Part 2 out of 10
meaning, gentlemen,--don't forget it!"
Hereward looked down, and setting his foot on the bear's head, wrenched
out of it the sword which he had left till now, with pardonable pride,
fast set in the skull.
Martin Lightfoot, for his part, drew stealthily from his bosom the little
magic axe, keeping his eye on the brain-pan of the last speaker.
The lady of the house cried "Shame!" and ordered the knights away with
haughty words and gestures, which, because they were so well deserved,
only made the quarrel more deadly.
Then she commanded Hereward to sheathe his sword.
He did so; and turning to the knights, said with all courtesy: "You
mistake me, sirs. You were where brave knights should be, within the
beleaguered fortress, defending the ladies. Had you remained outside, and
been eaten by the bear, what must have befallen them, had he burst open
the door? As for this little lass, whom you left outside, she is too young
to requite knight's prowess by lady's love; and therefore beneath your
attention, and only fit for the care of a boy like me." And taking up
Alftruda in his arms, he carried her in and disappeared.
Who now but Hereward was in all men's mouths? The minstrels made ballads
on him; the lasses sang his praises (says the chronicler) as they danced
upon the green. Gilbert's lady would need give him the seat, and all the
honors, of a belted knight, though knight he was none. And daily and
weekly the valiant lad grew and hardened into a valiant man, and a
courteous one withal, giving no offence himself, and not over-ready to
take offence at other men.
The knights were civil enough to him, the ladies more than civil; he
hunted, he wrestled, he tilted; he was promised a chance of fighting for
glory, as soon as a Highland chief should declare war against Gilbert, or
drive off his cattle,--an event which (and small blame to the Highland
chiefs) happened every six months.
No one was so well content with himself as Hereward; and therefore he
fancied that the world must be equally content with him, and he was much
disconcerted when Martin drew him aside one day, and whispered: "If I were
my lord, I should wear a mail shirt under my coat to-morrow out hunting."
"The arrow that can go through a deer's bladebone can go through a man's."
"Who should harm me?"
"Any man of the dozen who eat at the same table."
"What have I done to them? If I had my laugh at them, they had their laugh
at me; and we are quits."
"There is another score, my lord, which you have forgotten, and that is
all on your side."
"You killed the bear. Do you expect them to forgive you that, till they
have repaid you with interest?"
"You do not want for wit, my lord. Use it, and think. What right has a
little boy like you to come here, killing bears which grown men cannot
kill? What can you expect but just punishment for your insolence,--say, a
lance between your shoulders while you stoop to drink, as Sigfried had for
daring to tame Brunhild? And more, what right have you to come here, and
so win the hearts of the ladies, that the lady of all the ladies should
say, 'If aught happen to my poor boy,--and he cannot live long,--I would
adopt Hereward for my own son, and show his mother what a fool some folks
think her?' So, my lord, put on your mail shirt to-morrow, and take care
of narrow ways, and sharp corners. For to-morrow it will be tried, that I
know, before my Lord Gilbert comes back from the Highlands; but by whom I
know not, and care little, seeing that there are half a dozen in the house
who would be glad enough of the chance."
Hereward took his advice, and rode out with three or four knights the next
morning into the fir-forest; not afraid, but angry and sad. He was not yet
old enough to estimate the virulence of envy, to take ingratitude and
treachery for granted. He was to learn the lesson then, as a wholesome
chastener to the pride of success. He was to learn it again in later
years, as an additional bitterness in the humiliation of defeat; and find
out, as does many a man, that if he once fall, or seem to fall, a hundred
curs spring up to bark at him, who dared not open their mouths while he
was on his legs.
So they rode into the forest, and parted, each with his footman and his
dogs, in search of boar and deer; and each had his sport without meeting
again for some two hours or more.
Hereward and Martin came at last to a narrow gully, a murderous place
enough. Huge fir-trees roofed it in, and made a night of noon. High banks
of earth and great boulders walled it in right and left for twenty feet
above. The track, what with pack-horses' feet, and what with the wear and
tear of five hundred years' rain-fall, was a rut three feet deep and two
feet broad, in which no horse could turn. Any other day Hereward would
have cantered down it with merely a tightened rein. Today he turned to
Martin and said,--
"A very fit and proper place for this same treason, unless you have been
drinking beer and thinking beer."
But Martin was nowhere to be seen.
A pebble thrown from the right bank struck him, and he looked up. Martin's
face was peering through the heather overhead, his finger on his lips.
Then he pointed cautiously, first up the pass, then down.
Hereward felt that his sword was loose in the sheath, and then gripped his
lance, with a heart beating, but not with fear.
The next moment he heard the rattle of a horse's hoofs behind him; looked
back; and saw a knight charging desperately down the gully, his bow in
hand, and arrow drawn to the head.
To turn was impossible. To stop, even to walk on, was to be ridden over
and hurled to the ground helplessly. To gain the mouth of the gully, and
then turn on his pursuer, was his only chance. For the first and almost
the last time in his life, he struck spurs into his horse, and ran away.
As he went, an arrow struck him sharply in the back, piercing the corslet,
but hardly entering the flesh. As he neared the mouth, two other knights
crashed their horses through the brushwood from right and left, and stood
awaiting him, their spears ready to strike. He was caught in a trap. A
shield might have saved him; but he had none.
He did not flinch. Dropping his reins, and driving in the spurs once more,
he met them in full shock. With his left hand he hurled aside the
left-hand lance, with his right he hurled his own with all his force at
the right-hand foe, and saw it pass clean through the felon's chest, while
his lance-point dropped, and passed harmlessly behind his knee.
So much for lances in front. But the knight behind? Would not his sword
the next moment be through his brain?
There was a clatter, a crash, and looking back Hereward saw horse and man
rolling in the rut, and rolling with them Martin Lightfoot. He had already
pinned the felon knight's head against the steep bank, and, with uplifted
axe, was meditating a pick at his face which would have stopped alike his
love-making and his fighting.
"Hold thy hand," shouted Hereward. "Let us see who he is; and remember
that he is at least a knight."
"But one that will ride no more to-day. I finished his horse's going as I
rolled down the bank."
It was true. He had broken the poor beast's leg with a blow of the axe,
and they had to kill the horse out of pity ere they left.
Martin dragged his prisoner forward.
"You?" cried Hereward. "And I saved your life three days ago!"
The knight answered nothing.
"You will have to walk home. Let that be punishment enough for you," and
"He will have to ride in a woodman's cart, if he have the luck to find
The third knight had fled, and after him the dead man's horse. Hereward
and his man rode home in peace, and the third knight, after trying vainly
to walk a mile or two, fell and lay, and was fain to fulfil Martin's
prophecy, and be brought home in a cart, to carry for years after, like
Sir Lancelot, the nickname of the Chevalier de la Charette.
And so was Hereward avenged of his enemies. Judicial, even private,
inquiry into the matter there was none. That gentlemen should meet in the
forest and commit, or try to commit, murder on each other's bodies, was
far too common a mishap in the ages of faith to stir up more than an extra
gossiping and cackling among the women, and an extra cursing and
threatening among the men; and as the former were all but unanimously on
Hereward's side, his plain and honest story was taken as it stood.
"And now, fair lady," said Hereward to his hostess, "I must thank you for
all your hospitality, and bid you farewell forever and a day."
She wept, and entreated him only to stay till her lord came back; but
Hereward was firm.
"You, lady, and your good lord will I ever love; and at your service my
sword shall ever be: but not here. Ill blood I will not make. Among
traitors I will not dwell. I have killed two of them, and shall have to
kill two of their kinsmen next, and then two more, till you have no
knights left; and pity that would be. No; the world is wide, and there are
plenty of good fellows in it who will welcome me without forcing me to
wear mail under my coat out hunting."
And he armed himself _cap-a-pie_, and rode away. Great was the
weeping in the bower, and great the chuckling in the hall: but never saw
they Hereward again upon the Scottish shore.
HOW HEREWARD SUCCORED A PRINCESS OF CORNWALL.
The next place in which Hereward appeared was far away on the southwest,
upon the Cornish shore. How he came there, or after how long, the
chronicles do not say. All that shall be told is, that he went into port
on board a merchant ship carrying wine, and intending to bring back tin.
The merchants had told him of one Alef, a valiant _regulus_ or
kinglet of those parts, who was indeed a distant connection of Hereward
himself, having married, as did so many of the Celtic princes, the
daughter of a Danish sea-rover, of Siward's blood. They told him also that
the kinglet increased his wealth, not only by the sale of tin and of red
cattle, but by a certain amount of autumnal piracy in company with his
Danish brothers-in-law from Dublin and Waterford; and Hereward, who
believed, with most Englishmen of the East Country, that Cornwall still
produced a fair crop of giants, some of them with two and even three
heads, had hopes that Alef might show him some adventure worthy of his
sword. He sailed in, therefore, over a rolling bar, between jagged points
of black rock, and up a tide river which wandered away inland, like a
land-locked lake, between high green walls of oak and ash, till they saw
at the head of the tide Alef's town, nestling in a glen which sloped
towards the southern sun. They discovered, besides, two ships drawn up
upon the beach, whose long lines and snake-heads, beside the stoat carved
on the beak-head of one and the adder on that of the other, bore witness
to the piratical habits of their owner. The merchants, it seemed, were
well known to the Cornishmen on shore, and Hereward went up with them
unopposed; past the ugly dikes and muddy leats, where Alef's slaves were
streaming the gravel for tin ore; through rich alluvial pastures spotted
with red cattle, and up to Alef's town. Earthworks and stockades
surrounded a little church of ancient stone, and a cluster of granite
cabins thatched with turf, in which the slaves abode, and in the centre of
all a vast stone barn, with low walls and high sloping roof, which
contained Alef's family, treasures, fighting tail, horses, cattle, and
pigs. They entered at one end between the pigsties, passed on through the
cow-stalls, then through the stables, and saw before them, dim through the
reek of thick peat-smoke, a long oaken table, at which sat huge
dark-haired Cornishmen, with here and there among them the yellow head of
a Norseman, who were Alef's following or fighting men. Boiled meat was
there in plenty, barley cakes, and ale. At the head of the table, on a
high-backed settle, was Alef himself, a jolly giant, who was just setting
to work to drink himself stupid with mead made from narcotic heather
honey. By his side sat a lovely dark-haired girl, with great gold torcs
upon her throat and wrists, and a great gold brooch fastening a shawl
which had plainly come from the looms of Spain or of the East, and next to
her again, feeding her with titbits cut off with his own dagger, and laid
on barley cake instead of a plate, sat a more gigantic personage even than
Alef, the biggest man that Hereward had ever seen, with high cheek bones,
and small ferret eyes, looking out from a greasy mass of bright red hair
No questions were asked of the new-comers. They set themselves down in
silence in empty places, and, according to the laws of the good old
Cornish hospitality, were allowed to eat and drink their fill before they
spoke a word.
"Welcome here again, friend," said Alef at last, in good enough Danish,
calling the eldest merchant by name. "Do you bring wine?"
The merchant nodded.
"And you want tin?"
The merchant nodded again, and lifting his cup drank Alef's health,
following it up by a coarse joke in Cornish, which raised a laugh all
The Norse trader of those days, it must be remembered, was none of the
cringing and effeminate chapmen who figure in the stories of the Middle
Ages. A free Norse or Dane, himself often of noble blood, he fought as
willingly as he bought; and held his own as an equal, whether at the court
of a Cornish kinglet or at that of the Great Kaiser of the Greeks.
"And you, fair sir," said Alef, looking keenly at Hereward, "by what name
shall I call you, and what service can I do for you? You look more like an
earl's son than a merchant, and are come here surely for other things
"Health to King Alef," said Hereward, raising the cup. "Who I am I will
tell to none but Alef's self; but an earl's son I am, though an outlaw and
a rover. My lands are the breadth of my boot-sole. My plough is my sword.
My treasure is my good right hand. Nothing I have, and nothing I need,
save to serve noble kings and earls, and win me a champion's fame. If you
have battles to fight, tell me, that I may fight them for you. If you have
none, thank God for his peace; and let me eat and drink, and go in peace."
"King Alef needs neither man nor boy to fight his battle as long as
Ironhook sits in his hall."
It was the red-bearded giant who spoke in a broken tongue, part Scotch,
part Cornish, part Danish, which Hereward could hardly understand; but
that the ogre intended to insult him he understood well enough.
Hereward had hoped to find giants in Cornwall: and behold he had found one
at once; though rather, to judge from his looks, a Pictish than a Cornish
giant; and, true to his reckless determination to defy and fight every man
and beast who was willing to defy and fight him, he turned on his elbow
and stared at Ironhook in scorn, meditating some speech which might
provoke the hoped-for quarrel.
As he did so his eye happily caught that of the fair Princess. She was
watching him with a strange look, admiring, warning, imploring; and when
she saw that he noticed her, she laid her finger on her lip in token of
silence, crossed herself devoutly, and then laid her finger on her lips
again, as if beseeching him to be patient and silent in the name of Him
who answered not again.
Hereward, as is well seen, wanted not for quick wit, or for chivalrous
feeling. He had observed the rough devotion of the giant to the Lady. He
had observed, too, that she shrank from it; that she turned away with
loathing when he offered her his own cup, while he answered by a dark and
Was there an adventure here? Was she in duress either from this Ironhook
or from her father, or from both? Did she need Hereward's help? If so, she
was so lovely that he could not refuse it. And on the chance, he swallowed
down his high stomach, and answered blandly enough,--
"One could see without eyes, noble sir, that you were worth any ten common
men; but as every one has not like you the luck of so lovely a lady by
your side, I thought that perchance you might hand over some of your
lesser quarrels to one like me, who has not yet seen so much good fighting
as yourself, and enjoy yourself in pleasant company at home, as I should
surely do in your place."
The Princess shuddered and turned pale; then looked at Hereward and smiled
her thanks. Ironhook laughed a savage laugh.
Hereward's jest being translated into Cornish for the benefit of the
company, was highly approved by all; and good humor being restored, every
man got drunk save Hereward, who found the mead too sweet and sickening.
After which those who could go to bed went to bed, not as in England,
[Footnote: Cornwall was not then considered part of England.] among the
rushes on the floor, but in the bunks or berths of wattle which stood two
or three tiers high along the wall.
The next morning as Hereward went out to wash his face and hands in the
brook below (he being the only man in the house who did so), Martin
Lightfoot followed him.
"What is it, Martin? Hast thou had too much of that sweet mead last night
that thou must come out to cool thy head too?"
"I came out for two reasons,--first, to see fair play, in case that
Ironhook should come to wash his ugly visage, and find you on all fours
over the brook--you understand? And next, to tell you what I heard last
night among the maids."
"And what did you hear?"
"Fine adventures, if we can but compass them. You saw that lady with the
carrot-headed fellow?--I saw that you saw. Well, if you will believe me,
that man has no more gentle blood than I have,--has no more right to sit
on the settle than I. He is a No-man's son, a Pict from Galloway, who came
down with a pirate crew and has made himself the master of this drunken
old Prince, and the darling of all his housecarles, and now will needs be
his son-in-law whether he will or not."
"I thought as much," said Hereward; "but how didst thou find out this?"
"I went out and sat with the knaves and the maids, and listened to their
harp-playing, and harp they can, these Cornish, like very elves; and then
I, too, sang songs and told them stories, for I can talk their tongue
somewhat, till they all blest me for a right good fellow. And then I fell
to praising up old Ironhook to the women."
"Praising him up, man?"
"Ay, just because I suspected him; for the women are so contrary, that if
you speak evil of a man they will surely speak good of him; but if you
will only speak good of him, then you will hear all the evil of him he
ever has done, and more beside. And this I heard; that the King's daughter
cannot abide him, and would as lief marry a seal."
"One did not need to be told that," said Hereward, "as long as one has
eyes in one's head. I will kill the fellow, and carry her off, ere
four-and-twenty hours be past."
"Softly, softly, my young master. You need to be told something that your
eyes would not tell you, and that is, that the poor lass is betrothed
already to a son of old King Ranald the Ostman, of Waterford, son of old
King Sigtryg, who ruled there when I was a boy."
"He is a kinsman of mine, then," said Hereward. "All the more reason that
I should kill this ruffian."
"If you can," said Martin Lightfoot.
"If I can?" retorted Hereward, fiercely.
"Well, well, wilful heart must have its way; only take my counsel: speak
to the poor young lady first, and see what she will tell you, lest you
only make bad worse, and bring down her father and his men on her as well
Hereward agreed, and resolved to watch his opportunity of speaking to the
As they went in to the morning meal they met Alef. He was in high good
humor with Hereward; and all the more so when Hereward told him his name,
and how he was the son of Leofric.
"I will warrant you are," he said, "by the gray head you carry on green
shoulders. No discreeter man, they say, in these isles than the old earl."
"You speak truth, sir," said Hereward, "though he be no father of mine
now; for of Leofric it is said in King Edward's court, that if a man ask
counsel of him, it is as though he had asked it of the oracles of God."
"Then you are his true son, young man. I saw how you kept the peace with
Ironhook, and I owe you thanks for it; for though he is my good friend,
and will be my son-in-law erelong, yet a quarrel with him is more than I
can abide just now, and I should not like to have seen my guest and my
kinsman slain in my house."
Hereward would have said that he thought there was no fear of that; but he
prudently held his tongue, and having an end to gain, listened instead of
"Twenty years ago, of course, I could have thrashed him as easily as--;
but now I am getting old and shaky, and the man has been a great help in
need. Six kings of these parts has he killed for me, who drove off my
cattle, and stopped my tin works, and plundered my monks' cells too, which
is worse, while I was away sailing the seas; and he is a right good fellow
at heart, though he be a little rough. So be friends with him as long as
you stay here, and if I can do you a service I will."
They went in to their morning meal, at which Hereward resolved to keep the
peace which he longed to break, and therefore, as was to be expected,
For during the meal the fair lady, with no worse intention, perhaps, than
that of teasing her tyrant, fell to open praises of Hereward's fair face
and golden hair; and being insulted therefore by the Ironhook, retaliated
by observations about his personal appearance, which were more common in
the eleventh century than they happily are now. He, to comfort himself,
drank deep of the French wine which had just been brought and broached,
and then went out into the court-yard, where, in the midst of his admiring
fellow-ruffians, he enacted a scene as ludicrous as it was pitiable. All
the childish vanity of the savage boiled over. He strutted, he shouted, he
tossed about his huge limbs, he called for a harper, and challenged all
around to dance, sing, leap, fight, do anything against him: meeting with
nothing but admiring silence, he danced himself out of breath, and then
began boasting once more of his fights, his cruelties, his butcheries, his
impossible escapes and victories; till at last, as luck would have it, he
espied Hereward, and poured out a stream of abuse against Englishmen and
"Englishmen," he said, "were naught. Had he not slain three of them
himself with one blow?"
"Of your mouth, I suppose," quoth Hereward, who saw that the quarrel must
come, and was glad to have it done and over.
"Of my mouth?" roared Ironhook; "of my sword, man!"
"Of your mouth," said Hereward. "Of your brain were they begotten, of the
breath of your mouth they were born, and by the breath of your mouth you
can slay them again as often as you choose."
The joke, as it has been handed down to us by the old chroniclers, seems
clumsy enough; but it sent the princess, say they, into shrieks of
"Were it not that my Lord Alef was here," shouted Ironhook, "I would kill
you out of hand."
"Promise to fight fair, and do your worst. The more fairly you fight, the
more honor you will win," said Hereward.
Whereupon the two were parted for the while.
Two hours afterwards, Hereward, completely armed with helmet and mail
shirt, sword and javelin, hurried across the great court-yard, with Martin
Lightfoot at his heels, towards the little church upon the knoll above.
The two wild men entered into the cool darkness, and saw before them, by
the light of a tiny lamp, the crucifix over the altar, and beneath it that
which was then believed to be the body of Him who made heaven and earth.
They stopped, trembling, for a moment, bowed themselves before that, to
them, perpetual miracle, and then hurried on to a low doorway to the
right, inside which dwelt Alef's chaplain, one of those good Celtic
priests who were supposed to represent a Christianity more ancient than,
and all but independent of, the then all-absorbing Church of Rome.
The cell was such a one as a convict would now disdain to inhabit. A low
lean-to roof; the slates and rafters unceiled; the stone walls and floor
unplastered; ill-lighted by a hand-broad window, unglazed, and closed with
a shutter at night. A truss of straw and a rug, the priest's bed, lay in a
corner. The only other furniture was a large oak chest, containing the
holy vessels and vestments and a few old books. It stood directly under
the window for the sake of light, for it served the good priest for both
table and chair; and on it he was sitting reading in his book at that
minute, the sunshine and the wind streaming in behind his head, doing no
good to his rheumatism of thirty years' standing.
"Is there a priest here?" asked Hereward, hurriedly.
The old man looked up, shook his head, and answered in Cornish.
"Speak to him in Latin, Martin! May be he will understand that."
Martin spoke. "My lord, here, wants a priest to shrive him, and that
quickly. He is going to fight the great tyrant Ironhook, as you call him."
"Ironhook?" answered the priest in good Latin enough. "And he so young!
God help him, he is a dead man! What is this,--a fresh soul sent to its
account by the hands of that man of Belial? Cannot he entreat him,--can he
not make peace, and save his young life? He is but a stripling, and that
man, like Goliath of old, a man of war from his youth up."
"And my master," said Martin Lightfoot, proudly, "is like young
David,--one that can face a giant and kill him; for he has slain, like
David, his lion and his bear ere now. At least, he is one that will
neither make peace, nor entreat the face of living man. So shrive him
quickly, Master Priest, and let him be gone to his work."
Poor Martin Lightfoot spoke thus bravely only to keep up his spirits and
his young lord's; for, in spite of his confidence in Hereward's prowess,
he had given him up for a lost man: and the tears ran down his rugged
cheeks, as the old priest, rising up and seizing Hereward's two hands in
his, besought him, with the passionate and graceful eloquence of his race,
to have mercy upon his own youth.
Hereward understood his meaning, though not his words.
"Tell him," he said to Martin, "that fight I must, and tell him that
shrive me he must, and that quickly. Tell him how the fellow met me in the
wood below just now, and would have slain me there, unarmed as I was; and
how, when I told him it was a shame to strike a naked man, he told me he
would give me but one hour's grace to go back, on the faith of a
gentleman, for my armor and weapons, and meet him there again, to die by
his hand. So shrive me quick, Sir Priest."
Hereward knelt down. Martin Lightfoot knelt down by him, and with a
trembling voice began to interpret for him.
"What does he say?" asked Hereward, as the priest murmured something to
"He said," quoth Martin, now fairly blubbering, "that, fair and young as
you are, your shrift should be as short and as clean as David's."
Hereward was touched. "Anything but that," said he, smiting on his breast,
"Mea culpa,--mea culpa,--mea maxima culpa."
"Tell him how I robbed my father."
The priest groaned as Martin did so.
"And how I mocked at my mother, and left her in a rage, without ever a
kind word between us. And how I have slain I know not how many men in
battle, though that, I trust, need not lay heavily on my soul, seeing that
I killed them all in fair fight."
Again the priest groaned.
"And how I robbed a certain priest of his money and gave it away to my
Here the priest groaned more bitterly still.
"O my son! my son! where hast thou found time to lay all these burdens on
thy young soul?"
"It will take less time," said Martin, bluntly, "for you to take the
burdens off again."
"But I dare not absolve him for robbing a priest. Heaven Help him! He must
go to the bishop for that. He is more fit to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem
than to battle."
"He has no time," quoth Martin, "for bishops or Jerusalem."
"Tell him," says Hereward, "that in this purse is all I have, that in it
he will find sixty silver pennies, beside two strange coins of gold."
"Sir Priest," said Martin Lightfoot, taking the purse from Hereward, and
keeping it in his own hand, "there are in this bag moneys."
Martin had no mind to let the priest into the secret of the state of their
"And tell him," continued Hereward, "that if I fall in this battle I give
him all that money, that he may part it among the poor for the good of my
"Pish!" said Martin to his lord; "that is paying him for having you
killed. You should pay him for keeping you alive." And without waiting for
the answer, he spoke in Latin,--
"And if he comes back safe from this battle, he will give you ten pennies
for yourself and your church, Priest, and therefore expects you to pray
your very loudest while he is gone."
"I will pray, I will pray," said the holy man; "I will wrestle in prayer.
Ah that he could slay the wicked, and reward the proud according to his
deservings! Ah that he could rid me and my master, and my young lady, of
this son of Belial,--this devourer of widows and orphans,--this slayer of
the poor and needy, who fills this place with innocent blood,--him of whom
it is written, 'They stretch forth their mouth unto the heaven, and their
tongue goeth through the world. Therefore fall the people unto them, and
thereout suck they no small advantage.' I will shrive him, shrive him of
all save robbing the priest, and for that he must go to the bishop, if he
live; and if not, the Lord have mercy on his soul."
And so, weeping and trembling, the good old man pronounced the words of
Hereward rose, thanked him, and then hurried out in silence.
"You will pray your very loudest, Priest," said Martin, as he followed his
"I will, I will," quoth he, and kneeling down began to chant that noble
seventy-third Psalm, "Quam bonus Israel," which he had just so fitly
"Thou gavest him the bag, Martin?" said Hereward, as they hurried on.
"You are not dead yet. 'No pay, no play,' is as good a rule for priest as
"Now then, Martin Lightfoot, good-bye. Come not with me. It must never be
said, even slanderously, that I brought two into the field against one;
and if I die, Martin--"
"You won't die!" said Lightfoot, shutting his teeth.
"If I die, go back to my people somehow, and tell them that I died like a
true earl's son."
Hereward held out his hand; Martin fell on his knees and kissed it;
watched him with set teeth till he disappeared in the wood; and then
started forward and entered the bushes at a different spot.
"I must be nigh at hand to see fair play," he muttered to himself, "in
case any of his ruffians be hanging about. Fair play I'll see, and fair
play I'll give, too, for the sake of my lord's honor, though I be bitterly
loath to do it. So many times as I have been a villain when it was of no
use, why mayn't I be one now, when it would serve the purpose indeed? Why
did we ever come into this accursed place? But one thing I will do," said
he, as he ensconced himself under a thick holly, whence he could see the
meeting of the combatants upon an open lawn some twenty yards away; "if
that big bull-calf kills my master, and I do not jump on his back and pick
his brains out with this trusty steel of mine, may my right arm--"
And Martin Lightfoot swore a fearful oath, which need not here be written.
The priest had just finished his chant of the seventy-third Psalm, and had
betaken himself in his spiritual warfare, as it was then called, to the
equally apposite fifty-second, "Quid gloriaris?"
"Why boastest thou thyself, thou tyrant, that thou canst do mischief,
whereas the goodness of God endureth yet daily?"
"Father! father!" cried a soft voice in the doorway, "where are you?"
And in hurried the Princess.
"Hide this," she said, breathless, drawing from beneath her mantle a huge
sword; "hide it, where no one dare touch it, under the altar behind the
holy rood: no place too secret."
"What is it?" asked the priest, springing up from his knees.
"His sword,--the Ogre's,--his magic sword, which kills whomsoever it
strikes. I coaxed the wretch to let me have it last night when he was
tipsy, for fear he should quarrel with the young stranger; and I have kept
it from him ever since by one excuse or another; and now he has sent one
of his ruffians in for it, saying, that if I do not give it up at once he
will come back and kill me."
"He dare not do that," said the priest.
"What is there that he dare not?" said she. "Hide it at once; I know that
he wants it to fight with this Hereward."
"If he wants it for that," said the priest, "it is too late; for half an
hour is past since Hereward went to meet him."
"And you let him go? You did not persuade him, stop him? You let him go
hence to his death?"
In vain the good man expostulated and explained that it was no fault of
"You must come with me this instant to my father,--to them; they must be
parted. They shall be parted. If you dare not, I dare. I will throw myself
between them, and he that strikes the other shall strike me."
And she hurried the priest out of the house, down the knoll, and across
the yard. There they found others on the same errand. The news that a
battle was toward had soon spread, and the men-at-arms were hurrying down
to the fight; kept back, however, by Alef, who strode along at their head.
Alef was sorely perplexed in mind. He had taken, as all honest men did, a
great liking to Hereward. Moreover, he was his kinsman and his guest. Save
him he would if he could but how to save him without mortally offending
his tyrant Ironhook he could not see. At least he would exert what little
power he had, and prevent, if possible, his men-at-arms from helping their
darling leader against the hapless lad.
Alef's perplexity was much increased when his daughter bounded towards
him, seizing him by the arm, and hurried him on, showing by look and word
which of the combatants she favored, so plainly that the ruffians behind
broke into scornful murmurs. They burst through the bushes. Martin
Lightfoot, happily, heard them coming, and had just time to slip away
noiselessly, like a rabbit, to the other part of the cover.
The combat seemed at the first glance to be one between a grown man and a
child, so unequal was the size of the combatants. But the second look
showed that the advantage was by no means with Ironhook. Stumbling to and
fro with the broken shaft of a javelin sticking in his thigh, he vainly
tried to seize and crush Hereward in his enormous arms. Hereward,
bleeding, but still active and upright, broke away, and sprang round him,
watching for an opportunity to strike a deadly blow. The housecarles
rushed forward with yells. Alef shouted to the combatants to desist; but
ere the party could reach them, Hereward's opportunity had come. Ironhook,
after a fruitless lunge, stumbled forward. Hereward leapt aside, and
spying an unguarded spot below the corslet, drove his sword deep into the
giant's body, and rolled him over upon the sward. Then arose shouts of
"Foul play!" cried one.
And others taking up the cry, called out, "Sorcery!" and "Treason!"
Hereward stood over Ironhook as he lay writhing and foaming on the ground.
"Killed by a boy at last!" groaned he. "If I had but had my own sword,--my
Brain-biter which that witch stole from me but last night!"--and amid foul
curses and bitter tears of shame his mortal spirit fled to its doom.
The housecarles rushed in on Hereward, who had enough to do to keep them
at arm's length by long sweeps of his sword.
Alef entreated, threatened, promised a fair trial if the men would give
fair play; when, to complete the confusion, the Princess threw herself
upon the corpse, shrieking and tearing her hair; and to Hereward's
surprise and disgust, bewailed the prowess and the virtues of the dead,
calling upon all present to avenge his murder.
Hereward vowed inwardly that he would never again trust woman's fancy or
fight in woman's quarrel. He was now nigh at his wits' end; the
housecarles had closed round him in a ring with the intention of seizing
him; and however well he might defend his front, he might be crippled at
any moment from behind: but in the very nick of time Martin Lightfoot
burst through the crowd, set himself heel to heel with his master, and
broke out, not with threats, but with a good-humored laugh.
"Here is a pretty coil about a red-headed brute of a Pict! Danes, Ostmen,"
he cried, "are you not ashamed to call such a fellow your lord, when you
have such a true earl's son as this to lead you if you will?"
The Ostmen in the company looked at each other. Martin Lightfoot saw that
his appeal to the antipathies of race had told, and followed it up by a
string of witticisms upon the Pictish nation in general, of which the only
two fit for modern ears to be set down were the two old stories, that the
Picts had feet so large that they used to lie upon their backs and hold up
their legs to shelter them from the sun; and that when killed, they could
not fall down, but died as they were, all standing.
"So that the only foul play I can see is, that my master shoved the fellow
over after he had stabbed him, instead of leaving him to stand upright
there, like one of your Cornish Dolmens, till his flesh should fall off
Hereward saw the effect of Martin's words, and burst out in Danish
"Look at me!" he said; "I am Hereward the outlaw, I am the champion, I am
the Berserker, I am the Viking, I am the land thief, the sea thief, the
ravager of the world, the bear-slayer, the ogre-killer, the
raven-fattener, the darling of the wolf, the curse of the widow. Touch me,
and I will give you to the raven and to the wolf, as I have this ogre. Be
my men, and follow me over the swan's road, over the whale's bath, over
the long-snake's leap, to the land where the sea meets the sun, and golden
apples hang on every tree; and we will freight our ships with Moorish
maidens, and the gold of Cadiz and Algiers."
"Hark to the Viking! Hark to the right earl's son!" shouted some of the
Danes, whose blood had been stirred many a time before by such wild words,
and on whom Hereward's youth and beauty had their due effect. And now the
counsels of the ruffians being divided, the old priest gained courage to
step in. Let them deliver Hereward and his serving man into his custody.
He would bring them forth on the morrow, and there should be full
investigation and fair trial. And so Hereward and Martin, who both refused
stoutly to give up their arms, were marched back into the town, locked in
the little church, and left to their meditations.
Hereward sat down on the pavement and cursed the Princess. Martin
Lightfoot took off his master's corslet, and, as well as the darkness
would allow, bound up his wounds, which happily were not severe.
"Were I you," said he at last, "I should keep my curses till I saw the end
of this adventure."
"Has not the girl betrayed me shamefully?"
"Not she. I saw her warn you, as far as looks could do, not to quarrel
with the man."
"That was because she did not know me. Little she thought that I could--"
"Don't hollo till you are out of the wood. This is a night for praying
rather than boasting."
"She cannot really love that wretch," said Hereward, after a pause. "You
saw how she mocked him."
"Women are strange things, and often tease most where they love most."
"But such a misbegotten savage."
"Women are strange things, say I, and with some a big fellow is a pretty
fellow, be he uglier than seven Ironhooks. Still, just because women are
strange things, have patience, say I."
The lock creaked, and the old priest came in. Martin leapt to the open
door; but it was slammed in his face by men outside with scornful
The priest took Hereward's head in his hands, wept over him, blessed him
for having slain Goliath like young David, and then set food and drink
before the two; but he answered Martin's questions only with sighs and
shakings of the head.
"Let us eat and drink, then," said Martin, "and after that you, my lord,
sleep off your wounds while I watch the door. I have no fancy for these
fellows taking us unawares at night."
Martin lay quietly across the door till the small hours, listening to
every sound, till the key creaked once more in the lock. He started at the
sound, and seizing the person who entered round the neck, whispered, "One
word, and you are dead."
"Do not hurt me," half shrieked a stifled voice; and Martin Lightfoot, to
his surprise, found that he had grasped no armed man, but the slight frame
of a young girl.
"I am the Princess," she whispered; "let me in."
"A very pretty hostage for us," thought Martin, and letting her go seized
the key, locking the door in the inside.
"Take me to your master," she cried, and Martin led her up the church
wondering, but half suspecting some further trap.
"You have a dagger in your hand," said he, holding her wrist.
"I have. If I had meant to use it, it would have been used first on you.
Take it, if you like."
She hurried up to Hereward, who lay sleeping quietly on the altar-steps;
knelt by him, wrung his hands, called him her champion, her deliverer.
"I am not well awake yet," said he, coldly, "and don't know whether this
may not be a dream, as more that I have seen and heard seems to be."
"It is no dream. I am true. I was always true to you. Have I not put
myself in your power? Am I not come here to deliver you, my deliverer?"
"The tears which you shed over your ogre's corpse seem to have dried
"Cruel! What else could I do? You heard him accuse me to those ruffians of
having stolen his sword. My life, my father's life, were not safe a
moment, had I not dissembled, and done the thing I loathed. Ah!" she went
on, bitterly, "you men, who rule the world and us by cruel steel, you
forget that we poor women have but one weapon left wherewith to hold our
own, and that is cunning; and are driven by you day after day to tell the
lie which we detest."
"Then you really stole his sword?"
"And hid it here, for your sake!" and she drew the weapon from behind the
"Take it. It is yours now. It is magical. Whoever smites with it, need
never smite again. Now, quick, you must be gone. But promise one thing
before you go."
"If I leave this land safe, I will do it, be it what it may. Why not come
with me, lady, and see it done?"
She laughed. "Vain boy, do you think that I love you well enough for
"I have won you, and why should I not keep you?" said Hereward, sullenly.
"Do you not know that I am betrothed to your kinsman? And--though that you
cannot know--that I love your kinsman?"
"So I have all the blows, and none of the spoil."
"Tush! you have the glory,-and the sword,--and the chance, if you will do
my bidding, of being called by all ladies a true and gentle knight, who
cared not for his own pleasure, but for deeds of chivalry. Go to my
betrothed,--to Waterford over the sea. Take him this ring, and tell him by
that token to come and claim me soon, lest he run the danger of losing me
a second time, and lose me then forever; for I am in hard case here, and
were it not for my father's sake, perhaps I might be weak enough, in spite
of what men might say, to flee with you to your kinsman across the sea."
"Trust me and come," said Hereward, whose young blood kindled with a
sudden nobleness,--"trust me, and I will treat you like my sister, like my
queen. By the holy rood above I will swear to be true to you."
"I do trust you, but it cannot be. Here is money for you in plenty to hire
a passage if you need: it is no shame to take it from me. And now one
thing more. Here is a cord,--you must bind the hands and feet of the old
priest inside, and then you must bind mine likewise."
"Never," quoth Hereward.
"It must be. How else can I explain your having got the key? I made them
give me the key on the pretence that with one who had most cause to hate
you, it would be safe; and when they come and find us in the morning I
shall tell them how I came here to stab you with my own hands,--you must
lay the dagger by me,--and how you and your man fell upon us and bound us,
and you escaped. Ah! Mary Mother," continued the maiden with a sigh, "when
shall we poor weak women have no more need of lying?"
She lay down, and Hereward, in spite of himself, gently bound her hands
and feet, kissing them as he bound them.
"I shall do well here upon the altar steps," said she. "How can I spend my
time better till the morning light than to lie here and pray?"
The old priest, who was plainly in the plot, submitted meekly to the same
fate; and Hereward and Martin Lightfoot stole out, locking the door, but
leaving the key in it outside. To scramble over the old earthwork was an
easy matter; and in a few minutes they were hurrying down the valley to
the sea, with a fresh breeze blowing behind them from the north.
"Did I not tell you, my lord," said Martin Lightfoot, "to keep your curses
till you had seen the end of this adventure?"
Hereward was silent. His brain was still whirling from the adventures of
the day, and his heart was very deeply touched. His shrift of the morning,
hurried and formal as it had been, had softened him. His danger--for he
felt how he had been face to face with death--had softened him likewise;
and he repented somewhat of his vainglorious and bloodthirsty boasting
over a fallen foe, as he began to see that there was a purpose more noble
in life than ranging land and sea, a ruffian among ruffians, seeking for
glory amid blood and flame. The idea of chivalry, of succoring the weak
and the opprest, of keeping faith and honor not merely towards men who
could avenge themselves, but towards women who could not; the dim dawn of
purity, gentleness, and the conquest of his own fierce passions,--all
these had taken root in his heart during his adventure with the fair
Cornish girl. The seed was sown. Would it he cut down again by the bitter
blasts of the rough fighting world, or would it grow and bear the noble
fruit of "gentle very perfect knighthood"?
They reached the ship, clambered on hoard without ceremony, at the risk of
being taken and killed as robbers, and told their case. The merchants had
not completed their cargo of tin. Hereward offered to make up their loss
to them if they would set sail at once; and they, feeling that the place
would be for some time to come too hot to hold them, and being also in
high delight, like honest Ostmen, with Hereward's prowess, agreed to sail
straight for Waterford, and complete their cargo there. But the tide was
out. It was three full hours before the ship could float; and for three
full hours they waited in fear and trembling, expecting the Cornishmen to
be down upon them in a body every moment, under which wholesome fear some
on board prayed fervently who had never been known to pray before.
HOW HEREWARD TOOK SERVICE WITH RANALD, KING OF WATERFORD.
The coasts of Ireland were in a state of comparative peace in the middle
of the eleventh century. The ships of Loghlin, seen far out at sea, no
longer drove the population shrieking inland. Heathen Danes, whether
fair-haired Fiongall from Norway, or brown-haired Dubgall from Denmark
proper, no longer burned convents, tortured monks for their gold, or (as
at Clonmacnoise) set a heathen princess, Oda, wife of Thorgill, son of
Harold Harfager, aloft on the high altar to receive the homage of the
conquered. The Scandinavian invaders had become Christianized, and
civilized also,--owing to their continual intercourse with foreign
nations,--more highly than the Irish whom they had overcome. That was
easy; for early Irish civilization seems to have existed only in the
convents and for the religious; and when they were crushed, mere barbarism
was left behind. And now the same process went on in the east of Ireland,
which went on a generation or two later in the east of Scotland. The Danes
began to settle down into peaceful colonists and traders. Ireland was
poor; and the convents plundered once could not be plundered again. The
Irish were desperately brave. Ill-armed and almost naked, they were as
perfect in the arts of forest warfare as those modern Maories whom they so
much resembled; and though their black skenes and light darts were no
match for the Danish swords and battle-axes which they adopted during the
middle age, or their plaid trousers and felt capes for the Danish helmet
and chain corslet, still an Irishman was so ugly a foe, that it was not
worth while to fight with him unless he could be robbed afterwards. The
Danes, who, like their descendants of Northumbria, the Lowlands, and
Ulster, were canny common-sense folk, with a shrewd eye to interest,
found, somewhat to their regret, that there were trades even more
profitable than robbery and murder. They therefore concentrated themselves
round harbors and river mouths, and sent forth their ships to all the
western seas, from Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Cork, or Limerick. Every
important seaport in Ireland owes its existence to those sturdy Vikings'
sons. In each of these towns they had founded a petty kingdom, which
endured until, and even in some cases after, the conquest of Ireland by
Henry II. and Strongbow. They intermarried in the mean while with the
native Irish. Brian Boru, for instance, was so connected with Danish
royalty, that it is still a question whether he himself had not Danish
blood in his veins. King Sigtryg Silkbeard, who fought against him at
Clontarf, was actually his step-son,--and so too, according to another
Irish chronicler, was King Olaff Kvaran, who even at the time of the
battle of Clontarf was married to Brian Boru's daughter,--a marriage which
(if a fact) was startlingly within the prohibited degrees of
consanguinity. But the ancient Irish were sadly careless on such points;
and as Giraldus Cambrensis says, "followed the example of men of old in
their vices more willingly than in their virtues."
More than forty years had elapsed since that famous battle of Clontarf,
and since Ragnvald, Reginald, or Ranald, son of Sigtryg the Norseman, had
been slain therein by Brian Boru. On that one day, so the Irish sang, the
Northern invaders were exterminated, once and for all, by the Milesian
hero, who had craftily used the strangers to fight his battles, and then,
the moment they became formidable to himself, crushed them, till "from
Howth to Brandon in Kerry there was not a threshing-floor without a Danish
slave threshing thereon, or a quern without a Danish woman grinding
Nevertheless, in spite of the total annihilation of the Danish power in
the Emerald isle, Ranald seemed to the eyes of men to be still a hale old
warrior, ruling constitutionally--that is, with a wholesome fear of being
outlawed or murdered if he misbehaved--over the Danes in Waterford; with
five hundred fair-haired warriors at his back, two-edged axe on shoulder
and two-edged sword on thigh. His ships drove a thriving trade with France
and Spain in Irish fish, butter, honey, and furs. His workmen coined money
in the old round tower of Dundory, built by his predecessor and namesake
about the year 1003, which stands as Reginald's tower to this day. He had
fought many a bloody battle since his death at Clontarf, by the side of
his old leader Sigtryg Silkbeard. He had been many a time to Dublin to
visit his even more prosperous and formidable friend; and was so delighted
with the new church of the Holy Trinity, which Sigtryg and his bishop
Donatus had just built, not in the Danish or Ostman town, but in the heart
of ancient Celtic Dublin, (plain proof of the utter overthrow of the
Danish power,) that he had determined to build a like church in honor of
the Holy Trinity, in Waterford itself. A thriving, valiant old king he
seemed, as he sat in his great house of pine logs under Reginald's Tower
upon the quay, drinking French and Spanish wines out of horns of ivory and
cups of gold; and over his head hanging, upon the wall, the huge
doubled-edged axe with which, so his flatterers had whispered, Brian Boru
had not slain him, but he Brian Boru.
Nevertheless, then as since, alas! the pleasant theory was preferred by
the Milesian historians to the plain truth. And far away inland, monks
wrote and harpers sung of the death of Ranald, the fair-haired Fiongall,
and all his "mailed swarms."
One Teague MacMurrough, indeed, a famous bard of those parts, composed
unto his harp a song of Clontarf, the fame whereof reached Ranald's ears,
and so amused him that he rested not day or night till he had caught the
hapless bard and brought him in triumph into Waterford. There he compelled
him, at sword's point, to sing, to him and his housecarles the Milesian
version of the great historical event: and when the harper, in fear and
trembling, came to the story of Ranald's own death at Brian Boru's hands,
then the jolly old Viking laughed till the tears ran down his face; and
instead of cutting off Teague's head, gave him a cup of goodly wine, made
him his own harper thenceforth, and bade him send for his wife and
children, and sing to him every day, especially the song of Clontarf and
his own death; treating him very much, in fact, as English royalty, during
the last generation, treated another Irish bard whose song was even more
sweet, and his notions of Irish history even more grotesque, than those of
It was to this old king, or rather to his son Sigtryg, godson of Sigtryg
Silkbeard, and distant cousin of his own, that Hereward now took his way,
and told his story, as the king sat in his hall, drinking "across the
fire," after the old Norse fashion. The fire of pine logs was in the midst
of the hall, and the smoke went out through a louver in the roof. On one
side was a long bench, and in the middle of it the king's high arm-chair;
right and left of him sat his kinsmen and the ladies, and his sea-captains
and men of wealth. Opposite, on the other side of the fire, was another
bench. In the middle of that sat his marshal, and right and left all his
housecarles. There were other benches behind, on which sat more freemen,
but of lesser rank.
And they were all drinking ale, which a servant poured out of a bucket
into a great bull's horn, and the men handed round to each other.
Then Hereward came in, and sat down on the end of the hindermost bench,
and Martin stood behind him, till one of the ladies said,--
"Who is that young stranger, who sits behind there so humbly, though, he
looks like an earl's son, more fit to sit here with us on the high bench?"
"So he does," quoth King Ranald. "Come forward hither, young sir, and
And when Hereward came forward, all the ladies agreed that he must be an
earl's son; for he had a great gold torc round his neck, and gold rings on
his wrists; and a new scarlet coat, bound with gold braid; and scarlet
stockings, cross-laced with gold braid up to the knee; and shoes trimmed
with martin's fur; and a short blue silk cloak over all, trimmed with
martin's fur likewise; and by his side, in a broad belt with gold studs,
was the Ogre's sword Brain-biter, with its ivory hilt and velvet sheath;
and all agreed that if he had but been a head taller, they had never seen
a properer man.
"Aha! such a gay young sea-cock does not come hither for naught. Drink
first, man, and tell us thy business after," and he reached the horn to
Hereward took it, and sang,--
"In this Braga-beaker,
Brave Ranald I pledge;
In good liquor, which lightens
Long labor on oar-bench;
Good liquor, which sweetens
The song of the scald."
"Thy voice is as fine as thy feathers, man. Nay, drink it all. We
ourselves drink here by the peg at midday; but a stranger is welcome to
fill his inside all hours of the day."
Whereon Hereward finished the horn duly; and at Ranald's bidding, sat him
down on the high settle. He did not remark, that as he sat down two
handsome youths rose and stood behind him.
"Now then, Sir Priest," quoth the king, "go on with your story."
A priest, Irish by his face and dress, who sat on the high bench, rose,
and renewed an oration which Hereward's entrance had interrupted.
"So, O great King, as says Homerus, this wise king called his earls,
knights, sea-captains, and housecarles, and said unto them, 'Which of
these two kings is in the right, who can tell? But mind you, that this
king of the Enchanters lives far away in India, and we never heard of him
more than his name; but this king Ulixes and his Greeks live hard by; and
which of the two is it wiser to quarrel with, him that lives hard by or
him that lives far off? Therefore, King Ranald, says, by the mouth of my
humility, the great O'Brodar, Lord of Ivark, 'Take example by Alcinous,
the wise king of Fairy, and listen not to the ambassadors of those lying
villains, O'Dea Lord of Slievardagh, Maccarthy King of Cashel, and
O'Sullivan Lord of Knockraffin, who all three between them could not raise
kernes enough to drive off one old widow's cow. Make friends with me, who
live upon your borders; and you shall go peaceably through my lands, to
conquer and destroy them, who live afar off; as they deserve, the sons of
Belial and Judas.'"
And the priest crost himself, and sat down. At which speech Hereward was
seen to laugh.
"Why do you laugh, young sir? The priest seems to talk like a wise man,
and is my guest and an ambassador."
Then rose up Hereward, and bowed to the king. "King Ranald Sigtrygsson, it
was not for rudeness that I laughed, for I learnt good manners long ere I
came here, but because I find clerks alike all over the world."
"Quick at hiding false counsel under learned speech. I know nothing of
Ulixes, king, nor of this O'Brodar either; and I am but a lad, as you see:
but I heard a bird once in my own country who gave a very different
counsel from the priest's."
"Speak on, then. This lad is no fool, my merry men all."
"There were three copses, King, in our country, and each copse stood on a
hill. In the first there built an eagle, in the second there built a
sparhawk, in the third there built a crow.
"Now the sparhawk came to the eagle, and said, 'Go shares with me, and we
will kill the crow, and have her wood to ourselves.'
"'Humph!' says the eagle, 'I could kill the crow without your help;
however, I will think of it.'
"When the crow heard that, she came to the eagle herself. 'King Eagle,'
says she, 'why do you want to kill me, who live ten miles from you, and
never flew across your path in my life? Better kill that little rogue of a
sparhawk who lives between us, and is always ready to poach on your
marches whenever your back is turned. So you will have her wood as well as
"'You are a wise crow,' said the eagle; and he went out and killed the
sparhawk, and took his wood."
Loud laughed King Ranald and his Vikings all. "Well spoken, young man! We
will take the sparhawk, and let the crow bide."
"Nay, but," quoth Hereward, "hear the end of the story. After a while the
eagle finds the crow beating about the edge of the sparhawk's wood.
"'Oho!' says he, 'so you can poach as well as that little hooknosed
rogue?' and he killed her too.
"'Ah!' says the crow, when she lay a-dying, 'my blood is on my own head.
If I had but left the sparhawk between me and this great tyrant!'
"And so the eagle got all three woods to himself."
At which the Vikings laughed more loudly than ever; and King Ranald,
chuckling at the notion of eating up the hapless Irish princes one by one,
sent back the priest (not without a present for his church, for Ranald was
a pious man) to tell the great O'Brodar, that unless he sent into
Waterford by that day week two hundred head of cattle, a hundred pigs, a
hundredweight of clear honey, and as much of wax, Ranald would not leave
so much as a sucking-pig alive in Ivark.
The cause of quarrel, of course, was too unimportant to be mentioned. Each
had robbed and cheated the other half a dozen times in the last twenty
years. As for the morality of the transaction, Ranald had this salve for
his conscience,--that as he intended to do to O'Brodar, so would O'Brodar
have gladly done to him, had he been living peaceably in Norway, and
O'Brodar been strong enough to invade and rob him. Indeed, so had O'Brodar
done already, ever since he wore beard, to every chieftain of his own race
whom he was strong enough to ill-treat. Many a fair herd had he driven
off, many a fair farm burnt, many a fair woman carried off a slave, after
that inveterate fashion of lawless feuds which makes the history of Celtic
Ireland from the earliest, times one dull and aimless catalogue of murder
and devastation, followed by famine and disease; and now, as he had done
to others, so it was to be done to him.
"And now, young sir, who seem as witty as you are good looking, you may,
if you will, tell us your name and your business. As for the name,
however, if you wish to keep it to yourself, Ranald Sigtrygsson is not the
man to demand it of an honest guest."
Hereward looked round and saw Teague MacMurrough standing close to him,
harp in hand. He took it from him courteously enough, put a silver penny
into the minstrel's hand, and running his fingers over the strings, rose
"Outlaw and free thief,
Landless and lawless
Through the world fare I,
Thoughtless of life.
Soft is my beard, but
Hard my Brain-biter.
Wake, men me call, whom
Warrior or watchman
Never caught sleeping,
Far in Northumberland
Slew I the witch-bear,
Cleaving his brain-pan,
At one stroke I felled him."
And so forth, chanting all his doughty deeds, with such a voice and spirit
joined to that musical talent for which he was afterwards so famous, till
the hearts of the wild Norsemen rejoiced, and "Skall to the stranger!
Skall to the young Viking!" rang through the hall.
Then showing proudly the fresh wounds on his bare arms, he sang of his
fight with the Cornish ogre, and his adventure with the Princess. But
always, though he went into the most minute details, he concealed the name
both of her and of her father, while he kept his eyes steadily fixed on
Ranald's eldest son, Sigtryg, who sat at his father's right hand.
The young man grew uneasy, red, almost angry; till at last Hereward
"A gold ring she gave me
Right royally dwarf-worked,
To none will I pass it
For prayer or for sword-stroke,
Save to him who can claim it
By love and by troth plight,
Let that hero speak
If that hero be here."
Young Sigtryg half started from his feet: but when Hereward smiled at him,
and laid his finger on his lips, he sat down again. Hereward felt his
shoulder touched from behind. One of the youths who had risen when he sat
down bent over him, and whispered in his ear,--
"Ah, Hereward, we know you. Do you not know us? We are the twins, the sons
of your sister, Siward the White and Siward the Red, the orphans of
Asbiorn Siwardsson, who fell at Dunsinane."
Hereward sprang up, struck the harp again, and sang,--
"Outlaw and free thief,
My kinsfolk have left me,
And no kinsfolk need I
Till kinsfolk shall need me.
My sword is my father,
My shield is my mother,
My ship is my sister,
My horse is my brother."
"Uncle, uncle," whispered one of them, sadly, "listen now or never, for we
have bad news for you and us. Your father is dead, and Earl Algar, your
brother, here in Ireland, outlawed a second time."
A flood of sorrow passed through Hereward's heart. He kept it down, and
rising once more, harp in hand,--
"Hereward, king, hight I,
Holy Leofric my father,
In Westminster wiser
None walked with King Edward.
High minsters he builded,
Pale monks he maintained.
Dead is he, a bed-death,
A leech-death, a priest-death,
A straw-death, a cow's death.
Such doom I desire not.
To high heaven, all so softly,
The angels uphand him,
In meads of May flowers
Mild Mary will meet him.
Me, happier, the Valkyrs
Shall waft from the war-deck,
Shall hail from the holmgang
Or helmet-strewn moorland.
And sword-strokes my shrift be,
Sharp spears be my leeches,
With heroes' hot corpses
High heaped for my pillow."
"Skall to the Viking!" shouted the Danes once more, at this outburst of
heathendom, common enough among their half-converted race, in times when
monasticism made so utter a divorce between the life of the devotee and
that of the worldling, that it seemed reasonable enough for either party
to have their own heaven and their own hell. After all, Hereward was not
original in his wish. He had but copied the death-song which his father's
friend and compeer, Siward Digre, the victor of Dunsinane, had sung for
himself some three years before.
All praised his poetry, and especially the quickness of his alliterations
(then a note of the highest art); and the old king filling not this time
the horn, but a golden goblet, bid him drain it and keep the goblet for
Young Sigtryg leapt up, and took the cup to Hereward. "Such a scald," he
said, "ought to have no meaner cup-bearer than a king's son."
Hereward drank it dry; and then fixing his eyes meaningly on the Prince,
dropt the Princess's ring into the cup, and putting it back into Sigtryg's
"The beaker I reach back
More rich than I took it.
No gold will I grasp
Of the king's, the ring-giver,
Till, by wit or by weapon,
I worthily win it.
When brained by my biter
O'Brodar lies gory,
While over the wolf's meal
Fair widows are wailing."
"Does he refuse my gift?" grumbled Ranald.
"He has given a fair reason," said the Prince, as he hid the ring in his
bosom; "leave him to me; for my brother in arms he is henceforth."
After which, as was the custom of those parts, most of them drank too much
liquor. But neither Sigtryg nor Hereward drank; and the two Siwards stood
behind their young uncle's seat, watching him with that intense admiration
which lads can feel for a young man.
That night, when the warriors were asleep, Sigtryg and Hereward talked out
their plans. They would equip two ships; they would fight all the kinglets
of Cornwall at once, if need was; they would carry off the Princess, and
burn Alef's town over his head, if he said nay. Nothing could be more
simple than the tactics required in an age when might was right.
Then Hereward turned to his two nephews who lingered near him, plainly big
"And what brings you here, lads?" He had hardened his heart, and made up
his mind to show no kindness to his own kin. The day might come when they
might need him; then it would be his turn.
"Your father, as we told you, is dead."
"So much the better for him, and the worse for England. And Harold and the
Godwinssons, of course, are lords and masters far and wide?"
"Tosti has our grandfather Siward's earldom."
"I know that. I know, too, that he will not keep it long, unless he learns
that Northumbrians are free men, and not Wessex slaves."
"And Algar our uncle is outlawed again, after King Edward had given him
peaceably your father's earldom."
"Why was he outlawed two years ago?"
"Because the Godwinssons hate him, I suppose."
"And Algar is gone to Griffin, the Welshman, and from him on to Dublin to
get ships, just as he did two years ago; and has sent us here to get ships
"And what will he do with them when he has got them? He burnt Hereford
last time he was outlawed, by way of a wise deed, minster and all, with
St. Ethelbert's relics on board; and slew seven clergymen: but they were
only honest canons with wives at home, and not shaveling monks, so I
suppose that sin was easily shrived. Well, I robbed a priest of a few
pence, and was outlawed; he plunders and burns a whole minster, and is
made a great earl for if. One law for the weak and one for the strong,
young lads, as you will know when you are as old as I. And now I suppose
he will plunder and burn more minsters, and then patch up a peace with
Harold again; which I advise him strongly to do; for I warn you, young
lads, and you may carry that message from me to Dublin to my good brother
your uncle, that Harold's little finger is thicker than his whole body;
and that, false Godwinsson as he is, he is the only man with a head upon
his shoulders left in England, now that his father, and my father, and
dear old Siward, whom I loved better than my father, are dead and gone."
The lads stood silent, not a little awed, and indeed imposed on, by the
cynical and worldly-wise tone which their renowned uncle had assumed.
At last one of them asked, falteringly, "Then you will do nothing for us?"
"For you, nothing. Against you, nothing. Why should I mix myself up in my
brother's quarrels? Will he make that white-headed driveller at
Westminster reverse my outlawry? And if he does, what shall I get thereby?
A younger brother's portion; a dirty ox-gang of land in Kesteven. Let him
leave me alone as I leave him, and see if I do not come back to him some
day, for or against him as he chooses, with such a host of Vikings' sons
as Harold Hardraade himself would be proud of. By Thor's hammer, boys, I
have been an outlaw but five years now, and I find it so cheery a life,
that I do not care if I am an outlaw for fifty more. The world is a fine
place and a wide place; and it is a very little corner of it that I have
seen yet; and if you were of my mettle, you would come along with me and
see it throughout to the four corners of heaven, instead of mixing
yourselves up in these paltry little quarrels with which our two families
are tearing England in pieces, and being murdered perchance like dogs at
last by treachery, as Sweyn Godwinsson murdered Biorn."
The boys listened, wide-eyed and wide-eared. Hereward knew to whom he was
speaking; and he had not spoken in vain.
"What do you hope to get here?" he went on. "Ranald will give you no
ships: he will have enough to do to fight O'Brodar; and he is too cunning
to thrust his head into Algar's quarrels."
"We hoped to find Vikings here, who would go to any war on the hope of
"If there be any, I want them more than you; and, what is more, I will
have them. They know that they will do finer deeds with me for their
captain than burning a few English homesteads. And so may you. Come with
me, lads. Once and for all, come. Help me to fight O'Brodar. Then help me
to another little adventure which I have on hand,--as pretty a one as ever
you heard a minstrel sing,--and then we will fit out a longship or two,
and go where fate leads,--to Constantinople, if you like. What can you do
better? You never will get that earldom from Tosti. Lucky for young
Waltheof, your uncle, if he gets it,--if he, and you too, are not murdered
within seven years; for I know Tosti's humor, when he has rivals in his
"Algar will protect us," said one.
"I tell you, Algar is no match for the Godwinssons. If the monk-king died
to-morrow, neither his earldom nor his life would be safe. When I saw your
father Asbiorn lie dead at Dunsinane, I said, 'There ends the glory of the
house of the bear;' and if you wish to make my words come false, then
leave England to founder and rot and fall to pieces,--as all men say she
is doing,--without your helping to hasten her ruin; and seek glory and
wealth too with me around the world! The white bear's blood is in your
veins, lads. Take to the sea like your ancestor, and come over the swan's
bath with me!"
"That we will!" said the two lads. And well they kept their word.
HOW HEREWARD SUCCORED THE PRINCESS OF CORNWALL A SECOND TIME.
Fat was the feasting and loud was the harping in the halls of Alef the
Cornishman, King of Gweek. Savory was the smell of fried pilchard and
hake; more savory still that of roast porpoise; most savory of all that of
fifty huge squab pies, built up of layers of apples, bacon, onions, and
mutton, and at the bottom of each a squab, or young cormorant, which
diffused both through the pie and through the ambient air a delicate odor
of mingled guano and polecat. And the occasion was worthy alike of the
smell and of the noise; for King Alef, finding that after the Ogre's death
the neighboring kings were but too ready to make reprisals on him for his
champion's murders and robberies, had made a treaty of alliance, offensive
and defensive, with Hannibal the son of Gryll, King of Marazion, and had
confirmed the same by bestowing on him the hand of his fair daughter.
Whether she approved of the match or not, was asked neither by King Alef
nor by King Hannibal.
To-night was the bridal-feast. To-morrow morning the church was to hallow
the union, and after that Hannibal Grylls was to lead home his bride,
among a gallant company.
And as they ate and drank, and harped and piped, there came into that hall
four shabbily drest men,--one of them a short, broad fellow, with black
elf-locks and a red beard,--and sat them down sneakingly at the very
lowest end of all the benches.
In hospitable Cornwall, especially on such a day, every guest was welcome;
and the strangers sat peaceably, but ate nothing, though there was both
hake and pilchard within reach.
Next to them, by chance, sat a great lourdan of a Dane, as honest, brave,
and stupid a fellow as ever tugged at oar; and after a while they fell
talking, till the strangers had heard the reason of this great feast, and
all the news of the country side.
"But whence did they come, not to know it already; for all Cornwall was
"O, they came out of Devonshire, seeking service down west, with some
merchant or rover, being seafaring men."
The stranger with the black hair had been, meanwhile, earnestly watching
the Princess, who sat at the board's head. He saw her watching him in
return, and with a face sad enough.
At last she burst into tears.
"What should the bride weep for, at such a merry wedding?" asked he of his
"O, cause enough;" and he told bluntly enough the Princess's story. "And
what is more," said he, "the King of Waterford sent a ship over last week,
with forty proper lads on board, and two gallant Holders with them, to
demand her; but for all answer, they were put into the strong house, and
there they lie, chained to a log, at this minute. Pity it is and shame, I
hold, for I am a Dane myself; and pity, too, that such a bonny lass should
go to an unkempt Welshman like this, instead of a tight smart Viking's
son, like the Waterford lad."
The stranger answered nothing, but kept his eyes upon the Princess, till
she looked at him steadfastly in return.
She turned pale and red again; but after a while she spoke:--
"There is a stranger there; and what his rank may be I know not; but he
has been thrust down to the lowest seat, in a house that used to honor
strangers, instead of treating them like slaves. Let him take this dish
from my hand, and eat joyfully, lest when he goes home he may speak scorn
of bridegroom and bride, and our Cornish weddings."
The servant brought the dish down: he gave a look at the stranger's shabby
dress, turned up his nose, and pretending to mistake, put the dish into
the hand of the Dane.
"Hold, lads," quoth the stranger. "If I have ears, that was meant for me."
He seized the platter with both hands; and therewith the hands both of the
Cornishman and of the Dane. There was a struggle; but so bitter was the
stranger's gripe, that (says the chronicler) the blood burst from the
nails of both his opponents.
He was called a "savage," a "devil in man's shape," and other dainty
names; but he was left to eat his squab pie in peace.
"Patience, lads," quoth he, as he filled his mouth. "Before I take my
pleasure at this wedding, I will hand my own dish round as well as any of
Whereat men wondered, but held their tongues.
And when the eating was over and the drinking began, the Princess rose,
and came round to drink the farewell health.
With her maids behind her, and her harper before her (so was the Cornish
custom), she pledged one by one each of the guests, slave as well as free,
while the harper played a tune.
She came down at last to the strangers. Her face was pale, and her eyes
red with weeping.
She filled a cup of wine, and one of her maids offered it to the stranger.
He put it back, courteously, but firmly. "Not from your hand," said he.
A growl against his bad manners rose straightway; and the minstrel, who
(as often happened in those days) was jester likewise, made merry at his
expense, and advised the company to turn the wild beast out of the hall.
"Silence, fool!" said the Princess. "Why should he know our west-country
ways? He may take it from my hand, if not from hers."
And she held out to him the cup herself.
He took it, looking her steadily in the face; and it seemed to the
minstrel as if their hands lingered together round the cup-handle, and
that he saw the glitter of a ring.
Like many another of his craft before and since, he was a vain, meddlesome
vagabond, and must needs pry into a secret which certainly did not concern
So he could not leave the stranger in peace: and knowing that his
privileged calling protected him from that formidable fist, he never
passed him by without a sneer or a jest, as he wandered round the table,
offering his harp, in the Cornish fashion, to any one who wished to play
"But not to you, Sir Elf-locks: he that is rude to a pretty girl when she
offers him wine, is too great a boor to understand my trade."
"It is a fool's trick," answered the stranger at last, "to put off what
you must do at last. If I had but the time, I would pay you for your tune
with a better one than you ever heard."
"Take the harp, then, boor!" said the minstrel, with a laugh and a jest.
The stranger took it, and drew from it such music as made all heads turn
toward him at once. Then he began to sing, sometimes by himself, and
sometimes his comrades, "_more Girviorum tripliciter canentes_" joined
their voices in a three-man-glee.
In vain the minstrel, jealous for his own credit, tried to snatch the harp
away. The stranger sang on, till all hearts were softened; and the
Princess, taking the rich shawl from her shoulders, threw it over those of
the stranger, saying that it was a gift too poor for such a scald.
"Scald!" roared the bridegroom (now well in his cups) from the head of the
table; "ask what thou wilt, short of my bride and my kingdom, and it is
"Give me, then, Hannibal Grylls, King of Marazion, the Danes who came from
Ranald, of Waterford."
"You shall have them! Pity that you have asked for nothing better than
such tarry ruffians!"
A few minutes after, the minstrel, bursting with jealousy and rage, was
whispering in Hannibal's ear.
The hot old Punic [Footnote: Hannibal, still a common name in Cornwall, is
held--and not unlikely--to have been introduced there by the ancient
Phoenician colonists.] blood flushed up in his cheeks, and his thin Punic
lips curved into a snaky smile. Perhaps the old Punic treachery in his
heart; for all that he was heard to reply was, "We must not disturb the
good-fellowship of a Cornish wedding."
The stranger, nevertheless, and the Princess likewise, had seen that
Men drank hard and long that night; and when daylight came, the strangers
In the morning the marriage ceremony was performed; and then began the
pageant of leading home the bride. The minstrels went first, harping and
piping; then King Hannibal, carrying his bride behind him on a pillion;
and after them a string of servants and men-at-arms, leading country
ponies laden with the bride's dower. Along with them, unarmed, sulky, and
suspicious, walked the forty Danes, who were informed that they should go
to Marazion, and there be shipped off for Ireland.
Now, as all men know, those parts of Cornwall, flat and open furze-downs
aloft, are cut, for many miles inland, by long branches of tide river,
walled in by woods and rocks, which rivers join at last in the great basin
of Falmouth harbor; and by crossing one or more of these, the bridal party
would save many a mile on their road towards the west.
So they had timed their journey by the tides: lest, finding low water in
the rivers, they should have to wade to the ferry-boats waist deep in mud;
and going down the steep hillside, through oak and ash and hazel copse,
they entered, as many as could, a great flat-bottomed barge, and were
rowed across some quarter of a mile, to land under a jutting crag, and go
up again by a similar path into the woods.
So the first boat-load went up, the minstrels in front, harping and piping
till the greenwood rang, King Hannibal next, with his bride, and behind
him spear-men and axe-men, with a Dane between every two.
When they had risen some two hundred feet, and were in the heart of the
forest, Hannibal turned, and made a sign to the men behind him.
Then each pair of them seized the Dane between them, and began to bind his
hands behind his back. "What will you do with us?"
"Send you back to Ireland,--a king never breaks his word,--but pick out
your right eyes first, to show your master how much I care for him. Lucky
for you that I leave you an eye apiece, to find your friend the harper,
whom if I catch, I flay alive."
"You promised!" cried the Princess.
"And so did you, traitress!" and he griped her arm, which was round his
waist, till she screamed. "So did you promise: but not to me. And you
shall pass your bridal night in my dog-kennel, after my dog-whip has
taught you not to give rings again to wandering harpers."
The wretched Princess shuddered; for she knew too well that such an
atrocity was easy and common enough. She knew it well. Why should she not?
The story of the Cid's Daughters and the Knights of Carrion; the far more
authentic one of Robert of Belesme; and many another ugly tale of the
early middle age, will prove but too certainly that, before the days of
chivalry began, neither youth, beauty, nor the sacred ties of matrimony,
could protect women from the most horrible outrages, at the hands of those
who should have been their protectors. It was reserved for monks and
inquisitors, in the name of religion and the Gospel, to continue, through
after centuries, those brutalities toward women of which gentlemen and
knights had grown ashamed, save when (as in the case of the Albigense
crusaders) monks and inquisitors bade them torture, mutilate, and burn, in
the name of Him who died on the cross.
But the words had hardly passed the lips of Hannibal, ere he reeled in the
saddle, and fell to the ground, a javelin through his heart.
A strong arm caught the Princess. A voice which she knew bade her have no
"Bind your horse to a tree, for we shall want him; and wait!"
Three well-armed men rushed on the nearest Cornishmen, and hewed them
down. A fourth unbound the Dane, and bade him catch up a weapon, and fight
for his life.
A second pair were dispatched, a second Dane freed, ere a minute was over;
the Cornishmen, struggling up the narrow path toward the shouts above,
were overpowered in detail by continually increasing numbers; and ere half
an hour was over, the whole party were freed, mounted on the ponies, and
making their way over the downs toward the west.
"Noble, noble Hereward!" said the Princess, as she sat behind him on
Hannibal's horse. "I knew you from the first moment; and my nurse knew you
too. Is she here? Is she safe?"
"I have taken care of that. She has done us too good service to be left
here, and be hanged."
"I knew you, in spite of your hair, by your eyes."
"Yes," said Hereward. "It is not every man who carries one gray eye and
one blue. The more difficult for me to go mumming when I need."
"But how came you hither, of all places in the world?"
"When you sent your nurse to me last night, to warn me that treason was
abroad, it was easy for me to ask your road to Marazion; and easier too,
when I found that you would go home the very way we came, to know that I
must make my stand here or nowhere."
"The way you came? Then where are we going now?"
"Beyond Marazion, to a little cove,--I cannot tell its name. There lies
Sigtryg, your betrothed, and three good ships of war."
"There? Why did he not come for me himself?"
"Why? Because we knew nothing of what was toward. We meant to have sailed
straight up your river to your father's town, and taken you out with a
high hand. We had sworn an oath,--which, as you saw, I kept,--neither to
eat nor drink in your house, save out of your own hands. But the easterly
wind would not let us round the Lizard; so we put into that cove, and
there I and these two lads, my nephews, offered to go forward as spies,
while Sigtryg threw up an earthwork, and made a stand against the Cornish.
We meant merely to go back to him, and give him news. But when I found you
as good as wedded, I had to do what I could while I could; and I have done
"You have, my noble and true champion," said she, kissing him.
"Humph!" quoth Hereward, laughing. "Do not tempt me by being too grateful.
It is hard enough to gather honey, like the bees, for other folks to eat.
What if I kept you myself, now I have got you?"
"O, there is no fear, pretty lady. I have other things to think of than
making love to you,--and one is, how we are to get to our ships, and
moreover, past Marazion town."
And hard work they had to get thither. The country was soon roused and up
in arms; and it was only by wandering a three days' circuit through bogs
and moors, till the ponies were utterly tired out, and left behind (the
bulkier part of the dowry being left behind with them), that they made
their appearance on the shore of Mount's Bay, Hereward leading the
Princess in triumph upon Hannibal's horse.
After which they all sailed away for Ireland, and there, like young
"Prepared another wedding,
With all their hearts so full of glee."
And this is the episode of the Cornish Princess, as told by Leofric of
Bourne, the cunning minstrel and warlike priest.
HOW HEREWARD WAS WRECKED UPON THE FLANDERS SHORE.
Hereward had drunk his share at Sigtryg's wedding. He had helped to harry
the lands of O'Brodar till (as King Ranald had threatened) there was not a
sucking-pig left in Ivark, and the poor folk died of famine, as they did
about every seven years; he had burst (says the chronicler) through the
Irish camp with a chosen band of Berserkers, slain O'Brodar in his tent,
brought off his war-horn as a trophy, and cut his way back to the Danish
army,--a feat in which the two Siwards were grievously wounded; and had in
all things shown himself a daring and crafty captain, as careless of his
own life as of other folks'.
Then a great home-sickness had seized him. He would go back and see the
old house, and the cattle-pastures, and the meres and fens of his boyhood.
He would see his widowed mother. Perhaps her heart was softened to him by
now, as his was toward her; and if not, he could show her that he could do
without her; that others thought him a fine fellow if she did not.
Hereward knew that he had won honor and glory for himself; that his name
was in the mouths of all warriors and sea-rovers round the coasts as the
most likely young champion of the time, able to rival, if he had the
opportunity, the prowess of Harold Hardraade himself. Yes, he would go and
see his mother: he would be kind if she was kind; if she were not, he
would boast and swagger, as he was but too apt to do. That he should go
back at the risk of his life; that any one who found him on English ground
might kill him; and that many would certainly try to kill him, he knew
very well. But that only gave special zest to the adventure.
Martin Lightfoot heard this news with joy.
"I have no more to do here," said he. "I have searched and asked far and
wide for the man I want, and he is not on the Irish shores. Some say he is
gone to the Orkneys, some to Denmark. Never mind; I shall find him before
"And for whom art looking?"
"For one Thord Gunlaugsson, my father."
"And what wantest with him?"
"To put this through his brain." And he showed his axe.
"Thy father's brain?"
"Look you, lord. A man owes his father naught, and his mother all. At
least so hold I. 'Man that is of woman born,' say all the world; and they
say right. Now, if any man hang up that mother by hands and feet, and flog
her to death, is not he that is of that mother born bound to revenge her
upon any man, and all the more if that man had first his wicked will of
that poor mother? Considering that last, lord, I do not know but what I am
bound to avenge my mother's shame upon the man, even if he had never
killed her. No, lord, you need not try to talk this out of my head. It has
been there nigh twenty years; and I say it over to myself every night
before I sleep, lest I should forget the one thing which I must do before
I die. Find him I will, and find him I shall, if there be justice in
So Hereward asked Ranald for ships, and got at once two good vessels as
payment for his doughty deeds.
One he christened the _Garpike_, from her narrow build and long beak,
and the other the _Otter_, because, he said, whatever she grappled
she would never let go till she heard the bones crack. They were
excellent, new "snekrs," nearly eighty feet long each; with double banks
for twelve oars a side in the waist, which was open, save a fighting
gangway along the sides; with high poop and forecastle decks; and with one
large sail apiece, embroidered by Sigtryg's Princess and the other ladies
with a huge white bear, which Hereward had chosen as his ensign.
As for men, there were fifty fellows as desperate as Hereward himself, to
take service with him for that or any other quest. So they ballasted their
ships with great pebbles, stowed under the thwarts, to be used as
ammunition in case of boarding; and over them the barrels of ale and pork
and meal, well covered with tarpaulins. They stowed in the cabins, fore
and aft, their weapons,--swords, spears, axes, bows, chests of
arrow-heads, leather bags of bowstrings, mail-shirts, and helmets, and
fine clothes for holidays and fighting days. They hung their shields,
after the old fashion, out-board along the gunwale, and a right gay show
they made; and so rowed out of Waterford harbor amid the tears of the
ladies and the cheers of the men.
But, as it befell, the voyage did not prosper. Hereward found his vessels
under-manned, and had to sail northward for fresh hands. He got none in
Dublin, for they were all gone to the Welsh marches to help Earl Alfgar
and King Griffin. So he went on through the Hebrides, intending, of
course, to plunder as he went: but there he got but little booty, and lost
several men. So he went on again to the Orkneys, to try for fresh hands
from the Norse Earl Hereof; but there befell a fresh mishap. They were
followed by a whale, which they made sure was a witch-whale, and boded
more ill luck; and accordingly they were struck by a storm in the Pentland
Frith, and the poor _Garpike_ went on shore on Hoy, and was left
there forever and a day, her crew being hardly saved, and very little of
However, the _Otter_ was now not only manned, but over manned; and
Hereward had to leave a dozen stout fellows in Kirkwall, and sail
southward again, singing cheerily to his men,--
"Lightly the long-snake
Leaps after tempests,
Gayly the sun-gleam
Glows after rain
In labor and daring
Lies luck for all mortals,
Foul winds and foul witch-wives
Fray women alone."
But their mishaps were not over yet. They were hardly out of Stronsay
Frith when they saw the witch-whale again, following them up, rolling and
spouting and breaching in most uncanny wise. Some said that they saw a
gray woman on his back; and they knew--possibly from the look of the sky,
but certainly from the whale's behavior--that there was more heavy weather
yet coming from the northward.
From that day forward the whale never left them, nor the wild weather
neither. They were beaten out of all reckoning. Once they thought they saw
low land to the eastward, but what or where who could tell? and as for
making it, the wind, which had blown hard from northeast, backed against
the sun and blew from west; from which, as well as from the witch-whale,
they expected another gale from north and round to northeast.
The men grew sulky and fearful. Some were for trying to run the witch down
and break her back, as did Frithiof in like case, when hunted by a whale
with two hags upon his back,--an excellent recipe in such cases, but
somewhat difficult in a heavy sea. Others said that there was a doomed man
on board, and proposed to cast lots till they found him out, and cast him
into the sea, as a sacrifice to Aegir the wave-god. But Hereward scouted
that as unmanly and cowardly, and sang,--
"With blood of my bold ones,
With bale of my comrades,
Thinks Aegir, brine-thirsty,
His throat he can slake?
Though salt spray, shrill-sounding,
Sweep in swan's-flights above us,
True heroes, troth-plighted,
Together we'll die."
At last, after many days, their strength was all but worn out. They had
long since given over rowing, and contented themselves with running under
a close-reefed canvas whithersoever the storm should choose. At night a
sea broke over them, and would have swamped the _Otter_, had she not
been the best of sea-boats. But she only rolled the lee shields into the
water and out again, shook herself, and went on. Nevertheless, there were
three men on the poop when the sea came in, who were not there when it
Wet and wild dawned that morning, showing naught but gray sea and gray
air. Then sang Hereward,--
"Cheerly, my sea-cocks
Crow for the day-dawn.
Weary and wet are we,
Wetter our comrades,
Whelmed by the witch-whale.
Us Aegir granted
Grudging, to Gondul,
Doomed to die dry-shod,
Daring the foe."
Whereat the hearts of the men were much cheered.
All of a sudden, as is the wont of gales at dawn, the clouds rose, tore up
into ribbons, and with a fierce black shower or two, blew clean away;
disclosing a bright blue sky, a green rolling sea, and, a few miles off to
leeward, a pale yellow line, seen only as they topped a wave, but seen
only too well. To keep the ship off shore was impossible; and as they
drifted nearer and nearer, the line of sand-hills rose, uglier and more
formidable, through the gray spray of the surf.
"We shall die on shore, but not dry-shod," said Martin. "Do any of you
knights of the tar-brush know whether we are going to be drowned in
Christian waters? I should like a mass or two for my soul, and shall die
the happier within sight of a church-tower."
"One Dune is as like another as one pea; we may be anywhere between the
Texel and Cap Gris Nez, but I think nearer the latter than the former."
"So much the worse for us," said another. "If we had gone ashore among
those Frieslanders, we should have been only knocked on the head outright;
but if we fall among the Frenchmen, we shall be clapt in prison strong,
and tortured till we find ransom."
"I don't see that," said Martin. "We can all be drowned if we like, I
"Drowned we need not be, if we be men," said the old sailing-master to
Hereward. "The tide is full high, and that gives us one chance for our
lives. Keep her head straight, and row like fiends when we are once in the
surf, and then beach her up high and dry, and take what befalls after."
And what was likely to befall was ugly enough. Then, as centuries after,
all wrecks and wrecked men were public prey; shipwrecked mariners were
liable to be sold as slaves; and the petty counts of the French and
Flemish shores were but too likely to extract ransom by prison and
torture, as Guy Earl of Penthieu would have done (so at least William Duke
of Normandy hinted) by Harold Godwinsson, had not William, for his own
politic ends, begged the release of the shipwrecked earl.
Already they had been seen from the beach. The country folk, who were
prowling about the shore after the waifs of the storm, deserted "jetsom
and lagend," and crowded to meet the richer prize which was coming in
"flotsom," to become "jetsom" in its turn.