Part 1 out of 5
This etext was prepared by A Elizabeth Warren MD, Sacramento, CA
THE WARD OF KING CANUTE
A Romance of the Danish Conquest
by Ottilie A. Liljencrantz
For the facts of this romance I have made free use of the following
authorities: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; The Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical
History of England; Ingulph's History of the Abbey of Croyland; William of
Malmesbury's Chronicle of the Kings of England; The Chronicles of Florence of
Worcester; Lingard's History and Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church, and
Lingard's History of England; Dean Spencer's The White Robe of Churches;
Collier's Ecclesiastical History of Great Britain; Montalembert's Monks of the
West; Thrupp's Anglo-Saxon Home; Hall's Queens Before the Conquest; Kemble's
Saxons in England; Ridgway's Gem of Thorney Island; Brayley and Britton's
History of the Ancient Palace and Late Houses of Parliament; Loftie's
Westminster Abbey and Loftie's History of London; Allen's History and
Antiquities of London; Lappenberg's History of England Under the Anglo-Saxon
Kings; Sharon Turner's History of the Anglo-Saxons; Knight's Old England;
Hume's History of England; Green's Conquest of England; Thierry's History of
the Conquest of England by the Normans; Freeman's History of the Norman
For the translations of Ha'vama'l, etc., used at the beginnings of the
chapters, I am indebted to Professor Rasmus B. Anderson and Mr. Paul du
O. A. L.
Chicago, April 1, 1903.
I. The Fall of the House of Frode
II. Randalin, Frode's Daughter
III. Where War-Dogs Kennel
IV. When Royal Blood is Young Blood
V. Before the King
VI. The Training of Fridtjof the Page
VII. The Game of Swords
VIII. Taken Captive
IX. The Young Lord oi Ivarsdale
X. As the Norns decree
XI. When my Lord comes Home from War
XII. The Foreign Page
XIII. When Might made Right
XIV. How the Fates cheated Randalin
XV. How Fridtjof cheated the Jotun
XVI. The Sword of Speech
XVII. The Judgment of the Iron Voice
XVIII. What the Red Cloak hid
XIX. The Gift of the Elves
XX. A Royal Reckoning
XXI. With the Jotun as Chamberlain
XXII. How the Lord of Ivarsdale paid his Debt
XXIII. A Blood-Stained Crown
XXIV. On the Road to London
XXV. The King's Wife
XXVI. In the Judgment Hall
XXVIII. When Love meets Love
XXIX. The Ring of the Coiled Snake
XXX. When the King takes a Queen
XXXI. The Twilight of the Gods
XXXII. In Time's Morning
The Ward of King Canute
There is an old myth of a hero who renewed his strength each time he touched
the earth, and finally was overcome by being raised in the air and crushed.
Whether or not the Angles risked a like fate as they raised themselves away
from the primitive virtues that had been their life and strength, no one can
tell; but it has been well said that when Northern blood mingled with English
blood at the time of the Danish Conquest, the Anglo-Saxon race touched the
The Fall of the House of Frode
Full stocked folds
I saw at the sons of Fitjung,
Now they carry beggars' staffs;
Like the twinkling of an eye,
The most unstable of friends.
As the blackness of the midsummer night paled, the broken towers and wrecked
walls of the monastery loomed up dim and stark in the gray light. The long-
drawn sigh of a waking world crept through the air and rustled the ivy leaves.
The pitying angel of dreams, who had striven all night long to restore the
plundered shrine and raise from their graves the band of martyred nuns, ceased
from his ministrations, softly as a bubble frees itself from the pipe that
shaped it, and floated away on the breath of the wind. Through a breach in the
moss-grown wall, the first sunbeam stole in and pointed a bright finger across
the cloister garth at the charred spot in the centre, where missals and
parchment rolls had made a roaring fire to warm the invaders' blood-stained
As the lark rose through the brightening air to greet the coming day, a woman
in the tunic and cowl of a nun opened what was left of the wicket-gate in the
one unbattered wall. A trace of the luxury that had dwelt under the gilded
spires survived in her robes, which had been of a royal purple and embroidered
with silken flowers; but the voice of Time and of Ruin spoke from them also,
for the purple was faded to a rusty brown, and the silken embroideries were
threadbare. She struck a note in perfect harmony with her surroundings, as she
stood under the crumbling arch, peering out into the flowering lane.
Stretching away from her feet in dewy freshness, it made a green link between
the herb-garden of St. Mildred's and the highway of the Watling Street. Like
the straggling hedges that were half buried under a net of wild roses, red and
white, the path was half effaced by grass; but beyond, her eye could follow
the straight line of the great Roman road over marsh and meadow and hill-top.
If grass had gathered there also, during the Anglo-Saxon times, there were no
traces of it now, in the days of Edmund Ironside when Canute of Denmark was
leading his war-host back and forth over its stones. Between the dark walls of
oak and beech, it gleamed as white as the Milky Way. The nun was able to trace
its course up the slope of the last hill. Just beyond the crest, a pall of
smoke was spread over a burning village. Though it was miles away, it seemed
to her that the wind brought cries of anguish to her ear, and prayers for
mercy. Shivering, she turned her face back to the desolate peace of the ruins.
"Now is it clear to all men why a bloody cloud was hung over the land in the
year that Ethelred came to the throne," she said. "I feel as the blessed dead
might feel should they be forced to leave the shelter of their graves and look
out upon the world."
Rising from its knees beside a bed of herbs, a second figure in faded robes
approached the gate. Sister Sexberga was very old, much older than her
companion, and her face was a wrinkled parchment whereon Time had written some
She said gently, "We are one with the dead, beloved sister. Those who lie
under the chancel lay no safer than we, last night, though the Pagans' passing
tread shook the ground we lay on, and their songs broke our slumbers. Let us
cease not to give thanks to Him who has spread over us the peace of the
The shadows deepened in the eyes of Sister Wynfreda as she turned them back
toward the lane, for her patience was not yet ripe to perfect mellowness. She
was but little past the prime of her rich womanhood, and still bore the traces
of a great beauty. She bore in addition, upon cheek and forehead, the scars of
three frightful burns.
"The peace of the grave can never be mine while my heart is open to the
sorrows of others," she answered with sadness. "Sister Sexberga, that was an
English band which passed last night. I made out English words in their song.
I am in utmost fear for the Danes of Avalcomb."
"'They that take the sword shall perish with the sword,'" the old nun quoted,
a little sternly. "An Englishman was despoiled of his lands when Frode the
Dane took Avalcomb. If now Frode's turn has come--"
Her companion made a gesture of entreaty. "It is not for Frode that I am
timorous, dear sister, nor for the boy, Fridtjof; it is for Randalin, his
Sister Sexberga was some time silent. When at last she spoke, it was but to
repeat slowly, "Randalin, his daughter. God pity her!"
Sister Wynfreda was no longer listening. She had quitted her hold upon the
gate and taken a step forward, straining her eyes. They had not deceived her.
Out of a tall mass of golden bloom at the farther end of the lane, an arm clad
in brown homespun had tossed itself for one delirious instant. Trailing her
robes over the daisied grass, the nun came upon a wounded man lying face
downward in the tangle.
There was little in that to awaken surprise; it would have been stranger had
warriors passed without leaving some such mute token in their wake. Yet when
the united strength of the four arms had turned the limp weight upon its back,
a cry of astonishment rose from each throat.
"The woodward of Avalcomb!"
"The hand of the Lord hath fallen!"
After a moment the younger woman said in a trembling voice, "The whisper in my
heart spoke truly. Dearest sister, put your arm under here, and we will get
him to his feet and bring him in, and he will tell us what has happened. See!
he is shaking off his swoon. After he has swallowed some of your wine, he will
be able to speak and tell us."
It was muscle-breaking work for women's backs, for though he tried
instinctively to obey their directions, the man was scarcely conscious; his
arms were like lead yokes upon his supporters' shoulders. Just within the gate
their strength gave out, and they were forced to put him down among the spicy
herbs. There, as one was pulling off her threadbare cloak to make him a
pillow, and the other was starting after her cordial, he opened his eyes.
"Master!" he muttered. "Master? Have they gone?"
In an instant Sister Wynfreda was on her knees beside him. "Is it the English
you mean? Did they beset the castle?"
Slowly the man's clouded eyes cleared. "The Sisters--" he murmured. "I had the
intention--to get to you--but I fell--" His words died away in a whisper, and
his eyelids drooped. Sister Sexberga turned again to seek her restorative.
Sister Wynfreda leaned over and shook him.
"Answer me, first. Where is your master? And young Fridtjof? And your
He shrank from her touch with a gasp of pain. "Dead," he muttered. "Dead-- At
the gate-- Frode and the boy-- The raven-starvers cut them down like
"I heard her scream as the Englishman seized her--Leofwinesson had her round
the waist--they knocked me on the head, then--I--I--" Again his voice died
Sister Wynfreda made no attempt to recall him. Mechanically she held his head
so that her companion might pour the liquid down his throat. That done, she
brought water and bandages, and stood by, absent-eyed and in silence, while
Sexberga found his wounds and dressed them. It was the older woman who spoke
"The fate of this maiden lies heavy on your mind, beloved," she said tenderly;
"and I would have you know that my heart also is sorrowful. For all that she
is the fruit of darkness, it was permitted by the Lord that Randalin, Frode's
daughter, should be born with a light in her soul. It was in my prayers that
we might be enabled to feed that light as it were a sacred lamp, to the end
that in God's good time the spreading glory of its brightness might deliver
her from the shadows forever."
Staring before her with unseeing eyes, Sister Wynfreda nodded an absent
assent. "To me also it seemed that the Lord had led her to us... I keep in
mind how she looked when she came that first morning... a bit of silk was in
her hand, which Frode had given her for a present, because a golden apple was
wrought upon it. She came on her horse, with the boy Fridtjof, to offer us
bread from the castle kitchen if we would agree to teach her the secret of
such handiwork. And when we said that for the sake of bread to lighten the
evil days we would comply with her in the matter, she laughed with pleasure,
and her laughter was as grateful to the ear as the chime of matin bells. I can
see her again as she sat above us in her saddle, laughing: her long hair blew
about her, and the red blood glowed in her cheeks, and her eyes were like
pools that the sun is shining on--" Suddenly the Sister's voice broke, and she
hid her face in her hands.
The old nun regarded her compassionately. Hers had been a long hard life, and
she was very near the mountain-top from whose summit the mystery of the
valleys is revealed.
After a time she spoke with tender reverence: "Almighty Father, who hast given
us strength to endure our own trials without murmuring, grant us also the
grace to accept patiently the chastening of those we love."
The bowed head of Sister Wynfreda sank lower, and slowly the heaving of her
breast was stilled. In the chapel four feeble old voices raised a chant that
trembled and shook like a quivering heart-string.
"I beseech thee now,
Lord of Heaven,
And pray to thee,
Best of human-born,
That thou pity me,
And aid me,
That I thy will
Before from this frail life
Tremulously sweet it drifted out over the garden and blended with the aroma in
the air. The wounded man smiled through his pain.
Raising her tear-stained face at last, Sister Wynfreda said humbly, "God
pardon me if I sin in my grief, but to me it seems so bitter a thing when
trouble comes upon the young. The first fall of the young bird in its flight,
the first blow that startles the young horse,--I flinch before them as before
my own wounds. When the light of the fair young day dies before the noon, I
feel the shadow in my heart; and it saddens me to find a flower that worms
have eaten in the bud and robbed of its brief life in the sun. How much more,
then, shall I grieve for the blighting of this human flower? I declare with
truth that the first time I saw her my heart went out to her in a love which
taught me how mothers feel. Her freshness and gladness have fed my starved
heart like wine. I cannot bear that trouble should crush them out of her in
the very flower of her youth; I cannot bear that tears should wear channels
down her soft cheeks and dim the brightness of her eyes. Sooner would I give
what remains to me of life! Sister, do I sin? Do I seem to murmur against His
will? But I have grown used to suffering, while she--what has she known but
love? Oh, have I not suffered enough for both? Could she not have been
spared?" Her voice mounted to a cry of exceeding bitterness.
Sister Sexberga rose, stretching toward her a tremulous pitying hand. The
light that shines on the mountain-top was very bright on her wrinkled old
face. She said softly, "It is not for me to say that you sin in your grief,
most dear sister. But I give you this thought for your comfort: if you, who
are tied to her by no bond of the flesh can feel for her so great and brooding
an affection, what then must be the love of Him who fashioned her fair young
body and lit the light of her glad spirit? Of a surety its tender yearning can
be no less than yours. It may be that with tears He would wash the dust of the
world from her eyes, that her sight may be clear for a vision of holier
things. But believe that, even as you would shelter her, so will He not
forsake her in her helplessness. Believe, and be eased of your fear." A
rustling of her robe across the grass, and she was gone.
The chant ceased, the wavering treble dying away in a note of haunting
sweetness. The man moaned and clutched at his wound; and the bowed figure by
his side roused herself to tend him. Then a grating of rusty hinges made her
turn her head.
Under the crumbling arch, relieved against the green of the lane beyond, stood
the figure of a slender boy wrapped in a mantle of scarlet that bore a
strangely familiar look. His hair fell upon his shoulders in soft wavy locks
of raven blackness; but his face was turned away as his hands fumbled at the
Sister Wynfreda rose and took a step forward, staring at him in bewilderment.
"Fridtjof?" she questioned.
At the sound of her voice, the boy turned and hastened toward her. Then a
great cry burst from Sister Wynfreda, for the face under the black locks was
the face of Randalin.
Randalin, Frode's Daughter
At a hoary speaker
Laugh thou never.
Often is good that which the aged utter;
Oft from a shrivelled hide
Discreet words issue.
She made a convincing boy, this daughter of the Vikings. Though she was
sixteen, her graceful body had retained most of the lines and slender curves
of childhood; and she was long of limb and broad of shoulder. Her head was
poised alertly above her strong young throat, and she was as straight as a
fir-tree and as supple as a birch. A life out-of-doors had given to her skin a
tone of warm brown, which, in a land that expected women to be lily-fair, was
like a mask added to her disguise. The blackness of her hair was equally
unconnected with Northern dreams of beautiful maidens. "Dark-haired women,
like slaves, black and bad," was the proverb of the Danish camps. Some
fair-tressed ancestor back in the past must have qualified his blood from the
veins of an Irish captive; in no other way could one account for those locks,
and for her eyes that were of the grayish blue of iris petals.
The eyes were a little staring this morning, as though still stretched wide
with the horror of the things they had looked upon; and all the glowing red
blood had ebbed away from the brown cheeks.
She said in a low voice, "My father... Fridtjof..." then stopped to draw a
long hard breath through her set teeth.
For the moment Sister Wynfreda was not a nun but a woman,--a woman with a
great yearning tenderness that might have been a beautiful mother-love. She
ran to the girl and caught her tremblingly by the hands, feeling up her arms
to her shoulders and about her face, as if to make sure that she was really
"Praise the Lord that you are delivered whole to me!" she breathed. "Gram told
us--that they had taken you."
Gazing at her out of horror-filled eyes, Randalin stood quite still in her
embrace. Her story came from her in jerks, and each fragment seemed to leave
her breathless, though she spoke slowly.
"I broke away," she said. "They stood around me in a ring. Norman Leofwinesson
said he would carry me before a priest and marry me, so that Avalcomb might be
his lawfully, whichever king got the victory. I said by no means would I wed
him; sooner would I slay him. All thought that a great jest and laughed. While
they were shouting I slipped between them and got up the stairs into a
chamber, where I bolted the door and would not open to them, though they
pounded their fists sore and cursed at me. After a while the pounding became
an exertion to them, and one began to talk about the mead that was waiting
below. And after that they whispered together for a space. At last they began
to laugh and jeer, and called to me that they would go down and drink my
wedding toast before they broke in the door and fetched me; and then they
betook themselves to feasting."
Sister Wynfreda bent her head to murmur a prayer: "God forgive me if I have
lacked charity in my judgment on the Pagans! If they who have seen the light
can do such deeds, what can be expected of those who yet labor under the curse
"I do not understand you," Randalin said wearily, sinking on the grass and
passing her hands over her strained eyes. "When a man looks with eyes of
longing upon another man's property, it is to be expected that he will do as
much evil as luck allows him. Though he has got Baddeby, Norman was covetous
of Avalcomb. When his lord, Edric Jarl, was still King Edmund's man, he twice
beset the castle, and my father twice held it against him. And his greed was
such that he could not stay away even after Edric had become the man of
It was the nun's turn for bewilderment. "The man of Canute? Edric of Mercia,
who is married to the King's sister? It cannot be that you know what you say!"
"Certainly I know what I say," the girl returned a little impatiently. "All
English lords are fraudulent; men can see that by the state of the country.
Though he be thrice kinsman to the English King, Edric Jarl has joined the
host of Canute of Denmark; and all his men have followed him. But even that
agreement could not hold Norman back from Avalcomb. He lay hidden near the
gate till he saw my father come, in the dusk, from hunting, when he fell upon
him and slew him, and forced an entrance--the nithing! When he had
five-and-fifty men and my father but twelve!"
She paused, with set lips and head flung high. The nun got down stiffly beside
her and laid a gentle hand upon her knee.
"Think not of it, my daughter," she urged. "Think of your present need and of
what it behooves us to do. Tell me how you escaped from the chamber, and why
you wear these clothes."
"They were Fridtjof's." She spoke his name very softly. "I found them hanging
on the chamber wall. In the night the men began to entertain themselves with
singing, and it could be heard that they were getting drunk. It had been in my
mind that I would stay where I was until they forced the door; then, because I
would like it better to die than to marry any of them, I would throw myself
out of the window, and the stones below would cause my death. But now it came
to me that if I could dress so that they would not notice me, there were many
good chances that I might slip past them and get out through the postern. I
waited till they were all still, and then I crept into the women's room, and
found the bondmaids huddled in their beds. They got afraid at the sight of me,
for they thought I was Fridtjof's ghost; and they dared not move. So I had to
go down alone." She shuddered in spite of herself. "Never did I think that
darkness could be so unpleasant,--when one is listening for sounds and fears
to put out a hand lest it touch something alive! But I got past the door and
through the guard-room, where the Englishmen were snoring so loud that they
would not have heard if I had stamped. In a niche in the wall outside I found
Almstein the steward hiding, full of fear. I made him follow me out of the
postern and around to the gate where...my father...and...Fridtjof..." Her
voice broke, but she struggled on. "The English dogs had left them there... My
father's face was...wounded...and the moon made his hair all silver round it,
so that the blood looked to be black blots... And Fridtjof's sword was in his
hand... Always he had wished to go into battle, though he was no more than
fourteen winters old... There was a smile on his lips... I made Almstein dig
two graves. He is a cowardly fellow, and it is likely that he would have left
them there till the English were gone. I kissed Fridtjof's mouth...and...and I
laid...my father's cloak...over...over his...face."
It was useless trying to go on; a deep sob shut off her voice and threatened
to rend her when she tried to hold it back. Sister Wynfreda strove with gentle
arms to draw her down upon her breast.
"Suffer the tears to come, my daughter," she urged her tenderly, "or sooner or
later they must."
Randalin pulled away almost roughly, dashing the drops from her eyes.
"They shall not!" she cried brokenly. "They shall not! Am I a weak-minded
English woman that I should shed tears because my kin are murdered? I will
shed blood to avenge them; that is befitting a Danish girl. I will not weep, -
-as though there were shame to wash out! They died with great glory, like
warriors. I will fix it in my mind that I am a kinswoman of warriors. I will
The older woman shrank a little. To ears attuned to the silence of the grave,
such an outburst was little less than terrifying; she was at a loss how to
soothe the girl. To gain a respite, she stole away and renewed the wounded
After a moment Randalin rose and followed, buckling her cloak as she went.
"Since I am become this man's lord, I think it right for me to see how he
fares before I leave him," she explained. Once more she spoke gently, though
the fire of her pride had quite dried her tears.
"Before you leave him?" The form in the faded robes turned inquiringly toward
the erect young figure in its brave scarlet cloak. "What is it you say, my
But Randalin was bending low over the green couch. "Do you know who I am?" she
was asking urgently of the woodward. "Fix your eyes on me and try to gather
together your wits."
Slowly the man's wandering gaze focussed itself; a silly laugh welled up in
his throat. "It would be no strange wonder if I did not," he chuckled. "Odin
has changed you greatly; your face was never so beautiful. But this once you
cannot trick me, Fridtjof Frodesson."
There came a time when this mistake was a source of some comfort to Randalin,
Frode's daughter; but now she stirred impatiently.
"Look again, and try to command your tongue. Tell me the state of your
feelings. Can you live?"
The man shook with his foolish laughter. "You cub! Will not even being killed
cure you of your tricks? If you who have been in Valhalla do not know what
Odin intends about my life, how can I know, who have stayed on earth?"
Sister Wynfreda's hand fell upon the girl's arm. "Disquiet yourself no
further," she whispered. "It is useless and to no end. If it please the Lord
to bless our labors, the wound will soon be healed. Come this way, where he
cannot hear our voices, and tell me what moves you to speak of leaving. Is it
not your intention to creep in with us?"
As she yielded reluctantly to the pressure, Randalin even showed surprise at
the question. "By no means. My errand hither was only to ask for bread. I
thought it unadvisable to venture into the castle kitchen, yet it is needful
that I keep up my strength. I go direct to the Danish camp to get justice from
The nun reached out and caught the gay cloak, gasping. "The Danish camp? You
speak in a raving fit! Better you thrust yourself into a den of ravenous
beasts. You know not what you say."
Offense stiffened the figure under the cloak. "It is you who do not know. Now,
as always, you think about Canute what lying English mouths have told of him.
I know him from my father's lips. No man on the Island is so true as he, or so
generous to those who ask of him. Time and again have I heard my father bid
Fridtjof to imitate him. He is the highest-minded man in the world." Her voice
as she ended was a stone wall of defiance. Sister Wynfreda made a desperate
dash down another road.
"My daughter, I entreat that you will not despise my offer. The yoke is not so
heavy here. Here is no strict convent rule; how could there be? We are but a
handful of feeble old women left living after those who led us are gone, to
the end that heathen fog smother not utterly the light which once was so
bright. In truth, most dear child, you would have no hard lot among us. A few
hours' work in the garden,--surely that is a pleasure, watching the fair green
things spring and thrive under your care. And when the tenderness of the birds
and the content of the little creeping creatures have filled your heart to
bursting with a sense of God's goodness, to come and stand before the Holy
Table and pour out your joys in sweet melody--"
But Randalin's head was shaking too decidedly, though she was not ungentle in
her answering. "I give you thanks, Sister Wynfreda, but such a life is not for
me. My nature is such that I do not like the gloomy songs you sing; nor do I
care for green things, except to wear in my hair. And it seems to me that I
should be spiritless and a coward if I should like such a life. I am no
English girl, to tremble and hide under a mean kirtle. I am a Norse maiden,
the kinswoman of warriors. I think I should not show much honor to my father
and my brother were I to leave them unavenged and sit down here with you. No,
I will go to my King and get justice. When he has slain the murderer and given
me the castle again, I will come back; and you shall come and live with me,
and eat meat instead of herbs, and--"
In her desperation, Sister Wynfreda caught her by the wrists and held her. "My
daughter, my daughter, shake off this sleep of your wits, I entreat you! The
men you are trusting in are dreams which you have dreamed in the safety of
your father's arms. They among whom you are going are barbarians,--yea,
devils! It were even better had you married the son of Leofwine. Think you I
know nothing of the Pagans, that you set my words at naught? Who but
Danish-men laid low these walls, and slaughtered the holy nuns as lambs are
torn by wild beasts? Have I not seen their horrid wickedness? You think a nun
a coward? Know you how these scars came on my face? Three times, with my own
hands, I pressed a red-hot iron there to destroy the beauty that allured, else
had the Pagans dragged me with them. Was I a coward?"
Randalin's eyes were very wide. "It seems to me that you were simple-minded,"
she breathed. "Why did you not thrust the iron in _his_ face?"
But Sister Wynfreda's expression changed so strangely that the girl foresaw an
attack along another line, and hastened to forestall it. "It is not worth
while to tell me further about the matter. Do you not see that it is by no
means the same? I shall be a Danish woman among Danish men. I shall not be a
captive, to be made a drudge of and beaten. It is altogether different. I
shall be with my own people, my own King. Let us end this talk. Give me the
bread and let me go. The sun is getting high."
She glanced at it as she spoke, and found it so much higher than she had
realized that her haste increased.
"No, I dare not wait for it. It is necessary that I get a good start, or they
will overtake me. They are to join Canute near Scoerstan; I heard it talked
among them. My horse is somewhat heavy in his movements, for he is the one
Gram rode yesterday; I found him grazing by the road. Let me go, Sister
Wynfreda. Bid me farewell and let me go."
Clutching at her belt, her arm, her cloak, the nun strove desperately to
detain her. "Randalin! Listen! Alas! how you grieve me by talking after this
manner! Wait, you do not understand. It is not their cruelty I fear for you.
Child, listen! It is not their blows--"
But Randalin had wrenched herself free. "Oh, fear, fear, fear!" she cried
impatiently. "Fear your enemies; fear your friends; fear your shadow! Old
women are afraid of everything! You will see when I come back. No, no, do not
look at me like that; I do not mean to behave badly toward you, but it will
become a great misfortune to me ii I am hindered; it will, in truth. See now;
I will kiss you--here where your cheek is softest. I cannot allow you to take
hold of my cloak again. There! Now lay your hand upon my head, as you do with
the children when you wish them good luck."
Because there was nothing else to do, and because the thought of doing this
gave her some comfort, Sister Wynfreda complied. Laying her trembling hands
upon the bared black head, she raised her despairing face to heaven and prayed
with all the earnestness that was hers. Then she stood at the gate in silence
and watched the girl set forth. As Randalin turned into the sunny highway, she
looked back with a brave smile and waved her cap at the faded figure under the
arch. But the nun, left in the moss-grown garden, wrapped in the peace of the
grave, saw her through a blur of tears.
"God guard you, my fledgeling," she whispered over and over. "My prayers be as
a wall around you. My love go with you as a warm hand in your loneliness. God
keep you in safety, my most beloved daughter!"
Where War-dogs Kennel
Openly I now speak
Because I both sexes know:
Unstable are men's minds toward women;
'T is when we speak most fair,
When we most falsely think:
That deceives even the cautious.
This morning there were few travellers upon the Street. South of the highway
the land was held by English farmers, who would naturally remain under cover
while a Danish host was in the neighborhood; while north of the great dividing
line lay Danish freeholds whose masters might be equally likely to see the
prudence of being in their watch-towers when the English allies were passing.
Barred across by the shadows of its mighty trees, the great road stretched
away mile after mile in cool emptiness. At rare intervals, a mounted messenger
clattered over the stones, his hand upon his weapon, his eyes rolling sharply
in a keen watch of the thicket on either side. Still more rarely, foraging
parties swept through the morning stillness, lowing cows pricked to a sharp
trot before them, and squawking fowls slung over their broad shoulders.
Captured pigs gave back squeal for squawk, and the voices of the riders rose
in uproarious laughter until the very echoes revolted and cast back the
The approach of the first of these bands caused Randalin's heart to leap and
sink under her brave green tunic. For all that she could tell from their
dress, they might as well be English as Danish. If her disguise should fail!
As they bore down upon her, she drew her horse to the extreme edge of the road
and turned upon them a pale defiant face.
On they came. When they caught sight of a sprig of a boy drawn up beside the
way with his hand resting sternly on his knife, they sent up a shout of
boisterous merriment. The blood roared so loudly in Randalin's ears that she
could not understand what they said. She jerked her horse's head toward the
trees and drove her spur deep into his side. Only as he leaped forward and
they swept past her, shouting, did the words reach home.
"Look at the warrior, comrades!" "Hail, Berserker!" "Scamper, cub, or your
nurse will catch you!" "Tie some of your hair on your chin, little one!"
As the sound of hoof-beats died away, and the nag settled back to his steady
jog-trot, the girl unclenched her hands and drew a long breath.
"Though it seems a strange wonder that they should not know me for a woman, I
think I need give myself no further uneasiness. It must be that I am very like
Fridtjof in looks. It may be that it would not be unadvisable now for me to
ask advice of the next person how I can come to the camp."
The asking had become a matter of necessity by the time she found anyone
capable of answering the question. Three foreign merchants whom she overtook
near noon could give her no information, and she covered the next five miles
without seeing a living creature; then it was only a beggar, who crawled out
of the bushes to offer to sell the child beside him for a crust of bread. The
petition brought back to Randalin her own famished condition so sharply that
her answer was unnecessarily petulant, and the man disappeared before the
question could even be put to him. Two miles more, and nothing was in front of
her but a flock of ragged blackbirds circling over a trampled wheat-field.
Already the sun's round chin rested on the crest of the farthest hill. In
desperation, she turned aside and galloped after a mailed horseman who was
trotting down a clover-sweet lane with a rattle and clank that frightened the
robins from the hedges. He reined in with a guffaw when he saw what mettle of
blade it was that had accosted him.
"Is it your intention to join the army?" he inquired. "Canute will consider
himself in great luck."
"I am desirous to--to tell him something," Red Cloak faltered.
His grin vanishing, the man leaned forward alertly. "Is it war news? Of Edric
Before her tongue could move, Randalin's surprised face had answered. The
warrior smote his thigh resoundingly.
"You will be able to tell us tidings we wish to know. Since the fight this
morning we have been allowed to do no more than growl at the English dogs
across the plain, because it was held unadvisable to make an onset until the
Jarl's men should increase our strength. It is to be hoped they are not far
"You make a mistake," Randalin began hesitatingly. "My news does not concern
the doings of Edric Jarl, but the actions of his man Norman--"
A blow across her lips silenced her.
"Hold your tongue until you come in to the Chief," the man admonished her,
with good-humored severity. "Have you not learned that babbling turns to ill,
you sprouting twig? And waste no more time upon the road, either. Yonder is
your shortest way, up that lane between the barley. When you come to a burned
barn, do you turn to the left and ride straight toward the woods; it should
happen that an old beech stock stands where you come out. Take then the path
that winds up-hill, and it will bring you to the war booths before you can
open your foolish mouth thrice. Trolls! what a cub to send a message by! But
get along, now; you will suffer from their temper if they think it likely that
you have kept them waiting." He gave the horse a stinging slap upon the flank,
that sent him forward like a shaft from a bow.
Snatching up her slackened rein with one hand, his rider managed to secure her
leaping cap with the other; and after the first bounce, she caught the jerky
gait instinctively and swayed her body into its uneven swing. But her heart
was all at once a-throb in a wild panic. Was this what a boy must expect? This
challenging brutal downrightness, which made one seem to have become a dog
that must prove his usefulness or be kicked aside? Her spirit felt as bruised
as a fledgeling fallen upon stony ground. She shivered as the old beech stock
loomed up before her.
"If these other men behave so, it is in my mind to tell them that I am a
woman," she decided. "Since they are my own people, no evil can come of their
knowing; and I dislike the other feeling."
The recollection that she had always this escape open gave her a new lease of
boldness. Her courage rose as fast as her body when they began to climb the
hillside toward the ruddy light that slanted down between the tree-trunks.
When a sentinel stopped her near the top, she faced him with a fairly firm
"I have war news for King Canute," she told him haughtily; and he let her pass
with no more than a grin.
The camp appeared to be strung through the whole beech grove that covered the
crest of the hill. The first sign of it began less than ten yards beyond the
sentry, where a couple of squatting thralls were skinning a slain deer; and as
far as eye could swim in the flood of sunset light, the green aisles were
dotted with scattered groups. Every flat rock had a ring of dice-throwers
bending over it; every fallen trunk its row of idlers. Wherever a cluster of
boulders made a passable smithy, crowds of sweating giants plied hammer and
sharpening-stone. The edges of the little stream that trickled down to the
valley were thronged with men bathing gaping wounds and tearing up the cool
moss to staunch their flowing blood. Never had the girl dreamed of such chaos.
It gave her the feeling of having plunged into a whirlpool. She threaded her
way among the groups as silently as the leaf-padded ground would permit.
She had come in by the back door, but now she began to reach the better
quarters. Her nose reported sooner than her eyes that a meal was in making;
and a glow of anticipation braced her famished body. Here, in this green
alcove, preparations were just beginning; a white-robed slave knelt by the
curling thread of smoke and nursed the flickering flame with his breath, while
his circle of hungry masters pelted him with woolly beech-nuts and cursed his
slowness. There, a dozen yards to the left, the meal was nearly over; between
the gnarled trunks the fire shone like a red eye; and bursts of merriment and
snatches of boisterous song marked the beginning of the drinking.
Sometimes a woman's lighter laughter would mingle with the peal. Sometimes,
through the sway-ing branches, Randalin caught sight of the flower-fair face
of an English girl, bending between the shaggy yellow heads of the captors.
Once she came upon a brawny Viking employing his huge fingers to twine a
golden chain around a white throat. The girl's face was dimpling bewitchingly
as she held aside her shining hair. Randalin had an impulse of triumph.
"I wish that Sister Wynfreda could see that, now, since it is her belief that
Danes are always overbearing toward their captives," she told herself. "This
one has no appearance of having felt blows or known hard labor. She could not
have been entertained with greater liberality in her father's house--"
She broke off suddenly, as the words suggested a new train of thought. This
girl must have been driven from her father's house by Danes, even as she
herself had been driven forth by the English. Yet here was she eating with her
foes, taking gold from their hands! Could she have honor who would thus make
friends with the slayers of her kin? Randalin watched her wonderingly until
leaves shut out the picture.
Another sentinel hailed her, and she gave him absently her customary answer.
He pointed to a great striped tent of red and white linen, adorned with
fluttering streamers and guarded by more sentries in shining mail; and she
rode toward it in a daze.
More revellers sprawled under these trees, and she looked at them curiously.
The women here did not seem to be amusing themselves so well. One was weeping;
and one--a slip of a girl with a face like a rose--was trying vainly to rise
from her place beside a drunken warrior, who held her hands and strove to pull
her lips down to his wine-stained mouth. In imagination Randalin felt again
Norman's arm around her waist, and a wild pity was quickened in her. This was
worse than drudgery, worse than blows! For the credit of Danish warriors, it
was well that Sister Wynfreda could not see this.
Again her own words raised a startling apparition. What had been the Sister's
last cry of warning? "It is not their cruelty I fear for you. Child, listen!
It is not their blows--" Could it be possible that this was what--
Like a merciless answer came a scream from the girl,--a short piercing cry of
horror and loathing and agonized appeal as she was drawn down upon the leering
face. At that cry, childhood's blind trust died forever in Randalin. As she
rode past the pair, with clenched hands and flashing eyes, she knew without
reasoning that tortures would not tear from her the secret of her disguise.
When the sentinel before the tent challenged her roughly, it was her tongue,
not her brain, that answered him.
"I have war news for the King."
In a twinkling he had dropped his spear, plucked her from her saddle, and was
marching her toward the entrance by her collar.
"In the Troll's name, get in to the Chief, and let nothing hinder you!" he
growled. "From your snail's pace I got the idea that you had come a-begging.
Get in, and set your tongue wagging as speedily as you can! Why do you draw
back? I tell you to make haste!"
Before she could so much as catch her breath, he had raised the tent-flap,
pushed her bodily through the entrance, and dropped the linen door behind her.
When Royal Blood Is Young Blood
The mind only knows
What lies near the heart;
That alone is conscious of our affections.
No disease is worse
To a sensible man
Than not to be content with himself.
Three richly dressed warriors, clinking golden goblets across a table,--so
much Randalin caught in her first glance. On the spot where the sentinel had
released her she stopped, stock-still, and with eyes bent on the ground
tremblingly awaited the royal attention.
Clink-clank,--the golden goblet lips continued their noisy kissing. The hum of
the low-toned voices droned on without interruption. Minute after minute
dragged by. She ventured to shift her weight and steal an upward glance.
Her first thought was that a king's tent was very like a trader's booth.
Spears and banners and gold-bossed shields decorated the walls, while the
reed-strewn ground was littered with furs and armor, with jewelled
altar-cloths and embroidered palls and wonder-ful gold-laced garments. The
rude temporary benches were spread with splendid covers of purple and green,
upon which silver lilies and gold-eyed peacocks had been wrought with
exquisite skill. And the rough-hewn table bore such treasures as plunderers
dream of when their sleeping-bags are lying the most comfortably,--ivory
relique caskets, out of which the sacred bones had been unceremoniously
turned, gemmed chalices from earls' feasting-halls, and amber chains and
silver mirrors and strings of pearls from their ladies' bowers. Randalin's
gaze lingered, dazzled, then slowly rose to examine the master of all this
He was not so easy to pick out. Of the three men around the table, only one
was a graybeard; and of the two striplings left, either might have been the
son of Sven of Denmark. Both were finely formed; both were dressed with royal
splendor, and the hair of each fell from under a jewelled circlet in uncut
lengths of shining fairness. The hair of the shorter one, though, was finer;
and no red tainted the purity of its gold. When one came to look at it, it was
like a royal cloak. Perhaps he might be the King! She wished he would raise
his face from his hands, that she might see it. Then she noticed that his
shoulders lacked the breadth of his companion's by as much as a palm's width;
and her mind wavered. Surely so great a king as Canute must be broader-
shouldered than any of his subjects! This youth was hardly brawny at all; as
Vikings went, he was even slender. She turned her attention to the other man.
He was big enough, certainly; the fist that he was waving in the air was like
nothing so much as a sledge-hammer, and there was a likeness to the Jotuns in
his florid coarse-featured face.
As she watched it, Randalin felt a coldness creep over her. His great jaws
were like the jowl of a mastiff. His thick-lipped mouth--what was it that made
that so terrible, even in smiling? Watching it with the fascination of terror,
it occurred to her to endow him with the appetite of the drunken warrior at
the table outside the tent. Suppose, just as they stood now, he should take
the fancy to turn and kiss her lips; would anything stop him? In the drawing
of a breath, her overwrought nerves had painted the picture so clearly that
she was sick with horror. Sister Wynfreda's red-hot iron would not keep him
back, instinct told her. That sacrifice of beauty had not been simple-minded;
it had been the one alternative. The girl's light-hearted boldness went from
her in a gasp. Her shaking limbs gave way beneath her, so that she sank on the
nearest bench and cowered there, panting.
Though the men were too intent to notice her, in some sub-conscious way her
moving seemed to rouse them. Their discussion had been growing gradually
louder; now the bearded man and the young Jotun rose suddenly and faced their
companion, whose voice became audible in an obstinate mutter,--
"Nevertheless, I doubt that it was wise to join hands with an English
The older man said in a tone of slowly gathering anger, "I told you to make
the bargain, and I stand at the back of my counsels. Have you become like the
wind, which tries every quarter of the sky because it knows not its own mind?"
While the young man warned in his heavy voice, "You will have your will in
this as in everything, King Canute; but I tell you that if you keep the
bargain, you will act against my advice."
Randalin had been mistaken in her deductions. It was not the brawny body that
was King of the Danes; the leader's spirit lodged in the slender frame of the
youth with the cloak of yellow hair.
He raised from his hands now a face of boyish sullenness, and sat glaring over
his clenched fists at his counsellors.
"Certainly it would become a great misfortune to me if I should act against
the advice of Rothgar Lodbroksson," he made stinging answer. "He is as wise
and long-sighted as though he had eaten a dragon's heart. It was he who gave
me the advice, when the English broke faith, to vent my rage upon the
hostages. Men have not yet ceased to lift their noses at me for the
unkingliness of the deed." His eyes blazed at the memory. They were not
pleasant eyes when he was angry; the blue seemed to fade from them until they
were two shining colorless pools in his brown face.
The son of Lodbrok shrugged his huge shoulders in stolid resignation; but the
wrinkled forehead of the older man became somewhat smoother. There was nothing
Jotun-like about his long, lean features, yet his expression was little
pleasanter on that account. From under his lowering shaggy brows he appeared
to see without being seen; and one distrusted his hidden eyes as a traveller
in the open distrusts a skulker in the thicket.
He said in his measured voice, "In that matter my opinion stands with Canute.
When bloodshed is unnecessary, it becomes a drawback. Craft is greatly to be
preferred. One does not cross deep snow by stamping through it on iron-shod
feet; one slides over it on skees."
Over the brown fists, the fierce bright eyes bent themselves upon him in his
turn. The biting young voice said, "It is likely that Thorkel the Tall speaks
from experience. It stands in my memory how well craft served him when he had
deserted my father for Ethelred and then became tired of the Englishman. To
procure himself peace, he was forced to creep back to my feet like a dog that
has been kicked. Was there gold enough in his bribe to regild his fame?"
The gnarled old face of Thorkel the Tall grew livid; growling in his grizzled
beard, his hand moved instinctively toward his sword. But Rothgar caught his
arm with a boisterous laugh.
"Slowly, old wolf!" he admonished. "Never snarl at the snapping of the cub you
The King had not moved at the threatening gesture, and he did not move now,
but he echoed the laugh bitterly. "In that, you say more truth than you know,
foster-brother. He is a wolf, and I am a wolf's cub, and you are no better. We
are all a pack of ravening beasts, we Northmen, that have no higher ambition
than to claw and use our teeth. Talk of high-mindedness to such--bah!" He
flung his arms apart in loathing; then, in a motion as boyishly weary as it
was boyishly petulant, crossed them on the table before him and pillowed his
head upon them.
His companions did not seem to be unused to such outbursts. Rothgar appeared
to find it more amusing than anything else, for his mouth expanded slowly in a
grin. A snort of impatience distended the nostrils of Thorkel the Tall. "At
such times as these," he said, "are brought to my mind the words of Ulf Jarl,
that a man does not really stand well upon his legs until he has lived
Up came the young King's yellow head. There was no question now about his
temper. A spot of fiery red marked each cheek-bone, and his colorless eyes
were points of blazing light.
"Better is it to stand unsteadily upon two legs than to go naturally upon
four," he retorted. "If I also am a beast, at least there is a man's mind in
me that tells me to loathe myself for being so. Even as I loathe you--both of
you--and all your howling pack! Make me no answer or, by the head of Odin, you
shall feel my fangs! You say that my will is like the wind's will. Can you not
see why, dull brutes that you are? Because it is not my will, but yours,--now
Rothgar's beast-fierceness, now your low-minded craft. Because I am not
content with myself, I listen to you. And you--you-- Oh, leave me, leave me,
before I lose my human nature and go mad like a dog! Leave--You laugh!" As he
caught sight of Rothgar, he interrupted himself with a roar. His hand shot to
his belt and plucking forth the jewelled knife that hung there, hurled it, a
glittering streak, at the grinning face. If it had reached home, one of
Rothgar's eyes would have gone out in darkness.
But the son of Lodbrok had known his royal foster-brother too long to be taken
by surprise. Throwing up a wooden platter like a shield, he caught the
quivering blade in its bottom, whence he drew it forth with good-humored
"If you wish to give a friend a present, King, you should not throw it at him
so angrily," he suggested. "Had you given me the sheath too, your gift would
have been doubly dear."
The fiery spots in Canute's cheeks deepened and spread. He turned away without
answering, and stood a long time beating his fingers on the table in a sharp
What does it mean, the pause that follows the storm, when Nature's accumulated
discontent has vented itself in a passionate outbreak? The trees stand
motionless, with hanging heads; the blue of the clearing sky is divinely
tender; under the spangling drops, the flowers look up like tear-filled eyes.
Does it mean repentance, or only exhaustion?
Gradually the color flowed back to the young King's eyes and softened them;
gradually his mouth relaxed from its fierce lines and drooped in bitter
curves. When at last his fingers stopped their nervous beat, it was to
unfasten the sheath of chased gold which was attached to his waist, and
stretch it out to Rothgar.
"Have it your own way," he said gravely. "It is right that I pay some fine; I
have a troll's temper. Take the sheath. But do not make the mistake again of
laughing at me because you cannot understand me. But one person may do that
and live; and that person is a woman, and my wife... There is a strange
feeling in my heart that we have begun to travel different paths, you and I,--
and that it is because we no longer walk on the same level of ground, that we
no longer see any object in the same light... And my mind tells me that in
time to come your path will lead you down into the valley and my road will
take me up the mountain-side,...until even our voices shall no longer reach
across." He came out of his dreaming abruptly. "It is not worth while to speak
further. I do not blame my foster-father that he is lifting the corner of his
mouth at me. And you--you think I am talking in my sleep. Leave me, as I
ordered you. There is no unfriendliness in my mind at this, but I can command
myself no further. Go."
Rothgar said, with some approach to formal courtesy, "I ask you to pardon it
that I have done what you dislike, for I wish that the least of all the world.
And I give you thanks for your gift." Their hands clasped strongly as the
trinket passed from grasp to grasp.
Then the sage and the soldier turned and strode past the cowering figure of
Randalin and out of the linen doorway.
Before The King
Know if thou hast a friend
Whom thou little trustest
Yet wouldst good from him derive
Thou shouldst speak him fair,
But think craftily,
And leasing pay with lying.
When the curtain had fallen behind his advisers, the young King threw himself
back upon his rude high-seat and rested motionless among its cushions, his
head hanging heavily upon his breast.
Crouching on her bench near the door, Randalin watched him as a fly caught in
a web watches the approaching spider. She had forgotten her errand; she had
forgotten her disguise; she had forgotten where she was; her one conscious
emotion was fear. Her eyes followed his roving glance from spear to banner,
from floor to ceiling, in terrible anticipation. It approached her; it turned
aside; it passed above her, hesitated, sank, touched her! Ashen-white, she
staggered to her feet and faced him.
A lithe boyish figure with wide boyish eyes and a tanned boyish face,--Canute
gazed incredulously; rubbed his eyes and looked again.
"In the Troll's name, who are you?" he ejaculated. "How came you here?"
The pale lips moved, but no sound came from them.
Their fruitless twitching seemed to irritate him. He made a petulant gesture
toward the half-filled goblet. "Why do you stand there making mouths? Drink
that and get a man's voice into your throat, if you have anything to say to
"A man's voice!" The girl stared at him. "A _man_'s voice?" Then, like
lungfuls of fresh air, it entered into her that she was not really the naked
fledgeling she felt herself. She was in the toils, surely, but there was a
shell around her. Glad to hide her face for a moment, she seized the goblet
and drained it slowly to the last drop. If only she could remember just how
Fridtjof had borne himself! As she swallowed the last mouthful, a recollection
came to her of the thrall-women grumbling over Fridtjof's wine-stained tunics;
and she carefully drew her sleeve across her mouth as she set down the cup.
Leaning back in his seat, the King took frowning measure of his guest, from
the toe of her spurred riding-boot to the top of the green cap which she had
forgotten to remove. His mood seemed wavering between annoyance and amusement;
a word could decide the balance. With her last swallow he repeated his
"Are you capable now of giving me any reason why I should not have you flogged
from the camp? Is it your opinion that because I choose to behave foolishly
before my friends, I am desirous to have tale-bearing boys listening?"
"Boys" again! Randalin's sinking spirit rallied at the assurance as her
fainting body had revived under the rich warmth of the mead.
She managed to stammer out, "I entreat you not to be angry, Lord King. It was
the fault of the man on guard that I came in as I did. And I did not
understand six of the words you spoke,--I beseech you to believe it."
That she had in truth been too frightened for intelligent eavesdropping, the
remaining pallor of her face made it easy to believe. The scales tipped ever
"Did you think you had fallen into a bear pit?" the King asked with a faint
smile, that sharpened swiftly to bitterness. "After all, it would matter
little what anyone told of me. Without doubt your kin have already taught you
to call me thrall-bred and witless. Little more can be said."
That from the warrior whose foot was already planted on the neck of England!
In her surprise, Randalin's eyes met his squarely. "By no means, King Canute;
my father called you the highest-minded man in the world."
The young leader flushed scarlet, flushed till he felt the burning, and
averted his face to hide it. He said in a low voice, "Many things have been
told of me that I count for naught, but this--this has not been said of me
before. Tell me his name."
"He was called Frode, the Dane of Avalcomb." The red mouth trembled a little.
"He is dead now. He was slain last night, by Norman Leofwinesson, who is Edric
As both horseman and sentinel had started at that name, so now the King
straightened into alertness, forgetting everything else.
"Leofwinesson? What know you of him or his Jarl? Where are they? When saw you
"Last night; when they lay drunk in my father's castle at Avalcomb, after--"
"Avalcomb? Near St. Alban's? The swine!" The monarch was a soldier now,
shooting his questions like arrows. "After I bade them at Gillingham come
straight to me! How many were they? Where is the Jarl?"
"He was not with them. It was Norman of Baddeby who led, and he had no more
than five-and-fifty men. It was spoken among them that they would join you at
Canute's hand shot out and gripped her arm and shook it. "You know this for
certain? I will have your tongue if you lie to me! You are sure that they
intend coming,--that it is not their intention to play me false and return to
Edmund?" His voice was stern, his gaze mercilessly direct. An hour before, the
girl would have shrunk from them both.
One can learn life-lessons in an hour. She faced the roughness now as one
faces a rush of bracing north wind. "I know what I heard them say, Lord King.
They said that Edric Jarl had marched on to St. Alban's to lie there
over-night. Leofwinesson stopped at Avalcomb because he wished to vent his
spite upon my father. It was their intention to meet at the city gate at noon
and come on to join you. They will be here before the sun is set."
Canute released her arm to reach for his goblet. "I wish I could know it for
certain," he muttered. "But it is as the saying has it, 'Though they fight and
quarrel among themselves, the eagles will mate again.'" He looked at her with
a half-smile as he refilled his cup, motioning toward the other flagon. "Fill
up, and we will drink a toast to their loyalty and to your beard; they appear
to be equally in need of encouragement." Draining it off, he sat staring down
into the dregs, twirling the stem thoughtfully between his fingers.
By the time she had shifted her weight twice for each foot, the petitioner
ventured to recall him.
"It gives me some hope, to hear what you say about suspecting Edric Jarl," she
said timidly; "for that makes it appear more likely that you will be willing
to give me justice on his man."
"Justice?" The King's mind came back to her slowly, as from an immense
distance. "By Thor, I had forgotten! There have not been so many to me on that
errand... Though I take it well that you should trust me... Yes, certainly; I
will be king-like once. Stand here before me, while I question you."
She caught her breath rather sharply as she stepped forward. Would she be able
to tell a straight story? She stood with fingers interlacing nervously.
"Tell me first how you are called?"
"I am called Fridtjof Frodesson."
"Frode of Avalcomb! Now I know where I have heard that name; my father spoke
it often, and always with great respect. It will go hard with me if I must
return an unfavorable answer to his son. Tell me how his death was brought
Randalin thrust the sobs back from her throat; the tears back from her eyes.
Only a clear head could deliver her out of the snare. She began slowly:
"Leofwinesson set upon him last night, at the gate of the castle, and slew
him. The Englishman had long been covetous of Avalcomb, so that even his fear
of you was not so great as his greed. He had five-and-fifty men, and my father
but twelve--besides me; he--we--had just come in from hunting. Then he rode
over my father's body into the castle." She stopped uncertainly to glance at
The brightness of his eyes startled her, though they were not turned in her
direction. They were blazing down into the cup that he was turning and
pinching between his fingers. He said, half as though to himself: "Vermin!
What would I give if I might take them in my teeth and shake them like the
filth-fed rats they are! Ten hundred such do not reach the value of one finger
of a warrior like Frode! I knew that the fetters of Thorkel's craftiness would
pinch me some-where--" He broke off and flung the goblet from him, burying his
hands in his yellow hair. "How I hate them!" he breathed between his teeth.
"How I hate their smooth-tongued Jarl, and all their treacherous hides! Oh,
for the day when I no longer need their aid; when I am free to strike!" The
joy of his face was a terrible thing to hold in one's memory.
Perhaps he saw its awfulness reflected in the wide blue eyes, for he checked
himself abruptly. When he spoke again, he had himself well in hand.
"I act like a fool to let you hear my ravings. Poor cub! it is likely you will
call me a worse name when you find out how I am hindered! Yet go on and tell
me the rest. How comes it that you escaped unharmed?"
With Gram's experience to follow, it was not hard to frame that answer. "They
knocked me on the head with a spear-butt and left me for dead. When I got my
senses again, I found my way to the nuns of St. Mildred's; and they gave me
food, and I rode hither."
"It is the Troll's luck! I--yet, go on. The day will come! Did they further
harm within the castle? Have you women-kin?"
Randalin hesitated. Would it not be safer if she could deny altogether the
existence of a daughter of Frode? But no, that was not possible, in the face
of what Norman might reveal. She began very, very carefully: "It happened that
my mother died before we came to Avalcomb; and my father had but one daughter.
She was called Randalin. I did not see what became of her, for I was outside;
but I think that she is dead. A--her thrall-woman told me that Leofwinesson
pursued her to a chamber in the wall. And and because she could not escape
from him--she--she threw herself from the window, and the stones below caused
The King's hands clenched convulsively. "It is like them!" he muttered. "It
has happened as I supposed. If the master be like his men, I ask you in what
their God is to be preferred to ours? Have no fear but that I will avenge your
kinswoman. Those of her own blood-ties could do no more. And Frode also. You
need not wait long for me when the day comes; the last hair of the otter-skin
shall be covered, though I take from them the Ring itself. You shall see! Have
patience, and you shall see!"
Upon burning ears the word "patience" falls coldly.
"Patience!" the child of Frode repeated.
Perhaps in days gone by the young King himself had rebelled at the tyranny of
that word. Perhaps the smart of its scourge was still upon him. He put forth a
kindly hand and drew the boy down beside him.
"Listen, young one," he said, "and do not blame me for what I cannot help. Had
I come hither only to get property and go away again, as Northmen before me
have come, it would not matter to me whom I killed, and I would slay
Leofwinesson more gladly than I would eat; may the Giant take me if I lie! But
I have come to the Island to set up my seat-pillars and get myself land. I
think no one guesses how much I have the ambition at heart; even to me it
appears a strange wonder. But it is true that I look upon the fair rolling
meadows with such eyes of love that when it is necessary that I should set
fire to them, it is as though I had laid the torch to my hair. And because of
that, in order that I be not kept destroying them until they are not worth the
having, I have made a bargain with Edric Jarl, who is dissatisfied with his
king, that we are to support each other in the game. There it is all open to
you. Leofwinesson is the man of Edric. Until such time as I get the kingship
firmly in my hands, it would be unadvisable for me to reckon with him though
he had slain my foster-brother. You see? It is the way the Fates order things.
I must submit to them, though I am a king. Can you not, then, bend your head
without shame, and wait with me?"
Reasoning was lost on Randalin. The bitterness of failure had swept over her
and maddened her. Was she mistaken, then, about everything? Could those
trembling old women behind the broken wall read the world like witches? Was
everyone false or a beast? Oh, how her father had been wronged! She shook off
the King's hand and faced him with blazing eyes, seeking for words that should
bite like her thoughts. Then she became conscious that a word would
precipitate a flood of hysterical tears, to the eternal disgrace of her
warrior kin. All that was left for her was to get away without speaking. Out
in the woods there would be no one to see; and the grass would hide the
quivering of her lips. She put up her hand now to hide it and, struggling to
her feet, began groping toward the door.
She did not stop when Canute's voice called after her,--not until she had
reached the entrance, and the rattle of crossing spears, without, had told her
that her way was barred. Then she whirled back with a sharp cry.
"Let me go! I hate you! Let me go!"
He did not bid his guards kill her, as she half expected. Instead, he said
patiently, "I foresaw that you would take it ill; there is the greatest excuse
for you. In your place I should be equally unruly. Indeed, there is a likeness
about our luck, which causes my heart to go out to you as it has done to no
one else. I will grant your boon in time to come; so sure as I live, I will.
And until then, since all your stock has been cut off, I will be your guardian
and you shall be my ward, as though you were my own brother. Come, sit here,
and I will tell you."
She repulsed him sharply. "No, no, you shall do nothing for me! I am going
back. I ask you to let me go."
"Let you go, to starve under a hedge?"
"I shall not starve; Avalcomb is mine."
"What food will that put in your mouth, since Leofwinesson has conquered it
and driven out your servants and set his own in their place?"
Her heart sickened within her. Once more the impulse came to creep away, like
a wounded animal, and fight it out alone. She turned again to the door.
"I will starve, then. Let me go."
Leaning at his ease in the great chair, the young King regarded his ward
thoughtfully. "It is not possible that the son of Frode the Fearless should be
a coward," he said at last; "but you are over-peevish, boy. That you have
never known government is easily seen. Listen now to the truth of the matter.
If you were a maiden, it would be easy for me to-- Are you listening?" He
paused, for the slim figure had suddenly become so statue-like that he
suspected it of plotting another attack upon the door.
The boy answered very low, "Yes, Lord King, I am listening."
Canute went on again: "I say that if you were a maiden,--if you were your
sister, to tell it shortly,--I could easily dispose of you in marriage. Thus
would you get protection, and your father's castle would gain a strong arm to
fight for it. I would wed you to my foster-brother, Rothgar Lodbroksson, and
thus bring good to both of-- Are you finding fault with that also?"
But the lad stood before him like a stone. If a faint cry had come from him,
it was not repeated; and there was nothing offensive about a hidden face and
The King continued more gently: "But since you were so simple as to be born a
boy, such good luck is not to be expected. It is the best that I can do to
offer you to become my ward and follow me as my page, until the sword's game
has decided between me and Edmund of England. But I do not know where your
ambition is if that does not content you. There are lads in Denmark who would
give their tongues for the chance. What say you, Fridtjof the Bold?"
For a time it looked as if "Fridtjof the Bold" did not know what to say. He
stood without raising his hanging head or moving a muscle. Silence filled the
tent, while from outside leaked in the noise of the revel. Then, through that
noise or above it, there became audible the notes of far-away horns. Edric
Jarl was fulfilling his pledge. Cheers answered the blast. An exclamation
broke from the King's lips, and he leaped up. At that moment, "Fridtjof the
Bold" fell at his feet with clasped hands and supplicating eyes.
"Let me go, Lord King," he besought passionately. "Let me go, and I will ask
nothing further of you. I will never trouble you again. Let me go!--only let
Canute of Denmark is not to be blamed that he stamped with exhausted patience.
"Go into the hands of the Trolls!" he swore. And again, "In the Fiend's name!"
And at last, "By the head of Odin, it would serve you well did I take you at
your word! It would serve you right did I turn you out to starve. Were it not
for your father's sake, and for the sake of my own honor, I vow I would! Now
hearken to this." Bending, he picked the boy up by his collar and shook him.
"Listen now to this, and understand that you cannot move me by the breadth of
a hair. I shall not let you go, and you shall be my ward, whether you will or
no. And if you run away, soldiers shall go after you and bring you back, as
often as you run. And if you answer me now or anger me further--but I will not
say that, for it is your misfortune that makes you unruly, and you are
weak-spirited from hunger. Take this bread now for your meal, and that bench
yonder for your bed, and trouble me no more to-night. I would not be hard upon
you, yet it would be advisable for you to remember that I have sufficient
temper for one tent. Go as I bid you. I must meet with the Jarl. Go! Do you
heed my orders?"
Only one answer was possible. After a moment the page gave it in a low voice.
"Yes, Lord King," he whispered, and crept away to his corner.
The Training of Fridtjof The Page
A foolish man
Is all night awake,
Pondering over everything;
He then grows tired,
And when morning comes
All is lament, as before.
Who that has youth and a healthy body is not made a new being by a night of
dreamless slumber? What young heart is so despairing that to waken into a fair
day does not bring courage? Wakened by the sun's caress, to the morning song
of blowing trees, Randalin faced her future as became the kinswoman of
"I do not know why it was that fear crept into my breast last night," she told
herself severely, when the first wave of strangeness and grief had broken over
her, and she had come up again into the sparkling air. "Great dangers have
threatened me, but I have escaped them all with great luck; it is poor-
spirited of me to despair. And it must be that witches had thinned my blood
with water that I should have thought of running away. To do that would be to
lose my revenge forever. I should become a creature without honor, like the
girl with the necklace. To stay is no less than my duty. If I think all the
time of Fridtjof, it is certain that I can hide it that I am a girl." Turning
in her furry bed, she rose cautiously upon her elbow and looked about.
The tent was empty, though scattered furs along the benches showed where
sleepers might have rested. But from outside, a clatter of hurrying feet and
excited voices broke suddenly upon her. Did it mean a battle? She sat up,
straining eye and ear. The jubilant voices shouted greetings that just missed
being intelligible. The sun, glancing from moving weapons, flashed through the
doorway in fantastic shapes.
While she was trying to unravel it all, one pair of the hurrying feet halted
before the entrance. After a muttered word with the sentinel, they came on and
brought the son of Lodbrok into view. The girl started up with a gasp of
alarm, then made the strange discovery that she was no longer afraid of him.
Though he showed against the linen wall as brawny and big of jowl as he had
loomed up the night before, she found herself moved only to dislike. What had
been the matter last night? Understanding nothing of the clairvoyant power of
sharpened nerves, she set it down tn cowardice, and put on an extra swagger
now as her eyes met his.
Rothgar surveyed the sprig of defiance with no more than a perfunctory
interest. "It seems that you are the son of Frode the Dane," he said in his
heavy voice. "Frode was a mighty raven-feeder; for his sake I am going to
support you until you can go well on your legs. Have you had anything to eat?"
As she shook her head, Randalin's heart rather softened toward him. But it
hardened again when the thralls had brought the food, and he had sat down and
begun to share it. Seen in a strong light, his rich tunic proved to be foul
with beer stains, while his great hands reeked with grease. His thick lips,
his heavy breathing--bah, he was revolting! Before she had finished the meal,
she had come to the conclusion that she hated him.
Perhaps it was as well that there was something to add firmness to her
bearing. As he swallowed his last mouthful of food, Rothgar said abruptly,
"Canute has put your training into my hands. It is his will that I find out
how much skill you have with weapons."
It was nothing more than she should have expected, yet it came upon her with
the suddenness of a blow. She could only stammer, "Weapons?"
The Jotun's voice rumbled hideously as he talked into his goblet. "Have you
the accomplishment to wield a battle-axe or throw a spear? Can you shoot
"No," she faltered.
He rolled his eyes around at her as he threw back his head to catch the last
drop that clung to the golden rim. "Can you handle a sword?"
Randalin hesitated, uncertain how far her idle play at fencing with her
brother would bear her out; she provided as many loop-holes as she could
devise. "I think you will find my skill slight. I have--I have grown so fast
that I lack strength in my arms. And I have not exercised myself as much as I
should have done."
"It is in my mind that you have been a lazy cub," the warrior pronounced
deliberate sentence, as he set down his goblet. "It is easily seen that Frode
has been over-gentle with you. But you will pay now for your laziness, by
receiving a cut each time I pass your guard. Stand forth, and show what your
skill is worth. This sword will not be too heavy." Selecting the smallest of
the jewelled blades upon the floor, he thrust it into her hands.
It is good to have in one's veins the liquid fire of the North, blood to which
the presence of peril is like the touch of the Ice King to water. At the first
clash of the blades, strange tingling fires began to flash through Randalin,
--and then a hardness, that burnt while it froze. The first pass, her hands
had parried seemingly by their own instinct; now she flung back her tumbling
curls and proceeded to give those hands the aid of her eyes. They were
marvellously quick eyes; for Fridtjof's thrusts, consulting no rule but his
own will, had required lightning to follow them and something like
mind-reading to anticipate them. Three times her blade met Rothgar's squarely,
and deftly turned it aside. The big warrior gave a grunt of approval and tried
a more complicated pass. Her backward leap, the sudden doubling of her body,
and the excited clawing of her free hand, were not graceful swordsmanship,
certainly, but her steel was in the right place. The next instant, she even
drew a little clink from one of the Jotun's silver buttons.
As she was recovering herself, she felt something like a pin prick her wrist;
and she wondered vaguely what brooch had become unfastened. But she gave it
scant attention for the big blade was threatening her from a new direction.
She leaped to meet it, and for the next minute was kept turning, twisting,
dodging, till her breath began to come in gasps, and her exhausted hand to
relax its hold. Her weapon was almost falling from it by the time the son of
Lodbrok lowered his point. Imitating him, she stood leaning on her sword,
making futile gasps after her lost breath.
A grin slowly wrinkled his face as he watched her. "It appears that one who is
no bigger around than a willow twig may be capable of a berserk rage," he
said. "Do you not feel it that you are wounded?"
Following his eyes down to her hand, she found blood trickling from her
sleeve. Oh, and pain! Now that she had wakened to it--pain! pricking,
stinging, stabbing. Dropping her sword, she caught at her wrist.
"How did it happen? I thought a pin had pricked me!"
Roaring with laughter, he caught her under the arms and tossed her in the air.
"A pin!" he shouted. "A pin! That is Frode himself! A beard on your chin, and
you also will be a feeder of wolves! For that you shall have a share in the
battle. I swear it by the hilt of the Hanger!"
For the moment, the girl forgot her wound and hung limp in the great hands.
"The battle?" she gasped. "I--I fight?"
Roaring afresh, the Jotun gave her another jubilant toss. "You blustering
field-mouse! Showing your teeth already? Who knows? If you meet a blind
Englishman without a weapon, you may even kill him. Here," he tumbled her
roughly to the ground, "tie up your pin-scratch and then come after me. I must
go up yonder to Canute, under the oak tree. If you are too tired to wield the
sword, tie your hand to the hilt, and no man shall have a better will to do
harm to the English. Frode the Dane will experience great pride when he looks
out of Valhalla to-day." Putting out one great hand, he patted her soft curls
as though she were some shaggy dog, then hurried out to his chief.
It was a respite to be alone, and she accepted it gratefully, sinking among
the cushions with closed eyes and a hand on her throbbing wrist. But it was
only a respite; she never for a moment lost sight of that. The battle must be
faced, and faced boldly. One word of reluctance would be the surest betrayal
of her secret. And betrayal meant Rothgar! She shivered as she fancied she
still felt his greasy touch upon her hair. To become his property that he
might even kiss! With a gasp of relief, she turned her thoughts back to the
After all, it was not unthinkable. Her riding would never betray her; and in
the confusion, who would notice whether or not she used her sword? She did
grow a little cold as the possibility of being killed occurred to her; but
even that darkness gave birth to a light. Being dressed in man's garments, it
was likely that the Valkyrias would mistake her for a boy; if she bore herself
bravely, it was possible that they might carry her up to Valhalla. Should she
once reach her father's arms, he would not let Odin himself drive her forth.
The hot tears gathered under her lids. If only she could get to her father! He
would be glad to see her, and he would be proud of her; Rothgar himself had
said it. Even Fridtjof would not be ashamed that she had borne his name. She
must be very careful about that, she realized suddenly. He had never known
what the word "fear" meant; even in Valhalla he would turn from her, should
she disgrace him. It would become an unheard-of wickedness to borrow a name
from the helpless dead if you could not wear it worthily. Her conscience smote
her now, for her shirking, and she struggled to her feet.
None too soon; above the outside din a horn clarioned, loud and clear. Through
the hush that followed could be heard the voice of Canute, assigning their
positions to the different bands.
"I and my kinsman, Ulf Jarl, shall be foremost. To the right of my standard
Edric Jarl shall stand, and the men with whom he joined us. He shall have
another standard. To the left of my bodyguard shall stand the men of Eric of
Norway. Friends and kinsmen shall stand together. There each will defend the
Then Rothgar's harsh voice sounded, shouting her name,--Fridtjof's name.
Giving her scarf a hasty twist about her arm, she knotted it with her teeth;
and seizing the sword in her little brown hand clotted with her own blood, she
ran out into the tumult.
The Game of Swords
It is better for the brave man
Than for the coward
To join in the battle.
It is better for the glad
Than for the sorrowing
In all circumstances.
It would have been a dull soul that would not have been stirred by a sight of
Danish camp. The host was like a forest of mighty trees tossing and swaying
before the approach of a storm. Lines of moving shot lightning flashes through
the dusk of the shady grove; while the hundreds of jubilant voices blended
into rumbling thunder. Through the tumult, the blaring horns thrilled like
Flaring crimson under her brown skin, Randalin's Viking blood leaped to answer
the call. For Rothgar's shout she gave another, and laughed out of sheer
delight when he tossed her upon the back of a pawing horse. Away with woman's
fears! The world was a grand brave place, and men a race of heroes. To ride by
their sides, and share their mighty deeds, and see their glory,--what keener
joy had life to offer? Away with fear, with foreboding! The present was
all-glorious, and there would be no to-morrow.
Shrill and clear from the opposite hill came the notes of the English horns,
as down the green slope moved the ranks of English bowmen. The hum of Danish
voices sank in a breathless hush; through the stillness, Tovi, the royal
bannerman, galloped to his post. A rustle, a boom, and the great standard was
unfurled, giving to the breeze the dread Raven of Denmark. Anxious eyes
scanned its mien; should it hang motionless, drooping--but no, it soared like
a living bird! Exultation burst from a thousand throats.
Down the line came the young King upon his white war-horse, clad for the
battle as for a feast. The sun at noonday is not more fiercely bright than was
his face. His long locks flowed behind him on the wind like tongues of yellow
flame; and like northern lights in a blue northern sky, the leader's fire
flashed in his eyes. So Balder the Beautiful might have come among the Jotuns.
So the brawny sweating hard-breathing giants might have jostled and crowded
toward him, expectant, adoring.
As he came, he was calling out terrible reminders: words that were to the ears
of his champing host what the smell of blood is to the nostrils of wolves.
"Free men, true men, remember that ye face oath-breakers! Remember how they
have spoken fine words to us of plighted faith...and when we have believed
them and laid down our arms...they have stolen upon us in our sleep..and
murdered our comrades! And our kinswomen whom they had taken to be their
wives! Remember Saint Brice's day! Remember our murdered kin!"
On he went down the line; and like a trail in his wake, rose an answering
chorus of growls and clashing steel. Down some of the battered old faces tears
of excitement began to flow, like the water out of the riven rock; while the
delirium of others took the form of mirth, so that they sent forth wild
terrible laughter to swell the uproar.
Above the tumult his voice rang like a bell: "Heroes and sons of heroes,
remember you fight cowards! Remember that, since the days of our fathers, they
have made gold do the work of steel. To get gold to buy peace, they will sell
their children into slavery. Sooner than look our swords in the face, they
will yield us their daughters to be our thralls! Oath-breakers, nithings! Will
you be beaten by such? Vikings, Odinmen, forward!"
His answer was the bursting roar of the Danish battle-cry. Like an avalanche
loosed from its moorings, they swept down the hillside upon the English
bow-men. From that moment, Randalin rode in a dream.
At first it was a glorious dream. On, on, over the green plain, with the wind
fresh in her face and the music of the horns in her ears. The son of Lodbrok
was beside her, singing as he went, and tossing his great battle-axe in the
air to catch it again by the handle. In front of them rode Canute the King; in
his hand his gleaming blade, whose thin edge he tried now and again on a lock
of his floating hair, while he laughed with boyish delight. Once he turned his
bright face back over his shoulder to call gayly to the Jotun:
"Brother, you were right in despising craft. When the battle-madness fills a
man, he becomes a god!" On, till the bowmen's faces were plain before them;
then suddenly it began to hail,--"the hail of the string." Arrows! One hissed
by the girl's ear, and one bit her cloak, to hang there quivering with
impotent fury. The man on her right made a terrible gurgling sound and put up
his hand to tear a shaft from his throat. Would they be slain before-- Canute
rose in his stirrups with a great shout. The horns echoed it; the trot became
a gallop, and the gallop a run. On, on, into the very heart of the hail-cloud.
How the stones rattled on the armor! And hissed! There! a man was death-
doomed; he was falling.
Her cry was cut short by the flashing of a blade before her. They had passed
through the hail and reached the lightning! Throwing up her sword, she swerved
to one side and escaped the bolt. Another faced her in this direction. The air
was shot with bright flashes. Swish--clash! they sounded behind her; then a
sickening jar, as Rothgar's terrible axe fell. A yell of agony rent the air.
Swish--clash! the blows came faster; her ear could no longer separate them.
The thud of the falling axes became one continuous pound. Faster and faster,
heavier and heavier,--they blended into a discordant roar that closed around
her like a wall. Here and there and to and fro, Rothgar's great charger
followed the King; and here and there and to and fro, on her foam-flecked
horse, Randalin followed the son of Lodbrok, staring, dazed, stunned.
Her wits were like a flock of birds loosed from the cage of her will,
alighting here, upstarting there, without let or hindrance. Sometimes they
stooped to so foolish a thing as a notch on her horse's ear, and spent whole
minutes questioning dully whether the teeth of another horse had made the
wound or whether a sword had nicked it in battle. Sometimes they followed the
notes of the horns, as the ringing tones passed the order along. From the
blaring blast at her ear, the sound was drawn out on either side of her as
fine as silver wire, far, far away toward the hills. It gave her no conscious
impression of the vastness of the hosts, but it brought a vague sense of
wandering, of helplessness, that caused her fluttering wits to turn back,
startled, and set to watching the pictures that showed through rifts in the
swirling dust clouds,--an Englishman falling from his saddle, his fingers
widespread upon the air; a Danish bowman wiping blood from his eyes that he
might see to aim his shaft; yonder, the figure of Leofwinesson himself,
leaping forward with swift-stabbing sword. But whether they were English who
fell or Danes who stood, she had no thought, no care; they meant no more to
her than rune figures carved in wood.
The sun rose higher in the heavens, till it stood directly overhead, and sweat
mingled with the blood. Suddenly, the girl awoke to find that Rothgar's
singing had changed into cursing.
"Heed him not, King," he was bellowing over his horse's head. "We have no need
of trick-bought victories. We bear the highest shields; warrior-skill will
win. We need not his snake-wisdom."
To the other side of the young leader, Thorkel the Tall was spurring, bending
urgently from his saddle. "Craft, my King! Craft! It will take till nightfall
to decide the game. Why spill so much good blood? Listen to Edric the
Canute's furious curse cut him short. "To the Troll with your craft! Swords
shall make us, or swords shall mar us. Use your blade, or I will sheathe it in
Only the wind that took it from his lips heard the Tall One's answer; for at
that moment his horse reared and sheered away before a spear-prick, and into
the rift a handful of English rushed with shouts of triumph.
There were no more than half-a-dozen of them, and all were on foot, the two
whose gold-hilted swords proclaimed their nobility of birth sharing the lot of
their lesser comrades according to the old Saxon war-custom; but it needed not
the daring of the attack to mark them as the very flower of English chivalry.
The young noble, who hovered around his chief much as Rothgar circled about
Canute, would have been lordly in a serf's tunic; and the leader's royal
bearing distinguished him even more than his mighty frame.
At the sight of him, Rothgar uttered a great cry of "Edmund!" and moved
forward, swinging his uplifted axe. But the Ironside caught it on his shield
and delivered a sword-thrust in return that dropped the Dane's arm by his
side. As it fell, Rothgar's left hand plucked forth his blade, but the English
king had pressed past him toward his master.
Canute's weapon had need to dart like a northern light. The noble and one of
the soldiers had forced their way to the side from which Thorkel had been
riven, and a third threatened him from the rear. Three blades stabbed at him
as with one motion.
It was a strange thing that saved him,--Randalin could explain it least of
all. But in a lightning flash it was burnt into her mind that, while her
King's sword was a match for the two in front of him, the one behind was going
to deal him his death. And even as she thought it, she found that she had
thrown herself across her horse's neck and thrust out her sword-arm,--out with
the force of frenzy and down into the shoulder of the Englishman. In a kind of
dazed wonder, she saw his blade fall from his grasp and his eyes roll up at
her, as he staggered backwards.
Canute laughed out, "Well done, Berserker!" and redoubled his play against
those before him.
A turn of his wrist disarmed the soldier, and his point touched the young
noble's breast; but before he could lunge, the mighty figure of Edmund rose
close at hand, his blade heaved high above his head.
For such a stroke there was no parry. A kingdom seemed to be passing. Canute
threw his shield before him, while his spur caused his horse to swerve
violently; but the blade cleft wood and iron and golden plating like
parchment, and falling on the horse's neck, bit it to the bone. Rearing and
plunging with pain, the animal crashed into those behind him, missed his
footing and fell, entangling his rider in the trappings. Bending over him, the
Ironside struck again.
But the son of Lodbrok had still his left arm. Bearing his shield, it shot out
over the body of his King. The falling brand bit this screen also, and lopped
off the hand that held it, but the respite was sufficient. In a flash Canute
was on his feet, both hands grasping the hilt of his high-flung sword.
It was a mighty blow, but it fell harmless. A sudden surge in the tide of
struggling bodies swept the Ironside out of reach and engulfed him in a
whirlpool of Danish swords. He laid about him like mad, and was like to have
cleared a passage back, when a second wave carried him completely from view.
Canute cursed at the anxious faces that surrounded him. "What means it, this
swaying? What is herding them? Who are flying? Fools! Can you not tell a
retreat? Bid the horns blow--"
"The English!" bellowed Rothgar. "The English are flying--Edmund's head!
Frode's daughter had Viking blood, but she hid her face with a cry. There it
was, high upon a spear-point, dripping, ghastly. Could the sun shine upon such
Ay, and men could rejoice at it. Above the panic scream she heard cries of
savage joy. But Canute sat motionless, on the new horse they had brought him.
"It is not possible," he muttered. "The flight began while he still faced me.
It was their crowding that saved him."
To stare before him, Rothgar let the blood pour unheeded from his wounded arm.
"Yonder Edmund rides now!" he gasped. "You can tell him by his size-- Yonder!
Now he is tearing off his helmet--" Nor was he mistaken; within spear-throw
the mighty frame of the Ironside towered above his struggling guard. As he
bared his head, they could even distinguish his face with its large elegantly-
formed features and Ethelred's prominent chin. Brandishing his sword, shouting
words of reassurance, exposing his person without a thought of the darts aimed
at him, he was making a heroic effort to check the rush of his panic-stricken
host. There was no question both that he was alive and that he knew who was
belying him; even as they looked he hurled his spear, with a cry of rage, at
the form of Edric Jarl.
Missing the Mercian, it struck down a man at his side; and high above the
voice of the ill-fated King rose the shrill alarms of the traitor's heralds.
"Fly, ye men of Dorsetshire and Devon! Fly and save yourselves! Here is your
Randalin stared about her, doubting her senses. But light had begun to dawn on
Canute. He wheeled sharply, as Thorkel pushed his horse to their sides.
"Whose head was that?" he demanded.
Thorkel's face was a lineless mask. "I believe his name was Osmaer," he
answered without emotion.
"It was unheard-of good fortune that he should be so like Edmund in looks."
The young King's face was suffused with bitterness. "Good fortune!" he cried
sharply. "Good fortune! Am I a fool or a coward that I am never to win except
by craft or good fortune? Had you let me alone--" His voice broke, so bitter
was his disappointment.
His foster-father regarded him from under lowered lids.
"Would you have won without them to-day?" he inquired.
"Yes!" Canute cried savagely, "had you given me time. Yes!"
But what else he answered, Randalin never knew. Some unseen obstacle turned in
their direction the stream of rushing horsemen. In an instant the torrent had
caught them in its whirling eddies, and they were so many separate atoms borne
along on the flood. To hold back was to be thrown down; to fall was to be
trampled into rags. The battle had changed into a hunt.
Thundering hoof-beats, crashing blows, shrieks and groans and falling bodies,
--a sense of being caught in a wolf pack took possession of the girl; and the
feeling grew with every sidelong glance she had of the savage sweating
dust-grimed faces, in their jungles of blood-clotted hair. The battle-madness
was upon them, and they were no longer men, but beasts of prey. Amid the chaos
of her mind, a new idea shaped itself like a new world. If she could but work
her way to the edge of the herd, she might escape down one of those green
aisles opening before them. If she only could! Every fibre in her became
intent upon it.
A little opening showed on her right. Though she could not see the ground
before her, she took the risk and swung her horse into the breach. His
forefeet came down upon the body of a fallen man, but it was too late to draw
back. Gripping her lip in her teeth, she spurred him on. The man turned over
with a yell, and used his one unbroken arm to thrust upward his broken sword.
The blade cut her leg to the bone, and she shrieked with the pain; but her
startled horse had no thought of stopping. Making his way with plunges and
leaps, he carried her out of the press sooner than she could have guided him
out. Once on the edge, he broke into a run. The agony of the shaken wound was
unbearable. Shrieking and moaning, she twisted her hands in the lines and
tried to stop him. But her strength was ebbing from her with her blood. By and
by she dropped the rein altogether and clung to the saddle-bow.
They reached the woods at last, cool and sweet and hushed in holy peace. The
frantic horse plunged into one of the arching lanes, and the din of the hunt
died behind her; silence fell like a curtain at their heels; even the thudding
hoof-beats were softened on the leafy ground. Randalin lay along the horse's
neck now, and her senses had begun to slip away from her like the tide from
the shore. It occurred to her that she was dying, and that the Valkyrias could
not find her if she should be carried too far away from the battle-field.
Trying to hold them back, she stretched a feeble hand toward the trees; and it
seemed to her that they did not glide past quite so rapidly. And the green
river that had been rushing toward her, that passed under her more slowly too.
Sometimes she could even make out violets amid the waves. But the waves were
rising strangely, she thought,--rising, rising--
At last, she felt their cool touch upon her fore-head. They had risen and
stopped her. Somewhere, there was the soft thud of a falling body; then the
cool greenness closed around her and held her tenderly, a crumpled leaf that
the whirlwind had dropped from its sport.
No one turns from good,
if it can be got.
Lying drowned in cool silence, the girl came slowly to a consciousness that
someone was stooping over her. Raising her heavy lids, eyes rested on a man's
face, showing dimly in the dusk of the starlight.
He said in English, "Canute's page, by the Saints!"
A chorus of voices answered him: "The fiend's brat that pierced your
shoulder?"--"Choke him!"--" Better he die now than after he has waxed large on
English blood."--" Finish him!"
Opening her eyes wider, she found that heads and shoulders made a black hedge
The victim of her blade straightened, shaking his shaggy mane. "Were I a Pagan
Dane, I would run my sword through him. But I am a Christian Englishman. Let
him lie. He will bleed his life out before morning."
"Come on, then," the chorus growled. "The Etheling is asking what hinders us."
--"Make haste!"--" The Etheling is here!"
While the warrior was turning, a new voice spoke.
"Canute's page?" it repeated after some unseen informant. "Is he dead?"
It was a young voice, and deep and soft, for all the note of quiet authority
ringing through it; something in its tone was agreeably different from the
harsh utterance of the first speaker. Randalin's eyes rose dreamily to find
the owner. He had ridden up behind the others on a prancing white horse. Above
the black hedge, the square strength of his shoulders and the graceful lines
of his helmed head were silhouetted sharply against the starry sky. Why had
they so familiar a look? Ah! the noble who had followed Edmund--
So far she got, and then all was blotted out in a flash of pain, as the man
nearest her put out a hand and touched her torn limb.
"Wriggling like a fish, lord," he answered the new-comer.
A sound on the soft turf told that the horseman had alighted. "The bantling is
of too good quality to leave," he said good-naturedly. "Catch my bridle,
Oswin. Where is he wounded?"
He made a quick step toward her, then paused as suddenly, his chin thrust out
in listening. A gesture of his hand imposed a sudden silence, through which
the sound became distinct to all ears,--a trampling and crashing in the brush
beyond the moonlit open. As they wheeled to face it, a shout came from that
"What ho! Does the Lord of Ivarsdale go there?"
He whom they had called the Etheling drew himself up alertly. "I make no
answer to hedge-creepers," he said. "Come out where you can be seen."
The voice took on a mocking edge. "There is no gainsaying that I feel safer
here. I am the messenger of Edric of Mercia."
Only a warning sign from the Lord of Ivarsdale restrained an angry chorus. He
said with slow contempt, "I grant that it is well fitting the Gainer's deeds
that his men should flinch from the light--"
"Misgreet me not," the mocking voice interrupted. "Before cockcrow we shall be
sworn brothers. I bear a message to King Edmund. And I want you to further me
on my way by telling which direction will fetch me to his camp."
Derisive laughter went up from the band of King's men. Their leader snapped
his fingers. "That for your slippery devices! Is the Gainer so ill-advised as
to imagine that he is dealing with a second Ethelred?"
"I tell you to keep in mind," the voice retorted, "that before the cock crows
we shall be sworn brothers."
The Etheling's anger leaped out like a flame; even in the starlight it could
be seen how his face crimsoned.
"No, as God lives!" he answered swiftly. "It is not to Edmund alone that the
Gainer is loathful. Should he pass the King's sword, a hundred blades wait for
him, mine among them. Seek what he may seek, he shall not have peace of us.
When I guide a wolf to my sheep-fold, I will show you the way to Edmund's
camp. Take yourself out of reach if you would not be sped with arrows."
A jeering laugh was the only answer, but the tramping of hoofs suggested that
his advice was being taken.
When the sound had faded quite away, the Lord of Ivarsdale breathed out the
rest of his resentment in a hearty imprecation, and, turning, came on to his
patient. His voice was as gentle as a woman's as he dropped on his knee beside
the slim figure.
"What is your need, little fire-eater?"
A memory of her haunting terror stirred in the girl. Shrinking from him, she
made a desperate effort to push away his outstretched hand, threatening him in
a broken whisper.