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Wulfric the Weapon Thane
by Charles W. Whistler
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Now, guided by the bell, I went on quickly, seeing no man. The houses stood open and deserted, and all along the road were scattered goods, showing that the people had fled in haste, so that they had soon cast aside the heavier things they had thought to save.

Soon I came to the gate of the little stone-walled monastery, over which rose the tower whence the bell yet rang; for the church seemed to make one side of the courtyard into which the gate would lead. A farm cart stood outside; but the gates were closed, and when I looked, I saw that the pin of the wheel was broken, so that the cart could go no further. And that made me fear that more than the monks were penned inside those four walls.

I knocked loudly on the gate, and for a while was no answer, though I thought the ringing of the bell grew more hurried. Then I beat on the gate with my axe, crying:

"Open, in the name of Eadmund the King."

And I used his name because, though a Dane might well call in subtlety on the name of Ethelred, none but a Saxon who knew how well loved was the under-king of East Anglia would think of naming him. And I was right, for at his name the little square wicket in the midst of the gate opened, and through its bars an old monk looked out, and at once I cried to him:

"Let me in, Father, for the Danes are at my heels."

He muttered a prayer in a voice that trembled, and let me in, holding the gate fast, and closing and barring it after me.

And all the courtyard was full of terrified men, women, and children, while among them stood the half-dozen monks of the place, pale and silent, listening to the clang of the bell overhead.

When they saw me some of the women shrieked and clung to children or husbands, scared at my arms. But one of the monks, a tall man on whose breast was a golden cross, came quickly to me, asking: "Is the sheriff at hand with the levy?"

I told him hastily how that the only hope for these helpless ones was in flight to the woods, urging him until he understood me. Gathering his monks around him, and rousing the people, he led them to the rearward gate that opened toward the forest land, calling at the same time to his swineherd, who was there, and bidding him take them by the forest tracks to Chichester.

Then he bade his monks go also; but they lingered, asking to be allowed to stay with him, and also what should become of the holy vessels if the heathen laid profane hands on them.

"Obey, as your vows bid you," said the prior; "I and this warrior will care for the holy things."

So they went, weeping, and were lost in the woods; for there was little cleared land round the village, and the trees came close to the monastery walls.

Now we two, the monk and I, stood at the open gate for a moment and listened. We could hear nothing of the Danes as yet.

Then we closed and barred that gate; and all this while the bell had tolled unceasingly, calling as it were for help that came not.

"Now do you go and call the sacristan from the bell," the prior said, "and bid him lead you to the chancel, where I shall be."

I went to the tower door, unhesitating, for this man seemed to have a wondrous power of command, so that I obeyed him without question, even as had the villagers. And even as I went there came the sound of many rushing feet up the street, and yells from Danish throats, while axe blows began to rain on the gate by which I had entered.

Then the prior bade me hold the gate when he heard that, and he spoke quietly and in no terror, turning and calling to the man in the tower himself; while I stood opposite the gate, looking to see it fall with every blow. Yet it was not so weakly made as that, and moreover I remembered that it was crossed with iron bands in squares so that the axes could not bite it fairly.

Now the bell stopped and the Danes howled the louder. A torch flew over the wall and fell at my feet blazing, and I hurled it back, and the Danes laughed at one whom it struck. Then came the two monks from the tower and ran into the church, while I watched the trembling of the sorely-tried gate, and had it fallen I should surely have smitten the first Dane who entered, even had Halfden himself been foremost, for in the four walls of that holy place I was trapped, and knew that I must fight at last. And now it seemed to me that I was to fight for our faith and our land; and for those sacred things, if I might do naught in dying, I would give my life gladly.

"Come," said the prior's voice, and he was smiling though his face was pale, while behind him the sacristan bore an oaken chest, iron bound, on his shoulders.

He drew me across the courtyard, but I ever looked back at the gate, thinking it would fall; and now they were at the other gate, and blows rained on it. Yet the monk smiled again and went on without faltering, though our way was towards it.

Then we turned under an arch into a second court, and the din was less plain as we did so. There was the well of the monastery, and without a word the sacristan hove the heavy chest from his shoulders into its black depths, and the splash and bubble of its falling came up to us.

"That is safe," said the prior; "now for ourselves."

He hooked the oaken bucket to its rope and let it down to its full length in the well, and at once the sacristan swung himself on it, slid down, and was gone. Then the rope swayed to one side, and stayed there, shaking gently in a minute or so.

The prior drew it up, and maybe fifteen feet from the top, there was a bundle tied—a rope ladder on which were iron hooks. These he fastened to the edge of the oaken platform that covered the well mouth, and let the other end fall down the well. Then he bade me go down to the sacristan.

That was easy to me, and I went, yet I feared for him who stood listening to the splintering of the nearer gate, for it would soon fall surely. I saw the sacristan's face glimmer white before me from a hollow in the well shaft, as I set my foot on the last rung of the ladder, and I held out my hand to him. Then in a moment I was beside him in a little chamber built in the walling of the well; and after me came the prior.

He jerked the ladder from side to side till the hooks above lost their hold and it fell, so that he drew it in. We were but a few feet above the water, and the well rope hung down into the blackness before us, but I was sure that no man could see the little doorway of the chamber from above, for the trapdoor in the well cover was small, and light there was hardly any.

"Now all is safe," said the prior; "and we may be careless again."

"They will burn the monastery," I said. "One torch has been thrown already."

He smiled a little, as I thought, for my eyes were growing used to the dim light.

"They may burn some things, but roof and benches are soon made afresh. There is oaken timber in plenty in Andredsweald, and ready hands to hew it. Our stone walls they cannot hurt."

Those were all the words we spoke of the matter at that time, for there came a great shouting. One of the gates had fallen at last, and the Danes were in the place.

"Father," said the sacristan, "surely they will find this place?"

The prior laughed a short laugh.

"That is a thought born of your fears, Brother," he answered; and I who had had the same fear was rebuked also, for indeed that I should go down the well had never come into my mind, even in our need of shelter, so why should the Danes think of it?

Then we were silent, listening to the feet and voices overhead. The Danes found the belfry presently, and began to toll the bell unskillfully while the men below jeered at those who handled the ropes. Then the bell clashed twice strangely, and the prior laughed outright.

"The clumsy churls have overthrown her," he said, "now I hope that one has had his head broken thereby."

I marvelled that he could jest thus, though maybe, after the strain and terror of the danger we had so far escaped, it was but natural that his mind should so rebound as it were.

Very soon after this the Danes came clattering into the little court where the well was, and straightway came to its mouth, casting stones down it, as no idle man can help doing. The sacristan crept to the furthest corner of our little den and sat there trembling, while I and the other monk listened with set teeth to the words that came down to us. Nor will I say that I was not somewhat frightened also, for it seemed to me that the voices were unknown to me. They were Rorik's men, therefore, and not our crew—who likely enough would but have jeered at me had they found me hiding thus.

"Halfden's men have drunk all the ale in the place, and that was not much," said one man; "let us try the water, for the dust of these old storehouses is in my throat."

Then he began to draw up the bucket, and it splashed over us as it went past our doorway.

"There is naught worth taking in this place," growled another man. "Maybe they have hove their hoards down the well!"

Now at that the sacristan gave a stifled groan of terror, and I clutched my axe, ready for need.

"All right, go down and see!" answered one or two, but more in jest than earnest.

Then one dropped a great stone in, and waited to hear it bubble from the bottom, that he might judge the depth. Now no bubbles came, or so soon that they were lost in the splash, and the prior took some of the crumbling mortar from the cell walls, and cast it in after a few moments. And that was a brave and crafty thing to do, for it wrought well.

"Hear the bubble," said the Dane; "the well must be many a fathom deep—how long it seemed before they came up!"

So they drank their fill, saying that it was useless to go down therefore, and anyhow there would be naught but a few silver vessels.

"I have seen the same before," said one; "and moreover no man has luck with those things from a church."

No man gainsaid him, so they kicked the bucket down the well and went away.

Now I breathed freely again, and was about to whisper to the prior that his thought of making what would pass for bubbling was good; but more Danes came. And they were men of Halfden's ship; so we must wait and listen, and this time I thought that surely we were to be found. For the men began to play with one another as they drank from the bucket; pushing each other's heads therein, and the helm of one fell off and fled past us to the bottom; and some words passed pretty roughly. And after they had done quarrelling they crowded over the trapdoor, as one might know by the darkening of the shaft. Then one saw the helm, for it was of leather, iron bound, and had fallen rim upward, so that it floated. Now one was going to swarm down the rope to get it, but as he swung the rope to him, the bucket swayed in the water under the helm, and he saw that it did so. Whereon he wound both up, and they too went away.

"That was a lucky chance!" I whispered.

"No chance at all, my son; that was surely done by the same Hand that sent you here to warn us," answered the prior. And I think that he was right.

Now came a whiff of biting smoke down the well shaft, borne by some breath of wind that eddied into it. The Danes had fired the place!

"Father," I whispered, pulling the prior forward, for he had gone into the little cell to give thanks for this last deliverance.

He looked very grave as he saw the blue haze across the doorway, hiding the moss and a tiny fern that grew on the shaft walls over against us.

"This is what I feared, though I must needs make light of it," he said.

"It cannot harm us here," I answered.

"All round this court on three sides the buildings are of wood; sheds and storehouses they are and of no account, but if one falls across the well mouth—what then?"

"Then we are like to be stifled," said I; for even now the smoke grew thicker, even so far down as we were. And when I looked out and up there was naught but smoke across the well mouth, and with that, sparks.

"Pent up and stifled both," said the quavering voice of the sacristan from behind us. "How may we get out of this place till men come and raise the ruin that will cover us? And who knows we are here but ourselves?"

"Forgive me for bringing you to this pass," said the prior gravely, after a little silence.

The smoke grew even denser, and we must needs cough, while the tears ran from my eyes, for the stinging oak smoke seemed trapped when once it was driven down the well.

"I have known men escape from worse than this," I said, thinking of Lodbrok, and turning over many wild plans in my mind.

"I had forgotten this danger of wooden walls," said the prior to himself, as it were. "Doubtless when this well chamber was made it was without the inclosure."

Now it seemed to me that this could not be borne much longer, and that soon the walls he dreaded would fall. So as one might as well die in one way as another, I thought I would climb to the well's mouth and see if there were any chance of safety for these two monks. Yet I had no thought of aught but dying with them, if need were, though as for myself I had but to walk across the courtyard and go away. The Danes would but think I lingered yet for the sake of plunder.

"If we may not stand this smoke, neither can the Danes," I said. "I am going to see."

So I set down my axe and sword and leapt sailor-wise at the rope—which the men had dropped again when they had taken the helm from the bucket—catching it easily and swarming up to the trapdoor. I only raised myself to the height of my eyes and looked out.

I could see nothing. The dense smoke eddied and circled round the court, and the Danes were gone, leaving us in a ring of fire on three sides. The wooden buildings were blazing higher every moment, and the heat seemed to scorch my head and hands till I could scarcely bear it. But as the wind drove aside the smoke I could see that the way to the rear gate, the last we had barred, was clear. So I slid down and hung opposite the chamber. The monks looked out at me with white faces.

"It may be done," I said. "Come quickly! it is the only chance."

The prior gave me the rope-ladder end without a word, not needing to be asked for it; nor did I wait to say more, for at that moment a roof fell in with a great crash, and a red glare filled the well as the flames shot up, and the sparks and bits of burning timber came down the shaft and hissed into the water below me.

I clomb up, fixed the ladder, and called down to the prior to bring my arms with him. There was a burning beam not three feet from the well mouth, part of the fallen roof that had slipped sideways from it. The flames that shot up from the building were so hot that I could barely abide them, and I shaded my face with both my hands, crying again to the monks to come quickly.

In a few seconds came the sacristan, white and trembling—I had to help him out of the well mouth. The prior was close to him; he was calm, and even smiled at me as he saw me clutch my arms eagerly.

"To the rear gate," I said, turning and kicking the ladder into the well, and thinking how cool the splash was compared with this furnace of heat. "Kilt up your frocks and go swiftly, but run not," for in that smoke, save their long garments betrayed them, a man might be armed or unarmed for all that one could see.

So, walking quickly, we came to the court entrance, and even as we stood under its archway the building nearest the well fell with a crash and rumble, covering the well mouth with a pile of blazing timber. The smoke and flame seemed to wrap us round, while the burning timber flew, and the Danes from the great courtyard yelled with evil delight; but before that cloud had cleared away we three were outside the monastery gate, and were safe.

"Just in time," I said.

But "Deo gratias" said the monks in a breath.

"Now run," said I, and into the nearest spur of woodland we went, and stayed not till we were beyond reach of the yells of the destroyers, who, as it seemed, had not even seen us.

When we were sure that we were not pursued, the prior took my arm and pressed it.

"Thanks to you, my son, our people are safe, and we have come out of yon furnace unscathed. May you find help in time of need as near and ready. Now when I read the story of the Three Children, I think I shall know all that they suffered, for we have been in like case."

And I could make no answer, for it seemed to me that I had forgotten that I was a Christian of late. And that was true.

Now the prior bade the sacristan hasten to Chichester and tell all this to the sheriff, and he left us, while we went on alone. Presently I asked who made the chamber in the well, for the silence weighed on me, and my thoughts were not so lightsome.

"Doubtless by Wilfrith's men," he said, "and for the same turn it has served us. For in his days there were many heathen round him, and flight or hiding might be the last resort at any time."

Then I wondered, saying that I deemed that surely it was a greater thing to be a martyr and to die, than to save life.

"Not always so," he answered, and then he told me of the ways of holy men of old time. "We may by no means save life by denying our faith, but we are bidden to flee into another place when persecuted. We may not choose the place of our death, nor yet the time."

So he showed me at last what it was to be truly a martyr, fearing not, nor yet seeking death.

"Of a truth," he ended, "the Lord may need my death by the hand of the heathen at some time, and when the time comes I shall know it, and will die gladly. But while He gives me the power to save life blamelessly, I know that He needs me on earth yet, though I am of little worth."

So we were silent after that, ever going on through the woods. At last he laughed a little, and looked sidewise at me.

"We two are alone," he said, "therefore I do not mind saying that I have been fairly afraid—how felt you?"

"I would I might never be so frightened again," I answered, for truly I had made myself so at one with this brave man that I had forgotten that there was little fear for myself, as I have said, unless that it had been Rorik's crew who had found us, for only a few of them knew me.

We came now to a place where the trees thinned away on the brow of a hill, and I could see the broad waters of the haven through their trunks. We had reached the crest of that little cliff over which Wilfrith's heathen had cast themselves in the great famine from which he saved them.

"Let us see the last of Bosham," the prior said sadly. So we crept through the fern and long grass, and lying down looked out over haven and village. Even if a prying Dane looked our way he would hardly see us thus hidden, or if he did would take us but for villagers and care not.

Now I saw that the tide was on the turn, and that Halfden's ship—my own ship, as I have ever thought her—had hauled out, and her boats waited for the last of the crew at the wharf side. But Rorik's ship was there still, and her men were busy rigging a crane of spars as though they would lower some heavy thing on board her. Nor could I guess what that might be.

Then I looked at the village, which was burning here and there, and at the monastery. They had not fired the church, and the Danes clustered round the tower doorway, busied with something, and I could see them well, for the smoke from the burning buildings blew away from us.

Now I asked the prior what heavy things worth carrying away might be in the monastery.

"Naught," he said; "since they have drunk all the ale that was in the cask or two we had.

"But," he added, "there is the great bell, it is the only weighty thing else."

Then I knew what was toward, and said:

"I fear, Father, that your bell is going to be taken to become metal for mail shirts, and axe heads, and arrowheads, and helms."

"Holy St. Wilfrith!" cried the monk, in great grief; "would that we could have saved it. There is no such bell in all England, and if they take it, many a sailor will miss its call through fog and driving mist, and many a shepherd on yonder downs will wait for its ringing, and be the wearier for lack thereof."

"Never have I seen bell too large for one man to handle," I said; "this must be a wondrous bell!"

So it was, he told me, and while we watched the busy Danes, he began to sing to me in low tones the song of Bosham bell which his people would sing by the fireside.

"Hard by the haven, Wilfrith the holy Bade men a bell tower Sturdily build. Thence should a bell sound Over the wide seas, Homeward to hail The hardy shipmen. Thus was the bell wrought By skilful workmen: Into the fierce fire, When it was founded, Helm and harness The warriors hove; Willingly women, The jewel wearers, Golden and silver gauds Gave for the melting; And a great anchor The seamen added. Thus was a wealth Of wondrous metal. When all was molten More grew its marvel! Cast in a chalice, Cuthred the priest."

"Aye, Father," said I, "that is a wondrous bell."

He nodded, and went on, with his eyes fixed on the monastery.

"Thus as the bell swings Soothly it speaketh: Churchward it calleth With voice of the chalice, Speaking to shipmen With voice that is sea born. Homeward the husband Hailing with voices Fresh from the fireside, Where flashed the gold gifts— Clashing the war call, Clear with its warrior voice."

"That was the voice of the bell that sounded as we came," I thought; and even as I would have said it, the bell of Bosham spoke again, and the prior stopped with an exclamation, and pointed.

Out of the gateway came four Danes, bearing the bell between them, and as they crossed the threshold, one stumbled, and the bell clanged as they dropped it on the courtyard pavement. The tears ran down the holy man's face as he saw this mishap to his beloved bell, which was kept bright as when it was first founded, by the loving hands of his people.

Now the Danes put it on that farm cart I had seen, and which they had mended, and took the bell down to the wharf, and we watched them sling it to the crane they had rigged, and place it amidships on deck. Then they all went hastily on board, and put out into the haven, down which Halfden's ship was already a mile distant, and dancing on the quick waves of wind against tide where the waters broadened into a wide lake.

Now when the ship was fairly under way, the prior rose up from beside me, and lifting his hand, cursed ship and crew with so great and bitter a curse that I trembled and looked to see the ship founder at once, so terrible were his words.

Yet the ship held on her course, and the words seemed vain and wasted, though I know not so certainly that they were so. For this is what I saw when the ship met the waves of that wider stretch of water that Halfden had now crossed.

She pitched sharply, and there was a bright gleam of sunlight from the great bell's polished sides, and then another—and the ship listed over to starboard and a wave curled in foam over her gunwale. Then she righted again quickly, and as though relieved of some weight, yet when a heavier, crested roller came on her she rose to it hardly at all, and it broke on board her. And at that she sank like a stone, and I could hear the yell that her men gave come down the wind to me.

Then all the water was dotted with men for a little, and the bright red and white of her sail floated on the waves for a minute, and then all that was left of her were the masthead and yard—and on them a few men. The rest were gone, for they were in their mail, and might not swim. Only a few yet clung to floating oars and the like.

"Little have these heathen gained from Bosham," said the prior, and his eyes flashed with triumph. "Wilfrith the holy has punished their ill doing."

So, too, it seemed to me, and I thought to myself that the weight of that awesome curse had indeed fallen on the robbers.

Yet I know that, as I watched the ship in her trouble, in my own mind I had been going over what was amiss, as any seaman will, without thought of powers above. And I thought that the sharp pitching of the vessel had cast the great bell from amidships, where I had seen the Danes place it unsecured, against the frail gunwale, first to one side, and then, with greater force yet, against the other; so that it burst open gunwale and planking below, and already she was filling when the wave came and ended all. For these swift viking ships are built to take no heavy cargo, and planks and timbers are but bound together by roots and withies; so that as one stands on the deck one may feel it give and spring to the blow of a wave, and the ship is all the swifter. But though the outer planking is closely riveted together with good iron, that could not withstand the crashing weight of so great a bell when it was thus flung against it.

However that may have been—and thus I surely think it was—Bosham bell passed not into the power of the heathen, but destroyed them; and it lies at the bottom of the deepest reach of the haven whence the depth and swiftness of the tide will hardly let men bring it again. So I suppose that, profaned by heathen hands, it may no longer call men from across the water and woodland to the church of God.

Soon came the boats from Halfden's ship and picked up those who yet clung to what they might of the wreck, and then ship and Danes passed from Bosham haven, leaving the silent tower and burning village to mark where they had been.

Then the prior sighed, and turning away, said:

"Let us go to Chichester and find shelter. Night comes soon, and rest."

Sadly enough we went, though not for long: for when we came into the roadway from the forest land, the prior put his heavy thoughts aside, and spoke cheerfully to me.

"What is done is done; and but for you, my son, things would have been worse. And their greed for the bell has made them spare the church itself. Surely you must have fallen from the clouds to help us—borne hither from the East Anglian land whose tongue bewrays you."

"I marvel that you trusted me," I said.

"I trusted your face, my son, and when one is in a hard case the first help is ever the best. Yet now I would fain know somewhat of my good comrade."

Now I think that to any but this monk, with his friendly smile and way of quiet authority, I should have been ashamed to own my part with the Danes. But a few hours of companionship in danger knit closer than many a long day of idleness together, and he seemed to me as a near friend. Moreover, he had trusted me without question; so I told him all my tale and he listened patiently.

"Now I am glad that I cursed not your friend's ship—for I forgot her," he said, smiling.

At that I was glad, for how he would hold my being with the heathen I somewhat doubted, and I told him so.

"Why, my son, I know not that you had much choice. And as for fighting against outlanders—let me heft that axe of yours."

He took it, and it fell into his hands in a way that told me that he, too, had been a stark fighting man at some time.

"Take it away, my son, take it away!" he cried, thrusting it back on me; "I am not the man to blame you. And I know that much good has come to us from your being with them. And from your talk about martyrs I know that you have done no honour to their gods."

I said truly that the question had never come into my mind. For, save as oath or war cry, the names of Thor and Odin were not heard. They sacrificed on going to sea, and on return; and meanwhile cared naught, so far as I knew, for none had questioned my faith.

He said it was well, and so talking we went on. And he said that, as friend of his, none would question me, so that I should find all I needed for my journey in the town. And when we came there—meeting the sheriff's ill-armed levy on the way—we went to the house of a great thane, and there were well and kindly received.

Yet once and again as I slept I dreamed and woke with the cry of Rorik's men in my ears, and before me the bell seemed to flash again as it crashed through the ship's side. And once I woke thinking that the smell of burning was round me, and felt, half awake, for the stone walls of the well chamber. But at last I slept soundly and peacefully.



CHAPTER V. HOW WULFRIC, LODBROK, AND BEORN HUNTED.

When morning came it was great wonder and joy to me to wake and find myself in England and free, for indeed I had begun to think of my comradeship with the Danes as a sort of thralldom that I knew not how to break. And now I longed to make my way back to Reedham as soon as I might, for I had been many weeks away, though I have said little of all that befell in that time beyond what was needful. One thing saved me from grief that might have been, and that was the knowledge that Ingild, the merchant, had not been told to look for my coming, and that none at home would wonder if I were long away, because of that plan of wintering our ship in the Thames. And I knew that not one of my poor crew could have lived to take news of the wreck.

That I must take back myself; and though I could not fairly be blamed for loss of ship and crew, the thought of having to break the tidings to those who would mourn for their lost ones was very hard to me. But it must be done, and there was an end.

Now came to me, as I thought of these things, my friend the Prior of Bosham, and he sat down beside me and asked how he could further my plans. He himself must go to Selsea, there to see the bishop and tell him all, not forgetting my part, as he said.

I told him that I only needed a horse, and that then I should ride to London, where I had friends: and he asked me if I had money wherewith to buy one, for he had none, else would he gladly do so for me. And that reminded me of the bag which Halfden gave me, and I opened it.

It was full of treasure—gold ornaments, and chains wherein were set precious stones, and some gold coins and silver, and these were the least value of all. But little pleasure had I in them, for I knew too well how they came, and a thought came to me.

"Father," I said, "this comes from ruined towns on yonder shore—take it and build up Bosham again. Aye, take it."

"Why, my son, here is treasure enough to build three villages like ours," he said quietly; "for timber houses cost but labour in this forest land, and there was naught else worth taking in the place."

"But your people are the poorer," I said; "I pray you take it for their need, and for a new bell, moreover."

And so I urged him till he took the greatest gold chain, saying that in honesty he could no more, for that would surely make Bosham wish for more burnings if they turned out as this.

"Keep the rest and buy a new ship," he said, "and forget not that always and every day your name will be remembered at the time of mass in Bosham; and that may help you in days to come."

So he blessed me and departed, and I think that both of us were light at heart, save for parting. And I have never seen the good prior again, though his face and words I cannot forget.

Soon came one to lead me to the presence of the thane and his wife, and from them I found kindness more than I could have looked for. We broke our fast together, and then the lady asked me if I would accept horse and gear for my journey from her, for she had heard from the prior that I had been shipwrecked, who had also told her all the story of our doings at Bosham.

Thanking her, I told her that though shipwrecked, I was yet rich, having a store of wealth with me; for I thought that it was in the minds of these kind people that I was in need.

"Be not proud," she said "bide with us for a while, and then take horse and go. We hold that you have deserved well of all of us."

But I told her of my mother and sister at home, and how I would fain be back with them, so she pitied me the more, saying that now for their sakes she would hasten me.

"Aye, lad," said the thane, "we have sons of our own at court, and the lady would that someone would pack them home on a good horse—so she must not be denied."

Thus they persuaded me, and when I tried to thank them, the thane laughed, and the lady said:

"Thank me not but in one way, and that is by asking your mother to help homeward some other lady's son when need is. And that is all I would wish."

And the end of it was that I rode away from Chichester town on a good horse and with change of clothes in saddlebags, and those worthy people stood at the gate to give me good speed.

Yet that is not the end, for there are one or two who have ridden in like sort from Reedham since that day, and have borne home the like message; so that I know not where the ending of that kindly deed may be.

Past the old Chichester walls I went, and out on the long line of the Roman street that should take me to London. And as I went I sang, for the green beechen woods were wondrous fair to me after the long weeks of changing sea, and it seemed to me that all was going well, so that I put away for the time the grievous thought of my shipwreck, the one hard thing that I must face when I came home again.

There is nothing to tell of that ride; for well armed, and rich, and with a good horse, what should there be? And at last I came to London town, and rode straightway to the great house of my godfather, Ingild, that stood by London Bridge. Very strange it was to me to look out over the Pool as I crossed, and not to see our good ship in her wonted place, for this was the first time I had come to London except in her.

At the door of the courtyard, round which Ingild had his great storehouses and sheds for goods, I drew rein, and two serving men whom I knew well came out. Yet they knew me not, staring at my arms and waiting for my commands.

So I spoke to them by name, and they started and then laughed, saying that they must be forgiven for not knowing me in my arms, for surely I had changed greatly since two years ago, when I was last with them.

It was the same when Ingild himself came out, ample robed and portly; for he gazed long at my helmed face, and then cried:

"Why, here is a marvel! Wulfric, my son, you have grown from boy to man since last we met; and you come in helm and mail shirt and on horseback, instead of in blue homespun and fur cap, with an oar blister on either hand. How is this?"

Then he kissed me on both cheeks and led me in, running on thus till a good meal was before me, with a horn of his mighty ale; and then he let me be in peace for a little while.

Afterwards, as we sat alone together, I told him all that had befallen, even as I would have told my father, for in my mind Ingild, my godfather, came next to him and our king, and I loved him well.

Sorely he grieved for loss of ship and goods and men, but he told me that we were not the only seamen who had been hurt by that sudden gale. Nor did he blame me at all, knowing that Kenulf was in truth the commander of our ship. Rather was he glad that it had chanced that I had left her and so was safe.

Then when I told him of my turning viking thereafter, he laughed grimly, with a glitter of his eye, saying that he would surely have done the same at my age—aye, and any young man in all England likewise, were he worth aught.

So when I had told him all about my journey, I showed him the bag that Halfden gave me, and well he knew the value of the treasure therein.

"Why, son Wulfric," he cried; "here is wealth enough to buy a new ship withal, as times go!"

And I would have him keep it, not being willing to take so great a sum about with me, and that he did willingly, only asking me to let him use it, if chance should be, on my behalf, and making me keep the silver money for my own use going homeward.

"Yet I will keep you awhile, for Egfrid, the Thane's son of Hoxne, who is here at court, goes home for Yuletide, and so you can ride with him. And I think it will be well that we should send word to your father of how things have been faring with you, for so will you have naught of misfortune to tell when you come home."

I thought this wise counsel and kindly, for my people would best tell those wives and children of their loss, and so things would be easier for me. And Ingild sent writing to my father by the hand of some chapman travelling to the great fair at Norwich; and with his letter went one from me also, with messages to Lodbrok—for Eadmund had made me learn to write.

So after that I abode with Ingild, going to the court of Ethelred the King with him, and seeing the great feasts which the merchant guilds made for the king while he was in London; with many other wondrous sights, so that the time went quickly, and the more so that this Egfrid was ever with me. I had known him when we were little lads together at our own king's court, but he had left to go to that of our great overlord, Ethelred, so that I had not seen him for long years. And one may sail up our Waveney river to Hoxne, where his father's house is, from ours at Reedham, though it is a long way.

Now in the week before Yuletide we would start homewards, so with many gifts and words of good speed, Ingild set us forth; and we rode well armed and attended as the sons of great thanes should. So the way was light to us in the clear December weather, and if it were long the journey was very pleasant, for Egfrid and I grew to be great friends, and there is nothing more joyous than to be riding ever homeward through wood and over wild, with one whose ways fit with one's own, in the days of youth, when cares are none and shadows fall not yet across the path.

When we came to Colchester town we heard that Eadmund was yet at Thetford, and when we asked more we learnt that Lodbrok was there also with my father. So, because Hoxne was but twenty miles or thereby from Thetford, both Egfrid and I were glad that our way was yet together, and we would go there first of all.

One other thing we heard in Colchester, for we waited there for two days, resting our horses. There was a wandering gleeman who came into the marketplace on the hill top, and we stood and listened to him.

And first he sang of how Danes had come and burnt Harwich town. But the people told him to sing less stale news than that, for Harwich was close at hand. Now it was Halfden's ship which had done that, and the fires we saw before the fog came had been the beacons lit because of his landing.

Then he made a great outcry until he had many folk to listen, and they paid him well before he would sing. Whereon, forsooth, my ears tingled, for he sang of the burning of Bosham. And when he came to the stealing of the bell, his tale was, that it, being hallowed, would by no means bear that heathen hands should touch it, so that when it came to the deepest pool in the haven it turned red hot, and so, burning a great hole through the Danish ship, sank to the bottom, and the Danes were all drowned. Whereat the people marvelled, and the gleeman fared well.

I suppose that the flashing of the great bell that I had seen gave rise to this tale, and that is how men tell it to this day. And I care not to gainsay them, for it is close enough to the truth, and few know that I had so nearly a hand in the matter.

So we rode to Thetford, and how we were received there is no need for me to tell, for I came back as it were from the dead, and Egfrid after years of absence. And there with Eadmund were my father and mother, and Eadgyth, and Lodbrok, and Egfrid's folk also, with many more friends to greet us, and the king would have us keep Yuletide with him.

It had been in my mind that Halfden would have come to Reedham, and at first I looked for him, but he had not been heard of, so that now we knew that we should not see him before springtime came, for he must needs be wintering somewhere westward. Yet now Lodbrok was at ease with us, seeing the end of his stay, and being in high favour with our king, so that he was seldom away from his side in all the hunting that went on.

That liked not Beorn, the falconer, and though he would be friendly, to all seeming, with the Dane, it seemed to me that his first jealousy had grown deeper and taken more hold of him, though it might only be in a chance look or word that he showed it as days went on.

But one night my father and I rode in together from our hunting, and there was no one with us. We had been at Thetford for a month now, since I came home, and there was a talk that the king would go to the court of Ethelred at Winchester shortly, taking my father with him for his counsellor, and so we spoke of that for a while, and how I must order things at Reedham while he was away.

"Lodbrok, our friend, will go back with you," he said. "Now, have you noted any envy at the favour in which he is held by Eadmund?"

"Aye, Father," I answered, "from Beorn, the falconer."

"So you, too, have had your eyes open," went on my father; "now I mistrust that man, for he hates Lodbrok."

"That is saying more than I had thought."

"You have been away, and there is more than you know at the bottom of the matter. The king offered Lodbrok lands if he would bide with us and be his man, and these he refused, gently enough, saying that he had broad lands of his own, and that he would not turn Christian, as the king wished, for the sake of gain. He would only leave the worship of his own gods for better reasons. Now Beorn covets those lands, and has hoped to gain them. Nor does he yet know that Lodbrok will not take them."

Then I began to see that this matter was deeper than I had thought, and told my father of the first meeting of Lodbrok and Beorn. But I said that the falconer had seemed very friendly of late.

"Aye, too friendly," said my father; "it is but a little while since he held aloof from him, and now he is ever close to Lodbrok in field and forest. You know how an arrow may seem to glance from a tree, or how a spear thrust may go wide when the boar is at bay, and men press round him, or an ill blow may fall when none may know it but the striker."

"Surely no man would be so base!" I cried.

"Such things have been and may be again. Long have I known Beorn, and I would not have him for enemy. His ways are not open."

Then I said that if Beorn was ever near Lodbrok, I would be nearer, and so we left the matter.

There was one other thing, which was more pleasant, which we spoke about at that time. And it was about the betrothal of my sister Eadgyth. For it had come to pass that Egfrid, my friend, had sought her hand, and the match pleased us all. So before the king and my father went to Winchester there was high feasting, and those two were pledged one to the other. Then was a new house to be built for them at Hoxne, where the wedding itself should take place.

"Maybe Halfden will be here by that time," said Lodbrok to me. "I wish, friend Wulfric, that honest Egfrid had not been so forward, or that you had another fair sister."

Now though that saying pleased me, I could not wish for the wild viking as husband to our gentle Eadgyth, though I loved him well as my own friend. So I said that I thought Halfden's ship was his only love.

"Maybe," answered the jarl; "but one may never know, and I think it would be well for English folk and Danish to be knit together more closely."

But when I asked him why this should be so, he only smiled, and talked of friendliness between the two peoples, which seemed a little matter to me at that time.

Now when the time came, my father having gone, we two, Lodbrok and I, went back to Reedham, while my mother and Eadgyth stayed yet at Thetford for the sake of Egfrid's new house building, for he would have it built to suit her who should rule it.

Strange and grievous it was to me to see our shipyard empty, and sad to have to tell the story of the good ship's loss to those whose mourning was not yet over. Yet they were sailors' wives and children, and to them death at sea was honourable, as is to a warrior's wife that her husband should fall in a ring of foes with all his wounds in front. And they blamed me not; but rather rejoiced that I was safe returned.

Now without thought of any foe, or near or far, Lodbrok and I hunted and hawked over our manors, finding good sport, and in a little while I forgot all about Beorn, for I had seen him go in the king's train as they rode out to Winchester.

Out of that carelessness of mine came trouble, the end of which is hard to see, and heavily, if there is blame to me, have I paid for it. And I think that I should have better remembered my father's words, though I had no thought but that danger was far away for the time.

We hunted one day alone together, and had ridden far across our nearer lands to find fresh ground, so that we were in the wide forest country that stretches towards Norwich, on the south of the Yare. Maybe we were five miles from the old castle at Caistor. There we beat the woods for roebuck, having greyhounds and hawks with us, but no attendants, as it happened, and for a time we found nothing, not being far from the road that leads to the great city from the south.

Then we came to a thicket where the deer were likely to harbour, and we went, one on either side of it, so that we could not see one another, and little by little separated. Then I started a roe, and after it went my hounds, and I with them, winding my horn to call Lodbrok to me, for they went away from him.

My hounds took the roe, after a long chase, and I was at work upon it, when that white hound that I had given to Lodbrok came leaping towards me, and taking no heed of the other hounds, or of the dead deer, fawned upon me, marking my green coat with bloodstains from its paws.

I was angry, and rated the hound, and it fled away swiftly as it came, only to return, whining and running to and fro as though to draw me after it. Then I thought that Lodbrok had also slain a deer, starting one from the same thicket, which was likely enough, and that this dog, being but young, would have me come and see it. All the while the hound kept going and coming, being very uneasy, and I rated it again.

Then it came across me that I had not heard Lodbrok's horn, and that surely the dog would not so soon have left his quarry. And at that I hasted and hung the deer on a branch, and, mounting my horse, rode after the hound, which at once ran straight before me, going to where I thought Lodbrok would be.

When I came round the spur of wood that had first parted us I was frightened, for Lodbrok's horse ran there loose, snorting as if in terror of somewhat that I could not see, and I caught him and rode on.

When I could see a furlong before me, into a little hollow of the land that is there, before me was a man, dressed like myself in green, and he was dragging the body of another man towards a thicket; and as I saw this my horses started from a pool of blood in which lay a broken arrow shaft.

At that I shouted and spurred swiftly towards those two—letting the other horse go free—with I know not what wild thoughts in my mind.

And when I came near I knew that the living man was Beorn, and that the dead was Lodbrok my friend.

Then I took my horn and wound it loud and long, charging down upon that traitor with drawn sword, for I had left my hunting spear with the slain deer. He dropped his burden, and drew his sword also, turning on me. And I saw that the blade was red.

Then I made no more delay, but leapt from my horse and fell upon him to avenge myself for the death of him whom I loved. Would that I had had the axe whose use he who lay there had taught me so well, for then the matter would have been ended at one blow. But now we were evenly matched, and without a word we knew that this fight must be to the death, and our swords crossed, and blow and parry came quickly.

Then I heard shouts, and the noise of men running behind me, and Beorn cried:

"Stay us not, I avenge me of my friend," whereon I ground my teeth and pressed on him yet more fiercely, wounding him a little in the shoulder; and he cried out for help—for the men who came were close on us—and the well-cast noose of a rope fell over my shoulders, and I was jerked away from him well-nigh choked.

Two men ran past me and took Beorn, throwing up his sword with their quarterstaves, and it seemed to me that it was done over gently. Then they bound us both and set us on the ground face to face.

"Now here be fine doings!" said a man, who seemed to be the leader of the six or seven who had ended the fight.

"Aye, 'tis murder," said another, looking from Beorn to me and then to Beorn again; "but which is murderer and which true man?"

Now all these men were strangers to me, but I knew one thing about them from their dress. They were the men of mighty Earl Ulfkytel himself, and seemed to be foresters, and honest men enough by their faces.

"I am Wulfric, son of Elfric of Reedham," I said. "The slain man is Lodbrok, the Danish jarl, and this man slew him."

"He lies!" cried Beorn. "It was he who slew him, and I would revenge myself on him, for this Lodbrok was my friend."

Now I held my peace, keeping back my wrath as well as I might, for I began to see that Beorn had some deep plot on hand, thus to behave as if innocent.

"Why, so he cried out as we came," said one of the men when he heard Beorn's words.

"Maybe both had a hand in it," the leader said, and so they talked for a little.

Then came two of my own serfs, who had followed me to see the sport, I suppose, at a distance, as idle men will sometimes, when hunting is on hand, and with them came Lodbrok's dog, the same that had brought me. And when the dog saw Beorn he flew at him and would have mauled him sorely, but that the earl's men beat him off with their staves; and one took the leash that hung from my saddle bow and tied him to a tree, where he sat growling and making as though he would again fly at the falconer.

"Whose dog is this?" asked the leader.

"His," answered the serfs, pointing to Lodbrok.

"Dogs might tell strange tales could they talk," said the earl's man; "I misdoubt both these men. Let us take them to the earl for judgment."

"Where is the earl?" I asked.

"At Caistor," answered the man shortly, and I was glad that he was so near, for the matter would be quickly settled and I could go free.

"Unbind me, and I will go where you will," I said, but at that Beorn cried out.

"Loose him not, loose him not, I pray you!"

"Tie their hands behind them and let us be gone," was the answer, and they did so, loosing my feet, and setting us on my horse and Lodbrok's. And some of the men stayed behind with my serfs to make a litter on which to carry my friend's body, and follow us to Caistor. So as I went I cried quickly to those two men of mine that they should go in all haste to Reedham and tell what had befallen me to our steward, who would know what to do.

"Reedham is too far for a rescue to reach you in time," said the leader of the earl's men grimly; "think not of it."

"I meant not that, but to have witnesses to speak for me."

"That is fair," said the man, after a little thought, "we will not hinder their going."

Then they led us away, and presently reached that place where I had seen the broken arrow, and one picked it up, saying that here was surely the place where the deed was done, and that the arrow would maybe prove somewhat. And I think that here Beorn had shot the jarl, for all around those other marks on the grass were the hoofmarks of the rearing and frightened horse, and there were many places where an archer might lie unseen in the thickets, after following us all day maybe, as Beorn must have done, thus to find fitting chance for his plan when we two were far apart. And surely, had it not been for the dog, I think the fate of Lodbrok would have been unknown for many a long day, for but for him Beorn would have hidden his deed and ridden off before I had known aught.

Now, as the man handled the broken arrow, walking beside me, I saw it plainly, and knew it for one of my own, and one of four that I had lost at Thetford, though I did not know how.

At that I seemed to see all the plot, and my heart sank within me, for this Beorn was most crafty, and had planned well to throw doubt on me if things by ill chance fell out as they had, and so I rode in silence wondering what help should come, and whence. And I thought of Halfden, and what he should think when he heard the tale that was likely to be told him, and even as I thought this there was a rushing of light wings, and Lodbrok's gray falcon—which I had cast from my wrist as I fell on Beorn—came back to me, and perched on my saddle, for my hands were bound behind me. She had become unhooded in some way.

Then Beorn cried out to the men to take the falcon, for it was his, and that he would not have her lost; and that angered me so that I cried out on him, giving him the lie, and he turned pale as if I were free and could smite him. Whereon the men bade us roughly to hold our peace, and the leader whistled to the falcon and held out his hand to take her. But she struck at him and soared away, and I watched her go towards Reedham, and was glad she did so with a sort of dull gladness.

For I would have no man pass through a time of thoughts such as mine were as they took me to Caistor—rage and grief and fear of shame all at once, and one chasing the other through my mind till I knew not where I was, and would start as from a troubled dream when one spoke, and then go back to the same again as will a sick man. But by the time we reached Caistor I had, as it seemed to me, thought every thought that might be possible, and one thing only was plain and clear. I would ask for judgment by Eadmund the King, and if that might not be, then for trial by battle, which the earl would surely grant. And yet I hoped that Beorn's plot was not so crafty but that it would fail in some way.

So they put me in a strong cell in the old castle, leading Beorn to another, and there left me. The darkness came, and they brought me food, so I ate and drank, being very hungry and weary; and that done, my thoughts passed from me, for I slept heavily, worn out both in body and mind.



CHAPTER VI. THE JUSTICE OF EARL ULFKYTEL.

An armed jailor woke me with daylight, bringing me food again, and at first I was dazed, not knowing where I was, so heavy was my sleep. Yet I knew that I woke to somewhat ill.

"Where am I?" I asked.

"Under Caistor walls, surely," he said; and I remembered all.

The man looked friendly enough, so that I spoke again to him, asking if the great earl was here, and he said that he was.

"What do men say?" I asked then.

"That the matter is like to puzzle the earl himself, so that it is hard for a plain man to unriddle. But I think that half Reedham are here to see justice done you; even if it is naught but Earl Ulfkytel's justice!" And he grinned.

I knew why. For Ulfkytel was ever a just man, though severe, and his justice was a word with us, though in a strange way enough. For if a case was too hard for him to decide in his own mind, he would study to find some way in which the truth might make itself known, as it were. Nor did he hold much with trial by hot water, or heated ploughshares, and the like; finding new ways of his own contriving, which often brought the truth plainly to light, but which no other man would have thought of. So that if a man, in doing or planning some ill to another, was himself hurt, we would laugh and say: "That is like the earl's justice".

So though Ulfkytel was no friend of my father's, having, indeed, some old quarrel about rights of manor or the like, I thought nothing of that, save that he would the sooner send me to the king for trial.

The jailor told me that I should be tried at noonday, and went away, and so I waited patiently as I might until then, keeping thought quiet as best I could by looking forward and turning over what I could say, which seemed to be nothing but the plain truth.

At last the weary waiting ended, and they took me into the great hall of the castle, and there on the high seat sat the earl, a thin, broad-shouldered man, with a long gray beard and gray eyes, that glittered bright and restless under shaggy eyebrows. Beorn, too, was brought in at the same time, and we were set opposite to one another, to right and left of the earl, below the high place, closely watched by the armed guards, bound also, though not tightly, and only as to our hands.

And there on a trestle table before us lay the body of Jarl Lodbrok, my friend, in whose side was my broken arrow. All the lower end of the hall was filled with the people, and I saw my two serfs there, and many Reedham folk.

Then the court was set, and with the earl were many men whom I knew by sight, honest thanes and franklins enough, and of that I was glad.

First of all one read, in the ears of all, that of which we two who were there bound were accused, giving the names of those half-dozen men who had found us fighting and had brought us for judgment.

Then said Earl Ulfkytel:

"Here is a matter that is not easy in itself, and I will not hide this, that the father of this Wulfric and I are unfriendly, and that Beorn has been a friend of mine, though no close one. Therefore is more need that I must be very careful that justice is not swayed by my knowledge and thoughts of the accused. So I put that away from me; I know naught of these two men but what I hear from witnesses."

Some people at the end of the hall sought to praise the even handedness of that saying loudly, but the earl frowned and shouted:

"Silence!—shall a judge be praised for doing right?"

"Then," said he, growing quiet again, and speaking plainly and slowly that all might hear, "this is how the matter stands. Here are two men found fighting over the body of a third who is known, as men say, to have been friendly with both. No man saw the beginning of the business. Now we will hear what was seen, but first let this Wulfric speak for himself;" and he turned his bright eyes on me.

Now I told him all the truth from the time when I parted from Lodbrok until the men came.

Then the earl asked me:

"Why thought you that Beorn slew the man?"

"Because there was no other man near, and because I know that he bore ill will towards him for the favour shown him by the king."

"So," said Ulfkytel; "now let Beorn speak."

Then that evil man, being very crafty, did not deny my words, but said that he had found the body lying with my arrow in its side. And though he knew not why I had done the deed, for the sake of his friendship with my father and myself he would have hidden it, and even as he did so I came, falling on him. Whereon he grew wroth, and fought.

"It seems to me," said the earl, "that a word from you should rather have made Wulfric help you and thank you; not fall on you. Now let the witnesses say their say."

So they stood forward, telling naught but the truth, as honest men. And they seemed to think much of Beorn's having cried out for revenge. Also they showed the arrow, which fitted exactly to the headed end which was in Lodbrok's side, and was the same as two that were in my quiver with others. Now if Beorn shot that arrow he must have made away with both bow and quiver, for he had none when we were taken.

Then one of the other thanes said that the dead man had another wound, and that in the throat, and it was so, Whereon the jailer was bidden to bring our swords, and it was found that both were stained, for I had wounded Beorn a little, as I have said.

"Is Wulfric wounded then?" asked Ulfkytel.

And I was not.

"Whence then is Beorn's sword stained?" he asked.

Then came my two thralls, and spoke to the truth of my story, as did one of the men who had stayed with them, for he too had seen the deer hanging where I had left it, nearly a mile away from where the fight was. And my men added that they had seen me riding to that place, and had followed the call of my horn.

"Murderers do not call thus for help," said the earl. "What more?"

"Only that Lodbrok's dog flew at Beorn;" they said.

Then my steward and others told the story of my saving of Lodbrok, and there were one or two who knew how closely Beorn seemed to have sought his friendship. There was no more then to be said.

All the while Ulfkytel had watched my face and Beorn's, and now he said:

"The arrow condemns Wulfric, but any man might pick up a good arrow that he had lost. And the sword condemns Beorn, but there are many ways in which it might be bloodstained in that affair. Now, were these two robbers, I would hold that they were fighting over division of booty, but they are honourable men. Wherefore I will have one more witness who knows not how to lie. Fetch the dog."

So they brought Lodbrok's dog, which the serfs had with them, and they loosed it. It ran to his body first and cried over it, pulling his coat with its paws and licking his face, so that it was pitiful to see it, and there were women present who wept thereat.

Then it left him and came to me, thrusting its nose into my hand, but I would not notice it, for justice's sake; but when it saw Beorn, it bristled up, flying at his throat so that he fell under it, and the guards had much ado in getting it off, and one was bitten.

"The dog condemns Beorn," said the earl, "but Wulfric bred it."

After that he would have no more witness; but now should each of us lay hand on the body and swear that he was guiltless.

They brought a book of the Holy Gospels and put it on Lodbrok's breast, and first I laid my hand thereon, looking into the quiet face of the man whose life I had saved, and sware truly.

Then must Beorn confess or swear falsely, and I looked at him and his cheek was pale. But he, too, laid hand on the dread book in its awful place and sware that he was innocent—and naught happened. For I looked, as I think many looked, to see the blood start from the wound that he had given the jarl, but it was not so. There was no sign. Then crossed my mind the first doubt that I had had that Beorn was guilty. Yet I knew he lied in some things, and the doubt passed away quickly.

Then Ulfkytel pushed away the table from before him so that it fell over.

"Take these men away," he said. "I have heard and seen enough. I will think!"

They led us away to the cells again, and I wondered how all this would end. In an hour they brought us back, and set us in our places again. The earl had more to say, as it seemed.

"Will you two pay the weregild {xi} between you?"

"No, Lord Earl," I said; "that were to confess guilt, which would be a lie."

Then Beorn cried:

"I pray you, Wulfric, let us pay and have done!"

But I turned from him in loathing.

"Ho, Master Falconer," said Ulfkytel, "the man is an outlander! To whom will you pay it? To Wulfric who saved his life?"

Now at that Beorn was dumb, seeing that the earl had trapped him very nearly, and he grew ashy pale, and the great earl scowled at him.

"Let me have trial by battle," I said quietly, thinking that it would be surely granted.

There was as good reason to suspect me as Beorn, as I saw.

"Silence, Wulfric!" said the earl. "That is for me to say."

"Let the king judge, I pray you, Lord Earl," I went on, for he spoke in no angry tone, nor looked at me.

However, that angered him, for, indeed, it was hard to say whether king or earl was more powerful in East Anglia. Maybe Eadmund's power came by love, and that of the earl by the strong hand. But the earl was most loyal.

"What!" he said in a great voice, "am I not earl? And shall the king be troubled with common manslayers while I sit in his seat of justice? Go to! I am judge, and will answer to the king for what I do."

So I was silent, waiting for what should come next.

But he forgot me in a minute, and seemed to be thinking.

At last he said:

"One of these men is guilty, but I know not which."

And so he summed up all that he had heard, and as he did so it seemed, even to me, that proofs of guilt were evenly balanced, so that once again I half thought that Beorn might be wronged in the accusation, as I was.

"So," he ended, "friend has slain friend, and friends have fought, and there is no question of a third man in the matter."

He looked round on the honest faces with him, and saw that they were puzzled and had naught to say, and went on:

"Wherefore, seeing that these men have had trial by battle already, which was stopped, and that the slain man was a foreigner from over seas and has no friends to speak concerning him, I have a mind to put the judgment into the hands of the greatest Judge of all. As Lodbrok the Dane came by sea, these men shall be judged upon the sea by Him who is over all. And surely the innocent shall escape, and the guilty shall be punished in such sort that he shall wish that I had been wise enough to see his guilt plainly and to hang him for treachery to his friend and the king's, or else to put him into ward until some good bishop asks for pardon for ill doing."

And with that half promise he looked sharply at us to see if any sign would come from the murderer.

But I had naught to say, nor did I seem to care just now what befell me, while Beorn was doubtless fearful lest the wrath of Eadmund the King should prevail in the end were he to be imprisoned only. So he answered not, and the earl frowned heavily.

Now one of the franklins there, who knew me well enough, said:

"Wulfric, be not ashamed to confess it, if for once you shot ill—if your arrow went by chance to Lodbrok's heart, I pray you, say so. It may well be forgiven."

Very grateful was I for that kind word, but I would not plead falsely, nor, indeed, would it have told aught of the other wound that had been made. So I shook my head, thanking the man, and saying that it was not so.

Now I think that the earl had planned this in order to make one of us speak at the last, and for a moment I thought that Beorn was about to speak, but he forbore. Then Ulfkytel sighed heavily and turned away, speaking in a low voice to the thanes with him, and they seemed to agree with his words.

At length he turned to us and spoke gravely:

"It is, as I said, too hard for me. The Lord shall judge. Even as Lodbrok came shall you two go, at the mercy of wind and wave and of Him who rules them. You shall be put into Lodbrok's boat this night, and set adrift to take what may come. Only this I lay upon you, that the innocent man shall not harm the guilty. As for himself, he need, as I think, have no fear, for the guilty man is a coward and nidring {xii}. Nor, as it seems to me, if all may be believed, can the guiltless say for certain that the other did it."

Then was a murmur of assent to this strange manner of justice of Earl Ulfkytel's, and I, who feared not the sea, was glad; but Beorn would have fallen on the ground, but for his guards, and almost had he confessed, as I think.

"Eat and drink well," said Ulfkytel, "for maybe it is long before you see food again."

"Where shall you set them afloat?" asked a thane.

"Am I a fool to let men know that?" asked the earl sharply. "There would be a rescue for a certainty. You shall know by and by in private."

The guards took us away, and unbinding our hands, set plenty of good food and drink before us. And for my part I did well, for now that I knew the worst my spirits rose, and I had some hopes of escape, for there was every sign of fair weather for long enough. And viking ways had taught me to go fasting for two days, if need be, given a good meal to start upon.

But Beorn ate little and drank much, while the guards bade him take example from me, but he would not; and after a while sat silent in a corner and ghastly to look upon, for no one cared to meddle with him.

As soon as it grew dusk they bade us eat again, for in half an hour we should set forth to the coast. At that Beorn started up and cried out, wringing his hands and groaning, though he said no word, except that I should surely slay him in the boat.

Then I spoke to him for the first time since he had claimed the falcon, and said that from me, at least, he was safe. And I spoke roughly, so that I think he believed me, so plain did I make it that I thought one who was surely cowardly in word and deed was not worth harming, and he ceased his outcry.

At last we were set on horseback, and with two score or more mounted spearmen round us, we rode quickly out of Caistor town. A few men shouted and ran after us, but the guards spurred their horses, and it was of no use for them to try and follow. And the night was dark and foggy, though not cold for the time of year.

I feared lest we were going to Reedham, for there my folk would certainly rise in arms to rescue me, and that would have made things hard for them; but we went on southward, riding very fast, until after many long miles we came to the little hill of the other Burgh that stands where Waveney parts in two streams, one eastward to the sea, and the other northward to join the Yare mouth.

The moon had risen by the time we came there, and I could see a large fishing boat at the staithe, and, alas! alongside of her a smaller boat that I knew so well—that in which Lodbrok had come, and in which I had passed so many pleasant hours with him. Then the thought crossed my mind that what he had taught me of her was like to be my safety now; but my mind was dazed by all the strange things that came into it, and I tried not to think. Only I wondered if Ulfkytel had got the boat without a struggle with our people.

The earl was there with a few more thanes and many more guards, and they waited by the waterside.

One man started from beside the earl as we came, and rode swiftly towards us. It was Egfrid, my brother-in-law to be—if this did not bring all that fair plan to naught.

He cried out to the men to stay, and they, knowing who he was, did so, and made no trouble about his coming to my side. There he reined up his horse, and laid his hand on my shoulder.

"Alas for this meeting, my brother!" he cried. "What can I do? Men came and told me of rumour that was flying about concerning this business, and I have ridden hard to get to Reedham, but I met the earl, who told me all. And I have prayed him to let the king judge, but he will not, saying that his mind is fixed on higher judgment—and you know what he is."

Then I said:

"So that you hold me not guilty, my brother, I mind not so much; for if I must die you will take my place, and my father will not be without a son.

"I think you guilty!" he cried; "how could that be? Shame on me were I to dream thereof—and on any man of all who know you who would deem you could be so."

"Have you heard all?"

"Aye, for the earl has told me very patiently, being kind, for all his strange ways. At last I told him that his wish for justice blinded his common sense. And at that, instead of being wrath, he smiled at me as on a child, and said, 'What know you of justice?'; so that I was as one who would beat down a stone wall with his fists—-helpless. He is not to be moved. What can I do?" and almost did he weep for my hard case.

"Let things go their own way, my brother," I said gently. "I do not fear the sea, nor this man here—Beorn. Do you go to Reedham and tend Lodbrok's hawk for me, and send word to my father, that he may come home, and to the king, so that Lodbrok may have honourable burial."

He promised me those things, and then went back upon the slaying of Lodbrok, asking how it came about.

I told him what I thought thereof; and Beorn, who must needs listen to all this, ground his teeth and cursed under his breath, for there seemed to have come some desperate fury on him in place of his cold despair of an hour since.

And when Egfrid had heard all, he raised his hand and swore that not one stone of Beorn's house should be unblackened by fire by this time tomorrow night, and as he said it he turned to Beorn, shaking and white with wrath.

"Let that be," I answered him quickly; "no good, but much harm may come therefrom. Wait but six months, and then maybe I shall be back."

Now while we had thus spoken together, Ulfkytel had dismounted and was holding some converse with a man whose figure I could not well make out, even had I cared to try, in the dark shadow of horses and riders which stayed the moonlight from them. But at this time the stranger came towards us, and I saw that it was the priest who served the Church of St. Peter, hard by where we stood. He came to Beorn first, and spoke to him in a low voice, earnestly; but Beorn paid no sort of heed to him, but turned his head away, cursing yet. So after a few more words, the priest came to me.

"Wulfric," he said, "sad am I to see you thus. But justice is justice, and must be done."

"Aye, Father," I answered, "and right will prevail."

"Maybe we shall see it do so," he answered shortly, not seeming willing to hold much converse with me; "but it is likely that you go to your death on the wide sea. Many a man have I shriven at the point of death—and Ulfkytel the Earl will not hold me back from your side—an you will."

Thereat I was very glad, for I knew that the risks before me were very great, and I said as much.

Then he took the bridle of my horse and began to lead me on one side, and the guards hindered him until Ulfkytel shouted to them to draw aside in such wise as to prevent my riding off, though, bound as I was, it had been of little use to try to do so. Then they let the priest take me out of earshot, and maybe posted themselves in some way round us, though I heeded them not.

So then in that strange way I, bound and on horseback, confessed; and weeping over me at last, with all his coldness forgotten, the priest of Burgh shrived me and blessed me, bidding me keep a good heart; for, if not in this world, then at the last would all be made right, and I should have honour.

After that he went once more to Beorn, but he was deaf to his pleading, and so he went away to the church, speaking no word to any man, and with his head bent as with the weight of knowledge that must not be told, and maybe with sorrow that the other prisoner, if guilty, would not seek for pardon from the Judge into whose hand he was about to go.

But as for me, this thing was good, and a wondrous comfort to me, and I went back to Egfrid with a cheerful heart, ready to face aught that might come.

Now the earl called to the guards from the water's edge, saying that the time was come, and we rode towards him, and I made Egfrid promise that he would hold his hand, at least till my father came.

Now they drew my boat to the shore, and they took Beorn from his horse first, and often have I wondered that he did not confess, but he said no word, and maybe his senses had left him by reason of his terror. They haled him to the boat and unbound him, setting him in the bows, where he sank down, seeming helpless, but staring away from shore over the sparkling waters that he feared.

Then came my turn, and of my own will I stepped into the boat, looking her over to see that all was there as when Lodbrok came. And all was there, though that was little enough. The one oar, the baler, and a few fathoms of line on the floorboards.

Now as I had nothing to lose by speaking, I cried to the earl concerning the one matter that troubled me.

"Earl Ulfkytel, I pray you forgive my poor folk if they fought for me when you took the boat."

"They knew not why it was taken," he answered quietly. "I sent a messenger before I gave sentence. But I should not have blamed them had they fought, knowing all."

Then a rough man who tended the boat called out:

"Ho, Lord Earl, are these murderers to go forth with gold on arm and hand?" for we had been stripped of naught but our arms, and I suppose the man coveted these things.

But the earl answered:

"Which is the murderer? I know not. When his time comes stripped he will be of life itself. Let the men be," and then in a moment he asked one by him; "what weapons had Lodbrok when he came?"

"Only a dagger," answered the thane to whom he spoke. "Or so men say."

"That is true," I said plainly.

"Give the men their daggers," then said the earl; and when one told him that we should use them on each other, he answered:

"I think they will not; do my bidding!"

So they threw my hunting knife to me, and I girded it on. But Beorn's dagger fell on the floor of the boat, and he paid no heed to it, not even turning his head.

Then the earl and three thanes went on board the fishing boat, and Egfrid would fain have come with him. But I signed him back, and when the fishermen put out oars and pushed from the shore, towing us with them, he ran waist deep into the water, and clasped my hand for the last time, weeping.

Then the shore grew dim to my eyes, and I put my head in my hands and would look no more. Soon I heard only the wash and creak of the large boat's oars, and a murmured word or two from those on board her. Then from Burgh Tower came the tolling of the bell, as for the dying, and that was the last voice of England that I heard as we went from shore to sea.

But at that sound came hope back to me, for it seemed to me as the voice of Bosham bell calling for help that should come to myself, as I had been called in time of need by the like sound to the help of St. Wilfrith's men. And straightway I remembered the words of the good prior, and was comforted, for surely if St. Wilfrith's might could sink the pirate ship it would be put forth for me upon the waters. So I prayed for that help if it might be given, and for the Hand of Him who is over all things, even as the prior had bidden me understand.

Whereupon I was in no more trouble about myself, and now I began to hope that the still weather might even bring Halfden's ship to find me.

So we passed from river to broad, and from broad to sea, and went in tow of the fishing boat until we came to that place, as nearly as might be, where I had saved Lodbrok. I could see the sparkle of our village lights, or thought I could.

There they cast us off, and for a few minutes the two boats lay side by side on the gently-heaving water, for the wind was offshore, and little sea was running.

Then the earl rose up, lifting his hand and saying, very solemnly:

"Farewell, thou who art innocent. Blame not my blindness, nor think ill of me. For I do my best, leaving you in the Hand of God, and not of man!"

So he spoke; then the oars swung and fell, and in a few moments his boat was gone into the shoreward shadows and we were alone, and I was glad.

Now I looked at Beorn, and I thought him strangely still, and so watched him. But I soon saw that he was in some sort of fit or swoon, and paid no heed to aught. Yet I thought it well to take his dagger from where it lay, lest he should fall on me in some frenzy.

I took up the weapon, and straightway I longed to draw it and end his life at once, while all sorts of plans for escape thereafter came into my mind. But I could not slay a helpless man, even this one, though I sat fingering the dagger for a long while. At last the evilness of these thoughts was plain to me; so quickly I cast the dagger overboard, and it was gone.

Then I thought I would sleep while I might, for there was no sea to fear, and the tide set with the wind away from shore from the river mouth, as I knew well, for it was ebbing. It was weary work to watch the land growing less and less plain under the moon. Yet I feared Beorn's treachery, and doubted for a while, until the coil of rope that lay at my feet caught my eye as I pondered. With that I made no more ado, but took it and bound him lightly, so that at least he could not rise up unheard by me. Nor did he stir or do aught but breathe heavily and slowly as I handled him. When he roused I knew that I could so deal with him that I might unbind him.

After that I slept, and slept well, rocked by the gentle rise and fall of the waves, until daylight came again.



CHAPTER VII. HOW WULFRIC CAME TO JUTLAND.

It was Beorn who woke me. Out of his swoon, or whatever it was that had taken his senses, he woke with a start and shudder that brought me from sleep at once, thinking that the boat had touched ground. But there was no land in sight now, and all around me was the wide circle of the sea, and over against me Beorn, my evil companion, glowering at me with a great fear written on his face.

Now as I woke and saw him, my hand went at once to the dagger at my side, as my first waking thoughts felt troubled by reason of all he had done, though it was but for a moment. Thereat he cried out, praying me to have mercy on him, and tried to rise, going near to capsize the boat. Indeed, I cannot believe that the man had ever been in a boat before.

"Lie down," I said, speaking sharply, as to a dog, "or you will drown us both before the time!"

He was still enough then, fearing the water more than steel, as it seemed, or seeing that I meant him no harm.

Then I spoke plainly to him.

"I will harm you not. But your life is in my hands in two ways. I can slay you by water or dagger for one thing; or for another, I think I can take this boat to shore at some place where you are not known, and so let you live a little longer. And in any case I have a mind to try to save my own life; thus if you will obey me so that I may tend the boat, yours shall be saved with it, so far as I am concerned. But if you hinder me, die you must in one way or another!"

Now he saw well enough that his only hope lay in my power to take the boat safely across the water, and so promised humbly to obey me in all things if I would but spare him and get the boat to shore quickly. So I unbound him and coiled the rope at my feet again, bidding him lie down amidships and be still.

Many a time men have asked me why I slew him not, or cast him not overboard, thus being troubled no more with him. Most surely I would have slain him when we fought, in the white heat of anger—and well would it have been if Ulfkytel had doomed him to death, as judge. But against this helpless, cringing wretch, whose punishment was even now falling on him, how could I lift hand? It seemed to me, moreover, that I was, as it were, watching to see when the stroke of doom would fall on him, as the earl said it surely must on the guilty.

The wind freshened, and the boat began to sing through the water, for it needed little to drive her well. My spirits rose, so that I felt almost glad to be on the sea again, but Beorn waxed sick and lay groaning till he was worn out and fell asleep.

Now the breeze blew from the southwest, warm and damp, as it had held for a long time during this winter, which was open and mild so far. And this was driving us over the same track which Lodbrok had taken as he came from his own place. There was no hope of making the English shore again, and so I thought it well to do even as the jarl, and rear up the floorboards in such wise as to use them for a sail to hasten us wherever we might go.

So I roused Beorn, and showed him how to bestow himself out of my way, and made sail, as one might say. At once the boat seemed to come to life, flying from wave to wave before the wind, and I made haste to ship the long oar, so that I could steer her with it.

And when I went aft, there, in the sharp hollow of the stern that I had uncovered, lay two great loaves and a little breaker of water. Now I could not tell, and do not know even to this day, what kindly man hid these things for us, but I blessed him for his charity, for now our case was better than Lodbrok's in two ways, that we had no raging gale and sea to wrestle against, and the utmost pangs of hunger and thirst we were not to feel. Three days and two nights had he been on his voyage. We might be a day longer with this breeze, but the bread, at least, we need not touch till tomorrow. But Beorn slept heavily again, and I told him not of this store as yet, for I thought that he would but turn from it just now. Which was well, for he could not bear a fast as could I.

So the long day wore through, and ever the breeze held, and the boat flew before it. Night fell, and the dim moon rose up, and still we went east and north swiftly. The long white wake stretched straight astern of us, and Beorn slept deeply, worn out; and the sea ran evenly and not very high, so that at last I dared to lash the oar in its place and sleep in snatches, waking now and then to the lift of a greater wave, or catching the rushing in my ears as some heavier-crested billow rose astern of us. But the boat was swift as the seas, and there was nothing to fear. Nor was the cold great at any time, except towards early morning before the first light of dawn. Moreover, the boat sailed in better trim with two men in her.

Gray morning came, and the seas were longer and deeper, for we were far on the wide sea. All day long was it the same, wave after wave, gray sky overhead, and the steady breeze ever bearing us onward. Once it rained, and I caught the water in the bailer and drank heartily, giving his fill to Beorn, and with it I ate some of my loaf, and he took half of his. Then slowly came night, and at last I waxed lonely, for all this while I had kept a hope that I might see the sail of Halfden's ship, but there was no glint of canvas between sky and sea, and my hope was gone as the darkness fell.

So I sang, to cheer myself, raising my voice in the sea song that I had made and that Lodbrok had loved. And when that was done I sang the song of Bosham bell, with the ending that the gleeman on Colchester Hill had made.

Thereat Beorn raised his head and, snarling at me like an angry dog, bade me cease singing of shipwreck. But I heeded him not, and so I sang and he cursed, until at last he wept like an angry child, and I held my peace.

I did not dare sleep that night, for the wind freshened, and at times we might see naught but sky above us and the waves ahead and astern of the boat, though to one who knew how to handle his craft there was no danger in them. But from time to time Beorn cried out as the boat slid swiftly down the slope of a great wave, hovered, and rose on the next, and I feared that he would leap up in his terror and end all.

"Bide still or I will bind you," I said at last to him, and he hid his face in his arms, and was quiet again.

Worn out when day broke was I, and again I ate and gave to Beorn, and he would eat all his loaf, though I bade him spare it, for I knew not how long yet we might be before we saw land. And that seemed to change his mood, and he began to scowl at me, though he dared say little, and so sat still in his place, glowering at me evilly.

Presently came a whale, spouting near us, and that terrified him, so that he cried to me to save him from it, as though I had power on the seas more than had other men. But it soon went away, and he forgot his terror, beginning to blame me for not having gained the shore yet.

I could say nothing, for I knew not how far we had run; yet we had come a long way, and I thought that surely we must have sailed as swiftly as Lodbrok, for the sea had favoured us rather than given trouble. Even now I thought the colour of the water changed a little, and I began to think that we neared some land at last.

As the sun set, the wind shifted more to the westward, and I thought a change was coming. It was very dark overhead until the waning moon rose.

Now, soon after moonrise Beorn began to groan, in his sleep as I thought; but presently he rose up, stiffly, from long sitting, and I saw that his eyes were flashing, and his face working strangely in the pale moonlight. I bade him lie down again, but he did not, and then I saw that he was surely out of his mind through the terror of the sea and the long nothingness of the voyage to which he was all unused. Then he made for me with a shout, and I saw that I must fight for my life. So I closed with him and dragged him down to the bottom of the boat, and there we two struggled, till I thought that the end was come.

The boat plunged and listed, and once was nearly over, but at that new strength came to me, and at last I forced his shoulders under the midship thwart, and held him there so that he could by no means rise. Then all his fury went, and he became weak, so that I reached out with one hand for the line and bound him easily, hand and foot. I set him back in his place, and the water washed over his face as he lay, for we had shipped a good deal in the lurches our struggle caused. Then he was still, and as on the first night, seemed to sleep, breathing very heavily.

So I left him bound, and bailed the water out. Then knew I how weak I was. Yet I held on, steering from wave to wave as though I could not help it.

Once, towards morning, there came a booming in my ears, and a faintness, for I was all but done. But the boat dashed into a wave, and the cold spray flew over me and roused me to know the danger, so I took my last crust and ate it, and was refreshed a little.

But when the morning broke cold and gray over brown waves, there, against one golden line of sunlight, rose the black steady barrier of a low-lying coast, and round the boat the gulls were screaming their welcome.

Then came over me a dull fear that I should be lost in sight of land, and a great sorrow and longing for the English shore in place of this, for never had I seen sunrise over land before from the open sea, and hunger and thirst gnawed at me, and I longed for rest from this tossing of sea, and wave—and always waves. Then I looked in Beorn's evil face, and I thought that he was dead, but that to me seemed to matter not.

Swiftly rose up the coast from out the sea, and I saw that it was like our East Anglian shore, forest covered and dark, but with pine and birch instead of oak and alder. The boat was heading straight through a channel; past sands over which I could see the white line of the tide on either side, and that chance seemed not strange to me, but as part of all that was to be and must be.

Then the last rollers were safely past, and the boat's keel grated on sand—and I forgot my weakness, and sprang out into the shallow water, dragging her up with the next wave and out of reach of the surges.

Then I saw that the tide was falling, and that I had naught more to do, for we were safe. With that I gave way at last, and reeled and fell on the sand, for my strength could bear no more, and I deemed that I should surely die.

I think that I fell into a great sleep for a while, for I came to myself presently, refreshed, and rose up.

The tide had ebbed a long way, and the sun was high above me, so that I must have been an hour or two there upon the sand. I went and looked at Beorn.

His swoon seemed to have passed into sleep, and I unbound him, and as I did so he murmured as if angry, though he did not wake.

Then I thought that I would leave him there for some other to find, and try to make my way to house or village where I might get food. I could send men thence to seek him, but I cared not if I never set eyes on him again, hoping, indeed, that I should not do so.

So I turned and walked inland through the thin forest for a little way, stumbling often, but growing stronger and less stiff as I went, though I must needs draw my belt tight to stay the pangs of hunger, seeing that one loaf is not overmuch for such a voyage and such stern work as mine had been, body and mind alike unresting.

Nor had I far to go, for not more than a mile from shore I saw a good hut standing in a little clearing; and it was somewhat like our own cottages, timber-framed, with wattle and clay walls, but with thatch of heather instead of our tall reeds, and when I came near, I saw that the timber was carved with twisted patterns round door and window frames.

No dog came out at me, and no one answered when I called, and so at last I lifted the latch and went in. There was no one, but the people could not be far off, for meat and bread and a great pitcher of ale stood on the round log that served for table, as if the meal was set against speedy homecoming, and the fire was banked up with peats, only needing stirring to break into a blaze.

Rough as it all was, it looked very pleasant to me, and after I had called once or twice I sat down, even as I should have done in our own land, and ate a hearty meal, and drank of the thin ale, and was soon myself again. I had three silver pennies, besides the gold bracelet on my arm that I wore as the king's armour bearer and weapon thane, and was sure of welcome, so when I had done I sat by the fire and waited till someone should come whom I might thank.

Once I thought of carrying food to Beorn, but a great hatred and loathing of the man and his deed came over me, and I would not see him again. And, indeed, it was likely that he would come here also, as I had done, when he woke; so that when at last I heard footsteps I feared lest it should be he.

But this comer whistled cheerfully as he came, and the tune was one that I had often heard men sing when I was with Halfden. It was the old "Biarkamal", the song of Biark the Viking.

Now at that I was very glad, for of all things I had most feared lest I should fall on the Frisian shores, for if so, I should surely be made a slave, and maybe sold by the lord of the coast to which I came. But Danes have no traffic in slaves, holding freedom first of all things. And that is one good thing that the coming of the Danish host has taught to us, for many a Saxon's riches came from trading in lives of men.

Then the door was pushed open, for I had left it ajar, and in came a great dog like none we have in England. I thought him a wolf at first, so gray and strong was he, big enough and fierce enough surely to pull down any forest beast, and I liked not the savage look of him. But, though he bristled and growled at first sight of me, when he saw that I sat still as if I had some right to be there, he came and snuffed round me, and before his master came we were good friends enough, if still a little doubtful. But I never knew a dog that would fly at me yet, so that I think they know well enough who are their friends, though by some sign of face or voice that is beyond my knowledge.

Now came the man, who edged through the door with a great bundle of logs for the fire, which he cast down without looking at me, only saying:

"Ho, Rolf! back again so early? Where is the Jarl?"

Now I knew that he was a Dane, and so I answered in his own way:

"Not Rolf, but a stranger who has made free with Rolf's dinner."

Whereat the man laughed, setting hands on hips and staring at me.

"So it is!" he said; "settle that matter with brother Rolf when he comes in, for strangers are scarce here."

Then he scanned my dress closely, and maybe saw that they were sea stained, though hunting gear is made for hard wear and shows little.

"Let me eat first," he said, sitting down, "and then we will talk."

But after he had taken a few mouthfuls, he asked:

"Are there any more of you about?"

"One more," I said, "but I left him asleep in the boat that brought us here. We are from the sea, having been blown here."

"Then he may bide till he wakes," the man said, going on with his meal.

Presently he stopped eating, and after taking a great draught of ale, said that he wondered the dog had not torn me.

"Whereby I know you to be an honest man. For I cannot read a man's face as some can, and therefore trust to the dog, who is never wrong," and he laughed and went on eating.

Now that set me thinking of what account I might give of myself, and I thought that I would speak the truth plainly, though there was no reason to say more than that we were blown off the English coast. What Beorn would say I knew not; most likely he would lie, but if so, things must work themselves out.

I looked at the man in whose house I was, and was pleased with him. Red haired and blue eyed he was, with a square, honest face and broad shoulders, and his white teeth shone beneath a red beard that covered half his face.

When he had eaten even more than I, he laughed loudly, saying that brother Rolf would have to go short this time, and then came and sat by the fire over against me, and waited for me to say my say.

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