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Wulfric the Weapon Thane
by Charles W. Whistler
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But I was silent, knowing how much greater a part in this I might have had. For I thought that, but for the need of proving my faith or denying it, I should have surely been as a heathen among heathen in those days in Jutland. Yet Beorn asked me to pray for him, and that I had done, and it had kept me mindful when I had else forgotten.

So began the work Humbert the Bishop foretold before he died, and that monk of his who saved his own life at Humbert's bidding for the work, saw it, and rejoiced.

After this, in a week's time, Cyneward and I took horse and rode away to London, for the dame's son came back to me, having found Ingild, bringing me messages from him, and also from Egfrid and many more. And all was well. At that time I could not reward as I would those good people who had thus cared for me, but I would send presents when I might. Yet they said they needed naught from me but to see me again at some time, which I promised, as well for my own love of them as for their asking.

We went unharmed and unquestioned, for all the land was at peace. Truly there were new-made huts where farmsteads had been, and at the town gates were Danish axemen instead of our spearmen as of old. Yet already in the hayfields Dane and Anglian wrought together, and the townsmen stood on Colchester Hill beside the Danish warriors, listening while gleeman and scald sang in rivalry to please both.

Little of change was there in London town, save again the scarlet-cloaked Danish guards and watchmen. Few enough of these there were, and indeed the host left but small parties in the towns behind them in our land. Yet those few could hold the country in peace, because men knew that at their back was the might of Ingvar's awful host, which came on a land unawares, marching more swiftly than rumour could fly before it, so that not one might know where the next blow would fall until suddenly the war beacons of flaming villages flared up, and it was too late to do aught but fly.

Yet in our land was none to fight for. No king had we to follow the martyr. Ethelred had left us alone, and already in the hearts of men grew up the thought that the strong hand of the Dane meant peace.

In the house of good old Ingild, my second father, as he would have me hold him, was rest at last. And there I found all whom I held dear gathered to meet me on the night when I came, for they had fled by ship, as they had hoped, and had reached London safely.



CHAPTER XV. THE MESSAGE OF HALFDEN THE KING.

Now when I had been in London for a fortnight, Cyneward, whom Ingild would by no means suffer to live elsewhere than in his house with me, went to Guthrum as was his duty, and told him that I had come. Whereupon he sent to me, asking again that I would speak with him.

On that I took counsel with Ingild and Egfrid, and the thane his father, and they thought it well that I should do so.

"This Dane," said the thane, "is lord of East Anglia by the might of the strong hand, and it seems to us that we might have a worse ruler. At any rate we shall have peace, and no more trouble with Danes while he is here. As for Ethelred, he is no more to us. Even if he overcomes the Danes in the end, it is not likely that we will own Wessex overlords again unless we must."

That was the word of all with whom I spoke, and in the end, when it was certain that the Danes meant to stay, and that help from Ethelred was none, East Anglia owned Guthrum as king quietly and with none to say a word against it, so securing a peace that should last.

But to this I could not bring myself as yet, because of what I had seen, and that the hand of Ingvar was behind Guthrum.

"Go to him at least," said Ingild, "and find what he needs of you. Then will be time to say more."

So at his advice I went, and I found Guthrum in Ethelred's great house, where he sat in little state, doing justice in open hall where many citizens were gathered. And I saw him do even-handed right to both Dane and Saxon, and that pleased me, for already I had liked the man's honest face and free bearing.

He greeted me well, taking me aside presently with Cyneward into a private chamber. And there he told me that he would ask me to do a favour towards him.

I answered that what I might I would do gladly, so that he asked me not to break faith with my own people.

"I would ask no man to do that," he said. "Tell me what I may not ask you."

"Shall I speak plainly?" I said.

"Aye, plainly as you will."

"Then, Guthrum, I may not own Ingvar for overlord. Nor can I allow that you have more than right of conquest over us."

"Plain speaking, in good sooth," he said, laughing a little, "but what I expected from Wulfric of Reedham. However, I am ruler in East Anglia by that right you speak of, and I have a mind to be as fair in it as I may. Now, I think you can help me."

This honest saying warmed my heart to him somewhat, and weary enough of his lawman's work this warrior looked. Yet I was not sure that he would not try to use me to make his hold on the land more sure.

"Tell me in what way that may be," I said, therefore.

"Let me come and ask you of this and that when I am in a strait owing to knowing naught of Saxon ways. Then can I say to a Dane, 'Thus says Wulfric, Lodbrok's friend,' and to an Anglian, 'So says the Thane of Reedham.' Then I think I shall do well, for I would fain be fair."

"I will ever be ready to do that, Guthrum," I said; and I held out my hand to him, for I could not help it.

So he took it and wrung it warmly.

"Now must I go back to Thetford very soon," he said. "Come back that you may be near me."

"I must live here, in London now," I said; for I would by no means live with his court, nor did I think that he should have thought it of me after my words.

"Why not go back to your own place now? I can see you often at Reedham."

"That is an ill jest," I said; for I thought nothing so sad as going back to see that dear home of mine but a blackened heap of ruins, nor would I ever ask any who might have seen the place concerning it, knowing how the Danish ships had burnt all the coast villages.

Guthrum looked at me as if puzzled.

"No jest, Thane," he said; "why not go back?"

"To ruins—what good?" I answered.

"Now I think you mean that you will not take your land at my hands," he said.

"That were to own you king."

"Then, Wulfric, my friend, if I may call you so, that the lands of a friend are not mine to give and take I need not tell you. Nor do we harm the lands of a friend. There is one place in East Anglia that no Dane has harmed, or will harm—the place that sheltered Jarl Lodbrok. And there is one man whose folk, from himself to the least of all, are no foes of ours—and that is the Thane of Reedham. Ah! now I see that I have gladdened you, and I think that you will come."

"This seems almost impossible," I said, in my wonder and gladness.

"Nay, but word went round our host that it was to be so. There you might have bided all unknowing that war was near you. You do but go back of your own free will."

Now I was fain to say that I would at once go back to my place, but there was one thing yet that I would say to Guthrum.

"Will you let the Christian folk be unharmed?"

"Little will our people care," he said, "when once they have settled down, what gods a man worships. Nor would I have any meddled with because of their faith."

"Now am I most willing to help you," I said; "and I will say this—so are you likely in the end to be hailed king indeed."

"That is well," he answered, flushing a little. "But there is one man whom I will never ask to own me as king, and that is yourself. But if you do so of your own will, it will be better yet."

So we parted, each as I think pleased with the other, and I knew that East Anglia had found a wise ruler in Guthrum the Dane.

Straightway now I told my people the good news that Reedham was safe. The longships came up to Norwich time after time now; and there had been but one thought among us, and that was that our place could not have escaped the destruction that had fallen on all the shore and riverside villages.

Then Ingild said:

"These Danes have come as our forefathers came here, to take a new and better country for themselves, but the strife between them and us is not as the strife between alien peoples. They are our kin, but between us and the Welsh was hatred of race. They will settle down, and never will East Anglia pass from Danish hands, even if Ethelred of Wessex makes headway enough to be owned as overlord of England by them. Now therefore is there one place in all England where peace has come, and to that place I would go to end my days. Here in London the tide of war will ebb and flow ever. Let me go down with you to Reedham, my son, that I may die in peace."

So we did but wait until he had set all his affairs in order, selling his house and merchandise and the like. Then we hired a ship that came from the Frankish coast and waited for cargo in the Thames, and sailed at the end of July to Reedham. With us were Egfrid and Eadgyth and my mother and Cyneward, who would by no means leave me, and to whom Guthrum willingly gave leave to go with us.

We came easily to Reedham, and very strange it was to me to see two Danish longships lying in our roads, while our own shore boats were alongside, the men talking idly together on deck or over gunwale in all friendliness. Stranger yet it was to see the black ruins of farms and church on the southern shores of the river mouth, and at Reedham all things safe and smiling as ever.

Then was a wondrous welcome for us on our little staithe, and all the village crowded down to greet us. Nor were the men from the Danish ships behindhand in that matter, for they too would welcome Lodbrok's friends.

So we came home, and soon the old life began again as if naught had altered, but for the loss of loved faces round us. Yet in peace or war that must come, and in a little while we grew content, and even happy.

Soon Guthrum came to Thetford, and many times rode over to me, asking me many things. And all men spoke well of him, so that Egfrid's father and some other thanes owned him as king, and took their lands as at his hands, coming back to rebuild their houses. For as yet none of the greater Danish chiefs chose lands among us, since it seemed likely that in a little while all England would be before them, and in any case the power of Ethelred must be broken before there could be peace.

Now when the first pleasure of return was over, I myself began to be restless in my mind, seeing the quiet happiness of Egfrid in his marriage, and thinking how far I was from Osritha, whom I loved in such sort that well I knew that I should never wed any other. And I would watch some Danish ship when she passed our village, going homewards, longing to sail in her and seek the place where Lodbrok's daughter yet lived beyond the broad seas.

But presently, at the summer's very end, I knew from the Danes that Ingvar had gone back to Denmark, called there by some rumour of trouble brewing at home in his absence; and that made it yet harder for me, if possible, for on Ingvar I would not willingly look again, nor would I think of Osritha but as apart from him.

So the winter wore away. The host was quiet in winter quarters in Mercia, and the Danes in our country grew friendly with us, harming no man.

These men, I could see, would fain bide in peace, settling down, being tired of war, and liking the new country, where there was room and to spare for all.

In early spring Guthrum went to the host on the Wessex borders, taking command in Ingvar's place.

For Hubba went to Northumbria, there to complete his conquests, and Halfden was on the western borders of Wessex. And before he went Guthrum took great care for the good ordering of our land—and that he might leave it at all at that time was enough to show that he feared no revolt against him.

Now as I sat in our hall, listless and downcast, one day in July, Cyneward came in to me.

"Here is news, master, that I know not what to make of."

"What is it?" I said. "Is the war to be here once more?"

"The war is no nearer than Ashdown Heath; but it seems that the Wessex men have found a leader."

Then he told me of the long fighting round Reading, and how at last Halfden had cut his way through Wessex and joined forces with Guthrum after many victories. But that then Ethelred and Alfred the Atheling had made a great effort, winning a mighty victory on Ashdown Heath, slaying Bagsac the king and both the Sidracs, Harald and Osbern the jarls, Frene, and many more with them. Nine battles had they fought that year and last.

"How hear you of this?" I said.

"There has come a messenger from Guthrum with the news, and even now the Danes march in all haste from the towns to fill up the gaps in the ranks of the host, and he says that ships must go back to Jutland to Ingvar for more men from overseas."

Now this news was nothing to us East Anglians for the most part, and to me it was but a turn of the fight between Dane and Saxon for the overlordship of all England. That was not a matter to be settled by one or two victories on either side, nor might one see how it would end. Yet I was glad, for of all things I feared that Ingvar might be our master in the end, and this seemed to say that it was none so certain.

More men came in after that, hastening the going to the front of those who would, for not all the Danes among us would stir from their new homes, saying that they had done their part, and knowing that what they left others might take.

And in ten days' time Cyneward came to me saying that there were two longships coming in from the open sea.

"Let the pilots go out to them," I said; for it was of no use withholding this help from the Danish ships, little as we liked to see them come. So I forgot the matter.

Then again Cyneward ran to me in haste, and with his eyes shining.

"Master, here is Halfden's ship. Come and see!"

Gladly I went out then, and when I saw those two ships my heart leapt up with joy, for it was indeed my own ship that was leading, and I thought that Halfden would be in her.

So soon as she was in the river she made for our wharf, and that was not the wont of the Danes, who mostly went on past us up the river to where the great towns were. And at once when she was alongside I went on board, and at sight of me half her crew came crowding round me, shouting and shaking my hand; for they were our old crew, the same who had fought beside me and had backed me at the Ve. There, too, was Thormod, grim as ever, but welcoming me most gladly. But Halfden was not there.

"What is this, Thormod?" I said, when I had him up to the house, and the men were eating in the great hall. "Why are you not with Halfden?"

"Have you heard no news?" he asked.

"Only a few days ago I heard of the business at Ashdown."

"Well, I have come thence," he said. "Now must I sail home and fetch more men in all haste."

"Why came you in here?"

"Because I came away in haste and need stores. And, moreover, I wanted to see you."

"That is good of you, Thormod, and glad am I to have you here, even if it is only for a day," I answered.

"Moreover, I have a message to you from Halfden," he went on.

Whereupon I asked him about the battle, and long we sat while he told me all. And Halfden's deeds had been great, but could not turn aside defeat. So he ended.

"Then because our ship lay in the Thames, where we had sent her from the west when we broke through the Wessex country and joined Guthrum, he sent me back for men. So I am here. Both sides must needs rest awhile, as I think."

"What of Halfden's message?" I asked.

"Why, I know not how you will take it, but it is this. The night before the battle he slept ill, and at last woke me, saying that he would have me take a message if he was slain. So I said that I hoped he was not fey. That he was not, he told me, but this was going to be a heavy sword play, and one knew not how things would go. Then he told me that ever as he began to sleep he saw Osritha his sister, and she was pale and wrung her hands, saying: 'Now am I alone, and there is none to help me, for Halfden and Wulfric are far away, and I fear Ingvar and his moods'. Then said I, 'That is true enough. It needs no dream to tell one of the maiden's loneliness.' Yet he answered, 'Nevertheless, in some way I will have Wulfric our comrade know that Osritha sits alone and will not be comforted'. So when I must start on this voyage he bade me tell you of this matter, and I have done so."

Now I was full of many thoughts about this, but as yet I would say little. So I asked:

"What of Ingvar's moods? are they more fierce than his wont?"

"Well, between us twain," he answered, looking at Cyneward, who sat apart from us across the king's chamber where we were, "Ingvar is not all himself lately, and all men fear him, so that he is no loss to the host."

I knew somewhat, I thought, of the reason for this, and so did Cyneward, but passed that over. Now nothing seemed more plain to me than that Halfden meant that I should seek Osritha.

"What is Halfden doing?" I asked. "Will he not go back to your own land?"

"Why, no. For he takes Northumbria as his share of what we have won. Hubba is there now. But we fight to gain more if we may, and if not, to make sure of what we have. One way or another Ethelred's power to attack us must be broken."

"So Halfden bides in England. What meant he by his message?"

"Why, Wulfric, if you cannot see I will not tell you."

"What of Ingvar?"

"Now, Wulfric," said Thormod, "if I did not know that you at least were not afraid of him, I should say that he was best left alone. But as neither you nor I fear him, let us go and see what may be done."

"Let me think thereof," said I, not yet daring to make so sure of what I most wished.

"Shall I tell Osritha that Wulfric thought twice of coming to see her?"

"That you shall not," I cried; "I do but play with my happiness. Surely I will go, and gladly. But will she welcome me?"

"Better come and see concerning that also," he answered, laughing a little, so that one might know what he meant.

"Let us go at once on this tide," I said, starting up.

"Not so fast now, comrade," laughed Thormod. "Would you come again half starved, as last time, into the lady's presence?"

Then I called Cyneward, but when he rose up and came to us, Thormod stared at him, crying:

"You here, Raud! I thought you were with Ingvar."

"Aye, Thormod, I am here—at least Cyneward, who was Raud, is with Wulfric."

"Ho! Then you have turned Christian?"

"Aye," answered Cyneward, flushing, though not with shame, for it was the first time he had owned his faith to one of his former comrades.

"Now I thought this likely to happen to some of us," said Thormod, not showing much surprise, "if maybe it is sooner than one might have looked for. However, that is your concern, not mine. Keep out of Ingvar's way, though."

"I bide here with Wulfric," he answered, having paid no heed to our low-voiced talk.

"Wulfric sails with me to find—Ingvar," said Thormod, and at that Cyneward turned to me in surprise.

"Not Ingvar," said I, "but one in his house. Will you come with me?"

Then he understood, and his face showed his gladness.

"This is well," he cried; "gladly will I go with you and return with that other."

"That is to be seen," I answered, though I thought it surely would be so. "Now go and see to the arms and all things needful, and send the steward to me, for we have to victual the ship."

So I left Thormod with the steward and sought Ingild, telling him what I would do. Whereat he, knowing my trouble, was very glad; and then Egfrid would fain come with me also when he heard. That, however, I would not suffer, seeing that there was Ingvar to be dealt with. My mother wept, and would have me not go. But here my sister helped me.

"Bring Osritha back if you can," she said. "Soon will our house be built again, and we shall go, and you will be lonely."

For Egfrid's father had owned Guthrum, and his house and theirs were nigh rebuilt.

In a day's time Thormod and I set sail, and once more I took the helm as we went out over our bar. And the quiver of the tiller in my hands and the long lift of the ship over the rollers seemed to put fresh life in me, and my gloom passed away as if it had never been.

The breeze was fresh, and the ship flew, yet not fast enough for me, though so well sailed ours that when day broke the other was hull down astern of us, and at night we had lost her altogether. And the breeze held and the spray flew, and I walked the deck impatiently, while Thormod from the helm smiled at me. Bright were the skies over me, and bright the blue water that flashed below the ship's keel, but my thoughts would even have brightened such leaden skies as those that last saw me cross along this ocean path. And I thought that I could deal with Ingvar now.



CHAPTER XVI. HOW WULFRIC BROUGHT OSRITHA HOME.

There was a haze far out at sea, and a fog was coming in with the tide when we came to the mouth of Ingvar's haven; and rounded the spit of land that shelters it from the southerly winds. Soon we cleared it and then saw the town and hall above it at the head of the haven, and what my longings were I need not write.

Now by the wharves lay two ships, and I thought little of that, but on seeing them, Thormod, by whose side I was as he steered, seemed to wonder.

"Ingvar has got another ship from somewhere," he said, "or has built one this winter, for he sailed home with one only."

Then, too, the men began to say the like, for the second ship was strange to them also, and, as seamen will, they puzzled over her until we were close at hand. But I leaned on the gunwale and dreamed dreams of my own, paying no heed to their talk.

Out of those dreams I was roused by Thormod's voice.

"Yon ship is no Dane," he said sharply. "Clear the decks and get to arms, men. Here is somewhat amiss."

Then was a growl of wrath from our crew, yet no delay, and in a moment every man was in his place. Down came the sail, and the mast was lowered and hoisted on its stanchions overhead, and in five minutes or less the oars were out, and the men who were arming themselves ran to take them as they were ready, while those who had rowed should get to arms also. Not for the first time saw I that ship cleared for action, but never had I seen it done so swiftly, though we had but half our fighting crew, sixty men instead of a hundred and thirty or so.

I armed myself swiftly as any, and Thormod bade me take Halfden's place on the fore deck, where the men were already looking to bowstrings and bringing up sheaves of arrows and darts.

Then when I came they shouted, and one gray-headed warrior cried:

"Now you have a good fight on hand, axeman."

Then I asked:

"Who are the strangers?"

"It is a ship of the Jomsburg vikings," he said. "They know that our men are all in England, and have come to see what we have left behind—Thor's bolt light on them!"

Now, of all savage vikings these Jomsburgers are the worst. Red-handed they are, sparing none, and it is said of them that they will sacrifice men to the gods they worship before a great fight. Nor are they all of one race, but are the fiercest men of all the races of the Baltic gathered into that one nest of pirates, Jomsburg.

Now a cold thrill of fear for Osritha ran through me, and then came hot rage, and for a little I was beside myself, as it were, glaring on that ship. Then I grew cool and desperate, longing only to be hand to hand with them.

Swiftly we bore down on the ship, and now from her decks came the hoarse call of uncouth war horns, and her crew came swarming back from the streets with shouts and yells, crossing Ingvar's ship to reach their own, for she lay alongside, stem to stern of the Dane, and next to the open water.

Now I could see that men fought with the last of the Jomsburgers as they came down the street to their ship, and there were no houses burning, so that they could have been for no long time ashore. And that was good to know.

We came into the channel abreast of her, and then Thormod roared to me:

"Now I will ram her. Board her as we strike if we do not sink her!"

Then he called on the oarsmen, and they cheered and tugged at the oars, the men in the waist helping them, and my fore deck warriors gripping the bulwarks against the shock. Down we swooped like a falcon on a wild duck, and as we came the Jomsburgers howled and left their own ship, climbing into Ingvar's to fly the crash, while some tried to cast off, but too late.

"Shoot!" I shouted to my men, and the arrows flew.

Through skin-clad backs and bare necks the arrows pierced, and the smitten pirates fell back into their own ship, as they swarmed the higher sides of Ingvar's, like leaves from a tree.

Then with a mighty crash and rending of cloven timbers our dragon stem crushed the Jomsburg ship from gunwale to gunwale, splintering the rail of the other ship as the wreck parted and sunk on either side of our bows, while above the rending of planks and rush of waters rose the howls of the drowning men.

I clung to the dragon's neck, and the shock felled me not. Yet my men went headlong over the oarsmen as we struck, rising again with a great shout of grim laughter, to follow me over the bows as I leapt among the pirates who thronged on Ingvar's deck before me.

Then was the sternest fight I have ever seen, for we fought at close quarters, they for dear life, and we for those even dearer than life. There was no word of quarter, and at first, after our cheer on boarding, there was little noise beyond the ringing of weapon on helm and shield and mail, mixed with the snarls of the foul black-bearded savages against us and the smothered oaths of our men.

Then came a thickness in the air and a breath of chill damp over me, and all in a moment that creeping sea fog settled down on us, and straightway so thick it was, that save of those before and on either side of him no man might see aught, but must fight in a ring of dense mist that hemmed him round. And for a while out of that mist the arrows hissed, shot by unseen hands, and darts, hurled by whom one might not know, smote friend and foe alike, while if one slew his man, out of the fog came another to take his place, seeming endless foes. And as in a dream the noise of battle sounded, and the fight never slackened.

All I knew was that Cyneward was next me, and that my axe must keep my own life and take that of others; and I fought for Osritha and home and happiness—surely the best things for which a man can fight next to his faith. And now men began to shout their war cries that friend might rally to friend rather than smite him coming as a ghost through the mist. Then a man next me cried between his teeth:

"It is Ragnaroek come—and these are Odin's foes against whom we fight."

And so smote the more fiercely till he fell beside me, crying: "Ahoy! A Raven!—a Raven!"

Then was I down on the slippery deck, felled by a blow from a great stone hammer that some wild pirate flung over the heads of his comrades before me, and Cyneward dragged me up quickly, so that I think he saved my life that time. And I fought on, dazed, and as in a dream I fancied that I was on the deck of my father's ship fighting the fight that I looked for in the fog that brought my friend Halfden.

When my brain cleared, I knew not which way we faced. Only that Cyneward was yet with me, and that out of the dimness came against us Jomsburgers clad in outlandish armour, and with shouts to strange gods as they fell on me.

"Hai, Wainomoinen! Swantewit, ho!"

Then I cast away my shield, for I grew weary, and taking both hands to my axe, fought with a dull rage that I should have fallen, and that there were so many against me. And all alone we two seemed to fight by reason of the fog, though I heard the shouts of our crew to right and left unceasingly.

Then I felled a man, and one leapt back into mist and was gone, and a giant shape rose up against me out of the thickness, towering alone, and at this I smote fiercely. Yet it was not mail or hardened deerskin that I smote, but solid timber, and I could not free my axe again, so strongly had I smitten.

It was the high stem head of the vessel. For I and my men had cleared away the foe from amidships to bows, and still the noise of fight went on behind us, while the fog was thick as ever.

Then Cyneward leaned against the stem head and laughed.

"Pity so good a stroke was wasted on timber, master," he said.

"Pull it out for me," I answered, "my arm is tired."

For now I began to know that my left shoulder was not yet so strong as once.

He tugged at the axe and freed it, not without trouble.

"What now?" said one of the men.

But a great shout came from aft, and then a silence that seemed strange. We were still, to hear what we might, and I think that others listened for us.

"Surely we have cleared the ship?" I said. "Let us go and see."

Then I hailed our men, asking how they fared—and half I feared to hear the howl and rush of pirates coming back on us. But it was a Danish voice that called back to me that the last foe was gone.

We stumbled back now along either gunwale, over the bodies of friend and foe that cumbered all the deck, and most thickly and in heaps amidships, where our first rush fell. One by one from aft met us those who were left of the men who had fought their way to the stern. Well for us was it that the darkness had hindered the Jomsburgers from knowing how few we were and how divided. But shoulder to shoulder we had fought as vikings will, never giving back, but ever taking one step forward as our man went down before us.

Now I called to Thormod, and his voice answered me from shoreward.

"Here am I, Wulfric. How have you sped?"

"Some of us are left, but no foemen," I answered.

"Call your names," he said. And when we counted I had but sixteen left of my thirty, so heavy had been the fighting. Yet I thought that the Jomsburgers were two to our one as we fell on them, and of them was not one left.

"What now?" asked Thormod. "There are more of these men in the town. Here have I been keeping them back from the ship."

"Let us go up to the hall," I answered. "We could find our way in the dark, and they cannot tell where they are in this fog."

So I and my men climbed on to the wharf, and there were the rest of the crew with Thormod, who had crossed the decks as we cleared a passage, even as the fog came down, and had driven the rest of the Jomsburgers away from the landing place before they could join those in the ship. Well for us it was that he had done this, or we should have been overborne by numbers, for the ship was a large one, carrying maybe seven score men.

"We must leave your tired men with the ship and go carefully," said Thormod. "Likely enough we shall have another fight."

We marched up the well-known street four abreast, and as we left the waterside the fog was thinner, so that we could see the houses on either side of the way well enough. And as we went we were joined by many of Ingvar's people, old men and boys mostly, who had been left at home when the fleet sailed. And they told us that the Jomsburg men were round the great house itself.

Yet we could hear no sound of them, and that seemed strange, so that we feared somewhat, drawing together lest a rush on us were planned. But beyond a few men slain in the street we saw nothing till we came to the gate of the stockade. And that was beaten down, while some Danes and Jomsburgers lay there as they had fallen when this was done.

Now when we saw this I know not which was the stronger, rage or surprise, and I called one of the old men.

"Where is the king?" I asked.

"He is not in the town," he said; "he is away with his own courtmen, fighting against these pirates for Jarl Swend, who is beset by them."

Now it was plain that this ship came from that place; either beaten off, or knowing that Ingvar's haven lay open to attack while his men were away thus. And a greater fear than any came over me.

"Where is the Lady Osritha?" I said.

"She was here in the town this morning."

"So, Wulfric," said Thormod quickly, "she will have fled. The steward will have seen to that. No use her biding here when the ship came."

So I thought, but I was torn with doubt, not knowing if time for flight had been given, or if even now some party of Jomsburgers might not be following hard after her. I must go into the hall and find out, whatever the risk, for it was certain that it held the rest of the pirates.

"Leave men here to guard the gates," I said to Thormod. "Needs must that we see more of this."

Ten men stayed at the gate, lest Jomsburgers lurked in the houses to fall on us, and we went across to the great porch. The door was open, nor could we see much within; and there was silence.

"Stand by," said Thormod, and picked up a helm that lay at his feet.

He hurled it through the door, and it clanged and leapt from the further wall across the cold hearthstone. Then there was a stir of feet and click of arms inside, and we knew that the hall was full of men.

I know not what my thoughts were—but woe to any pirate who came within my reach.

"Show yourselves like men!" shouted Thormod, standing back.

Then, seeing that there was no hope that we should fall into this trap they had laid, there came into the doorway a great, black-haired Jomsburg Lett, clad in mail of hardened deerskin, such as the Lapp wizards make, and helmed with a wolf's head over the iron head piece. He carried a long-handled bronze axe, and a great sword was by his side.

"Yield yourselves!" said Thormod.

The savage hove up his axe, stepping one pace nearer into the porch.

"What terms?" he said in broken Danish.

"Give up your prisoners and arms, and you shall go free," answered Thormod, for he feared lest if any captives were left alive they would be slain if we fought.

"Come and take them!" spoke back the Jomsburger in his harsh voice, and with a sneering laugh.

Now I could not bear this any longer, and on that I swung my axe and shouted, rushing on the man. Up went his long weapon overhead, and like a flash he smote at me—but he forgot that he was in the porch, and as his blow fell the axe lit on the crossbeams and stuck there. The handle splintered, and he sprang back out of reach of my stroke.

Then I dropped my axe and closed with him, and I was like a Berserk in my fury, so that I lifted him and flung him clear over my shoulder, and he fell heavily on the threshold on his head. Nor did he move again.

Cyneward thrust my axe into my hand, as past me Thormod and the men charged into the doorway. The hall was full of the pirates, and now we fought again as on the decks, hand to hand in half darkness. But it was no long fight, for those of our men who had been at the gate, finding they might leave it, came round and fell on the Jomsburgers from the back of the hall, coming through the other doors. So there was an end, and though many of us were wounded, we lost there but three men, for there were ale casks lying about, and the pirates fought ill.

Now we stood among the dead and looked in one another's faces. There were no Danes among the Jomsburgers, and they had, as it seemed, found the place empty. Then I thought:

"Those men who fell at the gate should be honoured, for they have fought and died to give time for flight to the rest."

And I called Cyneward to me, and we went through the house from end to end. Everywhere had been the pirates, rifling and spoiling in haste, so that the hangings were falling from the walls, and rich stuffs torn from chests and closets strewed the floors of Osritha's bower. But we found no one.

Then said Cyneward:

"They are safe—fled under cover of the fog."

But now broke out a noise of fighting in the streets, and we went thither in haste. Some twenty Jomsburgers had sallied from a house, and were fighting their way to the ships, for now one could see well enough. They were back to back and edging their way onward, while the boys and old men tried to stay them in vain.

When they saw us, they broke and fled, and were pursued and slain at last, one by one. Then were no more of that crew left.

Now Thormod and I went back to the hall, and in the courtyard stood a black horse, foam covered, and with deeply-spurred sides. It was Ingvar's.

And when we came to the porch, the axe still stuck in the timbers overhead, and the Jomsburg chief's body lay where I had cast him—but in the doorway, thin and white as a ghost, stood Ingvar the king, looking on these things.

He saw me, and gave back a pace or two, staring and amazed, and his face began to work strangely, and he stepped back into the dim light of the hall, and leant against the great table near the door, clutching at its edge with his hands behind him, saying in a low voice:

"Mercy, King—have mercy!"

Now, so unlike was this terror-stricken man to him who stood in Hoxne woods bidding that other ask for mercy, and gnashing his teeth with rage, that I could hardly think him Ingvar, rather pitying him. I would have gone to him, but Thormod held me back.

"Let him bide—the terror is on him again—it will pass soon."

"Aye, I saw him thus once before in Wessex," said one of our men; and I knew that this was what Cyneward had told me of.

Very pitiful it was to see him standing thus helpless and unmanned, while his white lips formed again and again the word of which he once knew hardly the meaning—"Mercy".

Presently his look came back from far away to us, and he breathed freely. At last he stood upright and came again to the doorway, trying to speak in his old way.

"Here have you come in good time, comrades. Where are the Jomsburgers?"

"Gone," said Thormod, curtly. "Where were you, King?"

Now Ingvar heeded me not, but answered Thormod.

"With Jarl Swend beating off more of this crew. Then I saw the ship leave, and I knew where she would go. Hard after me are my courtmen, but I was swifter than they."

Now all this was wearisome to me, for I would fain follow Osritha in her flight, if I could. So I left Thormod, without a word to Ingvar, and went to the stables. There were but two horses left, and those none of the best; but Cyneward and I mounted them, and rode as fast as we might on the road which he said was most likely to be taken by fugitives.

We had but two miles to ride, for in the fog that frightened crowd of old men, women, and children had surely circled round, and had it lasted would never have gone far from the town.

When they saw us the women shrieked, and what men were with them faced round to meet an attack, thinking the pirates followed them; but we shouted to them to hold, as we were friends, though not before an arrow or two flew towards us.

At my voice, Osritha, who sat on her own horse in the midst of the company, turned round, saying quickly:

"Who is it speaks?"

And I took off my helm, and she saw me plainly, and cried my name aloud, and then swayed in her saddle and slipped thence into her old steward's arms, and one or two of the maidens went to her help.

But the men cheered, knowing that now help, and maybe victory, had come with us.

"Is all well?" they said in many voices.

"All is well," I answered; "let us take back your mistress."

Now Osritha came to herself, and saw me standing looking on her, for I feared that she was dead, and she stretched her hands to me, not regarding those around her in her joy and trouble.

"Wulfric," she cried, "take me hence into some place of peace."

I raised her very gently, holding her in my arms for a moment, but not daring to speak to her as yet. And I lifted her into the saddle again, telling her that all was well, and that we might take her back to the town in safety. Then she smiled at me in silence, and I walked beside her as we went back.

Then rode forward Cyneward and the steward to deal so with matters that the women might be terrified as little as possible with sights of war time, and we followed slowly. Naught said Osritha to me as we went, for there were too many near, and she knew not what I might have to tell; yet her hand sought mine, and hand in hand we came to Ingvar's house, and to the lesser door. There I left her, and went to seek Thormod.

The large hall was cleared, and little trace beyond the dint of blows on walls and table showed what fight had raged therein, but only Thormod and Cyneward and Ingvar were there; and Ingvar slept heavily in his great chair.

"This is his way of late," said Thormod, looking coldly at him; "fury, and terror, and then sleep. I fear me that Ingvar the King goes out of his mind with that of which he raves. Nor do I wonder, knowing now from Cyneward here what that is. Little help shall we take back from Ingvar, for he has bestirred himself to gather no new host since he came back."

"Men said that trouble at home brought him from England. I suppose he judged it likely that the Jomsburgers might give trouble," I said.

"The foes that sent him back were—ghosts," said Thormod bitterly. "Come and let us see to the ship."

So we went down to the wharf, and found the ship but little hurt by that business. And I stayed on board her that night, for I would not see Ingvar again just yet.

But in the early morning he sent to beg me to speak with him, and I came. He sat in his great chair, and I stood before him.

"You have brought me a quiet night, Wulfric," he said. "Tell me how you came here, for I think it was not that you would wish to see me again."

So Thormod had told him nothing, and I answered:

"I came with Thormod for more men, for Ethelred the King is growing strong against you. Have you heard no news?"

"None," he said; "but that is not your errand, but his."

"That will Thormod tell you, therefore," I answered. "As for me, I came at Halfden's bidding, which Thormod told me."

"What did Halfden bid you come here for?"

"To take Osritha his sister into safety and peace again. Suffer me to do so," I said, boldly enough, but yet quietly.

Now Ingvar looked fixedly at me from under his brows, and I gave back his look. Yet there was no silent defiance between us therein.

"Take her," he said at length; "you have saved her from these Jomsburgers, and you have the right. Take her where you will."

"Do you come back with us, King?" I asked him, giving him no word of thanks, for I owed him none.

"Tell Guthrum from me that I shall never set foot in England again. Tell him, if you will, that our shores here need watching against outland foes, and that I will do it. Let him settle his kingship with Hubba and Halfden."

Then he paled and looked beyond me, adding in a low voice: "Eadmund is king in East Anglia yet."

Now I answered him not, fearing lest his terror should come on him again. And slowly he slipped from his arm the great gold bracelet that he had so nearly given Eadgyth.

"Tell your people that never should a bridal train cross the Bridge of the Golden Spurs on the way to the church while the brook flows to the sea, lest ill should befall both bride and groom, because thus found I Eadmund the King, whose face is ever before me by night and day. Take this gold, I pray you, Wulfric, and lay it on the tomb where his bones are, in token that he has conquered—and let me fight my shame alone till I die."

Wondering, I took the bracelet, pitying the man again, yet fearing what he might say and do next, for I thought that maybe he would slay himself, so hopeless looked he.

"Fain would I have been your friend," he said, "but pride would not let me. Yet Eadgyth your sister and Egfrid called me so, and maybe that one deed of ruth may help me. Now go, lest I become weak again. Lonely shall I be, for you take all that I hold dear—but even that is well."

So he turned from me, and I went out without a word, for he was Ingvar. Yet sometimes I wish that I had bidden him farewell, when the thought of his dark face comes back to me as I saw him for the last time in his own hall, leaning away from me over his carven chair, and very still.

I sought Thormod, and told him that he must see the king with his tidings, for I would not see his face again.

"Nor shall we see Jutland again," he said, pointing to the ship, which lay now in the same place where the pirate had been, alongside Ingvar's. And the other ship had come in during the night, and was at anchor in the haven.

"Shall we sail home at once?" I asked him.

"Aye; no use in waiting. We are wanted at Guthrum's side, and can take no men, but a few boys back. Yet the other ship will stay while I send messengers inland, if Ingvar will not. But I shall return no more."

"Then," said I, "I will speak to the Lady Osritha."

"Go at once," he said, smiling; "bid her come with us to the better home we have found."

I had not seen Osritha since I left her yesterday, and now I feared a little, not knowing how she would look on things.

Yet I need not have feared, for when they took me to her bower she rose up and came to me, falling on my neck and weeping, and I knew that I had found her again not to part with her.

When she grew calmer, I asked her if she would return with us to Reedham, telling her how there would be no fear of war there in the time to come. And she held her peace, so that I thought she would not, and tried to persuade her, telling her what a welcome would be to her from all our folk, and also from the Danish people who loved her so well.

So I went on, until at last she raised her head, smiling at me.

"Surely I will follow you—let me be with you where you will."

So it came to pass that next day we sailed, Osritha taking her four maidens with her, for they would not leave her; having, moreover, somewhat to draw them overseas even as I had been drawn to this place again. And with us went close on a score of women and children whose menfolk were settled already near to Reedham. These were the first who came into our land, but they were not to be the last.

I had seen Ingvar no more, busying myself about fitting the ship with awnings and the like for these passengers of ours; and what Thormod did about the men he sought I know not, nor did I care to know.

There is a dead tree which marks the place where I had been cast ashore in Lodbrok's boat, and which is the last point of land on which one looks as the ship passes to the open sea from the haven. And there we saw Ingvar the king for the last time. All alone he stood with his hands resting on his sword, looking at our ship as she passed. Nor did he move from that place all the time we could see him.

Silently Thormod gave the tiller into my hands, and went to the flag halliards. Thrice he dipped Halfden's flag in salute, but Ingvar made no sign, and so he faded from our sight, and after that we spoke no more of him. But Osritha wept a little, for she had loved him even while she dreaded him, and now she should see him no more.

Very quietly passed the voyage, though the light wind was against us, and we were long on the way, for we were too short handed to row, and must beat to windward over every mile of our course. Yet I think of the long days and moonlit evenings on the deck of Halfden's ship with naught but keenest pleasure, for there I watched the life and colour come back into Osritha's face, and strove to make the voyage light to her in every way. And I had found my heart's desire, and was happy.

Then at last one night we crossed the bar of our own haven, and the boats came out to meet us, boarding us with rough voices of hearty welcome; and from her awning crept Osritha, standing beside me as I took the ship in, and seeing the black outline of hill and church and hall across the quiet moonlit water. And when the red light from wharf and open house doors danced in long lines on the ripples towards us, and voices hailed our ship from shore, and our men answered back in cheery wise, she drew nearer me, saying:

"Is this home, Wulfric?"

"Aye," I answered. "Your home and mine, Osritha—and peace."

Now have I little more to say, for I have told what I set out to tell—how Lodbrok the Dane came from over seas, and what befell thereafter. For now came to us at Reedham long years of peace that nothing troubled. And those years, since Osritha and I were wedded at Reedham very soon after we came home, have flown very quickly.

Yet there came to us echoes of war from far-off Wessex, as man after man crept back to Anglia from the great host where Guthrum and Hubba warred with Alfred the king. And tired and worn out with countless battles, these men settled down with us in peace to till the land they had helped to lay waste and win. Hard it was to see the farms pass to alien owners at first, but I will not say that England has altogether lost, for these Danes are surely becoming English in all love of our land; and they have brought us new strength, with the old freedom of our forefathers, which some of us had nigh forgotten.

Now today I know that all the land is at peace, for Alfred is victor, and Guthrum is Athelstan the Christian king of Eastern England; and I for one will own him unasked, for he has governed well, and English is our overlord.

But Hubba is dead in far-off Devon, slain as he landed as Halfden had landed, to hem Wessex in between Guthrum and himself, and his dream of taking the Wessex kingdom is over. And the Raven banner that my Osritha made flaps its magic wings no more, for it hangs in Alfred's peaceful hall, a trophy of Saxon valour.

Thormod, my comrade, lies in his mound in wild Strathclyde, slain fighting beside Halfden my brother, the king of Northumbria. Him I have seen once or twice, and ever does he look for peace that he may sail to Reedham and bide with us for a while. Well loved is Halfden, and he is English in every thought.

Many of our old viking crew are here with me, for they would fain find land in our country, and I gave them the deserted coast lands that lie to our northward, round the great broads. Good lands they are, and in giving them I harmed none. Filby and Ormesby and Rollesby they have called their new homesteads, giving them Danish names.

Now as to our own folk. My mother is gone, but first she stood for Osritha at the font, naming her again with the name by which I learnt to love her, for I would not have it changed.

Gone also has good old Ingild; but before he went he and I were able without fear of hindrance to build a little church of squared oaken timbers at Hoxne, for the heathen worship died quickly from among our Danes. On that church, Cyneward, who was Raud, and is our well-loved steward, wrought lovingly with his own hands side by side with the good monk who baptized him. And he has carved a wondrous oaken shrine for the remains of our martyred king, whereon lies the bracelet that Ingvar sent in token that Eadmund had conquered him who was his slayer.

How fared Ingvar I know not, for soon the incoming tide of Danes slackened, and I heard no news of him; and, as he said, never did he set foot on English shores again.

Egfrid and Eadgyth are happy in their place at Hoxne, and on them at least has fallen no shadow of misfortune from that which came of their passing over the Bridge of the Golden Spurs—the Golden Bridge as our folk call it now.

Yet it needed no words of Ingvar's to keep the memory of that day's work alive in the minds of our people. Never so long as the Gold Brook flows beneath that bridge will a bridal pass churchwards over its span, for there, but for such a crossing, Eadmund the king might have bided safely till Ingvar the Dane had passed and gone.

Little use is there in grieving over what might have been, but this I know, that in days to come forgotten will be Ingvar, and English will have become his mighty host, but in every English heart will live the name of Eadmund, who died for faith and country.



NOTES.

i Ran: the sea goddess or witch of the old mythology, by whose nets drowning men were said to be entangled.

ii The Jarl ranked next to the king, and was often equally powerful. Our English title "Earl" is derived from this.

iii A small wharf.

iv A lay brother of the monastery of Hackness, near Whitby, who rendered the Sacred Histories into verse about A.D. 680.

v Now Whitby. The present name was given by the Danish settlers.

vi As if under the shadow of coming death.

vii The Viking ship of war, or "long ship".

viii The usual Scandinavian and Danish greeting: "Health".

ix After expulsion from his bishopric of York by King Egfrid.

x Mail shirt.

xi The fine allowed as penalty for killing an adversary in a quarrel, or by mischance. The penalty for wilful murder was death.

xii Nidring, niddering, or nithing, may be beet expressed by "worthless ". It was the extreme term of reproach to a Saxon.

xiii The "Lodbrokar-Quida", which is still in existence. By some authorities Ragnar is said to have been the father of Ingvar and Hubba, but the dates are most uncertain.

xiv "The Fates" of the Northern mythology.

xv St. Ansgar, or Ansgarius, built the first church in Denmark at Hedeby, now Slesvig, in 840 A.D.

xvi The "twilight of the Gods", when the Asir were to fight against the powers of evil, and a new order should commence.

xvii The Danes traced their origin back to a great migration from the East, under Odin. Their priesthood was vested in the head of the tribe after the ancient patriarchal custom.

xviii The great representative Council from which our Parliament sprang.

xix Four degrees of kingship are spoken of in the Sagas, the highest being the overlord, to whom the lesser kings paid tribute. The "kings of the host" came third in rank, the "sea kings" last, these being usually sons of under kings, to whom a ship or two had been given.

xx Now Peterborough.

xxi Tribute.

xxii "The King's Guardian."

THE END

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