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King Olaf's Kinsman - A Story of the Last Saxon Struggle against the Danes in - the Days of Ironside and Cnut
by Charles Whistler
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KING OLAF'S KINSMAN

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

by Charles W. Whistler

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



Preface.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C. W. WHISTLER

STOCKLAND, Nov. 1896.



Chapter 1: The Coming Of The Vikings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What of the thane, my father?"

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

"What of Osgod of Wormingford?" I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why not?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We had no share in that" I said.

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

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

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

"But peace has not come yet" I said.

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

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

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

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

She smiled faintly, and paused a little, thinking.

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

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

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

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

"How looked she when last you saw her?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he said to me:

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

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

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

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

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

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



Chapter 2: Olaf The King.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then said Eadmund:

"Cnut is of no account."

Olaf laughed a little, and answered:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I must win it back," I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Listen," he said.

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

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

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

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

"What is this that we hear?"

"Wait," he said, and pointed seaward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Chapter 3: The Breaking Of London Bridge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Eadmund's voice cried:

"Steady, men—this cannot last!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He nodded towards Olaf, smiling grimly.

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

"I have not heard," I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Rani growled:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what Olaf said was this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Chapter 4: Earl Wulfnoth Of Sussex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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