Part 2 out of 5
yet in her that flowed to the hanging bows. The good ship might sail no
more. Her back was broken.
That was the only time that I have ever seen my father weep. But as the
stout timbers cracked and groaned under the strain it seemed to him as
if the ship that he loved was calling piteously to him for help that he
could not give, and it was too much for him. The gale that was yet
raging overhead and the sea that was still terrible in the wide waters
of the river had been things that had not moved him, for that the ship
should break up in a last struggle with them was, as it were, a fitting
end for her. But that by his fault here in the hardly-won haven she
should meet her end was not to be borne, and he turned away from us and
Then came my mother and set her hand on his shoulder and spoke softly to
him with wise words.
"Husband, but a little while ago it would have been wonderful if there
were one of us left alive, or one plank of the ship on another. And now
we are all safe and unhurt, and the loss of the ship is the least of
ills that might have been."
"Nay, wife," he said; "you cannot understand."
"Then it is woe for the--for the one who is with us. But how had it
been if you had seen Hodulf and his men round our house, and all the
children slain that one might not escape, while on the roof crowed the
red cock, and naught was left to us? We have lost less than if we had
stayed for that, and we have gained what we sought, even safety. See, to
the shore have come the ancient holy things of our house, and that not
by your guidance. Surely here shall be the place for us that is best."
"Ay, wife; you are right in all these things, but it is not for them."
Then she laughed a little, forcing herself to do so, as it seemed.
"Why, then, it is for the ship that I was ever jealous of, for she took
you away from me. Now I think that I should be glad that she can do so
no more. But I am not, for well I know what the trouble must be, and I
would have you think no more of it. The good ship has saved us all, and
so her work is done, and well done. Never, if she sailed many a long sea
mile with you, would anything be worth telling of her besides this. And
the burden of common things would surely be all unmeet for her after
what she has borne hither."
"It is well said, Leva, my wife," my father answered.
From that time he was cheerful, and told us how it was certain that we
had been brought here for good, seeing that the Norns must have led the
stones to the haven, so that this must be the place that we sought.
CHAPTER VI. THE BEGINNING OF GRIMSBY TOWN.
Easily we went ashore when the tide fell, across the spits of sand that
ran between the mud banks, and we climbed the low sandhill range that
hid the land from us, and saw the place where we should bide. And it
might have been worse; for all the level country between us and the
hills was fat, green meadow and marsh, on which were many cattle and
sheep feeding. Here and there were groves of great trees, hemmed in with
the quickset fences that are as good as stockades for defence round the
farmsteads of the English folk, and on other patches of rising ground
were the huts of thralls or herdsmen, and across the wide meadows
glittered and flashed streams and meres, above which the wildfowl that
the storm had driven inland wheeled in clouds. All the lower hills
seemed to be wooded thickly, and the alder copses that would shelter
boar and deer and maybe wolves stretched in some places thence across
the marsh. Pleasant and homely seemed all this after long looking at the
Then said my father, "Now am I no longer Grim the merchant, and that
pride of mine is at an end. But here is a place where Grim the fisher
may do well enough, if I am any judge of shore and sea. Here have we
haven for the boats, and yonder swim the fish, and inland are the towns
that need them. Nor have we seen a sign of a fisher so far as we have come."
Now we had been seen as soon as we stood on the sandhills; and before
long the herdsman and thralls began to gather to us, keeping aloof
somewhat at first, as if fearing my father's arms. But when we spoke
with them we could learn nothing, for they were Welsh marshmen who knew
but little of the tongue of their English masters. Serfs they were now
in these old fastnesses of theirs to the English folk of the
Lindiswaras, who had won their land and called it after their own name,
But before long there rode from one of the farmsteads an Englishman of
some rank, who had been sent for, as it would seem, and he came with
half a dozen armed housecarls behind him to see what was going on. Him
we could understand well enough, for there is not so much difference
between our tongue and that of the English; and when he learned our
plight he was very kindly. His name was Witlaf Stalling, and he was the
great man of these parts, being lord over many a mile of the marsh and
upland, and dwelling at his own place, Stallingborough, some five miles
to the north and inland hence.
Now it had been in this man's power to seize us and all we had as his
own, seeing that we were cast on his shore; but he treated us as guests
rather, bidding us shelter in one of his near farmsteads as long as we
would, and telling my father to come and speak with him when we had
saved what we could from the wreck. He bade the thralls help at that
also, so that we had fallen in with a friend, and our troubles were less
for his kindness.
We saved what cargo we had left during the next few days, while we dwelt
at the farm. Then at the height of the spring tides the ship broke up,
for a second gale came before the sea that the last had raised was gone.
And then I went with my father to speak with Witlaf the thane at
Stallingborough, that we might ask his leave to make our home on the
little haven, and there become fishers once more.
That he granted readily, asking many questions about our troubles, for
he wondered that one who had owned so good a ship seemed so content to
become a mere fisher in a strange land, without thought of making his
way home. But all that my father told him was that he had had to fly
from the new king of our land, and that he had been a fisher before, so
that there was no hardship in the change.
"Friend Grim," said Witlaf when he had heard this, "you are a brave man,
as it seems to me, and well may you prosper here, as once before. I will
not stand in your way. Now, if you will hold it from me on condition of
service in any time of war, to be rendered by yourself and your sons and
any men you may hire, I will grant you what land you will along the
coast, so that none may question you in anything. Not that the land is
worth aught to any but a fisher who needs a place for boats and nets;
but if you prosper, others will come to the place, and you shall be master."
One could hardly have sought so much as that, and heartily did we thank
the kindly thane, gladly taking the fore shore as he wished. But he said
that he thought the gain was on his side, seeing what men he had won.
"Now we must call the place by a name, for it has none," he said,
laughing. "Grim's Stead, maybe?"
"Call the place a town at once," answered my father, laughing also.
"Grimsby has a good sound to a homeless man."
So Grimsby the place has been from that day forward, and, as I suppose,
will be now to the end of time. But for a while there was only the one
house that we built of the timbers and planks of our ship by the side of
the haven--a good house enough for a fisher and his family, but not
what one would look for from the name.
By the time that was built Havelok was himself again, though he had been
near to his death. Soon he waxed strong and rosy in the sea winds, and
out-went Withelm both in stature and strength. But it seemed that of all
that had happened he remembered naught, either of the storm, or of his
mother's death, or of the time of Hodulf. My mother thought that the
sickness had taken away his memory, and that it might come back in time.
But from the day we came to the house on the shore he was content to
call Grim and Leva father and mother, and ourselves were his brothers,
even as he will hold us even now. Yet my father would never take him
with us to the fishing, as was right, seeing who he was and what might
lie before him. Nor did he ever ask to go, as we had asked since we were
able to climb into the boat as she lay on the shore; and we who knew not
who he was, and almost forgot how he came to us, ceased to wonder at
this after a while; and it seemed right that he should be the
home-stayer, as if there must needs be one in every household.
Nevertheless he was always the foremost in all our sports, loving the
weapon play best of all, so that it was no softness that kept him from
the sea. I hold that the old saw that says, "What is bred in the bone
cometh out in the flesh," is true, and never truer than in the ways of
For it is not to be thought that because my father went back perforce to
the fisher's calling he forgot that the son of Gunnar Kirkeban should be
brought up always in such wise that when the time came he should be
ready to go to the slayer of his father, sword in hand, and knowing how
to use it. Therefore both Havelok and we were trained always in the
craft of the warrior.
Witlaf the thane was right when he said that men would draw to the place
if we prospered, and it was not so long before the name that had been a
jest at first was so no longer. Truly we had hard times at first, for
our one ship's boat was all unfitted for the fishing; but the Humber
teemed with fish, and there were stake nets to be set that need no boat.
None seemed to care for taking the fish but ourselves, for the English
folk had no knowledge of the riches to be won from the sea, and the eels
of the river were the best that they ever saw. So they were very ready
to buy, and soon the name of Grim the fisher was known far and wide in
Lindsey, for my father made great baskets of the willows of the marsh,
and carried his burden of fish through the land, alone at first, until
we were able to help him, while Arngeir and we minded the nets.
Only two of our men stayed here with us, being fishers and old comrades
of my father. The rest he bade find their way home to Denmark to their
wives and children, from the Northumbrian coast, or else take service
with the king, Ethelwald, who ruled in East Anglia, beyond the Wash,
who, being a Dane by descent from the Jutes who took part with Angles
and Saxons in winning this new land, was glad to have Danish men for his
housecarls. Some went to him, and were well received there, as we knew
The man who had been washed overboard and hauled back at risk of his
neck was one of these. His name was Mord, and he would have stayed with
us; but my father thought it hard that he should not have some better
chance than we could give him here, for it was not easy to live at
first. Somewhat of the same kind he said to Arngeir, for he had heard of
this king when he had been in the king's new haven in the Wash some time
ago. But Arngeir would by no means leave the uncle who had been as a
father to him.
Now when we marked out the land that Witlaf gave us, there was a good
omen. My father set the four blue altar stones at each corner of the
land as the boundaries, saying that thus they would hallow all the
place, rather than make an altar again of them here where there was no
grove to shelter them, or, indeed, any other spot that was not open,
where a holy place might be. And when we measured the distances between
them a second time they were greater than at first, which betokens the
best of luck to him whose house is to be there. I suppose that they will
bide in these places now while Grimsby is a town, for, as every one
knows, it is unlucky to move a boundary stone.
Soon my father found a man who had some skill in the shipwright's craft,
and brought him to our place from Saltfleet. Then we built as good a
boat as one could wish, and, not long after that, another. But my father
was careful that none of the Lindsey folk whom he had known should think
that this fisher was the Grim whom they had once traded with, lest word
should go to Hodulf in any way.
Now we soon hired men to help us, and the fishing throve apace. We
carried the fish even to the great city of Lincoln, where Alsi the
Lindsey king had his court, though it was thirty miles away. For we had
men in the villages on the road who took the great baskets on from one
to another, and always Grim and one of us were there on the market day,
and men said that never had the town and court seen such fish as Grim's
before. Soon, therefore, he was rich, for a fisher; and that was heard
of by other fishers from far off, and they drew to Grimsby, so that the
town spread, and Witlaf the good thane said that it was a lucky day
which drove us to his shore, for he waxed rich with dues that they were
willing to pay. We built boats and let them out to these men, so that
one might truly say that all the fishery was Grim's.
Then a trading ship put in, hearing of the new haven, and that was a
great day for us. But her coming made my father anxious, since Hodulf
was likely to seek for news of Grim the merchant from any who had been
to England; and hearing at last of him, he would perhaps be down on us,
Vikingwise, with fire and sword. But after that traders came and went,
and we heard naught of him except we asked for news; for he left us in
peace, if he knew that his enemy lived yet. Men said that he was not
much loved in Denmark.
So the town grew, and well did we prosper, so that there is naught to be
said of any more trouble, which is what my story seems to be made up of
so far. Yet we had come well through all at last; and that, I suppose,
is what makes the tale of any man worth hearing.
Twelve years went all well thus, and in those years Havelok came to
manhood, though not yet to his full strength. What that would be in a
few more summers none could tell, for he was already almost a giant in
build and power, so that he could lift and carry at once the four great
fish baskets, which we bore one at a time when full of fish, easily, and
it was he who could get a stranded boat afloat when we could hardly move
her between us, though all three of us were strong as we grew up.
Very handsome was Havelok also, and, like many very strong men, very
quiet. And all loved him, from the children who played along the water's
edge to the oldest dame in the town; for he had a good word for all, and
there was not one in the place whom he had not helped at one time or
another. More than one there was who owed him life--either his own, or
that of a child saved from the water.
Most of all Havelok loved my father; and once, when he was about
eighteen, he took it into his head that he was burdensome to him by
reason of his great growth. So nothing would satisfy him but that he
must go with us to the fishing, though it was against Grim's will
somewhat. But he could make no hand at it, seeing that he could pull any
two of us round if he took an oar, and being as likely as not to break
that moreover. Nor could he bear the quiet of the long waiting at the
drift nets, when hour after hour of the night goes by in silence before
the herring shoal comes in a river of blue and silver and the buoys sink
with its weight; rather would he be at the weapon play with the sons of
Witlaf, our friend, who loved him.
But though the fishing was not for him, after a while he would not be
idle, saying, when my father tried to persuade him to trouble not at all
about our work, that it was no shame for a man to work, but, rather,
that he should not do so. So one day he went to the old Welsh basket
maker who served us, and bade him make a great basket after his own
pattern, the like of which the old man had never so much as thought of.
"Indeed, master," he said, when it was done, "you will never be able to
carry so great a load of fish as that will hold."
"Let us see," quoth Havelok, laughing; and with that he put him gently
into it, and lifted him into the air, and on to his mighty shoulder,
carrying him easily, and setting him down in safety.
The basket maker was cross at first, but none was able to be angry with
Havelok long, and he too began to smile.
"It is 'curan' that you are, master," he said; "not even Arthur himself
could have done that."
"Many times have I heard your folk call me that. I would learn what it
means," said Havelok.
But the old man could hardly find the English word for the name, which
means "a wonder," and nothing more. Nevertheless the marsh folk were
wont to call their friend "Hablok Curan" in their talk, for a wonder he
was to all who knew him.
So he came home with his great basket, and said, "Here sit I by the
fire, eating more than my share, and helping to win it not at all. Now
will I make amends, for I will go the fisher's rounds through the
marshlands with my basket, and I think that I shall do well."
Now my father tried to prevent him doing this, because, as I know now,
it was not work for a king's son. But Havelok would not be denied.
"Fat and idle am I, and my muscles need hardening," he said. "Let me go,
father, for I was restless at home."
So from that time he went out into the marshland far and wide, and the
people grew to know and love him well. Always he came back with his fish
sold, and gave money and full account to my father, and mostly the
account would end thus:
"Four fish also there were more, but the burden was heavy, and so I even
gave them to a certain old dame."
And my mother would say, "It is likely that the burden was lighter for
And, truly, if the love of poor folk did help, Havelok's burden weighed
naught, great though it was.
Yet we thought little of the blessings of the Welsh folk of the marsh in
those days, for they blessed not in the names of the Asir, being sons of
the British Christians of long ago, and many, as I think, Christians
yet. Witlaf and all the English folk were Odin's men, as we were, having
a temple at the place called Thor's Way, among the hills. But we had
naught to do with the faith of the thralls, which was not our business.
Only Withelm was curious in the matter, and was wont to ask them thereof
at times, though at first they feared to tell him anything, seeing how
the Saxons and English had treated the Christian folk at their first
coming. But that was forgotten now, by the English at least, and times
were quiet for these poor folk. There was a wise man, too, of their
faith, who lived in the wild hills not far from the city, and they were
wont to go to him for advice if they needed it. They said also that the
king of Lindsey had once been a Christian, for he was Welsh by birth on
his mother's side, and had been so brought up. It is certain that his
sister Orwenna, who married Ethelwald of East Anglia, was one, but I
have seen Alsi the king at the feasts of the Asir at Thor's Way when
Yuletide was kept, so it is not so certain about him. He had many Welsh
nobles about him at the court, kinsmen of his mother mostly, so that it
did not seem strange, though there is not much love lost between the
English and the folk whom they conquered, as one might suppose.
Now, as I have said, none but Withelm thought twice about these things;
but in the end the love of the marsh folk was a thing that was needed,
and that Withelm had learned somewhat of their faith was the greatest
help that could be, as will be seen.
CHAPTER VII. BROTHERHOOD.
True are the words of the Havamal, the song of the wisdom of Odin, which
say, "One may know and no other, but all men know if three know."
Therefore for all these years my father told none of us the secret of
Havelok's birth; and when Arngeir married my sister Solva he made him
take oath that he would not tell what he knew to her, while she, being
but a child at the time of the flight, had forgotten how this well-loved
brother of hers came to us. But it happened once that Grim was sick, and
it seemed likely that he would die, so that this secret weighed on him,
and he did not rightly know what to do for the best, Havelok at the time
being but seventeen, and the time that he should think of his own place
not being yet come. At that time he told Arngeir all that he foresaw,
and set things in order, that we three should not be backward when need was.
He called us to him, Havelok not being present, and spoke to us.
"Sons," he said, "well have you all obeyed me all these years, and I
think that you will listen to me now, for I must speak to you of
Havelok, who came to us as you know. Out of his saving from his foes
came our flight here; and I will not find fault with any of the things
that happened, for they have turned out well, save that it seems that I
may never see the land of my birth again, and at times I weary for it.
For me Denmark seems to lie within the four square of the ancient
stones; but if you will do my bidding, you and Havelok shall see her
again, though how I cannot tell."
Then I could hardly speak for trouble, but Withelm said softly, "As we
have been wont to do, father, so it shall be."
"Well shall my word be kept, therefore," Grim said, smiling on us.
"Listen, therefore. In the days to come, when time is ripe, Arngeir
shall tell you more of Havelok your foster-brother, and there will be
signs enough by which he shall know that it is time to speak. And then
Havelok will need all the help that you can give him; and as your lord
shall you serve him, with both hands, and with life itself if need be.
And I seem to see that each of you has his place beside him--Radbard
as his strong helper, and Raven as his watchful comrade, and Withelm as
his counsellor. For 'Bare is back without brother behind it,' son
Radbard and 'Ere one goes out, give heed to the doorways,' son Raven;
and 'Wisdom is wanted by him who fares widely' son Withelm. So say the
old proverbs, and they are true. No quarreller is Havelok; but if he
must fight, that will be no playground. Careful is he; but he has met
with no guile as yet, and he trusts all men. Slow to think, if sure, are
so mighty frames as his becomes, even when quick wit is needed."
He was silent for a while, and I thought that he had no more to say, and
I knew that he had spoken rightly of what each was best fitted for, but
he went on once more.
"This is my will, therefore, that to you shall Havelok be as the eldest
brother from this time forward, that these places shall not have to come
suddenly to you hereafter. Then will you know that I have spoken
rightly, though maybe it seems hard to Radbard and Raven now, they being
so much older."
Then I said truly that already Havelok was first in our hearts. And that
was true, for he was as a king among us--a king who was served by all
with loving readiness, and yet one who served all. Maybe that is just
what makes a good king when all is said and done.
Then my father bade us carry him out of the house and down to the shore
where there was a lonely place in the sandhills, covered with the sweet,
short grass that the sheep love; and, while Raven and I bore him,
Withelm went and brought Havelok.
"This is well, father," he said gladly. "I had not thought you strong
enough to come thus far."
"Maybe it is the last time that I come living out of the house," Grim
said; "but there is one thing yet to be done, and it must be done here.
See, son Havelok, these are your brothers in all but blood, and they
must be that also in the old Danish way."
"Nothing more is needed, father," Havelok said, wondering. "I have no
brothers but these of mine, and they could be no more so."
Thereat my father smiled, as well content, but he said that the ancient
way must he kept.
"But I am sorely weak," he added. "Fetch hither Arngeir."
It was because of this illness that none of us were at the fishing on
that day, and Arngeir was not long in coming. And while we waited for
that little while my father was silent, looking ever northward to the
land that he had given up for Havelok; and I think that foster-son of
his knew it, for he knelt beside him and set his strong arm round him,
saying nothing. So Arngeir came with Raven, who went for him, and my
father told him what he needed to be done; and Arngeir said that it was
well thought of, and went to work with his seax on the smooth turf.
He cut a long strip where it seemed to be toughest, leaving the ends yet
fast, and carefully he raised it and stretched it until it would make an
arch some three spans high, and so propped it at either end with more
turf that it stayed in that position.
Then my father said, "This is the old custom, that they who are of
different family should be brothers indeed. Out of one earth should they
be made afresh, as it were, that on the face of earth they shall be one.
Pass therefore under the arch, beginning with Havelok."
Then, while my father spoke strange and ancient runes, Havelok did as he
was bidden, kneeling down and creeping under the uplifted turf; and as I
came after him he gave me his hand and raised me, and so with each of
the other two. And then, unbidden, Arngeir followed, for he too loved
Havelok, and would fain be his brother indeed.
After that my father took a sharp flint knife that he had brought with
him, and with it cut Havelok's arm a little, and each of us set his lips
to that wound, and afterwards he to the like marks in our right arms,
and so the ancient rite was complete.
Yet it had not been needed, as I know, for not even I ever thought of
him but as the dearest of brothers, though I minded how he came.
Now after this my father grew stronger, maybe because this was off his
mind; but he might never go to sea again, nor even to Lincoln town, for
he was not strong enough. What his illness was I do not rightly know,
hut I do not think that any one here overlooked him, though it might be
that from across the sea Hodulf had power to work him harm. It was said
that he had Finnish wizards about his court; but if that was so, he
never harmed the one whom he had most to fear--even Havelok. But then
I suppose that even a Finn could not harm one for whom great things are
So two years more passed over, and then came the time of which one
almost fears to think--the time of the great famine. Slowly it came on
the land; but we could see it coming, and the dread of it was fearsome,
but for the hope that never quite leaves a man until the end. For first
the wheat that was winter sown came not up but in scattered blades here
and there, and then ere the spring-sown grain had lain in the land for
three weeks it had rotted, and over the rich, ploughed lands seemed to
rise a sour smell in the springtime air, when one longs for the
sweetness of growing things. And then came drought in April, and all day
long the sun shone, or if it were not shining the clouds that hid it
were hard and grey and high and still over land and sea.
Then before the marsh folk knew what they were doing, the merchants of
Lincoln had bought the stored corn, giving prices that should have told
men that it was precious to those who sold as to the buyers; and then
the grass failed in the drought, and the farmers were glad to sell the
cattle and sheep for what they could gain, rather than see them starve.
Then my father bade us dry and store all the fish we might against the
time that he saw was coming, and hard we worked at that. And even as we
toiled, from day to day we caught less, for the fish were leaving the
shores, and we had to go farther and farther for them, until at last a
day came when the boats came home empty, and the women wept at the shore
as the men drew them up silently, looking away from those whom they
could feed no longer.
That was the worst day, as I think, and it was in high summer. I mind
that I went to Stallingborough that day with the last of the fresh fish
of yesterday's catch for Witlaf's household, and it was hotter than
ever; and in all the orchards hung not one green apple, and even the
hardy blackberry briers had no leaves or sign of blossom, and in the
dikes the watercress was blackened and evil to see.
But I will say that in Grimsby we felt not the worst, by reason of that
wisdom of my father, and always Witlaf and his house shared with us.
Hard it was here, but elsewhere harder.
And then came the pestilence that goes with famine always. I have heard
that men have prayed to their gods for that, for it has seemed better to
them to die than live.
With the first breath of the pestilence died Grim my father, and about
that I do not like to say much. He bade us remember the words he had
spoken of Havelok our brother, and he spoke long to Arngeir in private
of the same; and then he told us to lay him in mound in the ancient way,
but with his face toward Denmark, whence we came. And thereafter he said
no more, but lay still until there came up suddenly through the thick
air a thunderstorm from the north; and in that he passed, and with his
passing the rain came.
Thereof Withelm said that surely Odin fetched him, and that at once he
had made prayer for us. But the Welsh folk said that not Odin but the
White Christ had taken the man who had been a father to them, and had
staved off the worst of the famine from them.
Then pined and died my mother Leva, for she passed in her sleep on the
day before we made the mound over her husband, and so we laid them in it
together, and that was well for both, as I think, for so they would have
So we made a great bale fire over my father's mound, where it stood over
the highest sandhill; and no warrior was ever more wept, for English and
Welsh and Danes were at one in this. We set his weapons with him, and
laid him in the boat that was the best--and a Saxon gave that--and
in it oars and mast and sail, and so covered him therein. And so he
waits for the end of all things that are now, and the beginning of those
better ones that shall be.
That thunderstorm was nothing to the land, for it skirted the shores and
died away to the south, and after it came the heat again; but at least
it brought a little hope. There were fish along the shore that night,
too, if not many; and though they were gone again in the morning, there
was a better store in every house, for men were mindful of Grim's teaching.
Now, of all men, Havelok seemed to feel the trouble of the famine the
most, because he could not bear to see the children hungry in the
cottages of the fishers. It seemed to him that he had more than his
share of the stores, because so mighty a frame of his needed feeding
mightily, as he said. And so for two days after my father died and was
left in his last resting, Havelok went silent about the place. Here by
the shore the pestilence hardly came, and so that trouble was not added
to us, though the weak and old went, as had Grim and Leva, here and there.
Then, on the third day, Havelok called Arngeir and us, and spoke what
was in his mind.
"Brothers, I may not bear this any longer, and I must go away. I can do
no more to help than can the weakest in the town; and even my strength
is an added trouble to those who have not enough without me. Day by day
grows the store in the house less; and it will waste more slowly if I am
Then Arngeir said quickly, "This is foolishness, Havelok, my brother.
Whither will you go? For worse is the famine inland; and I think that we
may last out here. The fish will come back presently."
"I will go to Lincoln. All know that there is plenty there, for the
townsfolk were wise in time. There is the court, and at the court a
strong man is likely to be welcome, if only as one who shall keep the
starving poor from the doors, as porter."
He spoke bitterly, for Alsi, the king, had no good name for kindness,
and at that Withelm laughed sadly.
"Few poor would Havelok turn away," he said, under his breath; "rather
were he likely to take the king's food from the very board, and share it
That made us laugh a little, for it was true enough; and one might seem
to see our mighty one sweeping the table, while none dared try to stay him.
But many times of late Havelok had gone dinnerless, that he might feed
some weak one in the village. Maybe some of us did likewise; but, if so,
we learned from him.
"Well, then," Havelok said, when we had had our wretched laugh, "Alsi,
the king, can better afford to feed me than can anyone else. Therefore,
I will go and see about it. And if not the king, then, doubtless, some
rich merchant will give me food for work, seeing that I can lift things
handily. But Radbard here is a great and hungry man also, and it will be
well that he come with me; or else, being young and helpless, I may fall
into bad hands."
So he spoke, jesting and making little of the matter. But I saw that he
was right, and that we who were strong to take what might come should go
away. It was likely that a day of our meals would make a week's fare for
Arngeir's three little ones, and they were to be thought for.
Now for a little while Arngeir tried to keep us back; but it was plain
that he knew also that our going was well thought of, and only his care
for Havelok stood in the way. Indeed, he said that I and Raven might go.
"Raven knows as much about the fish as did our father," Havelok said.
"He will go out in the morning, and look at sky and sea, and sniff at
the wind; and if I say it will be fine, he says that the herrings will
be in such a place; and so they are, while maybe it rains all day to
spite my weather wisdom. You cannot do without Raven; for it is ill to
miss any chance of the sea just now. Nor can Withelm go, for he knows
all in the place, and who is most in want. It will not do to be without
house steward. So we two will go. Never have I been to Lincoln yet, and
Radbard knows the place well."
I think that I have never said that Grim would never take Havelok to the
city, lest he should be known by some of the Danish folk who came now
and then to the court, some from over seas, and others from the court of
King Ethelwald, of whom I have spoken, the Norfolk king. But that danger
was surely over now, for Havelok would be forgotten in Denmark; and
Ethelwald was long dead, and his wife also, leaving his daughter
Goldberga to her uncle Alsi, as his ward. So Alsi held both kingdoms
until the princess was of age, when she would take her own. It was said
that she lived at Dover until that time, and so none of her Danes were
likely to be at court if we went there and found places.
So Havelok's plan was to be carried out, and he and I were to set forth
next morning. Arngeir was yet uneasy about it, nevertheless, as one
could see; but I did not at that time know why it should be so doubtful
a matter that two strong men should go forth and seek their fortune but
thirty miles away. So we laughed at him.
"Well," he said, "every one knows Radbard; but they will want to know
who his tall comrade may be. Old foes has Havelok, as Radbard knows, and
therefore it may be well to find a new name for him."
"No need to go far for that," Withelm said. "The marsh folk call him Curan."
"Curan, the wonder, is good," Arngeir said, after a little thought, for
we all knew Welsh enough by this time. "Or if you like a Danish name
better, brother, call it 'Kwaran,' but silent about yourself you must
We used to call him that at times--for it means "the quiet" in our old
tongue--seeing how gentle and courtly he was in all his ways. So the
name was well fitting in either way.
"Silent and thoughtful should the son of a king be," says the Havamal,
and so it was with Havelok, son of Gunnar.
Now when I came to think, it was plain that we three stood in the mind
of our brother in the place which my father had boded for us, and I was
glad. Well I knew that Raven, the watchful, and Withelm, the wise and
thoughtful, would do their parts; and I thought that whether I could do
mine was to be seen very shortly. If I failed in help at need it should
not be my fault. It had been long growing in my mind who Havelok must
be, though I said nothing of what I thought, because my father had
bidden me be silent long ago, and I thought that I knew why.
We were to start early in the morning, so that we should get to the city
betimes in the evening; and there was one thing that troubled the good
sisters more than it did us. They would have had us go in all our
finery, such as we were wont to wear on holidays and at feastings; but
none of that was left. It had gone in buying corn, while there was any
left to buy, along with every silver penny that we had. So we must go in
the plain fisher gear, that is made for use and not for show, frayed and
stained, and a trifle tarry, but good enough. It would not do to go in
our war gear into a peaceful city; and so we took but the seax that
every Englishman wears, and the short travelling spear that all
wayfarers use. Hardly was it likely that even the most hungry outlaw of
the wild woldland would care to fall on us; for by this time such as we
seemed had spent their all in food for themselves and their families,
and all the money in Lindsey seemed to have gone away to places where
there was yet somewhat to buy.
Busy were those kind sisters of ours that night in making ready the last
meal that we should need to take from them. And all the while they
foretold pleasant things for us at the king's court--how that we
should find high honour and the like. So they set us forth well and
With the dawn we started, and Havelok was thoughtful beyond his wont
after we had bidden farewell to the home folk, so that I thought that he
grieved for leaving them at the last.
"Downhearted, are you, brother?" I said, when we had gone a couple of
miles in silence across the level. "I have been to Lincoln two or three
times in a month sometimes in the summer, and it is no great distance
after all. I think nothing of the journey, or of going so short a way
"Nor do I," he answered. "First, I was thinking of the many times my
father, Grim, went this way, and now he can walk no more; and then I was
thinking of that empty cottage we passed just now, where there was a
pleasant little family enough three months ago, who are all gone. And
then--ay, I will tell you--I had a dream last night that stays in my
mind, so that I think that out of this journey of ours will come somewhat."
"Food and shelter, to wit," said I, "which is all we want for a month or
two. Let us hear it."
"If we get all that I had in that dream, we shall want no more all our
lives," he said, with a smile; "but it seems a foolish dream, now that I
come to tell it."
"That is mostly the way with dreams. It is strange how wonderful they
seem until daylight comes. I have heard Witlaf's gleeman say that the
best lays he ever made were in his sleep; but if he remembered aught of
them, they were naught."
"It is not like that altogether with my dream," Havelok said, "for it
went thus. I thought that I was in Denmark--though how I knew it was
Denmark I cannot say--and on a hill I sat, and at my feet was
stretched out all the land, so that I could see all over it at once.
Then I longed for it, and I stretched out my arms to gather it in, and
so long were they that they could well fathom it, and so I drew it to
myself. With towns and castles it was gathered in, and the keys of the
strongholds fell rattling at my feet, while the weight of the great land
seemed to lie on my knees. Then said one, and the voice was the voice of
Grim, 'This is not all the dream that I have made for you, but it is
enough for now.' That is the dream, therefore, and what make you of it?"
"A most amazing hunger, brother, certainly, and promise of enough to
satisfy it withal. I think that the sisters have talked about our
advancement at court until you have dreamed thereof."
"Why," he said, "that is surely at the bottom of the dream, and I am
foolish to think more of it."
Then we went on, and grew light hearted as the miles passed. But though
I had seemed to think little of the dream, it went strangely with my
thoughts of what might lie before Havelok in days to come.
As we went inland from the sea, the track of the pestilence was more
dread, for we passed house after house that had none living in them, and
some held the deserted dead. I might say many things of what we saw, but
I do not like to think of them much. Many a battlefield have I seen
since that day, but I do not think them so terrible as the field over
which has gone the foe that is unseen ere he smites. One knows the worst
of the battle when it is over and the roll is called, but who knows
where famine and pestilence stay? And those have given life for king or
land willingly, but these were helpless.
It was good to climb the welds and look back, for in the high lands
there was none of this. Below us the levels, with their bright waters,
were wrapped in a strange blue haze, that had come with the famine at
its worst, and, as men said, had brought or made the sickness. I had
heard of it; but it was not so plain when one was in it, or else our
shore was free, which is likely, seeing how little we suffered.
After that we kept to the high land, not so much fearing the blue robe
of the pestilence as what things of its working we might see; and so it
was late in the afternoon that we came in sight of Lincoln town, on its
hill, with the wide meres and river at its feet. I have seen no city
that stands more wonderfully than this of ours, with the grey walls of
the Roman town to crown the gathering of red and brown roofs that nestle
on the slope and within them. And ever as we drew nearer Havelok became
more silent, as I thought because he had never seen so great a town
before, until we passed the gates of the stockade that keeps the town
that lies without the old walls, and then he said, looking round him
strangely, "Brother, you will laugh at me, no doubt, for an arrant
dreamer, but this is the place whereto in dreams I have been many a
time. Now we shall come to yon turn of the road among the houses, and
beyond that we shall surely see a stone-arched gate in a great wall, and
spearmen on guard thereat."
It was so, and the gate and guard were before us in a few more steps. It
was the gate of the old Roman town, inside which was the palace of the
king and one or two more great houses only. Our English kin hate a
walled town or a stone house, and they would not live within the strong
walls, whose wide span was, save for the king's palace, which was built
partly of the house of the Roman governor, and these other halls, which
went for naught in so wide a meadow, empty and green, and crossed by two
paved roads, with grass growing between the stones. There were brown
marks, as of the buried stones of other foundations, on the grass where
the old streets had been.
All the straggling English town was outside the walls, and only in time
of war would the people use them as a stronghold, as they used the still
more ancient camps on the hills.
"Many times have you heard us tell of this place, Havelok," I said. "It
is no wonder that you seem to know it."
"Nay," he answered, "but this is the city of my dreams, and somewhat is
to happen here."
CHAPTER VIII. BERTHUN THE COOK.
For that night we went to the house of the old dame with whom my father
and I were wont to lodge when we came to the market, and she took us in
willingly, though she could make little cheer for us. Truly, as had been
said, the scarcity was not so great in Lincoln, but everything was
terribly dear, and that to some is almost as bad.
"No money have I now, dame," I said ruefully, "but I think that for old
sake's sake you will not turn us away."
"Not I, faith," she answered. "I mind the first day your father came
here, and never a penny had he, and since then there has been no want in
this house. Luck comes with Grim and his folk, as I think. But this is a
son whom I have not seen before, if he is indeed your brother."
"I am Grim's son Curan," said Havelok, "and I have not been to Lincoln
ere this. But I have heard of you many times."
That pleased our old hostess, and then she asked after Grim. Hard it was
to have to tell her that he was gone, and hard it was for her to hear,
for the little house had been open to us for ten years.
"What will you do now, masters?" she asked, when she had told us of many
a kindness done to her and her husband, who was long dead now, by my father.
I told her that we were too many at home since the fishing had failed,
and had therefore come to find some work here, at the court if possible.
"Doubtless two strong men will not have to go far to find somewhat," she
said; "but the court is full of idle folk, and maybe no place is empty.
Now I will have you bide with me while you are at a loose end, for there
are yet a few silver pennies in store, and I ween that they came out of
Grim's pouch to me. Lonely am I, and it is no good hoarding them when
his sons are hungry."
We thanked her for that kind saying, but she made light of it, saying
that almost did she hope that we should find no work, that we might bide
and lighten her loneliness for a time.
"But if an old woman's advice is good for aught, you shall not go to the
court first of all. Sour is King Alsi, and he is likely to turn you away
offhand rather than grant the smallest boon. But there is Berthun the
cook, as we call him--steward is his court name though--and he
orders the household, and is good-natured, so that all like him. Every
morning he comes into the market, and there you can ask him if there is
a place for you, and he loves to look on a man such as Curan. But if it
is weapons you want--and I suppose that is in the minds of tall men
always, though it brings sorrow in the end--there is the captain of
the guard who lives over the gate, and he might be glad to see you enough."
We said that we would see the steward, for we wanted no long employment.
We would go back to Grimsby when the famine ended, if it were only by
the coming of the fish again.
Then she gave us of the best she had--black bread and milk to wit; and
after that we slept soundly before the fire, as I had done many times
before in that humble house. Black bread and milk it was again in the
morning; but there was plenty, and goodwill to season it. Then the old
dame sent us forth cheerfully and early, that we might not miss Berthun
the steward, from whom she hoped great things for us.
So we sat in the marketplace for an hour or more watching the gates of
the wall for his coming; and men stared at Havelok, so that we went to
the bridge and waited there. One could see all the market from thence.
There were a good many of the market folk coming in presently, and most
of them knew me, and more than one stopped and spoke.
Now Havelok grew restless, and wandered here and there looking at
things, though not going far from me; and while I was thus alone on the
bridge, a man I knew by sight came and leaned on the rail by me, and
told me that he had just seen the most handsome man and the goodliest to
look on that was in the kingdom, as he thought.
"Yonder he stands," he said, "like a king who has fallen on bad times. I
mind that I thought that Alsi, our king, would look like that, before I
saw him, and sorely disappointed was I in him therefore. Now I wonder
who yon man may be?"
I did not say that I knew, but I looked at Havelok, and for the first
time, perhaps because I had never seen him among strangers before, I
knew that he was wondrous to look on. Full head and shoulders was he
above all the folk, and the Lindseymen are no babes in stature. And at
the same moment it came to me that it were not well that men should know
him as the son of Grim the fisher. If my father, who was the wisest of
men, had been so careful for all these years, I must not be less so; for
if there were ever any fear of the spies of Hodulf, it would be now when
his foe might be strong enough in years to think of giving trouble. Not
that I ever thought much of the said Hodulf, seeing how far off he was;
but my father had brought me up to dread him for this brother of mine.
Certainly by this time Hodulf knew that Grim had come to England in
safety, for the name of the new town must have come to his ears: and if
Grim, then the boy he had given to him.
The man who spoke to me went away soon, and Havelok strolled back to me.
"I would that the cook, or whoever he is, would come," he said. "I grow
weary of this crowd that seems to have naught to do but stare at a
"What shall we ask, when he does come? and supposing that there is a
place for but one of us?" I said.
"Why, then, the one it fits best will take it, and the other must seek
some other chance. That is all."
"As you will, brother," I answered, "but I would rather that we should
"And I also. But after all, both will be in Lincoln, and we must take
what comes. It is but for a little while, and we shall not like to
burden that good old dame by being too hard to please. We want somewhat
to do until we can go home, not for a day longer, and I care not what it
"That is right," I said; "and the sooner I see one of our folk coming
over this bridge with a full basket of fish, the better I shall like it.
But it may be a long day before that. Now, I have been thinking that it
were not well that you should say that you are the son of Grim."
I did not quite know how he would take this, for he was proud of my
father as I. But that very pride made it easy.
"Maybe not," he said thoughtfully, "for it seems unworthy of his sons
that we have to ask for service from any man. But I do not think that he
could blame us, as things are. Nevertheless, folk shall not talk."
"Men know me," said I, "but that cannot be helped."
He laughed gaily at that.
"Why, here we speak as if one man in a hundred knew you. And after all
it may be that we shall get a place that none need be ashamed of. Look,
here comes a mighty fine lord from the gateway."
It was Berthun the steward, for whom we were waiting, and I knew him
well by sight. Often had he bought our fish, but I did not think that he
would remember me by name, if he had ever heard it. He was a portly and
well-favoured man, not old, and as he came down the street to the
marketplace at the hill foot he laughed and talked with one and another
of the townsfolk, whether high or low, in very pleasant wise.
Presently he stopped at a stall, and priced some meat; and when he had
bought it he looked round and called for some men to carry it for him;
and at that the idlers made a rush for him, tripping over one another in
haste to be first, while he laughed at them.
He chose two or three, and sent them up the hill to the palace with
their burdens, and then went to another booth and bought.
"This is work at which I should make a good hand," said Havelok,
laughing at the scrambling men who ran forward when the steward again
called for porters. "Well paid also the job must be, to judge of their
The three men who had been chosen took their burden and went away, and
the steward came near us, to a bakery that was close to the bridge end.
"I have a mind to do porter for once," Havelok said. "Then I can at
least earn somewhat to take back to the dame tonight."
"If you do so," I answered, "I will wait here for you. But you will have
to fight for the place."
Now the steward bought all that he needed, and that was bread for the
whole palace for the day, and again he called for porters. Whereon
Havelok got up from the bridge rail and went towards him in no great
hurry, so that the idlers were in a crowd before him.
"Ho! friends," cried Havelok, "let the good cook see all of us and make
his choice. He can only take one at a time."
"One, forsooth," said a man from the crowd; "why, there is a load for
four men there."
"Well, then, let him pick four little ones, and give these little ones a
chance of being seen."
Now I do not think that he would have troubled with the matter any more;
but whether the men knew that this was the last load that the steward
had to send home, or whether they quarrelled, I cannot say, but in their
eagerness to raise the two great baskets they fell to struggling over
them, and the steward tried to quiet the turmoil by a free use of his
staff, and there was a danger that the bread should be scattered.
"Here will be waste of what there is none too much of just now," said
Havelok; and with that he went to the aid of the steward, picking up and
setting aside the men before him, and then brushing the struggling
rivals into a ruefully wondering heap from about the baskets, so that he
and the steward faced each other, while there fell a silence on the
little crowd that had gathered. Even the men who had been put aside
stayed their abuse as they saw what manner of man had come to the rescue
of the baskets, and Havelok and the cook began to laugh.
"Fe, fi, fo, fum!" said Berthun; "here is surely a Cornish giant among
us! Now I thank you, good Blunderbore, or whatever your name is, for
brushing off these flies."
"The folk in this place are unmannerly," said Havelok; "hut if you want
the bread carried up the hill I will do it for you."
Berthun looked him up and down in a puzzled sort of way once or twice
ere he answered, "Well, as that is your own proposal, pick your helpers
and do so; I would not have asked such a thing of you myself."
"There is not much help needed," said Havelok. "I think this may be
managed if I get a fair hold."
Now we were used to seeing him carry such loads as would try the
strength of even Raven and myself, who could lift a load for three men;
but when he took the two great baskets of bread and swung them into
place on either arm, a smothered shout went round the crowd, and more
than once I heard the old Welsh name that the marsh folk had given him
"Let us be going," said Havelok to the steward on that. "One would think
that none of these had ever hefted a fair load in his life, to listen to
So he nodded to me across the heads of the crowd, and followed Berthun,
and the idlers followed him for a little. The guard turned these back at
the gate, and Havelok went through, and I could see him no more.
Presently the crowd drifted back to their places, and I heard them
talking. Havelok and his strength was likely to be a nine days' wonder
in Lincoln, and I was glad that I had asked him not to say whence he was.
"He is some thane's son who is disguised," said one.
"Maybe he is under a vow," said another; and then one chimed in with a
story of some prince of Arthur's time, by name Gareth, who hid his state
at his mother's command.
"As for me," said the baker, "I think that he is a fisher, as he looks
--at least, that is, as his clothes make him."
So even he had his doubts, and I will say that I understood well enough
now why my father never brought him here before.
Havelok was long in coming back, as I thought, and I seemed to be
wasting time here, and so I bethought me of the other man to whom the
old dame had said we might go--namely, the captain of the gate. I
should see Havelok if I stood there.
The captain was talking with some of his men as I came up, and of course
it was of Havelok that they spoke; and seeing that I wore the same dress
as he, they asked me if I knew who he was.
"He is a fisher from the coast," I answered. "I have heard him called
"Welsh then," the captain answered, somewhat disappointed, as it seemed.
"If he had been a Mercian, or even a Saxon, I would have had him here,
but a fisher has had no training in arms after all."
"Some of us have," said I.
The captain looked me up and down, and then walked round me, saying
nothing until we were face to face again.
"That, I take it, is a hint that you might like to be a housecarl of the
king's," he said. "Are you a Lindseyman?"
"I am the son of Grim of Grimsby," I said.
"Why, then, I suppose you would not think of it, seeing that my place is
not empty; but if you will dress in that way you must not wonder if I
took you for a likely man for a housecarl. We know Grim well by repute.
Come in and tell me about the famine, and this new town of yours that
one hears of."
Now I could not see Havelok as yet, and so I went into the stone-arched
Roman guardroom, and Eglaf the captain fetched out a pot of wine and
some meat, and made me very welcome while we talked. And presently I
thought that I might do worse than be a housecarl for a time, if Eglaf
would have me. I should be armed at least, and with comrades to help if
Havelok needed me; though all the while I thought myself foolish for
thinking that any harm could come to him who was so strong.
Nevertheless, what my father had laid on us all was to be heeded, and I
was to be his helper in arms. So presently I told Eglaf that the
housecarl's life seemed an easy one, and that it would be pleasant to go
armed for a while, if he would have me for a short time, seeing that the
famine had left us naught to do.
"Well, there is plenty to eat and drink," he said, "and good lodging in
the great hall or here, as one's post may be, and a silver penny every
day; but no fighting to be done, seeing that Alsi will sooner pay a foe
to go away than let us see to the matter. Doing naught is mighty hard
work at times."
Then he asked if I had arms, and I said that I would send for them at
once, and that settled the matter. If I chose to come with my own arms I
should be welcome.
"I am glad to get you," he said, "for there will be a crowd in the place
ere long, for the Witan is to meet, and the thanes will come with their
men, and there will be fine doings, so that we need another strong arm
or two that we may keep the peace,"
He took a long pull at the wine pot, and then went on, "Moreover, the
princess's Danes are sure to want to fight some of the English folk for
"What! is she here?"
"Not yet. They say that she is coming when the Witan meets, because the
Witan wants to see her, not because Alsi does. But he dare not go
against them, and so it must be."
Now Goldberga, the princess, was, as I have said, Alsi's ward, and was
at this time just eighteen, so that it would be time for her to take the
kingdom that was hers by right. It was common talk, however, that Alsi
by no means liked the thought of giving the wide lands of East Anglia up
to her, and that he would not do so if he could anywise help it. Maybe
the Witan thought so also, and would see fair play. Ethelwald and his
wife Orwenna had been well loved both here and in Norfolk, and it was
said that Goldberga their daughter grew wondrous fair and queenly.
I had learned one thing though, and that was that we should have
Ethelwald's Danes here shortly, and that I did not like; but after all,
what did these few men of an old household know of the past days in
Denmark? There had been no going backwards and forwards between the two
countries since the king died ten years ago. Nevertheless I was glad
that I had found a friend in Eglaf, and that I was to be here.
Then I got up to go, and the captain bade me come as soon as I could,
for he could talk to me as he could not to the men, maybe. So I bade him
farewell, and went slowly back, down the street, sitting down in the old
It was not long after that before Havelok came, and I saw Berthun the
steward come as far as the gate with him, and stand looking after him as
he walked away; then Eglaf came out, and both looked and talked for a
while, and therefore, as soon as I knew that Havelok saw me, I went away
and across the bridge to a place that was quiet, and waited for him there.
"Well, brother," I said, "you have had a long job with the cook. What is
the end of it all?"
"I do not know," he answered slowly. "That is to be seen yet."
I looked at him, for his voice was strange, and I saw that he seemed to
have the same puzzled look in his eyes as he had last night when we came
first into the city. I asked if anything was amiss.
"Nothing," he said; "but this is a place of dreams. I think that I shall
wake presently in Grimsby."
We walked on, and past the straggling houses outside the stockade, and
so into the fields; and little by little he told me what was troubling him.
Berthun the steward had said nothing until the palace was reached, and
had led him to the great servants' hall, and there had bidden him set
down his load and rest. Then he had asked if he would like to see the
place, and of course Havelok had said that he would, wondering at the
same time if this was all the pay that the porters got. So he was shown
the king's hall, and the arms on the wall, and the high seat, and the
king's own chamber, and many more things, and all the while they seemed
nothing strange to Havelok.
"This Berthun watched me as a cat watches a mouse all the while," he
said, "and at last he asked if I had ever seen a king's house before. I
told him that I had a dream palace which had all these things, but was
not the same. And at that he smiled and asked my name. 'Curan,' I said,
of course; and at that he smiled yet more, in a way that seemed to say
that he did not believe me. 'It is a good name for the purpose,' he
said, 'but I have to ask your pardon for calling you by the old giant's
name just now.' I said that as he did not know my name, and it was a
jest that fitted, it was no matter. Then he made a little bow, and asked
if I would take any food before I went from the place; so I told him
that it was just what I came for, and he laughed, and I had such a meal
as I have not seen for months. It is in my mind that I left a famine in
that house, so hungry was I. There is no pride about this Berthun, for
he served me himself, and I thanked him."
Then Havelok stopped and passed his hand over his face, and he laughed a
little, uneasy laugh.
"And all the while I could not get it out of my head that he ought to be
kneeling before me."
"Well," he went on after a little, "when I had done, this Berthun asked
me a question, saying that he was a discreet man, and that if he could
help me in any way he would do so. Had I a vow on me? Nothing more than
to earn my keep until the famine was over, I said. I had left poor folk
who would have the more for my absence, and he seemed to think that this
was a wondrous good deed. So I told him that if he could help me in this
I should be glad. Whereon he lowered his voice and asked if I must
follow the way of Gareth the prince. I had not heard of this worthy, and
so I said that what was good enough for a prince was doubtless good
enough for me, and that pleased him wonderfully.
"'Gladly will I take you into my service,' he said, 'if that will
content you.' Which it certainly would; and so I am to be porter again
tomorrow. Then I said that I had a comrade to whom I must speak first.
He said that no doubt word must be sent home of my welfare, and he saw
me as far as the gate."
"Which of you went out of the hall first?" I asked.
"Now I come to think of it, I did. I went to let him pass, as the elder,
though it was in my mind to walk out as if the place belonged to me; and
why, I do not know, for no such thought ever came to me in Witlaf's
house, or even in a cottage; but he stood aside and made me go first."
Now I longed for Withelm and his counsel, for one thing was plain to me,
and that was that with the once familiar things of the kingship before
him the lost memory of his childhood was waking in Havelok, and I
thought that the time my father boded was at hand. The steward had seen
that a court and its ways were no new thing to him, and had seen too
that he had been wont to take the first place somewhere; so he had
deemed that this princely-looking youth was under a vow of service, in
the old way. It is likely that the Welsh name would make him think that
he was from beyond the marches to the west, and that was just as well.
Then Havelok said, "Let us go back to the widow's house and sleep. My
head aches sorely, and it is full of things that are confused, so that I
do not know rightly who I am or where. Maybe it will pass with rest."
We turned hack, and then I told him what I meant to do; and that pleased
him, for we should see one another often.
"We are in luck, brother, so far," he said, "having lit on what we
needed so soon; but I would that these dreams would pass."
"It is the poor food of many days gone by," I said. "Berthun will cure
that for you very shortly."
"It is likely enough," he answered more gaily.
"Little want is in that house, but honest Berthun does not know what a
trencherman he has hired. But I would that we had somewhat to take back
to our good old dame tonight."
But she was more than satisfied with our news; and when she saw that
Havelok was silent, she made some curious draught of herbs for him,
which he swallowed, protesting, and after that he slept peacefully.
I went out to the marketplace and found a man whom I knew--one of
those who carried our fish at times; and him I sent, with promise of two
silver pennies presently, to Arngeir for my arms, telling him that all
CHAPTER IX. CURAN THE PORTER.
There is no need for me to say how my arms came to me from Grimsby, and
how I went to Eglaf as I had promised. I will only say that the life was
pleasant enough, if idle, as a housecarl, and that I saw Havelok every
day at one time or another, which was all that I could wish.
But as I had to wait a day or two while the messenger went and the arms
came from home, I saw Havelok meet the steward on the next day: and a
quaint meeting enough it was, for Berthun hardly knew how he should
behave to this man, whom he had made up his mind was a wandering prince.
There was the crowd who waited for the call for porters, as ever; hut
the steward would have none of them, until he saw his new man towering
over the rest, and then he half made a motion to unbonnet, which he
checked and turned into a beckoning wave of the hand, whereon the idlers
made their rush for him, and Havelok walked through and over them, more
or less, as they would not make way for him. But so good-naturedly was
this done, that even those whom he lifted from his path and dropped on
one side laughed when they saw who had cleared a way for himself, and
stood gaping to see what came next.
"Ho--why, yes--Curan--that was the name certainly. I have been
looking for you, as we said," stammered the steward.
"Here am I, therefore," answered Havelok, "and where is the load?"
"Truth to tell, I have bought but this at present," said the steward,
pointing to a small basket of green stuff on the stall at which he stood.
"Well, I suppose there is more to come," Havelok said, taking it up; "it
will be a beginning."
"I will not ask you to carry more than that," Berthun began.
"Why, man, this is foolishness. If you have a porter, make him carry all
he can, else he will not earn his keep."
"As you will," answered the steward, shrugging his shoulders as one who
cannot account for some folk's whims, and going on to the next booth.
Now, I suppose that the idlers looked to see Havelok walk away with this
light load gladly, as any one of them would have done, and that then
their turn would have come; but this was not what they expected. Maybe
they would have liked to see the strong man sweep up all the palace
marketing and carry it, as a show, but it might interfere with their own
gains. So there was a murmur or two among them, and this grew when
Havelok took the next burden in like manner.
"Ho, master cook," cried a ragged man at last, "this is not the custom,
and it is not fair that one man should do all the work, and all for one
Berthun took no notice of this; and so the cry was repeated, and that by
more than one. And at last he turned round and answered.
"Go to, ye knaves," he said with a red face and angrily; "if I find a
man who will save me the trouble of your wrangles every day, shall I not
do as I please?"
Then there was a tumult of voices, and some of them seemed sad, as if a
last hope was gone, and that Havelok heard.
"There is somewhat in this," he said to the cook. "What pay have you
given to each man who carries for you?"
"A yesterday's loaf each," answered Berthun, wondering plainly that
Havelok paid any heed to the noise.
"Well, then, let us go on, and we will think of somewhat," Havelok said;
and then he turned to the people, who were silent at once.
"I am a newcomer, and a hungry one," he said, smiling quietly, "and I
have a mind to earn my loaf well. Hinder me not for today, and hereafter
I will take my chance with the rest, if need is."
Thereat the folk began to laugh also, for it was plain that none had any
chance at all if he chose to put forth his strength; but an old man said
loudly, "Let the good youth alone now, and he shall talk with us when he
has done his errand and fed that great bulk of his. He has an honest
face, and will be fair to all."
That seemed to please the crowd; and after that they said no more, but
followed and watched the gathering up of Havelok's mighty burden. And
presently there was more than he could manage; and he spoke to Berthun,
who checked himself in a half bow as he answered.
Then Havelok looked over the faces before him, and beckoned to two men
who seemed weakly and could not press forward, and to them he gave the
lighter wares, and so left the market with his master, as one must call
"What told I you?" said the old man, as they came back from the great
gate. "Never saw I one with a face like that who harmed any man, either
in word or deed."
Now when Havelok had set down his load in the kitchen, he straightened
himself and said to Berthun, who was, as one may say, waiting his pleasure.
"This is today's task; but it is in my mind that I would stay up here
"What would you do?"
"There are men yonder who will miss the carrying if I am market porter
always. But here are things I can earn my keep at, and help the other
servants with at the same time. Water drawing there is, and carrying of
logs for the fire, and cleaving them also, and many other things that
will be but hardening my muscles, while they are over heavy to be
pleasant for other folk."
"Well," answered Berthun, "that is all I could wish, and welcome to some
here will you be. Let it be so."
"Now, I do not think that you would make a gain by my work this morning?"
"Truly not, if any one is wronged by my doing so," the puzzled steward said.
Then Havelok asked how many men would have been needed to carry up the
goods that he had brought, and Berthun said that he was wont to send one
at least from each stall, and more if the burden was heavy.
"Then today four poor knaves must go dinnerless by reason of my
strength, and that does not please me altogether," said Havelok gravely.
"Give these two their loaves; and then, I pray you, give me the other
four, and let me go back to the market."
And then he added, with a smile, "I think that I can order matters there
so that things will be more fair, and that you will have less trouble
with that unmannerly scramble."
"If you can do that, you are even as your name calls you. Take them and
welcome, Curan, and then come here and do what work you will," Berthun
said in haste.
"Tasks you must set me, or I shall grow idle. That is the failing of
over-big men," Havelok said; and he took the loaves and left the palace
with the two market men at his heels.
I saw him come back, and at once the crowd of idlers made for him, but
in a respectful way enough. I knew, however, how easily these folks took
to throwing mud and stones in their own quarrels, and I was a little
anxious, for to interfere with the ways of the market is a high offence
But Havelok knew naught of that, and went his way with his loaves to the
bridge end, and there sat on the rail and looked at the men before him.
And /lo!/ back to my mind came old days in Denmark, and how I once saw
Gunnar the king sitting in open court to do justice, and then I knew for
certain that I was looking on his son. And when Havelok spoke it was in
the voice of Gunnar that I had long forgotten, but which came back to me
clear and plain, as if it were yesterday that I had heard it. Never does
a boy forget his first sight of the king.
"Friends," said Havelok, "if I do two men's work I get two men's pay, or
else I might want to know the reason why. But I am only one man, all the
same, and it seems right to me that none should be the loser. Wherefore
I have a mind to share my pay fairly."
There was a sort of shout at that and Havelok set his four loaves in a
row on the rail beside him. But then some of the rougher men went to
make a rush at them, and he took the foremost two and shook them, so
that others laughed and bade the rest beware.
"So that is just where the trouble comes in," said Havelok coolly; "the
strong get the first chance, as I did this morning, by reason of there
being none to see fair play."
"Bide in the market, master, and we will make you judge among us," cried
a small man from the edge of the crowd.
"Fair and softly," Havelok answered. "I am not going to bide here longer
than I can help. Come hither, grandfer," and he beckoned to the old man
who had bidden them wait his return, "tell me the names of the men who
have been longest without any work."
The old man pointed out three, and then Havelok stopped him.
"One of these loaves is my own wage," he said; "but you three shall have
the others, and that will be the easiest day's work you ever did. But
think not that I am going to do the like every day, for Lincoln hill is
no easy climb, and the loaf is well earned at the top. Moreover, it is
not good to encourage the idle by working for them."
So the three men had their loaves, and Havelok began to eat his own
slowly, swinging his legs on the bridge rail while the men watched him.
"Master," said the small man from behind, pushing forward a little, now
that the crowd was looser, "make a law for the market, I pray you, that
all may have a chance."
"Who am I to make laws?" said my brother slowly, and, as he said this,
his hand went up to his brows as it had gone last night when the palace
had wearied him.
"The strong make laws for the weak," the old man said to him in a low
voice. "If the strong is honest, for the weak it is well. Things are
hard for the weak here; and therefore say somewhat, for it may be of use."
"It can be none, unless the strong is at hand to see that the law is kept."
"Sometimes the market will see that a rule is not broken, for itself.
There is no rule for this matter."
Again Havelok passed his hand over his eyes, and he was long in
answering. The loaf lay at his side now. Presently he looked straight
before him, and, as if he saw far beyond Lincoln Hill and away to the
north, he said, "This is my will, therefore, that from this time forward
it shall be the law that men shall have one among them who may fairly
and without favour so order this matter that all shall come to Berthun
the steward in turns that shall be kept, and so also with the carrying
for any other man. There shall be a company of porters, therefore, which
a man must join before he shall do this work, save that every stranger
who comes shall be suffered to take a burden once, and then shall be
told of this company, and the custom that is to be. And I will that this
old man shall see to this matter."
And then he stopped suddenly, and seemed to start as a great shout went
up from the men, a shout as of praise; and his eyes looked again on
them, and that wonderingly.
"They will keep this law," said the old man. "Well have you spoken."
"I have said a lot of foolishness, maybe," answered Havelok. "For the
life of me I could not say it again."
"There is not one of us that could not do so," said his adviser. "But
bide you here, master, in the town?"
"I am in service at the palace."
Then the old man turned round to the others and said, "This is good that
we have heard, and it is nothing fresh, for all trades have their
companies, and why should not we? Is this stranger's word to be kept?"
Maybe there were one or two of the rougher men who held their peace, for
they had had more than their share of work, but from the rest came a
shout of "Ay!" as it were at the Witan.
"Well, then," said Havelok suddenly, getting down from his seat and
giving his loaf to the old man, "see you to it; and if any give trouble
hereafter, I shall hear from the cook, and, by Odin, I will even come
down and knock their heads together for them. So farewell."
He smiled round pleasantly, yet in that way which has a meaning at the
back of it; and at that every cap went off and the men did him reverence
as to a thane at least, and he nodded to them and came across to me.
"Come out into the fields, brother, for I shall weep if I bide here longer."
So he said; and we went away quickly, while the men gathered round the
old leader who was to be, and talked earnestly.
"This famine plays strange tricks with me," he said when we were away
from every one. "Did you hear all that I said?"
"I heard all, and you have spoken the best thing that could have been
said. Eight years have I been to this market, and a porters' guild is
just what is needed. And it will come about now."
"It was more dreaming, and so I must be a wise man in my dream. Even as
in the palace yesterday it came on me, and I seemed to be at the gate of
a great hall, and it was someone else that was speaking, and yet myself.
It is in my mind that I told these knaves what my lordly will was,
forsooth; and the words came to me in our old Danish tongue, so that it
was hard not to use it. But it seems to me that long ago I did these
things, or saw them, I know not which, somewhere. Tell me, did the king
live in our town across the sea?"
"No, but in another some way off. My father took me there once or twice."
"Can you mind that he took me also?"
I shook my head, and longed for Withelm. Surely I would send for him, or
for Arngeir, if this went on. Arngeir for choice, for I could tell him
what I thought; and that would only puzzle Withelm, who knew less than I.
"We will ask Arngeir some day," I said; "he can remember."
"I suppose he did take me," mused Havelok; "and I suppose that I want
more sleep or more food or somewhat. Now we will go and tell the old
dame of my luck, for she has lost her lodger."
Then he told me of his fortune with the steward.
"Half afraid of me he seems, for he will have me do just what I will.
That will be no hard place therefore."
But I thought that if I knew anything of Havelok my brother, he would be
likely to make it hard by doing every one's work for him, and that
Berthun saw this; or else that, as I had thought last night, the shrewd
courtier saw the prince behind the fisher's garb.
So we parted presently at the gate of the palace wall, and I went back
to the widow to wait for my arms, while he went to his master. And I may
as well tell the end of Havelok's lawmaking.
Berthun went down to the market next day, and came back with a wonder to
be told. And it was to Havelok that he went first to tell it, as he was
drawing bucket after bucket of water from the deep old Roman well in the
courtyard to fill the great tub which he considered a fair load to carry
"There is something strange happening in the market," he said, "and I
think that you have a hand in it. The decency of the place is wonderful,
and you said that you thought I might have less trouble with the men
than I was wont if you went down with the loaves. What did you? For I
went to the baker's stalls and bought, and looked round for the tail
that is after me always; and I was alone, and all the market folk were
agape to see what was to be done. I thought that I had offended the
market by yesterday's business, as they had called out on me, and I
thought that I should have to come and fetch your--that is, if it
pleased you. But first I called, as is my wont, for porters. Now all
that rabble sat in a row along a wall, and, by Baldur, when I looked,
they had cleaned themselves! Whereupon an old gaffer, who has carried
things once or twice for me when there has been no crowd and he has been
able to come forward, lifted up his voice and asked how many men I
wanted, so please me.
"'Two,'I said, wondering, and at that two got up and came to me, and I
sent them off. It was the same at the next booth, and the next, for he
told off men as I wanted them; and here am I back a full half-hour
earlier than ever before, and no mud splashes from the crowd either. It
is said that they have made a porters' guild; and who has put that sense
into their heads unless your--that is, unless you have done so, I
"Well, I did tell them that they should take turns, or somewhat like
that; and I also told them that if you complained of them I would see to
"Did you say that you would pay them, may I ask--that is, of course,
if they were orderly? For if so, I thank--"
"I told them that if you complained I would knock their heads together,"
And that was the beginning of the Lincoln porters' guild; and in after
days Havelok was wont to say that he would that all lawmaking was as
easy as that first trial of his. Certainly from that day forward there
was no man in all the market who would not have done aught for my
brother, and many a dispute was he called on to settle. It is not always
that a law, however good it may be, finds not a single one to set
himself against it. But then Havelok was a strong man.
Now there is naught to tell of either Havelok or myself for a little
while, for we went on in our new places comfortably enough. One heard
much of Havelok, though, for word of him and his strength and
goodliness, and of his kindness moreover, went through the town, with
tales of what he had done. But I never heard that any dared to ask him
to make a show of himself by doing feats of strength. Only when he came
down to the guardroom sometimes with me would he take part in the weapon
play that he loved, and the housecarls, who were all tried and good
warriors, said that he was their master in the use of every weapon, and
it puzzled them to know where he had learned so well, for he yet wore
his fisher's garb. They sent his arms with mine from Grimsby, thinking
that he also needed them; but he left them with the widow.
Havelok used to laugh if they asked him this, and tell them that it came
by nature, and in that saying there was more than a little truth. So the
housecarls, when they heard how Berthun was wont to treat him, thought
also that he was some great man in hiding, and that the steward knew who
he was. They did not know but that my close friendship with him had
sprung up since he came, and that was well, and Eglaf and he and I were
soon much together. The captain wanted him to leave the cook and be one
of his men, but we thought that he had better bide where he was, rather
than let Alsi the king have him always about him. For now and then that
strange feeling, as of the old days, came over him when he was in the
great hall, and he had to go away and brood over it for a while until he
would set himself some mighty task and forget it.
But one day he came to me and said that he was sure he knew the ways of
a king too well for it all to be a dream, adding that Berthun saw that
also, and was curious about him.
"Tell me, brother, whence came I? /Was/ I truly brought up in a court?"
"I have never heard," I answered. "All that I know for certain is that
you fled with us from Hodulf, the new king, and that for reasons which
my father never told me."
Then said Havelok, "There was naught worth telling, therefore. I suppose
I was the child of some steward like Berthun; but yet--"
So he went away, and I wondered long if it were not time that Arngeir
should tell all that he knew. It was of no good for me to say that in
voice and ways and deed he had brought back to me the Gunnar whom I had
not seen for so many long years, for that was as likely as not to be a
fancy of mine, or if not a fancy, he might be only a sister's son or the
like. But in all that he said there was no word of his mother, and by
that I knew that his remembrance must be but a shadow, if a growing one.
But there was no head in all the wide street that was not turned to look
after him; and now he went his way from me with two children, whom he
had caught up from somewhere, perched on either shoulder, and another in
his arms, and they crowed with delight as he made believe to be some
giant who was to eat them forthwith, and ran up the hill with them. No
such playmate had the Lincoln children before Havelok came.
CHAPTER X. KING ALSI OF LINDSEY.
Three weeks after we came the Witan began to gather,
and that was a fine sight as the great nobles of Lindsey, and of the
North folk of East Anglia, came day by day into the town with their
followings, taking up their quarters either in the better houses of the
place or else pitching bright-coloured tents and pavilions on the
hillside meadows beyond the stockades. Many brought their ladies with
them, and all day long was feasting and mirth at one place or another,
as friend met with friend. Never had I seen such a gay sight as the
marketplace was at midday, when the young thanes and their men met there
and matched their followers at all sorts of sports. The English nobles
are far more fond of gay dress and jewels than our Danish folk, though I
must say that when the few Danes of Ethelwald's household came it would
seem that they had taken kindly to the fashion of their home.
Our housecarls grumbled a bit for a while, for with all the newcomers
dressed span new for the gathering, we had had nothing fresh for it from
the king, as was the custom, and I for one was ashamed of myself, for
under my mail was naught but the fisher's coat, which is good enough for
hard wear, but not for show. But one day we were fitted out fresh by the
king's bounty in blue and scarlet jerkins and hose, and we swaggered
after that with the best, as one may suppose.
Berthun had the ordering of that business, and he came and sat with
Eglaf in the gatehouse and talked of it.
"Pity that you do not put your man Curan into decent gear," the captain
said. "That old sailcloth rig does not do either him or you or the court
"That is what I would do," said the steward, "but he will not take aught
but the food that he calls his hire. He is a strange man altogether, and
I think that he is not what he seems."
"So you have told me many times, and I think with you. He will be some
crack-brained Welsh princeling who has been crossed in love, and so has
taken some vow on him, as the King Arthur that they prate of taught them
to do. Well, if he is such, it is an easy matter to make him clothe
himself decently. It is only to tell him that the clothes are from the
king, and no man who has been well brought up may refuse such a gift."
"But suppose that he thanks the king for the gift. Both he and the king
will be wroth with me."
"Not Curan, when he has once got the things on; and as for Alsi, he will
take the thanks to himself, and chuckle to think that the mistake has
gained him credit for a good deed that he never did."
"Hush, comrade, hush!" said Berthun quickly; "naught but good of the king!"
"I said naught ill. But if Woden or Frey, or whoever looks after good
deeds, scores the mistake to Alsi as well, it will be the first on the
count of charity that--"
But at this Berthun rose up in stately wise.
"I may not listen to this. To think that here in the guardroom I should
"Sit down, comrade," said Eglaf, laughing, and pulling the steward into
his seat again. "Well you know that I would be cut to pieces for the
king tomorrow if need were, and so I earn free speech of him I guard. If
I may not say what I think of him to a man who knows as much of him as
I, who may?"
"I have no doubt that the king would clothe Curan if I asked him," said
Berthun stiffly, but noways loth to take his seat again.
"But it is as much as your place is worth to do it. I know what you
"I will do it myself, and if Alsi does get the credit, what matter?"
Wherefore it came to pass that as I was on guard at the gate leading to
the town next day I saw a most noble-looking man coming towards me, and
I looked a second time, for I thought him one of the noblest of all the
thanes who had yet come, and the second look told me that it was Havelok
in this new array. I will say that honest Berthun had done his part
well; and if the king was supposed to be the giver, he had nothing to
complain of. Eglaf had told me of the way in which the dressing of
Havelok was to be done.
"Ho!" said I, "I thought you some newcomer."
"I hardly know myself," he answered, "and I am not going to grumble at
the change, seeing that this is holiday time. Berthun came to me last
evening, and called me aside, and said that it was the king's wont to
dress his folk anew at the time of the Witan, and then wanted to know if
my vow prevented me from wearing aught but fisher's clothes. And when I
said that if new clothes went as wage for service about the place I was
glad to hear it, he was pleased, as if it had been likely that I would
refuse a good offer. So the tailor went to work on me, and hence this
finery. But you are as fine, and this is more than we counted on when we
left Grimsby. I suppose it is all in honour of the lady of the North
"Maybe, for I have heard that she is to come."
"To be fetched rather, if one is to believe all that one hears. They say
that Alsi has kept her almost as a captive in Dover, having given her
into the charge of some friend of his there, that she may be far from
her own kingdom and people. Now the Norfolk Witan has made him bring her
here. Berthun seems to think there will be trouble."
"Only because Alsi will not want to let the kingdom go from his hand to
her. But that will not matter. He is bound by the old promise to her
Now we were talking to one another in broad Danish, there being none
near to hear us. We had always used it among ourselves at Grimsby, for
my father loved his old tongue. But at that moment there rode up to the
gate a splendid horseman, young and handsome, and with great gold
bracelets on his arms, one or two of which caught my eye at once, for
they were of the old Danish patterns, and just such as Jarl Sigurd used
to wear. But if I was quick to notice these tokens of the old land, he
had been yet quicker, for he reined up before I stayed him, as was my
duty if he would pass through this gate to the palace, so that I might
know his authority.
"If I am not mistaken," he said in our own tongue, "I heard you two
talking in the way I love best. Skoal, therefore, to the first Northman
I have met between here and London town, for it is good to hear a
"Skoal to the jarl!" I answered, and I gave the salute of Sigurd's
courtmen, which came into my mind on the moment with the familiar
greeting of long years ago. And "Skoal," said Havelok.
"Jarl! How know you that I am that?"
"By the jarl's bracelet that you wear, surely."
"So you are a real Dane--not an English-bred one like myself. That is
good. You and I will have many a talk together. Odin, how good it is to
meet a housecarl who speaks as man to man and does not cringe to me! Who
"Radbard Grimsson of Grimsby, housecarl just now to this King of Lindsey."
"And your comrade?"
I was about to tell this friendly countryman Havelok's name without
thought, but stopped in time. Of all the things I had been brought up to
dread most for him, that an English Dane should find him out was the
worst, so I said, "He is called Curan, and he is a Lindsey marshman."
"Who can talk Danish though his name is Welsh. That is strange. Well,
you are right about me. I am Ragnar of Norwich, the earl, as the English
for jarl goes. Now I want to see Alsi the king straightway."
"That is a matter for the captain," I said, and I called for him.
Eglaf came out and made a deep reverence when he saw the earl, knowing
at once who he was, and as this was just what the earl had said that he
did not like, he looked quaintly at me across Eglaf's broad bent back,
so that I had to grin perforce.
All unknowing of which the captain heard the earl's business, and then
told me to see him to the palace gates, and take his horse to the
stables when he had dismounted and was in the hands of Berthun.
So I went, and Havelok turned away and went on some errand down the
This Ragnar was one of whom I had often heard, for he was the governor
of all the North folk for Alsi until the Lady Goldberga should take her
place. He was her cousin, being the son of Ethelwald's sister, who was
of course a Dane. Danish, and from the old country, was his father also,
being one of the men who had come over to the court of East Anglia when
Ethelwald was made king.
All the way to the door we talked of Denmark, but it was not far. There
Berthun came out and greeted the earl in court fashion, and I thought
that I was done with, because the grooms had run to take the great bay
horse as they heard the trampling. But, as it happened, I was wanted.
Ragnar went in, saying to me that he would find me out again presently;
and I saw him walk across the great hall to the hearth, and stand there
while Berthun went to the king's presence to tell him of the new
arrival. Then I stood for a minute to look at the horse, for the grooms
had had no orders to take him away; and mindful of Eglaf's word to me, I
was going to tell them to do so, and to see it done, when Berthun came
hurriedly and called me.
"Master Housecarl," he said rather breathlessly, "by the king's order
you are to come within the hall and guard the doorway."
I shouldered my spear and followed him, and as we were out of hearing of
the grooms I said that the captain had ordered me to take the horse to
"I will see to that," he said. "Now you are to bide at the door while
the king speaks with Earl Ragnar, for there will be none else present.
Let no one pass in without the king's leave."
We passed through the great door as he said that, and he closed it after
him. Ragnar was yet standing near the high seat, and turned as he heard
the sound, and smiled when he saw me. Berthun went quickly away through
a side entrance, and the hail was empty save for us two. The midday meal
was over an hour since, and the long tables had been cleared away, so
that the place seemed desolate to me, as I had only seen it before when
I sat with the other men at the cross tables for meals. It was not so
good a hall as was Jarl Sigurd's in Denmark, for it was not rich with
carving and colour as was his, and the arms on the wall were few, and
the hangings might have been brighter and better in a king's place.
"Our king does not seem to keep much state," Ragnar said, looking round
as I was looking, and we both laughed.
Then the door on the high place opened, and the king came in, soberly
dressed, and with a smile on his face which seemed to me to have been
made on purpose for this greeting, for he mostly looked sour enough. Nor
did it seem that his eyes had any pleasure in them.
"Welcome, kinsman," he said, seeming hearty enough, however; "I had
looked for you before this. What news from our good town of Norwich?"
He held out his hand to Ragnar, who took it frankly, and his strong grip
twisted the king's set smile into a grin of pain for a moment.
"All was well there three weeks ago when I left there to go to London.
Now, I have ridden on to say that the Lady Goldberga is not far hence,
so that her coming may be prepared for."
Now, as the earl said this, the king's smile went from his face, and
black enough he looked for a moment. The look passed quickly, and the
smile came back, but it seemed hard to keep it up.
"Why, that is well," he said; "so you fell in with her on the way."
"I have attended her from London," answered the earl, looking
steadfastly at Alsi, "and it was as well that I did so, as it happened."
"What has been amiss?" asked the king sharply, and trying to look
troubled. He let the smile go now altogether.
"Your henchman, Griffin the Welshman, had no guard with her that was
fitting for our princess," Ragnar said. "He had but twenty men, and
these not of the best. It is in my mind also that I should have been
told of this journey, for I am surely the right man to have guarded my
queen who is to be."
At that Alsi's face went ashy pale, and I did not rightly know why at
the time, but it seemed more in anger than aught else. But he had to
make some answer.
"We sent a messenger to you," he said hastily; "I cannot tell why he did
not reach you."
"He must have come too late, and after I had heard of this from others;
so I had already gone to meet the princess. I am glad that I was sent
for, and it may pass. Well, it is lucky that I was in time, for we were
attacked on the road, and but for my men there would have been trouble."
Then Alsi broke into wrath, which was real enough.
"This passes all. Where and by whom were you attacked? and why should
any fall on the party?"
"Five miles on the other side of Ancaster town, where the Ermin Street
runs among woods, we were fallen on, but who the men were I cannot say.
Why they should fall on us seems plain enough, seeing that the ransom of
a princess is likely to be a great sum."
"Was it a sharp fight?"
"It was not," answered Ragnar, "for it seemed to me that the men looked
only to find your Welsh thane Griffin and his men. When they saw my
Norfolk housecarls, they waited no longer, and we only rode down one or
two of them. But I have somewhat against this Griffin, for he helped me
not at all. Until this day he and his men had ridden fairly with us, but
by the time this attack came they were half a mile behind us."
"Do you mean to say that you think Griffin in league with these--
outlaws, as one may suppose them?" said Alsi, with wrath and more else
written in twitching mouth and crafty eyes.
"I would not have said that," Ragnar answered, looking in some surprise
at the king, "it had never come into my head. But I will say that as the
Ermin Street is straight as an arrow, and he was in full sight of us, he
might have spurred his horses to our help, whereas he never quickened
his pace till he saw that the outlaws, or whoever they were, had gone. I
put this as a complaint to you."
"These men seem to have scared you, at least," sneered the king.
Ragnar flushed deeply.
"For the princess--yes. It is not fitting that a man who is in charge
of so precious a lady should hold back in danger, even of the least
seeming, as did Griffin. And I told him so."
Now I thought that Alsi would have been as angry with Griffin as was the
earl, and that he would add that he also would speak his mind to him,
hut instead of that he went off in another way.
"It was a pity that a pleasant journey with a fair companion was thus
broken in upon. But it was doubtless pleasant that the lady should see
that her kinsman was not unwilling to draw sword for her. A pretty
little jest this, got up between Griffin and yourself, and such as a
young man may be forgiven for playing. I shall hear Goldberga complain
of honest Griffin presently, and now I shall know how to answer her. Ay,
I will promise him the like talking to that you gave him, and then we
three will laugh over it all together."
And with that the king broke into a cackle of laughter, catching hold of
the earl's arm in his glee. And I never saw any man look so altogether
bewildered as did Ragnar.
"Little jest was there in the matter, lord king, let me tell you," he
said, trying to draw his arm away.
"Nay, I am not angry with you, kinsman; indeed, I am not. We have been
young and eager that bright eyes should see our valour ourselves ere
now," and he shook his finger at the earl gaily. "I only wonder that you
induced that fiery Welshman to take a rating in the hearing of the
"What I had to say to him I said apart. I will not say that he did take
"Meaning--that you had a good laugh over it;" and Alsi shook the
earl's arm as in glee. "There now, you have made a clean breast, and I
am not one to spoil sport. Go and meet Goldberga at the gates, and bring
her to me in state, and you shall be lodged here, if you will. Quite
right of you to tell me this, or Griffin would have been in trouble. But
I must not have the lady scared again, mind you."
He turned quickly away, then, with a sort of stifled laugh, as if he
wanted to get away to enjoy a good jest, and left Ragnar staring
speechless at him as he crossed the high place and went through the
Then the earl turned to me, "By Loki, fellow countryman, there is
somewhat wrong here. What does he mean by feigning to think the whole
affair a jest? It won't be much of a jest if Griffin and I slay one
another tomorrow, as we mean to do, because of what was not done, and
what was said about it."
"It has seemed to me, jarl," I said plainly, "that all this is more like
a jest between the king and Griffin."
"Call it a jest, as that is loyal, at least. But I think that you are
right. If Goldberga had been carried off--Come, we shall be saying too
much in these walls."
I had only been told to wait while the king and earl spoke together, and
so I opened the door and followed him out. The horse was yet there
waiting for him, and it was plain that the king had not meant him to stay.
"Bid the grooms lead the horse after us, and we will go to your captain.
Then you shall take me to one of my friends, for you will know where
their houses are."
But at that moment a man from the palace ran after us, bringing an order