Part 3 out of 5
from the king that I was to go back to him. So Ragnar bade me farewell.
"Come to me tonight at the gatehouse," he said. "I will speak to the
captain to let you off duty."
"Say nothing to him, jarl, for it is needless. I am only with him for a
time, and am my own master. I have no turn on watch tonight, and so am
So I went back, and found the king in the hall again, and he was still
smiling. If he had looked me straight in the face, I suppose that he
might have seen that I was not a man to whom he was used, but he did
not. He seemed not to wish to do so.
"So, good fellow," he said, "you have heard a pleasant jest of our young
kinsman's contriving, but I will that you say nothing of it. It is a
pity to take a good guardroom story from you, however, without some
recompense, and therefore--"
With that he put a little bag into my hand, and it was heavy. I said
nothing, but bowed in the English way, and he went on, "You understand;
no word is to be said of what you have heard unless I bid you repeat it.
That I may have to do, lest it is said that Griffin the thane is
'nidring'  by any of his enemies. You know all the
story--how the earl and he planned a sham attack on the princess's
party, that Ragnar might show his valour, which, of course, he could not
do if Griffin was there. Therefore the thane held back. But maybe you
heard all, and understood it."
"I heard all, lord king, and I will say naught."
The king waved his hand in sign that I was dismissed, and I bowed and
went. There were five rings of gold in the bag, worth about the whole
year's wage of a courtman, and I thought that for keeping a jest to
myself that was good pay indeed. There must be more behind that
business, as it had seemed to me already.
Now, as I crossed the green within the old walls on my way to the gate,
it happened that Havelok came back from the town, and as he came I heard
him whistling softly to himself a strange wild call, as it were, of a
hunting horn, very sweet, and one that I had never heard before.
"Ho, brother!" I said, for there was no one near us. "What is that call
you are whistling?"
He started and looked up at me suddenly, and I saw that his trouble was
on him again.
"In my dream," he said slowly, "there is a man on a great horse, and he
wears such bracelets as Ragnar of Norwich, and he winds his horn with
that call, and I run to him; and then I myself am on the horse, and I go
to the stables, and after that there is nothing but the call that I
hear. Now it has gone again."
And his hand went up in the way that made me sad to see.
"It will come back by-and-by. Trouble not about it."
"I would that we were back in Grimsby," he said, with a great sigh.
"This is a place of shadows. Ghosts are these of days that I think can
never have been."
"Well," said I, wanting to take him out of himself, "this is no ghost,
at all events. I would that one of our brothers would come from home
that I might send it to them in Grimsby. We do not need it."
So I showed him the gold, and he wondered at it, and laughed, saying
that the housecarls had the best place after all. And so he went on, and
I back to the gate.
Surely he minded at last the days when Gunnar his father had ridden home
to the gate, as the Danish earl had ridden even now, and had called his
son to him with that call. It was all coming back, as one thing or
another brought it to his mind; and I wondered what should be when he
knew that the dream was the truth. For what should Havelok, foster-son
of the fisher, do against a king who for twelve long years had held his
throne? And who in all the old land would believe that he was indeed the
son of the lost king? Better, it seemed to me, that this had not
happened, and that he had been yet the happy, careless, well-loved son
of Grim, with no thought of aught higher than the good of the folk he knew.
When I got back to the gate, we were marched down the town, that we
might be ready to receive the princess; and as I went through the
market, I saw one of the porters whom I knew, and I beckoned to him, so
that he came alongside me in the ranks, and I asked him if he would go
to Grimsby for me for a silver penny. He would do it gladly; and so I
sent him with word to Arngeir that I needed one of them here to take a
gift that I had for them. I would meet whoever came at the widow's
house, and I set a time when I would look for them. I thought it was
well that the king's gold should not be wasted, even for a day's use, if
I could help it. And I wearied to see one of the brothers, and hear all
that was going on.
CHAPTER XI. THE COMING OF THE PRINCESS.
There is no need for me to tell aught of the entry of the Lady Goldberga
into the town, for anyone may know how the people cheered her, and how
the party were met by the Norfolk thanes and many others, and so rode on
up the hill to the palace. What the princess was like I hardly noticed
at that time, for she was closely hooded, and her maidens were round
her. And I had something else to think of; for foremost, and richly
dressed, with a gold chain round his neck, rode a man whose strange way
of carrying his head caught my eye at once, so that I looked more than a
second time at him.
And at last I knew him. It was that man of ours whose neck had been
twisted by the way in which he had been hauled on board at the time of
the wreck, and had afterwards gone to Ethelwald's court. One would say
that this Mord had prospered exceedingly, for he was plainly a man of
some consequence in the princess's household. He did not know me, though
it happened that he looked right at me for a moment; but I did not
expect him to do so after twelve years, seeing that I was but a boy when
we parted. I thought that I would seek him presently.
Then I saw Griffin, the Welsh thane, and I did not like the looks of him
at all. He was a black-haired man, clean shaven, so that the cruel
thinness of his lips was not hidden, and his black eyes were restless,
and never stayed anywhere, unless he looked at Ragnar for a moment, and
then that was a look of deadly hatred. He wore his armour well, and had
a steady seat on his horse; but, if all that I had heard of him was
true, his looks did not belie him. Men had much to say of him here, for,
being some far-off kin to Alsi's Welsh mother, he was always about the
court, and was hated. He had gone to Dover to fetch the princess before
we came here, but it happened that I had once or twice seen him at other
times when I was in Lincoln, so that I knew him now.
There was great feasting that night in the king's hall, as one may
suppose, and I sat with the housecarls at the cross tables beyond the
fire, and I could see the Lady Goldberga at Alsi's side. Tired she was
with her long journey, and she did not remain long at the table; but I
had never seen so wondrously beautiful a lady. Griffin sat next to her
on the king's right hand, for Ragnar was at the king's left, in the seat
of next honour; and I saw that the lady had no love for the Welsh thane.
But I also thought that I saw how he would give his all for a kindly
glance from her; and if, as Alsi had seemed to hint, Ragnar was a
favoured lover, I did not wonder that Griffin had been ready to do him a
bad turn. I had rather that the thane was my friend than my foe, for he
would be no open enemy.
I left the feast when the first change of guard went out, for I saw that
the ale cup was passing faster than we Danes think fitting, being less
given to it than the English. And when the guard was set I waited alone
in the guardroom of the old gate, for Eglaf was yet at the hall, and
would be there all night maybe. And presently Earl Ragnar came in and
sat down with me.
He was silent for a while, and I waited for him to speak, until he
looked up at me with a little laugh, and said, "I told you that I had to
fight Griffin tomorrow?"
"You did, earl. Is that matter settled otherwise?"
"Not at all," he answered. "I believe now that he was acting under
orders, but I have said things to him which he cannot pass over. I
called him 'nidring' to his face, and that I still mean; for though I
thought of cowardice at the time, he is none the less so if he has
plotted against the princess. So naught but the sword will end the feud."
He pondered for some moments, and then went on, "It is a bad business;
for if I slay Griffin, he is the king's favourite; and if he slays me,
the Norfolk thanes will have somewhat to say. And all is bad for the
Lady Goldberga, who needs all the friends that she has, for in either
case there will be trouble between the two kingdoms that Alsi holds just
"If Griffin is slain," I said, "I think that the lady has one trouble
out of the way."
"Ay; and the king will make out, as you heard him do even now, that I am
looking that way myself. It is not so, for I will say to you at once
that to me there is but one lady in all the world, and she is in Norfolk
at this time. Now I am going to ask you something that is a favour."
I thought that he would give me some message for this lady, in case he
fell; but he had more to ask than that. Nothing more or less than that I
should be his second in the fight, because I was a fellow countryman,
while to ask an East Anglian thane would he to make things harder yet
"I am no thane, earl," I said plainly. "This is an honour that is over
high for me."
"It seems that you own a town, for I asked Eglaf just now," he answered;
"and that is enough surely to give you thane's rank in a matter like
this. But that is neither here nor there; it is as Dane to Dane that I
ask you. If I could find another of us I would ask him also, that you
might not have to stand alone. I am asking you to break the law that
bids the keeping of the peace at the time of the meeting of the Witan."
"That is no matter," I said. "If I have to fly, it will be with you as
victor; and if it is but a matter of a fine, I have had that from the
king today which will surely pay it."
And I told him of the gift for silence, whereat he laughed heartily, and
then said that the secret was more worth than he thought. This looked
very bad, and like proof that the king was at the bottom of the whole
Now I had been thinking, and it seemed better that there should be two
witnesses of the fight on our side, and I thought that Havelok was the
man who would make the second. So I told Ragnar that I could find
another Dane who was at least as worthy as I, and he was well pleased.
Then he told me where the meeting was to be, and where we should meet
him just before daylight; and so he went back to the hall, where the
lights were yet burning redly, and the songs were wilder than ever.
And I found Havelok, and told him of the fight that was to be, and asked
him to come with us. His arms were at the widow's, and he could get them
without any noticing him.
There is no need to say that he was ready as I to help Ragnar, and so we
spoke of time and place, and parted for the night.
Very early came Havelok to the house, for I lodged at the widow's when I
was not on night duty; and we armed ourselves, and then came Ragnar. He
greeted me first, and then looked at Havelok in amaze, as it seemed, and
then bowed a little, and asked me to make my friend known to him.
"If you are the friend of whom Radbard has told me, I think that I am
fortunate in having come to him."
"I am his brother, lord earl," answered Havelok, "and I am at your service."
Ragnar looked from one of us to the other, and then smiled.
"A brother Dane and a brother in arms, truly," he said. "Well, that is
all that I need ask, except your name, as I am to be another brother of
the same sort."
Then Havelok looked at me, and I nodded. I knew what he meant; but it
was not right that the earl should not know who he was.
"Men call me Curan here, lord earl, and that I must be to you hereafter.
But I am Havelok of Grimsby, son of Grim."
In a moment I saw that the earl knew more of that name than I had deemed
possible; and then I minded Mord, the wry-necked, who was the
chamberlain now. But Ragnar said nothing beyond that he would remember
the request, and that he was well seconded. And then we went out into
the grey morning, and without recrossing the bridge, away to the level
meadows on the south of the river, far from any roadway.
"There is not an island in the stream," said Ragnar, "or I should have
wanted the old northern holmgang battle. I doubt if we could even get
these Welshmen to peg out the lists."
"That we must see to," I said. "We will have all things fair in some way."
Half a mile from the town we came to what they call a carr--a woody
rise in the level marsh--and on the skirts of this two men waited us.
They were the seconds of Griffin, Welsh or half Welsh both of them by
their looks, and both were well armed. Their greeting was courteous
enough, and they led us by a little track into the heart of the
thickets, and there was a wide and level clearing, most fit for a fight,
in which waited Griffin himself.
Now I had never taken any part in a fight before, and I did not rightly
know what I had to do to begin with. However, one of the other side
seemed to be well up in the matter, and at once he came to me and
Havelok and took us aside.
"Here is a little trouble," he said: "our men have said nothing of what
weapons they will use."
"I take it," said Havelok at once, "that they meant to use those which
were most handy to them, therefore."
The Welshman stared, and answered rather stiffly, "This is not a matter
of chance medley, young sir, but an ordered affair. But doubtless this
is the first time you have been in this case, and do not know the rules.
Let me tell you, therefore, that your earl, being the challenged man,
has choice of weapons.
"Why, then," answered Havelok, "it seems to me that if we say as I have
already said, it is fair on our part. For it is certain that the earl
will want to use the axe, and your man is about half his weight, so that
would be uneven."
"As the challenged man, the earl is entitled to any advantage in weapons."
"He needs none. Let us fight fairly or not at all. The earl takes the
axe.--What say you, Radbard? Griffin takes what he likes."
"You keep to the axe after all, and yet say that it gives an advantage."
"Axe against axe it does, but if your man chooses to take a twenty-foot
spear and keep out of its way, we do not object. We give him his own
Then the other second said frankly, "This is generous, Cadwal. No more
need be said. But this young thane has not yet asked his earl whether it
will suit him."
"Faith, no," said Havelok, laughing; "I was thinking what I should like
myself, and nothing at all of the earl."
So I went across to Ragnar, who was waiting patiently at one end of the
clearing, while Griffin was pacing with uneven steps backward and
forward at the other, and I told him what the question was.
"I thought it would be a matter of swords," he said, "but I am Dane
enough to like the axe best. Settle it as you will. Of course he knows
naught of axe play, so that you are right in not pressing it on him. He
is a light man, and active, and maybe will be glad not even to try sword
to sword; for look at the sort of bodkin he is wearing."
The earl and we had the northern long sword, of course; but when I
looked I saw that the Welsh had short, straight, and heavy weapons of
about half the length of ours, and so even sword to sword seemed hard on
the lighter man; wherein I was wrong, as I had yet to learn.
I went back, therefore, and told the others.
"The earl takes the axe, and the thane has his choice, as we have said."
"We have to thank you," said the other second, while Cadwal only laughed
a short laugh, and bade us choose the ground with them.
There was no difficulty about that, for the light was clear and bright,
and though the sun was up, the trees bid any bright rays that might be
in the eyes of the fighters. However, we set them across the light, so
that all there was might be even; and then we agreed that if one was
forced back to the edge of the clearing he was to be held beaten, as if
we had been on an island. It was nearly as good, for the shore of trees
and brushwood was very plain and sharp.
Now Ragnar unslung his round shield from his shoulders, and took his axe
from me, for I had carried it for him, and his face was quiet and
steady, as the face of one should be who has a deed to do that must be
seen through to the end. But Griffin and his men talked quickly in their
own tongue, and I had to tell them that we understood it well enough.
Then they looked at each other, and were silent suddenly. I wondered
what they, were about to say, for it seemed that my warning came just in
time for them.
Griffin took a shield from the thane they called Cadwal, and it was
square--a shape that I had not seen before in use, though Witlaf had
one like it on the wall at Stallingborough. He said that it had been won
from a chief by his forefathers when the English first came into the
land, and that it was the old Roman shape. It seemed unhandy to me, but
I had no time to think of it for a moment, for now Cadwal had a last
"Is this fight to be to the death?"
"No," I answered; "else were the rule we made about the boundary of no use."
Then Griffin cried in a sort of choked voice, "It shall be to the death."
But I said nothing, and the other second, with Cadwal, shook his head.
Ragnar made no sign, but Cadwal said to Havelok, "You were foremost in
the matter just now. What say you?"
"Rules are rules, and what my comrade says is right. If the first blow
slays, we cannot help it, but there shall be no second wound. The man
who is first struck is defeated."
"I will not have it so," said Griffin.
"Well, then, thane, after you have wounded the earl you will have to
reckon with me, if you must slay someone."
Griffin looked at the towering form of my brother and made no answer,
and the other second told him that it was right. There was naught but an
angry word or two to be atoned for. So there was an end, and Ragnar went
on guard. Griffin made ready also, and at once it was plain that here
was no uneven match after all.
Both of them wore ring mail of the best. We had set the two six paces
apart, and they must step forward to get within striking distance. At
once Griffin seemed to grow smaller, for he crouched down as a cat that
is going to spring, and raised his shield before him, so that from where
I stood behind Ragnar I could only see his black glittering eyes and
round helm above its edge. And his right arm was drawn back, so that
only the point of his heavy leaf-bladed sword was to be seen glancing
from the right edge steadily. And now his eyes were steady as the sword
point, which was no brighter than they. If once he got inside the sweep
of the great axe it would be bad for Ragnar.
One step forward went the earl, shield up and axe balanced, but Griffin
never moved. Then Ragnar leapt forward and struck out, but I could see
that it was a feint, and he recovered at once. Griffin's shield had gone
up in a moment above his head, and in a moment it was back in its place,
and over it his eyes glared as before, unwavering. And then, like a
wildcat, he sprang at Ragnar, making no sweeping blow with his sword,
but thrusting with straight arm, so that the whole weight of his flying
body was behind the point. Ragnar struck out, but the square shield was
overhead to stay the blow, and full on the round Danish buckler the
point of the short sword rang, for the earl was ready to meet it.
In a moment the Welshman was back in his crouching guard, leaving a
great ragged hole in the shield whence he had wrenched his weapon point
in a way that told of a wrist turn that had been long practised. Ragnar
had needed no leech, had his quick eye not saved him from that thrust.
Then for a breathing space the two watched each other, while we held our
breath, motionless. And then Griffin slowly began to circle round his
foe, still crouching.
Then, like a thunderbolt, Ragnar's axe swept down on the thane, and
neither shield nor helm would have been of avail had that blow gone
home. Back leapt Griffin, and the axe shore the edge only of his shield;
and then, shield aloft and point foremost, he flew on the earl before
the axe had recovered from its swing, and I surely thought that the end
had come, for the earl's shield was lowered, and his face was unguarded.
But that was what he looked for. Up and forward flew the round shield,
catching the thane's straightened arm along its whole length, and then,
as sword and arm were dashed upwards, smiting him fairly in the face;
and, like a stone, the Welshman was hurled from it, and fell backward in
a heap on the grass three paces away. It seemed to me that he was off
his feet in his spring as the shield smote him.
There he lay, and Havelok strode forward and stood between the two, with
his face to Griffin, for Ragnar had dropped his axe to rest when his foe
"No blood drawn," said my brother, "but no more fighting can there be.
The man's arm is out."
And so it was, for the mighty heave that turned the thrust had ended
Griffin's fighting for a long day. But he did not think so.
The sweat was standing on his face in great beads from the pain, but he
got up and shifted his sword to his left hand.
"It is to the death," he cried; "I can fight as well with the left.
"An it had been so, you were a dead man now," said Havelok, "for the
earl held his hand where he might have slain. If he had chosen, you
might have felt his axe before you touched the ground."
Thereat, without warning other than a snarl of "Your own saying,"
Griffin leapt at my brother fiercely, only to meet a swing of his axe
that sent his sword flying from his hand. And that was deft of Havelok,
for there is nothing more hard to meet than a left-handed attack at any
time, and this seemed unlooked for.
"Well, I did say somewhat of this sort," said Havelok; "but it was lucky
that I had not forgotten it."
Then he took the thane by the waist and left arm and set him down
gently; and after that all the fury went from him, and he grew pale with
the pain of the arm that was hurt. But both I and the Welshmen had
shouted to Griffin to hold, all uselessly, so quick had been his onset
on his new foe.
Cadwal held his peace, biting his lip, but the other Welshman began to
blame Griffin loudly for this.
"Nay," said Havelok, smiling; "it was my own fault maybe. The thane was
overhasty certainly, but one does not think with pain gnawing at one.
Let that pass.
"Now, earl, I think that you may say what you have to say that will set
things right once more."
"Can none of us put the arm back first?" I said. "I will try, if none
else has done such a thing before, for it will not be the first time."
"Put it back, if you can," said Cadwal. "If there is anything to be
said, it had better be in some sort of comfort."
So I put the arm back, for when once the trick is learned there is not,
as a rule, much trouble. But Griffin never thanked me. He left that to
his seconds, who did so well enough.
Then Ragnar came forward and said gravely, "I was wrong when I called
you 'nidring,' and I take back the word and ask you to forget it. No man
who is that will face the Danish axe as you have faced it, and I will
say that the British sword is a thing to be feared."
But Griffin made no answer, and when Ragnar held out his hand he would
not see it.
"Maybe I have not yet made amends," Ragnar went on. "I will add,
therefore, as I know that my words will go no farther, that I am sure
that the thing concerning which we quarrelled yesterday was done by you
at the orders of another. It was not your own doing, and no thought of
cowardice is in my mind now."
But Griffin never answered; and now he turned his back on the earl, who
was plainly grieved, and said no more to him, but turned to us and the
"I do not think that I can say more. If there is aught that is needed,
tell me. We have fought a fair fight, and I have taken back the words
that caused it."
Then said Cadwal, "No more is needed. I did not think that we had met
with so generous a foe. If Griffin will say naught, we say this for him.
He has no cause for enmity left. And I say also that he has to thank
this thane for his life as well as the earl."
"No thane am I," said Havelok, "but only Havelok Grimsson of Grimsby.
And even that name is set aside for a while, so that I must ask you to
forget it. I have seen a good fight, if a short one, and one could not
smite a wounded man who forgot himself for a moment."
There was nothing more to be had from Griffin, for we waited a minute or
two in silence to see if he would speak, and then we saluted and left
The last thing that I saw seemed to be a matter of high words between
Griffin and his seconds; and, indeed, if they were telling him what they
thought, it is likely that he wished he had been more courteous. It is
easy enough for a man who wants a quarrel to have done with one and then
CHAPTER XII. IN LINCOLN MARKETPLACE.
We went quietly back to the town, and there was only one thing that I
wished, and that was that Havelok had not had to tell his name twice.
Ragnar was full of thanks to us for our help, and said that he would
that we would come to Norfolk with him.
"We have a man who knows you also," he said, "but he has been with our
princess for a long time now. He is called Mord, and is her chamberlain.
He has often told me how he came by his wry-neck at the time of your
So he said, and looked at Havelok. But this was a thing that he had not
seen, as he was so sick at the time. I said that I remembered Mord well,
and would seek him some time in the day.
And as I said this I was thinking that I must find out from Mord whether
he knew and had told more than I could of who Havelok was and whence he
came to us. It seemed to me that the earl had heard some tale or other,
and unless it was from him I could not think from whence.
Now the earl said, "This business has ended better than I could have
hoped, and I think that Alsi will not hear of it. Griffin can well
account for a slipped shoulder by any sort of fall that he likes to own
to, and Alsi would be hardly pleased to hear that he had run the risk of
setting all Norfolk against him for nothing after all."
"There is no doubt that he meant you to know that he does not consider
the quarrel done with," I said. "You have an enemy there."
"Nothing new, that," answered Ragnar, laughing. "He thinks that I stand
in his way with the princess. I suppose it is common talk that if he
wedded her Alsi would still hold the East Anglian kingdom, making him
ealdorman, if only I were out of the way. But were I to wed the lady,
then it is certain that she would take the crown at once. I do not mean
to do so, for then it is likely that three people would be unhappy for
the rest of their days. But that would be less wretched for her than to
"This is no pleasant strait for the poor lady," said Havelok grimly. "Do
none ask what she herself can wish?"
"That is the trouble," said the earl, "for she is in Alsi's hand, and
there is some old promise and oath sworn between him and Ethelwald her
father that holds him back. Else had she been wedded to Griffin before now."
Then we came to the widow's house, and Havelok left his arms there, and
we went on to the marketplace. As we crossed the bridge we saw that
there was something going forward, for there was a gathering in the wide
space, and a shouting and cheering now and then, and even Berthun
himself was there looking on and seeming to be highly entertained.
"Here is a crowd that I will not face just now, in my arms," said the
earl; "for this hole in my shield looks bad, not having been there when
I went out. Farewell for the time, therefore, and think of what I said
about your coming to Norwich with me."
He turned away therefore, and Havelok looked after him for a moment. The
shield hung at his back, plain to be seen.
"It is a hole, for certain," he said; "but there is no need to show it
in that wise."
So he strode after him.
"By your leave, earl, I will arrange your cloak across the shield, and
then you can get it to your armourer without notice."
"That is well thought of," answered Ragnar, as Havelok did as he had
said. "I do not forget that I think that I owe you my life, though I
have said nothing as yet."
"How is that?"
"Griffin would have flown on me as he did on you, certainly; and it is
in my mind that you foresaw it, which I did not. I could not have stayed
"Well I did," answered my brother; "else had either I or you a hole in
us like the one that is well covered now. But I feared what came to pass."
Ragnar held out his hand, and Havelok took it, and so they parted
without more words; but I knew that these two were friends from that
time forward, whatever happened.
There were some sports of some sort on hand, when we came to see what
all the noise was; and Berthun, seeing us, called Havelok to him.
"I have been looking for you," he said, with that curious tone of his
that always seemed to be asking pardon for his boldness in speaking to
my brother; "for here are games at which they need some one to show the
"This is a sport that I have not seen before," answered Havelok, looking
over the heads of the crowd. "I should make a poor hand at it."
They had been tossing a great fir pole, which was now laid on one side,
with its top split from its falls, and they, thanes and freemen in turn,
were putting a great stone, so heavy that a matter of a few inches
beyond the longest cast yet made would be something to be proud of. Good
sport enough it was to see the brawny housecarls heave it from the
ground and swing it. But no one could lift it above his knee, so that
one may suppose that it flew no great distance at a cast.
"Nay, but the thanes are trying," Berthun said. "It is open to all to do
what they can. One of your porters is best man so far."
"Well, I will not try to outdo him."
"I would that you would lift the stone, Curan. That is a thing that I
should most like to see."
"Well then, master, as you bid me, I will try. But do not expect too much."
The man who had the stone made his cast, which was nothing to speak of;
and then the stone lay unclaimed for a time, while all the onlookers
waited to see who came forward next. Then Havelok made his way through
the crowd, and a silence as of wonder fell on the people; for some knew
him, and had heard of his strength, and those who did not stared at him
as at a wonder. But the silence did not last long, for the porters who
were there set up a sort of shout of delight, and that one who had made
the longest cast so far began to tell him how best to heft the stone and
Then Havelok bent to raise the stone, and the noise hushed again. I saw
his mighty limbs harden and knot under the strain, and up to his knee he
heaved it, and to his middle, and yet higher, to his chest, while we all
held our breaths, and then with a mighty lift it was at his shoulder,
and he poised it, and swung as one who balances for a moment, and then
hurled it from him. Then was a shout that Alsi might have heard in his
hilltop palace, for full four paces beyond the strong porter's cast it
flew, lighting with a mighty crash, and bedding itself in the ground
where it lit. And I saw the young thanes with wide eyes looking at my
brother, and from beside me Berthun the cook fairly roared with delight.
And then from across the space between the two lines of onlookers I saw
a man in a fisher's dress that caught my eye. It was Withelm, and we
nodded to each other, well pleased.
Now there seemed to be a strife as to who should get nearest to Havelok,
for men crowded to pat him and to look up at him, and that pleased him
not at all. One came and bade him take the silver pennies that the
thanes had set out for the prize, but he shook his head and smiled.
"I threw the thing because I was bidden, and not for any prize," he
said. "I would have it given to the porter who fairly won it."
Then he elbowed his way to Berthun, and said, "let us go, master; we
have stayed here too long already."
"As it pleases you," the steward said; and Havelok waved his hand to me,
and they went their way.
He had not seen Withelm, and I was glad, for I wanted to speak to him
Now men began to ask who this was, and many voices answered, while the
porter went to claim the prize from the thane who held it.
Two silver pennies the thane gave him, and said, "This seems to be a
friend of yours, and it was good to hear you try to help him without
acrimony. Not that he needed any hints from any one, however. Who is he?"
"Men call him Curan, that being the name he gives himself; but he came
as a stranger to the place, and none know from whence, unless Berthun
the cook may do so. Surely he is a friend of mine, for he shook me once,
and that shaking made an honest man of me. He himself taught me what
fair play is, at that same time."
So said the porter, and laughed, and the thane joined him.
"Well, he has made a sort of name for himself as a wonder, certainly,
now. I think that this cast of his will be told of every time men lift a
stone here in Lincoln," said the thane.
They left the stone where he had set it, and any one may see it there to
this day, and there I suppose it will be for a wonder while Havelok's
name is remembered.
Then they began wrestling and the like, and I left the crowd and went to
Withelm, going afterwards to the widow's. I was not yet wanted by Eglaf
for any housecarl duty.
"I sent a man to Grimsby yesterday," I said; "but you must have passed
him on the way somewhere, for he could not have started soon enough to
take you a message before you left."
"I met him on the road last night, for I myself thought it time to come
and see how you two fared. I bided at Cabourn for the night, and your
messenger came on with me."
Then he told me that all were well at Grimsby; for fish came now and
then and kept the famine from the town, though there were none to send
elsewhere; and it was well that we had left, though they all missed us
Then we began to talk of the doings here; and at last I spoke of
Havelok's trouble, as one may well call it, telling him also of the
strange dream with which it all began.
"All this is strange," he said thoughtfully; "but if Havelok our brother
is indeed a king's son, it is only what he is like in all his ways. Wise
was our father Grim, and I mind how he seemed always to be careful of
him in every way, and good reason must he have had not to say what he
knew. We will not ask aught until the time of which Arngeir knows has
come. Nor can we say aught to Havelok, though he is troubled, for we
know nothing. As for the dream, that is part of it all, and it is a
portent, as I think."
"Did I know the man who could read it, I would go to him and tell him it."
"There is one man who can read dreams well," Withelm answered, flushing
a little, "but I do not know if you would care to seek him. I stayed
with him last night, and he is on his way even now to Lincoln, driven by
the famine. I mean the old British priest David, who has his little hut
and chapel in the Cabourn woods. His people have no more to give him."
I knew that Withelm thought much of this old man of late, and I was not
surprised to hear him speak of him now. All knew his wisdom, and the
marsh folk were wont to seek him when they were in any trouble or
difficulty. But I did not care to go to him, for he seemed to belong to
the thralls, as one might say.
"Well, if he comes here, no doubt you will know where to find him if we
need him," I said. "Bide with us for a few days at least, for here is
plenty, and there is much going on."
So we went into the town, and then to the palace, and found Havelok, and
after that I had to go to the gate on guard. And what these two did I
cannot say, but, at all events, there is nothing worth telling of.
Now, however, I have to tell things that I did not see or hear myself,
and therefore I would have it understood that I heard all from those who
took some part or other in the matter, and so know all well.
I have not said much of the meetings of the Witan, for I had naught more
to do with them than to guard the doors of the hall where they met now
and then; but since the princess and Ragnar came they seem to have
somewhat to do with the story, as will be seen.
On this day one of the Norfolk thanes asked in full meeting what plans
the king had for his ward Goldberga, and her coming into her kingdom,
saying that she, being eighteen years of age, was old enough to take her
Now Alsi had thought of this beforehand, and was ready at once.
"It is a matter of concern to us always," he said, "and much have I
thought thereof. It is full time that she took her father's place with
the consent of the Witan, which is needed."
He looked round us for reply to this, and at once the Norfolk thanes
said, "We will have Goldberga for our queen, as was the will of Ethelwald."
"That," said Alsi, "is as I thought. I needed only to hear it said
openly. Now, therefore, it remains but to speak of one other thing and
that is a weighty one. It was her father's will and I swore to carry it
out, that she should be wedded to the most goodly and mightiest man in
the realm. It seems to me that on her marriage hangs all the wealth of
her kingdom; and ill it would be if, after she took the throne, she took
to herself one who made himself an evil adviser. I would say that it
were better to see her married first, for it does not follow that you
would choose to have the man whom I thought fitting to be over you, as
he certainly would be."
Now all this was so straightforward in all seeming that none of the
thanes could be aught but pleased. Moreover, it took away a fear that
they had had lest Griffin was to be the man. None could say that he
fulfilled the conditions of the will of Ethelwald. The spokesman said,
therefore, that it was well set before them, and that it was best to
wait, saying at the end, "For, after all, we might have to change our
minds concerning the princess, if with her we must take a man who will
prove a burden or tyrant to us all."
Then they asked the king to find a good husband for the princess as soon
as might be, so that he was not against her liking.
"Well," said Alsi, "it is a hard task for a man who has no wife to help
him; but we will trust to the good sense of my niece. Now, I had thought
of Ragnar of Norwich; but it is in my mind that the old laws of near kin
are somewhat against this."
I suppose that he had no intention of letting the earl marry the
princess; but this was policy, as it might please the thanes. However,
the matter of kinship did not please some, and that was all that he
needed, for there was excuse then for him if he forbade that match,
which was the last he wanted.
Ragnar sat in his place and heard all this, and he wished himself back
So there the matter ended, and that was the last sitting of the Witan.
There was to be a great breaking-up feast that night before the thanes
scattered to their homes.
Now while this was going on I ended my spell of duty, and bethought me
of Mord the chamberlain, and so went to Berthun and asked for him. He
said that if I had any special business with Mord I might see him; and I
said, truly enough, that my errand was special, having to do with
friends of his; so it was not long before they took me to him. He was in
a long room that was built on the side of the great hall, as it were,
and I could hear the murmur of the voices of those who spoke at the
Witan while I waited.
Now Mord was not so much changed as I, and at first he did not know me
"Well, master housecarl, what may your message be, and from whom is it?"
he said, without more than a glance at me.
"Why, there are some old friends of yours who are anxious to know if you
have forgotten the feeling of a halter round your neck," I said in good
Then, after one look, he knew me at once, and ran to me, and took my
hand, and almost kissed me in his pleasure, for since I could handle an
oar he had known me, and had taught me how to do that, moreover.
Then he called for wine and food; and we sat down together and had a
long talk of the old days, and of how we had fared after he left, and of
all else that came uppermost. And sorely he grieved at my father's
death, and at the trouble that was on us. The famine had not been so
sore in the south, and pestilence had not been at all.
As for himself, he had been courtman, as we call the housecarls, at
first, and so had risen to be chamberlain to the king, and now to the
princess, and had been with her everywhere that Alsi had sent her since
her father died.
"It was a good day for me, and wise was Grim when he bade me go to
Ethelwald to seek service," he said; "yet I would that I had seen him
once more. I have never been to this place before, else I should have
Now I was going to ask him about Havelok, but hardly knew how to begin.
He saved me the trouble however, by speaking first.
"Who were the lady and the boy we had on board when we came to England?"
he said. "I never heard, and maybe it was as well that I did not."
"My father never told me. But why do you think that it was well not to
"Because I am sure that Grim had good reason for not telling. Before I
had been a year at Norwich there came a ship from Denmark into the
river, and soon men told me that her master was asking for news of one
Grim, a merchant, who was lost. So I saw him, not saying who I was or
that I had anything to do with Grim; and then I found that it was not so
much of the master that he wanted news as of the boy we had with us. He
did not ask of the lady at all, and I was sure that this was the man who
came and spoke to Grim just as we were sailing, if you remember. So then
it came to me that we knew nothing of the coming on board of these two,
only learning of their presence when we were far at sea. And now, if
Hodulf troubled himself so much about this boy, there must be something
that he was not meant to know about his flight, for he must be of some
note. Did I not know that the king's son was in his hands at that time,
I should have thought that our passenger was he. However, I told him of
the shipwreck as of a thing that I had seen, saying that Grim and his
family and a few men only had been saved; and I told him also that I had
heard that he had lost some folk in an attack by Vikings. With that he
seemed well satisfied, and I heard no more of him. I have wondered ever
since who the boy was, and if he was yet alive. I mind that he was like
to die when he came ashore."
Then I laughed, and said that he would hear of him soon enough, for all
the town was talking of him; and he guessed whom I meant, for he had
heard of the cook's mighty man.
Now I said no more but this:
"My father kept this matter secret all these years, and with reason, as
we have seen; and so, while he is here, we call this foster-brother of
mine Curan, until the time comes when his name may he known. Maybe it
will be best for you not to say much of your knowledge of him. What does
Earl Ragnar know of our wreck? For he told me that you knew me."
"I told him all about it at one time or another," Mord answered. "He
always wanted to hear of Denmark."
So that was all that the chamberlain knew; but it was plain to me that
the earl had put two and two together when he heard Havelok's name, and
had remembered that this was also the name of Gunnar's son. Afterwards I
found that Mord had heard from Denmark that Hodulf was said to have made
away with Havelok, but he never remembered that at this time. Ragnar
knew this, and did remember it.
Pleasant it was to talk of old days with an old friend thus, and the
time went quickly. Then Mord must go to his mistress and I to my place,
and so we parted for the time. But my last doubt of who Havelok my
brother might be was gone. I was sure that he was the son of Gunnar the
CHAPTER XIII. THE WITAN'S FEASTING.
Now I have to tell of a strange thing that happened in the night that
was just past, the first that the Lady Goldberga had spent here in
Lincoln for many a year, for on that happening hangs a great deal, and
it will make clear what I myself saw presently at the breaking-up feast
of the Witan. That puzzled me mightily at the time, as it did many at
the feast, but I see no reason why it should not be told at once.
Now I have said that Goldberga left the hall early overnight, being
wearied with the journey, and having the remembrance of the attack on
her party so near to Lincoln to trouble her also. Not much cause to love
her uncle Alsi had she; though perhaps, also, not much to make her hate
him, except that he had kept her so far away from her own people of
late, in a sort of honourable captivity. Now it was plain to her that
had it not been for the presence of Ragnar and his men, her guard would
not have been able to drive off the attackers; and the strange way in
which Griffin had held back had been too plain for her not to notice.
Already she feared him, and it seemed that he might have plotted her
carrying off thus. That Alsi might have had a hand in the matter did not
come into her mind, as it did into the minds of others, for she knew
little of him, thinking him honest if not very pleasant in his ways,
else had not her father made him her guardian.
I will say now that in the attack he did have a hand. Many a long year
afterward it all came out in some way. He dared not give his niece to
Griffin openly, but he wished to do so, as then he would have an
under-king in East Anglia of his own choosing. Sorely against the grain
with him was it that he should have to give up those fair lands to this
girl, who would hold the throne by her own right, and not at all under
him. So he and Griffin had plotted thus, and only Ragnar's presence had
spoilt the plan, though Griffin had tried to save it by holding back.
But I must say also that up to this time none had had aught to say
against Alsi as a ruler, though he was over close, and not at all hearty
in his ways at home. But now, for the sake of the kingdom, he had begun
to plot; and this plan having come to naught, he must make others, as
will be seen. I do not think that this planning to keep Ethelwald's
kingdom from his daughter was anything fresh to Alsi, but the time for
action had come now.
He had made ready by keeping the fair princess far away, and there were
none who could speak of her goodness, or, indeed, had heard much of her
since she was a child. Therefore, as men were content enough with him,
none would trouble much if the princess came not to the throne, given
good reason why she should not do so. And the very best reason would be
that which Alsi had given at the Witan--if her husband was not fit to
It is possible that Goldberga knew that her marriage would be talked of
at this Witan: but I do not think that she troubled herself much about
it, not by any means intending to be married against her will. I have
heard that so ran the will of Ethelwald, that she was to have choice to
some extent. However that may be, with so many thoughts to trouble her
she went to rest, and her sleep was not easy until the morning was near,
and then came quiet.
But presently, in the grey of the dawn, she woke, and called her old
nurse, who was in the chamber with her; and when she came she told her
that she had had a strange vision or dream, so real that she did not
know which it was. And what it portended she could not say, for it was
wonderful altogether, and surely was good.
"I thought that a voice wakened me, calling me to look on somewhat; and
so I rose as I was bidden, and saw before me the most mighty and
comeliest man that could be thought of. Kinglike he was, though he had
no crown and was meanly clad, without brooch or bracelet that a king
should wear. But the wonder was that from his mouth came a bright shaft
of flame, as it were of a sunbeam, that lighted all the place, and on
his shoulder shone a cross of burning light as of red-hot gold, and I
knew that it was the mark of a mighty king.
"Then I heard the voice again, and I turned, and saw that it was an
angel who spoke to me, and his face was bright and kind.
"'Fear not, Goldberga,' he said, 'for this is your husband that shall
be. King's son and heir is he, as that token of the fiery cross shows.
More, also, it will betoken--that he shall reign in England and in
Denmark, a great king and mighty. And this you shall see, and with him
shall you reign as queen and well-loved lady.'
"So the voice ceased, and the angel was gone, and when I looked up there
was naught but the growing dawn across yon window, and the voice of the
thrush that sings outside."
Now the old nurse pondered over the dream for a while without speaking,
for she could not see what it might mean at first.
But at last she said, "It is a good dream surely, because of the angel
that spoke; but there seems only one way in which it can come to pass. A
prince must come for you from Denmark, for there he would reign by his
own right, and here he would do so by yours. Yet I have heard that the
Danish kings are most terrible heathen, worse than the Saxon kin, of
whom we know the worst now. Maybe that is why the angel told you to have
no fear. I mind Gunnar Kirkeban, and what he wrought on the churches and
Christian folk in Wales--in Gower on the Severn Sea, and on the holy
Dee--when I was young."
For both Goldberga and this old nurse of hers were Christian, as had
been Orwenna, Ethelwald's wife, her mother. It had been a great day for
them when the King of Kent had brought over his fair wife, Bertha, from
France, for she, too, was Christian, and had restored the ancient church
in the very castle where Goldberga was kept.
Now the princess went to sleep again, and woke refreshed; but all day
long the memory of the dream and of him whom she saw in it bided with
her, until it was time for her to go to the great hall for the feast of
Now it happened that on this night I must be one of the two housecarls
who should stand, torch in hand, behind the king. It was a place that
none of the men cared for much, since they saw their comrades feasting
at the end of the room, while they must bide hungry till the end, and
mind that no sparks from the flaring pine fell on the guests, moreover.
Eglaf would have excused me this had I wished; but I would take my turn
with the rest, and maybe did not mind losing the best of the feast so
much as the others. There were some three hundred guests at that feast,
and it was a wondrous fair sight to me as I stood on the high place and
saw them gather. The long table behind which I was ran right across the
dais, rich with gold and silver and glass work: and below this, all down
the hall, ran long tables again, set lengthwise, that none might have
their backs to the king. And at the end of the hall, crosswise, were the
tables for the housecarls, and the men of the house, and of the thanes
who were guests. And as the housecarls came in they hung their shields
and weapons on the walls in order, so that they flashed bright from
above the hangings that Berthun and his men had set up afresh and more
gaily than I had seen yet in this place.
There was a fire on the great hearth in the midst of the hall; but as it
was high summer, only a little one, and over it were no cauldrons, as
there would have been in the winter. Berthun was doing his cookery
elsewhere. But between the tables were spaces where his thralls and the
women could pass as they bore round the food and drink. And backwards
and forwards among them went Berthun until the very last, anxious and
important, seeing that all was right, and showing one guest after
another to their places. No light matter was that either, for to set a
thane in too low a place for his rank was likely to be a cause of strife
and complaint. Also he must know if there were old feuds still
remembered, lest he should set deadly enemies side by side. I did not
envy him, by any means.
When it seemed that there were few more guests to come, and only half a
dozen seats were vacant on the high place, Berthun passed into the room
beyond the hall, and at once a hush fell on the noisy folk, who had been
talking to one another as though they had never met before. The gleemen
tuned their harps, and I and my comrade lit our torches from those
already burning on the wall, and stood ready, for the king was coming.
Out of the door backed Berthun with many bows, and loud sang the
gleemen, while all in the hall stood up at once; and then came Alsi,
leading the princess, first; and then Ragnar, with the wife of some
great noble; and after him that noble and another lady; but Griffin was
not there. Bright looked Goldberga in her blue dress, with wondrous
jewels on arm and neck, and maybe the brighter for the absence of the
Welsh thane, as I thought.
So they sat as last night, save that the noble who had come next to
Ragnar was in Griffin's place; and therefore I stood behind the king and
the princess, with the light of my torch falling between the two.
Now they were set, and at once Berthun bore a great beaker of wine to
the king, and all down the hall ran his men with the pitchers of wine
and mead and ale, and with them the women of the household and the wives
of the courtmen, filling every drinking horn for the welcome cup.
Then the gleemen hushed their song, and Alsi stood up with the
gold-rimmed horn of the king in his hand, and high he raised it, and
And all the guests rose up, cup in hand, with a wonderful flashing of
the glorious English jewels, and cried with one voice, "Drinc hael, Cyning!"
Then all sat them down, and at once came Berthun's men with the laden
spits and the cauldrons, and first they served the high table, kneeling
on the dais steps while each noble helped himself and the lady next him
with what he would. And then down the hall the feast began, and for a
time befell a silence--the silence of hungry folk who have before them
a good reason for not saying much for a little while.
I looked for Havelok among Berthun's men, but he was not there. Nor was
he at the lower cross tables with the other people of the palace. But
Withelm was there, for Eglaf had seen him with me not an hour ago, and
had bidden him come, as a stranger from far off. There were a few other
strangers there also, as one might suppose, for the king's hall must be
open at these times.
Now I looked on all this, and it pleased me; and then I began to hear
the talk of those at the high table, and that was pleasant also. First I
heard that Griffin had fallen off his horse, and had put his arm out.
Whereon one said that he only needed one hand to feed with, and
marvelled that so small a hurt kept him away from so pleasant a place as
"It seems that he fell on his face," answered a thane who had seen him.
"He is not as handsome as he was last night. That is what keeps him
away. Some passerby put his arm in straightway."
At that I almost laughed, but kept a face wooden as that of our old
statue of Thor, for Eglaf had warned me that I was but a torch, as it
were, unless by any chance I was spoken to. But Ragnar glanced my way
with a half smile. Presently they began to talk of the stone putting,
and of the mighty man who had come with Berthun, and I saw several
looking idly down the hall to see if they could spy him. One of the
thanes on the high seat, at the end, was he who had held the prizes at
Now it seemed that Alsi had not heard of this before; and when he had
been told all about it, he said that he did not know that he had any man
who was strong enough to make such a cast as they spoke of, though Eglaf
had picked up a big man somewhere lately, whom he had noticed at the
hall end once or twice.
Then he ran his eyes over the tables, for now the women folk had sat
down among the men, and one could see everywhere. But he did not see the
man he meant, and so turned sharply on us two housecarls behind him.
"Here he is," he said, laughing and looking at me. "Were you the mighty
stone putter they make such a talk of?"
"I am not, lord," I said, somewhat out of countenance, because every one
looked at me together. It had never seemed to me that I was so big
before; perhaps because I was used to Havelok, and to Raven, who was
nigh as tall as myself, and maybe a bit broader.
"Why, then, who was he?" said the king. "We must ask Berthun, unless
anyone can see him in the hall."
Then the thane of the prizes said, "He is not here, lord; for little
trouble would there be in seeing him, if he were, seeing that he is a
full head and shoulders over even this housecarl of yours."
Now the princess had turned to look at me, and she saw that I was
abashed, and so she smiled at me pleasantly, as much as to say that she
was a little sorry for me, and turned away. Then thought I that if ever
the princess needed one to fight for her, even to death, I would do so
for the sake of that smile and the thought for a rough housecarl that
was behind it.
Now came Berthun with more wine, before the matter of the stone was
forgotten in other talk, and the king said, "It seems that you have
found a new man, steward, for all are talking of him. I mean the man who
is said to have thrown a big stone certain miles, or somewhat like it,
from all accounts. Where is he?"
"He is my new porter," answered Berthun, with much pride; "but he is not
in the hail, for he does not like to hear much of himself, being quiet
in his ways, although so strong."
"Here is a marvel," laughed Alsi, "and by-and-by we must see him. I
wonder that Eglaf let you have him."
Now Eglaf sat at the head of the nearest of the lower tables, and all in
hearing of the king were of course listening by this time. So he said,
"The man had his choice, and chose the heavier place, if you will
believe me, lord. It is terrible to see how Berthun loads him at times;
so that I may get him yet."
Then all laughed at the steward, whose face grew red; but he had to
laugh also, because the jest pleased the king. He went away quickly; and
one told Eglaf that he had better eat no more, else would he run risk of
somewhat deadly at the cook's hands. But those two were old friends, as
has been seen, and they were ever seeking jests at each other's expense.
Now the talk drifted away to other things, and I hoped that Havelok had
been forgotten, for no more than I would he like being stared at. The
feast went on, and twice I had to take new torches, but Berthun saw that
I had wine, if I could not eat as yet. Then had men finished eating, and
the tables were cleared, and the singing began, very pleasant to
hearken. Not only the gleemen sang, but the harp went round, and all who
could did so. Well do the Lindsey folk sing, after their own manner,
three men at a time, in a gladsome way, with well-matched voices, and
that for just long enough to be pleasant.
So the harp went its way down the hall, and the great folk fell to talk
again; and at last one said, so that Alsi heard him, "Why, we have not
seen the strong man yet. Strange that he is not feasting with the rest."
Whereat the king beckoned Berthun.
"Bring your new wonder here," he said. "Say that I have heard of his
deed, and would look on him."
Berthun bowed and went his way; and I wondered how my brother would bear
this, for the hall and its ordering was wont, as I have said, to bring
back his troubled thoughts of things half remembered.
Presently he came in at the door at the lower end of the hall, and at
first none noticed him, for there was singing going on, and through that
door came and went many with things for the feast from the kitchens.
Then some one turned to see who towered over them thus, and when he saw
Havelok he went on looking, so that others looked also. Then one of the
three singers looked, and his voice stayed, for he was a stranger, and
had heard nothing of this newcomer, and then Havelok followed Berthun up
the hall in a kind of hush that fell, and he was smiling a little, as if
it amused him. He had on the things that the steward had given him, and
they were good enough--as good as, if more sober than, my housecarl
finery. But I suppose that not one in all the gathering looked at what
he wore; for as he passed up the long tables, it seemed that there was
no man worth looking at but he, and even Ragnar seemed to be but a
common man when one turned to him with eyes that had seen Havelok.
Now Alsi the king sat staring at him, still as a carven image, with his
hand halfway to his mouth, as he raised his horn from the table; and
Ragnar looked wide-eyed, for he knew him again, and I saw a little smile
curl the corners of his lips and pass; and then Havelok was at the step
of the high place, and there he gave the salute of the courtmen of a
Danish king, heeding Berthun, who tried to make him do reverence, not at
Now a spark from my torch drew my eyes from him, lest it should fall on
the princess's robe; and when it went out, I saw that the fair hand that
rested on the arm of the great chair was shaking like a leaf. When I
looked, her face was white and troubled, and she half rose from her seat
and then sank back in it gently, and the thane who sat next her spoke
anxiously to her in a low voice, and the lady by his side rose up and
came to her.
Then Alsi turned, and he too spoke, asking if aught was amiss.
"The princess faints with the heat of the hall," said the thane's wife.
"She yet feels the long journey. May she not go hence?"
Then Goldberga said bravely, "It is naught, and it will pass."
But they made her rise and leave the hall; and the guests stood up as
she went with her ladies round her, and many were the murmurs of pity
that I heard.
"As though she had seen a ghost, so white is she," one whispered.
But none knew how much the lady was to be pitied. She had seen the man
of her vision; and, lo! for all that she knew, he was a thrall who
toiled in the palace kitchens.
And after her, as she withdrew, looked Havelok with eyes in which there
was more than pity. I could see him well, but I did not know how he had
seen the fair princess tremble and grow white as she gazed on him. I
know that, as he saw her for this first time, it was with the wish that
he were in Ragnar's place. But I thought that if Havelok were king, here
was the queen for him.
Now Alsi bade the feast go on, and be spoke a few words only to Havelok,
letting him go at once, and I was glad. This sudden faintness of the
princess had put all out somewhat, and none cared to take up a jest
where it had stayed. Nevertheless, I saw the king's eyes follow my
brother down the hall, and in them was a new and strange look that was
not pleasant at all.
Then it seemed that one was staring at me, and as will happen, I must
look in a certain place; and there was Cadwal, the Welsh thane, halfway
down one of the long tables, glaring first at me, and then at Havelok,
as he went. It came into my mind that he would be wroth with Ragnar for
bringing a kitchen knave as his second, as it were, in derision of
Griffin. I thought that I would find a chance presently to tell him why
my fellow second chose to be serving thus, and so make things right with
him, for this seemed to be due to Ragnar, if not to all concerned.
Not long after Goldberga had gone, the king withdrew also, and then the
hall grew noisy enough, and I could leave my place. But by that time
Cadwal had left also; and next day, when I sought him, both he and
Griffin were no longer in Lincoln, none knowing whither they had gone.
So I troubled no more about them.
But had I known that these two had been among the Welshmen that Hodulf
led to Denmark when he slew Gunnar Kirkeban, and therefore knew all the
story of the loss of Havelok, and how Hodulf had sought for news of him,
I should have been in fear enough that we had not yet done with them.
Rightly, too, should I have feared that, as will be seen.
Now while I looked about the hall for Cadwal, Mord the chamberlain saw
me, and made me sit down by him while I ate. Hungry enough was I by that
time, as may be supposed, for one cannot make a meal off the sight of a
feast; and as I ate, the noise of the hall grew apace as the cups went
round. Then some of the older thanes left, and soon Mord and I had that
table to ourselves. It was plain that he was full of something that he
would say to me, and when I was ready to listen he bent near me and
said, "So that was the boy who fled with us."
"Ay. He has grown since you saw him last."
"That is not all," answered Mord. "Well I knew Gunnar, our king, and
tonight I thought he had come back to us from Valhalla, goodlier yet and
mightier than ever, as one who has feasted with the Asir might well be.
For if this boy of ours is not Gunnar's son, then he is Gunnar himself."
Now that was no new thought to me, as I have shown, and I was ready for
it, seeing that even I had seen the likeness to the king as I remembered
"Keep that thought to yourself for a while, Mord," I said. "It is in my
mind that you are right, but the time has not yet come for me to know."
"That is wisdom, too," he answered; "for if once he gathers a following,
there is a bad time in store for Hodulf. And it will be better that we
fall on him unawares, before he knows that Havelok, son of Gunnar, lives."
"We fall on him?"
"Ay, you and I, mail on chest and weapon in hand, with Havelok to lead
us. What? think you that I would hold back when Gunnar's son is calling?"
"Steady, friend," I said, laughing; "men will be looking at us."
So he was silent again; and now I thought that the time of which my
father spoke had surely come, for it was plain that Havelok was a man
whom men would gladly follow as he went to win back his kingdom. And I
went and fetched Withelm from where he sat, and so we three talked long
and pleasantly, until it was time for us to go forth from the hall. And
we thought that it was good for Arngeir to come here, for the secret was
coming to light of itself, as it were, and we would have him speak with
CHAPTER XIV. THE CRAFT OF ALSI THE KING.
Now Alsi the king went from the feast with a new and cruel thought in
his mind under the smiling face that he wore, and long he sat in his own
chamber, chin on hand and eyes far off, thinking; and at last he called
"What is the name of this big knave of yours?" he asked, when the
steward stood before him.
"He calls himself Curan, lord."
"Calls himself. Well, it is likely that he knows his own name best. Is
he Welsh, therefore?"
"So I think, lord."
"You might have been certain by this time, surely. I like Welshmen about
the place, and I was giving you credit for finding me a good one. Whence
Now it was on Berthun's tongue to say that he thought that Curan came
from the marshland, yet clinging to his own thoughts of what he was. He
did not at all believe that he came from that refuge of thralls. But he
must seem certain unless he was to be laughed at again.
So he said, "He comes from the marsh-country."
"Does he speak Welsh?"
"I have heard him do so to the market people, if he happened to meet a
"Why, then, of course he is Welsh: and here have I found out in two
minutes what you have taken I do not know how long to think about. Go
to, Berthun; you grow slow of mind with good living."
The king chuckled, and Berthun bowed humbly; but now the steward was
determined to say no more than he was obliged in answer to more
questions. Also he began to hope that Alsi would ask nothing about the
clothes this man of his wore, else he would be well laughed at for
spending his money on a stranger.
But Alsi seemed pleased with himself, or else with what he had heard,
and went on.
"Has this Curan friends in the town?"
"None, lord, so far as I know."
"Let me tell you that you may know a man's friends by the company he
keeps. With whom does he talk?"
"None come to seek him, lord, except one of the housecarls--the big
man to whom you spoke tonight. Seldom does he go into the town, and then
only the porters seem to know him, for he was among them, as a stranger,
when I met him first."
"A big man will always make an acquaintance with another," Alsi said,
"and the porters are the lowest in the place. One may be sure that he
has left his friends in some starving village in the marsh, and has none
here. That will do, Berthun. Take care of him, for I may have use for
him. But next time you hire a man, use your wits to learn somewhat of
him, if it is too much trouble to ask."
So Berthun was dismissed, and went out in a bad temper with himself. Yet
he knew that he would have been laughed at for a fool if he had said
that he thought Curan more than he seemed.
Now Alsi was alone, and he fell to thought again. By-and-by it was plain
to be understood what his thoughts had been, and they were bad. And
after he had slept on them they were no better, seeing what came of
them. But I think that he was pleased to find that Havelok was, as he
thought, a Welsh marshman, and well-nigh friendless, for so he would be
the more ready to do what he was bidden; though, indeed, there seemed
little doubt that the plan Alsi made for himself would find no stumbling
block in Curan, if it might meet with a check elsewhere. That, however,
was to be seen.
Well pleased was Alsi the king with somewhat, men said in the morning.
But there was one who rose heavy and sorely troubled, and that was the
Lady Goldberga, for all the fancies that had been brought to her by the
vision had come to nothing, or worse than nothing, as she looked on
Havelok and saw in the cook's knave the very form of him of whom she had
dreamed, and whom she could not forget. Glad had she been to go to her
own chamber and away from the kindly ladies who could not know her real
trouble; but not even to her old nurse did she tell what that was. Her
one thought now was to seek someone who was skilful in the reading of
dreams, and so find some new hope from it all. But no one could tell her
of such a one here, unless it were to be a priest of Woden, and that she
would not hear of.
Then, early in the morning, Alsi sent for her, saying that he would
speak with her alone for a while. So she went to him, where he sat in
the chamber beyond the high place; and he greeted her kindly, asking
after her rest, and saying that he hoped that the sudden faintness had
hurt her not. Then he led her to a seat, and bade her rest while he
talked of state affairs.
"For it must be known to you, my niece, that the Witan thinks it time
that you should take your father's kingdom."
Now Goldberga knew that, and had long made up her mind that when the
time came she would not shrink from the burden of the crown.
It may well have been that Alsi thought that she would wish to wait for
a time yet, for he did not seem altogether pleased when she answered,
"If the Witan thinks right, I am ready."
"But," he said, "there is one thing to come before that. The Witan must
know who your husband shall be. And that is reasonable, for he will have
a share in ruling the kingdom."
Then said Goldberga, "They need have no fear in that matter, for I will
wed none but a king or the heir of a king."
"Well," said Alsi, dryly enough, "they are not so plentiful as are
blackberries, and there may be two words to that."
"I am not anxious to be wedded," answered the princess, "and I can wait.
It is, as you say, a matter that is much to the country."
Then Alsi tried another plan, seeing that Goldberga was not at all put
out by this. So he forced a cunning smile that was meant to be pleasant,
and said, "I had thought that your mind ran somewhat on Ragnar."
He looked to see the lady change colour, but she did not.
"Ragnar is my cousin," she said, "or a good brother to me, if you will.
Moreover, until the other day when he met me in London by some good
fortune, I had hardly seen him since my father died."
"What think you of Griffin?"
"Nothing at all, for nidring he is," answered Goldberga with curling lip.
Now that angered Alsi, for he had so much to do with that business; and
if Griffin was to be called thus by his fault, he was likely to lose a
"I would have you remember," he said, "that in all this choosing it
remains for me to give consent or withhold it."
"I shall only ask your consent to my wedding such a man as I have told
you of, uncle--a king or a king's son."
"So," said Alsi, "you would choose first, and ask me afterwards,
forsooth! That is not the way that things are to be between us. It is
for me to choose, and that according to the oath which I took when your
father made me guardian of you and his realm."
"Yet," said Goldberga very gently, "I think that my father would not
have meant that I should be the only one not to be asked."
"I can only go by what I swore, and that I will carry out. I promised to
see you married to the most goodly and mightiest man in the land."
"That can be none but a king, as I think."
Now Alsi grew impatient, for he meant to settle one matter before he
went much farther.
"I will say at once that I can have no king over the East Anglian
kingdom. It is not to be thought of that after all these years I should
have to take second place there. You will hold the kingdom from me, and
I shall be overlord there. I will send you some atheling who can keep
the land in order for you, but there shall be no king to bring that land
under the power of his own kingdom."
That was plain speaking, and it roused Goldberga.
"Never have you been overlord of my kingdom," she said. "Well have you
ruled it for me while I could not rule it myself, and for that I thank
you heartily. But it is not right that I should seem to hold it from you."
"That is to be seen," sneered Alsi, "for it lies with me to say what
marriage you make, and on that depends whether the Witan, in its wisdom,
sees fit to hail you as queen. Not until you are married will you take
the kingdom at all."
"Then," said the princess, growing pale, "I will speak to the Witan
myself, and learn their will."
"The Witan has broken up," answered Alsi, "and the good thanes are miles
on their way homewards by this time. You are too late."
"I will call them up again."
"Certainly--that is, if I let my men run hither and thither to fetch
them. But after all, in this matter I am master. Whom you wed lies with me."
Goldberga saw that she was in the hands of the king, and maybe as much a
prisoner as at Dover. So her spirits fled, and she asked what the king
Alsi knew now that nothing but his utmost plan would be of any avail to
save that kingdom for himself, and so he broke out into wrath, working
up his fury that he might not go back.
"My will is that you obey me in this carrying out of the oath I took on
the holy ring,  and on the Gospels also to please
your mother. You shall marry the man whom I choose, so that he be
according to the words of that oath."
"So that he be king or son of a king, I will obey you," answered Goldberga.
"Then you defy me. For that I have told you that I will not have. Now
shall we see who is master. You mind yon kitchen knave of last night?
There can be none in all England mightier or more goodly than he is to
look on, and him shall you wed. So will my oath be well kept. Then if
your precious Witan will have him, well and good, for his master shall I
Thereat the princess said that it were better that she should die; but
now Alsi had set out all his plan to her, and he did not mean to flinch
from carrying it out. There was no doubt that the Norfolk people would
hold that she had disgraced herself by the marriage, and so would refuse
to have her as queen. And that was all he needed.
But Goldberga had no more to say, for she was past speaking, and the
king was fain to call her ladies. And when they came he went away
quickly, and gave orders for the safe keeping of the princess, lest she
should try to fly, or to get any message to Ragnar or other of the
Now he must go through with this marriage, for he had shown himself too
plainly, and never would the princess trust him again. I have heard that
he sent for Griffin at this time; but, as I found, he was gone; and if
the king thought that perhaps the princess would wed him now to escape
from the kitchen knave, he had no chance to bring him forward. I suppose
he could have made out that Griffin, or for that matter any one else he
chose, was such a one as his oath to Ethelwald demanded.
Sore wept Goldberga when she was back in her own place, and at first it
was hard for her to believe that Alsi could mean what he had threatened.
But then she could not forget her dream, and in that she had most
certainly seen the very form of him who stood before her at the high
place last night; and that perhaps troubled her more than aught, for it
seemed to say that him she must wed. But no king's son could he be, so
that there must be yet such another mighty man to be found.
And then in her heart she knew that there could not be two such men,
both alike in all points to him of the vision. And she knew also, though
maybe she would not own it, that if this Curan had been but a thane of
little estate, she could have had naught to say against the matter.
And so at last she found that in her trouble and doubt and wish for
peace she was thinking, "Would that he were not the kitchen knave!"
Now, it chanced that the old nurse had gone out into the town, and was
away all this while, so that she knew nothing of this new trouble; and
presently she was coming back with her arms full of what she had bought,
and there met her Havelok and Withelm, who had been to the widow's, and
were on their way to find me at the gate.
"Mother," said Havelok, "let me help you up with these things."
That frightened the old lady, for she had been looking at him, and had
made up her mind that he was some mighty noble, as did most strangers.
"Nay, lord," she said; "that is not fitting for you."
"Less fitting is it that a strong man should see you thus burdened and
not help. No lord am I, but only the cook's man. So I am going to the
But this she would not believe at first, and still refused. However,
Lincoln Hill is very steep, and she was not sorry when Havelok laughed
and took the things from her so soon as she had to halt for breath.
"Curan will carry you up also, if you will, mother," said Withelm.
The nurse tossed her head at him and made no answer, being on her
dignity at once. Moreover, she had heard of Curan by this time, though
she had not seen him before. So she said no more, and went on proudly
enough, with her mighty attendant after her; but all the while it was in
her mind that there was some jest, or maybe wager, between the two.
Now Withelm stopped at the gate; but I was not there, for I had been
sent to the palace, where guards were to be at each door. The word was
that some plot had been found out against the princess, and that
therefore we had to be careful. One easily believed that with all the
talk about the attack made on her party that was flying about. So he
came on to the palace kitchens, for Berthun knew him well, having so
often bought fish from him in the market; and there he sat down to talk
with the steward, for there was nothing much going on at the time, and I
was on guard.
Now, the old nurse went to her mistress; and Goldberga sat in the
shadow, and was weeping no longer, seeing that it would not help at all.
"There is a wonder down yonder," said the old lady, not seeing that
there had been any trouble yet--"such a man as I never saw in all my
days; and he even carried my goods up all the hill for me, old and ugly
as I am. That is not what every young man would do nowadays. Maybe it
was different when I was young, or else my being young made the
difference. The youth with him called him Curan, which is the name of
the strong porter they prate of, but doubtless that was a jest. This is
the most kingly man that could be; and I ween that those two made a
wager that he dared not carry a bundle up to the palace, whereby I was
the gainer, for breath grows short up that pitch. And when I thanked him
he bowed in that wise that can only come of being rightly taught when
one is young. Now, I am going to ask Berthun who he is, for he spoke to
him when he saw him, and that humbly, as it seemed."
So talked the nurse, and to all Goldberga answered never a word, for all
the trouble came back again, and with it the thought that she hated,
that if only--
Then, as the nurse was leaving her, she called her back.
"Nurse," she said, "I am in sore trouble about the dream. It bides with
me, and will not cease to puzzle me until I weary for some one to read
it plainly. I would that Queen Bertha's good chaplain were here, for I
might have been helped by him."
Then the nurse came back, quick to hear the sad tone in the voice of her
whom she had tended and loved since she was a child.
"Why, my pretty, have you been weeping?" she said. "There was naught in
a dream like that to fray you thus."
"Nay, but it has come to me that this place is altogether heathen; and
it may have come from the hand of Freya, the false fiend that they
worship as a goddess, so that I may be ready to wed a heathen. Is there
no Christian in all this place?"
"There are Welsh folk yet left in the marsh," said the nurse, pondering;
"and where there is a Briton there is a Christian, and there, also, will
be a hidden priest. But it would be as much as his life is worth to come
here, even could we find one."
Then Goldberga said, "Alsi is not altogether heathen. If I asked he
would surely grant this."
For she thought that she knew how to gain consent.
"If one can be found, and that is not likely. Well, then, I will ask
Berthun, who is good-natured enough, and most likely will not trouble
about a Christian coming here; and if so, we need not even ask Alsi."
So she went, not thinking for a moment that there was a priest of the
faith to be heard of. Mostly she wanted to hear more of Havelok, but she
would honestly do her other errand.
But on her way across the courtyard she met Mord, and he was a great
friend of hers.
"Whither now, nurse? They will not let you go out of the palace. They
say that there is trouble on hand with those folk that fell on us, and
we have to bide in shelter for a day or two."
"Well, I have been down the town this hour, and all is quiet enough.
This Alsi is an over-timid man. But I was seeking Berthun with a strange
message from the princess, and one that is not over safe here."
"Let me give it then."
"Well, it is nothing more or less than to ask if he can find a Christian
priest. Our mistress has had a strange dream, and it is true that it
sorely troubles her. So she wants one to whom she may tell it, that it
may be read aright. But though I must ask, I do not hope to find one."
"Why," said Mord, "there is not one Christian in all Lindsey."
"I would not say that. When I was first here with Orwenna the queen,
before she married Ethelwald, there were some in the marsh; for one day
I heard my own tongue spoken there, hunting with my mistress; and so she
stayed and talked with these poor folk, though the Welsh they spoke was
bad enough. But they were Christians, as they told her in fear and
trembling. They have not so much need to fear now."
"Then I can help you," said Mord gladly. "Say nothing to the cook, for I
have found old friends who come from far in the marsh, and they will
tell me at once if they have heard of any priest. Why, when I think,
they know Welsh, and one has called himself by a Welsh name, and you
have seen him--Curan the porter."
"Ay; then do you ask these friends, and tell them that the sooner they
can bring a priest the better shall they be rewarded. I would give much
to have Goldberga's mind set at rest."
So Mord said that he would go at once; and glad he was to see Withelm
sitting with Berthun,
"Well," said the steward, "I have known Withelm of Grimsby for the last
ten years or so, and I do not suppose that it matters if you speak with
"Why should it matter if I speak with any one I choose?" asked Mord,
"That you must ask the king; for his orders are that the people of the
princess have no dealings with outsiders for two days."
"Mighty careful of us is Alsi all of a sudden," said Mord. "I suppose he
thinks that someone will stick a seax into some of us in all friendly
wise while we are talking."
But Berthun only laughed, and went to where the nurse was beckoning to
him. He told her his own thoughts of Havelok, being glad to have a ready
At once Withelm was able to tell Mord that the old priest who was his
friend was in Lincoln at this time by good chance, and that he would
surely come to the princess at need. But when they came to talk of when
and how, it did not seem all so easy; and Mord went to the nurse to tell
Then they had to speak to Berthun about it, and he was kindly and
willing to help; but he said that none might come to speak with the
princess without leave from the king. No doubt he would grant it easily,
if asked by Goldberga herself.
"I will go and tell her," said the old lady. "Keep your man here till I
Now she brought this good news to the princess, and one need not say how
she rejoiced. And now a thought had come to her, and she was eager to
send a message to Alsi.
"Surely," she thought, "he does but threaten me with the kitchen knave,
that he may make me change my will. And, therefore, if I say that I am
ready to obey him, he will be pleased; and then time is gained at the
least, and it is not possible that he will choose so badly for me after
So when the nurse asked her what she would do about getting the priest
to her presence, she said, "Go and tell my uncle first that I am willing
to obey him in the matter of which we spoke this morning."
"So that was what has troubled you after all, and not the dream? I
thought it should not have made all these tear marks," said the nurse
quickly. "Now, why did you not tell me? I dare give Alsi a talking to if
he needs it."
"Nay, nurse, but it was the dream. My uncle and I did but disagree on
somewhat, and maybe I was wrong. By-and-by I will tell you."
"Tell me now, and then I shall know better how to ask for what you need."
But Goldberga could not bring herself to say what Alsi had threatened,
and now felt sure that she would hear no more of that. So she told the
nurse that she had vowed only to marry a king, and that Alsi had been
angry, saying that kings were not so easily found. Also, that he was the
man who had to find her a husband.
"That is the best sense that this king ever spoke," said the nurse.
"Many a long year might you wait if you had your way thus. You are wise
in sending that message. Well, after that I will ask him to let you see
the priest, saying, if he is cross-grained, that a talk with him will
make your mind even better fitted to obey. Many things like that I can
say. We shall have him here presently."
Now, all that seemed very good to both of them, and the nurse went her
way. And when she came to Alsi, she gave the message plainly.
"That will save a great deal of trouble," said the king. "Tell her that
I am glad to hear it. She says this of her own accord, and not at your
"She told me before I had heard a word of what the trouble was between
you. It was no word of mine."
"I am glad of it. But I will say that I am somewhat surprised."
And that was true, for this message seemed to Alsi to be nothing more or
less than that Goldberga would marry his man. When he thought for a
moment, however, he saw that it could not be thus; and also, it was
plain to him what the poor girl had in her mind. And now he chuckled to
think what a weapon he had against her. Nor would he be slow to use it.
Then the nurse said that he need have no surprise, for Goldberga was
ever gentle and willing to be led, though sometimes the pride of her
race came uppermost for a time. And then she asked if a certain priest
of the faith might come and speak with her.
Now, Alsi knew that only one could be meant--namely, the hermit who
bided at Cabourn. He had heard of him often, and would not suffer him to
be hurt, for his sister Orwenna had protected him. The heathen English
minded him not at all by this time, for he was the best leech in the
land, and so useful to them. So Alsi said pleasantly that he was quite
willing that the priest should come, deeming that he was at Cabourn, and
that it would be a day or two before he would be brought.
So he called the housecarl from outside the door, and when he came he
said, "Pass the word that when one who calls himself David comes and
asks for the princess, he is to be admitted to her."
So that was made easy, and the nurse thanked him and withdrew; and when
he was alone, Alsi grinned evilly and rubbed his hands.
"Now is East Anglia mine in truth," he said; and with that he bade the
housecarl fetch Curan, the cook's porter, to him. And then he sent one
to Ragnar with such a message that he rode out that night and away to
CHAPTER XV. THE FORTUNE OF CURAN THE PORTER.
While the nurse told Withelm to fetch the priest when Alsi was in the
hall that evening, the housecarl came for Havelok; and much wondering,
he followed the man to the king, and presently stood before him and saluted.
"Where did you get that salute?" said Alsi sharply, seeing at once that
it was not English; and, indeed, it was that of Gunnar's courtmen.
"I cannot tell," answered my brother. "It seems to be there when needed."
"Well, it is not that used here. Get the housecarls to teach you better
Then Havelok bowed a little, in token that he would do so; and when Alsi
spoke to him next it was in Welsh.
"You are a marshman, as I hear?"
Now Havelok had learned fairly well from the poor folk who loved him,
but carelessly, so that when he answered Alsi frowned at his way of
"I am from the marsh," he said simply.
"We had better get back to English!" the king said; "you people forget
your own tongue. Now, are you married?"
Thereat Havelok laughed lightly.
"That I am not," he answered.
"Well, then, if I find you a fair wife, you would be willing, doubtless?"
"That I should not," answered Havelok bluntly, and wondering what this
crafty-looking king was driving at. "What could I do with a wife? For I
have neither house nor goods, nor where to take her, nor withal to keep
her; else had I not been the cook's knave."
"It would seem that you carry all your fortune on your back, therefore,"
said Alsi, looking at Havelok's gay attire with somewhat of a sneer.
"That may well be, King Alsi, for even these clothes are not my own.
Berthun gave them me, and I think that they come from yourself."
Alsi grinned, for Eglaf's saying of him was not so far wrong; but he had
more serious business on hand than to talk of these things with a churl.
"Now, if I bid you, it is your part to obey. I have a wife for you, and
her you shall wed."
"There are two words to that, King Alsi. Neither will I wed against my
will, nor will I wed one who is unwilling."
"As to that first," said the king, for he began to be angered with
Havelok's boldness, "if a man will not do my bidding, I have dungeons
where he can have time to think things over, and men who can keep him
there, be he never so mighty; and if a man will not see with my eyes
when I bid him, blinded shall he be."
This he said somewhat hurriedly, for a dark flush came on the face of
the man before him, and he thought that he must try some other plan than
force with him.
"And as for that other point, I did not so much as hint that the bride
was likely to be unwilling. I will say that she is willing, rather."
Now that troubled Havelok, for it seemed that all was arranged already,
and the thought of the dungeon was not pleasant. There was no doubt that
if the king chose he could cast him into one until he was forgotten; and
the light and the breath of the wind from the sea were very dear to
Havelok. So he thought that he would at least gain time by seeming to
listen to the proposal; for, after all, it might come to nothing, and
maybe it was but a jest, though a strange one.
"Well, lord king," he said, "if the bride knows enough of me to be
willing, it is but fair that I should have the like chance of choice."
Now Alsi thought that it was impossible that this churl, as he deemed
him, would not be overjoyed to hear of the match he had made for him,
and he must needs know it soon. Yet there was that about Havelok that
puzzled him, for his ways were not those of a churl, and he spoke as a
freeman should speak.
So much the more likely that the people would believe him when he said
that Goldberga wedded him of her own wish, he thought. It was as well
that he was not altogether a common-seeming man.
"You have seen the damsel already," he said therefore. "Now I will not
say that this match is altogether of my choosing; but I have an oath to
keep, and it seems that I can only keep it by making you her husband.
But, as I say, she is willing, and, I will add, well dowered."
Now it grew plain to my brother that there was something strange in all
this, so he said, "An oath is a thing that must not be hindered in the
fulfilling, if a man can further it. But what has a king's oath to do
"I have sworn to find her the goodliest and mightiest man alive; and,
though I must needs say it to your face, there is none like yourself. No
flattery this to bend you to my will, but sober truth--at least, as I
At that Havelok grew impatient.
"Well, if that be so, who is the bride?" he asked, not caring to give
the king his title, or forgetting to do so, for on him was coming the
feeling that he was this man's equal here in the palace. And at last,
not seeming to notice this, Alsi answered plainly.
"The Princess Goldberga."
Then Havelok stared at him in blank wonder for some moments; and Alsi
grew red under his gaze, and his eyes were shifty, and would not meet
the honest look that was on him.
Then at last said Havelok slowly, and watching the king intently all the
while, "What this means I cannot tell. If you speak truth, it is
wonderful; and if not, it is unkingly."
"On my word as a king, truth it is," said Alsi hastily, for there was
that in Havelok's face that he did not like.
One might think that the king was growing afraid of his own kitchen knave.
"If that is so, there is no more to be said," answered Havelok. "Yet you
will forgive me if I say that I must have this from the lips of the
princess herself as well. It may be that her mind will change."
"That is but fair," answered Alsi; "and you are a wise man. The mind of
a damsel is unsteady, whether she be princess or milkmaid; but have no
"No man fear I; but I do fear to hurt any lady, and I would not do that."
Then Alsi thought that all was well, and he spoke smooth words to my
brother, so that Havelok doubted him more than ever. Therefore it came
into his mind that all he could do for the best was to seem to agree,
and wait for what the princess herself said. And if Alsi was working
some subtlety, then he would wring his neck for him, if need be; and
after that--well, the housecarls would cut him in pieces, and he would
slay some of them, and so go to Valhalla, and dreams would be at an end.
And he would have died to some purpose here, for he knew that Goldberga
would come to her kingdom, ay, and maybe Alsi's as well, for she was his
sister's daughter, and his next of kin, and well loved by those who had
been allowed to know aught of her.
But I would not have any think that the promise of so wondrous a bride
was not pleasing to him. It was more, for he had seen her grow white and
troubled as she looked on him, and he had seen her bear well whatever
pain had caused that; and he had known that in the one sight he had of
Goldberga somewhat had taught him what it was to have one face
unforgotten in his mind.
So he said to Alsi, "All this fortune that you hold out to me is most
unlooked for, seeing what I am in your hall; and I have not thanked you
yet, King Alsi. That, however, is hard to do, as you may understand."
"I understand well enough," answered the king, in high good humour
again, now that all seemed to be going well. "And after all, it is the
lady whom you must thank."
"But when shall I see her to do so?"
"Tomorrow, surely; ay, tomorrow early shall you speak with her,"
answered the king quickly. "Now go, and hold your peace. Let me warn you
that there are those about the court who would go any lengths to remove
you from the face of the earth if they knew of this. Tell no man of the
honour that has come to you as yet. Be the porter for a short time
longer, and then you will be the man whom all envy. It is likely that I
must make you a thane, by right of the choice of the princess."
"I know well when to speak and when to keep silence, lord king," said my
brother, and with that he bowed and left the hall.
Then Alsi put his lips to a silver whistle that he carried, and blew a
call that brought Eglaf hurriedly to him from the outer door.
"The guards may go," said the king; "but see that the porter Curan
leaves not the palace until I myself send him forth tomorrow."
The captain saluted and went his way. He had had six men within call of
the king all the time that he spoke with Havelok, and one may make what