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Wulfric the Weapon Thane
by Charles W. Whistler
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"Such things as crowding and poverty and hardness drove us from that shore hither. I pray that the same be not coming on us that we brought to the ancient people the Welsh, whose better land we took and now hold."

So we left him, and I could see that the matter lay heavily on his mind.

In a week thereafter I rode away homeward, and came first to Framlingham, where Eadmund our own king was. Very glad was he to see me safely home again.

"Now am I, with good Ingild your other godfather, in Elfric's place toward you," he said; "think of me never as a king, but as a father, Wulfric, my son."

And he bade me take my place as Thane of Reedham, confirming me in all rights that had been my father's. With him, too, was the great earl, and he begged my forgiveness for his doubt of me, though he was proud that his strange manner of finding truth was justified. Good friends were Ulfkytel and I after that, though he knew not that in my mind was the thought of Osritha, to whom he had, as it were, sent me.

Now every day brought fear to me that Ingvar's host was on its way overseas to fall on us. And this I told to Eadmund and the earl, who could not but listen to me. Yet they said that the peace between us and the Danes was sure, and that even did they come we should be ready. When I pressed them indeed, they sent round word to the sheriffs to be on the watch, and so were content. For our king was ever a man of peace, hating the name of war and bloodshed, and only happy in seeing to the welfare of his people, giving them good laws, and keeping up the churches and religious houses so well that there were none better to be found than ours in all England.

This pleased me not altogether, for I knew now how well prepared for war the Danes were, and I would fain have had our men trained in arms as they. But my one voice prevailed not at all, and after a while I went down to Reedham, and there bided with my mother and Eadgyth, very lonely and sad at heart in the place where I had looked for such happiness with my father and Lodbrok and Halfden at first, and now of late, for a few days, with Osritha, and Halfden in Lodbrok's place.

For all this was past as a dream passes, and to me there seemed to hang over the land the shadow of the terrible raven banner, which Osritha had helped to work for Lodbrok and his host, in the days before she dreamed that it might be borne against a land she had cause to love.

Ever as the days went by I would seek the shipmen who came to Reedham on their way up the rivers, so that I might hear news from the Danish shore, where Osritha was thinking of me, till at last I heard from a Frisian that three kings had gathered a mighty host, and were even now on their way to England.

I asked the names of those three, and he told me, even as I had feared, that they were called Ingvar and Hubba and Halfden; and so I knew that the blow was falling, and that Ingvar had stirred up other chiefs to join him, and so when the host gathered at some great Thing, he and his brothers had been hailed kings over the mighty following that should do their bidding in the old Danish way. For a Danish king is king over men, and land that he shall rule is not of necessity {xix}.

Again I warned Eadmund, and again he sent his messages to Ulfkytel the Earl and to the sheriffs, and for a few weeks the levies watched along the shore of the Wash; and then as no ships came, went home, grumbling, as is an East Anglian's wont, and saying that they would not come out again for naught, either for king or earl.

Now after that I spent many a long hour in riding northward along the coast, watching for the sails of the fleet, and at other times I would sit on our little watch tower gazing over the northern sea, and fearing ever when the white wing of a gull flashed against the skyline that they were there. And at last, as I sat dreaming and watching, one bright day, my heart gave a great leap, for far off to the northward were the sails of what were surely the first ships of the fleet.

I watched for a while, for it was ill giving a false alarm and turning out our unwilling levies for naught, for each time they came up it grew harder to keep them, and each time fewer came. In an hour I knew that there were eight ships and no more, and that they were heading south steadily, not as if intending to land in the Wash, but as though they would pass on to other shores than ours. And they were not Ingvar's fleet, for he alone had ten ships in his ship garth.

They were broad off the mouth of our haven presently, and maybe eight miles away, when one suddenly left the rest and bore up for shore—sailing wonderfully with the wind on her starboard bow as only a viking's ship can sail—for a trading vessel can make no way to windward save she has a strong tide with her.

She came swiftly, and at last I knew my own ship again, and thought that Halfden had come with news of peace, and maybe to take me to sea with him, and so at last back to Osritha. And my heart beat high with joy, for no other thought than that would come to me for a while, and when she was but two miles off shore, I thought that I would put out to meet and bring the ship into the haven; for he knew not the sands, though indeed I had given him the course and marks—well enough for a man like Thormod—when I was with him. And there came over me a great longing to be once more on the well-known deck with these rough comrades who had so well stood by me.

But suddenly she paid off from the wind, running free again to the southward down the coast, and edging away to rejoin the other ships. And as she did so her broad pennon was run up and dipped thrice, as in salute; and so she passed behind the headlands of the southern coast and was lost to my sight.

I bided there in my place, downcast and wondering, until the meaning of it all came to me; remembering Halfden's last words, that he would not fall on East Anglia. Now he had shown me that his promise was kept. He had left the fleet, and was taking his own way with those who would follow him.

Yet if he had eight ships, what would Ingvar's host be like? Greater perhaps than any that had yet come to our land, and the most cruel. For he would come, not for plunder only, but hating the name of England, hating the name of Christian, and above all hating the land where his father had been slain.

I climbed down from the tower, and found my people talking of the passing ships, and rejoicing that they had gone. Already had some of them piled their goods in waggons ready for flight, and some were armed. Then, as in duty bound, I sent men in haste to the earl at Caistor to report this, telling him also that the great fleet of which this was a part was surely by this token on its way.

By evening word came back from him. He had sure news from Lynn that the great fleet had gone into the Humber to join the host at York, and that we need fear nothing. Men said that there were twenty thousand men, and that there were many chiefs besides those that I had named. This, he said, seemed over many to be possible, but it did not concern us, for they were far away.

Now, when I thought how the wind had held at any quarter rather than north or east for long weeks, it seemed to me likely that it was this only that had kept them from us, and that the going into Humber was no part of Ingvar's plan, but done as of necessity. For to bring over so mighty a host he must have swept up every vessel of all kinds for many a score miles along the shores. And they would be heavy laden with men, so that he must needs make the first port possible. Yet for a time we should be left in quiet.

Now I must say how things went at home, for my sister's wedding with Egfrid had been put off first by the doubt of my own fate, and then by the mourning for my father's death. Yet the joy of my return had brought fresh plans for it, and now the new house at Hoxne was nearly ready; so that both Egfrid and his folk were anxious that there should be no more delay.

I, too, when the coming of the Danes seemed a thing that might be any day, thought it well that Eadgyth should rather be inland at Hoxne, whence flight southward could be made in good time, than at Reedham, where the first landing might well be looked for. But when the fear passed for a while by reason of the news from Northumbria, the time was fixed for the end of November, just before the Advent season, and not earlier, because of the time of mourning.

So the summer wore through slowly to me, for I was sad at heart, having lost so much. And ever from beyond the Wash and from Mercia came news of Ingvar's host. The Northumbrian king was slain, and a Dane set in his place; and Burhred of Mercia bowed to the Danes, and owned them for lords; and at last Ethelred of Wessex came to himself and sent levies to meet the host, but too late, for Mercia was lost to him. Yet Eadmund our king, and even Ulfkytel, deemed that we were safe as ever behind our fenland barrier, fearing naught so long as no landing was made from across the Wash.

Yet when November came in, and at Egfrid's house all was bustle and preparation, we heard that Bardney was burnt, and Swineshead, and then Medehamstede {xx}. And the peril was close on us, and but just across our border.

"No matter," said men to one another. "It will be a hard thing for Danes to cross the great fens to come hither. They will turn aside into Mercia's very heart, and then the Wessex folk will rise."

But I feared, and two days before the wedding went to Harleston, where the king was, and urged him to have forces along the great wall we call Woden's Dyke even yet.

"Let us see your wedding first, Wulfric," he said. "Eadgyth would be sorely grieved if I were not there."

For he lay at Harleston to be near at hand, as the wedding was to be from the house of Egfrid's father, because Reedham seemed as yet a house of sorrow. And I was glad when the Thane asked that it should take place at Hoxne, and it was safer also.

Surely never moved host so swiftly as Ingvar's, for even as I went, heavily enough, from Eadmund's presence, a man spurred into the town saying that Earl Ulfkytel faced the Danes with a fair levy gathered in haste, between us and Wisbech. They had crossed the fens where no man dreamed that they might come, and were upon us as if from the skies.

Now Eadmund made no more delay, but all that night went forth the summons of the war arrow, and the men mustered in force at last in Thetford town, and I spurred back to Hoxne and found the thane, and spoke to him.

"Let the wedding go on," I said, "for the Danes are yet far, and must pass the earl and us also before they come hither. Now must I be with the king, but if I may, and Ulfkytel holds them back, I shall be at the wedding. And if it must be, I will warn you to fly, and so let Egfrid take his bride and my mother and his own folk southward to Colchester or London."

That, he thought, was well, and no word of fear or haste hindered the wedding gathering. Only some of the great thanes who should have been there were with the king or earl, and it seemed that the number of guests would be small.

I rode to Thetford, bidding Eadgyth look for me on the morrow in good time, and saying that the king would surely come also. But when I came to the town I knew that neither he nor I should be at Hoxne, for the Danes had scattered the levy, and Ulfkytel the great earl was slain, and with him many another friend of mine. And the men said that the Danes were marching swiftly onward, ever nearing Thetford, and burning and wasting all in their track.

We marched out of the town to meet them, for we had a good force behind us, and the men were confident of victory with the king himself to lead them. And he was cheerful also, and said to me, as I armed him:

"I would not have you leave the wedding; howbeit, if we beat back the Danes, which is a matter in the hands of the Lord of Hosts, both you and I will be there in time tomorrow."

Our mounted men met the Danes that evening—the night before Eadgyth's wedding day—and we slept in our armour on Thetford heath waiting for them. And in the early morning our outposts were driven back on us, and the Danes were close on their heels.

Now Eadmund told me that I should not stand by him today, for so soon as the battle was over I must go to Hoxne, either with news of victory, or to bid them fly, and he would not keep me.

"I will not leave the place that is mine by right," I said.

"Not so," he answered; "I would bid you stand out of the battle for sweet Eadgyth's sake, but that I know you would not obey me."

And he smiled at me as he went on the great white horse he always rode, to draw up the men.

They cheered when he spoke to them, and I thought that they would fight well. Aye, and so they did, in their fierce untrained way. Many a long day it was since we of East Anglia stood in battle array, and the last time was against our own kin, save that now and again the men of some shoreward places would rise to beat off a Danish or Norse ship.

Now were the foes in sight, and they ranged up in close order when they saw we were ready. More than half their force was mounted, for the Lindsey uplands and marshes had given them horses enough of the best in England. And this was terrible, that over the host wheeled erne and raven and kite, as knowing to what feast the flapping of yon Raven banner called them.

Foremost of all rode a mighty chief on a black horse, and I saw that it was Ingvar himself, the king of the Danish host. Well I knew the armour, for it was that which he had worn at the great sacrifice, though now it shone no longer, but was dulled with the stains of many a hard fight. Now, too, round his helm ran the gold circlet of the king.

"Know you yon great man?" asked Eadmund of me; for I would not leave him, but stood before him in my place.

"It is Ingvar the king," I answered; "he who was Jarl Ingvar."

"Speak to him, and ask him to leave the land in peace," he said.

Now I thought that was of little use, but I would do the king's bidding, and asked what I should say.

"Offer him ransom, if you will," Eadmund answered.

So I went forward, and stood at a bowshot's length from our people, leaning on the axe that Lodbrok had made me, and there waited till the Danes came on. And presently Ingvar saw me, and knowing that I was one who would speak with the leader, rode up, looking curiously at me as he came.

"Skoal to Jarl Ingvar!" I said when he was close.

He reined up his horse in surprise, lifting his hand.

"Odin! It is Wulfric!" he said. "Now, skoal to you, Wulfric! But I would that you were not here."

"How is that, Jarl?" I asked; but I had ever heard that the jarl was in high good humour before a fight.

"I would not fight with you, for you have been our guest. And many a man have I questioned since yesterday, and all men say that you were my father's friend. It was a true story that you told me."

"You believed it rightly, Jarl."

"Aye—and therefore I will not fight with you."

Then I asked him to leave the land in peace, and his face darkened.

"I speak of yourself alone," he said, "as for land and king and people—that is a different matter."

"You have had your revenge," I said.

"What?" he asked fiercely. "Is the life of Lodbrok, my father, worth but the death of a hound like Beorn? Stand aside, Wulfric, and let me have my revenge in full."

Now, seeing that our talk was earnest, there rode up another Danish chief, and it was Guthrum, the man who had seemed to take my part at the idol feast. I was glad to see him come at this moment.

"Here is Halfden's friend," said Ingvar to him, "and he, forsooth, would have us go in peace."

And the Danish king laughed harshly.

"Why, so we will, if they make it worth our while," said Guthrum, nodding to me.

"What ransom will you take from us?" I asked them.

"The keeping of Eadmund, your king," answered Ingvar; "nothing more nor less."

"It seems to me that you will have to fight before you take him," I said plainly; for no man in all the Anglian ranks would have listened to that.

"That is too much," said Guthrum. "Tell him to own you as overlord and pay scatt {xxi} to us, holding the kingdom from you, and that will save fighting—and surely the whole land will be weregild enough for Jarl Lodbrok."

Then Ingvar thought for a moment, and said to me, still frowning:

"Go and tell your king those terms, and bring word again."

So I went back and told Eadmund, knowing full well what his answer would be. And it was as I thought.

"Go and tell this Ingvar that I will not give my land into the hands of the heathen, or own them as lords."

Now what I told Ingvar and Guthrum was this only, knowing that to give the full message was to enrage Ingvar:

"Eadmund refuses."

"Your king is a wise man," said Guthrum, "for who knows how a fight will go?"

Ingvar reined round his horse to go to his own men, and he and Guthrum left me standing there. I was turning away also, when the hoof beats of one horse stayed, and Ingvar called me in the voice he would use when most friendly with me.

"Wulfric," he said, "glad was I to find you gone, for I should surely have had to slay you before the shrine; but Thor is far off now, and I have forgotten that, and only do I remember that good comrade to us all you have been in hall and forest. And ere I sailed—one whom you know—that one who stayed my hand from Beorn—made me promise—aye, and swear by my sword—that you at least I would not harm. And I will not. Stand aside from this fight."

Now, had I not known the great love and reverence in which those three wild brothers held Osritha, I should have been amazed at these words from Ingvar; but there is somewhat of good to be found in every man.

Then I answered:

"I must fight for my land, Ingvar, but I also would fain not fight against yourself. Where stand you in your line?"

"On the right," he said; "Guthrum is on the left."

"Where is Hubba?" I asked, wondering.

"He is not far from us. He will come when I need his help."

"Then we need not meet," I said; "I am in the centre."

Now we both returned to our places, and again Eadmund, after I had told him that we must fight, asked me to stand out.

"For," said he, "you are in her father's place to Eadgyth."

"Until after the wedding, my king," I said; "but you are in my father's place to me always. Should I have left him?"

So I said no more, but stood in my place before him, for I loved him now best of all men in the world since my father was gone, and it seemed well to me to die beside him if die he must.

Now our king gave the word, crying, "Forward, Christian men!" and we shouted and charged with a good will on the Danes, and the battle began. Hard fighting it was on both sides, but our men in their want of order jostled and hindered one another, so that I saw more than one struck down by mischance by his own comrades. But the Danes kept their even line, bent round into half a circle so that we could not outflank them, and our numbers were nearly equal.

Men have said that I did well in that fight, but so did we all, each in his way. All I know of my own deeds is that I kept my own life, and that once a ring of men stood before me out of reach of my axe, not one seeming to care to be first within its swing. And ever Eadmund's clear voice cheered on his men from behind me.

So the battle went on from the first daylight for an hour's space, and then the steadfastness of the Danish line began to strike terror into our men, and the Danish horsemen charged on our flanks and broke us up; and then all at once a panic fell on our levies, and they wavered, and at once the horsemen were among them everywhere, and the field was lost to us. Before I knew what had befallen I was hurried away in a dense throng of our men, who swept me from before the king, and I was soon in Thetford streets, where I thought that surely we should have rallied, for there is no stronger town or better walled in all East Anglia.

In the marketplace sat Eadmund on his white horse, unhelmed that the men might know him yet living, for in the flight word had gone round that he had fallen, and now the men seemed to be taking heart and gathering round him.

But even as I reached him, a fresh throng of flying men came down the street from the gate next the Danes, and after them came a score of the terrible horsemen, driving a hundred like sheep before them. At that sight the few who were gathering fled also, leaving the king and myself and four other thanes alone. I was the only one on foot.

Then one of those thanes grasped the bridle of the king's horse and led him away, crying:

"Come, for our sakes; needs must fly. Let us go to Framlingham."

So they rode, against the king's will as one might see, from the place, and went away towards the southern gate of the town. And seeing that the Danes were in the town I knew that all was lost, and that here I might stay no longer if Eadgyth was to be saved.

I ran to where I had left my horse, and mounted and fled also, following the king, for that gate led to the road along the south bank of the river. I knew not if he had crossed the bridge or no, but over the river was my way, and I had my own work to be done, and some twenty miles to be covered as quickly as might be. Glad was I that I had chosen to fight on foot that day, for my horse was fresh.

Terrible it was to see the panic in the town as the poor folk knew that the Danes were on them. They filled the road down which I must go, thronging in wild terror to the gates, and I will not remember the faces of that crowd, for they were too piteous.

Glad I was to be free from them at last, and upon the road where I could ride freely, for as they left the town they took to the woods and riverside swamps, and save for a few horsemen flying like myself, the road was soon clear. Then, too, these horsemen struck away from the road one by one, and at last I rode on alone.

Now my one thought was for those at Hoxne, and to urge them to instant flight, and I thought that even now Humbert the Bishop would be in the little church, waiting for the bride to come.

Then I would hasten the more, for to reach the church from Egfrid's father's house the river Dove must be crossed; and I would keep them from returning to this side if I could be in time, for we might break down the timber-built bridge and so delay the crossing of the Danes. Yet they might be for days in Thetford before they began to raid in the country.

Swiftly I rode on, for my horse was a good one and fresh, and at last, after many miles were passed, I came to a place where I could see a long stretch of road before me. There rode the king on his white horse, and with him those four thanes. I could not mistake that party, and I thought I knew where they were going. The king would warn my people himself, and so take refuge beyond Hoxne, on the other side of the river, at South Elmham, with Bishop Humbert.

I rode after, but I gained little on them; nor did I care much, for the king would do all that I might. In a few minutes more I should know if he crossed Hoxne bridge, and if he did so they were safe.

I lost sight of the party as they came into a wood, and there my horse stumbled. He had lost a shoe. That was little to me now, but it kept me back; and now I heard the quick gallop of horses behind me, and looked to see who came, for I thought that more fugitives followed, most likely. I had heard the sound coming on the wind more than once before as I rode on the wayside grass.

They were Danes. Twelve of them there were, and foremost of all rode Ingvar on his black horse. Well for the king that they had no change of steeds, but had ridden hotfoot after him from the battlefield. Now their horses were failing them, but they would take me, and delay would give the king another chance; and I was half-minded to stay and fight. Then I thought of Hoxne, and I put spurs to my horse and rode on again.

Now I came in sight of Hoxne bridge, and half feared that I should see the bridal train passing over; but many men were even now leaving the bridge, going towards the church, and I knew that they were there. But of Eadmund and his thanes I saw nothing—only a lame white horse, that I thought like his, grazed quietly in a field by the roadside, so that for a moment my eyes went to it, thinking to see king and thanes there.

Ingvar was not a mile behind me, and I spurred on. And now I won to the turning that leads to the thane's house whence the company had passed, and a few villagers stood at the road corner. Them I asked how long it was since the bride had gone, and they stared at me in stupid wonder, making no answer. Then I bade them fly, for the Danes were coming; and at that they laughed, looking at one another slyly, proud of their own fancied wisdom. So I left them and rode on.

Even as I came to the hill down to the bridge my horse stumbled and almost fell, and when I gathered him up, not losing my seat, I knew he was beaten. And now I halted for good, unslinging my axe, and waiting to fight and hinder the Danes from going further, as yet. It was all I could do.

Hand over hand they came up to me, and now Hoxne bells rang out in merry peals as the bride and bridegroom left the church. The service was over, and unless our king had warned them, they would be coming back over the bridge in a few minutes. Yet, if he had warned them, surely the bells had not pealed out thus.

Now I heard the music play from across the water, and I heard the shouts of the people—and all the while the hoofs of Ingvar's horses thundered nearer and nearer. Then they came over the little rise in the road and were on me with levelled spears.

I got my horse between them and me, across the narrow roadway, and hove up my axe and waited. But when Ingvar saw who I was, he held up his hand, and his men threw up their spear points and halted, thinking perhaps that I was the king.

"Where is the king?" shouted Ingvar.

I saw that their horses were done, and not knowing which way the king had gone answered truly.

"I know not. The road forks, and that is as far as I know."

Then Ingvar swore a great oath.

"You know not which way he went?"

"I do not," I said.

"Catch a thrall and ask him," he said to his men.

And those silly folk were yet standing at the corner, maybe thinking us belated wedding guests, and the men took one, dragging him to their chief. But the man said that he had seen no horsemen pass. Truly he had heard some, but all men were at the house door waiting for the bride to come forth, and paid no heed.

So the king had passed by before the procession set out, and I knew not what to think.

"What bride?" said Ingvar.

And the music answered him, coming nearer and nearer, and now they were crossing Hoxne bridge—a bright little array of wedding guests, and in the midst I could see those two, Egfrid and Eadgyth, and after came a crowd of village folk.

"See yonder," said a Dane, pointing. "By Baldur, here is a wedding! Gold and jewels to be had for the taking!"

But my horse was across the road, and my axe was in the way, and I cried to Ingvar as the men began to handle their weapons.

"Mercy, Jarl Ingvar! This is my sister's wedding—that Eadgyth of whom your own sister would ever ask so much."

"Hold!" roared the chief, and his men stayed, wondering. "An you touch so much as a hair of any in that company—the man who touches, I will slay!" he said, and the men stared at him.

"Yon is the bridal of Reedham folk," he said, "and the bride is she who befriended Lodbrok. They shall not be hurt."

For he must needs justify himself, and give reason for withholding plunder from Danes as free as himself.

"Aye, King, that is right," they said on hearing that, and Ingvar turned to me.

"For Osritha's sake, lest I should harm you in aught," he said. "Now ask me no more. Let us meet them in peace."

Now I knew that my folk were safe for this time at least, and my heart was light, and so leaving my horse I walked beside the king, as his men called him, until we met the first of the company on this side of the bridge.

Then was a little confusion, and they stopped, not knowing what this war-stained troop might betoken. And I saw that no word had come of the great defeat as yet.

I went forward, calling to Egfrid and the thane his father, and looking at them so that they should show no fear or give any sign to the ladies present that all was not well.

"This is Jarl Ingvar himself, and these are his men," I said. "And the jarl would fain speak with Eadgyth my sister, of whom he has often heard."

And Egfrid, being very brave, although he must have seen well enough what this meant, kept his face well, and answered that Jarl Ingvar was welcome, coming in peace.

"Aye—in peace just now," answered Ingvar, looking at him. "Now, I will say this, that Wulfric's sister has found a brave husband."

Now Eadgyth heard the jarl's name, and knew naught of the terror that that name brought to all the land, and least of all that a battle could have been fought, for we had kept it from her. Nor had I told her of how nearly he had been to slaying me, for I would not make Osritha's brothers terrible to her. So she thought of him only as Lodbrok our friend's son, who had shown me hospitality in his own hall.

So when Egfrid took her hand and brought her forward, looking as I thought most beautiful in her bridal array, she smiled on the great Dane frankly, as in thanks for my sake.

Then Ingvar unhelmed, and spoke to her in courtly wise, even as he was wont to speak to Osritha.

"When I go back to my own land, lady, I shall have many questions asked me by one of whom you have doubtless heard, as to how our friend's sister was arrayed for her wedding. And that I shall not be able to say—but this I know, that I may tell Osritha that Wulfric's sister was worthy of Wulfric."

Now Eadgyth noted not the war stains on Ingvar's mail, but it was strange and terrible to me to see him sitting there and speaking as though the things of a stricken field were not the last, as it were, on which he had looked. But Eadgyth's eyes were downcast, though she was pleased.

"Thanks, Jarl Ingvar," she said; "often have I heard of Osritha. When you return I would have you thank her for her care of my brother—and I would thank you also, Jarl, for your care of him."

Now Ingvar reddened a little, but not with anger, for he saw that I had spoken at least no ill of him to Eadgyth.

"Nay, lady," he answered; "Halfden and Hubba and Osritha have to be thanked—if any thanks need be to us for caring for Jarl Lodbrok's preserver. Little share may I take of the matter."

"Yet I will thank all in your place," she said, and then shrank back to Egfrid's side.

Never had I seen a more handsome couple.

Then Ingvar laid his hand on a great golden snake that twined round his right arm, and I thought he was going to give it as a bridal gift to my sister, for that is ever a viking's way, to give lavishly at times when he might have taken, if the mood seizes him. But as he glanced at the gold he saw blood specks thereon, and I heard him mutter:

"No, by Freya, that were ill-omened."

And he did but seem to put it in place, as if thinking. Then he replaced his helm, bowing, and said:

"Now must I stay your rejoicing no longer. Fare you well, lady, and you, noble Egfrid; I must ride back to Thetford town on my own affairs. Yet I leave you Wulfric. Will you remember hereafter that you spoke with Ingvar the king, and that he was your friend?"

"Aye, surely," answered they both at once.

Then once more the music played, and the little train went on and up the hill, and Ingvar and I stood together for a while looking after them.

"I thank you, King," I said.

"Aye, Wulfric; and maybe you and yours are the only ones who will say that word to me in all this land. Now take my rede, and do you and your folk begone as soon as maybe, for even I cannot hold back men who are not from our own place."

Then I parted from him, going after my people, and thinking that all was well for us, and that surely our king was safe, until I came to where my horse still stood. There over the lane hedge looked that lame white horse that I had seen, speaking as it were in his own way to mine. And when I saw him thus near, it was indeed the king's, and a great fear that he was not far off took hold of me.



CHAPTER XII. IN HOXNE WOODS.

Many of the village folk loitered on the bridge and in the lanes, looking curiously at the Danes, and talking of the wedding and the like. And some of these I saw Ingvar's men questioning, and very soon a knot of them gathered round one man, and there was some loud talking.

Then I would have hastened back, but Ingvar saw me, and waved sternly to me to depart, and slowly enough I went on my way. But I could not forbear looking back when I reached the road to the house.

Only Ingvar was now on horseback, and the men seemed to be swarming over the bridge railings, and climbing under it among the timbers.

Then were shouts, and the village churls began to run every way, and one or two came up the hill towards me.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Oh, master," the first man cried, "when the bridal folk went over the bridge on the way to the church, one man looked over into the water, and cried that he saw somewhat sparkle therein like gold, and others looked, and some saw naught, but others said that they saw in the water as it were the image of golden spurs. And the Danes asked us if we saw the king; but we had not. Only one man laughing, in his fear as I think, said that the nearest thing to a crown that he had seen was the glint of golden spurs shining from the water yonder. Then looked the Danes—and now—oh master!"

The man grew white, pointed, and fled.

Haled and pushed and buffeted by the hands of the Danes, a man was dragged over the rail of the bridge from the network of cross timbers among which he had hidden, and I saw that the armour was that of Eadmund the King.

There, in that seemingly secure place, his thanes must have made him hide when his horse fell lame, for doubtless he would not hinder them in their flight, but would have taken sanctuary in the church. From some point in the road they must have seen their pursuers before I cared to look behind me to see who followed, for there was no mistaking the red cloaks that the Danes of the king's courtmen always wear.

This I thought at the time, and long afterwards learnt from one of those thanes that I was right. And it was their doing, not his, for the king would have gone to the church and there warned my people. But as it chanced there were no men in sight when the king hid, for all were gathered to the thane's house. And I asked that thane if they sent no warning message—and he said they had done so by a certain churl whom they met. But our folk never had it.

Now I knew not what to do, being torn with grief and fear. I dared not cross Ingvar again, lest I should change his mood, mild enough now, to some wild fit of rage, for I had not bided so long in his hall without learning that much of his ways. I stayed till I knew for certain that they had not harmed the king, and so saw him bound, and mounted behind one of the courtmen; and then when I saw them begin to come towards me, I went to the thane's house and told him all, calling him out from the feast.

"Let us mount and rescue the king," I said.

"Then will they kill him—better not. They will but hold him to ransom," the thane said.

I knew his first word was right, and now I left that and urged him to hasten the flight of all the party, bidding him take the road towards the south, ever away from the Danes.

"What will you do?" he asked, for I spoke not of coming with him.

"This," I answered. "I will pledge Ingild's word, as I know I may, for any ransom, going after the Danes and finding Guthrum, who will listen to me."

He thought that well, and then I asked where Humbert the Bishop was. He had gone back to South Elmham at once, and would be far on his road by this time, the thane said.

Then I went out and took a fresh horse from the stables and rode away into the great road. And when I came there, I saw with others the man who told me how the king's hiding place was found.

"How long have the Danes been gone?" I asked.

"Master," he answered, "they have gone back over the bridge, some of them riding forward towards Hoxne."

At that I knew that some plan of Ingvar's was that his men after victory should cross the river at Thetford, and so perhaps strike at Framlingham where the king's household was. But all along the march of the Danish host had been unresting, so that men had no time to prepare for their coming, or even to know what point they would reach next.

Then I sent by this man urgent messages to the thane that they should fly coastwards, crossing the river Waveney, perhaps, so as not to fall into the hands of the host at the first starting, for Ingvar's horsemen would be everywhere south of this and Thetford.

I rode fast over the bridge, for I feared for Humbert our good bishop, and when I came near the church the bells jangled, all unlike the wedding peals that I had heard so lately.

They had found a few late flowers, violets and marigolds and daisies and the like, and had strewn them before the bride as she left the church; and they lay there yet with bright hedgerow leaves to eke them out—but across the path, too, lay the dead body of a poor churl, dressed in his holiday gear, slain by a spear thrust, and the church was burning. Now the men who jangled the bells for help came down in haste, terrified as the fire took hold of the roof, for the church was all of wood and very old.

When they saw me they ran, thinking me yet another of their foes; but I rode after one and caught him, for he would by no means stay for calling, and I asked him what had happened, and where the bishop was.

"Alas, master," the man said, "they have slain my brother and fired the church, and now have ridden after the bishop. They slew my brother because he would not say by which road he had gone; and another told them, being in fear for his life—and our king is taken."

"Did they take the king by the road to South Elmham?"

"Four rode after the bishop with the great man on the black horse who was the leader. The rest went with the king up the track through Hoxne woods, but slowly."

Had I but one or two more with me surely now I should have followed up the king and tried to rescue him. But I think it would have been vain, for Ingvar's men would have slain him rather than lose him. But most of all I wondered at the boldness of these few men, who, with their leader, dared venture so far from their forces. Well did they know, however, how complete is the rout of a Saxon levy; and I too might have guessed it, since I had fled alone after the first five miles, while all those who had left the town with me scattered all ways.

Now the church was blazing from end to end, and one or two more men had gathered to me, seeing who I was.

"Take up yon body," I said, "and cast it into the church. So shall his ashes lie in holy ground at least. For you and yours must even take to the woods for a while. The Danes will be here."

That I think they did, for they were lifting the body as I went away and rode along the way that the bishop had taken, meaning at least to meet Ingvar, for I feared lest the men who had the king should slay him if they were followed.

Hardly a mile had I gone when Ingvar and his men came riding slowly back. Their beaten horses could do no more, and they had left following the bishop. Ingvar's face was black as night, and as he came he roared at me: "You here again! Now this passes all. Did I not bid you stand aside and hinder me not?"

"Aye, King," I answered, coldly enough. "But I cross you not. I have ransom to offer for the king."

"I will have no ransom," he said, very savagely.

"Nevertheless," I said quietly, knowing that his word was not the only one to be spoken on that matter, "let me tell you of it, that you may tell the other chiefs."

"I am the king," he answered, glaring at me.

"Then, King, hear my words, and give them to those under you."

"Speak to this man," he said, pointing to one of the courtmen; for they heard all I said, and he could not refuse to listen altogether to what concerned his fellow chiefs. Then he rode past me, and the men, save that one of whom he spoke, followed him.

Now I was angry as he, but kept that to myself, and waited till he was out of hearing before I looked at the man who waited. And when I did so, the man grinned at me, saying:

"Truly it is like old times to see you stand up thus to the jarl—king, I mean. There is not a man in our host dare do it."

And lo! it was my friend Raud the forester. His beard was gone, and he had a great half-healed scar across his jaw, so that I had not known him even had I noticed any but Ingvar.

Then I was glad, for here was one whom I could trust, even if his help was of little use.

"Glad am I to see you, Raud my friend, though it must be in this way. Why is the jarl so angry?"

"Why, because the bishop has escaped us. We never saw so much as his horse's tail. And if he be like the bishop we saw at Hedeby, I am glad."

"Surely he is," I said. "But now I have come to offer ransom for the king, and you must tell Guthrum and the other chiefs that it would be paid very quickly if they will take it."

At that Raud shook his head.

"I will tell them, but it is of little use. There has been talk of it before, but when we came into East Anglia Ingvar claimed the king for himself, giving up all else."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because when he made Beorn speak, Beorn said that Eadmund the King had set him on to slay Lodbrok. I heard the man confess it."

"But he left that story, telling the truth about himself," I said.

"Aye, so he did. But the tale has stuck in Ingvar's mind, and naught will he hear but that he will have revenge on him."

"What will he do?" I said, looking after the Danish king, who went, never turning in his saddle, with bowed shoulders as one who ponders somewhat.

"How should I know?" answered Raud, carelessly. "Let us go on. Maybe if you come with me we shall hear them speak together."

"Raud," I said, "if harm is done to the king, I shall surely fall on some of you—and Ingvar first of all."

"Not on me with axe, I pray you," he answered laughing, and twisting his head on one side. "I mind me of Rorik."

"Let us be going," I said, for I could not jest.

So we trotted after the party, and when we were near, Raud left me and went to Ingvar's side, speaking to him of what I had said. Then the jarl turned round to me, speaking quietly enough, but in a strange voice.

"Come with me and we will speak of this matter to Eadmund himself. Then will the business be settled at once."

That was all I would wish, and being willing to speak yet more with Raud, I said I would follow. He turned again, and looked no more at me.

Then I asked Raud of his brother, and of Thoralf, my other companion of flight. They were both slain, one at Gainsborough and one at Medehamstede. Thormod was with Halfden in Wessex, where they had made a landing to keep Ethelred, our Wessex overlord, from sending to our help. But as to Halfden, men said that he would not come to East Anglia, for the Lady Osritha had over persuaded him.

Then, though I would not ask in any downright way, I found that Osritha was well, but grieving, as they thought, for the danger of her brothers—and of that I had my own thoughts.

So with talk of the days that seemed so long past, we went on into Hoxne woods, through which Raud said that he had learnt we must go to meet the host in its onward march from Thetford.

"Jarl Ingvar lets not the grass grow under his feet," I said.

We came to a place where the woodland track broadened out into a clearing, and there waited the other Danes, and with them, sitting alone now on the horse, was Eadmund the King.

Pale he was, and all soiled with the stains of war, and with the moss and greenery of his strange hiding place; but his eye was bright and fearless, and he sat upright and stately though he was yet with his hands bound behind him.

I rode past Ingvar and to Eadmund's side, and throwing myself from my horse stood by him, while the Dane glared at us both without speaking.

"Why run thus into danger, Wulfric my son?" said the king, speaking gently; "better have let me be the only victim."

"That you shall not be, my king," I answered; "for if you must die, I will be with you. But I have come to try to ransom you."

"There are two words concerning that," said Ingvar in his cold voice. "Maybe I will take no gold for Eadmund."

"What shall we give you then?" I asked, looking earnestly at him.

"You heard what I said this morning before the battle. I have no other terms but those. And I think they are light—as from the son of Lodbrok whom this king's servant slew."

Now Eadmund spoke, saying to Ingvar:

"Let me hear what are your terms for my freedom. In the slaying of Lodbrok my friend I had no part."

"That is easily said," Ingvar answered, frowning. "I have my own thoughts on that—else had I not been here. But this land is in my power, therefore I will let you go if you will hold it for me, and own me as overlord, doing my will."

"My answer is the same as it was this morning. It is not for me to give over this land into the hands of heathen men to save myself."

That was Eadmund's calm answer, and looking on Ingvar I saw the same bode written in his face as had been when I would not honour his gods. Then he spoke slowly, and his words fell like ice from his lips.

"It seems to me that this land is in the hands of us heathen without your giving."

"So that may be, for the time," answered Eadmund; "but your time of power has an end."

"Has it so?" said Ingvar, and his eyes flashed. "Where is your help to come from? Do you look to Ethelred?—He is busy in Wessex with more of us heathen. Where is Mercia?—It is ours. Will Kent help you?"

"Our help is in the name of the Lord, who hath made heaven and earth," answered Eadmund, lifting his eyes heavenwards so earnestly, that in spite of himself the wild heathen king followed their upward gaze for a moment.

It was but for a moment, and that weakness, as he would deem it, was the spark to light Ingvar's wrath, that as yet he had kept under.

"Hammer of Thor!" he shouted, "you dare throw that in my face! Now will I show you if heathen or Christian is stronger."

Then with his face white with rage he turned to his men: "Bind him to yon tree, and we will speak with him again!"

Now if it is well that I did not die with my king, it was well at that moment for me that my axe hung at my saddle bow, and that my horse—to which I had paid no heed in my troubles—had wandered a little way, for I should surely have fought to prevent this dishonour being wrought. And I sprung to reach the axe, for the short sword I wore was of no use against so many. But Raud was close on me, and he dropped from his saddle on my shoulders as I passed him, so that I fell, half stunned under him, and one of the other men ran up, and ere they had stripped and bound the king to a tree, I was bound hand and foot, and rolled by Raud into a thicket where I might escape Ingvar's eye. And, indeed, he paid no heed to me, but watched the king.

So must I lie there with my heart like to break, seeing all that went on, and I will tell it as best I may.

Ingvar strode to the young oak tree to which they had bound the king and looked fixedly at him. Then he said, "Scourge this man," and his men did so. But the king made no sign by word or motion. I saw Ingvar's rage growing, and he cried as his men forbore, shrinking a little from their quiet victim:

"Ask for mercy, Christian, at the hands of Ingvar the godar, the priest of Odin and Thor, and you shall go free."

But the king met his gaze sadly and firmly, answering:

"That were to own that you have power over me through your false gods."

"Power I have," said Ingvar; "ask for mercy."

Thereat the king answered no word, though his lips moved, and I alone knew what his words might be, for though his hands were bound he moved his noble head in such wise as to make the sign of the Cross. And I think that he spoke to himself the prayer of forgiveness that he had learnt therefrom.

Almost then had the Dane smitten him in the face, but to this cowardice Ingvar the king had not yet fallen. He drew back a few paces, and took his long dagger from his belt, and at that I thought that he was going to slay the king, and I closed my eyes, praying. But he spoke again.

"Ask for peace on the same terms for your people, if you will not for yourself."

Then the king grew pale, but he set his lips close, still gazing at Ingvar. Hard was this for him who loved his people so well.

The Dane's dagger flashed, and he hurled it at Eadmund, but so skilfully that it did but graze his head, sticking firmly into the tree trunk. And he cried in a voice that shook with rage:

"Answer me!"

But the king held his peace, closing his eyes, and waiting for what might come, most bravely.

Then Ingvar turned to his men, and bade them unsling their bows and see if they could make this man find his tongue. Seven of them went to work with a good will, but Raud and the others would not, but turned away.

The men shot, and in many places the king was pierced, and lo! he lifted up his voice and sang gloriously, even as if in the church and on some high festival, the psalm that begins "De Profundis". Nor did his voice falter, though now he might move neither hand nor foot by reason of the piercing of the arrows.

At that the men stayed in amazement, and one threw away his bow and turned aside to where Raud stood, near where I lay. But Ingvar ground his teeth with rage, and stamping on the ground, cried to the men to shoot again.

And again the arrows flew, and now it seemed to me that no more arrows might find mark in the king's body without slaying him; and before my eyes was a mist, and my mouth was dry and parched, yet I could not turn away and look no more. But the men fitted arrows to the bowstrings once more, while Ingvar stood still and silent with his strong hands clasped together behind him, gazing at the king, whose lips moved in prayer, the psalm being ended, and, as I think, his strength ebbing fast from his many wounds.

Now they were about to shoot once more, unbidden, keeping up their torture if they might; but there was one more merciful than the rest. Forward before the bowmen strode Raud, with his sword drawn, and he cried to Ingvar:

"Let me slay him, king, and end this for pity's sake!"

Ingvar turned his eyes gloomily on him for a moment, and then answered:

"What know you of pity? Slay him if you will."

Then when he heard that, Eadmund looked at Raud, smiling on him with a wondrous smile and saying:

"Thanks, good friend."

So Raud slew him in pity, and that was now the best deed that might be done.

Thereat I cried out once, and my senses left me, and I knew no more.



CHAPTER XIII. HOW BISHOP HUMBERT JOINED THE KING.

When I began to come to myself it was late afternoon. At first into my mind came the fancy that I sat on the side of King Eadmund's bed in the king's chambers at Reedham, and that he told me a wondrous dream; how that—and then all of a sudden I knew that it was no shadowy dream, but that I had seen all come to pass, and that through the arrow storm Eadmund had passed to rest.

All round me the trees dripped with the damp November mist that creeps from the river, and the smell of dead leaves was in my nostrils, and for a while I lay still, hardly yet knowing true from false, dream from deed. So quiet was I that a robin came and perched close to me on a bramble, whose last leaves were the colour of the bird's red breast, and there it sang a little, so that I roused to life with the sound. Then swooped down a merlin with flash of gray wings on the robin and took it, and that angered me so that I rose on my elbow to fray it away; and with that the last cloud left my mind and I knew where I was. Then, too, from where he waited my waking came Vig, my great Danish dog, who had been tied at the thane's house, and must have left the flying party to seek me. And he bounded in gladness about me.

Now I found that my bonds were gone, and next that my weapons were left me, and that but for cramp and stiffness I had not any tokens of what had befallen. And at first it seemed to me that Ingvar thus showed his scorn of me, though soon I thought that he had forgotten me, and that it was Raud who had freed me.

I heeded not the dog, looking only in one place. But the body of the king was gone, and his arms and mail were gone. The hoofmarks of Ingvar's horses were everywhere; but at last I made out that they had gone on through the wood.

Presently the dog growled, looking towards the village, and I heard voices coming nearer, and with them I heard the tread of a horse. But soon the dog ceased, and began to wag his tail as if to welcome friends, and when the comers entered the clearing, I saw that they were Egfrid's men, and that it was my horse that they were leading. My axe was yet at the saddle bow.

"Why, master," said the foremost, "surely we looked to find you slain. This is well—but what has befallen?"

For I must have looked wildly and strangely on them.

"Well would it be if I were slain," I said. "Why did you seek me?"

"We found the horse coming homewards, and one knew that you had gone into the wood after the king. Yet we would seek you before we fled."

I saw that all were armed, and I thanked them. But—

"What ails you, master?" said the leader of the group.

"They have slain Eadmund the king," I answered, "and they have taken his body away."

Thereat they groaned, wondering and cast down, and one said:

"They will not have carried him far. Let us search."

We did so, and after a long time we found the king's body in a thicket where it had been cast. But his head we could not find, though now I bade my dog search also. He led us westward through the wood, until we came to a rising ground, and there we could go no further. For thence we saw the Danish horsemen by scores pressing towards us, searching for cattle and sheep as the army passed southward. And the farms were blazing in the track that they had crossed everywhere.

Then said the men:

"We must fly. We who live must save ourselves, and must come back and end this search when we may."

"Let us bear back the king's body," I said, "and find some hiding place for it at Hoxne."

So we did, hurriedly, and hid it in a pit near the village, covering it with boards and gravel as well as we could for haste. Then I asked the men where they would go.

"By boat down the river," they said, "and so join the thane and his party wherever they might be. They have gone to Beccles, for they hear that a ship lies there whose master will gladly take them to London."

That was good hearing, for so would all be safe. The men pressed me to come with them, but I would not do so, meaning to hasten on to the bishop's place and make him fly to Beccles and take ship also, starting this very night. So I bid them go, and on that their leader, a stout freeman named Leof, whom I knew well as one of Egfrid's best men, said that he would come with me. Nor would he hear of aught else.

"What would Egfrid my master say if I left his brother to go alone?" he asked me simply; and so I suffered him, and we two went towards South Elmham together.

Soon Leof saw a horse in a field and caught it, mounting bareback, and after that we went on well enough.

Darkness fell, and all the low clouds were reddened with the light of fires behind us, and ever as we looked back would be a fresh fire and light in the sky, for the Danes were at their work. We pushed on steadily, but the lanes were rough, and the miles seemed very long in the darkness; but at last we crossed the Elmham stream and rode to the stockaded house that was the bishop's, and which stands pleasant and well placed on a little hill beyond the low ground, and with no woodland very near it.

We shouted, and at last men fully armed came and let us in. And as I looked back once before the gates closed after me, I thought that the fires were nearer. The Danes were not staying their hands for darkness, for so the terror they spread would be the greater. So also was the bishop's peril therefore.

"Where is Bishop Humbert?" I asked.

"Master, he is in the church, nor will he leave it," said the old steward. "He says he must pray for king and land day and night now till this terror is overpast."

"I will go to him—he must fly," I said.

"Aye, pray him to do so, Wulfric; he will listen to you," said the old man earnestly.

"Have all things ready," I said. "See—there is little time."

"What of the king, master?" asked he, looking at the fires with a white face as he once more opened the gate.

"The king has gone where he would wish to be," I answered very gravely; and he understood me, turning away that I might not see his weeping.

Then Leof and I splashed back through the stream that ran between house and church, and came quickly to the porch. The church is very small and more ancient than I can say, for it is built of flint bound together with such mortar as the Romans used in their castles, hard as stone itself, and it stands in the midst of the Roman camp that guarded the ford, so that maybe it was the first church in all East Anglia, for we use wood; and, moreover, this stone church is rounded at the east end, and has a barrier dividing the body of the building into two, beyond which the as yet unbaptized must sit, as men say. And so strong and thick are the walls that I do not know how they can ever fall.

Now through the narrow windows shone lights, and I heard the sound of chanting. Leof held my horse, and I opened the door gently and went in.

At once there was a shrinking together of a group of men, mostly monks, who stood at the upper end of the church where the chancel begins. They were chanting the third psalm, for help against the heathen, and it faltered for a moment. But they were mostly monks of the bishop's own household, and knew me well enough, and they ended it shortly.

Then there was silence, for they were holding none of the set services, but rather as it seemed doing the bishop's bidding, and praying with him in the best way for the ceasing of this new trouble, as in time of pestilence once I remembered that he made litanies for us. And Humbert himself knelt before the altar during that psalm, fully vested, but as in times of fast and penitence.

When he rose, I came up the aisle towards him, and my mail clanged noisily as I walked in the hush. At the chancel steps I stood, helm in hand, and did reverence, not daring to speak first.

"What is it?" asked the bishop, when he turned and saw me. "Speak, Wulfric, my son. Is all well?"

"I have heavy news, father," I answered. "Close on us are the Danes, and you must fly. Then I will tell you all on the way."

"I will fly no more," he answered, "here I will bide. Is the king at my house?"

"He is not there, father," I said; and then I urged him to fly at once, and with me his monks joined, even going on their knees in their grief. Yet he would not be moved.

"Surely the king will come here," he said, "nor will I go without him."

"Father," I said, "the Danes have taken the king."

"Then must I bide here, and pray and scheme for his release."

Now I knew not how to tell him all, but at last I said:

"Eadmund the king has escaped from the hands of the heathen."

At that the bishop looked long at me, judging perhaps what I meant, by my voice. But the monks rejoiced openly, at first, until they saw what was meant also, and then they trembled.

"Where is he?" he asked, speaking low.

"Father," I said, "this twentieth day of November will be the day when England shall honour a new martyr. Eadmund the King is numbered among them."

"How died he?" then said the bishop, folding his hands.

But now the monks bade him fly, and reasoned with and prayed him. But he bade them save themselves, for that there would be work for them to do among the heathen.

"As for me, I am an old man," he said, "and I would fain go the same road as the king."

Still they clung to him, and at last, speaking to each by name, and giving each some message to take to cell or abbey where they must go at his bidding, he commanded them; and so, unwillingly, kissing his hand and receiving his blessing, they went one by one, till he and I and one or two laymen besides were left in the little church. Then he spoke to the other men, and they went also, and we were alone.

"That is well," said the bishop; "tell me all, and then do you fly."

He sat down in his great chair, leaning his head in his hand while I told him all in that quiet place. Never once was there trembling flash from the great jewel of his ring, that shone in the candlelight, to show how moved he was; but when I had ended, the tears were running down his venerable face, and he said:

"Now is there truly one more added to the noble army of martyrs, and he is at rest. Now do you go, my son."

But I had other thoughts in my mind, and I rose up silently from beside him, saying only: "Not yet, father," and I went down the aisle and out into the darkness to Leof.

"See yonder!" said he pointing, and there was a fresh fire not many miles from us. "I think they scour the country for our bishop. We have little time."

"Tell me, Leof," I said, "have you a mind to live?" for there was somewhat in the man's weary voice that seemed to say that he and I thought alike.

"None, master, after today's work, if I may find a brave man or two to die with me."

"Here is a brave man waiting with a like thought in the church. Shall you and I die with him?"

"Aye, surely," said Leof quietly.

"Bide here then," I said, and took the horses from him.

I mounted mine and rode to the house, where the steward and one or two others watched from the gateway. I bade the old man call his folk together, and I told them to fly. Many were already gone, now others went at once.

But a few stayed, and to them I said like words as to Leof.

"Hither will the Danes come presently, but in no great force. We may beat them back, and if we do, then maybe the bishop will fly. But we shall more likely die with him."

"Let us stand by him, come what will," they answered me in steady voices; "better to die with him and our king."

They took their arms and gave me a sword, and we left the horses in the stable, for we might even yet need them. I thought that we could maybe, as I said, beat off the first few Danes, and then that, to save further bloodshed, the bishop would go with us. And if not, we had done our best.

Five men came with me to the ford. When we were at the other side there were but four. One had gone back, and I did not blame him. Leof sat in the little porch, and so we six went into the church together. The bishop sat where I had left him, but he raised his head when we came up the aisle.

"Nay, my sons," he said, "you must fly. Maybe these men will respect an old man like myself and lonely."

Then I said:

"Father, we would have you say mass for us ere the light comes again."

Now it wanted about an hour to midnight.

"Is there yet time?" he said.

Then I answered that I thought we might wait in peace for so long, and he, knowing nothing of the nearness of the Danes, consented. So we bided there in the aisle benches to wait till midnight was past, and soon one or two of the men slept quietly.

Now, when it may have been almost midnight, and the time for mass would soon be come, the bishop, who had been so still that I thought he slept, lifted his head and looked towards the altar. And at the same time my dog whined a little beside me.

Then Humbert the Bishop rose up and held out both his hands as to one whom he would greet, and spoke softly.

"Aye, Eadmund, I am coming. Soon shall I be with you."

So he stood for a little while very still, and then went to his place again.

Then Leof, who sat next to me, said, whispering:

"Saw you aught, master?"

"I saw nothing, but surely the bishop had a vision."

"I myself saw Eadmund the king stand before the bishop, and he had a wondrous crown on his head," said Leof, speaking as though of somewhat not terrible, but good to think on.

"I also saw him," said the old steward from behind me. "I saw him plainly as in life, and I thought he smiled on us."

But I had had no such sight, and it grieved me. Moreover, two of the other three men whispered, and I thought one of them told of the like vision. And I think, too, that the dog saw it, as the innocent beasts will see things beyond our ken.

Soon the bishop judged that the time was come for mass, and he called softly to me, bidding me serve, for I had often done so for him in the old days when I was a boy and he was at Reedham, and I knew well what to do.

Then was said a most solemn mass with that one aged priest, and us few men present. And all was very quiet round us, for no wind stirred the trees on the old rampart.

The bishop's voice ceased with the benediction, and the hush deepened; but suddenly Leof and I looked in each other's faces. We had heard a shout from no great distance, and the blood rushed wildly through us.

Now the bishop rose from his knees, and I took the holy vessels, as he gave them to me, putting them into their oaken chest in its niche. And when that was done, he said:

"Now I will not bid you fly, my sons, for I think that somewhat has bidden you bide with me. And I have seen the king, so that I know the time is short. Take therefore the holy vessels and drown them in the deep pool of the stream. I have used them for the last time, but I would not have them profaned by the heathen in their feasting."

I knew that this should be done as at Bosham, but already I heard the shouts yet nearer, and I was loth to leave the church, and so paused.

"I know your thoughts," said the bishop. "Yet go, as I bid you; it is not far."

So I took the heavy, iron-bound chest on my shoulder and went quickly, running as well as I might to the stream below the rampart, where it curled deep and still under crumbling banks. There I plunged my burden, hearing it sink and bubble into the depths.

Then I went back, and reached the gap in the rampart that had been the gate next the ford, and that was at the east end of the church, so that the porch was far from me. And before I had gone halfway to the church—over the western rampart spurred a score of horsemen, dimly seen in the half moonlight that was now. And the leader of them saw me, and rode straight at me, calling to me to hold, while I drew my sword and ran to reach the door before he met me; and my dog, which was at my heels, flew at the horse's throat.

But I must fail, and I whirled up my sword to strike—and then a long flash of light from a spear point smote me, and over me the man rode, pinning me to the ground with the spear through my left shoulder. His horse trod on me, and the man wrenched the weapon from me as he passed on, and I had but time to call out to Leof to warn him, when a rushing came in my ears, and a blaze of light before my eyes, and the world passed from me.

Then I seemed to stand in darkness, while past me, gloriously shining, went Leof, and then the old steward and one of those two men who had whispered together, and then Humbert the Bishop himself. But it seemed to me that he paused and looked on me, saying, in a voice that was like music:

"Hereafter—not now. Twice have you offered your life today, and yet there is work for you. Be content to wait."

So he passed, looking kindly at me, and then the blackness came over me again.

When I came round at last it was high day, and the air was full of smoke around me. One sat on a great brown horse looking at me, and by my side cried my dog; and I groaned, whereat the man got off his horse and came to me. And I knew that it was Hubba, and some of the men I knew were there also.

"Why, Wulfric, friend, how is this? I thought you were dead. Who has dared to hurt you? What has happened here?"

"You know well," I gasped.

"Nay, I know not; I have but now ridden this way with our rear guard," he answered, seeming to pity me.

"Look in the church and see," I said, groaning. "You Danes are all one in the matter."

"Now I am not the man to harm you, nor would any of our folk," he said. "Some of our courtmen found you here, and brought me."

"Slay me and have done," I muttered; for that was all I would have him do.

"That will I not, Wulfric," he answered; and he called to some men who were busy about the walls of the church.

The smoke rose thickly from within them, for the burnt roof had fallen in.

"Take this warrior and bind his wound," he said. "It is Wulfric of Reedham, our friend."

The faintness came over me again when the men raised me, though they tended me gently enough, and I could say naught, though I would rather they had cast me into the burning timbers of the church, even as I had bidden men do with that poor churl at Hoxne, that my ashes might be with those of our bishop.

So they bore me far, and at last left me in a farm where they promised all should be safe if they tended me well. And Hubba rode with them, and came to bid me farewell. But I could not speak to him if I would, so he went away sadly. And as in a dream I heard him speak of care for me to the widow and her two sons to whom the farm belonged, and whom his men had taken unawares, so that they had not time to fly.

Presently came the best leech from Ingvar's host and tended me carefully; and I needed it, for besides the spear wound, my right thigh was broken, by the trampling of the horse, as was most likely.

Thereafter I lay for many weeks, as they told me presently, sick and nigh to death; but being young and strong and no high liver at any time, I came through the danger well enough, and began to mend slowly. Yet my sickness, when I could begin to think, was more of mind than body, and that kept me back. For long did it lie heavily on my mind that I should have died with the king, and it was that sorrow and blame of myself that went sorely against me. But after a time the love of life came back to me again, and I began to see things as they really were, untouched by a sick man's fancies. And then the words of the good Prior of Bosham helped me, teaching me that my life was surely spared for somewhat.

These good folk of the farm tended me most kindly, for they knew me by sight as a close friend of both king and bishop, and for their sakes were glad to do all they might for me. But I pined for the touch of that one who had tended me when I was wounded before, Osritha, whom I had learnt to love as she did so.

Sometimes I would think that between her and me had now risen up a barrier stronger than the sea that was washing our shores alike, because that of Ingvar's sister I might not think aught any longer. And then I would set before me how that of these cruel doings nor she nor Halfden had any part, hating them rather, and so would comfort myself. Long are the thoughts that come to a sick man.

Now it was not till February that I might take much heed of anything, but then I learnt that the Danes had wintered in Thetford, and that the land was in peace. The war had passed on to the Wessex borders and then had slackened, as winter came earnest, and now the north and south folk, Dane and Angle, were foes no longer openly. But Ingvar and Hubba were at Nottingham, waiting to fall on Wessex, leaving only strong garrisons in our towns.

Then one of the dame's sons would go to London for me, there to seek Ingild and tell him of my hap, for, the lad said:

"Now that these Danes need fight no more they are decent folk enough, and will not hinder a man who has not whereof to be robbed."



CHAPTER XIV. HOW WULFRIC AND RAUD SEARCHED TOGETHER.

I sat in the warm sun under the wide spread of the farmhouse eaves, dreaming my dreams with the dog at my feet, for so soon as the May time came in I must needs get into the open air, and grow stronger daily.

So it came to pass that one day up the green farm lane came a stranger, at whom the dog barked not, as was his wont, but ran to meet as if he were some well-loved friend. And it was Raud, his old master, who came, lightly mail clad, and with a short hunting spear instead of staff in his hand, and whistling his "Biarkamal" as ever.

Now with Raud I had no quarrel concerning the death of the king, for well I knew that what he had done was truly in mercy, nor had he taken any part in what went before. So I greeted him heartily enough, for all that with the sight of him came back to me, with a sharp pang, the memory of how I saw him last. And he rejoiced to see me again.

"I have half feared that I should find you gone," he said; "for, when I heard of this from Hubba's men, I must needs come and find you, and little hope had I that you would live."

"I have nearly died, they say," I answered; "but I think that I owe it to you that I was not slain in Hoxne woods yonder."

"Why, not altogether," he answered, sitting on the settle by me, and looking me over, from arm yet in sling to lame leg. "Some of the men with Ingvar and me wanted to slay you before they left that place; but Ingvar growled so fiercely that they must let you be, that they said no more, nor even would look your way again. But he himself looked at you, and said strange things to himself."

"What said he?" I asked, wondering.

"He said, paying no heed to me, 'Now, Wulfric—you will hate me forever more, nor do I think that Lodbrok my father would be pleased with this;' after which he spoke words so low that I caught but one here and there, but they were somewhat of the lady Osritha, our mistress. After that he said to me, 'Leave him horse and arms and unbind him,' and then turned away. Yet if I had not bound you at first, maybe they would have had to slay you."

"That is true enough," I said; "surely I should have stood between you and the king. But what came to Ingvar to make him speak thus to me?"

"Why, after the hot fit comes the cold, ever, though Ingvar the King's cold rage is worse at times than his fury. But since that day there has been somewhat strange about the king."

"I wonder not," I said; nor did I. "But how goes it with him?"

"Men say, though they dare not do so openly, that the ghost of Eadmund will not let him rest, and that mostly does he fear him when his rage is greatest. Many a time when the fury seemed like to come on him, Ingvar turns white and stares suddenly beyond all things, as though seeing somewhat beyond other men's ken, and the sweat runs cold from his forehead. Many a man has escaped him through this."

"Surely Eadmund holds him back thus from more cruelty," I thought. And aloud I said:

"What think you of the matter?"

"Why, that I am glad that I was bold enough to save your dying king from more torture—else had I seen somewhat before me day and night. Truly I see him now betimes in my sleep, but he ever smiles on me. Moreover, this is true, that all those seven men who shot the arrows died in that week. Two died in Elmham Church when you were nigh slain."

"Tell me of that," I said.

For no man knew rightly what had befallen there, save that under the charred ruins of the roof lay Bishop Humbert and one or two of his men.

But when he told me, it was as I thought. Those few men had fought bravely until they were slain, themselves slaying three Danes. But one of the bishop's men escaped, cutting through a throng at the doorway and seizing a horse. Then was slain the bishop, who knelt at the altar, not even turning round to face the Danes as they came.

So I hold ever that as I lay for dead I had seen those brave ones pass me even as they were slain. But of this I said naught to Raud, at that time at least.

Now I asked Raud whence he had come, and he said:

"From London."

And at that I feared greatly, asking:

"Has Ingvar taken the city, therefore?"

"Not the king himself, but Guthrum went into London, taking good ransom for peace."

"Where is Ethelred the king of England?" I said, half to myself.

"Ethelred?—he minds naught but Wessex for good reason. For Halfden and Bagsac and the Sidracs are on one side of him, and Ingvar and Hubba the other, waiting for him to make peace. But there is like to be fighting. Alfred, the king's brother, has a brave heart and a hard hand."

"Then all is quiet in London?"

"Peaceful enough; and there Guthrum the King holds court, and I think men are well content with him."

"Of what is Guthrum king?" I asked, for I had not heard him called by that name before. The only other king of the host beside the three jarls was Bagsac.

"Why, of East Anglia. He holds it for Ingvar, while he tries to add Wessex for his own to Mercia. Halfden will be king in Northumbria, maybe, and Hubba over another of the kingdoms."

So they had already parted out the land among them beforehand! Woe for us therefore, for unless a leader was raised up among us, surely all England must own Danish overlords! But I had heard Alfred the Wessex Atheling well spoken of as a warrior.

However, what was that to us of East Anglia? We had been deserted by Wessex at our need as it seemed, and these Danes were as near kin to us as Wessex Saxons.

"How did you come to leave Ingvar's service?" I asked, not being willing to dwell on this matter.

"I think my face spoke to him too plainly of that which was in Hoxne wood—and so he bade me stay with Guthrum. Nor was I loth, for I would find you again."

Then I was touched a little by the kindness of this rough warrior, and thanked him. After that we sat silent for a while, and the good dame brought out food and ale for Raud, and I envied his pleasure therein, for I took little as yet.

Now for many days past a great longing to be away from this place had filled my mind, and now seemed to be the time.

"Take me to London, Raud," I said.

"Why, that is part of my errand here," he answered, smiling. "I have a message to you from Guthrum the King."

"What might that be?"

"He wants to speak to you as one who is known to be friend to Dane and Anglian alike, and being blamed by neither for friendship with the other. So he would have you give him counsel."

"Let me get to London," I said, "and then I will answer. I cannot now."

So Raud bided in the farm with me for a while, and now with new thoughts and with his talk of Halfden and Osritha, I mended quickly, for it was my troubled mind that had kept me back mostly, as I cared for nothing.

One day I felt strong again, waking up and taking delight in the smell of the fresh morning and in the sunlight. And I ate heartily of the brown bread and milk they gave me, and afterwards told Raud of what I had been long thinking.

"All things are quiet in the land now. Let us gather a few of my people and seek the head of our king, if you fear not to go into Hoxne woods."

Raud thought for a while before he answered me.

"I fear not, for the poor king thanked me, smiling at me. Let me go with you."

So that day the dame sent messages by her son to some who had come back to their places, and in the evening when he came home, there were with him two of Bishop Humbert's monks, dressed like churls, for they dared not wear their habits. These two and some others would gladly come with me on my search.

Next day, therefore, they set me on a pony that was quiet, and slowly we went towards Hoxne, coming thither in the afternoon early, seeing no Danes anywhere, while many of our folk were back and at work in the fields.

Then I asked Raud if these poor people were safe now.

"Surely, master," he said, for so he would call me, having heard the farm people name me thus. "There is none so great difference between you and us, and we Danes love to be at peace if we may. I think there will be no more trouble here. And, anyway, we are too wise to hinder a harvesting of that we may eat."

So too thought I, and my heart was less sad after that ride, though there was not one place left unburnt of all that we saw.

When we came to Hoxne I told the two monks where we had bestowed the king's body, bidding them look to see if it was not disturbed. And they said that his bones were safely there.

Now we must seek for the head of the king, and in that Rand could not help us, for one had ridden away with it while he was taken up with me and my plight.

So we went towards that place where the dog had taken us, and searched long, until I, being weak, must get from off the pony and rest. I would ride back to the place where the king had been slain and sit there awhile; but first, knowing that Vig remembered things well, I sent him from me, bidding him search also, hoping that he would not forget his last quest in this place. Yet what we most feared was that the forest beasts had made our search vain.

There were many men from the village with us now, for they had followed the two monks, and they spread about over the wood far and wide, searching, while I sat at the foot of the oak tree to which the king had been bound, leaning my arms and head against the trunk that had been stained with his blood, and thinking and praying, as well I might in that sacred place.

I moved my hand, and felt something sticking from the hard bark and looked to see what it was. It was an arrowhead, such a rough iron spike as men will use when they must make fresh arrows after battle, in all haste, and have to use what they can first find. The shaft was snapped close to the iron and the rawhide lashing that held it, and I could not take it out as I would, for the young oak was sturdy and tough; and so I left it, thinking that I would return some day to cut it out.

That I did in after years, but the arrowhead was hidden, for the tree had grown fast, closing on it, as I think, and I could not find its place. So it will be there for one to find hereafter, maybe long hence, for such a tree has many a hundred years to last yet, if saved from mishap of wind or lightning or axe. Then I think will men still know what that iron is, for Eadmund the King cannot be forgotten.

Presently it seemed to me that the voices I heard in the wood, as the searchers called to each other, drew closer together, crying:

"Where are you?"

"Here—here!"

And then was a sort of outcry, and a silence, and I hoped that maybe they had found what they sought. So I rose up and went slowly and limpingly to the place where they seemed to be.

I met them in a green glade. And foremost came the two monks, bearing between them a cloak, wherein was surely that we looked for, and after them came my dog and Raud, and then the rest. And when they saw me they cried softly to me:

"Master, we have found the head of our king."

So they laid open the cloak before me, and I knelt and looked. And there was indeed the head of Eadmund, seeming whole and fresh as when I had last seen him; and his looks were very peaceful, for on his face was still that smile with which he had greeted death at Raud's hands.

Then, seeing that, the rough Dane was fain to turn away and lean arms and face against a tree trunk, weeping as weeps a child that will not be comforted.

After a little I asked how they had found the head. And one of the villagers, speaking low and holding his cap in his hands as though in the church, answered me.

"When I came to a certain thicket, I heard a crying, as it were, and I turned aside and looked, and at first was sorely afraid, for yon great wolf held the head between his paws, whining over it as in grief. Then I called to the rest, and they came, running, and were afraid also till the good fathers came, to whom the wolf was gentle, suffering them to take that which he guarded. And lo! he follows us even now, as would a dog!"

So the man spoke, not having seen such a dog as mine before, for till more came with the host there were none like him in our land. I told him that it was but my own dog; yet for all that, I know that this tale of a wolf passed for the truth over all the land as it flew from mouth to mouth, so that soon I myself heard from one who knew me not very strange stories of that finding of ours.

Yet would that tale hardly be stranger than was the truth, that not one of the wild creatures, either beast or bird, had harmed our king's sacred head. And how it should be so preserved in that place I cannot tell, but I say what I saw. Yet his body was not so preserved in the place where we had hidden it.

These things are beyond me, nor can I tell all the thoughts that came into my mind as I looked into the face of the king whom I had loved, and who loved me.

Now would we take our treasure, as we must needs think it, to Hoxne, and the monks were about to lift it again. But Raud came forward very solemnly, begging that he might be allowed to bear it, "Because he would make what amends he might."

And I signed to the monks to suffer him to do so, and he took it. None else but I knew what part he had had with the other Danes in this matter, and the monks did but think him grieving for what his comrades had done.

So he bore it to Hoxne village, and we passed the place where the church had been. There, amid the blackened ruins of the walls and roof, stood the font of stone, fire reddened and chipped, yet with the cross graven on its eastward face plain to be seen. And to that place Raud led us, none staying him, yet all wondering.

When he came there he strode over the burnt timber until he came to the font, and there, under the graven cross, he set down his burden very gently, and stood up, looking in my face, and saying:

"Here will I leave the worship of Odin and cleave to that faith for which Eadmund the King died, and for which you, Wulfric, were willing to die both in Jutland and here by Eadmund's side. Will any forbid me?"

Then I knew that the man was in such earnest, that none, save he perilled his own soul, might hold him back, and I took his hand and spoke to the elder monk, saying:

"I will answer for this man, father, as to his will. If he knows enough of our faith, I pray you baptize him straightway."

There was rain water in the font, sparkling and clear, and without any delay or doubt the good man came forward and stood thereby, while I yet held Raud's hand as his godfather.

"What know you of our faith, my son?" said the monk in his gentle voice.

Now of his own accord Raud faced to the eastward, and clasping his hands before him, spoke the words of the Creed, slowly and haltingly maybe, but with knowledge thereof, and all that little company, standing hushed until he ended, answered "Amen" with one voice.

Then again, untaught by us he turned to the west, where the sun was even now sinking, and lifting his right hand very solemnly he put away from him the false gods of his forefathers, and the golden sunlight made his face very glorious, as I thought.

"It is well, my son," said the old monk.

So he was baptized, and I gave him the new name of Cyneward {xxii}, for the memory of Eadmund the King and what he did for him in saving him from torture as best he might. And surely he was the first fruit of the martyrdom of him whose head he had borne.

Then when all was done he took up his burden again, softly and reverently, saying:

"Life I took, and life has been given me. This is not the old way of life for life, but it is better."

So he gave back the head to the monks, and they, wondering at him, but greatly rejoicing, took it, and stood awhile pondering where we might safely bestow it.

Then came one of the villagers, telling of a stone-walled chamber that had been a well in days long gone by, hard by the church porch. That we found after some labour, moving much ruin from over it, and therein we placed the bones and head of our king, covering it again until better days should come. And I, thinking of my riches in the hands of Ingild, promised that when it might be done I would see to raising the church afresh, to be over the ashes of the king.

So our little company parted, and Cyneward, who had been Raud, and I went back with the elder monk and the farm folk to our place, going slowly in the warm twilight, with our hearts at rest, and full of the wonders we had seen that day.

Only one thing would the monk and I ask Cyneward, for we wondered how he had learned our faith so well. And that he answered gladly.

"Ever as Wulfric and I escaped from the vengeance of Ingvar towards Hedeby I wondered that one should be strong enough to defy the Asir and their godar for the sake of the new faith. So I sat in the church of Ansgar among the other heathen and heard somewhat. And again in London of late, where Guthrum will have no man harmed for his religion, I have listened and learnt more. So when I needed them, the words were ready. Now, therefore, both in life and death, Wulfric, my master, I thank you."

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