
attention as it lay upon the grassy slope.  However, Ceolwulf, by dint
of hard bargaining induced one of the women who appeared most handy with
the needle to patch it up with various scraps of home-spun cloth, and at
last it looked as though it really would hold the wind fairly well.

By this time Malachi had come ashore, and all the children had crowded
down to the raft to see his catch.  He had got a few eels, two or three
of a very good size, a few whiting, and one good-sized bass. As soon as
the success of his fishing was known, it was obvious how very much he
went up in the estimation of the bystanders, even Ceolwulf condescending
to say in a patronising way that he really hadn’t done badly for a monk.

Ædric was always irritated at old Ceolwulf for his treatment of the good
monks, whom he knew to be infinitely cleverer and a very great deal
better than poor ignorant old Biggun; and even supposing they had not
been, they had so hospitably taken care of them, at the risk of possibly
making enemies, when they came to them in the most absolute need and
helplessness, that it seemed a very great absence of courtesy, to say
the least of it, to show the slightest want of respect to them.

But courteous manners were not a characteristic of the early English
settlers, with whom the main idea was the "simple rule, the good old
plan, that he shall take who has the power, and he shall keep who can."

However, none of the worthy monks showed the least resentment at
Ceolwulf’s manner; indeed, Ædric could not tell that they saw it.

In the excitement caused by the arrival of the fish no one had heard the
hurried steps of three men who were rapidly approaching, and it was not
until Ceolwulf heard himself called by name that he was aware of their
presence.

"Why, Athelhune," he cried in astonishment, "what brings thee here?
Thou seemest, truly, as though matters were pressing thee somewhat."

The eyes of all were now turned upon the new comers, who certainly did
look as though they had come fast.  They were fully armed, but their
armour bore traces of rough and recent usage.  Athelhune’s shield was
cleft nearly through, his axe was notched and stained, and he was in a
violent state of heat. His two companions were in much the same
condition, and one was badly wounded, for blood was slowly welling from
a deep cut in the neck.

As soon as Corman saw the condition he was in he led him to his hut and
staunched the wound, applying healing herbs and a bandage.

"Ceolwulf, we have been surprised in our turn at Cissanceaster by the
two eorls, Berchthune and Andhune, who returned suddenly from Kent.  We
have been driven out of the town, and Cædwalla is once more a wanderer.
He sent me to thee because he remembered the expedition thou wast to
undertake, and he was afraid thou mightest wait here until thou mightest
fall into the hands of the South Saxon eorls. Thou art to start
to-night, and I and as many others as we can collect, or the boat will
hold, are to go with thee.  Thou wilt take the direction of the
expedition, as thou knowest the country.  The two boys are to go to
Wilfrid, with whom they will be safe.  Cædwalla does not in the least
despair of recovering his rights, and hopes to be able to follow us
himself before long."

So said Athelhune, and the astonishing nature of the news produced a
profound silence, broken by Father Dicoll saying:

"See, my children, the mutability of earthly affairs. _Vanitas
vanitatum,_" saith the Preacher, "_omnia est vanitas_."

"I don’t know what that means," said Athelhune. "but if it means I am
very hungry, that’s quite true. I could eat some of those fish, I
think."



                             *CHAPTER VII.*

                 *"HO!  WATCHMAN; WHAT OF THE NIGHT!"*


"Well, there’s plenty to be done, anyway," growled old Biggun, as he
gradually took in the full extent of the news Athelhune had brought,
"and the worst of it is there’s not many of us to do it.  Well, well, we
shall see.  The tide don’t cease flowing till a little before dusk; if
we can get away somewhere before that we shall have daylight to take us
over that bar, and when once we are outside we shall be all right then.
Let me see, how’s the wind? Why, there is not much, but what little
draught of air there is comes from the right quarter.  It’s about
north-east to easterly, I’m thinking, and that’s why we heard all that
to do at Cissanceaster so clearly."

So saying, the old man, putting a few articles into the boat, went off
to join the others, who were all busy cleaning the fish and cooking them
on an iron plate placed over the fire, which had been hastily lighted
outside Father Dicoll’s hut.

There was a great deal to be done before Ceolwulf could start on the
expedition, which was a very dangerous one.  While he was with Cædwalla
he had obtained that prince’s consent to the despatching of some of his
followers with Ceolwulf to see what had become of Ælfhere, and how
matters were going on in Wihtea, and if he found that there were many
who were discontented with the way Arwald was conducting affairs,
Cædwalla promised to come over and help him; and if Ælfhere were alive,
he would reinstate him in his possessions and authority, or, if he were
dead, he would appoint someone to look after matters in his interest,
and until Ædric and Wulfstan were old enough to look after themselves.
Now that matters had taken this unhappy turn for Cædwalla, Ceolwulf
thought it would have been more prudent if he had gone to join the
prince and had sent the boys to St. Wilfrid; but he did not like to act
contrary to Cædwalla’s orders, especially as he depended upon him for
supporting them all later on.  "After all," he thought, "I can but go
across and see how the land lies, and then come back again.  The boys
will be quite safe meanwhile with Wilfrid, for they will go there,
anyhow."

After they had had their dinner, Ceolwulf and Athelhune walked apart and
decided what was to be done.  The boat would take eight persons easily:
could they muster eight?  There were only Beornwulf and the other man,
whose name was Osborn, for the wounded man was too badly hurt to be of
any use; that only made four.  "Would any of the people of Boseham go?"
said Athelhune.  "By the way, I forgot to give thee this gold which
Cædwalla bid me give thee.  It might be useful to induce some of them to
go."

"Well, we can try," said Ceolwulf.  "But thou wilt get on better with
them than I shall; do thou go and have a talk with a few while I get
Beornwulf and Osborn to get down what we want for the undertaking."

Under Ceolwulf’s directions, all the arms were put into the boat.  The
shields and linked mail shirts were carefully stowed out of the way of
any sea water, and then such pieces of pork and bread as Ceolwulf was
able to obtain by hard bargaining from the richer ceorls’ wives were put
in, and, finally, a tub, or beaker, of water completed the preparations.
Everything was put very securely in its place, and every care taken
against damage by the movement of the sea.

Meanwhile, Athelhune had induced three fairly stalwart young men to
accompany them, promising them some weapons and a small sum of money as
a recompense.

It was now nearly high water, and the boat was floating alongside of the
quay.  She looked in very much better condition than when she arrived,
and Wulfstan was helping Biggun to hoist the sail.

"I say, Biggun, where art thou going to?"

"Well, Wulfstan, I am going over to Wihtea."

"Oh! art thou truly?  And, of course, I am going too?"

"Why, no, Wulf.  Thou seest it is a little dangerous, and there would be
no use in thy going.  We shan’t be long gone; only I know that thou and
Ædric would like to know what’s going on over there, and so we shall go
out with the tide this evening, and return, maybe, the day after
to-morrow."

"Oh, Biggun, do let me go!  I will be quite good and do all thou tellest
me; I promise I will."

"No, Wulf, no; it’s no good asking me.  There, we’ve got the sail well
set, and the sooner we get off the better.  Now, let’s see where are our
crew? Athelhune, let’s have a look at them altogether."

The five men were accordingly called up, and Athelhune briefly told them
that Cædwalla, whose generosity they all knew, and whose vengeance also
it was as well to avoid, had decided to find out how matters were going
on in Wihtea, and for this purpose had determined to send Ceolwulf and
himself as eorldomen to explore the east end of the island, and having
found out the state of affairs to come back and report to him; that he
had chosen those five men for this honourable occupation, and that all
would be well remembered and suitably rewarded when Cædwalla’s power was
firmly established; and the more they contributed to this end the sooner
would their own position be secured.  There was little or no danger, for
which, no doubt, as brave fellows, they would be sorry; for in Ceolwulf
they had a first-rate guide, and one who knew every inch of the ground,
and was well known by all the inhabitants; he would show them a good
harbour, and they were sure of a good welcome.

To this speech Wulfstan listened open-eared, and when it was over he ran
up to Ceolwulf and said:

"Thou heardest what he said?  He said there was no danger, and that thou
wouldest have a sure welcome; well, then, why can’t I go?  Do let me go,
Biggun?"

"No, Wulfstan, I can’t!  Who is to take care of Ædric?"

"Oh, he won’t mind; and, besides, we are to be away such a short time."

"No, no, don’t bother me so.  Seest thou not how busy I am?" and to
avoid further entreat, Ceolwulf walked off to talk to Father Dicoll,
whom he found in earnest converse with brother Malachi.

"I trust, Father Dicoll, thou wilt have the boys sent over to Wilfrid if
there is any danger from the South Saxon eorls," said Ceolwulf.

"We will do what we can, my son, and I was talking to brother Malachi
about it as thou camest up.  Our best way will be to let Wilfrid know,
and then, no doubt, as he has men, to whom he can say ’come’ and they
come, and to others ’go’ and they go, he will send over and have them
taken under safe conduct to his house at Selsea.  This we will have
done.  But there is another matter brother Malachi here wants to speak
to thee about. He is urgent with me to let him go with thee to Wihtea;
he says he has been urged by the Spirit to carry the Gospel of good
tidings to that benighted spot.  When I urged him that the Lord had work
enough for him here, he said that here were many instruments of God.
That there was brother Corman and myself, and Wilfrid and all his
clergy; and that he had seen in a vision of the night, like the blessed
Paul, a man of Wihtea standing by, and saying, ’Come over and help us.’
I told him of the dangers, but I am glad to say that, like a true
follower of our Lord, these only made him all the more earnest to be
gone——"

"There, Father Dicoll, thou hast said enough; if the poor creature wants
to get killed it is not for me to prevent him.  Ye have been good and
hospitable men to us, and taken care of Ædric and Wulfstan right
manfully, and if I can do anything to help thee or thine, I’m only too
glad to have the opportunity.  Let him come."

Brother Malachi had been listening to all that was said, and going up to
Father Dicoll he knelt down and asked his blessing, much to the
astonishment of the Saxons, who all began to laugh; and they laughed
still more when he rose up and kissed Dicoll and Corman, who returned
the salutation, saying as they did so, "_I, frater, in pace et Dominus
tecum_."

"These be odd men," said Athelhune, who, not quite so utterly
uncultivated as the other Saxons standing by, was yet amused at their
singular habits; for to the Teutonic mind outward and practical evidence
of affection always appeared effeminate.

Malachi now turned to Eddie and Wulfstan, and took a kind farewell of
both of them, especially of Ædric, who returned his affectionate
greeting, and struggled hard to restrain his emotion, which he would not
for the world have shown before all those men; but he longed for his
home and news of his father, and it seemed hard that a stranger could go
and he could not.  "My son, our home is not here, nor there, but our
home is in heaven," whispered Malachi, as Ædric murmured his regret in
his ear.

As for Wulfstan, he was very sulky; he was particularly angry to find
that a monk was allowed to go and he was not.

"Why, isn’t he in the way far more than I am? He doesn’t know how to
row, and I do; and he can’t fight nearly so well as I can.  What’s the
good of him if he can’t fight?  I call it a shame, Ædric.  I used to
like old Biggun, but now I hate him.  He’s got so proud since
Cissanceaster, and forgets he was our father’s herdsman.  I hate him, I
do!"

"Hush, Wulfstan, thou oughtest not to be so ungrateful.  Thou forgettest
he lost everything just as much as we did, and he might have saved it
all, by making friends with Arwald.  And think how he has taken care of
us, and what trouble he took in bringing us over here, and he only
fought so well—and thou oughtest to be proud of him for it—in order to
get Cædwalla to take an interest in us, and send us some men to help us.
What good couldest thou do? and, of course, thou wouldest be very much
in the way."

"Oh, Ædric, thou art as bad as the monks!  Thou only sayest all this
because thou art not able to go too.  Thou knowest if thou wert well
enough to go thou wouldest only be too ready to talk evil of Ceolwulf.
Oh, I hate it all—but I will go! Thou shalt see!" added Wulfstan, with a
determined look.

The preparations for departure were nearly all ready; the men were
carrying down a few last articles that might be necessary, and Ceolwulf
and Athelhune were bidding good-bye to Father Dicoll and brother Corman.
Most of the women and children of the place had gathered round, and
there was much confusion of noise and bustle.  Such an event as the
departure of a boat full of eight men all armed, and one an eorldoman
and another a distinguished warrior, for so Ceolwulf was now regarded,
was too important not to create considerable excitement.  Brother
Malachi too going!  How would the poor monks get on for fish? how would
the poor man fare amid those rough men of war?

"Well, good-bye, Ædric; keep up thy spirits till I come back, and get
well as quickly as thou canst. Why, where’s Wulfstan?  I wanted to say
good-bye to him; but perhaps I had better not; he’ll only bother me over
again to take him, and that I won’t do.  So do thou say that I looked
for him, but couldn’t see him; that will do quite as well."

So saying, Ceolwulf went down to the boat, and then found that he really
had plenty to do, for only the three Boseham men had any idea of rowing.
Fortunately, there was a little wind, and by setting one of the Boseham
men to pull each oar, and one of the others to push, they were likely in
this way to get into the swing of the art.

He had also to explain the use of the ropes; but this did not take long,
only Ædric was convulsed with laughter at the sail coming down quite
suddenly on Ceolwulf’s head, as he was showing one of the men how to
make fast the sheet or rope which pulls in the sail.  In order to see if
the man quite knew where it was and what he ought to do, he had told him
to let the rope go, with the result that the sail came down with a run.
The man had already confused it with the main-halyard or rope that
pulled the sail—which was a lug-sail—up to the top of the mast.

As nearly all the men were in the boat, the sudden descent of the sail
caused considerable confusion, and some angry exclamations; however, at
last all was ready, and Ceolwulf, who was getting impatient to be off,
gave the order to cast her off from her moorings, and taking an oar, put
it into a deep notch in the boat’s stern, and prepared to steer her.

The children all began to shout.  Ædric waved his hand.  Father Dicoll
and brother Corman stood by him, and called a farewell to brother
Malachi, who stood near the mast in the bow of the boat. Athelhune stood
near Ceolwulf, and the others rowed as they were placed.  The boat
glided gently away, and long soft ripples from her stern caused all the
shadows of the trees and the clouds to tremble in wavering patterns as
they rolled to the shore.

[Illustration: How Dicoll and Ædric saw ye boat depart]

"There, they are off," said Father Dicoll to Ædric; "and may the
blessing of the Almighty go with brother Malachi, for he goeth as a lamb
among wolves.  My soul yearneth for his safety."

"Doesn’t the boat look pretty as she sails away?" said brother Corman.

"Ah! it reminds me of our sails in the old days at home, when we used to
go out on the lough to fish."

It was a pretty scene: the sun was slowly sinking in the west, a grey
mist rose over the western horizon, hiding the slushy banks and sedges
of the shore; the red light of the sun came in a long flood up the
creek, against it the black sail and dark heads of the men stood out in
contrast.

"They go up a path of blood," sighed Dicoll. "May it be an omen of a
path that leads to glory."

Behind, the clouds were working up in great black masses, that stretched
across from north-west to south-east, and the breeze became colder.

The tide had begun to turn, and the boat was disappearing round a
distant bend in the creek.

"There! they are gone, and it’s time we went to vespers.  Let us carry
in Ædric, and make ready for the night.  It looks black away to the east
and north.  I trust we are not going to have snow."

"I wonder where Wulfstan is," said Corman.  "I didn’t see him when the
boat went off, and I should have thought he would have been the last to
look at them."

"I expect he has gone off after some more withies," said Ædric.

"Well, I daresay he will come in when he’s tired; but boys ought to
learn discipline while they are young, for it is a harder matter
afterwards," said Father Dicoll.

Meanwhile the boat was getting on very well; the novices in the art of
rowing were quickly becoming used to the swing and management of the
oar; so much so, that Ceolwulf had told the Boseham men to rest and
leave the others to go on, as their services might be wanted later.
Only one man had caught a crab, and being swung by the violence of the
shock against poor brother Malachi, coming in painful contact with the
monk’s body, causing him to ejaculate with more than usual fervour,
"_Ah! quare tristis es venter meus! et quare conturbas me?_"  Beyond
this little catastrophe, which, by the way, did not increase the good
feeling of the man who had caused the monk’s discomfort for his
victim—for he did not understand the meaning of his ejaculations, and
mistook them for condemnatory remarks—nothing else occurred.

A little more breeze had now got up, not sufficient, however, to create
any ripple on the water, but just enough to keep the sail full.

They were fast approaching the entrance, and could hear the dull thud of
the sea as it broke on the shingle outside.

"We shall have light enough, brother Malachi, I doubt not, to pass out
by?" called Ceolwulf.

"The Lord helping us, we shall not run aground," answered Malachi.

The sail was beginning to do its work famously, and Ceolwulf bid the men
put their oars in, and suggested to Athelhune that some food would be a
good thing.  Accordingly, search was made in the boat, when suddenly a
man called out:

"Why, in the name of Asgard, whom have we here?"

All looked round, and there, under a skin that sheltered the provisions
in the bow of the boat, was Wulfstan.

"Ah!  Biggun," the boy shouted, "I told thee I should come, and thou
canst not put me out now."

Ceolwulf saw it was no use being angry; so, giving the boy a sharp
rating for not doing what he was told, he made up his mind to the
inevitable.

And now the sun disappeared behind the low bank of what is at present
known as Hayling Island, and the breeze came up fresher behind them.

"It’s getting cold," said Athelhune.  "We shall have snow, I fear——"

"We shan’t be long getting over with this breeze, however.  It’s dead
aft and a smooth sea," replied Ceolwulf.

The boat was just beginning to feel the motion of the sea, and was
passing between the narrow entrance where Ceolwulf and the boys had
struck when coming in for the first time.

"Look out for the sail as she comes over!" shouted Biggun, as the boat
was altering its course to thread the intricate channel.

"There!  I knew somebody’s cap would be knocked off," added the old man,
as Beornwulf’s cap was carried over into the sea by the sail.

"Now, look alive, and shift over the sheet, someone. No! not that rope.
Here, someone with a head upon his shoulders—that’s right, Wulfstan,
thou understandest it, and can teach them something."

This was an admission on the part of Ceolwulf which Wulfstan did not
allow to pass over without notice.

"Ah, Biggun, thou findest that out now; it’s lucky for ye all I shipped
myself aboard.  Thou seest, Biggun, thou dost not know what’s for thine
own good."

To this remark Biggun only grunted.

It was now getting too dark to make out objects more than a hundred
yards off, and it required a watchful eye in the bows to see where the
waves were breaking.  The tide was rushing out through the narrow
entrance with a swirl and an eddy that caused many small white crested
waves, which it was necessary to distinguish from the real breakers on
the sand banks.  Brother Malachi was standing in the bows keeping a
sharp look-out with one of the Boseham men, and Ceolwulf was steering,
the rest were having some food.

"Here comes a long wave; keep her head up to it," called the Boseham
man, as a long wall of water rose out of the darkness and seemed to
stand right up above the bows of the boat; but Ceolwulf put her head at
it, and she rose gently over and plunged down on the other side, while
the wave rolled on and thundered behind them on the shore.

"There, we are clear of all banks now, and have nothing but the open sea
before us," called Malachi, as he sat down under the lee of the boat’s
gunwale.

"Thou hadst better come aft, brother Malachi," called Wulfstan, who, now
that he had accomplished his object, was glad the good monk was coming
too; he always felt comfortable when the kind monk was near, because he
never scolded him, or laughed at him, but quietly pointed out where he
was wrong very patiently.

Darkness had by this time become complete, and there was nothing for
Ceolwulf to steer by except a vague kind of instinct that told him to
keep the sail as full as it was when they last saw land; he had then put
the head of the boat pointing directly for the spot he wished to make
for, and he argued that if he did not draw the wind either too much on
her starboard beam, or, on the other hand, let it jibe the sail over, he
must make land where he wanted in about three hours’ time.  He had not
calculated that it was possible for the wind to shift.

The men were curling themselves up to go to sleep, and Malachi was
murmuring some words to himself.

"What sayest thou, brother Malachi?" asked Wulfstan.

"I was asking the Almighty to preserve us through the dangers of the
night, Wulfstan."

"But there are no dangers."

"There are always dangers on the sea."

"Not if thou takest care and keepest a good look-out."

"But thou mayest not know thy way, storms may rise, the boat may spring
a leak, or she may strike on a rock."

"How can she spring a leak if she has just been mended? and how can she
strike on a rock when she is ever so far from shore?  I believe thou art
frightened, brother Malachi; but there’s no need, there is nothing to be
afraid of.  Come and sit by me; I will take care of thee."

The rushing, gurgling sound under the bows of the boat showed she was
going through the water very fast.  As they got further out from the
land, the sea got up rather more, and from time to time the boat gave
wild rushes ahead, and then sank down in the trough of the waves, only
to rise again, lifting her stern up and careering madly forward until
her head rose in the air, and the wave curled over in front. It took all
Ceolwulf’s steering with the oar to keep her from broaching-to, as it is
called when the boat in running before the breeze turns broadside to the
wind on the top of a rolling wave, a situation which, it is needless to
say, is a very dangerous one.

"Why, the spray is coming in astern, Ceolwulf."

"No, it’s not the sea, it’s snow, and it’s coming on thick, I’m
thinking."

"Wilt thou be able to make out the land?" said Athelhune.

"We are not there yet," growled Ceolwulf, who was not in a very good
humour, for he was getting cold, and was beginning to be a little
doubtful of their whereabouts.

They had now sailed for about two hours, and they ought to be getting
near land; it was very thick, however, and the snow was coming on faster
than ever.  The sea was getting much heavier, and from time to time
Ceolwulf had the greatest difficulty in keeping his oar in the notch.

Wulfstan had coiled himself up, and had now gone to sleep.  The others
were mostly asleep or dozing, but Malachi and Athelhune felt the
uncertainty of their position, and shared Ceolwulf’s anxiety.

"We ought to be near land now, ought we not?" asked Malachi.

"We are not far off, I’m thinking," said Ceolwulf. "Lend me a hand with
this oar, Athelhune," he added, as a more than ordinarily large wave
rose up astern, and sent the boat staggering along with a wild lurch and
headlong plunge that took the wind out of the sail, and called for all
Ceolwulf’s knowledge of steering.  He and Athelhune, however, managed it
cleverly, and the sea passed under the boat with a seething rush,
raising her head high in air.

"The difficulty is in this snow, we can’t see breakers ahead," grumbled
Ceolwulf.  "Go forward, Malachi, and keep a sharp look-out.  Sing out
the moment thou seest any land."

Malachi did as he was told, and peered anxiously into the grey veil
ahead; but he could see nothing, only tumbling waves rising and falling,
leaping up like grey shadows, and disappearing in the misty gloom.

Suddenly Malachi felt the boat give a violent lurch, followed by a dizzy
rush, and he found himself in water nearly up to his waist.  What was
it?  What had happened?

The oar had broken, and the boat had come round into the trough of the
sea, and was in imminent danger of being rolled over or swamped.

All were now aroused, for most were lying in the water, which half
filled the boat.  However, Ceolwulf had seized another oar the moment
the catastrophe happened, and with great quickness had brought her round
to the course she was running, and then directed the men to bail the
water out.

Once more they rushed wildly on; while poor brother Malachi, murmuring
"_De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine_," drenched to the skin, gazed out
into the darkness.

For the next quarter of an hour or so nothing disturbed the monotony of
the rushing waters, the creaking mast, the occasionally flapping sail as
the boat sank into the trough of the sea, or the whistling of the wind;
everything in the boat was getting covered with a white pall, and the
discomfort of all was great.

Suddenly Malachi shouted out:

"Land! land! right ahead.  I see——"

But his words were lost in a wild crash, that hurled Ceolwulf and
Athelhune into the bottom of the boat, and pitched poor Malachi head
over heels overboard.



                            *CHAPTER VIII.*

                    *NOTHING VENTURE, NOTHING HAVE.*


The shock that produced the catastrophe which hurled brother Malachi
overboard was caused by the boat striking on a reef of rocks, which lay
some little distance out from the land, and, in the blinding snow and
darkness, was utterly invisible, although as each wave receded the rocks
were uncovered for a few minutes, only to be washed from end to end as a
new wave dashed over them.

The boat was lifted by the first wave right on to the top of the reef,
and consequently when the reflux of the wave took place, she fell over
on her side, and remained exactly as she would have done on a hard
beach.  The next wave, however, broke right into her, and filled her
from end to end, besides smashing the mast and knocking a hole in her as
she came down with a tremendous thump.  All the men had now jumped
overboard, and, under the direction of Ceolwulf, who took in the
situation at a glance, scrambled over the rocks before another large
wave came, and found on the other side that there was a shallow, sandy
pool, where the water came up to their waists, but where they were
protected from the extreme violence of the waves by the reef of rocks
outside.  Ceolwulf had taken the precaution to keep hold of the rope, or
warp, which was used for mooring the boat, and, shouting to the others
to hold on to this, he watched for another large wave, then, bidding the
others haul altogether, they dragged the boat over the rocks into the
part where they were, and where they would be able to get the cargo out
of the boat before she should break up, which she must inevitably do if
the tide were rising.

In the darkness and confusion nobody had thought of seeing whether
anyone was missing, but now that all immediate danger was over Ceolwulf
began to think he had not seen Malachi.

"Malachi!  Malachi!" he shouted, "where art thou?"

A very feeble answer came from behind them:

"Here, Ceolwulf, here."

"Art hurt, man?"

"_Miserere mei_, but I have no whole soundness in my body, all my bones
are out of joint, and the floods have gone over my soul."

"Where art thou?"

"I am on dry ground—at least, if that may be called dry which is all wet
with snow—but where I am, I know not."

"He’s all right," said Ceolwulf, who was holding the rope with one hand
and Wulfstan with the other. "He’s got ashore, and the sooner we get
there the better, it is only a little way off."

"Hadn’t we better get our arms out of the boat first? she may be smashed
all to pieces before we can get back to her again," suggested Athelhune.

"Right, quite right," answered Ceolwulf.  "Let every one take as much as
he can carry ashore with him, and follow me."  So saying, taking
Wulfstan’s hand, he waded ashore to where the voice of brother Malachi
guided them.  The others followed, carrying the armour, shields, spears,
and other weapons.

When they were all ashore, they found they were on a steep shingle beach
with a low cliff behind, as far as they could make out in the darkness.
Malachi was seated, shivering with cold, on a boulder of rock, and
Wulfstan ran up to him, and slapping him on the back, said:

"Hullo! brother Malachi, I am very glad thou art not drowned."

"Oh, don’t do that!  I am very glad too, but don’t touch me, I ache all
over.  Oh!" groaned brother Malachi, shivering, so that his teeth
chattered in his head.

"Well, run about then, and thou wilt soon get warm."

But the poor monk was too cold and dispirited for that, and only sat
still and shivered.  It certainly was a dreary outlook, as far as
anything could be seen.  A group of half-drowned men, a patch of
snow-covered beach, the dim outline of foaming waves, and all else
indistinguishable blackness.

"How much longer have we got to wait for daylight thinkest thou?" asked
Athelhune.

"It is not midnight yet," answered Ceolwulf gloomily.

"Dost thou know where we are?"

"On the Foreland, I doubt, and we’ve narrowly missed going out to sea
down the channel; but I can’t rightly say where we are until I have gone
a bit further in-shore."

"We had better all of us get into some shelter if we can.  We can’t pull
the boat up, and turn her over and get under her, can we?"

"No, we haven’t got strength enough for that. We had better get up this
cliff, and go inland; we shan’t find the wind so keen then."

They all, therefore, clambered over the shingle, and, scrambling up the
low cliff, found themselves among a thick growth of brushwood.

"Now, the best thing we can do, boys, is to cut down enough of this to
make a clearing for us to lie down in, and we can pile the cut bushes up
to the windward of us, and bring ashore the sail and the skins, and such
stores as we’ve got, and make ourselves as snug as we can until daylight
breaks.  Here, Athelhune, wilt thou set four of them to work with their
axes, while I and the others go back to the old boat who has made her
last journey, I fear."

This seemed to all a reasonable proposition, and Athelhune began at once
to set the men to work. Although it was very dark, yet, as they had
become accustomed to it, it was not really so difficult as it would seem
to work in the dimness.

"Hullo! who art thou?" called out Ceolwulf, as he fell over the
prostrate body of a man.  "Why, it’s brother Malachi I do believe, and
he’s gone to sleep; but that won’t do.  Here, Wulfstan, come and lead
him up the shore.  Make him walk; if he goes to sleep he will never wake
up again.  Hi!  Malachi, wake up!"

But Malachi was sound asleep, worn out with cold and wretchedness, and
it took a great deal of shaking to rouse him up.  When at last he was
made to understand where he was, he had scarcely any strength left to
walk, and it was with extreme difficulty Wulfstan could get him up the
beach and on the top of the cliff; and then Athelhune set him to work to
carry the bushes, which the others cut, to the windward side of the
clearing they were making.

Ceolwulf and the others now returned with the other things, and they
very soon made a tolerable shelter from the wind and snow by stretching
the sail and other coverings over stakes driven in the ground, and kept
up by the masts and oars, which were rested in the forked end of the
upright stakes.

"I suppose we can do nothing more for the old boat?" said Athelhune.

"No, she will have to take her chance.  I don’t think much will be left
of her to-morrow; the tide is rising fast, and the wind doesn’t show any
signs of going down.  It’s true she will be sheltered a little by the
reef outside, but not much, for there will be a good depth of water over
it at high tide."

"Dost thou know where we are now?"

"It’s where I thought.  We are at the end of the Foreland, and have had
a near chance of going out to sea," said Ceolwulf.

"Are there any houses near here?"

"No, not nearer than our old home at the head of the haven; but that was
burnt down the night we escaped in the boat—at least so it seemed to me
as I looked back."

"Canst count on any one helping us if we show ourselves by daylight?"

"Aye, I can count on some if they’ve not been killed; but I shall have
to go to work cautiously, as we have got no boat now to go back with,
unless we can capture another one."

"Well, the best thing we can do will be to lie as snug here as we can,
and close together, to keep ourselves warm."

As they were now all fairly well warmed by their exertions in making the
tent and clearing the ground, there was not much risk to such hardy men
from going to rest, and they all lay down under the shelter of the sails
and skins, and were soon sound asleep.

The first to wake next morning was Wulfstan, who got up at once, and
without waking any one, or at least disturbing them, he went out on to
the cliff to see what could be seen of the place where they were
wrecked.

The sun had only just risen.  It had ceased snowing for some time
apparently, for all signs of it had disappeared, and a glorious sight
met his eyes. At his feet lay the old boat, lying broadside on to the
steep shingle beach, and a large hole in her showed where she had struck
the night before.  She did not seem to have been any more damaged, and
doubtless the reef, which was just beginning to show as the tide
receded, had protected her; for the tides were then at neap or nearly
so, and consequently the sea had not risen so high or had as much force
as it would have had if the spring tides had then prevailed.  Beyond the
boat the white breakers were tumbling in creamy foam, tinged with the
red and gold of the rising sun, which cast a gleaming path of light from
the horizon to the feet of Wulfstan; on each side of this path of glory,
the sea was deep greeny-grey, ending in a blue and misty purple under
the rising sun; above the transparent depths of the exquisite
primrose-coloured sky a few fleecy golden clouds floated in the
fathomless blue of the heavens, while a gentle but rather keen breeze
brought health and vigour to the lungs of the hardy boy.  Far on the
horizon, towards the north-east, a distant line of grey hills showed
where the great Andredesweald stretched away in the distance.

Sniffing the fresh sea air, the boy ran along the beach, and, turning a
point a little way to the south-west of him, came upon a long reef of
rocks running far out into the sea, and over which the waves were
rushing and tumbling in wild confusion as the tide ebbed into the main
channel stream.

Out upon these rocks a solitary heron was looking for his morning meal
with outstretched neck, while flocks of oxy birds rose in flickering
flight, or settled, with shrill cry, on the luxuriant sea-weed that
clothed the rocks with sheeny growth.

As Wulfstan went further on, following the shore as it trended towards
the west, a great wall of chalk rose suddenly above the low gravel
cliff, and shut out all further view in that direction.  Above, the
magnificent chalk cliff, that went in sheer descent from a height of
some three hundred feet into the blue sea below, crowned with a smooth
slope of brown turf, rose in gradual swell to sink again in steeper
descent towards the north, while its precipitous sides sloped abruptly
to the low ground of the foreland.

"Oh! there’s our dear old Binbrigge dune!"[1] cried Wulfstan, who had
many a time ridden over those grassy slopes, and been lowered over the
cliff to collect the sea-fowls’ eggs that were laid in otherwise
unapproachable nooks and ledges of the precipice.


[1] Bembridge Down.


The boy had forgotten all the past weeks.  He seemed once more at home,
and wandered on, forgetful of the shipwreck, the sick brother left on
the mainland, and his own burnt home.

He was roused from his dreams by a rustling in the long coarse grass
that fringed the low cliff, and directly afterwards a boy’s voice called
out, in amazement:

"Why, it’s the young eorl Wulfstan, I do believe!"

"What, Stuff, is it thou?" cried Wulfstan joyfully, as a thick-set,
sturdy, shock-headed young Wihtwara of about Wulfstan’s age emerged from
the cover of the tall grass.

"Why, where hast thou been, Wulfstan, all this while?"

"Aha, Stuff, I’ve been a voyage, and I have killed a wild boar, and thou
canst not think how well I can fish.  Brother Malachi has taught me how
to make net, and what’s the right sort of bait for pout, and bass, and
lots of things."

"Oh, Wulfstan, thou dost not say so!  And where’s Ædric and old Biggun?
But thou hadst better not be seen, or thou wilt be killed, that thou
wilt."

"What happened that night when Arwald attacked us?"

"What, don’t thee know?  That was a fine night, that was.  How it did
burn just! and weren’t there a many head broke!  Oh, Loki!"[1]


[1] LOKI.—The Scandinavian God of Mischief.  He caused the death of
Baldur the Beautiful.


"Who was killed?  What became of father?"

"Why, who’s that a-standing there on the point yonder?  I do believe its
old Biggun! and he’s calling thee.  Thou hadst better run, Wulfstan."

"Thou must come too, and tell us all that has happened."

"I don’t know about that," said Stuff, scratching his head, and looking
dubiously in the direction of Ceolwulf, of whom he seemed to stand
considerably in awe.

"Thou hadst better, Stuff, for if thou dost not I will make thee."

"Thou make me!  I’d like to see thee do it. Why, I’ve——"

But before he could say any more Wulfstan had seized him round both
arms, and putting his foot behind Stuff’s heels, laid him on the ground
in an instant, falling on him at the same time, so that all poor Stuff’s
breath was knocked out of his body with the concussion.

"There, I told thee thou hadst better do what I bid thee."

But Stuff struggled manfully on the ground, and did all he could to
shake or roll Wulfstan off him.

"Ah, wouldst thou?  If thou dost not lie still and listen to what I am
going to say, I will pommel thee black and blue.  Dost thou not know I
am thine eorl now? or at least I am till Ædric comes back."

But Stuff only struggled all the harder, for he was a sturdy young
Wihtwara and very obstinate, until at last Wulfstan had to put his
threat into execution, and began to beat the breath out of his unruly
antagonist.

The contest was speedily ended by the arrival of Ceolwulf, who, seeing
the struggle, and not understanding the cause, strode hastily up to the
spot, fearing lest some harm should happen to his young lord.

"Hullo! what’s all this about?" he exclaimed, as he saw that he need not
have been uneasy about Wulfstan, who was evidently master of the
situation. "Whom have we got here?"

"It’s Stuff, Biggun; he didn’t want to come to thee, and I said I would
make him.  He doesn’t understand that I’m his master now."

"Do thou leave him to me, Wulfstan; it isn’t for the like of thee to be
rolling on the ground with such as he.  He won’t get away now, I’ll make
sure."

Wulfstan accordingly allowed the youngster to rise, and Ceolwulf said
sharply to him:

"Down on thy knees, and beg the young eorl’s pardon for having dared to
be insolent to him, or it will be the worse for thee."

Stuff did as he was bid sullenly enough, saying as he did so:

"He didn’t know as how he was his eorl now, there had been such
changes."

"Don’t talk to me of changes," said Ceolwulf. "He who has once been born
a thrall is always a thrall to his eorl until he frees him, and that
thou wilt not be in a hurry."

"Never mind, Stuff, thou shalt not be hurt, if thou art only wise and
behavest properly.  Of course, thou didst not know, that’s all."

"Now come along with us, we can’t be standing here where anyone might
see us.  Do thou come and tell us all that’s been going on since we’ve
been away," said Ceolwulf.

The three went off in the direction of the wreck, where, on their
arrival, they found all astir.

"Is there any water about here fit to drink, Ceolwulf, thinkest thou?"
called Athelhune.

"Aye, that there is, and very good water, too," cried Wulfstan.  "Come
with me, Beornwulf, and I will show thee where the spring is."

"Go with the young eorl, Beornwulf and Osborn, and take a bucket or two
if thou hast them," said Athelhune.

They very soon found the spring, which was not far off along the shore,
but the opposite way to that which Wulfstan had taken before.  Amid some
dead seaweed, blown up above high water mark, and a few large stones
covered with moss and lichen and sheltering a few ferns, a clear spring
of water welled up in unpolluted purity, and, trickling over the stones,
lost itself immediately in the loose shingle of the shore. A spring that
might elsewhere have been the source of some large stream, but here, cut
off at once in its earliest infancy, joined the sea without longer life
than a few short feet of furrowed stone—a fitting subject for a moralist
or divine; but, as neither Wulfstan nor his companions were in the least
degree disposed to either character, they drew as much water as they
wanted, and returned to the others.

Ceolwulf had elicited from the reluctant Stuff a short account of all
that had taken place after the destruction of Ælfhere’s houses and
farm-buildings. It appeared that Arwald had left a trusty adherent of
his to look after the district, and to set the thralls to work to pursue
their usual avocations as if nothing had happened, only all the produce
was to be considered as Arwald’s property.

Ceolwulf could not find out anything about his master, Ælfhere.  As far
as he could make out, nobody had found his body after he was seen to
fall in the midst of the fight; but Stuff said everyone declared he must
be dead, as he was seen to receive a terrible wound in the head from an
axe, and "there was them as said Arwald had carried off his body."

When asked whether he thought the people were discontented with the man
whom Arwald had placed over the thralls, Stuff said he thought nobody
liked him; but they were all afraid of him, as there were some fighting
men left to support his authority.

"How many are there?"

"I don’t rightly know the proper number, but I think there are not more
than eight or nine."

"Dost thou think, if we drove them off or killed them, the rest of the
people would fight for their young eorls, Ædric and Wulfstan?"

"Aye, that I do.  Thou knowest us all well enough for that, Biggun."

This answer being considered satisfactory, it was agreed it would be
best to keep the boy with them all day.  That they would try and get the
boat up out of the reach of the sea and cover her up as well as possible
in order to prevent her being seen by anyone; that then, at nightfall,
they would march, under Ceolwulf’s guidance, to a knoll, covered with
thick brushwood and trees; that they would make their head-quarters at
this place; and if Ceolwulf, after seeing a few of the old servants and
herdsmen of Ælfhere should judge that they really could offer an
effectual resistance to an attack from Arwald, that they would then make
an onslaught on the ruined house and farm buildings, and drive off the
party Arwald had placed there, and that they would then send over to
Cædwalla and ask him to come to take possession of the island.

In accordance with this determination, immediately after their simple
meal the men all set to work, under Ceolwulf’s instructions, to pull the
boat up the beach, a matter very much more easy to accomplish now that
they had taken everything out of her, and could see what they were
about.  They cut down a couple of straight and slight young ash trees,
and dividing them into three lengths each, they soon had the old boat up
high and dry under the low cliff, hauling her up on the ash rollers.
Ceolwulf then made a careful examination of the hole in the boat, and
was pleased to see that it would not take very much time to put a couple
of new planks in, and she would then be capable of at least making one
voyage across to Boseham in fine weather.

Having accomplished this part of their work, the men were set to clean
the armour and weapons, and put what food was left in the buckets, and
get all ready for their expedition a little before nightfall.

Brother Malachi had quite recovered his usual spirits, and had become an
object of much interest and astonishment to Stuff, who had never seen a
man like him.  He longed to ask Wulfstan all about him, but was rather
shy of talking to the young eorl now that he had so clearly established
his rightful position, and he was also struck by the respect the others
paid him.

The day passed away without particular incident. About an hour before
dusk Ceolwulf directed all to fall in, and, telling Stuff to keep near
him, led the way to their intended stronghold.  Their route lay through
dense brushwood, but Ceolwulf soon struck into a narrow track where
walking was more easy, but in which they were obliged to proceed in
single file.

After going in this way about a mile, they descended a very steep
declivity, and came out upon an open meadow.  And then the strangers
perceived that they were on the border of a large land-locked piece of
water, to which, standing where they were, they could see no inlet from
the sea.

The tide was up, and the expanse of silver water stretching up to the
foot of a high down at its western end, and washing a steeply-wooded
shore opposite, had all the appearance of a magnificent lake or splendid
harbour, offering a very different scene to what it would be in five
hours’ time, when, instead of a silver mirror in which the hills and
woods and autumn sky were pictured, a tiny stream would sluggishly
meander between brown slush and slimy mud.

Crossing this meadow, the party plunged once more into the dense wood,
and ascending a slight rise, dipped again to the level of the sea; but
the wood was so thick they could see nothing on either hand or ahead,
and had still to walk in single file.

Again the path rose steeply in front, and they seemed to be mounting a
considerable acclivity. Climbing higher and higher, Ceolwulf left the
beaten track, and turned aside through the low growth of oak and ash
that seemed unable to attain to any size, and were gnarled and twisted
into all sorts of fantastic shapes.

Scrambling over some moss-covered boulders, Ceolwulf stopped, and said:

"Here, men, we will make our camp; there is a spring down the steep
slope on that side, and by felling a few trees, we can make a very fair
shelter for ourselves, as well as a stockade against any sudden attack."

The place, certainly, was well chosen.  There was a small open space on
the top of the hill, but no view could be obtained from this as the
trees grew thick all round.  It was, however, sufficiently obvious that
the sides of the hill were very steep, and a handful of men could hold
their own for some time, especially with the aid of a few fallen trees
to form a breastwork.

As it was now getting dark, no time was to be lost in making their
preparations for spending the night. While these operations were going
on, Ceolwulf said he would go down into the valley, and find out how
matters really were in the vicinity of their old home.  So saying, and
equipping himself in his hawberk, and with all his offensive weapons, he
disappeared among the trees on his way down the hill.



                             *CHAPTER IX.*

              *"I CAN CALL SPIRITS FROM THE VASTY DEEP."*


Ceolwulf descended the steep side of the thickly-wooded hill with the
assured step of one who well knew his way, although the increasing gloom
of night was fast spreading over hill and dale. After walking about a
mile through the dense brushwood, the old Wihtwara emerged upon a smooth
slope of grassy down, and even he, sturdy and matter-of-fact old heathen
as he was, stopped a moment to look at the beautiful scene before him;
not so much struck, however, with its beauty and poetry, as from a
desire to take in all he could of the well-known aspect of his native
land while yet there was any chance of seeing, and to compare the
present appearance of the cottages with what they had been before the
fatal onslaught of Arwald and his followers.

At Ceolwulf’s feet stretched the close, wind-worn grass of the westerly
sloping hill-side, reflecting the rich glow which still suffused the
darkling sky. Beyond gleamed the sheen of a wide-stretching marsh,
across which the curlews called and the bitterns cried, and in which the
reflection of the evening star, setting over the distant top of St.
Boniface Down, streamed in flickering light.  Across the Marsh a bank of
land separated the floods that came from the centre of the island, from
the waters of the great deep; for on the other side of this narrow strip
of land a wide and magnificent bay spread out its grey depth, till it
met the violet of the sky beneath the crimson glow of the departed sun.
Rising out of this sea, and forming the western side of the noble bay,
loomed a magnificent hill, the base of which lay bathed and hidden in
the green-grey mist; but enough of the shape of the promontory could be
seen to justify its name of the "Dunnose," by which it is now known.
The upper part of the hill stood up in clear outline, presenting a
solid, opaque mass of deep purple against the golden background, and
descended abruptly towards the north in two steep slopes, or
escarpments, to the level of a wide-reaching valley that led up to the
centre of the island.  On the other side of this valley a line of downs
presenting their slope to the western light, stretched in fore-shortened
length, till they ended in a wooded hill immediately fronting the place
where Ceolwulf stood.  The lovely scene gradually changed from the
lingering warmth of day to the colder shades of night, and all objects
grew rapidly indistinguishable.

"Too late to make out what is left of the house," muttered Ceolwulf,
"and as the floods seem to be out, I don’t see that I can cross the Yare
by the old ford. I shall have to go round by the sands along the dunes."

At that time, and indeed until long after, that part of the island on
which Ceolwulf and his companions had been cast was known as Binbrygea
or Bembridge Island, as the other end of the Isle of Wight, which was
equally separated from the middle part of the island by an inlet of the
sea, was called Freshwater Island; and as the internal communication at
that early time was very defective, there was no bridge over the Yare,
and the inhabitants who wished to pass from Bembridge to the centre of
the island had to go round by the sandbanks cast up by the sea along the
shore where Sandown now flourishes.

There was a ford at low water over the marshes, but it was very
difficult to find, and impassable if there were any extra water in the
small river Yare. The homestead where Wulfstan and Ædric were brought up
was built at the head of what until a few years ago was Brading Haven,
and which at that time was a large and magnificent sheet of water
stretching up nearly to where Sandown Railway Station now is. The home
and farm buildings stood among some old trees, the ancestors of the
present Park of Nunwell, and were sheltered from the north-west and
north-east by rising ground and the woods that spread in an
uninterrupted forest right through the island to Yarmouth, covering all
the north side of the island with a dense growth; the only clearings
being about Whitgaresbyrig, now Carisbrooke, and Cerdicsford, now
Yarmouth.  The few patches of land ploughed up by the Romans had rapidly
gone out of cultivation during the wild period of the fifth and sixth
centuries, and the sparsely scattered inhabitants lived chiefly on the
results of the chase and such dairy produce as their rude methods of
farming could raise, and in this part of their domestic economy the
Jutish conquerors of the Isle of Wight were much assisted by the more
cultivated race whom they conquered, and many of whom they kept as their
slaves.

Ceolwulf once more fell into his former long swinging stride, and,
turning more to the left, directed his steps towards the shore of the
open sea.

After proceeding for about a mile and a half, until he had nearly
reached the sea beach, he suddenly turned to the right, and plunging
through some thick reeds he came to the edge of the river Yare.  There
was evidently a ford here, for the reeds were broken and trodden down.
Groping his way with his spear, Ceolwulf at last emerged on the bank on
the other side.

He had now reached a level tract of land rising gently to the foot of
the Downs, which had faced him when he first emerged from the wood; he
was still a good couple of miles from the old homestead, but as he was
now in a more populous part it behoved him to be rather more cautious in
his advance.

A little ahead of him and to his left was a belt of thick, low scrub and
brushwood, through which could be seen here and there a whiter patch,
looking like the walls of some building; but in the dim light it was
difficult to make out anything clearly, excepting that in one place a
pile of masonry rose above the bushes, and stood out against the stars
in a jagged and broken outline.

Ceolwulf now paused a moment and listened intently for any sound, but
all was still; occasionally a dull thud reached his car, caused by the
sea breaking on the shingly shore behind him, and the fast dying leaves
of an old oak near shivered in the scarcely perceptible breeze, but all
else was still as the grave.

Suddenly a sharp whirr rose on the silence, and a sound of heavily
flapping wings beat the quiet air as a nightjar started out of the old
oak tree to search for his evening meal.  Ceolwulf was superstitious,
like all his race, and he especially disliked the place where he now
found himself.

He well knew what those ruins were, and firmly believed, like all the
dwellers round, that the place was haunted.  Men had lived there who
were as gods compared to the rough, uncultured Jute, and now their
dwelling was become a ruin, and desolation brooded over its halls.

Little more than two hundred years ago that house had been a stately
mansion, from which civilisation and Christianity spread their soothing
influences around, where a cultivated Roman gentleman dwelt with his
family of well-regulated servants, slaves in name, but as much attached
to their master and mistress as any free servants could be, and perhaps
still more so from the knowledge that their treatment was the pure
result of the humanity of their master, who, as far as the laws were
concerned, could have treated them far otherwise.  In the wreck of the
Roman empire all the life of an expanding culture was crushed out of
Britain, and the old civilisation, religion and government were but as
myths dimly told by the rude conquerors to their children. The house
whose ruins were faintly delineated in the doubtful light had been a
Roman villa of very elegant proportions, and fitted with all the
appliances a luxurious civilisation knew well how to adapt to domestic
comfort; but since the fatal night of slaughter, fire, and rapine, when
the invader had harried the island, and remorselessly put to the sword
all the men who were likely to show courage or ability, and had made
slaves of the young women, the gaunt and blood-stained ruins had been
left desolate, haunted by the memories of past happiness, and the horror
of that awfully evil night, to which the superstition of the Jutes added
the terror of their weird mythology.

As Ceolwulf, startled as he was for the moment by the flight of the
night-jar, begun once more to pursue his way, a shrill cry, like that of
a child in pain, only with a sound in it different to that which
proceeds from human beings, startled him again.

The cry rose piercingly on the night, and then sank in silence once
more.

"It’s only an owl, I do believe," muttered Ceolwulf, looking in the
direction of the sound. "But who can be stirring there at this time of
night?" he added, as a flickering ruddy glare shone on the masonry of a
remote part of the ruined Roman villa.

The flame had suddenly sprung up—for Ceolwulf felt sure he must have
seen it before if it had been there—and suddenly it was obscured again,
only to reappear in another minute.  "There’s somebody, or something,
passing in front of that light," thought Ceolwulf, "and, be it witch or
fiend, I must find out who it is before I go any further."

So saying, he cautiously turned towards the light, and at the same time
felt for a piece of dried skin he wore suspended round his neck.

"Ah! thanks be to Woden!  I have not lost that," he chuckled, "and I
rubbed my sword in wolf’s grease too, so that they can’t throw any magic
over that," he added, for the powerful virtues of a dried and split
wolf’s snout were universally held to be a sure antidote against magic;
while wolf’s grease was an undoubted protection from the wiles of the
evil spirits who haunted desolate places, or were hostile to the human
race.

Protected by such lucky possessions, Ceolwulf felt his courage rise, and
advanced with resolution.

As he approached nearer, again that shrill and wild screech rose upon
the air, and set Ceolwulf’s blood curdling, and this time the cry ended
in a low, prolonged and shivering sigh above his head.

"It’s that owl, stupid!" said Ceolwulf to himself, clutching nervously
his precious wolf’s snout, but wishing much he had more confidence in
what was, without doubt, a sure safeguard.

Stealthily stepping over the damp twigs and briar-covered stones, he got
nearer and nearer to the light, but could make out no objects
distinctly, and he now found that the light was further off than he had
at first thought.

"Perhaps, after all, it is only a marsh fire, and it’s no use following
that," Ceolwulf growled, as he knocked his shin against a large block of
stone lying half concealed among the tangled brushwood.

But, at this moment, as if to contradict him, the flame leaped up with
greater brilliancy, and he saw a tall figure pass in front of the flame
and disappear in the inky black beyond.

Paying more attention than ever to the inequalities of the ground, and
arranging his arms as carefully as he could to prevent the light of the
fire falling upon them, and announcing his presence by an unlucky gleam,
Ceolwulf crept warily up, fearful lest the slightest sound should betray
his approach; while ever and anon the unearthly cry that had previously
startled him rang vibrating through the silence.

Keeping well in the shade of every bush and obstacle that intervened
between him and the light, he was at last able to creep within a
distance sufficient to enable him to make out the objects immediately
within range of the fire, and the sight that he saw was not reassuring
to one imbued with all the wild magic of the mystic northern legends.

Squatting before the fire, and occasionally attending to an iron pot
that hung suspended over it from an iron rod that looked as if it had
once been used for other purposes, which was held up by two forked
sticks placed far enough off from the fire to prevent their being burnt,
was a strange, uncanny-looking figure.  Nothing could be seen,
intervening immediately as it did between the fire and Ceolwulf, but the
coal-black outline of a figure sparsely clad, with a hood over its head,
and, as it turned towards one side or the other, showing the outline of
a very hooked nose and chin, that, owing to the loss of the creature’s
teeth, approached the nose so closely as almost to touch it.  A few
locks of wispy hair hung down over the forehead beneath the hood, and a
long and skinny arm from time to time stirred the mixture in the pot,
while the other arm seemed to hold together the garment in which the
figure was dressed.  As Ceolwulf looked intently, fascinated and
awe-struck by the sight of this being, whom he could not possibly
mistake for anything else than a most undoubted witch, surprised by him
in her unholy work, he heard her mutter scraps of sentences from time to
time, but could not make out a word she said.

"She is brewing spells, I do believe.  Now for whom can she be doing
that?  If only I could get her on our side it would be bad for Arwald.
Hullo! what she’s doing now?  Soul of Woden! but there’s another, and
it’s got horns!"

This remark was caused by a hairy object, which Ceolwulf had not before
noticed, raising a gaunt head from which two long curving horns
protruded, and which proceeded to get up on its haunches, and then upon
its feet, and presented the outline of a fine goat.

"So she’s really raised the soul of him who dwells in Hellheim.  I hope
he won’t tell her I am here," muttered Ceolwulf, clutching more
vigorously than ever at his wolf’s snout.  "I wish I could make out what
she is saying.  What a height she is! and where’s she gone to now?  I
shall have to move round a bit to see the other side of the fire."

The figure had risen up, and had taken the pot off the hook which
suspended it over the fire, and had then disappeared into the darkness
on the other side, the goat remaining, turning however in the direction
where Ceolwulf was, and beginning to utter the plaintive "hinny" that
has procured for its race the name of "Nanny goat."

"I don’t like this; I believe it has seen me, and is telling her I am
here.  Well, if I must come out, I must; but I’ll hold on a bit longer
yet, and perhaps if it does not look at me I shan’t feel so queer."  So
saying, Ceolwulf moved to one side, and, drawing back, made his way
round to the other side of the fire.

It took him, however, some time to grope his way among the thick
brushwood and fallen stones, for the darkness was all the greater owing
to his having looked so long at the light.  At last he reached a
loophole in the ruins, and found he was opposite to where he had
previously stood.

The ruins in this part were not quite so dilapidated. There yet remained
a portion of the roof that had fallen in, but still rested upon such
columns as had not been thrown down on that terrible night when fire and
sword had done their awful work on the peaceful household.  Under this
shelter the figure of the being whom he had so suddenly come upon was
bending over something—what, Ceolwulf could not see, for the light of
the fire, which was now sinking down, only blazed fitfully on the face
of the walls, and was not powerful enough to pierce the gloom of the
covered portion of the ruins.

"There’s somebody else in there, that’s certain, for she’s talking.  If
she turns me into a toad for it, I must hear what she’s saying," and
Ceolwulf wriggled himself through the aperture, and crept stealthily
nearer, and then suddenly stopped, horror-struck.

"Why, it’s the voice of my dead eorl!" he exclaimed in terror, his hair
standing up in fear upon his head, and his knees knocking together.  He
was so terrified at the thought of seeing his disembodied master, that
his first thought was to fly from the spot. But the voice spoke again,
feebly and with difficulty:

"Tell my children, if thou ever seest them, to revenge me on the House
of Arwald, till not a stock remains from which that evil race could
renew its life."

"Hush, my lord!" mumbled the aged voice of the hag whom Ceolwulf had
first seen.  "If I had harboured thoughts of vengeance, should I have
succoured thee?  Who did me and mine more grievous wrong than thou and
thy fathers?"

"Then, why, in Woden’s name, didst thou not leave me to die?  I should
have done so by this, and thought myself none the worse," answered the
faint voice of the invisible speaker.

"That’s right," muttered Ceolwulf to himself.  "I see they tell us true.
The heroes don’t become less men down there in Nifleheim."

No other sound came from the deep shadow of the recess, and Ceolwulf
began to think he would go on his way, only, in spite of his
superstitious terrors, he wished very much to see if he could not get a
glimpse of his dead lord, if indeed, there was anything to be seen.

The fire was now dying down, but occasionally flickering up, and casting
weird shadows over the ruins, and Ceolwulf was just turning to go, when
the voice again spoke:

"Woman, wilt thou give my message to my sons, if ever thou meetest them?
I have not long to stay here; promise me."

"My lord, I have done what I could to save thy body, but I will do
naught which can imperil thy soul.  I will take no message of hatred to
thy sons."

"Woman, darest thou refuse me?  Dost thou dare to disobey me——  Ah! but
the descendant of Cerdic is indeed fallen low when his bond woman scoffs
at his command."

"My lord, leave thoughts of vengeance to God, and think of what I have
tried to tell thee of death. Ah," murmured the old woman, "if only I
could remember more clearly all that my mother used to tell me; but
these are weary times indeed, when they only who worship the real, true
God are miserable old women.  How can any words of mine persuade my
master to believe that his gods are false, or to trust to what I know to
be truth?"

"Thou hast saved me, then, to live to know I shall be dishonoured? and
then, when I knew this, I was to die?  Was this thy plan?  Woman, thou
hast well avenged thy wrongs and those of thy race.  By letting Ælfhere
know that he was to die as a woman in his bed, driven from his home, and
unavenged on his enemies, thou hast inflicted on him a misery far worse
than death on the battle-field."

"My lord, it was not so.  Should I, timid old woman as I am, should I
have risked death in every horrid shape merely to satisfy a feeling of
which I know nothing?  No; I was taught to love my enemies, do good to
those that persecute me, and pray for those that despitefully use me."

"Woman, I believe thee not.  May Wodin’s curse alight on thee for a
false traitress!  I die unavenged I die dishonoured, and thou openly
sayest thou wilt bear no message to my sons if thou shouldst meet them."

All this time the ideas of Ceolwulf were undergoing a change.  Could it
be that his master was really alive?  As this thought took possession of
his mind, the supernatural terror gradually gave place to one of hope,
curiosity, and delight.

"I will stand it no longer, come what will; so here goes," he muttered,
and stepping into the open space, among the ruins, he called out
resolutely:

"My Lord Ælfhere, thou shalt not die unavenged. Thy thrall Ceolwulf has
heard thee, and will bear thy words to the young eorls.  Whether thou
bee’st alive or dead, Ceolwulf vows it on the edge of his sword."



                              *CHAPTER X.*

                    *"FOR MY SAKE, BE COMFORTABLE."*


The bold speech of Ceolwulf produced the most absolute silence.  The
fire had now become a mere heap of glowing embers, and nothing was
distinguishable in the darkness.

As Ceolwulf peered into the blackness where the voices had seemed to
come from, he thought he could hear a faint rustle as of some one
moving.  Again his superstitious fears came over him.  He was seized
with panic, and turning to make a hasty retreat, he caught his foot in a
trailing branch of ivy and came heavily to the ground.

Muttering a terrified and hasty ejaculation, he rose to his feet, and
for the moment forgot which way he had come.  While turning over in his
mind this important question, he heard a hollow voice say:

"Is it really thou, Biggun, or art thou a dream of my weary and fitful
brain?"

"Surely, my lord, it is thy voice; but if thou art dead, let me not see
thee."

"I am alive, Biggun, but have not long to live. Come nearer.  Put some
sticks on the fire before it goes out, that I may see thee, whether thou
art my faithful Ceolwulf or not."

Ceolwulf did as he was told, but with considerable difficulty, for it
was no easy matter to find any dry sticks, and had it not been for the
help of the old woman, who came out to assist him, he would scarcely
have been able to accomplish his object.  When the fire burnt up again
brightly, Ceolwulf, to his disgust, found that the terrible witch whom
he had so dreaded was no other than the poor old slave Deva, the most
despised of the female serfs in Ælfhere’s household.

"Why, Deva, woman, how didst thou save thy life when so many better than
thou died around the homestead?"

"It is not the lowly blade of grass the storm lays low, but the lofty
wheatstalk."

"True; but who would have thought of thee being the only one left to
care for our master?  Thou art a better woman, Deva, than I took thee
for."

"Ceolwulf," said the invisible Ælfhere, "stand not prating there, but
come here that I may see thee, and hear tidings of my sons, if they yet
live."

The woman Deva took up a half-burnt brand from the fire, and going
before Ceolwulf to light him, pointed to a rude couch made of a few
skins.

On this lay a wasted form, the lower limbs swathed in bandages, and a
blood-stained cloth around the head.  The face was ghastly white, and an
unkempt and grizzly beard spread over the chest.

"My lord, my lord, it is thou of a surety; but how art thou changed!"
cried Ceolwulf.

"Speak not of that, man; tell me of my boys."

"They are well, my lord, and one is not far hence."

"Not a prisoner in the hands of the traitor Arwald? Tell me not that;
anything but that!"

"No, my lord, not so bad as that.  He is safe among a trusty band of men
who have come to win for thee thine own again."

"Thou bringest me life, Ceolwulf.  Oh that I could live to revenge me on
that nithing! then I should go to the land of heroes and feast for ever
among my ancestors!  But tell me more."

Ceolwulf then narrated the events of the past three weeks, making as
light as he could of the wound of Ædric, and praising the manliness and
enterprise of Wulfstan.

As Ælfhere listened his eye grew bright and his breathing quick, while
at the narration of the assault on Cissanceaster he could not forbear to
exclaim, "Well done, brave sword!"  "Bravely sped, keen axe!" at each
episode of the hard-fought fight.

"That Cædwalla is worthy to succeed to the throne of Cerdic, and I trust
he may yet fare well! So those strange men," alluding to the monks,
"were hospitable to thee, were they?  And yet they were strangers in
blood and language.  It is odd how Deva here, instead of handing me over
to Arwald, as she might have done, has nursed me and tended me as if I
were of her race and had always benefited her; but this is no time for
thinking, we must act, Ceolwulf——"  Then, suddenly recollecting his
crippled condition, he added, despairingly: "Ah, well, I talk of acting,
who must lie here while death-blows are dealing.  Aye, and must die,
too, before I can drink the blood of my enemies."

"Say not so, my lord; with care and attention, and with the assistance
of the bald-headed man I have brought with me, I doubt not we shall have
thee well and on thy legs in a few days."

"No, Ceolwulf, no, my fighting days are done, and I shall soon rest with
my fathers.  But enough of this.  Thou must get thee back to thy men.
What thinkest thou of bringing them hither?  There is water here.  Thou
canst make a stout defence of these old walls if thou art attacked.  No
fire will hurt them now, and it will be a safe hiding-place, if it be
thought well to keep concealed."

"It is well planned, my lord, but I do not yet know the state of feeling
among the old servants and people round; however, we cannot go on much
longer, for we must have food, and this will do as well as the place
where they now are, or better, for aught I know.  Shall I bring them
here to-night, my lord?"

"Aye, Ceolwulf, do so, and that quickly, for I fain would see my little
son before I die.  And thou hadst best do it before dawn too, that no
prying eyes may see thy march."

"I will, my lord; but had not Deva best allow the fire to go out, or, at
least, to bank it up, lest any other stray passer should be attracted by
it, as I was?"

"There’s none dare venture near," said Deva, contemptuously; and then
added bitterly: "The memory of their evil deeds haunts this place, and
the sons of those who murdered the innocents shudder for the iniquity of
their fathers without knowing wherefore."

"I go, then, my lord; and when thou hearest the cry of the curlew
repeated four times, know it will be the signal of our approach, and let
Deva, there, light a brand, that we may see where to enter."

So saying, Ceolwulf disappeared in the darkness, and Deva prepared to
attend to the fire, banking it up to burn some time, but so as not to
give much light.

It did not take the hardy old Jute long to reach the encampment of his
allies.  They had already got things into order, and, under the
practised hand and eye of Athelhune, a fairly defensive breastwork of
timber surrounded the little clearing.

Four men also were posted as sentries, and Ceolwulf was challenged by a
rough voice before he could get nearer than two hundred yards of the
camp, and so well did the man understand his duty that he did this
without himself giving any clue to his whereabouts, having concealed
himself in the brushwood, so as to command the only natural approach.

"’Tis a friend, man—Ceolwulf; let me pass."

On hearing and recognising his voice, the sentry emerged from his
ambush.

"Is all well?" said Ceolwulf.

"Aye, aye, there’s naught stirring; but we are all grievous hungry,"
grumbled the man.

"Thou shalt have food enough soon," and Ceolwulf strode past to the
encampment.  Here he found all, excepting another man on guard at the
entrance, were sound asleep.  Wulfstan was lying near Malachi, and Stuff
was sleeping near a burly Boseham man, who had taken the precaution to
tie a thong tightly to the boy’s hands, and allowing sufficient play for
the boy to turn over, had made the other end fast to his own wrist.

Ceolwulf went up to Athelhune, and, shaking him vigorously, soon woke
him up.

"What is it, man?  Canst not let me have a quiet night for once?"
growled the still sleepy chieftain.

"Thou shalt sleep fast enough presently, and with better chance of food
and safety than here, but thou must rouse up now.  There’s work to be
done first, and good news to cheer thee besides.  The Eorldoman Ælfhere
is still alive."

"Truly?"

"True as I stand here.  I have seen him and talked with him."

"That ought to help us much with the country side.  When they know their
lord is alive and is at the head of a trusty band, they will gather
thick round him."

"Aye, that they will; but we will talk of this presently.  We must move
our camp at once before dawn to where he is."

In a few moments all was stir and confusion.  The sentries were still
left at their posts to keep watch, while the others quickly packed up
such things as they had brought.  When all was ready, the men were
arranged in line, the sentinels were called in, and Ceolwulf put himself
at the head.  The column then filed off into the path, and without
further adventure reached the ford which Ceolwulf had crossed.  Here
they halted, while Ceolwulf took three men with him and reconnoitered as
far as the outskirts of the ruins. Stopping here himself, he sent the
men back, telling two of them to halt at equal distances from himself
and the main body, while the third man was to act as guide.

Having given these directions, he imitated the cry of the curlew four
times, at the preconcerted intervals of time.

As Ceolwulf stood awaiting the lighting of the fire-brand that should
have answered his signal, he heard a twig broken a few yards from where
he was standing, and, peering through the gloom, he fancied he descried
a figure move off into a denser part of the thicket.

While he was hesitating whether to follow it or not the flashing of the
torch diverted his attention, and the speedy arrival of the main body
made it necessary to see to their guidance into the ruins.  However,
thinking it of very great importance that their movements should not be
observed, and feeling tolerably sure that there was someone concealed
there, he directed four of the young men to go through the bush, and,
either pursue, capture, or kill, any one who might be there.

He then guided the others towards the entrance to the ruins, a
proceeding made all the easier by the light of the torch.

Ceolwulf had not yet told Wulfstan of the discovery he had made, fearing
the boy, in the wild delight of the surprise, should do some foolish
thing, and break the silence so necessary to their movements.  He now,
however, took him aside, and, telling him he had something of very great
importance to confide, impressed upon him at the same time the necessity
of absolute quiet.  When he saw that the boy was quite ready to give his
submission to what should be required of him, he told the joyful news.

Wulfstan for a moment was almost beside himself with joy, but a look
from Ceolwulf restrained him, and he managed to master his transports.

"Oh, Ceolwulf, where is he?" whispered the boy. "Can’t I see him? is he
very ill?"

"Thou shalt see him, Wulf; but he is very ill, and thou must not trouble
him with questions."

"Ceolwulf, hast thou brought my boy?" called the voice of Ælfhere.

At the sound of his father’s voice Wulfstan started away from Ceolwulf,
and in a moment was at the side of the couch.  Pressing his father’s
feeble, hot hands, he whispered, "Father, father, I am so glad! I never
thought I should see thee again.  Oh, poor father, how thou must have
suffered!  Ah! that nithing Arwald, he shall pay for this."

"That’s right, my own Wulf, there spake the blood of the free Jute.  I
shall die now happier, knowing that I leave behind me one who will one
day grow up a worthy upholder of the honour of Cerdic," said Ælfhere,
fondly caressing his son’s curly head.

A deep sigh close by startled Wulfstan.

"Why, father, who is here? didst thou hear that sigh?"

"It’s only old Deva, my son; she has been good to me, and thou must do
all thou canst to make her more comfortable when thou gainest possession
of the homestead."

"Why does she sigh like that? father, is she ill, too?"

"No, but she is a woman, and a slave, and has poor, dastardly thoughts.
She would not have us avenge our wrongs; what thinkest thou of that?"
and Ælfhere laughed a scoffing laugh.

"Why, father, that’s what brother Malachi says too."

And he was going to tell his father all about that curious man, when
Ceolwulf came up, bringing Athelhune with him, and then they all three
talked over the fortifying of the ruins and their plans for getting
provisions.

These topics did not please Wulfstan, who very soon dropped off to sleep
by the side of his father. Deva brought a stone, and, covering it with a
portion of one of the skins off the couch, placed it under his head for
a pillow, and so left him, after throwing over him another covering.

The rest of the band had now settled down for the night, sentries, as
before, being placed at proper posts, and all was once more silent.

Before Ceolwulf prepared to take his well-earned rest for the short
period of the night that yet remained, he inquired whether the four men
whom he had sent to follow up the figure he had seen in the bushes had
returned.  Greatly to his dissatisfaction he heard that they had come
back, but had discovered no signs of anyone.

"We shall hear more of that to-morrow, I doubt not," growled the old
man, as he lay down to rest not far from his master, Ælfhere.

The next day was some little way advanced before the men were astir,
Wulfstan, as usual, being the first to awake.

He could scarcely believe he was not still dreaming when he saw his
wounded father lying on the couch beside him; however, recollections of
the past night soon brought back a sense of reality, and he gazed at the
worn and ghastly face of his father with tears of pity and sympathy.

One by one the others woke up, until at last the whole party was up and
about.  Such of the food as was left from the previous day was now
divided equally, but it was not enough to satisfy the hunger of these
vigorous men, and all agreed that something must be done to obtain a
fresh supply.

Ceolwulf and Athelhune decided that the first thing to do was to put the
ruins in a state of defence, and for this purpose all hands were set to
work at once.  The hewn stones that faced the rough rubble of the walls
were piled up as skilfully as they were able to arrange it, and the
space to be defended was much contracted; but they took care to enclose
the well within their walls.

Cutting down some of the brushwood which grew close against the ruins,
they made a rude shelter with the boughs, and wattled it with hazel.
Into this cabin they carried the Eorldoman Ælfhere, whose wounds had
been examined by Malachi, and pronounced very serious; indeed, it was a
marvel he had lived so long, for the battle-axe of the Jutes and Saxons
did not leave much life in a foeman when once it was driven home. In
Ælfhere’s case, however, the blow had been partially turned aside by the
eorldoman’s own axe. When Athelhune, who now that the conduct of the
expedition was completed had taken command in right of his rank as
eorldoman and chief officer of Cædwalla, saw that the defences could be
completed without much more labour, he consulted with Ceolwulf about the
necessity of sending out a party to forage.  There was no question about
the absolute need of getting food, only it was a matter of great
importance not to alienate the sympathy of Ælfhere’s ceorls or
labourers; but as nearly all the cattle and crops, of which there was
very slight store, belonged to Ælfhere, and were now in the hands of
Arwald’s eorldoman who was left in the occupation of the house at
Brædynge, there was less chance of their taking anything that belonged
to any one else.  At this early time in the Saxon settlements the free
rovers, who had come under the leadership of their own elected chiefs,
were still very free and independent, and the difference between the
eorls and the ceorls was much less marked than it was in the later Saxon
time, when in the days of Æthelred the life of a ceorl was valued at a
third of the "were," or money value of a thane, and a sixth of that of a
royal thane: but in the seventh century, and in the unsettled state of
the lawless parts of the South Saxon and West Saxon kingdoms, the right
of each eorldoman depended very much upon his might, and the title to
property, both real and personal, rested chiefly upon the power of
defending what each man possessed by his own strong arm and good sword,
supported by such adherents as affection or interest attached to him.

It was therefore decided that at nightfall Ceolwulf should take out two
of the most enterprising men, and carry off what he could from the barns
around the old house of Ælfhere.  The men who were told off for this
service were directed to rest.  The others went on with the completion
of the defences.

After Malachi had attended to the wounded and seemingly dying eorldoman,
he began to examine the ruins of the building in which he found himself.

The whole place was littered with _débris_, broken pottery, fallen
columns, decaying rafters that had once supported the roof, and tiles.
The work of clearing away a space round the well had disclosed several
curious short columns made of tiles all very close together, but the
spaces had been hastily filled again to render the standing room all the
firmer.  During the progress of raising the walls the men had uncovered
here and there fragments of coloured designs, which they would have
liked to explore further, but Athelhune was anxious to get the defences
in a fitting state to stand an assault before nightfall, and all
examination of them was at that time put off.

Malachi, however, being looked upon as a rather feeble idiot, was
allowed to do what he liked, and he had now uncovered a picture such as
he had never seen before, at least not in that style and size.

Such art productions as he had ever seen consisted in a few pictures in
an illuminated manuscript which belonged to a monastery in his native
Ireland or Ierne: among them was one representing our Lord under the
symbol of the Good Shepherd.  The pictures were the work of a Byzantine
artist, and traces of classical influence were naturally seen in the
designs and their treatment.  He was, therefore, at once struck by the
similarity of the large figure playing on some musical instrument,
surrounded by animals, to the illumination of the Good Shepherd. His
delight, which was very great, was caused not only by the novelty and
beauty of the discovery, but because he concluded that there must have
been Christians here—a somewhat rash conclusion to come to on such a
slight foundation.

While he was removing still more of the rubbish, he was aroused from his
absorption by an aged voice near him saying:

"Ah, many’s the time I have looked at that picture, and thought of them
that did it."

"What! woman, thou knowest who did this?" cried Malachi in astonishment,
looking at the aged form of the old woman.

Without immediately answering him, Deva looked at him for some time, and
then slowly said:

"And who be ye?  Thou art not a Saxon; thy speech is different, and thy
clothes are different, and thou lookest not like a blood-thirsty fellow
such as they are.  What are ye?"

"I am a poor servant of our Lord, come into these parts to see if I
cannot do the Lord’s work among the heathen."

"The Lord!—the Lord’s work!—the heathen!" repeated the old woman as one
in a daze.  "’Tis long, long since I heard these words.  I doubt if
there’s any left in all these parts who know even what such words mean.
Man, what art thou?  I mean whence comest thou?  What race art thou of?"

Malachi briefly explained that he was an Irish monk come to preach among
the heathen Saxons, and on questioning her, in turn, was overjoyed to
find that she still had preserved a dim memory of the truths of
Christianity, obscured by the mists of six generations of bondage, and
unassisted by any contact with other Christians.  On being questioned
closely, however, she acknowledged she had heard that there was still a
holy man left, who was said to live in a cave in the face of a high
cliff overlooking the sea.  Tradition said he had learnt what he knew
from a succession of holy men who had retired there when the island was
taken by the Jutes under Whitgar and Stuffa.

The two were now joined by Wulfstan, who had always been very frightened
of poor old Deva, whom he looked upon as a witch; but now that he had
seen so much of the world he felt it would not do to have these ideas
any longer.  As there was now nothing more to be done but wait patiently
for Ceolwulf to return with the party that had gone out after the food,
he asked Malachi to tell him a story; but Malachi, who wanted to learn
more about these ruins, suggested that Deva should tell them all she
knew.

The poor old woman was in a talking mood.  She looked upon the arrival
of Malachi as an answer to her complaint of the night before, and she
somehow felt that she was not so lonely.  Here was a man who had the
same ideas as herself, and knew far more than she did of the real, true
faith, and one who, like the Master she dimly served, was ready to lay
down his life for the good of others.

The wish of her heart was going to be realised; she would learn more
about the Lord before she died. Being in this happy frame of mind, she
was willing to do what was wanted of her, and said she would try and
recollect things told her by her mother and grandmother.

Wulfstan stretched himself on the pavement to listen, while Malachi sat
with hands folded and an intelligent interest on his ascetic features.



                             *CHAPTER XI.*

                       *"MEMORIES OF LONG AGO."*


"It’s very difficult to remember things clearly," said old Deva,
meditatively.  "There’s mother now, and what she said, and then
grandmother, and how many did she say there were before her, all slaves
like me?  It was granny’s grandmother that was made the first slave, and
she was born a princess—at least, so grannie said; but perhaps she
didn’t know," and the poor old woman sank into a reverie, from which
brother Malachi roused her by saying gently:

"But who lived in these ruins, mother?  Canst thou tell us who they were
that built these buildings, and made this beautiful pavement?"

"Aye, that I can; they were my own forefathers—at least, some of them
were.  Those must have been lovely days, when the land was tilled in
peace, each man worshipped God as He ought to be worshipped, and there
was plenty and goodwill throughout the length and breadth of the
land....  But those days will never come again!  There’s naught but
ravaging, and murdering, and starving, and no one left to tell us the
way of salvation.  And, thank the Lord, I shall soon depart, and there’s
none left after me to mourn her weary life out as I have mourned mine."

"Dost really mean to say, Deva, that thou art the daughter of a
princess?" said Wulfstan, wonderingly.

"Aye, that I am, for all my rags, and my old age, and my ugliness——  No!
not daughter—what am I talking about?—but descended from one, just as
thy father is always saying he is descended from Cerdic.  And now I come
to think about it, I must be a good two lives nearer to my princess than
thy father to his Cerdic, for I am old enough to be Ælfhere’s
grandmother.  My ancestress was the daughter of Natanleod, and he ruled
all this land before thy Saxons or Jutes came here."

"Natanleod," said Malachi, repeating the name as if he had heard it
before, but could not quite recollect where.  "There were some people
who came to a place near my home who told me of a great prince or king
who, when the Angles first came over to Britain, had fought a great
fight against them; but, as it was a long time ago, they could not
remember much about it, but I think his name sounded like Natanleod.  I
know they said he was a Christian, and they thought he was killed in a
battle; and now I come to think of it, they mentioned the very name
Cerdic, who thou sayest was Ælfhere’s ancestor, as the name of the
heathen who was attacking him."

"How odd it would be if you had met some of old Deva’s relations!" said
Wulfstan.

"Ah, my child, they were scattered far over the earth," said Deva,
mournfully.  "Some went to a place called Ierné,[1] some to a country
over the water called—called—my old memory won’t help me now, but it
sounded like ’Morick.’"

[1] Ireland.

"Was it Armorica, mother?" said Malachi.

"Why, that was the name, to be sure.  Now how didst thou know that?
They’ve called me witch-wife many a time, because they said I knew more
than human beings ought to know, but my knowledge is ignorance to what
thine is."

"It is nothing so very wonderful, mother.  Those same strangers I told
thee of often told me where their people went to, and many a time they
would have liked to have crossed the sea again to meet those of their
kith and kin that were scattered abroad."

"Well, well.  And maybe thou hast met with those that really were my
blood.  Ah, they would not be proud of poor old Deva, the slave daughter
of Helva, a slave too.  How things do change, to be sure!"

"But, mother," put in Malachi, who thought he saw signs in her of going
off into a reverie again, "what about this house?  Thou hast not told us
yet who built it."

"And how do I know who built it?" said the old woman, testily.

"Why, thou saidest just now thy forefathers built it," said Wulfstan.

"Then if I told him, why does he ask me again?" said Deva, wearily.  "I
shall go and see how the wounded eorldoman is."

"Don’t go yet, Deva," said Malachi.  "He was sleeping very well when I
came to look at these pavements, and we should hear him if he moved or
wanted anything.  And so thou art descended from the great Prince
Natanleod, art thou!  In those days men were indeed cleverer than they
are now.  There are none living near here who could work like those who
made these walls or wrought these pictures.  Thou canst not remember
what thy grandmother said about the destruction of her grandmother’s
home?"

"Yes I can, though," said Deva.  "Ah! well I can remember her telling
me, for she would take me up here on a summer’s evening when the young
moon was just going down there behind yon hill.  These floors were not
covered up so much then, and many stones have fallen down since.  She
would always choose that evening in the month when the moon was like
that, and it was getting dark and dusk—a time when all the land is
hushed, and young men and maidens like to meet by a lonely hillside or
pleasant dell, while the cockchafers buzz and the beetles boom. Because,
she said, it was on an evening like that her grandmother had always told
her the story, and it was on an evening like that the dreadful deed was
done.  They came, they came," said the old woman, stretching out her
skinny arm and pointing with most dramatic action to a large gap in the
ruins towards the land-locked Brædynge Haven, whose shining waters could
be seen framed in this very gap, "up there"——

But Deva did not finish her sentence, for both Wulfstan and Malachi, who
had followed the old woman’s action and gesture, broke in upon her words
with a wild and simultaneous cry that rang through the silence of the
ruins, like the shrill scream of an affrighted sea-bird, as it suddenly
espies the robber of its nest suspended overhead.

[Illustration: How Deva, Malachi, and Wulfstan, were surprised by ye
Wihtwaras]

There, entering by the same gap through which their ancestors had come
to slaughter the ancestors of Deva, was a band of armed men, who, the
moment they saw that their approach was known, added to the din and
confusion that already prevailed by shouting their battle-cry together,
and rushing upon the few men who, with Athelhune, were left to defend
the encampment.

Malachi and Wulfstan had, as they shouted "to arms," darted back into
the enclosure, nearly fenced in by this time, fortunately, and had with
great promptitude begun to pile up the stones that had been left to
close in the only means of exit or entrance for the little
fortification, when suddenly Wulfstan darted out again, and returned in
another minute helping poor old Deva over the rough stones.

"One moment more, and I should have been too late," cried Wulfstan,
joyously, as he led the good old woman up to his father’s side.

"It’s only putting off the fated day, Wulfy, a little longer," said
Ælfhere, drearily.  "But this torture is worse than all that has gone
before, for I must lie here and see all who are faithful to me and my
little son slain before my eyes, and I unable to move hand or foot, or
strike a blow for their safety.  Oh! Woden, all-Father, help me!"

It was, indeed, a hopeless prospect.  There were, besides Malachi, old
Deva, Wulfstan, and the wounded eorldoman, only Athelhune and three men,
and the attacking force consisted of at least twelve; but the quick eyes
of Wulfstan detected among them five or six faces of men he had known as
ceorls on his father’s farm, and he shouted out loudly to them by name,
calling on them to turn on the false traitors who had done such foul
wrong, and to fight for their lord, Ælfhere, who was still alive.

It did not seem, however, that his words produced any effect; for the
band of men, seeing that their surprise had in part failed owing to the
inner line of wall that had been raised, after consulting a moment
together, advanced on three sides, with the evident intention of taking
the little fort by assault.

At first sight it seemed as though nothing could save the little party
inside the hastily contrived defences, and this was evidently the view
of their assailants, who rushed on to the attack in all the confidence
of an easy victory; but the very extremity of their position supplied
the defenders with the courage of despair.

Athelhune, with the quick apprehension of one suited to command, had
heard with pleasure Wulfstan’s words, and hastily told him to point out
to him the men whom he had addressed.  Two were advancing on the side
where Athelhune and Wulfstan were standing.

Judging, that if the men who were Arwald’s own people, and who had come
from the other part of the island, could be disposed of, the other men
would be less likely to fight with any vigour, especially if they knew
that they would be received into favour again by their old eorl’s son;
Athelhune shouted out to his men to kill the traitors who came with
Arwald, but to spare the poor fellows who were compelled to fight
against their will for a tyrant and robber they hated; and he
immediately hurled a stone with all his force at the man who seemed to
be the leader of the party. The blow was warded off by the man’s shield,
but in raising his arm to do this he exposed himself to a spear thrust
which Beornwulf, who was standing near Athelhune, promptly gave him; and
although the man, with great heroism, continued to struggle on, yet his
blows lost much of their force, and eventually he fell fainting to the
ground.

Meanwhile it was already obvious that Athelhune’s well-judged words,
added to Wulfstan’s expostulations, had had their effect, and had also
been useful in a way Athelhune had not thought of; for the men who were
from the other part of the island were now evidently suspicious of their
allies, who had given some grounds for it by not pressing up quite so
eagerly as the others had done; and this very consciousness of mistrust
served to make the men work less heartily together.

It was quite clear to the man who succeeded to the leadership of the
assailants on the fall of Athelhune’s antagonist that what had got to be
done must be done by his own men, and that the others would join in
heartily enough as soon as they saw success attending their efforts.
Being, therefore, a brave and energetic man, he called to his men to
follow him, and sprang at the wall.

The defences had been raised nearly eight feet high, and a rude platform
had been made about four feet high all round inside; thus the defenders
had the advantage of striking down at their foe, as well as being
protected by the breastwork of the wall. The walls were, however, very
imperfectly made, without any mortar or cement; if, therefore, any of
the defenders were to push too violently against it in places, he was
liable to displace some of the upper stones, and expose himself.  This,
however, was not such a disadvantage as at first sight it seemed, for
the second leader, leaping up to grasp the top of the wall, in order to
pull himself over, had seized a stone that was insecurely placed, and
being at the same time pressed upon by Beornwulf above, who was waiting
to strike with his spear the moment the man came within thrusting
distance, the mass gave way, and came down with the man, falling upon
him, and crushing his legs with its weight.  The two men who were behind
him, and who were bold enough, caring more for the destruction of their
foes than for the safety of their friends, sprang on to the step thus
offered, and were climbing into the breach when they were resolutely met
by Athelhune and Beornwulf, and a hand-to-hand fight of a desperate
nature began.

[Illustration: How Athelhune kept ye Roman ruins]

The other half-hearted assailants were either making weak attempts to
climb over the wall, or were trying to pull their crushed leader from
under the weight of the stone that was lying upon his legs, and which
was now rendered doubly heavy by the warrior, who was fiercely
exchanging blows with Athelhune, using it as a standing place.

This desire for the safety of their fallen leader was more ostentatious
than genuine, and was certainly not conducive either to his comfort or
the success of the assault; for the only immediate result was to extort
the fiercest execrations from the crushed leader, who suffered untold
agonies by their wrenching his limbs from under the weight, and had the
further consequence of causing their champion, who was engaged in the
hand-to-hand fight with Athelhune, to reel on the unsteady stone.  He
thus missed a favourable, and what would have probably been a decisive
blow at his antagonist, and received instead the full force of a
tremendous stroke from Athelhune’s axe, which toppled him down off the
stone upon the men who were pulling at his chieftain.

Thus Athelhune was relieved of his assailant at a very opportune moment,
for his neighbour, Beornwulf, was being hard driven by the Wihtwara, who
was a powerful, resolute man, and, having scrambled up to the top of the
wall, was more than a match for Beornwulf, who had hardly recovered from
his late wound inflicted by Ceolwulf in the Andredesweald, and who was,
besides, somewhat weak from want of food. Athelhune, having disposed of
his foeman, turned in an instant to Beornwulf’s help, and with a
swinging blow of his axe shore through the leathern gaiters of the
Wihtwara, as he stood striking down at Beornwulf. The force of the blow
was so terrific that it not only severed the leg completely below the
knee, but inflicted a deep gash in the other leg, and the wretched man
fell headlong upon Beornwulf inside the fortification.

Meanwhile things had not been going quite so well on the other side of
Athelhune.  The two men who were defending that part of the little fort
were Boseham men, and had not had experience of fighting like the
body-guard of Cædwalla; they were, besides, physically inferior, being
weakened by the long famine from which they, in common with the rest of
the South Saxons, had been suffering; they also mistook the efforts of
the old ceorls of Ælfhere for really hostile intentions, and were
proportionately dispirited at the unequal nature of the contest.

The result, therefore, of the first onset had been the breaking down of
the hastily-constructed defences in front, and the entry of two of
Arwald’s men, closely followed by three of their Brædynge allies.  The
two Boseham men were forced back, still fighting, and were left by the
leading Wihtwara of Arwald’s party to be disposed of by the others
behind him.

He himself made a rush for where the wounded Eorldoman Ælfhere was
lying, and without a pause waved his gleaming axe over the defenceless
eorl’s head.  The axe rose, flashed, descended, but at the same instant
two other forms had darted forward, another flash of steel almost
simultaneous with that of the Wihtwara glanced in the air, and the spear
of Wulfstan, driven with all the energy of rage and despair nerving his
boyish strength, pierced the heart of the man who was about to murder
his father; but Wulfstan’s blow would have been too late had it not been
for another interposition.  Brother Malachi, seeing inevitable death
awaiting Ælfhere, had rushed forward, and being without any weapon to
ward off the blow, had without a moment’s thought thrust out his arms to
intercept the stroke.  With a fortunate instinct he had held them high
up, so that the blow had not gathered full force, but the axe inflicted
a fearful wound, and Malachi’s arm dropped useless to his side.  But he
had done his work, he had gained his object, and he sank to the ground
with a sense of gratification as he saw the Wihtwara fall.  There was
now only one determined foe left, for the rest of the assailants, who
had at no time shown any great desire to come to close quarters, were
now evidently wavering, and seeing that Athelhune and Beornwulf had
disposed of their antagonists, and were coming hastily to assist the
Boseham men and Wulfstan, they drew together and retreated outside the
enclosure, the Wihtwara belonging to Arwald going with them. Wulfstan
could hardly believe in their good fortune; it seemed impossible that
four armed men only, a monk, and a boy should have been able to resist
the determined attack of twelve men.  Had these been all animated with
the same spirit as the six followers of Arwald they certainly could not
have made much of a fight of it; but the lucky recognition of his
father’s ceorls by Wulfstan, and Athelhune’s well-timed speech, had
turned the scale, and they were masters of the field.

But Athelhune was not satisfied with that; springing on to the wall he
shouted out to the Brædynge men to return to their eorldoman, who was
waiting to reward them for their services, and who had recognised how
skilfully they had managed to baffle the attempts of his enemies.  He
also told Wulfstan to call to them by name, and invite them to come and
see their lord.

These words had their due effect, and the men came in with a sheepish
air to look at their wounded master, and to salute him with respectful
words. Two or three of them with greater presence of mind suddenly
turned upon the only follower of Arwald still alive or unwounded, and
disarmed him, accomplishing the feat so quickly as to allow him no time
to defend himself.

This was a very hopeful sign of their returning fidelity, and Athelhune
saw it with very visible satisfaction; but, like a prudent commander, he
would take no rest until he knew what had become of Ceolwulf, for he
could not disguise from himself the danger that so small a party as only
three men ran, now that he knew the enemy were aware of their arrival
and whereabouts.

He thought the best thing to do, therefore, would be to send off three
of the most trustworthy of the ceorls to look for Ceolwulf, tell him
what had happened, and hasten his return with the much-needed supplies,
the want of which was now more than ever felt.  Wulfstan having told him
who were the men he liked best, he sent them off, and then turned to
examine the results of the fight.

His first care was for Malachi, whose heroism and self-sacrifice had
raised him to a pinnacle of glory. The wound he had received was of a
ghastly nature; the axe had struck the arm below the elbow, had cut to
the bone, and then glanced sideways, inflicting a desperate gash, and
poor Malachi had already fainted from loss of blood.  But Athelhune had
seen plenty of wounds of a worse kind than this; indeed, the one he had
himself just now given to his antagonist was of a far more terrible
nature, and he did not doubt that Malachi would recover. He quickly
picked a handful of grass, the softest he could find, placed it firmly
over and round the wound, then tore off a piece of the dead Wihtwara’s
tunic, and bound the arm tightly up.  Finally, making a sling, and
suspending it round Malachi’s neck, and inserting the arm in it, he had
him placed under the shelter by Ælfhere’s side.  Then, leaving Deva and
Wulfstan to watch over the two wounded men, he went out to see what had
become of the other Wihtwaras.

The first man lay dead, close to the wall; near him lay the second
leader, still unable to move, for both his legs were broken, and the
stone yet rested on them; across him lay the warrior who had nearly
killed Athelhune, and who lay face downwards, his helmet cut through,
and showing clear evidence of what a well-delivered blow from an English
battle-axe could do: he was stone dead.  Inside the fortification lay
the other man, whose leg had been shorn off by Athelhune; he was fast
bleeding to death: nothing could be done for him, even if they had felt
inclined.  Near the cabin, where Ælfhere and Malachi were placed, was
lying the other Wihtwara, with Wulfstan’s spear still in him; and not
far off was the captured follower of Arwald, sitting disconsolate and
sulky, with his hands and feet tied fast.

Of Athelhune’s little party only two had received wounds, and those very
slight.  Wulfstan was unhurt, and had forgotten all about his hunger in
the joy of having slain his first enemy, and, more than all, saved his
father.  The rest of the men were talking together, and already
Beornwulf and the Boseham men were fraternising with their late foes,
who were offering to go and bring some refreshments, when a distant
trampling announced the arrival of a considerable body of some sort.

Athelhune directly ordered the men to their posts, and urged them
hastily to repair the walls, and then sent one of the Brædynge men to
reconnoitre.

There were a few minutes of breathless suspense, for had a fresh enemy
appeared it would have fared badly with the weary and scanty defenders.
Suddenly a loud cheer relieved their minds, and they knew that Ceolwulf
was coming, and bringing them food.



                             *CHAPTER XII.*

                 *"THE KING SHALL HAVE HIS OWN AGAIN."*


The wild cheering that answered the shouts of Ceolwulf and his party was
scarcely over when the old ceorl appeared, accompanied by a number of
Ælfhere’s former servants, carrying baskets of provisions and other
comforts, from which it was quite evident that there was no further
danger to be apprehended from Arwald or his followers; indeed, it was
soon known to Athelhune and Ælfhere that all the men of Arwald’s party
had been engaged in the late assault, and that there was no immediate
risk of Arwald himself coming with a larger band, as the news would not
reach him rapidly, seeing that all his men were either killed, wounded,
or prisoners, and none of Ælfhere’s men were likely to report the
matter.  This was good news to Athelhune’s men, who were nearly worn
out, and they were very soon engaged in discussing the good cheer.

Some of the choicest of the food was brought to Ælfhere, and although
the wounded eorldoman was able to eat but little, yet that little seemed
to do him good.

"Oh, father, what a joyful time is this!" cried Wulfstan, with his mouth
full of a juicy morsel of pork pasty.  "How I do wish Ædric were here!
It seems years since I saw him; how he will wish he had had my luck!"

"My son," said Ælfhere, "the gods have been good to us; we must remember
to save of the arms of those robbers to make an offering to Woden.
There is one of them taken alive; it will be as well to offer him up,
that my ceorls who died when they attacked us that night may have one
more foeman to hack in pieces in Valhalla.  Mind thou seest to it that
he is taken care of.  Verily, as he hath made me suffer, so shall he
suffer."

Old Deva was all this time sitting rocking herself backward and forward
over the fire she had lighted; near her was sitting her goat.  The two
seemed to understand each other.  She was chanting some doggerel in an
unknown tongue, in which the words "Arthur ap Uther Pendragon" seemed to
occur very frequently, but nobody paid her any attention.

It had now become quite dark, and the scene was very picturesque; the
men had piled up a large fire, and were stretched in various attitudes
around it. They had laid the dead bodies of the Wihtwaras in a distant
part of the ruins, for all were now dead; those who were mortally
wounded having been put out of their sufferings by a merciful cynicism,
human life in that rough age being very lightly valued.

The news of Ælfhere’s existence and the arrival of the young Eorl
Wulfstan, with old Biggun, had spread over the neighbourhood, and all
the populace had turned out, and were thronging round the ruins.
Athelhune, who did not know whether they were to be trusted, was at
first a little uneasy, and told his men secretly to be on their guard;
but Ceolwulf soon reassured him, and he cast off all anxiety, feasting
and enjoying himself with the rest.

Song and jest and practical joke rapidly succeeded, and it would have
been hard to realise that only about an hour before that same spot had
been the scene of a desperate fray, in which at least ten of the
revellers had been deadly antagonists; but so it was then, when men were
more like children than they are now, when the world has grown older,
and the transitions from one frame of mind to another were more rapid
and complete, and impressions were less lasting.

As all of Athelhune’s party were very weary, directions were given by
Ceolwulf that a trusty band of the ceorls of Ælfhere should guard the
ruins that night, while he and a few more returned to the half-burnt
homestead at Brædynge.  With him dispersed the rest of the crowd, and
the ruins once more sank to their usual silence.

The night passed tranquilly enough.  When day broke next morning, the
sun rose on a sleeping band of men, and they were not aroused from their
deep, refreshing sleep until the servants of Ælfhere were busied in
preparing the morning meal.

Wulfstan woke with a deep sense of comfort.  He was at home, as it were.
Round him were the faces of many who had been familiar to him from
infancy, and he sniffed up the fresh morning air that blew salt and pure
from the sea with the relish of healthy youth.

The ruins bore a new aspect.  Fresh rushes had been laid down near and
around the little cabin where Ælfhere lay; a large iron vessel was
steaming over the fire a little way off, from which the fragrant smell
of a well-seasoned stew reached him, and this he appreciated even more
than the pure air from the sea.

In different parts of the ruins his companions-in-arms were either still
recumbent or were going through a simple toilet.  Personal cleanliness
was not much in fashion in the seventh century, except when it was
likely to conduce to comfort, and not many, therefore, were found
indulging in the luxury of a wash in the cold water from the well; but
some there were, and of this number was Athelhune.

When all were aroused, breakfast was served.  It was pleasant to
Wulfstan to see how much better his father seemed this morning, and that
Malachi also was going on well.  He had had his wound dressed and
strapped up again, and this time some linen was substituted for the
rough remedies of Athelhune.

After breakfast a council of war was called, near the wounded Ælfhere,
and it was debated what should be done next, as it was not likely Arwald
would allow the death of his men to go unavenged, and the news was sure
to reach him soon.  It was also discussed whether it would not be better
to move Ælfhere to the homestead again.

It was finally decided that this should be done, and it was also thought
the restoration of the eorldoman to his home should be made as important
as possible; for as Arwald was sure to hear of the matter very soon, it
would be as well to let him know that the love of Ælfhere’s ceorls was
still with their lawful lord, the descendant of the first chieftain that
led the free band of roving Jutes to conquer the land for themselves and
their descendants.

Messengers, therefore, were sent out to all the country round, and all
the ceorls and their thralls were invited to assist at the ceremony of
bringing home the eorldoman.  It was also widely disseminated that
Cædwalla had sent a large force to assist Ælfhere, and to restore the
Wihtwaras and Wihtea to the domination of Wessex, a part of which
kingdom it had originally formed, until Wulfhere, the son of Penda, had
quite recently handed it over to Edilwalch, king of the South Saxons;
who, however, had never done more than appoint Arwald as his deputy,
with instructions to depress such of the Wihtwaras as still preserved
any attachment to Wessex.

It was quite evident to Athelhune and Ælfhere that Arwald would not
allow these proceedings to pass off unmolested; or, if he did not feel
himself able to attack them at once, he would undoubtedly do so in the
course of a few days, when he had collected enough men for the purpose;
but they hoped that the ceorls and thralls would be all wrought up to
enthusiasm by the unexpected return of their own eorldoman, and would be
able to make a stubborn and effectual resistance.

To the surprise of all, Ælfhere seemed much better this morning: whether
it were that the treatment of Malachi had really done any good, or that
the excitement of the evening before, combined with the delightful
satisfaction of having been saved by his own son, and seeing his enemies
slain, had roused him from his despondent torpor, and so produced this
good effect.  But, from whichever cause it arose, there could be no
doubt of the fact—he was decidedly better.  His wounds looked more
healthy, and he was much more cheerful.

The ruins of the Roman villa—for whatever Deva might think about her
ancestors having built it, there was no doubt it was built by the Romans
or Romanised Britons—were about two miles distant from the house of
Ælfhere.  Ceolwulf had given directions to have the house made as
comfortable as possible, and all traces of its occupation by Arwald’s
followers were carefully obliterated.  Care also was taken that there
should be a large supply of food; for no Saxon or English ceremony could
be considered complete at which a large amount of good cheer was not
consumed; and the usual result of a very splendid festival was the half
starving of the poorer population for some weeks afterwards; but as it
also had another effect, namely, the producing of a good many quarrels,
which generally terminated fatally, the number of mouths to be filled
subsequently was somewhat reduced.

When all was properly prepared, which was not until the afternoon, a
litter was made for Ælfhere, and another for Malachi, who was now
treated with greater respect, while old Deva was also placed in an
important position; then Athelhune and Ceolwulf marshalled the
procession.  The advance was led by Ceolwulf, attended by all the old
servants of Ælfhere carrying such hastily contrived banners as could be
obtained for the occasion, and armed with axe and spear.  Then came a
crowd of thralls; a great many ceorls followed, all armed also; and
immediately behind them came the litter of Malachi, followed by that of
Ælfhere, by whose side walked Wulfstan and Deva, and attended by one or
two of his own servants carrying refreshments.  Behind the eorldoman
came Athelhune, followed by Beornwulf and Osborn, and the four Boseham
men, their arms all bright, and their accoutrements in proper order.
This was the end of the organised procession, but a crowd of men, women,
and children came thronging behind, shouting, talking, and
gesticulating.

At the head of the whole procession marched a harper; there had not been
time to get more than one.  He was attended by a band of children, who
sang desperately out of tune, and with a very hazy notion of the words,
a song of welcome, and waved branches of oak leaves and holly, while
some had bedecked themselves with the red berries of the wild iris, and
sprigs of "Holm" or "butcher’s broom."

The procession wound round the foot of the downs skirting the marshes,
and then ascended a gentle rise, until, turning to the left among the
tall trees, the old homestead suddenly appeared.

It was a long, low-built, thatched house, with no pretentions to
architectural effect.  One end was in ruins, and the gaunt, half-charred
rafters produced a feeling of desolation, which was somewhat relieved by
piles of straw lying ready to repair the damaged roof, while new timbers
were in process of being sawn up in a pit close by; behind the house
could be seen the higher roof of the barn, and other farm buildings, and
the blue smoke curling up amid the brown trees gave a look of comfort
very pleasing to Ælfhere and Wulfstan.

A few servants stood outside the house ready to receive their lord, and
tables were set under the trees near, upon which a lavish amount of
steaming joints, huge jugs of ale, and gigantic loaves were spread, and
it was quite evident from the longing looks cast in this direction that
unless the ceremonies were soon over the procession would dissolve of
its own accord.

Ceolwulf therefore briefly welcomed his master home, to which Ælfhere as
briefly replied, and then have directions that all should at once sit
down and begin upon the feast, and he hoped that all would eat plenty
and thoroughly enjoy themselves.

A loud cheer answered these few words, and instantly all was confusion.
Ælfhere had told Ceolwulf to see that Wulfstan paid especial attention
to Athelhune and his men, to whom seats of honour were assigned at the
head of the principal table.

The feast passed off like all the feasts of those days: an enormous
amount of food was consumed, a little wit went a very long way, and no
one seemed much inclined to move.  After the eating was over one or two
loud voices seemed to show that some amount of quarrelling was going on,
but Athelhune and Ceolwulf had determined that none of this should take
place, and so order was well kept.

Had Arwald attacked them directly after the festivities he would have
found an easy prey; but, fortunately for Ælfhere and his supporters, the
news did not reach Arwald until late that day, and he was not in a
position to move at once to the attack.

While the feast was at its height a boy rushed in and shouted that a
boat was coming up the haven, and no one knew who it could be.
Questioned by Ceolwulf, he said that the boat was not a large one but
that there were several men on board, and from the sun shining on
something bright, he thought they were well armed.  Ceolwulf immediately
sent a trusty man to find out what the boat was, and bring him word
again.

Just as the festivities were ending this man returned, accompanied by
four men in linked shirts of mail, and fully armed.  On seeing them
Athelhune leapt to his feet, and shouted:

"Welcome, noble Wulf.  Thou comest at a happy time.  Mayest thou bring
us good tidings of our king."

"I do, indeed, bring thee good tidings, Athelhune," cried Wulf, or, as
he is called in some histories Mollo.  "King Centwine of Wessex is dead,
and on his death-bed he named our Cædwalla his successor and directed
the eorldomen of Wessex to go to find him, and bring him back as their
king.  This they did, and I left Cædwalla surrounded by the power of
Wessex, recognised as their lawful lord, and successor to the line of
Cerdic."

"This is indeed good news," said Athelhune, and then turning to the
assembled crowd he called out:

"Men of Wihtea, our lawful overlord has got back his kingdom; let us all
thank the gods for this good news, and raise three cheers for Cædwalla."

Instantly all caps were off, all the crowd of revellers were on their
feet, and three deafening cheers burst from the lungs of the mob.

The news was really important, for now the tables were likely to be
turned upon Arwald, and instead of his venturing to attack them, they
would be able to attack him.  As the news became known in Wihtea all men
would return to their allegiance to Wessex, and it would fare very ill
with Arwald.  However, as the allegiance of the Wihtwaras had hitherto
been more nominal than real, there was not any certainty that they would
welcome any actual interference on the part of Cædwalla; for, like all
islanders, they were very jealous of any external control.  But it was a
great object for the rival chiefs of the island to use the moral
influence of the name of a powerful authority on the mainland; and, as
it was everywhere known that Ælfhere had supported the authority of
Wessex, while Arwald had represented Edilwalch and Mercia, it was easily
understood that since Edilwalch was dead, and his slayer had succeeded
to the throne of Cerdic, Ælfhere was likely to be more powerful than
Arwald.

The arrival too of Cædwalla’s own brother, Wulf, accompanied by three
such stalwart-looking warriors, brought a very material support, as well
as a moral one, to the cause of Ælfhere, and the feasting, which was
nearly over, was renewed with more joyous ardour.

Wulfstan did the honours bravely, but presently got tired of all the
noise and feasting, and very nearly fell asleep two or three times.  At
last, Athelhune suggested to Ceolwulf that the poor boy should be sent
in to his father, to tell him the news.

When Wulfstan entered his father’s room he found that he already knew
the good tidings, and was deeply thankful for the turn of fortune, but
at the same time, knowing Arwald as well as he did, he was not at all
confident that all would go well, for he knew that Cædwalla would not be
able to bring him assistance at once, and Arwald was too powerful to
give up his pre-eminence in the island without a fight. Being also a
skilful as well as brave leader, Ælfhere well knew he would realise the
necessity of striking before the ceorls and thralls had recovered from
their late crushing defeat, and especially before any reinforcements
could reach the island from Cædwalla. Filled with such thoughts,
therefore, Ælfhere did not respond to Wulfstan’s joy quite so readily.
This was a disappointment to the boy, who was brimful of happiness at
the bright prospects that were opening up for them.

"Why, father, thou seemest not nearly so merry as I should have thought
thou wouldst have been," said the boy, in a disappointed tone.

"We are not yet out of the wood," answered Ælfhere.  "If we can resist
the attack which Arwald is sure to make on us, either to-morrow, or the
next day, or can hold our own until Cædwalla sends us reinforcements,
all will be well."

"But, father, see how well we fought last night, and then there were
only four of us, now there are ever so many.  Thou hast not seen the
Atheling Wulf who has just come; he is nearly as splendid as Cædwalla
himself, and that is as much as saying he is like a god.  Thou never
sawest anyone so handsome or brave; and thou oughtest to hear old Biggun
tell how he took Cissanceaster.  Thou dost not really think we are not
able to beat any of that villain Arwald’s lot, dost thou?"

"Well, Wulfy, we’ve done very well, and Athelhune and the Atheling will
no doubt guard against a surprise, but there will be hard knocks, and
the Wihtwaras fight well."

"But we are Wihtwaras too, father."

"True, my son, but we are not as many as those whom Arwald will
bring—but it is no good discouraging the lad," muttered Ælfhere to
himself, "Like enough, being wounded and in sore pain, I look on the
dark side, and the boy is right. Well, Wulfy, I have no doubt we shall
do well enough, but I should like to see this same prince before night
comes on; and Ceolwulf must see that proper guards are set, and all
things made ready in case Arwald should come."

"Shall I bid Biggun come, father?"

"Aye, do, my boy, if he can be spared from the feast."

The boy left the room, and speedily gave his father’s message to
Ceolwulf, who immediately told Athelhune that the eorldoman would like
to see the Atheling Wulf.

But Wulf the Atheling was very unlike his brother Cædwalla; he had been
spoilt as a child, and was wilful, inconsiderate, and self-indulgent:
the only quality he and his brother had in common was great personal
courage.  As, therefore, he was enjoying himself at the banquet, he
declined to accede to Ælfhere’s request, saying that he would come the
next morning, when there was nothing better to do.

Ceolwulf was much displeased at this answer, but there was no help for
it; so, asking Athelhune to do the honours in his absence, he
accompanied his young master to the wounded eorldoman.

"Ceolwulf," said Ælfhere, "the news is indeed good, but let us not lose
the wine now the cup is at our lips.  You know Arwald, and that he is
not likely to let the power he has got in this island slip through his
fingers without fighting for it; and we have had too bitter experience
already of what comes from keeping a careless watch.  I trust,
therefore, that thou wilt take every care for the night, and learn the
earliest news thou canst of what is going on round Wihtgarsbyryg."

"Aye, that will I," answered old Biggun.  "We had enough broken heads
the last time to make those who were able to keep their brains in their
skulls then, do all they can to keep them there now.  I’ve sent Leofa
and the boy Stuff to get as much news as they can, and to tell anything
that comes into his head about us.  The boy Stuff is a good boy at
putting a man on a wrong trail; he has a way of looking stupid-like, and
not seeming to understand, and then answering with a question that gets
more out than he tells."

"When they come back, mind thou tellest me. How hast thou placed the
outposts?"

"Oh, well enough! if they are not too drunk, that is," said Ceolwulf,
scratching his head doubtfully. "Leastways, I shall have to go round
myself, I doubt not; but they are all placed where they ought to be, and
if they allow themselves to be knocked on the head they ought at least
to give a squeak first; but there, they’ve drunk a sight of ale, they
have, and perhaps if they get killed they’ll only think they are
dreaming, and forget to make any noise about it."

"Well, Ceolwulf, I shall trust to thee.  I don’t myself think there is
much danger of attack before morning, and they will be all right by that
time. What dost thou think of this Atheling Wulf?"

"Humph!  He can fight well enough when he likes, but fighting isn’t
everything; he can’t obey, and he has got no doggedness in him.
However, the more we have the better, and Athelhune is here to keep him
in order a bit, that’s one comfort.  Hark to that hubbub!  If I don’t go
there’ll be a fight before long."

And so it seemed, for angry voices could plainly be heard, and Ælfhere
bid Ceolwulf go at once to restore order.  When Ceolwulf returned to the
festivities, he found that one of the Boseham men, excited by the ale,
was loudly boasting of the superiority of the South Saxons to the
Wihtwaras, and an excited Wihtwara was as clamorously proclaiming their
superiority to the South Saxons; while Wulf, to amuse himself, was
promoting the rivalry by timely words.  Fortunately Ceolwulf returned
just in time to prevent blows, and, with Athelhune’s help, order was
once more restored.

As it was now getting very dark, a move began to be made by most of the
ceorls to their homes, and in a short time the old homestead was
comparatively deserted.

Wulf, Athelhune, and their companions, were sheltered in the house and
barns for the night, and Ceolwulf and some of the most faithful of the
servants took it in turns to keep watch during the hours of darkness.



                            *CHAPTER XIII.*

                     *"WHICH IS THE BETTER LIFE?"*


After the departure of Ceolwulf and Athelhune from Boseham, only three
days before the restoration of Ælfhere to his homestead had been so
happily accomplished, considerable anxiety was caused to the worthy
monks and Ædric as to what had become of Wulfstan.  Father Dicoll had
got the children and several of the older men to search everywhere, but
naturally to no purpose, and as night set in the hopelessness of the
search became evident.

"Oh!  Father Dicoll, what can have become of him?" asked Ædric,
piteously.

"My son, God will take care of him, and I should not be astonished if he
had gone somehow with the others; if he has not, I feel sure, seeing
that the lad is a quick lad and naturally endowed with the instincts of
self-preservation, he will come in later on. He may, perchance, have
gone out to kill some wild animal, a hare or a coney, maybe; but,
wherever he is, he is in God’s hands, so let us not be over-anxious, but
pray for his safe return."

This was not very hopeful comfort, but certainly there were no means of
giving any other, and Ædric had to spend a weary night, waking up
frequently and putting out his hand in the darkness to feel if his
brother had come back, and was sleeping on the pile of skins beside him;
but in every case he was disappointed, and after an anxious reflection
as to what could have become of him, Ædric fell off to sleep again.

The anxiety of the monks and Ædric was not allayed the next morning,
when they found that it had been snowing during the night, and there
were one or two ugly-looking footmarks outside the door of their hut,
which looked very much as though a wolf or two had been prowling round
during the night.

"Well, my son, it is no good making thyself unhappy about him," said
brother Corman.  "I think it is more than likely he managed to hide
himself away on board the boat, and has sailed away to Wihtea as he
wished."

"But he might have told me he was going.  Why, and now I think of it,
and so he did.  What a stupid I was not to mind what he said!  But I did
not give heed to his words then, because I did not think he could
possibly get on board without Ceolwulf seeing him, but, of course, he
must have done it.  Oh, how glad I am!  But what a lucky fellow he is!"
added Ædric, wistfully.  "He will see our old home, and perhaps father;
who knows?"

"Then, no doubt, he will send over and fetch thee, if all goes well; so
now thou canst be happy again. But we shall have to take leave of thee
soon, Ædric. Thou art to go to Wilfrid, the bishop, in Selsea."

"But I don’t want to go.  Why should I?  I am much happier here with
thee, Father Dicoll."

"Yes, but thou art not safe here, especially now that thy old ceorl has
fought so well at Cissanceaster.  All the country is talking about him,
and they will soon know that he is gone on an expedition to Wihtea to
turn out the ally of the South Saxons."

"Oh!  I don’t want to leave thee; thou hast been so kind to me.  Canst
thou not come too if I have to go?"

"I am afraid Wilfrid will not care to have us; and to tell thee the
truth, I don’t think he will say we are the sort of men who ought to
bring thee up."

"Why not?  You both believe in the same God. You are both Christians,
are you not?"

"Yes; but I shall never make thee understand how little it takes to make
men cease to be of one mind in a house.  We think we are right, and
Wilfrid thinks he is right, but we are willing to think the differences
are of little importance, only we don’t like to give up our old custom,
while he thinks we are stubborn schismatics and obdurate
stumbling-blocks, stiff-necked in our ignorance and blinded by our own
conceits.  Truly our blessed Lord was right when He said, ’I came not to
bring peace upon the earth, but a sword.’"

This was all impossible for Ædric to understand. That Christians who
took their lives in their hands to convert the heathen, whose whole
doctrine turned upon love, charity, peace, should yet be so bitter
against each other, was incomprehensible to him, and still more so that
they should let this appear in the face of strangers and the common
enemy.

"Well, brother Corman, Wulfstan and I often quarrel, but we always make
it up and fight like anything against anyone who is our enemy, and we
don’t let them know we quarrel."

The conversation was interrupted by breakfast, after which arrangements
were talked about for taking Ædric to Wilfrid.

The monks had shown a certain animosity and bitterness in speaking of
Wilfrid which had communicated itself to Ædric, and he was very
unwilling to go to him.  He was eager to know more about him, but the
monks, to do them justice, were not willing to speak against the bishop,
or to prejudice the mind of the boy in any way; while feeling as they
did that the branch of the Christian church which they represented was
older than the later form introduced by St. Augustine the Monk, they
could not but be irritated at the superiority which Wilfrid assumed, and
his assertion that they were in error.  Worst of all, the new
missionaries from Rome had sided with the victorious and pagan Saxon,
and had added insult to injury by branding the suffering British with
the odious name of unorthodox.  And after all, what were these great
differences?  A fashion of shaving the head dissimilar to that
prevailing at Rome, and a different system for calculating the Paschal
moon.  For practical purposes this last was the more serious difficulty,
for it occasioned the inconvenient anomaly of one set of Christians
fasting while the other set were feasting, according as they observed
the Roman or the Eastern custom of calculating Easter; but the fashion
of the tonsure was quite as warmly disputed, and the Irish monks were
taunted with being the imitators of Simon Magus![1]

[1] _Vide_ Milman.  Latin Christianity, vol. ii., pp. 247-269.

The preparations of the monks did not take very long, but it suddenly
occurred to brother Corman that Ædric could not walk, and they had no
conveyance by which he could be carried.  It certainly would have seemed
a matter of no great difficulty to have thought of this before, but
their minds were so occupied with speculation, and the little daily
round of their religious services, teaching the few children that came
to be taught, and providing for their small daily wants, that they had
not given any thought as to how Ædric was to get to Selsea, a distance
of some five or six miles.

"_Beate Columba!_" said Father Dicoll, "but my head gets duller every
day.  Why did I not think of this before?  We shall have to send someone
to tell Wilfrid, and who will go?"

"True," said Corman, looking at Dicoll with a perplexed air.  "We have
nought that will tempt any of these South Saxons to go.  I shall have to
go myself."

"The matter is one that is somewhat urgent, I fear, for the boy ought to
be with Wilfrid before night, in case the eorldoman Berchthune should
send for him. But let us see if we cannot get any of these children to
take a message for us."

So saying, Father Dicoll called out to a group of children that were
making mud pies on the shore a little way off.

The children paid no attention at first, for they were making too much
noise among themselves to be able to hear Father Dicoll.  At last, a
curly pated, blue-eyed, young Saxon heard him, and thumped a few of the
other children to make them keep quiet, which, strangely enough, had the
desired effect, which caused brother Corman, who was of a moralising
turn, to observe how strangely the same process produced different
results.

"For if I beat these younglings they don’t keep quiet, but raise a
greater clamour; whereas when that yellow-haired pagan beats his
brethren they keep as quiet as mice.  Perhaps they know that the process
will go on until they stop, with him; whereas they have found out that
after the blow has fallen there is no more danger from me.  Truly, to
get what one wants in this world, one ought to have no heart, and keep
on thumping."

"Here, Ceolric, my child," called Father Dicoll, "I want to know if thou
wilt do something for me."

The youngster ran up to the monk readily when he understood he wanted
him, for the monks were favourites with the children and their mothers,
and were not disliked by the men; indeed, by most they were decidedly
liked.

"Dost thou think thou couldest find thy way to Cymenesora if brother
Corman were to put thee over the creek?"

"I don’t know, Father Dicoll; it is a good long way and father said I
wasn’t to go away far from home."

"Is thy father in?"

"Not as I know, but mother is.  There she stands yonder, thou hadst best
ask her."

"But wouldest thou go if she would let thee?"

Upon this the boy fell to scratching his head.  It was quite clear he
did not want to go, but, at the same time, did not want to disappoint
the monks.

"Look here, Ceolric, if I were to promise thee a fishing line and hook,
wouldest thou go then?"

"I’ve got one."

"Then what would make thee like to go?"

"I don’t know as anything would that thou hast got to give me."

The poverty of the poor monks was very well known, and certainly, if
they had made any converts from the rough and boorish South Saxons, such
conversion must have been entirely brought about by conviction,
unalloyed with any thoughts of earthly gain.

Seeing the hopelessness of finding a messenger among the Boseham
children, and, consequently, among the rest of the population—for if
they could not prevail on the children, among whom their influence was
greatest and their little rewards most prized, they certainly would have
no success with the adults—it became evident brother Corman would have
to go himself.

Ædric could not help seeing what a great deal of trouble he was giving
these excellent monks, and, being a good-hearted boy, he felt very
grateful to them, and more than ever sorry to leave them.  The contrast
of their simple, unworldly ways, their gentleness, and readiness to do
good to others, with the rough, quarrelsome boastfulness of the men
among whom he had lived, was not lost upon him.

The conversations, too, that he had with Father Dicoll had taught him
many things he had never dreamt of before.  When he was suffering great
pain from his leg, it had been a relief to him to listen to Corman
telling him of the terrible sufferings of Him who had no need to suffer,
but had voluntarily undergone the most dreadful agony of body and mind
for the sake of His enemies.  It had been quite a new thing to hear that
pain was a blessing, that it purified and sanctified; and now, when
Corman had started on Malachi’s little raft to row down the creek, and
cross about a mile further down to the other shore, and thence walk to
Selsea, he longed to ask Father Dicoll a few questions, and fortunately
Father Dicoll seemed in a talkative mood, for he presently turned to
Ædric, and said:

"My son, this is perhaps the last time we may meet.  Thou wilt go to a
much more learned man than we are, if report speaks true, and one who
has great reputation for piety.  But remember, my son, that before
honour is humility, and that the first thing in life is to be meek and
lowly in heart, and then, loving unto all men; if we heartily desire to
think others are better than ourselves, thou mayest depend upon it we
shall live happier and die better. But what dost thou think should be
the aim of our lives?"

After thinking a little Ædric answered, "I should have said a little
while ago to be great and honoured in war, to kill a great number of my
enemies, and to leave a great name behind me, was the noblest aim in
life for a hero and a warrior."

"Dost thou think so now?"

"No, I don’t think I do; and yet it is a great thing to be very brave,
and do great deeds, and leave a name behind thee, is it not, Father
Dicoll?"

"Certainly it is, my son; but what braver deed could anyone have done
than He did who gave His life for us?  What greater name can anyone
leave behind than the name of Him who gave His life a ransom for many?
Is not saving life as noble as killing?  Is not making more noble than
destroying? But what dost thou now think the aim of life?"

"I think," answered Ædric, slowly and meditatively, "the aim of a life
ought to be to do something great, but I don’t quite know what that
ought to be."

"No, my son, no doubt thou dost not, for it all depends upon what we
call ’great.’  Hitherto thou hast thought—and no blame to thee, for thou
knewest no better—that to live the life of a warrior, and make thy name
more famous than others, was the highest object.  It has never occurred
to thee to think of others, but if thou wilt think, thou wilt see that
in proportion as thy warlike fame should increase, others must suffer,
and according to thy ideas of glory the more who suffer the greater will
be thy renown.  In other words, thy reputation would be the reputation
of the most ferocious wild beast which preys on human food."

"But, Father, everybody I ever met praises the great warrior, the hero.
Where canst thou meet a poet or skald who does not sing the fame of some
noble chieftain?"

"True, my son, but because many are in error, does that make the mistake
any the less?  Now let us begin at the beginning: what is the thing in
daily use thou thinkest has called for the most cleverness in making?"

Ædric thought a little; there were not many things in daily use at that
time that were the result of much ingenuity, but at last he said, "I
think a plough, or a boat, is a very useful thing, and must have taken a
clever man to think of!"

"Well, yes; but I think a plough is much the more ingenious of the two,
for a bit of wood will make a boat, and it is very easy to improve on
that when once the idea is started, which any child can do by throwing a
stick into a pond; but a plough requires much more thought.  However,
let us take a plough.  Thinkest thou it is easier to make a plough—one
that is complete and useful in all its parts—or to destroy one that is
made?"

"Why, it is much easier to destroy it."

"Just so; and would the man who destroyed it be thought a more
celebrated man than the one who made it?"

"No, certainly not; he would be thought an idle fool."

"Then the destroyer of what is useful is very much the same as an idle
fool, is that so?"

"Yes, certainly."

"Now we all agree, heathen and Christian alike, that man was made by
some Divine power: your legends say that the All-Father made men, which
is exactly what Christians say.  Is not a man more useful than a plough,
and infinitely more cleverly made?  Of course he is.  Well, what must
the man be who, to amuse himself, or gain glory, which is the same thing
to him spends all his life in smashing the most wonderful of all created
things?  Is he not a destroyer? and we have said that a destroyer is the
same as an idle fool.  Now, dost thou think that to be an idle fool is a
worthy aim?  But I need not ask such a question."

"But, Father Dicoll, it is a glorious thing, whatever thou sayest, to
die fighting, or, better still, to live fighting for what is one’s own,
to protect those who are being robbed by those who have no right to take
from the weaker."

"Part of what thou sayest is not devoid of truth, and to the weak nature
of man, who does not understand divine mysteries, it certainly seems to
be a fine thing to be up and doing, to protect from wrong those who are
too weak to protect themselves; but I think more is done in this world
by the example of Christian meekness and heavenly wisdom, than by all
the blows struck by earthly arms even in a just quarrel.  What said our
Lord Himself?  ’If he smite thee on one cheek, offer to him the other
also’; and again: ’Put up thy sword into his place, for all they that
take the sword shall perish with the sword.’  To fight with carnal
weapons has always seemed to me to show an utter want of faith.  Look at
the Christian religion: it grew not by the power of earthly grandeur,
but by the blood of the blessed martyrs.  Through three centuries almost
they died one after the other, until at last men came to see that
killing would not stop the faith, but that, like a fabled monster, from
each death a thousand more believers sprung up.  It was the beauty of
holiness that captivated the world at last, not the victory of
Constantine: that was but the effect of the growth of Christianity, not
the cause of its universal acceptance.  But there was one part of thy
remark, Ædric, that was wholly wrong: it is not a glorious thing to die
or to live fighting for one’s own; for what is thine own?  Is anything
thou hast thine own?"

"My life is, my clothes are, lots of things are."

"What dost thou consider thine own to mean?"

"Why, what _is_ my own, what I can give away, keep to myself if I like;
that nobody else can have or take away from me; that I can destroy, do
what I like with, of course."

"Well, that is what most people understand by their own.  But think if
that is the correct description of what is thine own.  Is thy life thine
own?  Canst thou keep it to thyself?  Can nobody else take it away from
thee?  Thou canst certainly destroy it, or give it away, and therein
lies the responsibility of ownership, which I will talk about later on,
if we have time. But is it not the same with all that thou hast got?
Cannot everything be taken from thee that thou hast? Dost thou not see
that thou art entirely at the mercy of some over-ruling Power?  If,
then, thou wouldst fight for what thou callest thine own when anybody
comes or wishes to take it away from thee, to save one thing thou wilt
most likely lose another.  Even if thou succeedest thou art certain to
be the worse off; for no one would attempt to take away the goods of
another unless he were pretty nearly equal to the other in strength, or
some other quality; while he would not attack thee unless he thought he
were superior to thee, or had a good chance of succeeding. Is it not
better to have no ’thine own’?  He who taught us the way of life, who,
having all things, who being God, yet thought it not unworthy of Him to
be the poorest man upon earth; who, having all things offered to Him
(which He could have had indeed without such offer) by the Tempter, yet
chose to wander upon earth, having nowhere to lay His head—He had no
’His own.’  No, He preached, and practised what He preached—the
universal love of God to man, and of man to his fellow.  ’Give us this
day our daily bread,’ is all we ought to ask for ourselves in the way of
earthly wants; all else has to do with our spirits, our souls.

"The instinct that causes us to wish for our own, to fight for our own,
or to die for our own, is not the instinct of a Christian.  ’Sell all
thou hast and give to the poor,’ are our Lord’s words: for all we want
in this world are food and raiment, which having, let us be therewith
content.  How did the first disciples of our Lord live after He was
taken from them? ’Neither said any of them that ought of the things
which he possessed was _his own_, but they had all things in common.’
The more all of us realise that this is not our life, that our home is
not here, the happier we shall be.  A man’s life consisteth not in the
abundance of things which he possesseth, but in the possession of the
Holy Spirit of God, which no human power can take from him; in fact, the
more they try to take it away, the more the Spirit abideth, for as the
soul resisteth temptation, so it becometh stronger, holier, purer.  The
aim of our lives should be to live like Christ; and I have often told
thee how He lived.  But we cannot attain to perfection by our own
efforts, it must be the faith in Jesus, which will only do this; and
this comes with His Holy Spirit.  But by prayer and fasting and
unceasing watchfulness we may prepare our bodies, and make them more fit
to be the tabernacles of the Holy Ghost.  But remember, my son, that the
great danger to all men is to think of themselves.  In deep religious
meditation there is much danger of thinking only of _yourself_.  The
rule of life should be to work and to obey: _laborare est orare_—abolish
_self_, forget _self_, annihilate _self_.  So know thyself that thou
mayest know thy faults; think not so to know thyself as to think thou
hast any virtues.  We have none but by the Spirit of God.

"But I fear I have not done my duty in telling thee how to live.  Thou
hast a mission before thee, my son, and God will help thee.  Thou dost
not yet know Him; but He will draw thee to Himself.  If, as thou growest
older, the pleasures of the world, the gibes of others, or the
temptations of the flesh, should allure thee into sin, remember that a
little endurance here will procure everlasting happiness hereafter. And,
above all things, work; work is the great and homely friend that drives
away temptation.  Flee youthful lusts which war against the soul; yea,
run away from them.  Get up, run about; above all, work and pray.  And
now, my son, may the blessing of God go with thee.  Thou hast been
brought here in His wonderful wisdom to be as a brand plucked from the
burning, and, perhaps, to be a great instrument to win souls to God.
The aim of thy life must be to cast self on one side, and imitate the
life of Christ.  This will be a hard task.  Thou wishest to be a hero.
The greatest hero is he who unconsciously does simple or great deeds for
the sake of others, but which may cause him unutterable suffering.  But,
remember, it is the unconsciousness of the actions that makes the
heroism; I mean the unconsciousness that thou art doing anything great.
And it is not the actions that the world calls great that are always
great.  I believe the greatest heroes are known only to God.

"And now, my son, let us pray that His Holy Spirit may fill thy heart,
for thou hast a worthy object in life before thee, and wilt need much
strength to fulfil it."



                             *CHAPTER XIV.*

              *"’TWIXT CUP AND LIP, THERE’S MANY A SLIP."*


It was nearly dusk before brother Corman returned; Father Dicoll and
Ædric were seated outside on the little quay looking for him.

"There he is," cried Ædric, as he caught sight of the little raft coming
sluggishly up with the tide.  "I wonder what message he has brought?"

"Whatever it is, it is now too late for thee to go away to-night."

"How glad I am!  And perhaps it will rain to-morrow. I do wish it would,
and then I couldn’t leave thee.  Dost thou think it looks like rain,
Father Dicoll?"

Father Dicoll looked up.

"No, I can’t say I think it does.  The sun seems to me to be setting
beautifully."

And now brother Corman was coming nearer; they could hear the splash of
his oars, and he seemed to be singing.

Ædric was all impatience to know what was to happen to him, but walking
was yet far too painful, so he had to master his eagerness until Corman
got nearer.  But at last he could stand it no longer, and called out:

"Am I to go to-morrow?"

Brother Corman ceased his chaunt and his rowing, and turned round; but
all he said was:

"Wait till I get on shore."

"How provoking he is!  Why can’t he tell me at once?"

But Father Dicoll said nothing.  If he had said anything it would have
been to reprove Ædric for his impatience; but he was a wise man, who
trusted to silence for doing the work of words—a method which, however,
requires great knowledge in its application.

It was not long before Corman had run his raft alongside the quay, and
with provoking deliberation, as it seemed to Ædric, moored her to a
post; he then picked up the oars, and putting them over his shoulder,
came up to Father Dicoll and Ædric.

"Well, brother Corman, and how hast thou fared?" said Father Dicoll.

"Well enough.  Wilfrid will have a litter brought down to the shore
yonder by noon to-morrow, and Ædric is to go there to meet him.  He
promises to care for him well; and he also told me news which, if it be
true, may make a great deal of difference to the boy’s fortunes, and
indeed for all the country round."

"What was that?"

"Why, that Centwine of Wessex is dead, and bid all men own the outlaw
Cædwalla to be king in his stead, before he died."

"How knew Wilfrid of that?"

"How knows Wilfrid of everything?  He is not like us.  He is troubled
about much serving; the doings of the world concern him, and the great
ones of the earth are those in whom he delights."

Father Dicoll said nothing, but turned towards their hut.  Ædric
followed, leaning on Corman’s arm, and using a stick for a crutch.

When they got inside Father Dicoll prepared their frugal meal, as Corman
was tired with his long walk and row.  Then they had evening service,
and after that Ædric was attended to; the bandages on his leg were
changed, and he was made comfortable for the night.  He felt very sad as
he lay down, and felt much inclined to rebel at being sent away without
having a voice in the matter; but the lessons of the last few days were
beginning to bear fruit, and he recognised the duty of submitting his
own inclinations to the wisdom of those whom he had found by experience
to be kind and good.

The next morning they were all up at the usual hour.  Not much was said.
Father Dicoll thought it better to let the many conversations he had had
with Ædric remain in the boy’s mind without further comment, and Ædric
himself was too unhappy at parting to say or ask much.  As the hour drew
near for him to be put on board the raft, he felt more than ever
inclined to be rebellious; but again the kindness of the good monks, and
their constant teaching on the subject of self-obliteration, came to his
mind, and he sorrowfully prepared for his departure.

The little raft was made ready to receive Ædric by Corman, who placed on
it a few skins and a pitcher of water.  As the boy had brought nothing
with him there was no difficulty about baggage.  When all was ready,
Father Dicoll assisted Ædric down the path to the quay, and helped him
on board, directing him to lie down in such a position as not to
inconvenience Corman while rowing.  Then, giving him his blessing, he
took an affectionate farewell.

Ædric could scarcely refrain from tears, but, remembering how Ceolwulf
would have laughed at him if he had given way to his emotion, he
mastered his feelings, and smiled back at Father Dicoll.

"I shall soon come back and see thee; thou knowest; my leg is very
nearly well now, thou hast cured it so wonderfully, and when I go back
to Wihtea thou and brother Corman will come over and teach us all to be
good."

Father Dicoll nodded and said, "As God wills it, my son."  Then brother
Corman got on to the raft, and, pushing off, began to row slowly away.

Ædric waved his hand to the good monk, and then sank back on his couch
with a wistful look.

"What is Wilfrid like, brother Corman? dost thou think I shall like
him?"

"I am sure thou wilt; but I don’t suppose thou wilt see very much of
him, he is always so busy.  Thou seest he is not like Father Dicoll and
me.  He is not a simple monk like us, and he has a great deal to look
after."

"Then shall I have to be all by myself all day? Will no one talk to me
or tell me stories as thou and Father Dicoll were always doing?"

"No, there is no fear of that; he has several monks and priests with
him, and I expect Bernwine, or Hildila, will look after thee."

"And who are they?"

"Well, Bernwine is Wilfrid’s nephew, and a priest. Hildila is also a
priest, and they are reported to be good men."

They were going gently by the sedgy banks; the trees were a deeper
russet-brown than they had been when Ædric came wearily past them a few
weeks before.  He had felt lonely and in great pain then; he was
stronger now, and his leg was nearly well, but Dicoll doubted whether he
would quite regain the full use of it, as the wound had been very severe
and had cut through a tendon.  But he felt more lonely now, and dreaded
the going among an entirely new set of faces, without a single friend to
welcome him.

They went on in silence for some little time.  At last Ædric said:

"I wonder if Wulfstan did really go with Ceolwulf?"

"I should think there was no doubt about it."

"If people are dead dost thou think they can come and tell us where they
are, and what they are doing?"

"I never knew myself any that did," answered Corman, cautiously.  "But
all men have believed it to be possible, and there are countless legends
and stories which tell of such occurrences."[1]


[1] See "the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great" for the belief in
supernatural messages, a work not likely to be known by Corman, but
surely representing the orthodox belief of the time.


"Then why dost thou think my father Ælfhere or my mother Alftruda never
came to see me and tell me what has become of them?"

"Why, my son, what a very unreasonable question! How can I tell?"

Ædric looked dissatisfied.  He thought the monks knew everything: a not
uncommon belief with children in respect of those who are older than
they are; a belief that is at the same time flattering and embarrassing,
and which serves as the basis for the greatest number of impositions
quackery and charlatanism have known how to successfully palm off on
ignorance.

Again they lapsed into silence.  Boseham was still in sight behind them.
Ædric turned his head to look once more at the quiet little place where
he had learnt so much.

"Why, Corman, isn’t that a man on horseback on the quay?"

Corman looked.  "Well, it does look like some one on a horse.  I wonder
who it can be."

"Hark!  I think I hear somebody calling," said Ædric.

Corman ceased rowing, and the raft, sluggishly moving when Corman rowed
his hardest, ceased to ripple through the water.

A loud halloo came over the water.

"What can he want.  Is he calling us?" asked Ædric.

"Hush! he is saying something," said Corman.

An indistinguishable shout again reached them.

"I can’t make out what he is saying, but it seems to be very important.
I wonder who he is.  Now, it may be right to go back, but it may be
wrong. Hark! he’s calling again."

"Something about ’back’ is what he seems to say," said Ædric.

Corman still waited, and gazed in the direction of the horseman.

"What I can’t understand is, why Father Dicoll is not there.  I don’t
think it is all right, or he would be on the quay, and would wave to us,
or make some signal."

Ædric looked carefully to see whether he could not make out his figure
anywhere.  At last he called out:

"I see him.  There he is; he is waving his hands."

Corman looked where Ædric pointed, and saw Father Dicoll, who was
certainly making some kind of sign, but it did not seem to him that they
were signs to return.

"I think he means us to go on.  Now do thou watch him, don’t look at the
other man at all.  I will turn the raft round and row back.  If he waves
his hands, as if sending us away, tell me at once."

Corman then turned the raft round, while Ædric looked intently at Father
Dicoll.

The man had stopped shouting as soon as he saw that the raft was coming
back, but Dicoll went on waving his arms more than ever.  He was
standing a little way behind the man, so that his movements were not
seen by him.

"Well," said Corman, "what dost thou make of it?"

"I think he means we are to return," said Ædric.

Corman turned round to look.

"Well, I don’t know; it looks as though he were beckoning, certainly,
but it is very difficult to see from this distance.  However, I will go
on rowing a little longer, and then, perhaps, we shall be able to make
out what it all means."

So saying, Corman pulled against the tide, that was running out fast.
He did not make much way, but Dicoll never ceased to make signs, waving
his arms about frantically.

"I think he does perhaps mean we are to go on," said Ædric, who had been
carefully watching him.

"Well, I will turn round again, and we shall see whether he changes his
movements."

Directly the raft was turned round the horseman began to shout
vigorously, but Father Dicoll ceased to wave his hands and arms.

"What dost thou think of that, Ædric?"

"I think it means we are to come back."

"I don’t though; now see," and Corman once more turned the raft round as
if to row back.  Instantly Father Dicoll began to wave his arms
frantically, and the horseman ceased to shout.  Suddenly he caught sight
of Father Dicoll, something flashed in the air, and Father Dicoll ceased
to wave his arms.

"What does that mean?  He hasn’t struck Father Dicoll, has he?"

"I don’t like the look of it.  I certainly shall not go back until I
have left thee in a safe place."

Corman again turned the raft round, and headed it for the entrance of
the creek.  As he did so, the shouting began again.

"Ah! thou mayest shout, shout till thou art hoarse too, but I shan’t
come back yet."

"Oh, Corman, he has struck Father Dicoll!  I saw him raise his arm, and
then I saw Father Dicoll fall. How dreadful! and all because Father
Dicoll tried to save me."

Corman was very much overcome.

"If any ill hath happened to him, the Lord will requite the doer of it;
but it would be a grievous thing for any evil to befall him.  Oh,
Dicoll, my father, what shall I do bereft of thee?  Sweet has thy
intercourse been to me.  Desolate am I, and deprived of life, if thy
life be taken from me," and Corman ceased rowing, and gazed ruefully
towards Boseham.

"Oh, Corman, look! the man is galloping along the shore, and——why, there
are several more men coming down.  What are they going to do?"

Corman and Ædric remained for a few moments in speechless curiosity.
The man on horseback had galloped furiously up to the men, and was
gesticulating rapidly.  The men dispersed and ran about the shore.  At
last they all seemed to be running to one spot.  They all collected
round something, the man on horseback appearing to be energetically
directing them.

"Why, it’s one of the Boseham boats they are launching, I do believe,"
said Corman.

"So it is, and now they are getting into it.  What do you think it
means?"

"I think they are going to row after us."

So saying, Corman began rowing again as hard as he could.

They were about three-quarters of a mile away, and had to go about a
mile more before they could reach the "hard," or landing place, on the
other side of the creek, for they had to row out of the little creek, at
the head of which Boseham stands, and cross the larger creek that wound
its muddy way up to within a mile of Cissanceaster.

The tide was running out strongly, and this was all in their favour, for
as they got farther down the stream ran stronger.

Corman knew the importance of making the full use of the tide, and he
strained every muscle to get into the main channel.

The other boat was now manned, and the crew were rowing vigorously, but
unscientifically.  The horseman had got in, and was steering.

"They are not gaining much, if at all," said Ædric.

Corman said nothing.  He had need of all his strength and breath; the
drops of perspiration on his brow told how hard he was working.  The
clumsy raft went sluggishly along in spite of all his toil, and the
other boat came nearer.

"Why can’t I row?  I know how; I have often done it at home.  I could at
least take one oar."

Corman shook his head, and rowed hard.

Nothing more was said by Ædric, and the oars splashed and the water
gurgled under the unwieldy logs of the raft, as it slushed its way
through the water.

"They are gaining on us now.  Well done!" cried Ædric, as one of the men
twisted his oar under the water, and was knocked by the handle of it
against the next man, and so into the bottom of the boat. It was comic
to see his legs go up in the air, and to hear the shouts of wrath from
the helmsman.

[Illustration: How Corman and Ædric fled before Berchthune]

"That has stopped them a bit.  Now if they only would stick in the mud!
the tide is falling fast, and they couldn’t get off."

Corman was getting tired with his exertions.  It was quite clear, unless
some accident happened to the other boat, they must be caught.  They
were so near to each other now that Ædric could distinguish the men.
They were all strangers to him. The man who commanded was a tall,
grey-bearded man, muscular and wiry.  He wore a helmet and linked mail
shirt, across which a chain hung supporting a two-edged battle axe; his
keen eyes glared from under thick, bushy, grey eyebrows, and two wings
of a hawk attached to his helmet gave him a very war-like air.

"Who can he be, I wonder?" said Ædric.

Corman only shook his head by way of answer, and kept rowing
desperately, but there was evidently no chance.  Suddenly an idea struck
him.  "Ædric," he gasped, "dost thou see any shallow spot ahead over
which we could go, but on which they would stick?  If thou dost, point
to it, and I will row over it."

Ædric looked about; the sea was so muddy that it was difficult to tell
where the deep water was, but the current ran in stronger eddies, and
with more of ruffle on its surface in the channel, and the boy saw one
bank that he thought would do.

They had now got to the part of the creek where the Boseham lake, or
creek, joined the arm that went up to Cissanceaster.  There was a long
spit of mud running out from the western shore.  If they could pass over
this they would gain a good bit on their pursuers, who might, perhaps,
be tempted to follow them, in which case they would inevitably run
aground, and would have to remain for some hours.

"I see a lane of deeper water across that bank there, only you must row
very hard for it.  It is some way off yet!" cried Ædric.

Corman tugged at the oars, the awkward raft moved hardly any quicker,
and the drops of perspiration rolled off the monk.

Nearer and nearer the other boat came after them. The steersman was
laughing.  Ædric could see his great mouth opening in a broad grin of
triumph. The men were not rowing nearly so hard now, and he could hear
them talking.  They were quite confident of success.

"Pull, Corman, pull! we are just going into the shallow part."

And the poor monk rowed harder than ever.  His eyes were straining and
bloodshot, and the muscles of his neck stood out like knotted cords.
The bow of the other boat was only a few yards off.  The man in the bows
had put his oar in, and was standing ready to jump on board the raft.
The water curled under the bows.

Suddenly the man in the bows was jerked violently forward, a large rush
of water spread over the yellow surface ahead, and a wild shout of joy
rang out from Ædric.

"They are ashore, they are ashore!  Hurrah!"

And so it was: the boat, drawing quite two feet of water, had plunged
into the mud, and was now stuck fast.  All was instantly confusion and
clamour on board.  The chieftain stormed and raged, notwithstanding it
was entirely his own fault; for he had not followed the wake of the
raft, but had tried to cut it off.  The raft was still in comparatively
deep water, and was going away merrily.  The men on board all stood up,
and pushed and tugged at their oars, but as fast as they pushed their
oars in, and moved the boat at all, they pulled her on again by trying
to get their oars out of the deep, clinging, holding mud.  Fierce
imprecations and abusive epithets flew from the commander, but all to no
purpose.

"Get out, men! out with ye, or we shall remain here for ever.  See how
the tide is falling!" shouted the old man.

The men tumbled over the gunwale into the shallow water, but they could
hardly have done a more useless thing.  Instead of pushing the boat off
they only pulled it all the deeper into the mud; for not being able to
obtain any foothold, they hung on to the sides of the boat to prevent
themselves sinking in.  It was a ludicrous sight to see all these strong
men hanging round the boat, wallowing and plunging in the black,
clinging mud.  The helmsman grew more and more furious, the more it
became apparent that their position was hopeless.  The men, disgusted
with the mud and their fruitless exertions, tried to get in again, and
the sight was still more comic, as they all struggled to climb over the
side of the high and awkward boat.  Their muddy legs all had the
appearance of wearing long black silk stockings, and as they wriggled
and plunged, they gradually became covered with the same horrible,
greasy, shiny coating. Sometimes a man would be seen to raise himself
up, get one leg over the gunwale, lie down on his side, and try to roll
himself into the boat, his other leg would wave in the air, and just as
he was succeeding, some of the other men, intent on their own
endeavours, would pull the boat too much down on that side, and he would
roll over into the mud again.  At last one or two succeeded in getting
in, and the others, with their assistance, were hauled over the side,
not without much bruising of legs and arms, and a plentiful bedaubment
of mud.

Meanwhile Ædric and Corman were getting on well.  The monk had rested a
little when he saw that they had got far enough away to be safe from any
arrow, supposing the men had bows and arrows with them, and he and Ædric
were laughing at the miserable plight of their pursuers.

Suddenly Corman began to row vigorously again. He had looked round, and
instantly worked as hard, or harder, than ever at the oars.

"Why, Corman, what is the matter?" said Ædric; but the monk did not
answer.  Ædric looked about, puzzled; there was no other boat in sight,
and the men were still far too busy trying to get into their boat to be
thinking of any means of pursuing them, even if they had a chance of
finding any.  But while Ædric was wondering what had caused these
renewed exertions of brother Corman, the raft came to a stop. It also
had run on the mud.

Their position was now singular, and very tantalising to both parties,
but especially so for Corman and Ædric, for a few strokes more or a few
inches more water and they would have been over the bank and into the
little lake that ran into the deep channel on the other side.  But there
was no help for it. They could not push the logs of wood across, tied
together as they were, and they were compelled to sit patiently and
watch the struggles of the men in the other boat.

These latter had at last got in again, and a loud shout told Corman and
Ædric they had discovered that they also were aground.

"What shall we do?" asked Ædric, ruefully.

"Sit here, my son, until the Lord sends the water back again."

Poor Corman was not sorry altogether.  It had been a terrible trial of
his strength, and he had pluckily answered to it; but he was very
exhausted. Fortunately he had the pitcher of water on board, which he
had put there in case Ædric should want any, or feel faint, and it now
came in very usefully. After taking a long draught, he uttered a sigh of
satisfaction, and stretched himself at full length on the raft, closing
his eyes and folding his hands together on his chest.

Ædric pushed a skin under his head, but the monk took no notice.  The
boy would have liked to have talked, but he respected Corman’s fatigue,
and watched the other boat’s crew instead.  They were doing nothing,
sitting listlessly on the sides of the boat, some with their black legs
hanging over, some with their legs inside, all looking disconsolate and
foolish.  They evidently had no bows with them, or they would have tried
a shot at the raft.

The tide had now gone down a long way, and both boat and raft were left
high and dry.  Corman still slept, and Ædric was beginning to be very
weary of their position, when he thought he heard some one hailing them.
He looked about, but could see no one.  Thinking it was his fancy, he
was going to lie down when again he heard a voice calling, and this time
there was no doubt it was some one calling Corman.  The boy instantly
awoke the monk, who sat up and rubbed his eyes with a dazed look.

"Corman, there is someone calling you."

"Is there?  Where?" said Corman, sleepily.

"I don’t know where.  Listen, there it is again."

Corman got up and stood upon the raft, which had by this time settled
down with its weight into the mud.  He looked about; the tide had got
down so low that the mud banks in places obscured a view of the water.
But as Corman looked round he caught sight of a small boat in the
Cissanceaster channel as near to him as it could get, which was about a
quarter of a mile off however.  As soon as the men—for there were two—in
the boat saw Corman, they shouted to him again.

"Hullo!" cried Corman; "what dost thou want?"

A confused collection of sounds answered.

"I can’t hear thee," shouted Corman.  "Who art thou?"

"Wevcumfrolfrid" was all Ædric could make out.

"What does that mean?" said Corman.  "Speak more clearly," he shouted.

Again the incomprehensible sound came back.

"Well, they’ve got very weak voices, whoever they are," said Corman.

"We’ve come from Wilfrid," came at last distinctly across the mud.

"They have come from Wilfrid," cried Ædric, joyously.  "We shall escape,
then, after all."

"I don’t know that," said Corman.  "How are we to get to them, or they
to us?"

At last an idea occurred to him.  He got up again.

"Hast thou any mud-pattens?" he shouted.

No answer.  He yelled out his question again. This time the word "No"
reached him.

"Canst thou not get any?" he yelled.

"We’ll gongetsome."

"Well, that is sensible," said Corman, as he saw the boat go off towards
the opposite shore.



                             *CHAPTER XV.*

          *"THE CRUEL CRAWLING FOAM, THE CRUEL HUNGRY FOAM."*


"Well, Ædric, if we can once get over to the other shore we shall be all
safe, for Wilfrid is feared by all these South Saxons in a way that I
never could understand."

"But who dost thou think they are who are pursuing us?"

"It must be the Eorldoman Berchthune."

Corman had now stretched himself out again, and was preparing to have
his doze out.  Fortunately, the weather was fine.  Their situation was
uncomfortable enough with fair weather; it would have been deplorable
had it rained.  The little raft lay stranded on a wide-stretching bank
of mud; all round little rivulets washed their muddy courses out of the
soft ooze.  On one side, but at some distance, a belt of shingle, marked
with a long brown streak, the boundary of the sea at high water, was
surmounted by a brown growth of wind-blown bushes, relieved here and
there by a weird oak-tree, whose blighted growth appealed in
outstretched leafless branches to the north-east to protect it from the
violent treatment it always received at the hands of its tormentor, the
south-west wind; above, a grey sky, windless and still, while all the
world below looked sodden, and muddy, and brown.  On this world of mud a
sea-gull or two were having an eager feast, not unaccompanied by an
occasional fight over some succulent crab or juicy winkle, while a
curlew dipped its curved beak among the brown sludge, or plaintively
cried to its more fortunate mate.  Overhead a heron winged its way,
looking sardonically down on the dot of the raft and the somewhat larger
speck of the boat.  It was a dull, dreary scene—a world of mud, a world
of wood, a world of grey and brown.

Ædric looked at it all wearily enough.  He began to feel sleepy too.  It
seemed so odd to be so close to their enemies, doing nothing, and yet
perfectly safe. They were not more than five hundred yards off, and in
the perfect quiet he could hear the voices of the men as they
occasionally spoke.

Gradually he dozed off.  The seagulls came nearer, the crabs crawled up
on to the edges of the raft, and the lobworms busily raised their piles
all round.  So passed an hour.  But what is it that causes the crabs to
sidle away, and the gulls to get up on circling wings, screaming the
while?

"Wake up, Corman, wake up, Ædric, and see what your pursuers are doing,"
the wild birds seemed to cry.

Weary of doing nothing, the idea had occurred to Berchthune to make a
movable kind of platform of planks, by which two men could approach the
raft. By laying down one set of boards and then standing on them, they
were able to lay another set ahead, then getting on these, they were
able to pull up the others, and slide them past and place them ahead
again, and so they were able to make laborious but sure way up to their
prey.  In this way they had already advanced about fifty yards, and were
getting more adroit in moving the boards.

Heavily Corman was sleeping, and Ædric was far away in dreamland.
Nearer and nearer the boards were being pushed; not without much noise
and mirth from those in the boat, however.  Several times the two
adventurous ones had, in the confidence of their skill, gone too much to
the side of their treacherous platform, with the result that they had
slipped into the fathomless mud, and had to crawl ignominiously back
upon their fickle plank, blacker and humbler men.  Each of these checks
to their pride had evoked shouts of laughter from their comrades and
showers of abuse from Berchthune, who was fretting at the delay.

Ædric was dreaming blissfully, and Corman still snored.

Nearer and nearer the men approached, when a shout from their comrades
urged them to more activity.  The other boat had been seen returning
from the Selsea shore.  It ran on the mud at the nearest point to the
raft, and a man was seen to get out and walk over the slippery surface
towards Corman and Ædric.

"Why, he’s got boards on his feet!" said the begrimed and weary South
Saxon, as he squatted on his precarious plank to look at the strange
spectacle, disgusted at the mean advantage of the other man.

Quite safely the man slithered his way over the mud, carrying four flat
boards in his hands.  He had already gone nearly half the distance, and
this in about five minutes; while the enterprising South Saxons had
taken nearly an hour to get over an equal space.

"Get on with ye, sluggards, or they will escape yet!" shouted
Berchthune, stamping with rage at the idea of his game getting away,
after all the hours of waiting on the mud, and the certainty of its
falling into his hands at last, on which he had consolingly counted. The
two South Saxons now realised that they must make the most desperate
exertions if they hoped to get to the raft before the other man.  They
tugged at their boards—splash they went, into the mud ahead; quickly
they got upon them—splash came the last ones they had trodden on out of
the mud behind; they toiled at them to put them into their places, then
jumped upon them, and once more heaved at their last resting-place.
They had no time to look up, splash—slosh—heated work; grimy, filthy,
slimy toil—and all the time the crew shouted to them, cheering them on,
and encouraging them to fresh exertions.  Brother Corman was well
avenged for the trouble they had given him in the morning.  The men were
a great deal nearer the raft than the other man was; but he was going on
steadily, and well.  And in spite of all the South Saxons could do, the
boards would stick in the mud, and their labour was terrific. Their
plight was piteous: the perspiration rained off their foreheads, and
formed little lanes of white down their muddy faces.  And all the time
Berchthune yelled at them, and the crew hied them on.  And now the men
were not more than ten yards distant, while the other man was about the
same.  The excitement on board the boat became intense, for their men,
going as they were in a line from them, seemed to be much nearer than
the other man, whose whole distance was visible.

"Make a jump for it!" roared Berchthune.  "By Woden’s beard, I’ll have
ye flayed alive if ye don’t beat that ’nithing’ there."

The men tugged amain, but, alas for their success! they could not get
their last resting-place up; they had, in their eagerness, placed the
board they were standing on too far away from the one they had just
left.  They leant over the mud, they stretched themselves, they gasped,
they dripped, but all to no purpose, and, worse than all, their last
standing place began slowly to increase its distance.

They had placed their boards on the slippery brow of one of the many
little rivulets which drained the mud-banks, and as they leant over to
get at the other planks left behind, all their weight, being on one
side, caused the boards to lift at the other end, and begin slowly to
slide down into the little gully.

One of the men had reached over so far that, as the board receded, he
fell forward on his face in the mud, clutching desperately to the other
planks. The other man was just able to recover his balance before too
late.

"Hold on to my legs, man, can’t thee?" roared the prostrate South Saxon,
as loud as he was able, for his mouth was very near the mud.  The other
man did as he was told.  The situation was now too ludicrous, even for
the man who was hastening, as fast as his awkward mud-pattens would
allow him, to rescue Corman and Ædric.  He stopped still and begun to
roar with laughter.

By this time Corman was beginning to be aware that there were other
existences besides his own. He sat up, rubbed his eyes, looked about
him, and could scarcely take in the situation.  When he did he also
burst out laughing, and Ædric, waking up, was astonished to see Corman
sitting on the raft, his mouth wide open, and peals of laughter shaking
him from head to foot.

The unfortunate South Saxons were not nearly so much amused; the
wretched one, who was now acting as a kind of animated tow-rope to the
other planks, was hanging on grimly to the tenacious boards, while his
comrade held on fast to his ankles and all the time the other boards
were slowly slipping over the ooze.  Neither man dare let go, and yet
there was no hope of being able to pull the obstinate boards out of the
mud, as there was no purchase by which they could be raised, and they
were besides slimy with mud.

For a minute the tension lasted; then slowly the man’s hands slipped off
the greasy planks, and he lay spread out, face downwards, on the ooze.
The other South Saxon still held on to his legs, and the two, now that
his comrade had let go of the firmly-imbedded planks, glided more
speedily into the bed of the little rivulet.  There was no danger of the
prostrate man sinking into the mud provided he did not attempt to walk.
The long weed-like grass that spread over the surface kept him up, so
long as he lay outstretched; but he wanted to get on the boards on which
his comrade was seated, and the difficulty was how to do it.  He
wriggled and twisted, and sank his knees into the slime, but at last he
succeeded in rolling himself down sideways on to the plank; and there
the two men sat, disconsolate and helpless, within six yards of Corman
and Ædric.

All this time the Eorldoman Berchthune was shouting himself hoarse with
abuse at the wretched adventurers, and Corman and Ædric were enjoying
the sport.

Their rescuer had now waddled up to them.  Corman knew how to use
mud-pattens, but the difficulty was how to carry Ædric.  He could use
one leg, and they managed by putting one mud-patten on his foot, and
holding him between them, to get him off the raft.

The South Saxons, seeing their prey escaping them, when they had so
nearly grasped it, and urged on by the abuse of Berchthune, determined
to make one more effort.  Profiting by his experience of the buoyant
nature of the mud, if only its properties were clearly understood, the
South Saxon who had wriggled on to the planks beside his comrade
determined to try the plan again.  It was only six yards—only three
times his own length—and the mud-pattens were not yet adjusted.
Throwing himself forward on to the mud, he began to wriggle over it
towards the raft.  The other man, not to be out-done, began doing the
same.

"Quick, Ædric, or we shall be too late after all," cried Corman.

The South Saxons were just reaching the raft as Corman and their
deliverer assisted Ædric off between them.  Wildly their pursuers flung
themselves upon it.  The others were only a few paces off.  Without
hesitating a moment, the first South Saxon reared himself erect on the
raft, and sprang fiercely after the retreating figures.  He just managed
to reach the skirts of Corman’s frock, and plunged knee-deep in the mud.
He held on to the poor, old worn gown of the monk, who struggled to
wrench it out of his grasp, while Ædric and the other man pulled at
Corman.  Suddenly there was a crack, and the torn handful of Corman’s
garment remained in the South Saxon’s hand, who sank deeper in the
yielding mud with the recoil.

The other South Saxon had been more prudent; he stood upon the raft and
looked at the now secure Corman and Ædric, and at his miserable
comrade—for miserable he was, far more so than at first sight appeared.
He wriggled and struggled to get out; plunged his hands and arms up to
their elbows in the mud.  The more he strove, the more hopeless his
position became.  Deeper—deeper, down he sank—the mud was now up to his
waist.  If only he could get one leg out, or throw himself flat upon the
mud again; but the suction of the mud was upon him. Its awful grasp had
got sure hold of him.

"For the love of Valhalla, lend me a hand!" he roared.

"I can’t, man.  I can’t reach thee!" cried the other.

"Give me that oar—give me them both.  Quick!"

The oars were flung to him; he placed them under his armpits, and so low
had he sunk that he rested on them.  For a time they bore him up, but
the slight sticks, only roughly flattened at the end, began to sink too;
and the pain in his shoulders was acute. His situation was desperate,
for although he was being only very slowly engulfed now, yet none the
less was the progress very sure.  The tide had begun to rise—it was
coming in rapidly.  Would there be time for the raft to float before he
was suffocated, or would the sea flow over his head first before there
was water enough to float it?  It was a desperate hope.

Meanwhile, Corman and Ædric were safe in the boat Wilfrid had sent for
them, and were far away on the other side.

[Illustration: How ye South Saxon was held by ye mud, and naught could
save him:]

Up and up flowed the tide.  The sea gulls had had their feast of crabs,
and were screaming overhead.  The wretched man’s eyeballs were starting
from his head; his head was sunk between his shoulders.  Up and up crept
the tide.  The lobworms had ceased to pile their little heaps; the crabs
were playfully scampering to meet the crawling froth, pushed further and
further with each succeeding wavelet.

No hope! the water has reached his chin; the slimy froth and scum of the
mud forms a collar round the doomed man’s neck.  One more prodigious
effort, one despairing, gasping heave.  No good!  The hands are clasped
over the mouth, with the instinct of self-preservation, even in
inevitable death; but the water knows no barrier.  The froth bubbles up,
it is on a level with the lower lip, each wave and ripple washes higher,
now the mouth is covered.  With a desperate wrench, the gasping man
raises his mouth above the water, but, unable to keep up the strain, his
head sinks again, and this time the cruel water has reached the nose.
The head falls down, a few bubbles, a little brown patch, hardly to be
distinguished from seaweed, around which the yellow froth laps in the
ripple, is all that marks where a strong man has died. Soon even that
will have disappeared, and the place that knew him shall know him no
more.

The sea had been washing round the raft for some minutes, but the
water-soaked logs were heavy, and had been sucked into the mud.  The
drowned man’s head had been entirely covered before the awkward
structure showed any signs of lifting. Indeed, the water was nearly
floating over it, and the South Saxon had begun to dread a similar death
to that of his comrade, when the raft gave a lurch, and once more was
afloat.  The man had no oars, or anything to propel it with; but as the
other boat would be afloat also before many minutes, they would come and
pick him up.

Presently the idea occurred to him to push the raft with one leg on the
bottom; in this way, and with a favouring tide he was enabled at last to
reach his companions.

The Eorldoman Berchthune was very sullen, and greeted the man with
violent abuse for not having made more haste at first; and this was all
the misguided ceorl got for having volunteered on a perilous enterprise:
for having been face to face with death, and that almost the slowest,
most lingering, which could happen to man.  But then in those days what
were men made for but for death?

The tide had now risen high enough to float the boat.  Berchthune was
about to give orders to shove her off the bank, when a horseman
galloping hastily down the shingle on the shore, and riding his horse as
far out as he dared, shouted to the boat:

"Cædwalla has been made king of Wessex, and is marching upon us."

There was now no thought of pursuing Ædric. Orders were instantly given
to turn the boat’s head towards Boseham again, and it was not long
before they reached its little quay.  There the horseman met them,
having ridden his horse at full speed, and then Berchthune learnt fuller
particulars of the startling news.

Cædwalla was only a day’s march distant, advancing with a powerful force
of West Saxon eorls, and his own veteran band of faithful followers, no
longer outlaws, but honoured friends of the king.  He was burning to
avenge his last defeat and reassert his claim to the throne of the South
Saxons.

This was grave news.  Berchthune mounted his horse and rode off at once
towards Cissanceaster, directing his followers to come after him as soon
as possible.

But all this time Ædric and Corman were making the best of their way to
Wilfrid.  Corman, indeed, when he saw that Ædric was safe, intended
going back to look after Father Dicoll, but Wilfrid’s men advised him
not, and as there was no boat, for they would not lend him theirs, he
was compelled to go on.  He cast one more lingering, sad look at
Boseham, and mourned over his dearly-loved friend, Father Dicoll.

But Ædric was delighted; he should not now have to live at Selsea among
perfect strangers.  After a long ride over a drearily flat country, they
came to a clearing amid the gorse and bush; on the other side of this
clearing a building, that to Corman and Ædric looked immense, towered
aloft over a hamlet of low thatched houses and a few farm buildings.
The smell of the sea was all round, and stacks of seaweed filled the air
with their peculiar odour.

What struck Corman and Ædric, however, was the order and tidiness of
everything.  The thatched cottages were well thatched, the walls looked
well built, and the few people they met all looked better fed and
happier than those about Cissanceaster and Boseham.  As they got nearer
to the large building a solemn sound rose and fell in measured cadence.
Ædric had never heard a sound like it, at least not produced by
artificial means; it was to him like the wind playing among the tall
trees and the sea rolling on the shore mingled with the deep mutter of
thunder on the horizon.

"What is it, Corman? is it an enchantment?"

"No, my son; it is the service of vespers in the new church Wilfrid has
been building.  He has brought over from Rome new wind instruments; and
Gregory, the celebrated bishop of Rome, who sent Augustine, the monk,
hither, has set new music to the canticles of the church.  Thou wilt now
be able to see how Christians perform their service of the voice and
heart to God."

"It is very grand," said Ædric, who had never heard any music more
beautiful than the harp, and no singing in combination more than a
chorus to some interminable gleeman’s tale in verse.

They had now got well into the village, and were approaching a long,
low, barn-like structure; round the entrance everything was unusually
tidy, and some attempt had been made to form a path of shingle and sand,
edged with white flints, from the neighbouring beach.  In front of this
door their guide stopped, Ædric was lifted off the horse-litter by
Corman and the other man, and they entered a large room or hall. Ædric
had never seen a room like it.  The floor was very clean, and a fresh
pile of reeds lay near the door, to replace the soiled ones that served
as a mat.  There was a long table down the middle of the room, and
across one end was another table, in the centre of which was a large
massive oaken chair; on each side of the table were wooden squares, or
trenchers, which served for plates; by the side of these were horn
drinking-cups.  At the end of the room, opposite the large chair, was a
wooden reading-desk, and on this was a splendid manuscript, heavily
bound and chained to the desk.  Ædric could see that there were some
lovely pictures in it, and he longed to examine the volume.  He had
never seen a book in his life before, and the nearest idea he had ever
had of a drawing had been some carvings on a horn which his father very
highly prized, and some pictured hangings which were treasured among the
family’s most valued belongings, and which tradition said had been taken
in the sack of the haunted ruins at Brædynge.  Father Dicoll and the
poor monks had no books; they had no parchment, and no paper.  Ædric had
heard of writing, but it had always been spoken of with awe, for it was
considered to savour somewhat of magic. It was therefore with a solemn
feeling, as well as one of curiosity, that he looked at the large
mysterious volume.  At the side of the room opposite the door, and
nearly in the middle on that side, was a bright fire.  The logs were
piled up on iron bars, and a large square of hard trodden clay served as
hearth.  The smoke from the fire found its way up and out of the hall by
an aperture in the roof immediately above it, but, as it did not always
take this way out, there was a strong smell of burnt wood and smoke in
the room.

Ædric and Corman were led up to the bench before the fire, and told that
the clerks who were with Wilfrid were at service and they were to wait
there until it was over.  Ædric felt awestruck at the silence, the
neatness, the comfort of everything, but especially at the stillness of
the place, the hall of his own home having always been full of noisy
domestics, familiar and lazy; the remains of the last, and indeed of
several previous feasts, were left on the floor, and the whole place
habitually reeked of feasting, rude plenty, and dirt.  But here was
something very different.  Order and cleanliness were visible
everywhere.

Presently there was a noise of feet outside on the shingle path, and a
tall figure entered the room.  It was Wilfrid, followed by his two
faithful companions, Bernwine and Hildila.  Corman at once arose and
stood in submissive silence before the great churchman, while Ædric
tried to get up, but was arrested by the kind voice of Wilfrid bidding
him be seated.

The boy was at once won by the gentle voice and kind smile of the
bishop, but was at the same time much in awe of him.  Somehow he seemed
so very much farther away from him than Father Dicoll had seemed; it was
not that he did not greet him in quite as friendly a way, or with even a
kinder smile, but the boy had a feeling that he was a much smaller
object, and could not possibly be of any interest to Wilfrid.  At the
same time there came across him all that Dicoll had said about him, and,
with the instinct of a boy who is quick to recognise what is put on or
assumed in manner, he felt as if Wilfrid’s kindness were a matter of
policy, and not a matter of the heart.  It is not to be supposed that
Ædric could have given these reasons for his awe of him, but in very
great awe of Wilfrid he certainly was, and what was even more curious,
brother Corman seemed equally in awe of the bishop.  As not infrequently
happens when very ingenuous, candid natures come in contact with deeper,
more intricate, more commanding minds, it seemed to strike both that it
was Wilfrid’s part to be both kind and sweet in manner, while with
Corman himself it was his nature to be so.

"My son, thou must be very tired after thy journey," said Wilfrid.  "Thy
couch is prepared, and supper shall be taken to thee there.  I will
entrust thee to the care of Father Bernwine, who will make a careful
nurse, and see that thou art well cared for.  In the morning, if all be
well, I will talk with thee. Meanwhile, Good-night, and may the peace of
God go with thee."

This was all said with such sweet dignity that Ædric, who would much
rather have sat up and did not feel at all sleepy, did not venture to
dispute the arrangement, although at home he would undoubtedly have
boisterously done so.  He was supported out of the room, therefore, by
Bernwine, after taking an affectionate leave of Corman, who remained
awaiting the bishop’s instructions.



                             *CHAPTER XVI.*

                    *"BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS."*


The next day Ædric awoke early.  It took him some time to realise where
he was.  The dim light of morning came in through a narrow aperture in
the walls, and he could only just make out surrounding objects.  All was
very quiet.  He could see that he was in a little room, neatly furnished
with a wooden settle or stool, and the wooden bed on which he lay.
There was a little wooden cross on the wall by the side of his bed, and
some writing underneath it, at which Ædric stared, not quite liking it.
He thought it must be writing, for it was rather like some marks on the
horn at home, and which he had been told were spells.  He wished it was
rather lighter, or that some one would come, for he could not tell what
the runes might do, they might contain some enchantment, it was better
not to look at them. Presently he heard the same solemn sound he had
heard last night, it sounded very beautiful as it plaintively pealed
through the building, now rising in sustained unison, then sinking in
deeper notes, appearing to swell and sink and swell again, appealing in
mystical utterance to an invisible but all-powerful Being.  When the
music ceased, Ædric could hear a continuous sound of human tongues, then
one deep musical voice, followed by a solemn melodious blending of all
the tones.

Soon after, he heard the noise of steps at his room, over the entrance
of which a curtain hung, and in another moment Corman entered, much to
the boy’s relief.

"Oh! how glad I am to see thee, Corman, I feared thou hadst gone away."

"I should not have gone without seeing thee first, Ædric; how hast thou
slept?"

"Very well.  I feel much better, I believe I shall be able to walk
without any help, to-morrow, if I am allowed to practise a little
to-day—but what was that sound? what have they been doing?  I never
heard anything like it."

"That was the morning service, or matins, and I have just come from it.
But thou hadst better get up now, and I will help thee into the
Refectory, where we are all going to have breakfast."

When Corman and Ædric entered the large room or hall, into which they
had first come the evening before, they found the room nearly full.
Wilfrid was at the head of the table, on each side of him were Bernwine
and Hildila, while all down the long table were a few monks, some lay
domestics, and several boys, who all looked curiously at Ædric.  One of
the monks led Corman and Ædric to their vacant places, and then grace
was said by another monk at the lower end of the table, after which all
sat down, and the same monk who had said grace, began to read out of the
beautiful book that had so attracted Ædric’s attention the night before.

The breakfast consisted of a portion of fish to each person, and a
portion of oatmeal porridge made with water.  There was water to drink,
but at Wilfrid’s table there was a jug of milk, of which, however, the
Bishop only took very sparingly, but he sent it down to Ædric, and
another monk who seemed delicate, bidding them take it for their bodily
comfort.

The fish had been caught by Wilfrid himself, who had taught the ignorant
South Saxons how to supply themselves with this wholesome food, and,
like many men remarkable for their intellectual gifts, he was especially
pleased with the success of his skill in the gentle craft.

No word was spoken during the meal, all listened attentively to the
reading of the monk.  He was reading from "The Dialogues" of Pope
Gregory the Great, but Ædric naturally did not understand a word, as it
was all in Latin; when Corman afterwards told him the marvellous tales
that the monk had read, he wished much that he could have understood it,
and longed more than ever to look at the pictures, and made up his mind
he would like to learn to read.  When all had finished, the reader
closed the book and said grace, after which he sat down and had his own
breakfast, while the rest dispersed.  It appeared that each man had his
allotted task; some went to the outhouses whither the platters and other
appliances of the breakfast table were taken, and were there washed up;
one of the lay brothers winding up a bucket of water from the well hard
by, and heating it in a copper.  Others went to a tool-house, and taking
their hoes and mattocks went out to the garden on the south side of the
little settlement.  The choir boys were taken off to the church and were
there taught general knowledge, as well as music, by Bernwine.  Hildila
took two or three monks with him and they carefully practised writing
under his instruction.

Wilfrid beckoned to Corman to bring Ædric up to him.

The boy felt very shy when he saw the clear piercing grey eyes of the
celebrated Bishop searching him through and through.  For in Wilfrid’s
face there was that presence of a will, which is always so marked in men
who have been great in the world, and this will makes its presence felt
without a word being spoken, as the needle, when magnetised, is
powerless to resist the attraction of the mysterious pole.

"My son, brother Corman has told me all about thee.  He tells me how
patient thou hast been under suffering, and how thou hast been brought
to wish to lead a better life.  Thank God for thy pain, for by it thou
hast been enabled to learn the way of salvation, and mayst be intended
for a blessed purpose, even the awakening of thy people from the dark
night of Paganism to the glorious light of the Gospel."

Ædric looked timidly at Wilfrid: he did not know what to say, he could
not talk to him as he had done to Father Dicoll and brother Corman.  He
felt he could only learn by hearing, not by questioning, which, to a
boy, is so much the preferable way, but which, unless carefully
directed, leads many times to a desultory and fruitless end.

Wilfrid went on, seeing that the boy was listening: "Thou wilt be able
to learn many things here. When thou art thoroughly taught in all that
is necessary, thou shalt be baptised; and when thou hast quite
recovered, thou canst return to thine own land and teach thine own
people.  For what more beautiful or holy object canst thou have in life
than the hope of meeting those who have been brought to eternal life by
thy means?  Think what a blessed thing it would be if the Almighty
should employ thee as His messenger. And be not daunted, my son, by the
scoffs and jeers of the world; rather count them as so much glorious
proof that thou art doing God’s will.  What saith our Lord: ’Blessed are
ye when men shall revile you and persecute you.  Rejoice and be
exceeding glad for great is your reward in heaven.’  Think not, my son,
either that the reward is far off: all good men have reckoned that the
sufferings of this present life are as nothing compared with the joys or
sufferings of eternity.  Think, for it is perfectly true, the short
period of thy life here will make or mar thine everlasting life.  Thou
canst not grasp the word ’ever-lasting,’ neither can I.  But now thou
lookest forward to change; each day, each hour has some hope in it.
Then, there will be no change, not in the sense in which we understand
change; and if we have hopes, for no man knoweth what is beyond, unless,
perchance he has seen it in dim visions of the night, like that soldier
thou didst hear of whom the holy Gregory knew—but I forgot, thou dost
not yet understand Latin—they are hopes that will not affect our weal or
woe, for it is by this life we shall be judged.  And all men now believe
that the times are at hand when God shall come to judge His people.
What said the holy Gregory, now nearly a hundred years ago: ’But a short
time, and the earth and the heavens will burn, and among the blazing
elements, amid angels and archangels, and thrones and dominions, and
principalities and powers, the terrible Judge will appear!’  The times
are very evil; around us are wars, and rumours of war; famine and
pestilence have been stalking throughout the land; kingdom rises against
kingdom; and who shall say that the time of our visitation draweth not
nigh.  Who then, my son, would count the sufferings of this present time
as compared with the joys that shall be hereafter?  Work then, my son,
pray, mortify thy flesh, wrestle against the desires of the body, not
forgetting that while we do only our duty, we cannot merit anything of
ourselves, but can only be saved through the all-abounding grace of our
Saviour.  Of these things thou wilt learn more from the instruction of
Bernwine, and may the blessing of the Almighty rest upon thee. If thou
art in any difficulties, or doubts, or earthly sorrows, come to me,
though of these I trust thou wilt soon be free, for the first step in
the Divine life is to think naught of earthly affection and lusts, for
what said the holy Fulgentius[1]: ’Youth can easily bear any burden when
once it has learnt to despise human affections.’  I trust, in a short
time, to hear well of thee from thy instructor, and that the lessons
thou art learning are likely to bear fruit.  But remember docility is
the chief quality.  Thou must pray for the ornament of a meek and quiet
spirit, which most becomes a follower of our Lord, for, truly, Solomon
says: ’My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, neither be weary
of his correction.’"


[1] I have not ventured to convey literally the harsh expressions of St.
Fulgentius, nor in this chapter or elsewhere have I attempted to render
the severity of the early monastic ideas. In a rude age, and with the
perpetual recurrence of awful crimes, severe measures and pitiless
conclusions were necessary—but in a work intended for the young, it is
better not to represent the full force of religious thought in the 7th
century.


After this little discourse, Wilfrid arose, and saying that he would
send Bernwine to them in a little time, left the refectory.

"He seems much better than I had expected," said Ædric to Corman, "but I
don’t think I could ever talk to him as I did to Father Dicoll.  He
seems as though he knew too much."

"I daresay thou wilt find Bernwine easier to talk to, although Father
Dicoll could not have talked to you in a kinder way, or told you
anything better.  It is not with children Wilfrid would show anything
that Father Dicoll or I should disapprove.  He is far too wise and good
a man to let children see that there are controversies among Christians,
and I sometimes think we have done wrong in letting thee know that we
differ on some points from the Bishop.  If we have erred, may the Lord
forgive us; but, truly, the heart of man is desperately deceitful and
wicked, and the Evil one is always on the watch to catch one tripping.
But here comes Bernwine.  Now, I hope thou wilt remember all Father
Dicoll and I have tried to teach thee."

As Corman spoke, Bernwine entered the refectory. The ecclesiastic who
now appeared, had not contrasted favourably in appearance as he sat next
Wilfrid.  He was strongly built, stout, and florid in complexion; but
his bright, black eyes twinkled with a kindly expression when he spoke,
and the corners of his mouth had an occasional twitch, which added to
the humorous way he had in talking.

"Well, my son, and so thou hast come to the island of the seals, hast
thou? truly an amphibious kind of place at the best of times; but when
it blows a gale, it is really hard to see where the dry land is. The sea
flies over us in such sheets that I verily believe there won’t be much
island for the seals, or anyone else soon.  And how dost thou feel after
thy day on the plank bed, in the midst of the mud?"

Ædric was amused at the priest’s garrulity, and said that he felt very
nearly well.

"That’s right, that’s right.  Thou wilt soon be able to walk to matins,
complines, and vespers; and we’ll give thee a job in the garden that
will just suit thee."

"But mayn’t I learn to read, and hear stories out of that splendid
book?"

"All in good time, my son, and each in its place; doubtless, thou hast
learnt many stories all the time thou hast been nursed by our kind
brother Corman here."

"We have done all we could to awaken in him a lively faith in our holy
religion," said Corman.

"I doubt it not, my brother, and the good seed will bear happy fruit
some day.  And so thou comest from Wihtea?  Well, now, I have looked at
that island many a time, for we can see it quite plainly from the shore,
and wondered who lived there.  I come from a very different part; my
home was in Bernicia, on the borders of Deira.  Thou rememberest
Gregory’s pun—_De ira Dei_?  No; of course thou dost not—how shouldest
thou.  Thou never learnedst Latin.  Ah! but we will teach thee; dost
thou know anything at all?"

"Yes, I know many things.  I can row, I can hit a mark with my bow and
arrow at sixty paces, and I can ride."

"Ah, all excellent accomplishments, I don’t doubt; I could do most of
them myself at thy age; but that was not what I meant.  Canst thou say
any prayers? Dost thou know thy letters?  Hast thou ever had the Bible
read to thee?"

"I can say ’Our Father,’ in Latin as well as English.  I do not know any
letters.  Father Dicoll had no books, and so he could not teach me to
read; but he tried to teach me my letters, when I lay outside the hut,
by scratching them on the sand; but as there were stones in the way, I
couldn’t always make them out.  But he used to say long pieces of tales
from the Bible.  He told me often about David, and that big giant: about
a great ship that took in all the animals, and about a magician whom the
lions would not eat."

"I see thou hast profited by thy stay at Boseham. We must see that thou
dost not lose what thou hast learnt, and, perhaps, we may even add
something to it.  Now, the first thing is to explain to thee how thou
wilt pass thy time here.  Thou canst not yet do as the others do, for
thou canst not move about freely; but I will tell a boy to take care of
thee, and always help thee to move when there is need, and to be a
companion to thee; his name is Sigfryd, and he is the son of the South
Saxon Eorldoman Tosti.  He will like to help thee, for he has been
taught that ’whosoever will be great, let him be as a servant,’ and
again, that we should ’bear each other’s burdens, and so fulfil the law
of Christ.’  For the present, then, thou wilt get up at seven and come
to matins, then thou wilt spend an hour learning to read: then thou wilt
have breakfast.  After that, Father Hildila will teach thee the holy
life, and Bible history.  Then at noon, thou wilt try and take a little
exercise, with Sigfryd’s aid; which over, thou wilt come to me, with the
other boys, and learn the meaning of the prayers and daily services, and
practice responses and chaunting, according to the method of the sainted
Gregory. After that, the bell will sound for service; thou wilt then go
back to thy cell and meditate on all thou hast learnt, remembering to
ask me such questions as have occurred to thee——  But Beate Martine!
what is all this racket and noise about?" broke off Father Bernwine, as
a confused din of shouts, and cries, and struggling, resounded outside,
mingled with the tolling of the bell which summoned all the community to
assemble in the hardly-finished stone church.

Bernwine and Corman instantly ran to the door, and were nearly knocked
down by a crowd of men; some armed, some without arms, rushing into the
room.

"Holy Benedict!" exclaimed Father Bernwine; "but who are ye, and what do
ye want here? breaking in upon our pious meditation, with no more
compunction than a wild hog into a garden of cucumbers. What means it
all?"

One of the intruders, more collected than the rest, answered:

"Be not wroth, holy Father; to implore pity, shelter and protection, we
have come.  We have no wish to do thee injury, and will go where thou
mayest appoint, if only thou wilt save our lives."

"Surely, man; but who threatens thy life?  What means this noise and
tumult outside?  Let me get out to find Wilfrid; he may be slain in all
this confusion, for aught I know."

All the while the bell kept tolling, and the burly form of Bernwine
forced a way through the crowding mass.  Outside there was even worse
tumult.  Men on horseback were galloping about—a few, who seemed not
quite to have lost all self-control, were forming themselves into some
sort of order, and under the guidance of a few mounted eorls, were
marching off to take up a position on the road leading to Cissanceaster.
Bernwine could see that a great many were grievously wounded, and many
had fallen to the ground either from exhaustion, or from the dreadful
nature of their wounds.  Hastily forcing his way to the door of the
church, which was thronged with fugitives, the priest elbowed his way
through the crowd, and entering the sacred building, he found Wilfrid
robed in his full episcopal vestments, the rest of the community drawn
up in processional order, and Hildila carrying the cross of the
Arch-episcopal see of York, before Wilfrid.

"What means all this tumult, _quare fremuerunt gentes_, holy Bishop,"
said the panting Bernwine.

"It is the rout of the Eorldoman Berchthune and Andhune by Cædwalla,
whom they rashly strove to oppose.  We must perform the noblest duty of
a Christian shepherd, and guard the flock from the edge of the sword.
That is why I ordered the bell to call us all together, that we may all
go forth to turn away the wrath of the victor."

All being now ready, the choir led by the melodious voice of the
chaunter, Ædbert, raised the Psalm, "_Eripe me de inimicis meis, Deus
meus, et ab insurgentibus in me, libera me_," and slowly defiled through
the thronging mass of fugitives.

As the procession, so entirely novel to the uncultured South Saxons,
made its way across the open space between the church and the rest of
the buildings of the little community, the panic-stricken crowd seemed
to recover something like self-control, and many of the men followed or
accompanied the procession.  Wilfrid had given orders that they were to
proceed slowly along the road towards Cissanceaster, in the hope that he
would fall in with Cædwalla, and prevent any further fighting; for he
had learnt that one of the South Saxon eorldoman still kept up a
hopeless struggle, while it was reported that Berchthune was slain.
With great difficulty, and at a very slow pace, the white-robed choir,
the grey frocked monks, and the gorgeously vested Wilfrid, stemmed the
still hurrying bodies of fugitives that drifted away from the rout
ahead.  Nearer and nearer came the shouts of the combatants, the flash
of an axe, or the gleam of a spear, showed where blows were being given,
and the clang of metal striking metal rang like an army of rivetters
engaged in their noisy toil.  Many of the rallied South Saxons were
ready to rush forward to renew the fight, but the voice of Wilfrid
restrained them, and in obedience to a sense of awe, which his presence
always excited in their superstitious and ignorant minds, the men
restrained their ardour, and waited to see what would happen.

Wilfrid, with the eye of a leader, at once saw that in the heat and
confusion of the fight, his little company might easily be swept away;
he therefore directed the leading priest to turn to one side and lead
the procession to an embankment or little knoll on the way side, large
enough to contain all the community.  There stationing himself in the
most conspicuous position, with his cross held aloft by his
cross-bearer, surrounded by his clergy, and flanked by his choir of fair
Saxon boys, he calmly awaited the approach of Cædwalla.

The stream of fugitives flowed past him uninterruptedly.  At last a
struggling band of horsemen, leading among them the fainting form of an
old, grey-bearded warrior, his helmet hacked, the hawk’s wings gone, one
arm hanging down limp and useless, the other aimlessly holding the reins
of his horse, came past in wild confusion, hard pressed by a victorious
troop of warriors, flushed with victory, and striking mercilessly at the
panic-stricken fugitives; brilliantly conspicuous among them was
Cædwalla, his eyes flashing, his hair streaming behind him, on his head
a steel cap, surmounted with a golden dragon, his steel-ringed hauberk
gleaming in the sun.  Both hands grasped his two-edged battle-axe, and
the reins hung loose on his horse’s neck; while the terrible axe
flashed, and sank and flashed again, as he hewed his way up to the
scarcely resisting band of South Saxons, who still strove to save their
wounded eorldoman, the devoted personal following of the chief, who
scorned to live if their lord were slain.

As the young king, looking the very impersonation of the god of battles,
intoxicated with the strife, came abreast of Wilfrid, the Bishop called
aloud in a clear, commanding voice:

"Cædwalla, my lord, put up thy sword now, and give thanks to God, who
hath given thee the victory. As for the vanquished, I will answer for
it, they shall not trouble thee.  Hearken now to the voice of the Lord,
who speaketh through me, His unworthy servant, and shed no more innocent
blood.  Remember, ’Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord, I will repay’; and
again, ’Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.’"

At the first sound of the clarion voice of the Bishop, Cædwalla had
reined in his horse, and when he saw the striking group of calm men
surrounding the ascetic and commanding figure of the celebrated Bishop,
he at once gave orders to stop all further fighting, and turned his
horse towards the speaker.

The scene was a very picturesque one.  The handsome, bronzed face of the
victorious young king, looking every inch a daring soldier, as well as
commanding chieftain, mounted on a powerful white horse, whose trappings
were adorned with large gold studs, mounting bosses of cairngorm and
polished agate stones.  Behind him a fierce band of eager warriors,
eorls, and chiefs of the West-Saxon kingdom, with here and there the
weather-beaten face of some of his own faithful band of outlaws, who had
stood by Cædwalla in his desperate fortunes. In front, the tall figure
and noble countenance of Wilfrid in his gorgeous robes, standing on the
highest part of the little knoll, his cross-bearer holding the golden
cross, richly embroidered with crystals and agates; the white surpliced
choir mingling with the darker robes of the monks.  Above, a
cloud-flecked sky, bright and changing, casting flying shadows over the
brown land, wind-blown and desolate, while all around were masses of men
still flying in wild panic, or falling in death from the effects of
their wounds.  All these combined to make a striking picture.

Cædwalla, not yet a Christian, and seeing only in Wilfrid a wise man,
and one who had seen much of the world, besides being surrounded with a
halo of superstition, as the possessor of talismans and charms far above
all others in England, was also mindful of the benefits he had lately
received from him; with wise policy, therefore, he at once saluted the
Bishop, and gave orders to stop all further slaughter.

[Illustration: St. Wilfrid goeth to meet Cædwalla, and biddeth him stay
ye battle]

"My Father," he said, "I am fortunate in my meetings with thee.  The
last time we met I was a king, and now the next time, behold, I am king
again, and this time my title is far above that of a petty prince of the
South Saxons, and each time victory had smiled upon my arms."

"Give thanks, therefore, to the God of Hosts, my son, and humble thyself
before the mighty hand of God, who bringeth down the lofty from their
seat, and raiseth up them that are of low estate.  But wilt thou and thy
faithful adherents come back with me?  Such as our poor community can
offer is freely at thy service, and thou canst rest thee after the
dangers and fatigues of the past day."

Cædwalla willingly accepted; and the little procession turned towards
the settlement, raising the psalm, "_Jubilate Deo, omnis terra, servite
Domino in laetitia_," followed by Cædwalla and his retinue.  Arrived at
the open space before the buildings, Cædwalla gave directions to his
chief eorldoman to see that his men were kept well in hand, and to
encourage the South Saxons to go to their homes peaceably.  Parties were
sent out to forage, and one band of warriors was sent back with the most
important prisoners to garrison Cissanceaster, and take measures for
pacifying the district.  Cædwalla then entered the refectory, which had
been cleared of all the fugitives, and where hasty preparations for an
impromptu feast were being pushed rapidly forward, under the practical
eye of Bernwine and Eolla, the cellarer.

The feast that followed was much like previous feasts, excepting that
there was more order and ceremony.  Cædwalla recognised his young friend
Ædric, whom he had first met in the boat with Biggun and Wulfstan, and
asked him what news he had of the expedition, and when he heard that no
news had come, he looked grave.

The rest of the day passed tranquilly enough. Cædwalla had much to
arrange with Wilfrid, and also received much sound advice from the
prelate.

About dusk a monk came in, and reported that the sky all above Wihtea
seemed on fire, and flames could plainly be seen arising from the hills
at the east end of the island, and all men were marvelling what it could
be.  Cædwalla and Wilfrid hastened out to look, and when they got to the
door, a wonderful sight met their eyes, a vast blaze was going up to the
sky, and lurid smoke was spreading over the heavens.  As they were
looking, there was a commotion in the crowd, and a wounded and reeling
warrior half staggered, was half supported, to where Cædwalla and
Wilfrid were standing.

"_Beate Augustine!_" cried Wilfrid, "What more destruction has
happened?"



                            *CHAPTER XVII.*

           *"IN THE LOST BATTLE, BORNE DOWN BY THE FLYING."*


The night after the old eorldoman, Ælfhere, had been brought back to his
homestead at Brædynge, passed away peacefully enough.  The outposts were
relieved at the proper times, and no movement of any kind was detected
from the direction of Wihtgarsbyrig.  The next morning Wulfstan woke up,
and it took him some few moments to realise that he had ever been away
from home, all the past week’s adventures appearing like a dream.  He
was on his own bed in his own room, which he shared with Ædric, and the
absence of his brother first brought back the reality of past events.
Soon afterwards, the voice of old Biggun outside roused him from his
dozing reverie.  He sprang out of bed, hastily performed his simple
toilet, and went quickly into the dining hall.  There a not unusual
sight met his eyes, for after every festival the dining hall formed the
sleeping-place of those who had succumbed to their too-convivial
propensities, and there had been no exception in last night’s
entertainment.  Stepping across the prostrate Wihtwaras, Wulfstan sprang
into the open air, rejoiced to see around him all the well-known home
life.  Although a great slaughter had fallen upon the poultry, who had
suffered from a double attack, for Arwald’s people had not stinted
themselves, and yesterday they had every reason to regret the
restoration of their lawful lord, there yet remained a promising brood.
The lowing of some cows from a shed near, showed that all the animals
were not killed.  Crossing over to the shed, the boy found an old friend
of his, the cowherd, Stuff’s father, milking the cows.

"Why, Wulfstan, how thou beest grown, and they tells me thou hast done
lots of things; but these have been sad times.  The work I have had to
please those villains Arwald left here!  But they tell me thou hast
killed one of them.  Only think of that, now!"

"Oh, that was nothing.  But dost thou know I saved old Biggun’s life?
He never told thee, I know."

After drinking a horn full of milk, the boy rushed off to explore his
former favourite haunts, and did not return until the loud blast of a
horn announced some important event.  When he got back, he found the
morning meal was nearly over in the great hall. Athelhune and Wulf were
still sitting at the table, and Ceolwulf was listening to the report of
one of the ceorls, who dwelt a few miles away on the Æscing Down[1] side
of Brædynge.  Ceolwulf’s face looked grave, and after he had heard all
the man had to say, he turned to Athelhune, and muttered a few words to
him, upon which a consultation in a low voice was carried on by the two
chieftains and the old man.


[1] Ashy Down.


Ælfhere was lying on a couch in a sheltered part of the hall, and
brother Malachi was sitting up by his side with his arm in a sling.
Wulfstan went up at once to his father, and was pleased to find that he
still continued to gain strength, and rejoiced that brother Malachi was
fast recovering from the hardships and wounds he had suffered.  He then
set to work to make up for the missing breakfast, and paid no further
attention to anybody until this serious duty was satisfactorily
performed.

Before he had finished, Ceolwulf left the hall, accompanied by
Athelhune, while Wulf sat gazing vacantly before him, and caressing a
large wolfhound, who was resting his head on his knee.  Presently the
prince got up, and, stretching himself, strolled out of the room, saying
as he did so to the wounded Ælfhere, that he was just going to see how
things were passing outside.

The news that had arrived was very serious.  Arwald was on the march,
with nearly the whole force of the Western Wihtwaras, to crush the
little party that had so boldly effected a lodgement on Binbrygge-ea.

Ceolwulf had at once hastily sent out to fetch in all the following
Ælfhere could count on.  The bravest had unfortunately fallen fighting
round their lord in the first assault and capture of the homestead, but
a good number could still be reckoned on who would be likely to give a
report of themselves in an encounter with the enemy.  But the force that
was on the march against them was treble, nearly quadruple, the number
they could hope to oppose to them.  Arwald fully realised the importance
of crushing this little band of enemies before Cædwalla arrived in the
island.  And he had received sure information that he did intend to
arrive and re-assert the dominion of Wessex as soon as ever he had
settled with his opponents among the South Saxons.

No time therefore was to be lost if Ælfhere’s men hoped to save their
lives.  The question which most seriously presented itself was whether
they would abandon the old homestead, and retire to the ruins again, or
retreat still further to the stockade Athelhune had made the evening
after their shipwreck, on the summit of the wooded hill under Binbrygge
down.

Ceolwulf and Athelhune were in favour of this plan, but Wulf liked the
comfort of the old house and the abundance of good cheer which he saw
around him; he was naturally reckless and preferred a positive, although
precarious comfort, to a certainty of discomfort and a doubtful safety.

Ceolwulf was convinced that all would be lost if they remained at
Brædynge.  He knew the certain destruction that would await them, and
urged that their only hope was to take up such a position as should
enable them to hold out until Cædwalla could come or send them
reinforcements; and they would send at once to tell him of their
situation.  Strongly stockaded as they would be at their old post, with
the creek at their feet, dense woods behind and around them, and many
defensible positions between them and the place where they had left the
old boat; there they could fight with every advantage to themselves, and
disadvantage to Arwald.  To these arguments all that the Atheling Wulf
replied, was by saying they were good men enough to fight any number of
beggarly Wihtwaras, and he didn’t see why he should stir out of
comfortable quarters for anyone.  The matter was at last referred to
Ælfhere, who at once decided they must give up all hopes of defending
the homestead, and must retire to the knoll above the Yare, locally
known as Yaver wood.  At this decision the Atheling Wulf was much
dissatisfied, but there was no good disputing it, for he had only
brought two men with him, and Athelhune quite agreed with Ælfhere.

All was now confusion.  The neighbouring ceorls and thralls were rapidly
coming in, and with them came such of their worldly goods as they could
carry. Their wives and families accompanied them, and the dismay was
universal when it was known that the homestead was to be abandoned, and
all would have to cross to Binbrygge-ea, or be left at the mercy of
Arwald.  And what that mercy would be after this rising against his
authority, all knew; and none were anxious to experience.  Many would
have liked to go back to their homes, but the thought that their lot
would not be much better, deterred them; indeed it might be very much
worse, for Arwald would be sure to plunder them although he might spare
their lives, while in the event of Ælfhere being able to hold out until
Cædwalla arrived, and victory then smiling upon their arms, as was not
unlikely, a terrible punishment would await them at the hands of their
justly enraged lord.  Moved by such considerations, the crowd of armed
ceorls with their households, and such belongings as they had brought,
prepared to cross the ford over the Yare as the tide was now low, and
make the best of their way to the wild fastnesses of Binbrygge-ea.

Athelhune and Ceolwulf showed much judgment in the direction and
management of this heterogeneous mass, and Wulfstan, to his great joy,
was allowed to act as a kind of aide-de-camp to Ceolwulf.  The fighting
men were sifted out, and formed up with the Boseham and West Saxon
warriors.  These numbered not more than seven men altogether, without
counting Athelhune, Ceolwulf and the Atheling Wulf, each of whom,
however, counted as hosts in themselves, for they were thoroughly
experienced, toughened warriors. Including all the fighting men
available, there was a respectable force of more than a hundred men.
This body, on the whole well armed with shields, axes, spears, and
swords, while some few possessed bows and arrows, was placed under the
command of Wulf the Atheling, out of compliment to his rank, and were
not to march until later in the day.  Wulfstan was still more delighted
at being told to get all the boys together and make them collect all the
stones they could find, the sharper the flints the better; many of the
boys possessed slings, and like boys of all ages in the lower order,
were excellent shots at bringing down rabbits, or birds sitting.
Ceolwulf had counted on this assistance to annoy the enemy on their
advancing to attack the stockade.  Ceolwulf himself had undertaken, with
the aid of the most infirm and oldest of Ælfhere’s servants, to go on
with the crowd of ceorls and thralls who could be spared from the first
fighting line under Wulf, and superintend the crossing of the ford, and
then enlarge and perfect the stockade.  The chieftains had carefully
counted their time, and had arranged to have their forces concentrated
on the Yaver hill before sunset.  They reckoned that Arwald would not
reach the homestead at Brædynge before the middle or end of the
afternoon, that his men would be wearied with their march, and that, if
they discovered where they had retreated, they would not attempt to
cross the ford at high water, or care to stir at all for the matter of
that, as all their food would either have to be brought with them, or
they must go without, for it was carefully provided that every article
of food, alive or dead, should be cleared out of the neighbourhood, and
safely stored in the stockade, or else behind the protection of that
little fortress, which commanded the only approach to the woods and
commons beyond, between Binbrygge down and the Foreland, and which would
serve as pasturage for the cattle.  Thus Binbrygge-ea would form a
little fortified settlement surrounded by the sea on nearly every side,
and accessible only by the ford at low water, or else by the sandy beach
which kept the sea from encroaching on the Yare; which stream must be in
any case crossed before getting into the peninsula at all.  Athelhune
had undertaken the command of the outposts, whom it was most necessary
to keep to their work properly; and it was arranged that as soon as his
men caught sight of Arwald’s column advancing, they should either make a
pretended attack on the advanced body, and so drive them in on the main
column, if the nature of the ground or Arwald’s forces gave any
opportunity of this being done without loss to Athelhune’s men, or they
should retire at once to the heavy troops under Wulf, and then the whole
would retreat across the Yare in good order, and unseen by the enemy,
who would find the old homestead totally deserted, and would most likely
suspect some stratagem.

Everything was now perfectly arranged.  The long line of straggling
countrymen, with their wives, children, and cattle, had been slowly
winding down to the ford across the Yare, for some time past, and were
seen here and there among the bushes on the other side in their ascent
to the woods behind Yaver hill.  It was now a little past noon; there
were many picturesque groups still left, however, seated around the
homestead.  Mothers looking after their little ones, and resting after
the long walk they had already had before setting out again.  Ælfhere
and Malachi had been carried on litters down to the ford, and were
already some way on the other side, and Ceolwulf had set all the
able-bodied men who had reached the stockade, to fell more trees, clear
the ground all round as far as possible, and enlarge the accommodation.
It was not intended that the women and children should stop here.  They
were to go on with the less able-bodied men, and the cattle, and take
shelter in a secluded dell under the Binbrygge down not more than a mile
away, but in the midst of dense brushwood, and in a spot known only to
the local inhabitants.

It was now getting on for two hours past noon. Athelhune had gone off
with his band of skirmishers to try and get news of the enemy; not
knowing the country himself he was compelled to have recourse to the aid
of one of Ælfhere’s servants for guidance. It would have been better if
Ceolwulf had undertaken this service, but the pride of Athelhune would
not allow him to superintend mere manual labour, however important, and
so he was assigned the post of honour next to that of the Atheling Wulf.

Athelhune’s guide led him up the route or track that passed behind the
homestead, and crossing the ridge of Æscing down dipped again towards
the central valley of the island.  From this high ground the Wessex
chieftain commanded a wide extending view; at his feet lay the wooded
dell and half-ruined roofs of Ælfhere’s homestead, beyond was the valley
of the Yare, and the silver track of the stream as it meandered among
the mud wastes of Brædynge haven to meet the incoming tide that would so
soon convert the dreary swamp into a lovely lake.  The little boat—a
mere spot—in which Wulf, the Atheling, had come the day before, was
lying high and dry near a shingle hard; across the Yare the long line of
country people could be seen trailing like a long snake from the
homestead below, till it was lost in the woods on the other side.  The
promontory or peninsula of Binbrygge, stood out in the midst of the sea,
except where the long back of the magnificent down intercepted the
horizon towards the south-east; far away, in the east, over the distant
sea, could be seen a few dots edging the horizon.  At that very moment
among those dots which were the wind-blown trees of Selsea, Wilfrid and
Cædwalla were discussing the invasion of Wihtea, and Ædric was wondering
what had become of Wulfstan.  The clear cloud-flecked sky looked down on
a weary world. Wars and rumours of wars, and a people suffering much.

Suddenly one of Athelhune’s men pointed to a spot far down below, on the
southern side of the hill; a cloud of dust was driving before the
south-westerly breeze; instantly Athelhune knew it must be the enemy;
waiting one moment to take in the situation, he saw how perilous was
their position.  Not knowing the country, he had been ignorant that
there was another road by which Arwald might come, and the guide, with
the stolidity of a dull-witted Wihtwara, had never told him.  The
advancing cloud of dust was on a level with Athelhune, and he saw that
it would be a race who should reach the homestead first.  Mortified at
the failure of his reconnaissance, and the imminent danger all would
necessarily incur, he promptly made up his mind.  Sending off the
fastest runner of his men to tell the Atheling Wulf, Athelhune
determined to descend the hill diagonally, and attempt a diversion in
flank before the enemy should be aware of his proximity.  Hastily
calling to his men, he started at a rapid pace down the hill. There was
not much more than half a mile between himself and the enemy, and he
directed all his efforts to getting, if possible, to a clump of bushes
which lay directly in the march of the advancing column. He hoped to be
able to reach this unperceived, and then, by a well-timed rush, to throw
the enemy into confusion, after which his men would all hasten back as
fast as possible to join the Atheling Wulf.  Full of this hope he urged
his men to greater speed, and they were fortunately concealed from their
foes by the cloud of dust which was carried towards them by the breeze.

Athelhune had with him about twenty men, all Wihtwaras, active men
enough, but not well armed. However, he trusted more to their sudden
rush, and unexpected appearance, for gaining his object, than to any
real execution they could inflict on Arwald’s men.

They had now reached the clump of gorse and thorns, where Athelhune
rapidly explained what he intended to do, and impressed upon them the
absolute necessity of the rush being simultaneous, determined, and
rapid, and pointed out to the men that in this way only could their
lives be saved.  There was no time for more, already through the dusty
veil the glint of spears and flash of armour could be seen, and a
serried troop of horsemen came directly towards the clump of gorse
behind which the little band was crouching.  Athelhune could see that
the advancing force was a strong one, the leading horsemen were all well
armed, powerful men, and were evidently the most important eorldomen and
chief ceorls in the island; the descendants of Whitgar, Stuffa, and
their followers, who nearly two hundred years before had come to
Cerdicsford, the modern Yarmouth, to help Cerdic.  Among them rode
Arwald himself, a powerful, thickset man, with bushy black beard, and
coarse features, burly in form, and brutal in expression.  He was clad
in a loose mail shirt, his muscular arms were bare, and on his thick
bushy hair he wore an iron helmet, adorned with the large wings of a
heron.  Behind him was slung a spear; at his saddle hung a huge
two-edged axe, and a straight sword was suspended at his left hip by a
chain across his right shoulder.  He was laughing loudly at some jest of
his own, and all were evidently in high spirits.  Behind him was a body
of some four hundred men, but all were not well armed, and very few were
mounted.

Nearer and nearer the column advanced, in the confidence of their
strength; and despising the numbers of their opponents, no scouts had
been sent out, and all were marching at ease, and as if in a friendly
country.

The leading files had passed the clump.  Athelhune could hear Arwald
saying, "By the golden hair of Freya, but we won’t spare a man, woman,
or child, this time."

Then Athelhune gave the signal quietly to his men.

Instantly with a wild yell the whole twenty men sprang up, clashing
their arms, and rushing upon the column not more than ten yards from
them.  Athelhune had ordered them to strike first at the horses, and
then, when the riders were down, if time were left, to attack the
riders.  In between the first and second ranks Athelhune forced his way,
striking furiously at the hind legs of the horses of the leading rank,
and the forelegs of the horses of the rank behind.  He was ably
supported by his followers, who plunged in behind him.  The confusion
and uproar were terrific; the frightened horses reared, plunged, and
neighed horribly with pain, many came down bringing their riders with
them, and in some few instances crushing their assailants in their fall.
The horses of the front rank sprang madly forward, and such as had been
hamstrung, struggled wildly with their forelegs, and then sank
helplessly down. Many of them that had only received slanting slashes
and had had no tendons severed, galloped madly away, in most cases
throwing their riders at the first plunge.  Hitherto the attack had been
very successful, fortune, as usual, favouring the bold.  Arwald had been
one of those whose horse had fallen, and that burly chieftain had come
heavily to the ground; but the fall of his horse had also saved his
life, for Athelhune, determining to kill him, if possible, before they
retreated, aimed a terrific blow at the Wihtwara’s head, but the wounded
horse at the same moment gave one despairing plunge, and kicking
violently with its hind leg, it happened to strike Athelhune and break
his leg with the force of the blow; seeing their leader fall, the few
men who were behind him shouted to the others to escape while there was
yet time, and such as were able to do so, extricated themselves from the
plunging, writhing, mass of men and horses, and sped away towards the
homestead.  The success of this desperate onslaught was dearly purchased
by the fall of Athelhune; it was true the onward march of Arwald and his
men was delayed some few moments, and much damage was done to the
horses, while some two or three of the men had been killed outright, and
about ten more seriously wounded, either by cuts from the axes, or by
bruises from their falls, several having had their legs broken by their
falling horses; but the attacking party had also suffered severely, some
having been crushed under the horses, and others having been kicked by
the affrighted animals, as Athelhune had been.  So that the sum total of
the success of this act of devotion on the part of the West Saxon
chieftain was the giving time for Wulf the Atheling to form his men, and
evacuate the homestead, and the death or putting _hors de combat_ of
some dozen of their enemy.  But these advantages were more than
counterbalanced by the capture of Athelhune, and the desperate feeling
of furious wrath now doubly aroused in the fierce Arwald.

Rising from the ground with difficulty, the chief of the Wihtwaras
looked a truly awful spectacle.  He was covered with blood; not that he
had received any wound, but the blood from his fallen horse had flowed
copiously over him as he lay on the ground.  His eyes were red and
fiery, like the wicked eyes of a furious wild boar.  His first thought
was to dash out the brains of his helpless assailant as he lay on the
ground; but while watching his opportunity, for the struggling mass all
round rendered a certain blow a matter of difficulty, a cruel thought
crossed his mind, and he determined to spare Athelhune’s life for the
present.  By this time the confusion had become a little less wild.  The
loud voice of Arwald shouted directions to the eorls who were nearest
him, and in a little while something like order was restored.  The
mounted men were drawn up on one side, and the infantry were ordered to
march past and then form up beyond, and halt until the casualties were
counted up and fresh dispositions made.  Athelhune was not forgotten.
Arwald with a wicked light in his eye, had him seized by two
fierce-looking Wihtwaras, and strict orders were given them to answer
for him with their lives.  It was found that fifteen horses were
incapacitated or missing, and twelve men, among whom were five eorldomen
and three ceorls of importance.  More furious than ever, and burning to
come to close quarters with Ælfhere’s men, Arwald gave the order for the
column to advance, but this time he took the precaution to send out some
of the horsemen on either flank to act as scouts, and a small body some
distance ahead as an advance guard.  Arwald himself took the best horse
he could find among those left, and the eorldoman who was thus compelled
to give up his animal contented himself by taking another from one of
the ceorls, who had to become a foot soldier, and was naturally very
sulky in consequence. The whole episode, which has taken so many words,
to describe, really only occupied a quarter of an hour but every moment
was of importance, and the march was pressed on more rapidly to make up
for lost time.  In a few minutes more the advanced guard turned the foot
of the hill, and came in sight of Ælfhere’s house.  At the same moment
Wulf’s men were descried hastening down to the ford, which was fast
becoming impassable, owing to the rapidly rising tide.  All the
fugitives from Athelhune’s force had not yet reached him, nor had all
the tenants and dependants of Ælfhere yet got across the Yare.  The news
of the sudden approach of Arwald had caused the greatest consternation
among these poor people, and all were hurrying down to get over the ford
before it was too late.  The position of affairs was at once reported to
Arwald, who galloped up instantly to inspect the situation, giving
orders for the rest of his men to come on at the double.  With the quick
glance of an experienced warrior, he decided that they must attack at
once.  He gave his men no rest, therefore, until he had brought them
down to within a short distance of Wulf’s men, who had not yet been able
to cross the Yare, blocked as the ford was with fugitives.

Wulf, the Atheling, now that he saw his own supineness was likely to
cause a great catastrophe, did all he could to remedy the evil.  He drew
up his men in the best way he could, and determined to stand on the
defensive, for he saw that with so powerful a force within striking
distance of him, if once he attempted to retire, destruction would await
him. There was one thing in his favour—his men were all fresh, while
Arwald’s people were tired with their long march.

Arwald halted his men as they came up, and gave them time to recover
their breath, an ominous sign to Wulf, who, seeing how leisurely Arwald
was now going to work, knew that his foe felt sure he had caught them in
his toils.  Their position was very critical, almost desperate.  In
front, was a powerful force of nearly four hundred men led by a
determined and infuriated chief; behind them, was an impassable stream,
and no succour to come to them.  Seeing the desperate nature of their
plight, Wulf thought he would try what a parley would do.  He called,
therefore, to Arwald, and invited him to settle the dispute by a single
combat with himself, "for," he said, "these men are all kinsfolk.  Why
should they shed each other’s blood?"

Arwald only laughed a jeering laugh.  "Young man," he said, "thou shalt
fight fast enough, if that is what thou wantest.  My men are thirsting
for blood, but no power on earth can save these doomed slaves of the
rascal Ælfhere.  Before another sun sets I have vowed to have their
lives."

"Thou hearest that, my men," said Wulf calmly, to his followers.
"Arwald always was a liar and a villain.  Let us show him once more as
he really is."



                            *CHAPTER XVIII.*

           *"LET’S WHIP THE STRAGGLERS O’ER THE SEAS AGAIN."*


All Arwald’s men having now come in, that chieftain quickly drew them up
ready for attack. His object was to let none escape; indeed, there was
not much chance of any of them doing so, even if he had not taken
especial precautions against it.  The sea had by this time come up, and
all the waste mud of Brædynge Haven was a glittering, sparkling lake.
Wulf’s little boat was floating not far off, dancing to its moorings on
the rippling wavelets.  A few despairing fugitives were sitting near the
now impassable ford, awaiting the issue of the fight, with a listless
expectancy.  Their own fate would soon be settled, and the only doubt
was how they would be killed.  Some, however, who still kept their wits
about them, were slipping away towards the other ford nearer Sandown
Bay, where Ceolwulf had first crossed, and which was some two miles
distant.

The few moments of suspense before the fight began, were demoralising to
Wulf, the Atheling’s, handful of men.  To stand still to be attacked is
at all times a trying business when the force to be attacked is equal,
or larger, than the assailing force; but when the latter is four times
the number of the former, and the fight is to be a desperate
hand-to-hand _mêlèe_, with such formidable weapons as axe and broad
sword, the trial to the nerves is naturally very much greater, and Wulf
the Atheling would have acted much more wisely if he had charged the
enemy before they had recovered their breath, or were drawn up in order.
The one important thing was to keep his men’s courage up, and for that
there was nothing like action, and there Athelhune had shown better
generalship, although the fortune of war had gone against him.  Had Wulf
possessed Athelhune’s decision, he might have broken Arwald’s men for a
time, and then been able to cross the ford before they could rally
again; but unfortunately, Wulf was only a handsome, careless,
thoughtless fighter, of no more use than any other brave thrall or ceorl
there.  He had no judgment, no decision, no head.

Arwald, without further delay, gave the order to fall on, and rode
straight for Wulf the Atheling. There was no indecision now on Wulf’s
part, the fight was coming; there was nothing more to do but use arm,
and back, and foot—no head to direct others was now required; each man
must fight his own way, and sell his life as dearly as possible.  Calmly
awaiting the charge of the heavy horseman, Wulf looked his antagonist
straight in the face, and never blenched. The spear-point of Arwald’s
weapon came swiftly towards him, the powerful horse sprang, with long
strides, to bear him to the ground; another second and Wulf would be
transfixed, trampled on, dead. His axe flashed, his strong and active
figure sprang aside; another gleam of the axe and Arwald was toppled off
his horse.  The first blow sheared off the spear-point, and the second,
swung round at Arwald as he was carried past his victim, caught the
chieftain between the shoulders, and rolled him over his horse’s neck to
the ground.  But the blow had done no further injury, given as it was at
an object that was retiring; it only had sufficient force to knock
Arwald off, there was not power enough to cut through his mail shirt.
Before Wulf could follow his blow by a second, he received a swinging
cut on his helmet, which caused sparks to dance before his eyes, and his
head to buzz with humming dizziness; instinctively striking straight
before him, his axe clove the thigh of a horseman in the act to pierce
Beornwulf, who was by his side.  But blows were raining on all sides:
the clash of sword and axe, the smashing sound of crashing wood, or
sharp swish of cloven iron, as blows went home; the groan of
sorely-stricken men, or the shriek of some agonised fallen one, as the
combatants trode upon his prostrate body, wild yells and muttered oaths,
and dust and ruin; so went on the dreadful work for some few minutes.
So thick was the _mêlèe_ that friend blindly hit friend, and no man
could tell how the battle was going.  Arwald had risen to his feet, more
mad with rage than ever, and struck wildly, and with prodigious force,
now right, now left, now down, hewing a way through the men opposed to
him. Several heavy blows he received, but none that incapacitated him,
and at last it dawned upon him that he was striking at empty air.
Before him was the river Yare, behind him was the fight, he had cut
right through the little force.  Grimly he turned and looked at the
raging mass.  Savagely he smiled as he rested on his gory axe, and
watched the wild and ghastly murder.

[Illustration: How Wulf ye Atheling waited ye onslaught of Arwald and
blenched not]

There was fierce fighting still going on, and it was difficult to see
the extent of the loss; many men were down; some were trying to crawl
from among the legs of the combatants, others lay still; while others
again, in whom the fierce spirit of the fight still glowed in spite of
their desperate wounds, clutched at the legs of their antagonists and
brought them to the ground.  But the fight was too fierce to last long,
and they were too crowded to ply their ghastly blows with sufficient
effect.  Seeing this, Arwald shouted in a stentorian voice, when a lull
in the murderous din allowed him a chance for his words to be heard,
that all his men were to fall back and rally around him; at the same
moment he cleft to the chin a wounded Wihtwara, who was trying to crawl
down to the waterside to hide among the sedgy banks.  Pleased with this
dastardly stroke, he strode past the writhing, struggling mass, and took
up his position some little way off on the right of the fight.  His own
men sullenly obeyed, drawing off from their antagonists reluctantly.  It
was then seen how terrible had been the few minutes of that cruel work.
The ground was strewn with dead, the nature of many of their wounds was
awful—too awful to be described—and the scanty remnant of Wulf’s little
force remained resting on their axes or their swords.  The combatants
were now able to judge of their losses, and the effects of the fight.
Very few of Arwald’s horsemen remained mounted, and many of his best
warriors were lying on the ground; but Wulf’s men were greatly reduced.
About two-thirds were still left, and the Atheling himself was able to
wield his axe; but many had received desperate wounds, and in several
cases the power to use axe or sword was entirely gone, as from the close
nature of the fighting, and the absence of any guard to sword or axe,
the fingers had suffered severely; and the maimed appearance of the men
told how hopeless the next struggle must be, for of the two-thirds that
survived, at least half were disabled in either one hand or the other,
while many had lost all four fingers of one hand, and a thumb off the
other, and in some instances both hands were shorn off at the wrists.
Arwald’s people had suffered in the same way, but the proportion of
fighters remained about the same as before.

Wulf the Atheling saw that their hours were numbered; each man of his
force felt the same.  He himself was bleeding profusely from a large
gash in his shoulder, and one arm was nearly useless.  His axe was
notched, and stained deep-red.  His helmet was deeply dented, and he
looked faint and ghastly; but the spirit of his race was in him, and he
prepared to sell his life as dearly as might be.  Turning to his men he
said briefly:

"Comrades, we shall meet ere long in Valhalla; remember, the more we
slay, the happier we shall be; rejoice then, that we shall so soon live
for ever, and shall have so many to meet us there."

Then turning to Arwald, he cried tauntingly:

"Boaster that thou art, where are thy young men? Look at the ground in
front of thee.  Who measured his length upon it?  Dastard and villain,
no wonder thou darest not fight it out with me, but must bring four to
one to the fight, and yet canst not beat us.  Are the Wihtwaras no
better than this?  But yesterday, an old woman—a bald-headed one—and a
child, killed six of your warriors.  Go bring thy women to kill us, they
will fight better than thou."

Arwald, disdaining to reply, led his men nearer to the Yare, and
advanced once more to the attack. Wulf and his men grimly awaited them.
Suddenly the Atheling heard his name called, and looking across the
Yare, he saw old Ceolwulf standing by the water’s edge, and at the same
moment a whizzing sound rushed through the air, followed by a yell from
one of Arwald’s men:

"Make for the boat, Prince Wulf; thou canst reach her if thou makest a
dash for it; at least some of ye can be saved!" shouted Ceolwulf,
pointing to the boat which rode at her moorings not more than a few
hundred yards away.

The advice was good, but could Prince Wulf act on it?  Could he leave
his men to be slaughtered, and seek safety in flight?  Life was dear to
him: he was handsome, young, and loved pleasure.  He could do more good
with a few men to defend the stockade, than by dying there, he thought.
Fresh hope came to him, he wavered, and as Arwald’s advance seemed
unaccountably checked, he determined to take advantage of the moment,
and make a rush for the boat. Instantly the whole band broke up.  The
faith in the pleasures of Valhalla was overbalanced by the desire to
realise those of this earth a little longer; and each man as he was able
ran for dear life.  Arwald gave a yell of rage, and shouted to his men
to follow at the top of their speed; but as he started at a run to set
the example himself, he received a violent blow on the side of his
forehead, that for a moment stunned him; many of his men were falling,
or were receiving severe cuts.  What was it?  Where did these invisible
blows come from?

"There, there, from the other side of the water!" shouted one of his
men, pointing to a large party of boys led by Wulfstan, who was plying
his sling with delighted vigour.  The speaker was unable to finish his
sentence, for he received a crashing blow on his mouth which knocked
several of his teeth down his throat.  Arwald’s rage was frightful to
see, and the pain of his cut forehead, combined with the partial
blindness which resulted from it, for the blood from the wound ran down
over his eye, made him dangerous to approach.  But he still pressed on
after the fugitives, hoarsely shouting to his people to hasten up.  But
Wulfstan and his troop of boys kept plying the solid mass with stones,
and richly they enjoyed the fun, for almost every stone took effect.
Arwald’s force was compelled to draw farther away from the water’s edge.
Unfortunately for the full success of the diversion, where the boat was
riding at anchor was out of reach of the stones, and now that Arwald’s
people saw where the galling flights of stones came from, they kept out
of range and continued the pursuit of Wulf and his men.

But the check the enemy had received gave a long start to the fugitives,
which they had done their best to improve, and Wulf had reached the
water’s edge and was hastily splashing through the shallow sea; he was
now wading out to the boat and was scrambling in, followed by two or
three others, the rest were crowding behind; it was clear the boat would
not hold more than nine or ten, and what would become of the others?
Therefore each man ran, and splashed, with desperate haste; many had
fallen as they ran, dizzy with loss of blood; one or two, sullenly
desperate, giving up all hope and determined to die hard, turned to face
the enemy, prepared to brain the first man that dared to come near them;
a few even did not await the foe, but rushed fiercely to meet him,
shouting their death song, and met their end like ancient northern
heroes.  Beornwulf and Osborn and two of the Boseham men, who had fought
gallantly, still survived; the two latter were close beside Wulf the
Atheling, and all three had now clambered into the boat.  The breeze was
blowing fresh off the land; one of the South Saxons ran to the bows, and
with a blow of his axe severed the moorings, and instantly the boat
drifted away from the shore.  Wulf had lost so much blood that the
moment he had climbed into the boat he fell into the bottom of it, and
lost all consciousness.  The two South Saxons were both wounded, one had
lost three fingers off one hand, and the other had a terrific gash in
his forearm, so that they were not able to do much in the way of rowing;
indeed, they did not attempt it, but were content to sit down and let
the boat drift before the wind, merely steering her by an oar over the
stern.

Beornwulf and Osborn shouted to them to come back and take in more, but
with the callousness of utter weariness and exhaustion, they paid no
attention, scarcely looking up or heeding anything, and thus drifted far
down the broad Brædynge haven towards the entrance.

When the fugitives saw that they were abandoned, and no hope left, they
uttered yells of execration on their leader, and stood helpless and
stunned for a moment.  One or two tore off their armour, and began to
wade out as far as they could, and then swam for the opposite shore.
The shallowness of the water greatly aided them, and many more followed
their example.  In this way about twenty reached the shore of
Binbrygge-ea, and were helped up to the stockade by Ceolwulf and the
boys, many of whom, however, with the curiosity of their age, waited to
see what would become of those left.

There were not many now; Osborn had swum across, Beornwulf was too much
exhausted.  He and three more stood gloomily resting on their notched
swords awaiting their death.

Arwald, and some three or four others, had reached the edge of the sea.
Grimly the wounded warriors in the sparkling water eyed them.

"Run to water at last," cried Arwald; "Look at the water rats that are
afraid even of their own water."

"But we are not afraid of thee, thou nithing," shouted Beornwulf, "come
and kill us if thou darest."

Whatever faults Arwald had, he certainly was not a coward; but the day
was his, he had done enough fighting, and he saw no reason why he should
risk his life in a desperate encounter with reckless men who must die
sooner or later.  He gave orders, therefore, for some of his people to
sit down on the shore, and wait until the wounded men should be tired of
standing in the water.  He himself then drew off with the rest of his
followers, and gave orders for all to repose, and get what refreshment
they could, until the tide had gone down sufficiently to allow them all
to cross the Yare at the ford, and advance upon the fugitives.

Beornwulf, seeing that he could not entice any of the men to come out to
him in the water, where he hoped, from the unsteady nature of the
foothold, to be able to obtain an advantage over his adversaries, felt
it was no use standing there to slowly die a miserable death.  He
turned, therefore, to the two or three who still stood with him, and
declared his intention of returning to the shore to sell his life as
dearly as might be.  The others gave a sullen assent, and without giving
their wounds any more time to stiffen, they waded back to the land.
Arwald, before he left the men on the shore, had given orders to take
the West Saxon and the rebel Wihtwaras, alive if possible.  He intended,
when the rest of Ælfhere’s men were taken, to have all the prisoners
brought before him and his eorls at a banquet, and then put them to
death.  As Beornwulf and his companions therefore, approached the shore,
Arwald’s followers got up and warily awaited them, and no sooner had
they emerged from the water than all the enemy hurled themselves upon
them.  Beornwulf had only time to whirl his sword round his head,
severely wounding one of his adversaries, when he was borne to the
ground, pinioned by four men, and bound hand and foot in a moment.  One
of his companions was, more fortunately, slain, but the other two shared
the same fate as Beornwulf; faint, weary, and despondent, they were
conveyed in triumph to the main body, and were placed beside Athelhune
to await their fate.

The afternoon was now far advanced; but Arwald was so inflamed with rage
against his opponents, that he did not intend to give his men much rest,
only sufficient to allow them to get such fresh vigour as would enable
them to overcome any further resistance with certainty.

But besides the incitements of passionate revenge, there were other and
more practical reasons why the attack should go on at once.  They had
brought very little food with them, hoping to take Ælfhere by surprise,
or, at least, capture the homestead before the cattle and provisions
should have been carried off.  They were now feeling strongly the calls
of hunger, but there was no chance of their getting any substantial food
until they had crossed the Yare and come up with the encampment of the
fugitives, or discovered some of their cattle.

There was no possibility of crossing the ford for another hour at least,
and Arwald and his chief eorldomen improved the occasion by inspecting
the men, and appointing leaders in the place of those who had fallen,
and also in having their arms and belongings collected and placed
securely under the same guard which was watching the prisoners.  The
arms were distributed to the men who had lost their own or had them
injured, and in this way a better equipped, although much smaller force,
was ready once more to renew the attack.  The followers of Ælfhere were
in a very hopeless position; all the powerful able-bodied men were
either killed or prisoners, and all their arms and accoutrements had
become the spoil of the conquerors.  Only Osborn, and a few men, had
been able to escape to join their companions on Yaver Hill, and these
had been compelled to throw away their arms.  The little boat, with the
Atheling Wulf, when last seen, was scudding before the wind, through the
narrow entrance of Brædynge haven, for they had managed to set up a sail
in her, and were evidently steering straight for Selsea.  They had a
fair wind, but the chances were small of their ever getting there, for
the men were desperately exhausted with their wounds, and had no food.
Impatiently, Arwald waited for the tide to fall.  He did not want the
wounds of his men to become stiff, and they were all extremely hungry;
besides, every minute gave the fugitives time to strengthen such
defences as they could make, or contrive hiding-places for themselves in
the dense scrub and bush that clothed Binbrygge-ea.

With the wind blowing right on Selsea, there was not any fear of
Cædwalla coming yet; even if he had defeated the South Saxon eorls; but
should the wind change—and it appeared to be getting rather more off the
land—there would be every possibility of an invasion from the West
Saxons: and Arwald had received news before he left Wihtgaresbyrig, that
Cædwalla had given orders for a fleet to assemble at Portanceaster,
which might at any moment set sail for Wihtea.

"Get in, one of you men, and see how deep that ford is!" cried Arwald,
at last.  And one of his men waded carefully into the water.  He got on
very well for a few steps, when suddenly he gave a plunge and
disappeared, but reappeared again in a few moments a little lower down.
Being a good swimmer he soon got out, but in a very dismal condition,
for he had to land by the muddy banks of the Yare, which the rapidly
falling tide was leaving bare.  He had slipped off the gravelly bottom
of the ford, not knowing that it turned at an angle in the middle of the
stream.

"Here, blockhead!" cried Arwald, who was getting more and more savage at
the delay, "try again, and feel the bottom with the end of thy spear."

The man did as he was told, and this time he got across, after carefully
feeling the gravelly hard which formed the ford.  He was then told to
cut down with his axe some withies, and stick them on the upper side of
the ford.  When this was done, Arwald gave the order for all to cross.
As the leading men stepped into the water they were assailed by a
violent shower of stones, one or two of which took serious effect, for
one man lost an eye, and the others were cut about the face.  Daunted by
this warm reception the men drew back, but were driven to advance again
by the fierce menaces of Arwald.  The main body pressed hard upon them,
and they were urged on by the weight behind.  All they could do,
therefore, was to put their shields up in front of their faces, and make
a rush for it.  The effect of this blind advance was that many of the
men fell into the deeper part of the stream, and several were drowned,
while many more were severely cut about the face.  They could not see
their stinging assailants, for the banks opposite were clothed with
thick bushes down to the water’s edge.

When all the men had passed the ford, Arwald sent off a small party to
drive away the stone throwers, who hastily withdrew through the bushes,
without being caught.  Wulfstan and Ceolwulf were with the boys, and all
of them knew the bye-paths through the gorse and scrub, so that they
were able to retire to the stockade unseen by the enemy.

Taught by bitter experience with what an active and enterprising foe he
had to deal, Arwald sent out an advanced guard, and also a party on
either flank, and thus effectually guarded himself from surprise. After
marching for about a mile, and meeting with not a sign of any human
being, Arwald began to get suspicious that all was not right.

"Where has this Ælfhere betaken himself and his belongings?  We may
march all night, and find nothing at this rate," was the universal
thought of the men, who were beginning to grow discontented at the
amount of marching required of them.

It was obvious they must capture some one who should act as guide, or
they would fare badly for that night.  Wearily they trudged along
through the narrow track, and it was getting more and more risky,
penetrating such a bush with night coming on, and an active enemy near.
True, Arwald had every reason to believe that scarcely any men capable
of bearing arms were now left; for he knew how many had come from the
mainland, and he also knew about the numbers Ælfhere could muster.  Had
it not been for this knowledge, even he, headstrong and passionate as he
was, would scarcely have dared to go so far as he had done.

They had now come to a more open part of the wild land; it was a sort of
common, covered with furze and brambles, which, in most places, grew
very high and thick.  The path lay through the middle of this, and the
common appeared, as far as could be seen, to extend for some distance
all round. Suddenly Arwald stopped and sniffed the air.  The wind had
now nearly died away, the sun was setting, and there was that stillness
over nature which so sweetly harmonises with a lovely sunset.  The light
air, which gently came from the north, brought a smell of smoke with it,
which caused Arwald to stop and look in that direction.

"The knaves are cooking over there," cried Arwald, his mouth watering as
the delicious smell of roasting meat reached his senses.  "But they are
making a big fire for it," he added, as a great volume of smoke rose up
not far off.  "Call in the other men.  They may mean to attack us under
cover of this," he shouted.

The men came in, and all the force was drawn up ready to repel any
sudden onset.  But no enemy appeared; all was as silent as the grave,
save that a sharp crackling could be heard all round, from the north to
the east side of the gorse-covered common. The common was on fire.

Volumes of smoke began to drive across their faces, the atmosphere was
stifling.  Ahead of them they could see the whole common in a red blaze;
behind them the flames were bursting out.  The dry gorse crackled and
blazed, and dense masses of smoke eddied round their faces.  No one paid
any attention to Arwald’s orders; all with one thought broke away and
tried to escape the blinding, smothering smoke. They rushed into the
gorse on their right, they tried wildly to run through it.  Faster and
faster roared the flames, louder and louder crackled the gorse.  The
smoke became thicker, hotter, more stifling than ever, and which way to
escape Arwald and his men, for the life of them, could not tell.  The
gorse on their right was impenetrable, while everywhere else it was on
fire.

Of that well-armed, compact little band of some three hundred men,
scarcely two or three remained together.  Blindly, madly, they rushed
through the tangled prickly bushes; numbers fell down; many fell into
the deep gullies which lay hid in the furze all over the common; and all
the while the fierce, glowing flames leaped, and crackled, and revelled
in their hot destruction.  Swiftly the curling smoke swept over and
after the fugitives, suffocating the fallen ones; pursuing with its hot,
stifling breath, the frantic, scared Wihtwaras.  Where could they fly?
The smoke was everywhere, and behind the smoke was the devouring fire.

The few men who preserved their presence of mind aimed for the corner of
the common that was nearest to the wind, and with great difficulty, and
many scratches, about a hundred managed to reach a place of safety on
the edge of the common under some old gnarled oaks; the flames rolled
away from this part and they were able to see the awful destruction of
many of their comrades.  As the fierce fire swept on in its rapid
course, the charred and blackened limbs of the gorse curled and twisted
like a million tortured snakes, and the shrill squeaking of innumerable
agonised things filled the air.  Here and there an awful figure writhed
and rolled on the ground, and a sharp, thin voice, shrieked tortured
cries.  Some of these fearful forms rose up and ran madly a few paces,
gibbering horribly, and then fell in a column of sparks among the
smoking embers.  Others sat, a shapeless heap, rocking to and fro,
moaning in unearthly sounds.  The fatal element had done its ghastly
work.  Ælfhere’s followers were well avenged.

"We must return to the ford," said Arwald, sullenly. "They shall dearly
pay for this."

Wearily the band retraced its steps, skirting the edge of the fire to
windward; and, without further attack, reached the ford, and found the
guard and the prisoners where they had left them.  They then returned to
the homestead, and prepared to spend the night as well as they could.



                             *CHAPTER XIX.*

           *"BE READY, CLAUDIO, FOR YOUR DEATH, TO-MORROW."*


The night was spent by the weary followers of Arwald in dismal plight.
They had scarcely any food, and now experienced all the hardships
Athelhune, Ceolwulf, and their party had suffered when they were cast
upon the island.

Some men had been sent to bring in food from the country behind Æscing
Down, and to hasten up reinforcements and more supplies from the west
end of the island.  During the night many of the dispersed followers
came in; in fact, they kept dropping in throughout the night, so that,
when day broke, there was a large muster of men around the homestead;
but they were, many of them, wounded, burnt, and listless; all heart
seemed to have been taken out of them by the last awful event.  In order
to stir them out of their lethargy, Arwald determined to have the
prisoners put to death.  This was not only a matter of policy, but he
was longing to gratify his revenge and cruelty.

Some small amount of provisions having been brought in at early dawn,
they were distributed as far as they would go, many of the men having
made a hearty meal off the slaughtered horses which were lying where
they fell in yesterday’s conflict.

At eight o’clock, all the men, who now numbered about two hundred and
fifty, were drawn up in the large yard of the homestead, the remainder
of the force having been either killed, placed _hors de combat_ by their
wounds, or been lost among the wild country on the other side of the
Yare, while some few had deserted.

The prisoners were seated on a few logs of trees that had been rolled
into the centre.  Each man was placed some feet apart from his
neighbours, and in his long hair was twisted a couple of tough withies,
long enough for a man to hold the head steady from behind.  All the men
were bare-headed, stripped to the waist, and tied together.  Only the
chief prisoners were arranged in this way first; the common men were
guarded in a crowd in a space separated from the spectators, but in full
view of the ghastly proceedings.

On the right of the prisoners sat Beornwulf, next him were three of
Ælfhere’s chief ceorls, then came Athelhune, and next him one of the
followers of Wulf the Atheling.  Outside of these sat two South Saxons.
Athelhune had suffered terrible pain from his broken leg, for no
attention whatever had been paid him, and he had been roughly carried
along with the other prisoners; but he still held up his head bravely,
and smiled contemptuously at the preparations for his death.  The old
Teutonic spirit was strong in him, and he remembered how heroes had met
their death.  Although deadly pale from the sharp pain of his maimed
leg, his eye was bright, and his bearing fearless.  All the men
preserved the most absolute composure, and did credit to the training of
their race.  Not a sigh or a regret seemed to announce their reluctance
to leave this life; on the contrary, if there were any expression but
absolute indifference to the whole proceedings, it was one of pleasure
at the thought of so soon enjoying the delights of Valhalla.

The withies entwined in their hair were intended to be held by the
thralls or slaves, who accompanied Arwald’s force, so that the heads of
the victims should not twitch, or avoid the stroke of the executioner’s
axe, and were long enough to allow the holders to be at a safe distance
from the blow.  Behind each man stood a thrall holding the withies, and
these men were laughing and joking together.

When all was ready, Arwald and his chief eorldomen came out of the
homestead, and seated themselves on settles placed directly opposite the
victims. The Wihtwara chieftain was in high good humour: he had had an
excellent breakfast, as far as quantity went, and had washed down his
food with copious draughts of ale; for, however much his followers might
suffer, he had no intention of being uncomfortable. He came out,
therefore, with a hearty, loud laugh, as he cracked some coarse joke
with one of his eorls, and took up his seat, lolling his large fat body
in the most comfortable position he could.  His little black eyes
twinkled with cruel pleasure, and his puffy red face showed amid his
large dark whiskers, beard, and hair, like a furnace against the black
night.  He wore his mail-linked shirt and his battered helmet, off which
the heron’s wings were shorn.  His huge axe hung over his shoulder, but
in his hand he held his hunting-knife, with which he played from time to
time.

The executioner was a powerful, coarse-looking ceorl, with bare arms and
legs, and holding a formidable axe, to whose edge he was giving a
finishing touch with a sharpening stone.

The people were now all ready for the spectacle, and the interest was
very great; but the disappointment was universal, for the victims were
not apparently going to give them any sport by their cries and
lamentations.

"Is all ready?" said Arwald carelessly.

"All is ready, eorldoman," said the executioner.

"Then begin, in Woden’s name," answered the chieftain, and settled
himself more comfortably for the better enjoyment of the tragedy.

The executioner advanced to the man seated on the log nearest to the
left, looked at him, poised his axe, measured his distance, nodded to
the thrall to hold the withy tight, planted his feet firmly on the
ground, swung the axe swiftly through the air, and the man’s head fell
at some few paces from the body, which fell forward to the ground.  The
blow had been dealt so truly and well that the whole thing passed like
an ordinary occurrence, and one could hardly realise that a man had just
suffered a violent death.  No sound had broken the silence of
expectancy, only the whizz of the gleaming axe, and the dull thud of the
head as it fell on the ground, interrupted the silence.

"Was that well done, eorldoman?" asked the executioner, turning to
Arwald.

"Nothing could have been better," nodded the chieftain; "if thou doest
thy work like that I will say thou art the best headsman in England."

"I hope thou wilt do something better than that," promptly replied the
executioner.  Arwald grunted an ambiguous reply, and bid him go on with
the next man.

The executioner then stepped up to the next man and went through the
ghastly preliminaries as before, performing the business as deftly as he
had previously done, only the withies which were twisted into this man’s
hair were jerked out of the hands of the thrall, who was holding them,
and struck the next thrall a stinging blow in the face, which caused him
to cry out, and made all the spectators laugh.

Arwald was put into an extra good humour by this event, and he felt
inclined for a little playful conversation with the victims.  So
addressing the West Saxon who was to be executed next, he asked him what
he thought of the death he was so soon to suffer.

"We must all die some day, and as I am tired of looking at thy fat
carcase, the sooner I can get away the better," answered the West Saxon
contemptuously. The nearest bystanders, who had heard the remark, began
to laugh, and Arwald became angry.

"What art thou waiting for, man?" he said to the executioner.  "Let him
have his wish at once," and the man’s head fell with the others.

It was now Athelhune’s turn, and Arwald, deceived by his exceeding
pallor, hoped to obtain some sign of weakness from him, and asked him
whether death did not look very dreadful.

"Not so unpleasant as thou dost," was the answer; "but before I die I
would like to have a question settled."

"What is it?" said Arwald.

"We have often talked about death, and whether a man has any feeling
after his head is off," said Athelhune.  "Now, give me a knife.  If I
feel anything after my head is off, I will throw the knife at thee; if
it falls to the ground, it will prove I have no feeling.  Now strike,
and see what will happen."

Arwald laughed, and bid a knife be given him. The executioner
approached.  Athelhune held up his hand with the knife pointed at
Arwald.  The executioner slowly measured his distance.  Flash went the
axe, and at the same moment the knife flew from Athelhune’s hand and
pierced Arwald’s burly leg, causing that stout warrior to utter a yell
of pain; but Athelhune’s head was on the ground, and no man could say
whether he had hurled the knife while his head was still on his
shoulders or no. The knife still quivered in Arwald’s flesh, as the
headless body fell heavily to the ground, and the brave West Saxon
eorldoman was numbered with his fathers; glad enough to be away from the
pain and anguish he had been suffering from his broken leg, which now,
owing to the want of care and cruel treatment he had suffered, was
rapidly growing black, and had swollen to a great size.  He knew he
never could be of any use again, and had longed for death to relieve him
for some hours past.

The brave warrior died true to the instincts and noblest teaching of his
race and ancestors.  A faithful, devoted friend, a recklessly brave man,
and a skilful chief, he came on this expedition, well knowing the
desperate nature of the enterprise, without a thought which could
reflect upon his friend and king Cædwalla; his king wished him to go,
that was enough for him. It was not his business to question or discuss
the reasonableness of the wish; such an idea never crossed his mind; it
could not occur to him.  His sense of duty to his chief was comprised in
those lines that so beautifully describe the whole duty of a
soldier:—His "not to make reply," his "not to reason why," his "but to
do and die."  And this idea of a soldier’s duty he carried out in its
entirety, both towards his king and chief Cædwalla, as well as towards
those who served under him, all of whom he tried to impress with the
same spirit of noble discipline and self-sacrifice.  He died
contentedly, nay, happily; he had done all he could.  If he had not
succeeded, that was no affair of his; were there not the Norns or Fates,
who ruled the affairs of men?  And oftentimes, he knew, even in his own
experience, what looked like failure was only the seed of success.  Did
not men put seed into the ground, and did not the seed disappear?  Who
could have told that that lost seed would come out of that dry, lumpy
ground, green corn good for the food of man? The doing of one’s duty,
even if it ended in failure, was the sowing of good seed, it must bear
fruit, only it might take a longer time, as some seeds took more time
than others to come up.  With the noble simplicity of his character, he
also accepted implicitly the creed of his ancestors.  Surely there was a
place of reward for honest men, who struggled to live and die full of
that virtue, that [Greek: andréia], that manfulness, which all men in
all ages, and of all races, have known to be the essence of a good life.
Full of this hope, he rejoiced at his departure to the new life,
grateful too that the last few hours of pain had made the longed-for
moment all the greater relief.

There was a great shout of triumph from the prisoners when they saw the
knife flying from Athelhune’s hand straight for Arwald, and the
disappointment was great when it was seen that the wound was not in any
way dangerous, although the knife had plunged deep into the fleshy part
of the leg and caused the ruler of the Wihtwaras considerable pain as it
was drawn out.  However, a bandage soon stopped the bleeding, and Arwald
called to the executioner to go on with his work, more irritable now
than ever.

The courage of the previous victims re-acted upon those whose turn was
now coming, and when the executioner stepped up to the next man, and was
preparing to strike him sideways, like the others, the man called out to
him to strike the blow in front.

"Many is the time I have looked death in the face without blenching, and
thou shalt see now if I flinch or no."

The executioner took him at his word; he placed the edge of the axe
against the man’s neck under his chin.  Took up the proper distance,
planted his feet firmly on the ground, told the man to raise his head a
little higher, swung the axe swiftly back and then struck with a swish
through the air forwards, and the headless trunk rolled over on the
ground, while the head dropped at the feet of the thrall who held the
withy.  The bystanders could see no change of expression as the axe
gleamed in the act of striking, not a twitch of an eyebrow, or quiver of
an eyelid told that the man dreaded the blow.

"Well sped, brave soul," cried the spectators, whose interest was
growing deeper as each victim met his end so nobly.  Five men had now
died, there remained but three more on the log, of whom Beornwulf was
the last.  Beornwulf was getting weary of sitting so long, and he was
irritated with the thrall who held the withy entwined in his hair, which
was remarkably long and bushy, and of which Beornwulf was very proud.
The thrall twitched his head every time an execution took place, not
intentionally, but because he kept twisting round to get a good look at
the performance, while Beornwulf also wished to see how each man met his
death, with the result that his neck was now very stiff, and he himself
was in an impatient, irritable, frame of mind.  He did not care what
became of him; he knew he would die in a few minutes, but none the less,
or rather because of that certainty, he wished to excite Arwald before
he died.

"Hi! old Wolf’s head," he shouted, "thou mountain of flesh, thou!
Arwald, or whatever thy name is; how long am I to sit here and have my
head twisted off my shoulders by this lubberly thrall?  Send that
head-cutting knave down this way, and let me get away from here."

As Arwald paid no attention, Beornwulf began again.

"I say, thou round knave, thou, dost thou not hear?" and he proceeded to
string together a collection of epithets considerably more apposite than
elegant, which so enraged Arwald that to stop his abuse he told the
executioner to go to him next, but Beornwulf had one more idea.  He
called out—

"By Woden’s beard, I am not going to have my fair hair touched by a base
knave; let one of thy eorls come here and hold my hair."

He had beautiful curly, long, fair hair, and took great care of it; and
since great respect was paid to appearance even in those rough times,
and the hair, curiously enough, in all savage tribes and races, is
always the object of great solicitude, although no other attention is
paid to the person, he was allowed to have his wish.  One of the eorls
sitting by Arwald said he would do as the merry knave wanted, and
stepped up to Beornwulf.  He took his position behind him, grasping
firmly the thick, bushy, curly locks.  The other two prisoners moved a
little more to the left, so as to allow room for the executioner to have
full play for his axe; and the headsman prepared to perform his horrid
office.  Beornwulf watched him very steadily, the proper distance was
measured, the executioner told him to sit very steady.  "For," he said,
"thou art a fine young man, and I would be sorry to spoil thy beauty;"
to which Beornwulf replied, "Thank thee, poor knave; but it would take a
good deal to spoil thine."  Which retort so enraged the executioner, who
was a snub-nosed, blear-eyed, red-haired man, and therefore felt the
truth of the remark, that he swung back his axe, poised it, and then
struck with all his force.  There was a sharp cutting sound, a shrill
cry, and a shout of astonishment from the crowd, while a loud mocking
laugh rang out from—whom?  Could it be the dead man?  The crowd strained
to look.  There was no doubt about it. There was Beornwulf roaring with
laughter; but instead of his head being on the ground, it was still on
his shoulders; but something was on the ground. What was it?  The crowd
looked at the eorl.  What was the matter with him?  He was holding up
his arms.  But what had happened to them?  _Where were his hands_?  And
then the trick dawned upon every one.  And there were loud shouts of
applause at Beornwulf’s cleverness, for this was just such a joke as
those rude, barbarous men could understand; and they shouted and
screamed, and roared with laughter.

"Why, Loki, the mischief lover, was nothing to him."  "Let him go free."
"He ought to live," were heard on all sides.  And even Arwald laughed,
so that the tears ran down his face as the splendid joke dawned upon
him.

And this is what had happened.  When the executioner struck his stroke,
Beornwulf, who had been carefully watching him, ducked his head with all
his might, and with a sudden jerk.  The eorl, whose hands were firmly
twisted in his luxuriant hair, was naturally pulled down; the
executioner could not stop his blow, even if he had had time to notice
the stratagem, and the wretched eorl received the full force of the
sweeping cut, with the result that both his hands were shorn off at the
wrists.[1]


[1] The greater part of the above account of these executions is taken
from Mallet’s "Northern Antiquities," where the execution of the
Jomsberg Rovers is extracted from various Scandinavian sources.  I have
inserted them here to give a really true picture of the wild, fierce,
brave manners of that rude epoch.  The episode of the Jomsberg Rovers is
more than 200 years subsequent to the events here narrated.


The exquisiteness of this stratagem consisted not only in the
mortification of the executioner, and the momentary saving of
Beornwulf’s life, but, above all in the disabling of one more of
Beornwulf’s enemies, for so it would count, according to all the
received ideas; and thus at a moment, the most supreme in the life of a
man, Beornwulf had contrived to add one more to the number of victims he
would have for his own particular portion when he arrived in Valhalla,
and his renown for wit would be very great.

But the executioner was furious at the trick that had been played upon
him: he paid no heed to the shouts of the crowd, and, uttering a savage
cry, he rushed upon Beornwulf.  Some of the bystanders shouted to
Beornwulf, to warn him of his danger, but it seemed nothing could save
him, for the man was upon him: when, quick as lightning, Beornwulf flung
himself prostrate upon the ground at the feet of his would-be murderer.
The man heavy, blundering, and blinded by passion, fell over him,
severing the cord with his axe as he fell; and instantly Beornwulf rose
to his feet, seized the axe out of his hand, and dealt him a swinging
death-blow.

Again shouts of applause arose, but this time they were not so
unanimous, the _amour propre_ of the Wihtwaras was becoming hurt.
Beornwulf was a West Saxon and a stranger; it was not right he should
triumph thus over the islanders; it was time his conceit came to an end.
Had he rested on his first success popular favour would have been with
him, or had he simply managed to escape from the blow of the
executioner; but the death of this latter, who was a well-known as well
as a popular character at Wihtgaresbyryg, made many people angry, and
especially Arwald; and he gave orders to have the West Saxon killed at
once.

But Beornwulf’s blood was up now.  He held in his hand the axe; with a
blow he cut the rope which attached the two other prisoners to the long
row of prostrate dead bodies; he called to them to seize axes from the
bystanders, and then rushed to where the other prisoners were standing;
before the guards could interfere, he had cut down one of them, shouted
to the prisoners to imitate him, and struck right and left at any who
were near him.  The whole thing was so sudden, the confusion and noise
were so great, that many people did not know what was happening, while
at the same time a great number of cattle which were being driven up for
supplies, and were close behind the crowd, terrified at the hubbub,
broke away from their drivers, and, with tails erect and lowered horns,
rushed through the crowd, horning many and trampling on more.  Arwald
shouted, stormed, and raved; the leading eorls rushed in among the crowd
and tried to restore some sort of order; but in such a fighting,
struggling mass, confined between the building of the homestead, with
plunging cattle, mad with terror, goring, trampling, rushing wildly here
and there, with a desperate band of men, in whom the love of life was
once more kindled, along with the hope of saving it, what could anyone
do to restore order?  The confusion could only cease with physical
exhaustion.  The noise was terrific.

Beornwulf cut his way towards the nearest opening in the buildings,
followed by many of the prisoners. There was this advantage for them:
they knew what they wanted and had a definite purpose, and were prompted
by the most powerful impulse that could act on human beings when blindly
yielding to the cry of nature.  The instinct of self-preservation taught
them where to go, which instinct, also acting upon their enemies, aided
them in their efforts to escape. At last—how, scarcely any one could
tell—Beornwulf and about twenty more found themselves outside the
buildings with nothing before them but open country right down to the
ford.  With a wild rush they started for the creek, followed by very few
of Arwald’s men.  The confusion, now that it was relieved of a
considerable part of its cause, gradually quieted down, and then Arwald
was able to see that nearly all his prisoners had escaped; heaping
terrific abuse upon the guards who had allowed them to get away, he
ordered his horse to be brought, and all who could to follow him.

The fugitives had strained every nerve to get a good start and were
rapidly rearing the ford, but they had had no food and were exhausted;
gallantly they ran, but it was quite clear that some of them must be
caught again.  Panting, gasping, Beornwulf reached the ford, the tide
was fortunately down and he dashed through it, followed closely by
several others; they had scarcely reached the banks on the other side,
when a wild cheer welcomed them, and Ceolwulf, with Wulfstan and a large
force of boys sprang up and greeted them.  Arwald and his few followers
seeing that all the fugitives had now got within shelter of the stones,
whose disastrous effects still left a mark on his forehead, thought it
more prudent to retire, and all the fugitives were therefore saved.

"Oh, Beornwulf, I am so glad!" cried Wulfstan, as they all stood on the
top of the bank and saw Arwald sullenly rein in his horse and give the
order to return.

"Let’s give him a parting volley.  I do believe I could hit him,"
Wulfstan said, and swinging his sling round his head he sent a stone
whizzing and humming through the air after Arwald, while all the band
set up a derisive shout.  Arwald was just turning round to shake his
fist at them, when the stone struck his horse violently on the hind
quarter, causing it to give a leap into the air.  Arwald was pitched
heavily forwards, and was nearly unseated; as it was he lost his
stirrups, and had to clutch at the mane to keep himself from falling,
while the horse galloped away towards the homestead, and in this
undignified way the Wihtwara chieftain returned to his men.

Wulfstan and all the others shouted with mocking laughter, and then
turned towards the stockade, their spirits considerably relieved at the
safety of the fugitives, and at the unexpected addition to their little
force.

One or two of the sharpest boys were left with Stuff to see how matters
were going, and to watch the enemy, with strict orders to send up word
of what was going on, and if any fresh attack seemed imminent.

"We did that fire well, didn’t we, Beorney?" said Wulfstan, as they
walked up to the stockade, passing the charred gorse on their right.  "I
heard Arwald say how nice our cooking smelt; he little thought how soon
some of his men would feel the fire.  I wish it had been the old fat
knave himself."



                             *CHAPTER XX.*

                *"’TIS TRUE WE ARE IN GREAT DANGER; THE
                    GREATER SHOULD OUR COURAGE BE."*


When Ceolwulf and the rescued party reached the stockade it was a little
past noon; the breeze that had been gently blowing from the east began
to show signs of going round with the sun, for the weather was very
fine.  This fickleness of the wind was noted by Ceolwulf with a
discontented grunt, for it was quite clear that any reinforcements that
Cædwalla might send would be delayed by a westerly or south-westerly
wind.

"Dost thou think Wulf the Atheling reached Selsea?" asked Wulfstan for
about the hundredth time, and Ceolwulf, who was already grumpy enough at
the prospect of the change in the wind, was exasperated at the
persistency of his young lord.

"How can I tell thee?  Why dost thou weary me so with such foolish
questions?  Thou wilt know fast enough when thou seest any boats
coming," and with this answer Wulfstan had to be content, until, in a
moment of thoughtlessness, he should ask the same question again in the
course of a few more minutes.

"I tell thee what it is, Biggun!" said Beornwulf, "I shall not be sorry
for a bit of food; so if thou hast got any hereabouts let me see it."

"All right, man.  Thou shalt have it soon enough," replied Ceolwulf,
leading the way into the now completed stockade.

Beornwulf was surprised to see how well everything had been done.  The
area inside had been made very much larger; unfortunately, now that all
their fighting men were nearly exterminated, almost too large for the
little force who could defend it. Stores of food were piled up at the
sides, and boards laid on the top of these, to act as platforms; logs
were rolled against the only entrance, and shelters made for the
defending force against missiles. Ælfhere and Malachi had been taken
away, and were carefully concealed in a very impervious and wild part of
the country, known only to a few of the most adventurous of the
inhabitants, and it was intended to try to mislead Arwald into thinking
that all the household servants, dependents, and belongings of Ælfhere
were assembled inside the stockade, and to carry out this impression a
few cattle had been kept inside, carefully penned up.  All the trees
that in any way commanded a view into the interior of the little
fortification were cleared away, and a path down to the spring of water
was defended by stout palings.  Altogether, everything that prudence,
foresight, and energy could do to render their position secure had been
done: the only thing wanted to crown the preparations was a suitable
number of defenders, and this it was now impossible to obtain. The
midday meal had been postponed until Ceolwulf returned, and they all sat
down inside the stockade, and made an excellent dinner.  Free, careless,
and in the enjoyment of the most perfect health, the majority of the
men, like thoughtless children, forgot the danger they had passed, or
the almost certain death that awaited them, in the animal pleasure of
the moment, and, like the Homeric heroes, they sat eating much flesh,
and quaffing home-brewed beer, in most absolute and unconcerned
satisfaction.

All listened to Beornwulf’s account of what had gone on at the
homestead, and there was a disapproving grunt from all when they heard
how narrowly Arwald had missed being killed by Athelhune’s knife, but
the applause was great as they heard how nobly the West Saxon eorldoman
had met his death.  But when Beornwulf came to his own part in the
tragedy the rejoicing was tumultuous. The recital of these stirring
deeds, and the example of stern, enduring indifference to death, had an
excellent effect upon the men, and when dinner was over they all felt
equal to any number of enemies.  Indeed, so carried away were they all,
that many openly said it was too much like women to stay behind wooden
walls; they ought to sally out into the open; they could easily defeat
such a miserable lot as the followers of Arwald, and among these was
Wulfstan, who was overjoyed at the successes that had crowned his part
in the fray hitherto. Although they could not help being depressed at
the loss of all their fighting men in the fatal slaughter down by the
meadows near the Yare, yet they attributed this entirely to the gross
mismanagement of Wulf the Atheling, and their subsequent diversion in
harassing the enemy at the ford, and the final total rout and retreat of
Arwald, had fully compensated in their eyes for their previous defeat.
And now this last success, in which Arwald had been bearded in his own
hall, as it were, crowned the whole, and not a man doubted but that they
would not only hold their own until Cædwalla could send them
reinforcements, but would totally annihilate Arwald by their own unaided
valour.

Ceolwulf alone was not blinded by their successes; in fact he could not
but see that unless help were to come to them soon they must all succumb
to the enormous odds Arwald would bring against them. After all, what
had they done?  They had worried Arwald; they had driven him back by a
most fortunate stratagem, but such as could not succeed again.  They had
rescued some twenty of their own men, who would never have had to be
rescued but for the bad generalship of their leader; but they had lost
more than seventy of their best men, and among them Athelhune and the
Atheling Wulf.  They had put off the evil day for a few hours, that was
all—a great deal if they could see any help coming; but at best no help
was likely to come for another twenty-four hours.

Anxiously Ceolwulf looked at the clouds, the wind was getting more and
more to the west, but it might go back again at nightfall.  But how
could they hope to hold out if once Arwald attacked in earnest? There
was one hope.  Arwald did not show any signs of moving yet; at least, no
news had come from the outposts, and it was now getting on well into the
afternoon.  Perhaps his reinforcements had not come up, or he might
intend a night attack.

The force left to defend the stockade amounted to not more than a
hundred men.  There was a large number of boys, but they could be of
little use in a hand-to-hand encounter, and Ceolwulf turned it over in
his mind whether it would not be better to leave them outside under
Wulfstan; they had shown such talents for annoying the enemy without
themselves receiving any damage, and they were so perfectly at home in
the intricate paths and rough tracks, over the hills and through the
woods, that he thought it would be wisest to send them outside, they
might thus escape the destruction which was sure to await those in the
stockade, and might create a useful diversion by stoning the enemy from
the cover of the woods, for in running they could outstrip most men, and
knew the land well.

Full of these anxious thoughts Ceolwulf had been meditatively leaning,
with his head on his hands looking dreamily over the parapet of the
stockade. The stockade from this point commanded a view, through a gap
in the trees, where the land fell abruptly to a wooded dell below, of
the distant sea to the east of the island, and consequently towards
Selsea.  The sun was getting low in the heavens, but his rays were still
bright; and the light shone full on the far-distant line of downs beyond
Cissanceaster.  Ceolwulf had been gazing vaguely in this direction for
some time, in the see-nothing sort of way in which men look intently at
objects without in the least grasping their reality.

"Why, Biggun, old man," called Beornwulf, who, now that he was
thoroughly rested, and had had a good dinner, felt equal to anything,
"What art thou looking so hard for? that is not where Arwald will come
from;" and, as he spoke, he got up on to the platform by his side, but
not looking in the same direction as Ceolwulf.  Glancing up at the sky,
he said, "I think the breeze is drawing more from the north again.  We
can’t make another beacon fire for Arwald, can we?"  Then he turned
round and looked out towards the sea, and in another second shouted,
"There’s a fleet coming this way!  Look at that dark patch on the water,
half-way between Selsea and us."

Ceolwulf looked, and instantly perceived that he had been gazing at this
object for some time, but had never given it a thought.

There was no doubt about it.  That dark patch, with here and there a
brighter speck in the midst of it, was a flotilla, and the brighter
specks were sails.

It was Cædwalla coming to save them.

But would he—could he arrive in time?  Other eyes must have seen the
flotilla too.  Arwald would never allow the invaders to land without
crushing the rebels first; and the flotilla could not, under the most
favourable circumstances, reach Brædynge haven before two or three
hours, and then they would have to disembark and march three miles
before they could help them; and in four hours there might not be a man
alive in the stockade.

At this moment Stuff rushed up, shouting that Arwald had crossed the
Yare with more men than ever, and was advancing upon the stockade.

"Well, then, that puts an end to all my doubts," said Ceolwulf.  "Wulf,
do thou take the boys outside. Thou art a sharp lad.  Send two or three
down to the point at the entrance to the haven.  Tell them to light a
fire there, and as soon as they can, let them tell Cædwalla where we
are, and bid him hasten to our help.  Anyhow," muttered Ceolwulf, "he
will avenge us on Arwald, and the eorldoman Ælfhere will be saved, and
the boy too.  If that happens, what matters it what becomes of an old
man like me?"

So saying, the old Wihtwara got down off the platform and prepared to
give the final directions before the last decisive struggle began.  It
was now about an hour before sunset.  Why Arwald had not attacked sooner
he could not understand; and he argued that he would not have attacked
now had he not seen the flotilla, from which he concluded that all the
reinforcements had not reached him, or that there had been some
accident.  Ceolwulf directed Wulfstan to go outside at once, bidding him
be sure to do nothing rashly, but make his way down to the shore, and,
above all things, keep out of Arwald’s way.

The boy took an affectionate leave of Biggun, but secretly resolved he
would have a shot at Arwald before he retreated; and he was not sorry to
have an opportunity of distinguishing himself without Ceolwulf’s
guidance and direction.  He had every confidence in himself, indeed too
much so, and was already turning over a deep scheme by which he might
lead Arwald into destruction.  When he got outside the stockade,
therefore, he called Stuff to him, and the two boys entered into an
earnest conversation, at the end of which Stuff, with a look of great
and complacent cunning, and much mysterious importance, disappeared in
the woods, while Wulfstan led the band of boys away towards the Brædynge
haven side of the hill.

After they had gone about half a mile they came to a marshy piece of
waste land, surrounded on two sides with steep hillocks and high thick
gorse bushes. On the other side was a narrow strip of shingly beach, for
it was close to the haven, and at the farther end was a dense wood.
Wulfstan told the boys to lie concealed behind the bushes, and when he
whistled they were to spring up and riddle the enemy with stones, and
then rush away into the wood at the other end, and thence return towards
the stockade, to give such aid as they could to Ceolwulf.

Stuff had been told by Wulfstan to let himself be caught by Arwald’s
men, who had been trying to capture some one to act as guide to where
the rest of Ælfhere’s party had hidden themselves.  It was the
accidental overhearing of the conversation between some of Arwald’s
eorls that first put the idea into Stuff’s head; and he had suggested it
to Wulfstan, who grasped at the scheme with joy.  All went as they
wished, Stuff allowed himself to be seen by one of the flanking party of
Arwald’s force.  He pretended to run away, stumbled, and was caught.  He
made sufficient resistance to make his captor think that he was a
desperate youngster, mad at being captured. Indeed, he acted his part so
well that he got a very hard knock on the head to keep him quiet.  He
was brought up before Arwald, who, with many vituperations, ordered him
to show them the way to Ælfhere. Stuff at first sullenly declared he
didn’t know it; then on being threatened with the most awful tortures if
he didn’t at once tell, he pretended to be overcome with terror, and
said he did know.  He was then ordered to lead the way at once,
whereupon he implored them not to make him show them, "For," said he,
"they will kill me if they see me."  His terror seemed so real that one
of the eorls said he might walk by his side, and he would protect him.
Having at last very sullenly consented, he led them towards the spot
where Wulfstan was in ambush, and which also seemed to Arwald to be in
the right direction, as he had smelt the smell of cooking coming from
the left hand when he advanced last night.  Everybody was the more
convinced that the boy was leading them right, because of his manifest
reluctance to give the information, and because of his obvious terror.
They little knew what a depth of cunning lay beneath that dull, stolid,
cowed-looking exterior.

As they advanced towards the morass, the horses sank deeper into the
soft spongy ground, and many of the eorls got off to walk in order to
save their horses. Arwald, remembering the catastrophe of the night
before, and, determining not to be so caught again, sent a strong body
of men to scour the higher ground, directing them to push on some way to
their right; and Stuff, seeing this, and knowing that they must come
upon the stockade if they went on in that direction, muttered in a tone
of satisfaction to himself, but loud enough for the eorl to hear:

"An’ they go that way they’ll get stuck in the mire, and on being
interrogated by the eorl, he looked up in a startled way, and pretended
he had not said anything. But the eorl was not going to be put off, and
insisted on knowing what he meant, whereupon with much reluctance the
boy said there were pitfalls and swamps up there.  When Arwald was told
this, he was about to give the order for the men to fall back, when a
shout from one of the advance guard told him that something had been
seen.

While the attention of everybody was directed to the point from which
the man shouted, Stuff took the opportunity to duck under the belly of
the eorl’s horse and escape into a thick clump of furze, or gorse, where
he lay hid, but listening eagerly for what was going to follow.  He
heard Arwald shout for the man to come and tell him what he had seen;
and he heard the scout report that he had seen a clearing in the forest,
and the palings of a well-built stockade; but whilst they were talking
the sound of a rustling near him, made him lie very close.  The next
moment he saw Wulfstan crawl into the clump followed by a dozen boys.
Stuff gave a low whistle which caused Wulfstan to pause.  "Stuff, is
that thou?" he whispered cautiously.  "Ay, it’s me sure enough," replied
the boy in the same cautious tone.

"What’s up, Stuff?  Why don’t they go on?" whispered Wulfstan.

"They’ve seen the stockade, and are going to attack it."

At this moment they could hear the eorl who had undertaken to look after
Stuff exclaim with surprise that the boy had gone—and several men began
beating the bushes round.  This was getting too close; so Wulfstan and
all of them begun to crawl back into thicker and more distant cover,
when suddenly one of the men who was beating the bushes caught sight of
them and instantly uttered a view halloo.  "Gone away; gone away," he
shouted, dashing after the boys who now that they were seen rose to
their feet and darted off, scattering in different directions. Wulfstan
and Stuff, with some three or four more, kept together, and made for the
thickest part of the wood to the north of the stockade hoping to be able
to baffle their pursuers, double round behind them, and then follow them
up, and perhaps catch them at a disadvantage somewhere, and so do them
some damage.

Three men on horseback, and about half-a-dozen footmen, had started
after Wulfstan, while others had gone after the rest of the boys, for
Arwald’s force was now so numerous, that he could easily afford to send
off parties to scour the country, while he, with the main body, could
advance to the attack on the stockade, whose existence he now for the
first time learnt; and thus a very great danger arose lest the rest of
the women and children, who were encamped right away at the south-east
extremity of Binbrygge, should be discovered and all be made prisoners.

Arwald, naturally concluding from the impracticable nature of the
ground, and the accidental discovery of the stockade so far on his
right, as well as from the disappearance of the captive guide, that they
were being led into an ambush, gave the order for all the force, with
the exception of the small bodies sent in pursuit of the boys, to
advance upon the stockade.

The cavalry, led by Arwald, marched across the outskirts of the burnt
common, the scene of their rout and disgrace the evening before, while
the footmen pushed into the woods on either side.

"By Freya’s golden hair," said Arwald, as he came in sight of the steep
knoll, on the top of which was the stockade, "but these knaves have
chosen a good position.  We must carry this place quickly, or we shall
have more to deal with than we know how."  And he looked up anxiously at
the sky.

The breeze was clearly fresher, and what was worse was blowing from the
north-east.  The sun was going down fast.

"Come, my men, there’s no time to be lost.  There are enough of us here
to make an end of these cripples without much difficulty.  Begin the
assault."

The various eorls were at the head of their separate bands, and
dismounting, as Arwald did, they led their men into the wood, leaving
the horses outside under a guard.  The attacking force was so powerful
that there were enough men to assault the stockade all round.  And
Arwald trusted to a combined rush to carry the place.  The palisades
were about nine feet high, in some places higher; it was, therefore, no
easy matter to get over, but the leaders ordered their men to cut down
trees from the wood outside, and make a sloping approach to the
palisades.  The sharp noise of axes felling trees, resounded on all
sides for the next quarter of an hour or more, and then crash, crack,
swish, came the trees to the ground, and again the busy axes were plied,
lopping off the limbs and trimming the trunks.  As soon as the trees
were ready, they were carried up to the stockade and rolled, or placed,
at the foot of it, and here the service became dangerous, for the
defenders were naturally not idle. They had pierced holes in the
stockade, and putting their spears through, they tried to stab their
assailants as they came near, while others leant over the top of the
palisades and struck down at the men engaged in putting the timber in
its place.  They had very few missile weapons, and could therefore do
little to annoy the enemy at a distance, and were compelled to await the
completion of the preparations for the assault in enforced idleness.
Ceolwulf had distributed his men to the best advantage, mingling the
young with the old, in the way most likely to benefit both, and all were
ready for the final death struggle.  Few words were spoken on either
side, while the placing of the logs outside went on rapidly.  The
thickest trees were first rolled up and then the ends of the next set of
logs were placed on these, crosswise, with the other end on the ground;
and in this way a rough, sloping, approach was made up to the stockade.
Where one set of trees was not enough another log was rolled up on the
cross ones, which were at right angles to the palisade, and these were
wedged up so as to make them more secure.  The stockade was approached
by about twenty different sloping stages on all sides, but as they did
not touch each other, there were intervening spaces which were not open
to attack, thus the defenders were able to concentrate all their efforts
on the spots which were most threatened.

Arwald, seeing that all the preparations were now completed, gave the
signal for the assault to begin. With a shout of defiance and
anticipated victory the Wihtwaras threw themselves upon the stages and
rushed to the attack.  Axes gleamed on all sides, and crowds of men
pressed close behind each other.  The front ranks tried to clamber over
the palisade, and were sternly met by the desperate defenders.  Such of
the enemy as tried to get over, lost hands or arms from the quick blows
of the watchful adherents of Ælfhere, and all the horrors of previous
assaults were repeated over again with the same dreadful monotony. There
was the same desperate valour in assailing, as in defending, and victory
inclined to neither side decidedly as yet.  But it was clear that the
defence could not last long.  Already many of Ceolwulf’s party had
received terrible wounds, although none had been killed outright; but
they had inflicted much loss on their foe, who had hitherto failed to
effect an entrance.  But there was no cessation of the assault; as fast
as the front rank succumbed there were others to take their places,
pressing with furious ardour to annihilate the little band inside, for
all Arwald’s followers knew of the invasion with which they were
threatened, and were keenly alive to the importance of sweeping away
these few antagonists first.

Ceolwulf looked anxiously at the sky.  The sun had just set, and the
breeze came cool and keen from the north-east.  Could there be any
chance of their holding out another hour?  He thought not.  "Never
mind," he kept saying to himself, "I have done all that could be done,
all my lords are safe; and, anyway, I should not live for many more
years.  Better die now than live to be old and useless.  But," he added,
savagely chopping at a sturdy Wihtwara, who was boldly putting his leg
over the stockade, "thou shalt not send me to Nifleheim, young man," and
the luckless foeman fell back with a leg the less, to bleed to death
outside the stockade; but there were many more to take his place, and
weary work it was fighting against time, and hope, and terrible odds.

Arwald had given orders to break down the palisade that led to the
spring, and a desperate fight was taking place here.  The Wihtwaras had
broken in, and were pushing back the defenders, but the narrow way got
blocked with wounded and dead, and the assailants paused a moment to
clear away the bodies which impeded them.  Ceolwulf, seeing the lull,
shouted to his men to leave the passage and pile up some logs that were
inside, so as to close the entrance, but it was too late.  The enemy
dashed in, and a hand-to-hand fight took place in the narrow space
inside the stockade. Beornwulf, seeing all was over, determined not to
die cooped up in that shambles.  He shouted to Ceolwulf to leap over the
stockade, and cut their way into the woods.  It was a hopeless and
desperate venture, but Beornwulf had already escaped certain death once
that day, and he believed he could not die for the next twenty-four
hours, at least.[1]  Behind them, inside, a fearful murder was going on;
before them was at least a chance of life, at any rate, no worse death.
Springing over the stockade, therefore, Ceolwulf and Beornwulf, with
four or five more, dropped down into the interval between the raised
stages that were crowded with the enemy pressing up to take their part
in the awful scene going on inside.  Armed and clothed like the other
Wihtwaras, they were not recognised as the very men the followers of
Arwald had come to slay, and they were able to push through the lines of
assailants, who thought they were only some of the numerous men who had
got pushed over the edge of the stages by the pressure from behind, and
were returning to take up their places on the stages again to renew the
assault, and some even jeered at them as clumsy fellows who had had to
make room for their betters, while others openly laughed at them as
cowards who were not sorry to get out of the way of the enemy.


[1] It was a popular superstition, and is still, that if a man escaped
imminent death or had a man killed alongside of him, he could not be
killed that day—_vide_ Prosper Mérimée, "L’en lelvement de la Redoute."


"Thou art right there, my friend," said Ceolwulf, who, being a Wihtwara
himself, ran no risk of his dialect betraying him.  "But it will want
someone to bury yon men, and so I intend stopping behind."

"Dost thou, though, my shirking knave," cried Arwald, who had taken no
part in the assault himself, but waited outside to watch the attack, and
encourage, or reprimand, his men.  "Do thou go back at once, and don’t
let me——  Ah!  By Woden, but thou art a bigger scoundrel——"

He did not finish his sentence, for Beornwulf and Biggun made a rush for
him, overjoyed at the opportunity of revenging all their wrongs on the
chieftain himself.



                             *CHAPTER XXI.*

            *"LET US DIE IN HONOUR; ONCE MORE BACK AGAIN."*


Arwald, seeing the determined rush made upon him by Beornwulf and
Biggun, reined in his horse, swung it round, and, striking his heels
into the animal’s side, caused it to leap past the two desperate men.
As Arwald did so, he called out to the men nearest him to fall upon the
traitors, for so at first he took them to be; but, seeing the woods
before them, neither Beornwulf nor Biggun waited to have another attempt
at Arwald.  The instinct of life urged them on, and they dashed into the
woods unmolested.

"There’s some death the Norns are keeping for that knave," said
Ceolwulf, as soon as he and Beornwulf found themselves at a sufficient
distance to relax their speed.  "He has always escaped hitherto, but let
him look out, his time has nearly come now."

"Are we going right for the shore?"

"It’s not far off, and Cædwalla ought to have reached it by now; but,
hist! who’s coming this way?"

They crouched down.  A few horsemen and footmen were approaching through
the wood, evidently guiding their course by the sounds that proceeded
from the stockade, where the work of death was very nearly over.  The
troop now drawing near might be the advanced guard of their deliverers.
This was almost too good to be hoped for; or it might be some of the
raiders of Arwald’s party; anyway, Beornwulf and Biggun had better lie
still.

As the first horseman came up he was saying to the nearest footman who
was walking by his side that they ought to make more haste or they would
get none of the booty; and, besides, the news they had to bring was very
important.

"I wish I knew what that news was," muttered Ceolwulf.

"Why, what have they got hanging down over the horses shoulders in front
of him?" said Beornwulf whose sight was keener than his old companion’s.
"It’s a body, I do believe, and the body of a boy, too."

Ceolwulf peered out between the dry leaves, and the next moment, without
a second’s reflection, flung himself out of the bushes, and rushed with
a wild cry of rage straight at the horseman, oversetting the nearest
footman in his rush.  With one hand he seized the bridle of the horse,
and with the other he struck the rider a tremendous blow on the arm, and
before the man, taken utterly by surprise, could strike a blow in his
own defence, Ceolwulf struck him again, and this time with a deep groan
the man fell heavily from the saddle and dropped to the ground.

Beornwulf seeing the danger his old comrade was in rushed out after him,
and began laying about him manfully, but the odds were against them;
however, Biggun with great presence of mind jumped into the saddle, from
which he had just ousted the owner, and, turning the horse’s head,
galloped back towards where they had come from, shouting to Beornwulf to
follow him.  The attention of the men was taken up in trying to stop
Ceolwulf, or it would have gone hardly with the West Saxon; as it was,
he was enabled to dash back into the wood again, and so escaped the
notice of the enemy.  Ceolwulf urged his horse at the utmost to escape
from his pursuers, but the horse was heavily weighted with the double
burden; however, for the first few minutes it managed to increase the
slight start obtained by the unexpected rapidity of Ceolwulf’s
movements; gradually, however, it became clear to Ceolwulf that he must
be captured, in spite all his efforts, and he did not know what to do.

The reason of this desperate onslaught was that he saw there hanging
over the horse’s shoulders his young lord Wulfstan; whether he were dead
or not he could not tell, but he hoped, as they were taking the trouble
to bring him into camp, that he was still alive, and on the wild hope of
rescuing him, old Biggun had staked his life; and now, after all, with
help so near at hand, it seemed as though both must lose their lives.

"Beornwulf," the old man shouted, "catch this horse when I get off it,
and ride like the wind towards yonder copse," but no answer came, and
Ceolwulf felt it was all over with both of them.  Still he urged on the
horse, every stride was bringing them nearer safety, but the horsemen
behind were close upon him.  Ceolwulf turned round, there was only one
man quite close, and he was some distance from the others.  Could not he
manage to disable this man?  The Wihtwara gradually drew nearer, his axe
was uplifted, the weapon seemed over Ceolwulf’s head, crash it came
down, and with it the Wihtwara rolling on the ground, the blow had
missed Ceolwulf, but what had knocked the man down?  Ceolwulf had struck
no blow, he was far too intent in pressing on his horse, and for the
moment concluded the man’s horse had stumbled on the rough ground; it
was not until afterwards that he learnt how he had been saved.  Without
pausing a moment, Biggun rode steadily on; the fallen horseman caused
the rest of the pursuers to stop where he fell, and one of them
dismounting, went up to the man; turning the body over, he found that
one eye was knocked out, and that the man was dead.  Whether this was
the result of the fall or not could not be told; but the man remounted
his horse, and they then gave up the chase and returned to Arwald.

Meanwhile Ceolwulf continued his course towards the shore.  The evening
was changing into night; as he emerged from a dense part of the wood he
suddenly came upon a brilliant blaze of light, and knew that his orders
had been carried out.  Riding up to the fire he found a crowd of boys
assembled round it, and he was not long in learning the news. Cædwalla
was within a mile of the land, and might disembark in less than half an
hour.  But why did not Arwald come down to meet him?  He might do so
yet; in any case, Ceolwulf could not longer delay attending to his young
lord.  Tenderly the boyish figure was lifted off the horse, and gently
he was laid down by the fire.  He lay quite still, only blood welled up
in a deep cut on his head, and all could see that he was desperately
wounded.

"Oh! my young master!" cried Ceolwulf, "Why could not I have received
this instead of thee?  How shall I meet my lord Ælfhere?  Ah!  Biggun,
thou art a dolt and a dotard to have allowed him to go from thee."

And then he enquired of the boys around how it had happened.  Several of
the boys had seen it all, but could do nothing to save their young lord;
at least so they said, but Ceolwulf would not believe them, and heaped
maledictions on them for their cowardice and want of devotion to their
lord.  It appeared that Wulfstan, while running away, saw one of his
companions fall, and the noble boy knowing that he would be killed,
stopped and fitted a stone to the sling preparatory to casting it at the
first man of the enemy who should approach the disabled boy.  While he
was doing this and was totally careless of his own safety, a Wihtwara on
horseback, the same whom Ceolwulf had killed, broke through the bushes
behind Wulfstan and fetching him a blow with his axe knocked him down,
and then dismounting, put him on his horse as Ceolwulf had found him.

"If ye boys had had a quarter of your young lord’s pluck ye would never
have let him be hurt, much less taken.  Could none of ye have tried to
save the boy who fell, instead of letting your young lord do it? And
could none of ye have got in the way of the knave who gave him this
wound?  Ah!  I am ashamed of ye all!  Ye are a set of cowardly
do-nothings; and what a chance ye have let slip; it doesn’t happen to a
boy every day; no, nor once in a year in these more peaceful times—it’s
true we have had a little more life lately—(by which Ceolwulf meant
death)—for a boy, I say, to have the good luck to get killed for his
lord, and here with this chance before ye, not one of ye had the sense
or the gratitude to take it.  Ugh! get along with ye all for a pack of
skulking foxes."

The upbraidings of Ceolwulf caused many of the boys to hang their heads,
and several reproached themselves for not having got killed instead of
Wulfstan.  However, there was no help for it now, and all stood round
looking at the pale and noble features of the senseless boy.  His fair
hair fell back round his face in waving locks, his eyes were shut, and
the pallor of his cheeks, usually so full of colour and health, was very
ominous.  Ceolwulf raised his head on his knee and bandaged the cut as
well as he could, telling the boys to get him some salt water from the
sea.

"Shall I go and find old Deva and the bald-headed man?" suggested one of
the boys.

"Ay, my son, that’s the best thing thou canst do, and the sooner thou
bringest them the better, for we shall have work enough to occupy us all
soon. Which of ye knows the way?"

"I do," and "I do," resounded from all sides, and Ceolwulf chose the
sharpest-looking of the lads, and sent off three of them, telling them
to inform Malachi, or "the bald-headed one," of what had happened, but
on no account to alarm Ælfhere, the eorldoman.

Away the boys darted, and were soon lost in the darkness.  Ceolwulf
continued to bathe the wound, watching anxiously for some return of
consciousness; but the heavy lids remained shut, and the breathing
seemed to grow weaker.

"Ah!  Wulfstan, my dear young lord, hadst thou only stayed at Boseham
with Ædric all would have been well.  To think of the fights I have been
through and my life worth nothing, and this boy, the joy of his father,
and born to be an eorl and Heretoga, if ever there was one, to die
before he is twelve years old!" and old Ceolwulf groaned bitterly.  "How
beautiful the lad is!" he went on.  "Surely neither Baldur, nor Woden,
nor Thor, could have looked handsomer; but Baldur died.  Ah! yes, beauty
is what death loves, and so Baldur died young."

While Ceolwulf was thus mourning over Wulfstan he forgot all about
surrounding objects, and was suddenly startled into consciousness of
this world and the present by a boy running up to him and saying,
breathlessly:

"Master Biggun, here’s some boats come ashore at yonder point, and
there’s a sight of people getting out."

"Why, whatever am I doing?  I’m forgetting everything. Here, one of ye
boys, run down and show the people the best way up; ask them, for some
one will show thee—no, that won’t do.  Tell the first man thou seest
that old Ceolwulf, who fought at Cissanceaster along with Cædwalla, is
here, and wants help. Now, off with thee; what art thou waiting for?"

"But, maybe, they mayn’t be friends; how do I know they won’t hurt me?"

"By Thor’s hammer but what are we coming to? These boys daren’t get
killed for their lord, and now they are frightened of their own friends!
Get along with thee directly, and do what thou art told, or it will be
the worse for thee."

The boy went off not much reassured, and intending fully to disobey
Ceolwulf as soon as he got out of sight; but he had scarcely gone three
steps into the darkness when he felt his arm seized, and a deep voice in
a very different dialect to his own, but still such as he could
understand well enough, say:

"Not so fast, youngster; tell us who they are round this fire, and why
it is lighted?"

Paralysed with terror, the boy could not answer for a moment, but seeing
the gleam of sharp steel as his captor held up a long knife before him,
he called out:

"Oh, don’t kill me!  I was sent by old Ceolwulf, who did something
somewhere, to find somebody—I can’t remember who—and there he is sitting
by the fire; and if thou wert to kill me I couldn’t tell thee any more,
indeed I couldn’t, so please don’t do it."

Recognizing the truth of the last statement, the man put his knife away,
and called to some men behind.  These now came up, and the boy saw a
large body of tall, powerful, well-armed men, most of them in the prime
of life.  Among them he noticed a magnificent man, taller than any of
the others, and with a helmet surmounted by a golden dragon.  The light
of the fire flashed upon his close-fitting shirt of mail, on his sword
and battle-axe, and shone in his bright, clear eyes.

"Did I hear the name of Ceolwulf?" he asked, eagerly.  "Where is the
fine old man?  Lead me at once to him, my boy; no harm shall happen to
thee if thou wilt tell the truth and do what thou art told."

The boy pointed to where Ceolwulf was sitting, hidden by the fire being
between them, and the dragon-crested warrior, closely followed by a
younger figure, hastened to greet him.  The next moment a cry of joy and
grief rang out as the younger figure, in spite of his lameness, outran
the chieftain.

"Oh!  Wulfy, my dear brother Wulf, to think I should find thee like
this;" and Ædric knelt down by Ceolwulf and burst into tears, sobbing
bitterly as he took his brother’s hand in his.

"What!  Ceolwulf, my fine youth," said Cædwalla. "This is a bad
business; the brave little lad is not dead, is he?  Let me look at him."
So saying, the kind-hearted king bent down and took the other limp hand,
while he listened for his breathing.  After a minute he rose and said,
"He’s not dead, but he wants attention; have ye no women near who can
look after him?"

"I have sent, my lord, for help, and it ought soon to be here," answered
Ceolwulf, sadly.

"Well, I can’t be of any use, and I won’t take thee away from the boy.
While the rest of my men are coming ashore—By the way," broke off
Cædwalla, "see that the boats are taken to a place of safety for the
night.  Thou canst send some of thy people to help us in this, canst
thou not?" he added, turning to Ceolwulf.

"Our people are all slain," replied Biggun sadly.

"What! no one left?  Has it gone so hardly with thee as all that?"

"There are none but women and children and feeble old men.  All our
bravest youth died with Wulf the Atheling, or were killed in cold blood
by Arwald, or were slaughtered but now on yonder hill."

"Where are Athelhune, and Osborn, and Beornwulf, and the three that came
with my brother Wulf?"

"All are dead for ought I know.  Athelhune perished, slain by Arwald;
Beornwulf may have escaped. Osborn and the others died an hour or so
ago, on yonder hill."

Cædwalla’s handsome features had gradually assumed a fierce expression;
a wild, stern light shone in his eyes, and a tightening of his hand over
his axe told of the storm within.

"By Woden’s beard," he burst forth, "by all the joys of Valhalla, I
swear to avenge their blood!  Not unhonoured shall they be in the abodes
above, or wherever the soul of man goeth.  Before I leave this island, I
vow to kill all of the race of Arwald that cometh in my way, be it man
or woman or sucking child; for not in fair fight were they slain.  Oh!
Athelhune, my comrade, my right hand, my more than friend, why was I not
here to save thee?  But I am here to avenge thee, and right well shalt
thou be avenged."

"Is this a time to talk of vengeance?" said a voice near Cædwalla.
"Rather humble thyself before the strong hand of the Almighty, and give
Him thanks that thou art yet in the land of the living, when so many
souls have gone unregenerate, unbaptised, to their last account.  Man,
swear not such awful curses. There may come a time when they will recoil
on thine own head."

"Who is this that dares to rebuke Cædwalla?" said the king haughtily.

"A poor servant of the Lord—one Malachi, of Boseham."

Ædric had turned joyfully at the voice, and felt new hope for his
brother.

"Oh! brother Malachi, come here; see what has happened to Wulfstan."

"What!  Ædric, my son; hast thou come to this sinful and blood-guilty
land?  And how are Father Dicoll and brother Corman?  Verily my heart
yearns for news of them."

"Oh, Malachi, I will tell thee all about them while thou art looking at
Wulfstan; but do tell me if he is alive?"

Malachi stooped down—he had brought some balsam with him, and a few
remedies—and he gently examined the wounded boy.  With a very grave face
he signed to Ceolwulf to let him feel his pulse, and then said, "Canst
thou make a shelter for him here? it will be better to keep him quite
quiet if we can."

Ceolwulf nodded assent, and Cædwalla directed some of the sails of the
boats to be brought up, and a shelter was soon made.

"Deva will be here soon," said Malachi.  "She has got some food with
her.  We will make some strong broth for him."

Cædwalla, seeing that the boy was in good hands, called Ceolwulf aside,
and consulted on what was best to be done.  After he had heard the old
man’s ideas, he gave orders that all the men he had brought with him
should encamp where they were till morning, as now the stockade was lost
there was no need to risk an advance through the thick woods in the
dark.  It was clearly ascertained that the women and children and old
people belonging to Ælfhere were safe, so there was no occasion to weary
the men with a march immediately after their voyage.

All through the night Malachi, in spite of his wounded arm, attended
ceaselessly on Wulfstan. Ædric had intended keeping awake, but the sea
voyage, the excitement, and the novelty of using his leg, had made him
very sleepy, and in spite of himself he fell off into a sound sleep.
Ceolwulf had been so busy helping Cædwalla that he had not had time to
tell Ædric of his father being still alive, and Malachi had not thought
of it; in fact, the critical condition of Wulfstan put all other ideas
out of their heads. Wulfstan had opened his eyes once, but there was no
consciousness in them, and a burning patch of red in each cheek had
taken the place of the ghastly pallor of a few hours before.

With dawn, Cædwalla was up; he had brought sufficient food for his men
for a couple of days, and therefore was not compelled to action from
necessity; and, besides, there were all the supplies of Ælfhere’s people
hidden among the woods; but Cædwalla was nevertheless burning to come to
blows with Arwald, and the order was given for all to advance directly
breakfast was over.  The number of men Cædwalla had brought was over a
thousand, and their equipment and appearance left little to be desired.
There had been a difficulty in bringing over any horses, but there were
five or six brought over for Cædwalla, and his chief eorldomen, and
Ceolwulf had despatched during the night some of the boys to bring over
as many of Ælfhere’s horses as they could.  He himself had the horse he
had captured from the Wihtwara he had killed, when he rescued Wulfstan
the evening before.

"My old friend," said Cædwalla, when all was ready, "I must ask thee to
ride along with us, and show us the way.  I know thou wantest to be with
thy young lord, but he is in careful hands, and we cannot get on without
thee yet.  I promise thee rest enough after we have established our
right to rule the Wihtwaras."

Ceolwulf had not thought of being left behind, and was flattered at this
public notice of himself before so many warriors, and many of them the
chief eorldomen of Wessex.  All being now ready, the advance began.
Cædwalla had far too much experience of war to be led into any trap as
Arwald had been.  He sent on a powerful advance guard under the guidance
of Ceolwulf, and the keenest and most experienced of his men were
ordered to march at some little distance on each flank.  In this way,
although their progress was slow, their security against any surprise
was certain. They had not proceeded far, when the leading footmen came
across the body of a man lying on a bank. Turning him over, Ceolwulf
found it was Beornwulf, and he was delighted to find that he was only
asleep from exhaustion.  He at once had him sent into the camp, and
directed that every care should be taken of him.  Cædwalla was much
pleased to see his old follower again, and promised he would not forget
him.

The little army advanced to the stockade without any further
interruption.  Here a dreadful sight presented itself.  Arwald had
abandoned the place, evidently feeling it necessary to retire to his own
district, and call up all the fighting men of the island for the
decisive battle that must take place; for he was not the man to allow
himself to be killed without a fight.  The scene inside the stockade was
awful. Accustomed as Cædwalla and his men were to fearful sights, they
had never seen so terrific a spectacle as was here, crowded into the
narrow limits of that gory enclosure.  Ceolwulf noted with grim
satisfaction that many of Arwald’s men had died; he found Osborn under a
pile of slain, and many of Ælfhere’s old servants had died hard.

Cædwalla made use of the ghastly spectacle to arouse his men to fiercer
ardour, and then ordered the column to advance.  When they emerged on
the black and charred common, and the successful stratagem was explained
by Ceolwulf to Cædwalla, the king was loud in his praises of the pluck,
determination, and skill of the little band of defenders, and vowed that
in all his experience he had never heard of or seen a better executed
ambush.  He was especially struck with the readiness and sagacity of the
boys.  As they advanced Cædwalla admired the fertility of the island,
and the suitability of their choice in retiring into Binbrygge-ea.
Crossing the ford, Ceolwulf pointed out the ruined Roman villa among the
bushes, and told how nobly Athelhune had defended it against the attack
of Arwald’s people, and showed Cædwalla where the homestead was.  The
king declined to visit it now, but sent on a party to find Athelhune’s
remains, and have them decently laid out, with a view to burying him, as
became a West Saxon eorldoman and faithful adherent of his.

As they advanced farther into the island, and the country became more
open, Cædwalla directed Ceolwulf to take a force along the ridge of the
downs that separated the north side of the island from the south, while
he, with one of Ælfhere’s old servants to act as guide, marched parallel
to Ceolwulf, along the valley to the south.  Every precaution was taken,
and strict injunctions were given that each column was to halt if the
other were attacked.  Touch was kept up between the flanking and main
column by a light band of active young men.  In this way the army got as
far as where Arreton now is without coming in contact with the enemy.
Here Cædwalla gave orders that the two columns should halt, and have
their mid-day meal.  He himself rode up to the top of the hill and
joined Ceolwulf, who pointed out to him, from this natural observatory,
all the objects within sight.  At his feet the land sloped away towards
the north in a gradual descent to the Solent, clothed in dense oak
woods, through which meandered three narrow openings of the sea.  The
one towards the north-west was the most important, and looked a noble
inlet as it lay gleaming like silver far down below, embowered in dense
oak forest.  The creek more to the north-east seemed very narrow at the
entrance, but widened out into a splendid sheet of water as it
penetrated farther inland.  The dense virgin forest surrounded the
glassy surface, and there was no trace of life anywhere.  Between these
two creeks lay a third much smaller one, whose existence was only
faintly indicated by a dip in the woods. Towards the east Cædwalla
looked over woods, only bounded by the sea, and beyond the sea the coast
of the South Saxons, and his own native forests and hills.  The view
south was more lovely even: at his feet the wide and fertile valley
spread out to the magnificent bay, bounded on one side by the gleaming
white cliffs of Binbrygge Down, and on the other the dun-coloured
headland that rose into the noble down behind it, while toward the
south-west hill upon hill, and ridge upon ridge, culminated in the
highest hill of all—the broad-backed St. Catherine Down.  The valley at
his feet was hidden, towards the west, by the continuation of the ridge
of downs upon which Cædwalla was standing, but Ceolwulf told him it
wound round and passed into another valley, or valleys, which then
turned westwards and northwards.  This northern valley became the deeply
indented creek near the head of which stood the only fortress in the
island, the burg or castle of Wihtgar, known as Wihtgaresbyryg.

"Will Arwald make a stand there, thinkest thou?" asked Cædwalla.

"I doubt whether he will not fight in the open first.  He has a powerful
following with him, and he is not one to fight behind walls if he has
any chance of crushing us in the open."

Cædwalla laughed.  "He need not talk much of crushing.  There won’t be
much left of him or his men if once I catch them in the open."

"Aye, no doubt thou art a doughty and powerful king, but Arwald will
have as many or more than we have, and the Wihtwaras fight well."

"Tush, man! have I ever lost a battle yet?" said Cædwalla, disdainfully;
and then he added, "Continue thy march until we unite in the valley in
front of Wihtgaresbyryg; we may have to encamp there to-night."  So
saying, the West Saxon king rode down the hill again, and led his column
along the lower ground.

The march was continued without further interruption until about two
o’clock.  They turned the northern line of Downs, and saw the ridge of
the lower hills to the west, on the brow of which loomed up the grey
walls of a circular castle—the rude and unscientific fortress of
Wihtgar, built perhaps upon the foundations of a Roman castellum, and
doubtless with much of the material.  Hitherto it had been an accepted
fact that whoever was lord of Wihtgaresbyryg was lord also of the
Wihtwaras and the Wihtea.

When Ceolwulf’s column, descending the steep declivity of the down now
known as St. George’s Down, joined Cædwalla and the main body below,
they advanced together along the lower ground towards Wihtgaresbyryg,
until they reached the ford over the marshes, that then formed the head
of the long creek now known as the Medina.  Here Cædwalla, having
secured the ford and passed his troops safely across, halted until he
could find out where the enemy were.

In the course of an hour one of his scouts brought back word that Arwald
was marching out of Wihtgaresbyryg to give him battle, with a numerous
and well-appointed force of horsemen and foot, and would be upon them in
the course of half an hour or so.

This was joyful news to Cædwalla.  His eyes sparkled and his figure
became more upright, as he gave orders for his men to fall into battle
order, and prepare for the decisive contest.

"Remember Athelhune and Osborn, and the stockade on Yavershute!
Remember all your former victories—Edilwalch and the South Saxons, and
the eorldoman Berchthune.  The dragon of Wessex is spreading his wings
for victory.  Before night-fall, my eorls and my free Saxons, let us
plant the standard of our nation on the tower of Wihtgar.  Lands and
possessions shall reward the victors, and ye all see what a smiling and
fertile land it is.  Standard bearer, advance the banner!  My nobles,
handle your weapons, and, O God of Battles, whom Wilfrid serves! if
victory crowns our arms, I vow to become a servant of Thine.  Let Woden
and Thor fight for Arwald. Cædwalla will fight with the help of Christ."



                            *CHAPTER XXII.*

           *"NOW, BY MY FAITH, LORDS, ’TWAS A GLORIOUS DAY."*


Cædwalla decided not to await the enemy, but to advance at once to meet
him.  He himself led the van, which was composed of his choicest troops,
and he ordered old Ceolwulf to keep with him, as a mark of especial
honour.  The scout who had brought the news of Arwald’s advance acted as
guide, and in a short time the two rival forces came in sight of each
other.  Cædwalla saw that Arwald would have the advantage of position if
he were allowed to attack from the higher ground where he was.  He
therefore ordered his men not to march directly for the enemy, but to
leave them on their left and march as if with the intention of getting
in between them and Wihtgaresbyryg.  By this manoeuvre Arwald had to
descend from his superior position, and the onus of attacking remained
with him.

In those rude times there was not much attempt at marshalling the
fighting men.  The leaders brought their men on to the ground and put
them as near to each other as possible, and then stout arm and keen
steel had to decide the rest.  Each chieftain acted as the bravest
soldier, and his duty was to run the greatest risk.

In the present instance, there seemed a sort of tacit deferring of the
awful struggle that must take place. When Cædwalla had obtained the
equality of position he wanted, he halted, and drew up his men in a
semblance of martial array; and in this respect he had a manifest
advantage over his antagonist, for he and his men were well known to
each other.  Many of the West Saxon eorls had fought in numberless
fights on the borders of Wales, and against Wulfhere of Mercia, the son
of Penda.  They were, therefore, used to discipline, and were likely to
keep cool in the hottest of the fray; while Arwald’s men had never seen
a set battle, and many of them had scarcely ever fought before.  But
their numbers and strength seemed quite to counterbalance this
disadvantage, and Cædwalla saw at a glance the Wihtwaras were not to be
despised.  Arwald had wrought his men’s courage up to a desperate pitch
by telling them that Cædwalla would deprive them of all their
possessions, and, unless they won the battle, no man’s life or property
was safe.

Cædwalla’s eyes sparkled with excitement, but he was otherwise very
calm, and no observer would have known that he was inwardly burning with
eagerness to begin the battle, and avenge the death of his dearest
friend.  He rode along in front of his men, mounted on his white horse,
cheerily saying an encouraging word here, or passing a light jest there,
and congratulating everyone on the immediate prospect of realizing all
their hopes.

The forces of Arwald had now approached to within two hundred yards, and
the combatants could see each other well.  There was nothing between
them, and the battle might begin at any moment.

Cædwalla had turned his horse’s head towards the enemy, and was quietly
glancing along their line.  In front of him was Arwald, looking more
brutal than ever.  The cut over his eye, which he had received from
Wulfstan’s sling, was swollen and inflamed, so much so that one eye was
nearly obscured.  His red, bloated face, and coarse features, combined
with his huge and corpulent person, mounted on a powerful,
vicious-looking black horse, offered a striking contrast to the refined,
intellectual, determined face of Cædwalla. bronzed with exposure, and
looking a splendid, dashing soldier, as well as prudent, clear-headed
king: a perfect type of the old Heretoga, or leader in war, chosen by
the free acclamations of his fellow tribesmen for his brilliant
qualities, and not necessarily because of any hereditary claim; the pure
type of an earthly ruler, if only such could be elected without
corruption and for worthy motives.

Cædwalla sat his horse tranquilly, and critically scanned Arwald with a
contemptuous glance that made that fat chieftain furious.  He was just
going to give the order to his men to charge, when Cædwalla raised his
battle-axe, and instantly the whole of the West Saxon army rushed
straight for the Wihtwaras.

For the next few minutes there was the awful work of destruction,
hideous sounds and confused sights, axes flashing, arms rising and
falling, passionate shouts, groans, and wild cries.  In the midst of the
battle could be seen the golden dragon of Wessex, and ever and anon the
clear, ringing stentorian voice of the king, cheerily and happily
cleaving a way through the struggling mass.  Such battles must have been
all alike, and the monotony of the death fight could seldom be relieved.
The victory must go to the side who had most "last," or endurance, in
it; for the idea of running away while strength remained scarcely could
occur to men taught from earliest childhood that no fate in this world
or the next could await any man worse than the fate of the coward.  But
sheer brutal strength, or capacity for fighting with the largest number
of wounds, must then, as now, have been very materially modified by the
moral influences of will and determination.  And in this way the
personal qualities of a leader were certain to affect his followers.
The energy, moral as well as physical, of Cædwalla, infused itself into
his men, and each man fought with a certainty of winning. Gradually the
coherent mass of striking, thrusting, wrestling humanity gave way, and
the scene became changed into groups of individual combatants.

The battlefield was strewn with dead and dying. Cædwalla’s standard
bearer was down, but the banner was still waved above the foremost
ranks, and the golden crest of Wessex was foremost in the fight.

Arwald’s army was being pushed back, no man looked to see where, but as
the foe retreated Cædwalla pressed on.  The Wihtwaras were thrust away
from Wihtgaresbyryg, and were slowly retiring towards the high hills
behind them.  Fighting every foot of ground at first, they gradually
hastened their retreat until at last it became a rout.

All round deeds of "derring-do" were being performed, and Cædwalla
cheered his men on to the pursuit with words of praise and
encouragement.  The king was followed by the main part of his army, and
pressed hard upon the retreating Wihtwaras.

"Unless we kill Arwald, we have done nought," shouted Cædwalla, urging
on his horse to fresh exertions.

They had now reached the foot of the down, whose ample slope rose from
the valley in wooded clumps up to a height of some five hundred and
fifty feet above them.  Pursued and pursuers were alike becoming
exhausted.  Arwald and the few that were left of his personal following
kept on their way up the hill.  Cædwalla’s horse, which had received
several severe wounds, was clearly incapable of following much further,
and the king got off, resolving to follow on foot.  Arwald still
bestrode his black horse, but that powerful animal was fast becoming
distressed. Seeing that he could not escape from his pursuers, Arwald,
who had now reached a grassy knoll, drew up and turned to look at his
enemy.

Below him he could see the golden dragon and the broad shoulders of the
West Saxon king, the centre of a little band of determined warriors,
among whom the weather-beaten face of old Ceolwulf looked hard set and
enduring, like a grey lichen-covered rock amid the saplings of the
forest.

"By the golden hair of Freya," muttered Arwald "but they shall die as
well as we, if die we must. Here, my men, we will wait them; and let
each man fight as he never fought before."

So saying, the Wihtwara chieftain dismounted from his tired horse, and
prepared for the fight.  The scene was a fitting one for the arena on
which the sovereignty of the island was to be finally decided between
the rival chiefs.  It was very near the summit of the lofty down, now
known as Newbarn, or Chillerton Down.  From the spot where Arwald stood
he looked right down the lovely valley of the Medene; eastward and
northward, his eye roamed over swelling down and wooded valley, and here
and there the silver streak of the distant sea.  The lovely scene lay
spread out in mellow haze, for the sun was getting low behind the
chieftain, and great shadows stretched from his feet far over the valley
below; while patches of grey mist were rising here and there over the
basins of the Medene and the Yare.

Grimly Arwald looked at the scene, but none of its peaceful beauty
struck him.  All he thought of was hatred of the man who had dared to
come to disturb him in the enjoyment of his tyranny and power, and
satisfaction at the thought of how he could take him at disadvantage,
breathless as Cædwalla would be when he reached the summit of the knoll,
and dazzled with the setting sun level with his eyes.

Arwald mustered about thirty adherents, most of them wounded, and not
more than a dozen of whom were able-bodied.  The chief of the Wihtwaras
himself had not received any serious wounds, seeming to bear a charmed
life in the midst of the battle; and owing to this immunity from wounds,
he himself, as well as many of his followers, believed that he was not
destined to lose his life on the battle-field.  Full of these hopes, he
waited for his antagonist.

Cædwalla, seeing that his enemy was resolved to await him, and that now
there was to be no more retreat, but that here either he or Arwald was
to leave his bones for ever, bid his men to take it easily and regain
their breath.  The West Saxons, therefore, paused a little below the
summit of the knoll, and gazed back at the land behind them, where many
of their comrades could be seen drawing together and advancing after
their king.  Many others were visible, lying on the ground; for them no
more fighting remained.  Of the Wihtwaras no coherent body existed.  The
victory was evidently complete, and Cædwalla could plainly see that
there was no need for him to fight Arwald now.  The Wihtwara must fall
to superior numbers; he could fly no further, and the desperate nature
of his situation was evidently known to himself.  Ceolwulf urged waiting
for the rest to come up, pointing out the folly of risking such a life
as that of Cædwalla, now undoubted king of Wihtea, as of Wessex and the
South Saxons.

"Leave this swine to be dealt with by thy faithful ceorls and eorls, my
lord.  Why risk thy life needlessly? Dost thou think thou must do more
to show all men thy valour?  Who does not know of Cædwalla?"

"Cease, old man," said Cædwalla.  "I know well what is prudent, and what
is rash.  It becomes not Cædwalla to decline to punish the murderer of
Athelhune, and I know my own duty as well as pleasure."

Arwald knew well that the game was up, but he counted on at least
killing Cædwalla before the rest of the West Saxons could arrive.  He
ordered his men, therefore, to pay no attention to any other of the
small following of Cædwalla, but to rush simultaneously upon the
victorious king.

"What!" shouted Arwald, "is the dainty young chief of the robber-band
afraid to meet the axes of warriors?  Has he come thus far, and, finding
himself face to face with brave men, does he now fear to meet their
blows?  Why does he not rush forward to avenge all his dead eorls?  The
axes of Arwald and the Wihtwaras have drunk deep of West Saxon blood."

"All in good time, my friend, all in good time. A king chooses his own
season and means of punishment, and thou shalt not be forgotten,"
answered Cædwalla disdainfully.

All the West Saxons having now recovered their breath, Cædwalla advanced
towards Arwald.  Ceolwulf had seen the object of the Wihtwara chieftain,
and he warned the few men round Cædwalla to look out for a rush.

As soon as the king set foot on the level sward on the summit of the
knoll, Arwald and his men made a simultaneous charge upon him, which
Cædwalla, on his part, sprang forward to anticipate.

Arwald, trusting to his huge strength and ponderous weight, struck with
his battle-axe straight at Cædwalla’s head, and the West Saxon king
received the full force of the terrific blow on his already half-severed
shield.  The axe cut through the iron studs and ornaments that still
kept the shield together, and buried itself sideways in Cædwalla’s left
arm.  But Cædwalla’s right arm was not idle.  Striking with all his
force at the same moment that he parried the blow of the Wihtwara, he
cut through the steel hawberk, the under shirt of leather, and deep into
the flesh of Arwald between the ribs over the heart; for Arwald was so
determined to destroy his adversary that he took no thought of guarding
himself.  Before Arwald could recover from the overbalance of his own
thundering blow, Cædwalla had struck again, and this time he aimed at
the bare arms of the Wihtwara.  So fiercely did he strike that the whole
muscles and flesh of the upper arm were shorn off clean to the bone, and
Arwald knew he could never fight again.  The blood flowed down in
torrents, but his rage still burnt fiercely.  Wielding his axe in the
other hand, he struck straight for Cædwalla’s face, and the king had no
use in his other arm to ward the blow.  He parried it with his axe, but
not sufficiently to prevent the axe glancing off and inflicting a deep
gash in his neck.  But Arwald had struck his last blow, for Cædwalla,
swinging his axe over his head, brought it down with fearful force on
the helmet of his antagonist. Right through the iron helmet it went, and
deep into the skull, and there so wedged itself between the bones that
Cædwalla could not draw it out, and the huge Wihtwara chieftain rolled
over to the ground dead.

But Cædwalla would also have been dead before now had it not been for
the trusty Ceolwulf.  The adherents of Arwald, true to their orders, and
reckless of their own lives, had crowded round Cædwalla, and struck at
the same time as Arwald.  Two fierce blows aimed at the king were caught
on Ceolwulf’s shield, which was not so much damaged as Cædwalla’s. A
third was parried by the old man’s axe, while a fourth the noble old
warrior received in his own body, which he interposed between his lord
and the death blow.  The Wihtwara’s axe caught Biggun on the chest, and
would have penetrated to the lung but for the soundness of the mail
shirt he wore.  As it was, the stout old man swung his axe round upon
his foe who had given him the wound, and split his helmet and head,
felling him to the ground.  The other attendants of Cædwalla had not
been idle.  The blows intended for the king were intercepted, and in
many cases the Wihtwaras were killed without offering the least
resistance to their slayers, so intent were they in trying to kill the
rival of Arwald, and thus fell an easy prey to their antagonists.  The
fall of their chieftain, however, caused them to turn much more
desperately on the West Saxons, and fierce blows were showered on all
sides; but the result could not be doubtful for a moment.  After a few
plunging blows, wild struggles, and fierce imprecations, all resistance
ceased, and Wihtea was won to Cædwalla.

[Illustration: How Cædwalla won Wightea and slew Arwald]

But that noble king was scarcely able to receive the congratulations of
his supporters.  He strove to remain standing, but the scene swam before
his eyes; he forced himself to speak, but the words would not form
themselves on his lips, and he would have fallen heavily on the ground
had not two or three of his attendants run to support him.  They laid
him gently on the grass and stanched his wounds: both cuts were
fortunately clean ones, and a simple bandage round the arm prevented
much loss of blood there; but the cut in the neck was more serious.
Ceolwulf was sitting near, a grim and satisfied expression on his
weather-beaten face.  The blood was oozing from the wound in his chest,
but he was doing nothing to stop the bleeding.  His eyes were fixed on
Cædwalla’s pale face, and he was muttering some grumbling remarks to
himself.  The little grassy platform high up on the hillside, so lately
the scene of desperate, relentless strife, was now covered with dead or
dying men, and the few survivors were too worn out to do more.  They sat
or reclined on the sward, waiting for the rest of their comrades to come
up.  The sun had now set, and the cold breeze of evening blew keen on
that elevated spot.

Presently a West Saxon eorldoman rode up, attended by a few footmen, and
gazed at the silent group. Seeing Cædwalla, he dismounted, and hastily
went up to him, fearing the worst, but was reassured by the men who sat
beside him.

"We must carry him down from here," said the eorl. "Get you as many
young withies or hazel boughs from the copse down yonder," he added,
turning to the men who had come with him, "and make a litter for your
king."

Then he mounted his horse, rode to the brow of the hill, where the now
numerous band of survivors were clearly seen in the valley below, raised
his axe, on which he had put the helmet of Arwald, high above his head,
and shouted, in a voice that rang over the silence of the hills:

"Long live Cædwalla, king of Wessex, Sussex, and Wihtea!"

Directly after a ringing cheer could be heard in the valley, and even
the exhausted warriors on the summit joined in the shout of triumph.
Again and again the cheers rang out, and rapidly the news spread over
the island.

The men with the litter now returned, and carefully Cædwalla was lifted
upon it.  The movement caused him to open his eyes, and they happened to
fall upon Ceolwulf.  The king feebly beckoned him to his side, and, as
the old man slowly and stiffly came up to him, the wounded king said:
"Ceolwulf, old man, I owe my life to thee.  Ask me what thou likest, and
thou shalt have it."

But Ceolwulf made no reply.  He merely shook his head slowly, and went
on grumbling to himself.

Cædwalla was carried down the hill, and, as it was now too dark to go
much further, the eorldoman who had taken charge of the little army gave
directions that the king should be carried to a cottage near, and the
rest of the men were to encamp around.  With prudent foresight, another
eorldoman had gone on with a party of men to make the country people
bring them in provisions, and the victors were supplied with necessary
food after their hard day’s work.

The wounded men were cared for, and proper guards were set to keep watch
during the night.  Nothing, however, happened to disturb their rest.

The next morning the hardy West Saxons were all astir at an early hour,
and parties were sent out to collect the arms and accoutrements of the
dead, and to compel some of the inhabitants to help bury those who had
fallen.

Arwald and those who died upon the grassy knoll of Chillerton Down were
buried in five barrows, or tumuli, close to where they fell, but Arwald
was honoured by having one all to himself.

Cædwalla had recovered consciousness for a short time in the early
morning, and had given orders that Wihtgaresbyryg was to be occupied
without delay, and all the able-bodied men throughout the island were to
be slain as an atonement for the death of Athelhune and the other West
Saxons.

It was evident he did not much realise the teaching of Christianity as
yet, and the fierce spirit of his ancestors still burnt within him,
unchecked by any softening influence.

Arwald had sent his two young sons away from the island as soon as he
had received news of the probable invasion of Cædwalla, and they were in
hiding near Stoneham, or as Bede calls it, ad Lapidem, a little village
or manor to the north of Southampton. Cædwalla had given orders, in
accordance with his vow, to kill all of the race of Arwald, and he
expressly directed that search should be made for all his descendants
and relatives; but these terrible orders could not be executed
immediately, for much had yet to be done.

Ceolwulf was despatched to Binbrygge-ea with directions to see that
Ælfhere and his sons were restored to their lands and possessions; and
he was also charged with seeing that a force of men were levied to
assist Cædwalla in getting in supplies and helping to crush the western
and southern part of the island. The boats were to be sent round from
Brædynge Haven to the north of the island, and one boat was to be sent
over to Selsea, to report the success of the expedition, and to bring
over Wilfrid, if he would come.  The rest of the little army, now
thoroughly recruited, although sadly diminished in numbers, marched on
Wihtgaresbyryg, expecting to meet with a stubborn resistance; but Arwald
had led out all the fighting men with him, and owing to the skilful way
in which Cædwalla had thrust himself in between Arwald and the fortress,
none of the routed force had been able to escape to it.

When, therefore, the West Saxon host appeared before its walls, they
found the gates thrown open, and they had no more fighting to do.
Cædwalla was carried to Arwald’s house, and all men throughout the
island knew that the power had passed from the nominee of Mercia to the
kingdom of the house of Cerdic.

The eorldomen, who managed affairs during the illness of Cædwalla, acted
with determination and relentless cruelty.  The wretched Wihtwaras were
hunted down and ruthlessly slain in strict fulfilment of the orders of
Cædwalla.

But the king of the West Saxons himself lay ill, and mostly unconscious
for the greater part of the next few days, and at last his faithful
followers began to despair of his life, and all men longed for Wilfrid
to come.

Ceolwulf had returned to Brædynge, and there, after having done all he
was ordered to do, and arranged for the return of Ælfhere, had succumbed
to the wound he had received, and which he had neglected.  For some days
he lay between life and death, but the faithful brother Malachi and
Ædric nursed him well, and he and Wulfstan were laid in the same room
for convenience of attendance.  Ælfhere, the eorldoman, had been making
great progress towards recovery, but it was observed that, as he grew
stronger, he seemed to be less vengeful.  The self-devotion of brother
Malachi, who had saved his life at the risk of his own, and the
unexpected and unaccountable solicitude of old Deva, had caused him to
think over matters seriously; and he could not help being struck by the
fact that there were noble actions, as brave as any performed in
fighting, which arose from some hidden spring of conduct.

The fugitive tenants and small freeholders who looked to the eorldoman
for protection had all returned to their homes, and things round
Binbrygge-ea and Brædynge looked much as they did before the late
exciting events.

The stockade was visited, and the dead all buried, care being taken to
honour the defenders with a specially large tumulus high up over
Binbrygge Down.

Malachi longed for news of Father Dicoll and brother Corman.  He had
heard of the adventure on the mud from Ædric, and was horror-stricken at
the account he gave of what he had last seen of Father Dicoll, but was
cheered by hearing that Ædric had since heard how Father Dicoll was
taken into one of the cottages, and had been carefully attended to, and
was probably by now quite well again.

Ædric had been told of his father’s existence the day after he arrived.
At first he could hardly believe the news, so joyful did it seem; but
when he fully realised it, he only waited to know exactly where he was
concealed, and then went off as fast as his lame leg would let him, in
spite of all remonstrances, to find his father.

Fortunately he was met by one of his old servants, who was leading back
a cow that had strayed away from the rest of the cattle, and thus he was
able to have a ride; for the old cowherd, seeing how lame his young
master was, lifted him up, and set him on the broad back of the patient
beast, and he soon reached the secluded dell overlooking the sea under
the great white cliff where his father was lying hid.  The boy stole
down softly to the side of the little wattled shelter that had been made
for the wounded eorldoman, down close to the shore under a high pinnacle
of red, sandy cliff, which here forms a striking contrast with the
dazzling white of the lofty chalk precipice on the westward side of the
tiny bay.  The little cabin was difficult to find; it lay in a retired
chine, and was carefully hollowed out of the soft sand under the
over-arching shelter of thick bramble bushes and tall ferns.  The
perpetual sound of the breaking sea at the foot of the cliffs deadened
any sound of voices.

Ædric approached quite close to the entrance: all was silent; he peeped
in.  There lay his father, pale and worn, his eyes closed; he appeared
to be dying. Ædric stole in on tip-toe.  His father moved; his eyes
opened.

"Father!" said Ædric.  The wounded eorl looked round.

"What, Wulfstan, my boy, is it thou?  How goes the battle?"

"Father, it isn’t Wulfstan: it is I—Ædric."

"What, Ædric! my son!  Am I dreaming.  How did’st thou get here?" and
the father stretched out his hand for his son to come nearer.

"Why, it is Ædric, my own son—my boy! my boy!  I thank the gods thou art
returned to me. There, bless thee, my son; sit down and tell me all that
has happened to thee."

And Ædric sat down, and, taking his father’s hand, told him everything.
As the old eorldoman heard of the kindness of the monks or baldheaded
ones, and the splendour and power of Wilfrid, he murmured over and over
again:

"Truly these are great men, and they know more than we.  They can bear
pain as well as we can, and they can rule without fighting; but I think
they miss a good deal by that.  But perhaps, after all, there is more to
be got without it.  I don’t know though; if I get better, I will think
over this."



                            *CHAPTER XXIII.*

                *"THE CONCLUSION OF THE WHOLE MATTER."*


A few days after the decisive battle near Chillerton Down, Ædric, who
had been sitting with Malachi and the invalids, went out to get some
fresh air.  He wandered up the hill behind the homestead to a
freshly-raised mound on the hill side, looking away towards the Sussex
shore, and commanding views of the far distant Andreadesweald.  Here
Athelhune had been buried, with his arms and battle-axe, like a free
Saxon eorldoman, with his face towards the East, looking to the woods
and the land where he had fought so well for his friend and king,
Cædwalla, in the time of his adversity.

Ædric sat down on the newly-laid turf, and gazed towards Selsea.  As he
sat he fell into a deep reverie.  He thought over all that had passed
since that awful night when Arwald surprised their home, and he and
Wulfstan and Biggun had had to fly over the water, they knew not where.
He thought of the fearful slaughter that had since taken place; the
dreadful suffering of the poor people, driven from their homes; the
death in battle, in cold blood, and in misery of so many human beings.
He saw how poverty, hunger, wretchedness, fell upon every one by the
perpetual destruction going on.  Cædwalla was nearly dead; Ceolwulf was
prostrate; Wulfstan was only just showing signs of recovery; brother
Malachi had received a desperate wound; Athelhune and Osborn were dead;
and Wulf the Atheling might be dead, too, for all he knew; while his
father, Ælfhere, as well as himself, would bear their wounds to their
graves with them.  And yet they and their party were victorious.  They
had won all the glory, all the land, all the wealth; and this was what
their noblest, most cherished ideas pointed to.  Could anything be more
complete?  Arwald was dead; all his bravest warriors were dead too, and
all the rest of his supporters were being ruthlessly hunted down and
slain. They were drinking to the full the cup of victory. Could anything
be more triumphant?  What more could heroes do?  They had gloriously
chopped in pieces their enemies, and were entering into possession of
their goods.  But meanwhile the people were mostly starving, and the
women and children were suffering terribly; but

"Things like that, you know, must be at every famous victory."

And then Ædric thought of the monks—their kindness, their simplicity,
their total surrender of themselves for others, their perpetual striving
to conquer what, he could not help seeing, might make an individual
great according to a slave’s idea of greatness, but could only make all
others miserable.  For what was it the monks strove to overcome?
Certainly nothing of anybody else’s belongings, but their own passions,
their own want of charity, their own worldly desires, their own
incomprehension of the love of God; in fact, the world, the flesh, and
the devil.  And then he thought of the dead man below him, and he
remembered all that had been told him of the shortness of this life and
the certainty of death, and after death the judgment; and he remembered
how terrible it had seemed to him, as Father Dicoll talked, if he should
die, and have to enter upon eternity without having tried to follow the
Christ-life while here on earth.  The words of the Master, Christ, had
often been told him, when He said, "Verily, I say unto you, inasmuch as
ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me; and
these shall go away into ever-lasting punishment, but the righteous into
life eternal."  Truly, death was very near; would it not be better to
give up everything for the love of God?  What could the world offer to
him that for the brief space of this life could make up for the loss of
life eternal? The truth of the question he had so often heard from
brother Corman came back to him—What would it profit him if he gained
the whole world and lost his own soul? or what could he give in exchange
for his soul?

As Ædric thought over all these things, his eyes were fixed upon a
distant speck beyond the entrance to Brædynge Haven.  It was a boat, and
was coming fast before the north-east breeze.  For some few minutes he
dreamily watched it.  He saw it enter the narrow mouth of the harbour,
and wondered who could be in it.  The men on board evidently knew the
channel.  As the boat drew nearer his interest increased.  "Who could it
be?"  And then it flashed across him that it must be Wilfrid.  He jumped
up with excitement, waited a minute to make certain, and then ran down
as fast as he could, burst into the room where Malachi was, and shouted
out the news.

All was bustle in the homestead.  Ælfhere was anxious to receive the
great man properly, and all the servants were sent here and there, and
the cackling among the fowls told of slaughter going on there.  Some of
the servants were sent down with Ædric to receive the bishop.

It was as Ædric had guessed: the boat ran ashore, near the hard; the
servants hastily put out boards on a trestle for the bishop to land, and
presently Wilfrid, Hildila, and Bernwine disembarked on the shore.

The greeting between Ædric and the bishop was cordial, and Bernwine
patted him on the head, with a pleasant smile, saying, "I told thee I
wanted to see this island of thine, and here I am."  The party then went
up to the homestead, Ædric pointing out objects of interest as they
went.  The Wihtwaras were much impressed with Wilfrid’s appearance, and
the respect their young eorl paid him, as well as from the report of the
magic charms he had with him, and which were relics he had brought from
Rome.

Ælfhere welcomed his guests courteously, and the rest of the day passed
in pleasant talk.  Malachi asked eagerly after Father Dicoll and Corman,
and was delighted to hear that both were well, the former having quite
recovered from his wound, and that they sent him affectionate greetings.
A messenger was despatched at once to announce the arrival of the
bishop, and ask for instructions.

Ælfhere was pleased, as well as all his household, at the gentle manners
and interesting conversation of Wilfrid and his attendant priests, and
the evening passed away in pleasant intercourse.  The stories Wilfrid
had to tell of foreign lands, and the wonders of Rome, astonished every
one.  There was nothing he could not talk about; and when he asked
permission, before retiring to rest, to have a little service in the
hall, Ælfhere willingly gave his consent, and was much impressed with
the earnestness, as well as ceremony, of the Christian ministers.  There
had never been seen anything like it, and all the household retired to
rest awestruck and interested.

The next morning the messenger returned from Cædwalla, desiring that
Wilfrid should come to him at once.  The bishop, therefore, took an
affectionate leave of his hospitable entertainer, and went off to
Wihtgaresbyryg, leaving Bernwine behind to instruct and convert Ælfhere,
already thoroughly predisposed to accept Christianity, through the
example of Malachi and old Deva, to whom the late intercourse with
Malachi had been a great happiness.

Ædric accompanied Wilfrid and Hildila, and when they arrived at the
castle of Wihtgar they found there was some important discussion going
on. When they entered the courtyard they found a few men loitering
about, all armed and fully equipped for some expedition, and the eorl in
command was just bidding them to fall in, as a tall, noble-looking man
came out of the house where Cædwalla was lying. His face wore a sad
look, and he walked past Wilfrid and his party without appearing to see
them.  He was dressed in monastic garb, and his head was bare, showing
the tonsure cut in the orthodox western fashion.

Wilfrid inquired who he was, but no one knew. As soon as he had joined
the eorldoman, the armed men defiled through the gate, and went down the
hill towards the Medene, where the mast of a boat could be seen over the
woods that lay between the creek and the castle; for the new port had
not yet risen at the head of the estuary.

As soon as it was announced to Cædwalla that Wilfrid had come, he gave
orders that he should be at once admitted, and the bishop was ushered
into his presence.

The wounded king was lying on a couch, looking pale and worn.  The wound
in his arm had healed, but the severe cut in his neck had proved a
difficult matter, as Cædwalla was impatient of control, and chafed at
his enforced inaction.  At the entrance of the bishop he tried to rise,
and was only induced to lie down again by the urgent remonstrances of
Wilfrid.

"Thou seest, bishop, thou and I can never meet without my having gained
a victory.  Truly, the more often I meet thee, the better I shall be
pleased."

"I trust, my son, thou wilt have no more enemies to fight.  The Lord has
been merciful to thee, and saved thee in the midst of great dangers.  I
hope thou wilt be spared to perform a good work among the people He has
committed to thy charge."

"I hope so too," answered Cædwalla coldly.  "But I call to mind thy
telling me how a great heretoga and chieftain led his people into a
promised land, and slew every man, woman, and child of its former
inhabitants, and thou saidest he was a man approved of by thy God.  I
have tried to do the same.  There will not soon be any of these
Wihtwaras left.  I trust I shall receive thy blessing for the thorough
way I have tried to imitate that eorldoman Joshua, as thou calledst
him."

Wilfrid sighed.  Like many other Christian missionaries he wished he had
not so impressed the savage mind with the conquests and wars of the
Israelites,[1] but he prudently answered:


[1] The Bishop of the Goths, Ulphilas, entirely omitted translating the
Book of Kings into the Gothic Bible, for he said: "The fierce and
warlike spirit of his children required no spur in the matter of war."


"My son, before thou exterminatest, thou hast to prove that thou hast
the right to punish.  Joshua was the chosen leader of God’s own people,
appointed to execute God’s command upon a desperately wicked nation,
given up to every abomination.  I do not yet know that thou art trying
to introduce the love of Christianity among even thine own people, or
that it has been offered to the poor victims thou tellest me thou art
slaying.  And even supposing thou wert a follower of our Lord, and the
Wihtwaras were all pagans, who stubbornly refused to accept the Truth,
that would not of itself give thee any title to kill or persecute them.
But let me hear how thou art faring?"

"Oh, well enough!  I shall be able to mount a horse in a few days, I
hope," and then the conversation turned upon various matters, until
Wilfrid discovered that the ecclesiastic whom he had met as he entered,
was the Abbot Cynebercht of Reodbrygge (now Redbridge), and that he had
come on an important mission.  As Cædwalla did not seem inclined to talk
about him, Wilfrid did not pursue the subject.  And the king went on to
say that he intended bestowing upon Wilfrid three hundred hides of land
in Wihtea, as a proof of his affection for him and in thank-offering for
the great successes he had achieved, and which he attributed to the
protection and influence of Wilfrid’s prayer and the possession of the
marvellous charms or reliques he had brought from Rome.  The bishop,
perhaps from motives of policy, perhaps from real belief, did not
attempt to make light of his power; indeed he did all he could to foster
this idea and belief in the miraculous efficacy of relics, and his own
influence as the minister of God’s church here below, hoping that the
more the fierce West Saxon king was impressed with his power and
sanctity, the more he would be able to guide him in the way he wanted.
Wilfrid therefore accepted the donation which amounted to more than a
fourth of the whole of Wihtea, but he handed it over to his kinsman,
Bernwine, with the understanding that he was to use the wealth arising
from it for the purpose of charitable works and the promotion of the
Christian faith, but especially in the redemption of captives and
slaves. By this noble method the introduction of Christianity was
associated with freedom and human sympathy, and all men blessed the
humanity of Wilfred.

After a little desultory conversation, Wilfrid rose to leave Cædwalla to
repose, and was conducted to the rooms prepared for him.  He was now
able to learn more particulars of the Abbot Cynebercht’s mission, and
was grieved to hear that he had come on a fruitless errand of mercy.  It
appeared that after the capture, or rather occupation, of
Wihtgaresbyryg, search had been made for Arwald’s two sons who were
known to be living there.  They could not be found anywhere, and at
last, after long search and inquiry, it was discovered that they had
been conveyed away out of the island to Stoneham, and were there kept in
hiding.  Cædwalla, in fulfilment of his vow, sent immediately to have
them executed, but the good Abbot of Reodbrygge, hearing of the order
went over to Stoneham and delayed the execution of the sentence until he
had been to the island and seen Cædwalla.  He had come over at once, and
had striven hard with the West Saxon king to spare the lives of the
innocent boys, but to no purpose; all he could obtain was, that he might
be allowed time to instruct them in Christianity, and so secure them the
blessings of eternal life.  Cædwalla would have spared them, only he
felt bound by his oath of vengeance on the race of Arwald, and no
arguments of Cynebercht could make him feel or see that any
circumstances could justify him in breaking his word. Sad at heart,
therefore, the worthy abbot had returned with the party who were to
carry out Cædwalla’s sentence.  Horrified at the cruelty of the
execution, Wilfrid was going back at once to Cædwalla to ask him to send
after Cynebercht, when his eyes lighted on Ædric.

"Ædric, my son, thou hast suffered much at the hands of Arwald.  Show
now that thou canst forgive thine enemies; go at once to Cædwalla,
remind him of what Ceolwulf did for him"—for the whole story had been
told as Wilfrid rode from Brædynge to Wihtgaresbyryg—"and recall to him
his promise, and, in the old man’s name, implore him to spare the lives
of these innocent babes.  Quick! or it will be too late."

Ædric, as soon as he had grasped the situation, at once asked to be
conducted to Cædwalla’s presence. The boy was promptly ushered in, and
laid his request before the king.  Cædwalla frowned, but listened, and
at last said, "If thou canst cross in time, thou mayest tell them to
spare their lives; but I insist on their going into a monastery, and
becoming monks.  There! go, and let them thank old Ceolwulf for their
lives."

Ædric required no second bidding.  He hastened off joyfully to Wilfrid,
who gave directions for him to go down with an escort to the water-side,
and get a boat as soon as possible, and make all the speed he could
after the abbot.  There was some little delay in getting away, and it
was nearly dark before they left Wihtgaresbyrig.  On reaching the
water’s edge they found the tide was out, and all the boats were
aground, and would not float before midnight, and then no one would take
them down the long and shallow creek in the dark.  So, weary and sad,
Ædric had to return to Wilfrid, feeling sure that the sentence would be
carried out before any one could reach Stoneham.

Early the next morning a messenger arrived with the news that the two
young eorls had been beheaded, but that Cynebercht had baptised them
first, and they had died tranquilly and happy, "in the certain hope of
exchanging a temporary for an immortal and blissful existence."

Cædwalla was very sorry really for what had occurred, but, being proud
and haughty in all that concerned his private acts, he would not allow
openly that he had done wrong.  However, he listened to Wilfrid’s
upbraidings without betraying much impatience, and gave way so far as to
issue orders for the relentless slaughter of the Wihtwaras to cease, and
he professed a desire to know more of the Christian faith.

Several days were passed by Wilfrid at Wihtgaresbyryg, and were employed
by him in organising a system of government of the island, under the
rule of Cædwalla, making it a point that the estates which the West
Saxon king had bestowed upon him should be especially well managed by
Bernwine, whose sound business capacity he had already experienced.  The
eorldoman Ælfhere was appointed head man in the island, and lands were
given to the warriors who had fought with Cædwalla; and the wisest of
them, who were already Christians, formed, together with Bernwine and
Hildila, who had been asked to stay in the island by Wilfrid, an
assembly of wise men, or Witan, who were to assist Ælfhere in the
administration of justice, but the executive power was left entirely in
the eorldoman’s hands.

And now there remains little more to add.  Ælfhere the Eorldoman, and
all his household were received into the fellowship of the Christian
Church, and the example of the leading man in the island was followed by
the rest of the inhabitants.  Brother Malachi remained a little while,
and then, seeing that the customs which he venerated were opposed to the
Latin form of Christianity, introduced by the adherents of the
Romanizing Wilfrid, he withdrew to Boseham, where the three excellent
monks continued their unostentatious labours for the benefit of the rude
South Saxons.  As they lived longer they seemed to become more imbued
with the real charity that "vaunteth not itself;" and for fear of
causing a schism among their converts, gradually laid less and less
stress on such matters as the cut of the tonsure, or the keeping of
Easter, although the thought would occur to them, If such matters were
trifles, why should not their opponents equally treat them as such, and
not inveigh against their tenets, as if they were unorthodox and
schismatics?  As far as real self-denying, self-obliterating work went,
the poor monks of Boseham were true imitators of their blessed Master;
but the organising power of the splendid Wilfrid, enamoured as he was of
the pomp of the See of Rome, and fascinated by the idea of Christian
unity, governed by a visible, earthly head, to whom all workers in God’s
vineyard could appeal for protection and advice against the tyranny of
earthly sovereigns, was too much for mere unambitious, humble-minded
men, and the glories of the rising cathedral of Selsea blotted out the
memory of the simple Irish or Scottish monks.

Ædric and Wulfstan preserved an affectionate remembrance of them, and
Ælfhere always sent over a boat at Easter and Christmas, with farm and
dairy produce for the good old men, who distributed it among their
poorer neighbours.  In this way they became much more venerated, and
when they died there was much lamentation for them among their little
flock.

Ædric, after his public reception into the Christian faith, obtained
permission from his father to accompany Wilfrid to the north, and
finally he was solemnly ordained a deacon; and, after returning to the
Wihtea, and assisting Bernwine and Hildila in the conversion of his
countrymen, attracted by the noble purpose of Boniface or Winfrid, the
apostle of Germany, whom he had met at Netley, amid the lovely woods by
the side of Southampton Water, he accompanied that holy man to the homes
of his heathen forefathers, and met a martyr’s death among the wild
Saxons on the banks of the Elbe; curiously enough, within a few miles of
the place where his ancestor had lived who first took part in the Jutish
occupation of Wihtea.

The future of St. Wilfrid is well-known.  How he accompanied Cædwalla to
Wessex, subsequently became reconciled to Theodore, Archbishop of
Canterbury, was re-instated in the episcopal see of York, again urged
the interminable controversy of the tonsure and Paschal moon, with
Aldfrid, king of Northumbria, who had been educated in "piety and
learning" by some Irish monks; how he stigmatised the successor of
Theodore as a schismatic, boasted of his support by the successor of St.
Peter, and at the synod of Æastanfeld, dilated on his labours to
"extirpate the poisonous plants of Scottish growth," and appealed from
the judgment of his lawful sovereign and fellow churchman to the
Apostolic see of Rome.  How, finally, he went off to Rome once more, at
the age of seventy, and obtained from the Pope, John V., a decree in his
favour, and finally died in his monastery of Oundle; all these facts are
the province of history.

The future of Cædwalla is more mysterious and romantic.  After he had
thoroughly secured the allegiance of Wihtea to Wessex, and established
himself firmly on the throne of Cerdic, he led an army into Kent, and
ravaged that country.  During this campaign his brother Wulf, or Mollo,
the Atheling, acting in his usual reckless manner, was surprised by the
Kentish men, and burned to death.  This tragedy so acted upon Cædwalla,
who was already nominally a Christian, that he determined to lay aside
the royal power and journey to Rome to seek absolution for his sins
committed during his many wars.  His change of life seems to have been
carried out with the same vigour and determination with which he had
conducted his previous actions.  He would go to the fountain-head of
Christianity, as taught him by Wilfrid.  If absolution on this earth
could be only obtained effectually from the successor of St. Peter, to
that successor he would go.  And not only for absolution, but for
baptism; no meaner ecclesiastic—not Wilfrid himself—should baptise him;
so clearly had he understood Wilfrid to say that the successor of St.
Peter was the head of the Church, that he resolved that a king ought to
be baptised by no lower prelate. Accordingly, the outlaw chief, the
successful warrior, the noble king of Wessex, laid aside his arms,
surrendered his throne to his kinsman Ine, and went in the lowly garb of
a pilgrim to visit the mighty Rome.  There he was christened by the name
of Peter, and there he died, at the early age of thirty, willingly and
joyfully exchanging an earthly for an heavenly crown.

Of Wulfstan and Ceolwulf there is not much more to be told.  Ceolwulf
recovered slowly, but never was the same vigorous old man as before.  He
used to listen to Malachi, in whom he took a great interest and whom he
looked upon as a very remarkable man, and he seemed to understand the
beauty of Christianity as the simple monk explained it to him; but since
he grew more and more taciturn, as he grew older, it was difficult to
know what he really thought.  However, as almost the last words he spoke
before his death were "about my Master’s business," Malachi thought he
had been musing over the words of the Holy Child, "Wist ye not that I
must be about My Father’s business."  The old man was buried, as he had
requested, by the side of Athelhune on the hill above the homestead.

Wulfstan completely recovered his health; he grew up a brave,
simple-minded, noble boy, full of fun, and rejoicing in life.  He helped
his father on his estates, and eventually succeeded him as chief
eorldoman of the island, which from this time, 709, until the reign of
the last Saxon king, enjoyed peace and prosperity. Wulfstan died full of
years and honour, a noble example of a Christian magistrate living among
his own people, and exhibiting a bright pattern of kindness, firmness,
and single-hearted devotion to duty.



                                LONDON:
                    WILLIAM RIDER AND SON, PRINTERS,
                           BARTHOLOMEW CLOSE.





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