Part 2 out of 5
"If you touch me--I will--kill you."
They were brave men, those Englishmen. The Etheling only smiled, and one of
his warriors chuckled. With a touch as gentle as it was strong, he put aside
her resisting hands and began swiftly to cut away the blood-stiffened hose.
Darkness closed around Randalin again, darkness shot with zigzag lightnings of
pain, and throbbing with pitiful moans.
The idea took possession of her that she was once more on the battle-field,
that it was the cries of the men who were falling around her which pierced the
air, and their weapons that stabbed her as they fell. Then their hands
clutched her in a dying grip. Horse-men loomed up before her and came nearer,
and she could not get out of their path, though she struggled with all her
force. The hoofs were almost upon her... Uttering a wild scream, she put forth
all her strength in a last effort.
"It will be like holding a young tiger, lord," a harsh voice suddenly reached
her ear. She came to herself to find that soldiers were lifting her up to the
horseman, where he sat again in his saddle. She recognized the squareness of
his shoulders; and she knew the gentleness of his touch as he slipped his free
arm around her and drew her carefully into place, making of his stalwart body
a support for her weakness. No strength was in her to struggle against him;
only her wide bright eyes sought his, with the terror of a snared bird.
Meeting the look and understanding a small part of its question, he said a
reassuring word in his pleasant low-pitched voice: "Be of good cheer,
youngling; there is no thought of eating you. I will bring you to a cup of
wine before moonrise, if you hold fast."
It is doubtful if the girl so much as heard him. Her eyes were passing from
feature to feature of his face, as the stars revealed it above her,--from the
broad comely brow to the square young chin, from the clean-cut fine-tempered
mouth to the clear true eyes. One by one she noted them, and shade by shade
her strained look of fear relaxed. Slowly she forgot her dread; and
forgetting, her mind wandered to other things,--to memories of her father, and
of the happy evenings by the fire when she had nestled safe in his arms,--safe
and sheltered and beloved. With eyes still turned up toward his face, her lids
drooped and fell; and her head sank upon his breast and lay there, in the
peace of perfect faith.
The Young Lord of Ivarsdale
Brand is kindled from brand
Till it is burnt out;
Fire is kindled from fire;
A man gets knowledge By talk with a man,
But becomes wilful by self-conceit.
Tap--tap, tap--tap, like dripping water dripping slowly. Drop by drop the
sound filtered through the thick wrappings of Randalin's slumber, till she
knew it for the beat of horses' hoofs, and stirred and opened her eyes.
The silver shimmer of starlight falling through purple deeps had given way to
the ruddy glare of a camp fire, and she was lying just beyond its heat,
cloak-wrapped, on a bed of leaves. Above her, interlacing beech boughs made an
arching roof, under which the shadows clustered as swallows under eaves.
Before her, green tree-lanes opened out like corridors. As far as the fireglow
could reach, they were flooded with golden light; where it stopped, they were
closed across by darkness as by gray-black doors. Within the sylvan alcove,
some four-score battle-stained warriors were taking their ease after a hard
day. Some of them were engaged in the ghastly business of bandaging wounds,
and some were already asleep; but the greater number lounged in the firelight,
drinking and feasting on strips of venison which serfs had cooked in the
Through the fog of her drowsiness Randalin recognized them slowly. Yonder was
the Englishman who had found her in the bushes. Beyond him, across the fire,
the soldiers who had lifted her up to the horse-man. Here, just in front of
her, was the leader himself. Her gaze settled upon him dreamily.
He had finished his meal, if meal it could be called, and was making some
attempt at a toilet. While one serf knelt beside him, scrubbing at his muddy
riding-boots with a wisp of wet grass, another held a gilt shield up for a
mirror, and before this the Etheling was carefully parting his shining hair.
His captive's eyes were not the only ones upon him, and the bright metal
showed that he was laughing a little at the comments his performance drew
forth from the three old cnihts lounging near him.
"Tending by five hairs to the sword-side, Lord Sebert," one of them was
offering quizzical criticism over his drinking-horn.
"The Etheling must needs have extraordinary respect for the endurance of
Harald Fairhair, for it is said that to accomplish a vow he went three years
without barbering himself," another said gravely. While a third became slyly
reminiscent, as he chewed his venison.
"These are soft days, comrades. The last time I followed the old chief, of
honored memory, we held our war-council standing knee-deep in a fen. We had
neither eaten nor drunk for two days, and three days' blood was on our hands."
The young chief took it all with careless good-humor.
"When you leave off eating, in memory of that brave time, I will leave off
washing," he returned. "Would you have me go into a royal council looking as
though birds had nested in my hair?" With a parting scrutiny of his smooth
locks, he motioned the shield-bearer aside and turned back to them his comely
face, rosy from his recent ablutions and alight with a momentary enthusiasm.
"I tell you, nothing but a warrior's life becomes ethel-born men," he said as
he straightened himself with a gallant gesture. "Nor sluggishness nor
junketings, but days under fire and nights among the Wise Men of the council;
that, in truth, becomes their station. By Saint Mary, I feel that I have never
lived before! One week at the heels of Edmund Ironside is worth a lifetime
under the banner of any other king."
A pause met his warmth somewhat coldly; and the warrior who broke the silence
lowered his voice to do it.
"Keep in mind, lord, that it is no more than a week that you have been at his
heels," he said.
"Likewise bear in mind whose son he is," the man with the drinking-horn added
grimly. He was a stout white-bearded old cniht with an obstinate old face that
looked something like a ruddy apple in a snow-bank. Flushing, the young noble
ceased examining his sword-edge to meet the eyes bent upon him.
"I hope you do not think I stand in need of a rebuke for lukewarmness,
Morcard," he said gravely. "I have no more forgot that King Edmund's father
gave the order for my father's murder than I have forgot that Edric was the
tool who did the deed. May Saint Peter exterminate him with his sword! Did I
not live even as a lordless man the while that Ethelred remained upon the
throne? But what sense to continue at that after Ethelred was dead, and the
valor of his son was to that degree exalted as if he had sprung from Alfred?
Yourself counselled me to join him at Gillingham, and take the post under his
banner that my fathers have always held beside his fathers."
Two of the three warriors made no other answer than to gurgle their drink
noisily in their throats; but the one whom he had called Morcard answered
dryly, "It is not against testing the new king that we would advise you, Lord
Sebert; it is against trusting him. But we will not be troublesome." He lifted
his hand suddenly to his ear. "Horses' feet! And stopping by the King's
What else he said, Randalin did not hear. Her wits had crawled heavily after
the sound of the hoofs. Now the beat changed to a champing and stamping among
dry leaves not many rods to her right. She wondered indifferently if there was
any likelihood of their running over her; then forgot the query before she had
The Etheling was speaking again, with all the earnestness of hero-worship.
"--the battles he has fought, the abundance of warriors he has gathered
together, the land he has won back since his father's death! Only take
"Ay, take to-day!" the old man snapped him up with unexpected vehemence. "And
the Devil take me if I ever heard of such witless folly! What! To go plunging
off into the thick of the enemy, endangering in his person the hope of the
whole English nation--"
The young noble relaxed from his earnestness to laugh. "Now has habit outrid
your manners, Morcard. So long have you been wont to use your tongue on my
heedlessness, that it begins mechanically to perform the same office for
Edmund. In a king, such courage inspires--"
"Courage!" Morcard's fingers snapped loudly. "Did not the henchman who
followed you have courage? Yet do we think of crowning him? I tell you that a
king needs to have something besides courage. He needs to have judgment. Then
will he know better than to leave his men like sheep without a leader. The old
proverb has it right, 'When the chief fails, the host quails.' It was when
they had become frightened about him that they began to give way, and after
that it was easy for any oaf to jump out of the bushes and put them to
This time the Etheling's smile was rather unwilling. "Oh! If you think fit to
set at naught a brave deed because nothing arose from it! After his father's
cowardice, such energy and dauntlessness alone--"
"Dauntlessness!" the old cniht snorted again. "It is the dauntlessness of the
man in Father Ingulph's story, who was so much wiser than his advisers that he
must try to drive the sun a new way, till it came so nigh as it nighest may to
setting the world afire." So hot was his scorn that he was obliged to cool it
in his ale, coming to the surface slightly mollified. "However, Lord Sebert,
you have cast your colt's-teeth, and I have no desire to tread upon the toes
of your dignity. If I have been over-free, excuse it in your father's old
servant and comrade who has guarded and guided you since--since you have had
teeth to cast."
The young man laughed good-humoredly as he straightened himself for action.
"Too often has my dignity bent under your rod, Morcard, to hold itself very
stiff against you now. Never fear; I will be an owl of discretion. Give you
favorable dreams over your horns!" He picked up his cloak and was turning to
depart, when one of the warriors flung up a hand.
"Soft, my lord. Yonder comes Wikel making strange signs to you." All heads but
Randalin's turned in the direction he was looking. She was still too lethargic
for curiosity; and she found a kind of dreamy content in lying with her eyes
upon the Etheling's handsome face. Though its prevailing characteristic was
the easy amiability of one who has known little of opposition or dislike,
there was no lack of steel in the blue eyes or of iron in the square chin; now
and then a spark betrayed them, thrilling pleasantly through her drowsiness.
Presently, however, between her and the comely apparition there intervened the
brawny figure of a yeoman-soldier. He said breathlessly, "Chief--before you go
to the King--be it known to you that those horse-feet you heard--belong to the
mounts of Edric of Mercia and his men--and he is with King Edmund now!"
The three stolid old warriors got to their feet with curses. The Etheling bent
forward to gaze incredulously into the man's face.
"Edric of Mercia? With the King? Why do you think so?"
"I was a little way beyond the King's fire, watching a fellow who was showing
how he could jump over the flames, when I saw the Gainer ride past; and I
followed him, as near as the guards would permit--near enough to see that the
King received him--let him settle it with Saint Cuthbert!"
There was a pause of utter stupefaction; then, from all within hearing, a
clamorous outburst: "It is the Gainer's luck again!"--"The messenger knew what
he was saying!"--"No sharpness of wit can comprehend it!"--"It is the magic of
his flattering tongue."--"A hundred tongues had done no harm if Edmund--" The
voices sank into a snarling undertone: "Ay, there it is!"--" Ethelred's
blood!"--"It is no more to be counted on than is water--" "What could have
moved him to it?"
Morcard's throat emitted a sound that might have been a chuckle or might have
been a growl. "I will tell you plainly for why; it is his dauntlessness. He is
going to pit his green wit against Edric's, that has made two kings as wax
between his fingers! And he has begun by letting the wolf into the fold."
It appeared that the Etheling had recovered from his surprise, for now he said
steadily, "I will not believe it. Until their oaths have been spoken and their
hands have clasped and my own eyes have witnessed it, I will not believe it of
Motioning them from his path, he was starting forward a second time, when the
old cniht laid a hand lightly upon his shoulder.
"Hear me, Lord Sebert! If then,--to weigh all perils like a soldier,--if then,
you do witness it with your own eyes?"
The blue gave out a flash of smitten steel.
Morcard answered as to words: "You will be one against many, lord."
"You cannot mean that the Witan will comply with him!" the Etheling cried.
"How is it possible that they should do otherwise? The odal-born men could not
prevent it when Ethelred took Alfric back. And to-night, few but thanes have
resorted thither--men whom the Redeless took from ploughing his fields to gild
with nobility. Is it likely that they will oppose the hand that can strip off
It appeared that the young man could find no answer to that, for he made none.
"At least once, my lord, Ethelred's wilfulness has shown in his son, when he
set aside the King's command to take possession of Sigeferth's widow and her
estates. And I think it was Ethelred's temper that moved him to spend an
energy, much better directed against the Pagans, in laying waste two of his
own shires. Remember what happened when your father raised himself against
Restive under the restraining hand, the young noble faced him desperately.
"Morcard, in God's name, what would you have me do? I will not bend to it, nor
would you wish me to. Or sooner or later --"
"Let it be later, lord. After you have had time to marshal your wits, and when
it is daylight, and you have your men at your back."
After a while, the Etheling yielded and turned aside. "Let it be as you have
said--though I cannot believe yet that it will happen." Coming back where a
fallen tree made a mossy seat, he dropped down upon it and sat staring at the
ground in frowning abstraction.
The motion dropped him out of the range of Randalin's vision, and her eyes
wandered away discontentedly. If there was nothing more to look at, she might
as well go to sleep. The fire was dying down so that the overhanging shadow
was drooping lower, like a canopy that would fall and smother them when the
spears of light that upheld it should sink at last in the ashes. The doors of
darkness had moved far up the tree-corridors, and strange flickering shapes
peered through. Her eyes followed them heavily. The forest was very still now;
even the grating sound of the frogs was hushed, and the low hum of the voices
around the fire was soothing as the sound of swarming bees.
She was just losing consciousness when the figure of a second yeoman-soldier
moved across her vision, looming black against the fireglow. His whisper came
sharply to her ears. "It is done, chief. May they have the wrath of the
Almighty! Their hands have met, Edric's and the King's, and his thanes' and
Norman of Baddeby's, who is with Edric. Now are they lying down in their
man-ties, as it were to seal their pledge by sleeping within reach of each
"Norman of Baddeby!" the name leaped out of the rest to bite at her like a
dog, worrying deeper and deeper through the wrappings of her stupor. Her eyes
widened in troubled questioning. She heard the angry voices rise, and she saw
the Etheling leap to his feet and shake his clenched hand above his head. Then
she lost sight of everything, for the fang had pierced her torpor and touched
"Norman of Baddeby"--her father's slayer! Memory entered like poison to spread
burning through every vein. Her father--Fridtjof--the Jotun--the battle-- Her
ears were dinned with terrible noises; her eyes were seared by terrible
pictures. She crushed her hands against her head, but the sound came from
within and would not be stilled. She buried her face in the leaves, but the
visions pressed faster before her. The son of Leofwine and the drunken
feast--the girl outside the tent--the Jotun within it--her terrible young
guardian--the battle-madness--whichever way she looked, a new spectre
confronted her. Helpless in their grip, she tossed to and fro in agony--to and
Though it was so tortured that she could not tell it from her waking thoughts,
sleep must have come to her; for when at last she reached the point where she
could endure it no longer and struggled up, panting, to her elbow, to try to
recall herself by a sight of those about her, she found that the hum of
excited voices was stilled, and the silence throbbed with the deep breathing
of sleepers. From under the canopy of darkness the fiery spears had dropped
away, leaving the thick folds sagging lower and lower. Swarming under its
shelter, the shadow-shapes were closing in upon her.
For a while she watched them absently; then a whim of her tortured brain
poisoned them also. They became terrible nameless Things, mouthing at her,
darting upon her. She drew her eyes resolutely away and set herself to
listening to the breathing that throbbed in a dozen keys through the silence.
Almost at her feet, the Etheling was stretched out in his cloak, motionless as
the fallen tree. Her face was slowly relaxing when, a second time, memory
betrayed her. Just so, she recollected, Leofwine's son was lying, not a
hundred yards away. Through the trees, the glow of the King's fire came
distinctly; gazing toward it, she could almost convince herself that she could
see the murderer, peaceful, secure. She ground her teeth in a sudden spasm of
rage. Would that some of those weak-witted thanes would prove the mettle of
the knives he was daring!
The next instant, she had thrown herself down with terror-widened eyes, and
was trying to bury her face in the leaves, while the tongueless mouth of every
shadowy shape seemed to shriek above her,--
"Odin sends you revenge!"--"It is the will of Odin that has drawn you
together!"--" Strange and wonderful is the way in which you are hesitating!" -
-"Would you become like the girl with the necklace?"--"Are you a coward, that
you do not prefer to die in good repute rather than live in the shame of
neglecting your duty?"
She flung up her haggard face in appeal. "No, no, I am not a coward," her
spirit cried within her. "I was brave in the battle. It is not death I fear;
but I cannot kill! Odin, have mercy on me! I cannot kill. I have tried to be
brave, but I am really a woman; it is not possible for me to have a man's
The grinning shadows mouthed at her. "You have not dared to be a woman," they
mocked. "You have not dared to be a woman, so you must dare to be a man."
A night wind shuddered through the trees, and the hovering shades seemed to
hiss in her ear. "Coward! Traitor! Nithing! Do you not get afraid that you
will experience the wrath of the dead? Listen! Is that the wind rustling the
leaves? Or is it --"
A gasp burst from the white lips, and the die was cast. While the cold drops
started on her pain-racked body, she dragged herself to her knees and fumbled
with trembling hands about her belt. For an instant, something like a moonbeam
glimmered amid the shadow; then her lips closed convulsively upon the steel.
Tipping forward upon her hands, she tested cautiously the strength of her
wounded leg, smothering groans of pain that seemed to tear her throat in the
swallowing. But the whispering of the night-wind was like a spur in her side;
inch by inch, she crawled steadily toward the flickering light.
As The Norns Decree
This I thee counsel tenthly;
That thou never trust
A foe's kinsman's promises,
Whose brother thou hast slain,
Or sire laid low;
There is a wolf
In a young son,
Though he with gold be gladdened.
It was a long way to the King's fire, but at last it lay before her; before
and below her, for it had been built in a depression of the little open. The
last charred log had fallen apart, spreading a swarm of golden glow-worms over
the black earth, there was still enough light to reveal a ring of muffled
forms sprawling around the sloping sides of the hollow, with their feet toward
the fire and their heads lost in darkness. Pausing in the tree-shadow, the
girl thrilled with sudden hope. Since their faces were all hidden, how was she
to distinguish her victim? Even the dead must see that it would be impossible.
If the burden could only be lifted from her!
Fate was inexorable. At that moment, the warrior directly in front of her
stirred in his sleep and flung a jewelled hand over his face. Those broad gold
rings with the green stones that sparkled like serpents' eyes as they caught
the light! They were fixed indelibly in her memory, for she had seen them on
the rapacious hand that had seized upon her while it was still red with her
father's blood. Only from them, she could reconstruct every hard line of the
hidden face. Suddenly, in the rage that rose in her at the recollection, she
found determination for the deed.
The sentinel nearest her was snoring at his post; the further one would not be
able to reach her in time, even should he see her. Somewhere, far away, a cock
was crowing; and it came to her suddenly that the breathlessness about her was
the hush that precedes the dawn. There was no time to lose, she told herself
feverishly, and moved forward with snake-like stillness. Between the
sheltering arm and the neck of the steel shirt there was a space of naked
throat. Setting her teeth, she raised her knife and struck down at it with a
The point never reached its mark. For an instant she could not tell what had
happened. Fingers closed like iron bands around her wrist, pulling her
backwards so that the pain of her twisted wound wrung a cry from her lips.
They were not Norman's fingers, yet he also was stirring; while darting
flashes from the dusk about them told that the other sleepers were drawing
their weapons. Then some one threw a branch-ful of dead leaves upon the fire.
The flame that flared up showed her arm to be in the grasp of the Lord of
"You mad young one!" he gasped, as he wrenched the blade from her hold.
Voices rose in angry questioning, but Randalin was too fear-benumbed to
understand what they said. Norman's keen eyes were turned upon her, and
recognition was dawning in their gaze.
Suddenly, he snatched her from Sebert's grasp and held her down to the
firelight. Could she have seen the mask which dust and blood had made for her,
she would have been spared the terror-swoon that left her limp in his grasp.
But it only bewildered her when, after an instant's scrutiny, he let her fall
with an angry laugh.
"The boy from Avalcomb! Certainly these Danes are as hard to kill as cats! I
would have sworn to it that I had separated his life from his body not
eight-and-forty hours ago." A gleam of eagerness came into his face, and he
bent over her again. "You shall serve my purpose by your obstinacy," he said
under his breath. "You shall tell me where your sister is. You know, for you
escaped together. When I was restored to my senses, I found you both gone.
Tell me where she lies hidden, and it may he that I will grant to you a longer
Her stiff lips could not have spoken an answer had her paralyzed brain been
able to frame one. She could only gaze back at him in helpless waiting. A
second time he was bending toward her, when something stopped him midway so
that he straightened and drew back with a bow. It came to her suddenly that
they were all bowing, and that the hubbub had died in mid-air. Through the
hush, a quiet voice spoke.
"You are eager in rising, my lords," it said. From the shelter, half cave,
half bower, which had been contrived amid the bushes, a warrior of mighty
frame had emerged and stood examining the scene. Though with soldierly
hardiness he had taken his rest in his war-harness, he was unhelmed, and the
light that revealed the protruding chin had no need to pick out the jewelled
diadem to mark him as Edmund Ironside. The irregularity was very slight--not
large enough to give him a combative look or to mar the fine proportions of
his face, but it did unquestionably add to his stately bearing an expression
of complacency that was unforgettable.
He repeated his inquiry: "What is the amusement, my thanes? From the clamor
which awakened me, I had some notion of an attack."
Norman of Baddeby bent in a second reverence. "Your expectations are to this
degree fulfilled, my royal lord," he made answer. "Behold the enemy!"
Stooping, he raised the red-cloaked figure by its collar and held it up in the
firelight. As a murmur of laughter went around, he lowered it again and spoke
more gravely. "A hand needs not be large to get a hilt under its gripe,
however. The young wolf is of northern breed,--how he penetrated to the heart
of an English camp, I cannot tell,--and there grows in his spirit a
bloodthirsty disposition. He seeks my life because in a skirmish, a few days
gone by, I had the good luck to kill his father. If it--"
He said more, but Randalin did not listen to him. All at once Sebert of
Ivarsdale reached out, and taking her by her cloak, drew her gently to his
side, interposing his sword-arm between her and the others. Though his hand
manacled her slim wrists securely, the clasp was more one of protection than
of restraint; and the warm human touch was like a talisman against the
haunting shadows. Suddenly it came over her, in a burst of heavenly relief,
that this hand had lifted the burden of vengeance forever. Even Fridtjof could
not be so unreasonable as to ask more of her, so plainly was it Odin's will
that justice should be left for Canute. She had done her duty, and yet she was
free of it free of it! Her heart burst out singing within her, and the eyes
she raised toward her captor were adoring in their gratitude.
The look she met in return was the same look of mingled strength and
gentleness which had come through the starlight to answer her question. Once
again that calm of weary trustfulness settled over her. Since he had saved her
from the dead, she had no doubt whatever of his ability to save her from the
living. Her head drooped against his arm, and her hands, ceasing their
struggles, rested in his grasp like folded wings.
It had not taken a moment; the instant Norman finished his explanation, the
Etheling was speaking quietly: "As the Lord of Baddeby says, King Edmund, it
was I who stayed the boy's hand, and it was I also who fetched him into camp.
I found him after the battle, bleeding his life out in the bushes, and I
brought him in my arms, like a kitten, and dropped him down by my fire. Waking
in the night and missing him, I traced him hither. As I have had all to do
with him in the past, so, if you will grant that I may keep him, will I take
his future upon me. With your consent, I will attend to it that he does no
A momentary cordiality came into the King's manner; as though recognizing it
for the first time, he turned to the figure across the fire with a courteous
gesture. "My lord of Ivarsdale! I am much beholden to you. Had any chance
wrought evil to the Lord of Baddeby while under my safeguard, my honor would
have been as deeply wounded as my feelings."
As he bowed in acknowledgment, some embarrassment was visible in Sebert's
manner; but he was spared a reply, for after a moment's rubbing of his chin,
the King continued,--
"As regards the boy, however, there is something besides his knife to be taken
into consideration. I think we run more risk from his tongue."
The words of the Earl's thane fairly grazed the heels of the King's words:
"The imp can do no otherwise than harm, my sovereign. Should he bring his
tongue to Danish ears, he could cause the utmost evil. For the safety of the
Earl of Mercia,--ay, for your own need,--I entreat you to deliver the boy up
to my keeping."
"I am no less able than the Lord of Baddeby to restrain him," the Etheling
said with some warmth. "If it be your pleasure, King Edmund, I will keep him
under my hand until the end of the war, and answer for his silence with my
Then Norman's eagerness got the better of his discretion.
"Now, by Saint Dunstan," he cried, "you take too much upon you, Lord of
Ivarsdale! The boy's life is forfeit to me, against whom his crime was
directed." A grim look squared his mouth as suddenly he stretched his hand
past Sebert and caught the red cloak.
It may have been this which the Etheling had foreseen, for he was not taken by
surprise. Jerking up his sword-arm, he knocked the thane's hand loose with
scant ceremony. "You forget the law of the battle-field, Norman of Baddeby,"
he said swiftly. "The life of my captive is mine, and I am the last man to
permit it to be taken because he sought a just revenge. I know too well how it
feels to hate a father's murderer." He shot a baleful glance toward a
half-seen figure that all this time had stood motionless in the shadow behind
Probably this figure and the Earl's thane were the only hearers he was
conscious of, but his tone left the words open to all ears. There was a sudden
indrawing of many breaths, followed by a frightened silence. The only sound
that disturbed it was a growing rustle in the bush around them, which was
explained when the old cniht Morcard and some two-score armed henchmen and
yeoman-soldiers, singly and in groups, filtered quietly through the shadows
and placed themselves at their chief's back.
But though the King's brows had met for an instant in a lowering arch, some
second thought controlled him. When he spoke, his words were even gracious:
"I think the Lord of Ivarsdale has the right of it. The crime the boy purposed
was not carried out; and in each case, Lord Sebert was his captor. I am
content to trust to his wardership."
Sebert's frank face betrayed his surprise at the complaisance, but he gave his
pledge and his thanks with what courtliness he could muster, and releasing his
passive prisoner, pushed her gently into the safe-keeping of the old cniht.
Yet he was not so obtuse as to step back, as though the incident were closed;
he read the King's inflection more correctly than that. Holding himself
somewhat stiff in the tenseness of his feelings, he stood his ground in silent
A rustle of uneasiness crept the round of the assembled nobles. Only the
monarch's bland composure remained unruffled. Advancing with the deliberate
grace that so well became his mighty person, he seated himself upon a
convenient boulder and signed the figure in the shadow to draw nearer.
As it obeyed, every one of the yeomen-soldiers strained his eyes in that
direction, as though hoping to surprise in the great traitor's face some
secret of his power, the power that had made three kings as wax between his
fingers! But just short of the fire-glow the Gainer paused, and the hooded
cloak which shrouded him merged him hopelessly into the shadow. Only the hand
that rested on his sword-hilt protruded into the light. It was a broad hand,
and thick-fingered as a butcher's, but it was milk-white and weighted with
Meanwhile, the King was speaking affably: "As you did not favor us with your
presence among the Wise Men, my lord, it is likely that you do not know of the
good luck which has befallen our cause. This prudent Earl, who before the
battle had concluded with himself that England had so little to hope for from
our reign that he was willing to throw his weight against us, has found his
victory so without relish that he has become our sworn ally."
As he paused,--perhaps to leave space for an answer,--the complacency of his
face was heightened by a smile, faintly shrewd, touching the corners of his
mouth. But when Sebert limited his reply to a respectful inclination of his
head, the smile vanished abruptly. Under the affability there became evident a
certain stern insistence.
"In former days, I think there was some hostile temper between the Earl and
you. But I expect you will see that under the stress of a foreign war all
lesser strife must give way. So I desire that you will repeat in my presence
the troth already plighted by these others."
He made a slight gesture, and the Gainer took a step forward. The light that
fell back from his hooded face played curiously about his jewelled hand; as it
rose from the gilded hilt, it could be seen that to remedy the bluntness of
the thick fingers the nails had been allowed to grow very long, which gave it
now, in its half-curve, the look of a claw, upon which the red gems shone like
Hesitating, the Etheling went from red to white. Then, with a swift motion, he
unsheathed his sword and stretched it out, point-foremost.
"King Edmund," he said, "in no other way does my hand go forth toward a
This time there was no sound of breaths drawn in; it was as though the whole
world had ceased breathing. The sternness that had underlain the King's manner
rose slowly and spread over the whole surface of his person, as he drew
himself up in towering offence.
"Lord of Ivarsdale, bethink yourself to whom you speak!"
He was royally imposing in his displeasure; the Etheling flushed like a boy
before his master; but he had his answer ready, and his head was steadily
erect as he gave it.
"King of the Angles, the right of open speech has belonged to my race as long
as the right to the crown has belonged to yours. So my father's fathers spoke
to yours under the council-tree, and so I shall speak to you while I live."
Back in the shadow, each yeoman laid one hand upon his weapon, and with the
other, thrust an exulting thumb into his neighbor's ribs. But they did not
turn to look at each other; every eye was fastened upon the two by the fire.
Freeman and his leader, or feudal lord and his dependant? For the moment they
stood forth as representatives of a mighty conflict, and every breath hung
upon their motions.
After a time the King made a slight movement with his shoulders.
"I should have remembered," he said, "that your father was ruined by
In a flash the rebel's son had forgotten boyish embarrassment. "Whoso told you
that, royal lord, told you lies. My father stood upon his right. Steel to turn
against the Danes, Ethelred had a right to require; and steel my father was
ready to pay. But Ethelred demanded gold, and the Lord of Ivarsdale would not
stoop to bribe. Nor has it been proven that his policy was wrong," he added
under his breath.
Then there was no longer any doubt concerning the position of Ethelred's son.
He said with deliberate emphasis, "The only policy which concerns those of
your station is obedience."
If there was enough of the old free blood left in the King's thanes to redden
their cheeks, that was all there was. But while they stood in silence, a
mutter ran like a growl through the ranks of yeomen; the gaze they bent upon
their leader had in it almost the force of a command.
He was young, their chief, too young for impassivity. Despite himself, his
hands trembled with excitement. But there was no tremor in his words.
"We of Ivarsdale do not profess such obedience, King Edmund. That is for
thanes and for the unfree, who owe their all to your generosity. Our land we
hold as our fathers held it--from God's bounty and the might of our swords.
When we have paid the three taxes of fort-building and bridge-building and
field-service, we have paid all that we owe to the State."
At last they stood defined, the first of the feudal lords and the last of the
odal-born men. Even through the King's loftiness it was suddenly borne in
that, behind the insignificance of the revolt, loomed a mighty principle,
mighty enough to merit force. For the first time he stooped to a threat,
though still it was tinged with scorn.
"I observe that the men of your race have not been of great importance in the
land. It appears that Ethelred was able to do without the rebel Lord of
"I admit that he was able to lose his crown without him," the rebel's son
The King's wounded dignity bled in his cheeks; he was stung into a movement
that brought him to his feet.
"This is insufferable!" he cried. It was evident that the crisis had come.
While the Etheling faced him with a defiance that in its utter abandon was a
little mad, a sensation as of bracing muscles and setting teeth went around
the group. Several of the thanes laid their hands upon their swords. And the
half-dozen ealdormen present bent toward one another in hasty consultation. At
an almost imperceptible sign from the old cniht, the henchmen made a noiseless
step nearer their master. There were not more than a dozen of them, but behind
them loomed some two-score yeomen-soldiers, with a score more in the brush at
their back; and the faces of all told more plainly than words what it would
mean to attack them.
But the blood of Cerdic, once fired, burned too rapidly for policy. Edmund's
jaw was set in savage menace as he turned and beckoned to his guard. Had he
spoken the words on his lips, there is little doubt what his order would have
Interruption came from an unexpected quarter. Even as his lips were opening,
that white taloned hand reached out of the shadow and touched his arm.
"Most royal lord! If it may be permitted me?" Earl Edric said swiftly.
His voice was very low, and every roughness had been filed away until it
flowed like oil. Upon the King's wounded temper it appeared to fall as softly
as drops of healing balm. With his mouth still set, he paused and bent his
ear. There was a murmur of whispered words.
What they were no one ever knew, and each man had a different theory; but
their result was plain to all. Slowly Edmund's knitted brows unravelled;
slowly his mouth relaxed into its wonted curves. At last he had regained all
his lofty composure and turned back.
"Lord of Ivarsdale, I am not rich of time, and my present need is too great to
spare any of it to the chastising of rebellious boys. Go back to your toy
kingdom, and lord it over your serfs until I find leisure to teach you who is
master." Making a disdainful gesture of dismissal, he turned with deliberate
grace and entered into conversation with the Mercian.
At the moment, it is likely that the young noble would have preferred arrest.
The utter scorn of word and act lashed the blood to his cheeks and the tears
to his eyes. With boyish passion, he snatched the sword from its sheath, and
breaking it in pieces across his knee, flung the fragments clinking into the
But if he had hoped to provoke an answer, it was in vain; the King deigned him
no further notice. Resuming his seat, Edmund continued to talk quietly with
the Earl, a half-smile playing about his complacent chin.
The old cniht bent forward and whispered in his chief's ear: "Make haste, Lord
Sebert; they will be cheering in a moment, the churls; so pleased are they at
the thought of going home. Hasten with your retiring."
It was a clever appeal. Forgetting, for the moment, humiliation in
responsibility, the young leader whirled to his men. A gesture, a muttered
order, and they were drawing back among the trees in silent retreat. A few
steps more, and the bushes had blotted out the Ironside and his thanes.
When My Lord Comes Home From War
One's own house is best,
Small though it be;
At home is every one his own master.
Bleeding at heart is he
Who has to ask
For food at every mealtide.
Slowly the bleak light warmed into golden radiance and the touch of dawn
strung the scattered bird-notes into a chain of joyous song. Passing at last
from the forest shades, the men of Ivarsdale came out into the grassy
lane-like road that wound away over the Middlesex hills.
The Destroyer had not passed this way, it seemed, for the oat-fields stretched
before them in unbroken silvery sheen; and the straight young corn dared to
rustle its green ribbons boastfully. Fowls still uncaptured crowed lustily in
adjacent barnyards; and now and again, sweet as echoes from elfin horns, came
the tinkling music of cow-bells. Here and there, the little shock-headed boys
who were driving their charges afield paused knee-deep in rosy clover to watch
the band ride by.
"Yon must be a mighty warrior," they whispered as they stared at the sober
young leader. "Take notice how his eyes gaze straight ahead, as though he were
seeking more people to overcome." And they spoke enviously of the red-cloaked
page who sat on the croup of the leader's white charger.
"See the sword he wears in his gay clothes. Likely he also has been in battle.
He must needs be happy who can strike out into the world like that." Envying,
they gazed after him until the horses' hoofs threw up a yellow wall between.
They would have opened their wide mouths wider had they known that the
red-cloaked page was looking wistfully at them and their kine and the nodding
"It must be very enjoyable to wander all day in the peace of the meadows and
hear nothing louder than cow-bells," she was thinking. "It is good to see
creatures that no man is stabbing or doing harm to."
Through warm sunshine, tempered by fresh breezes, they came yet deeper into
the drowsy farmland. Gradually the yeomen-soldiers, who had been wrangling
over the mystery of Edric's actions, dropped one by one into lazy silence, or
set their tongues to whistling cleverly turned answers to the bird-calls in
the hedges. Another mile, and from somewhere in the fields came the swinging
chant of a ploughman, as he turned the soil between the rows of rustling
"Hail, Mother Earth, thou feeder of folk!
Be thou growing, by goodness of God,
Filled with fodder, the folk to feed."
Like the unbinding of a spell, the words fell upon the farmer-soldiers.
Dropping every other topic, they began to argue over the crops; and after that
they could not pass a harmless calf tethered to a crab-tree that they did not
quarrel over the breed, nor start a drove of grunting swine out of the mast
but they must lay wagers on the weight.
Running wild in the animation, it was not long before the clamor caught up
with the Etheling where he rode before them in sober reflection. He smiled
faintly as he caught the burden of the disjointed phrases.
"...Twelve stone; I will peril my head upon it!" ... "Yorkshire, I tell you,
Yorkshire." ... "A fortnight? It will be ready in a week, or I have never
grown barley corn!"
"I do not believe that a tree-toad can change color more easily," he observed
to the old cniht who rode at his side. "That Englishmen are not stout
fighters, no man can say, but the love of it is not in their breasts; while
"With Northmen," Morcard added, "to fight is to eat."
Another faint smile touched Sebert's mouth as he glanced over his shoulder at
the red-cloaked boy. "After seeing this sprout, that is easy to believe.
Except that time alone when a two-year-old colt kicked me on the head, I have
never had my life threatened by so young a thing."
He grew grave again as his glance rested on his captive. "I want you to tell
me something," he said presently. "You were Canute's page; I saw that you
accompanied him in battle. I want you to tell me what he is like in his
"It would be more easy to tell you what he is unlike," Randalin answered
slowly; "for in no way whatever is he like your King Edmund." She sat awhile
in silence, her eyes absently following the course of the wind over a slope of
bending grain. At the foot, it caught a clump of willow-trees so that they
flashed with hidden silver and tossed their slender arms like dancers. "I
think this is the difference, to tell it shortly," she said at last; "while it
sometimes happens that Canute is driven by necessity or evil counsels to act
deceitfully toward others, he is always honest in his own mind; while your
Edmund,--I think he lies to himself also."
Morcard gave out a dry chuckle. "By Saint Cuthbert," he muttered, "too much
has not been told concerning the sharpness of children!"
But the Etheling made no answer whatever. After he had ridden a long time
staring away across the fields, he met the old man's eyes gravely.
"It is not alone because I am sore under his tongue, Morcard. Were he what I
had thought him, I would remain quiet under harder words. But he is not worth
enduring from; there is not enough good in him to outweigh the evil."
Old Morcard said thoughtfully: "The tree of Cerdic has borne many nuts with
prickly rinds in former times, but there has been wont to be good meat inside.
Since Ethelred, I have been in fear that the tree is dying at the root."
They swung over another piece of the road in silence, when the young man
started up and shook himself impatiently. "Wel-a-way! What use to think of it?
For the present, at least, I am a lordless man. Let us speak of the defences
we must begin to raise against Edmund's coming."
While they discussed watch-towers and barriers, the horses took them along at
a swinging pace. The heath-clad upland over which they were passing sloped
into another fertile valley, through which a lily-padded stream ran between
rows of drooping willows. Suddenly the Lord of Ivarsdale broke off with an
"It was not in my mind that we could see the old forked elm from here. Hey,
comrades!" he called over his shoulder. "Yonder--to the left--the old
land-mark! Do you see?" His glance, as it came back, took in his captive. "The
first bar of your cage, my hawk. Yonder is the first boundary of Ivarsdale."
Every man started up in his saddle, and the cheers they had held back upon
leaving camp burst forth now with added zest. Peering over her captor's
shoulder, Randalin looked forward anxiously.
Below the plain in whose centre the old elm held up its blasted top to be
silvered by the sun, the land dipped abruptly toward the river, to rise beyond
in a long low hill. Rolling green meadows lay at its foot, and warm brown
fields dotted with thatched farm-houses; and its sides were checkered with
patches of woodland and stretches of golden barley. Just below the crest, the
tower of the Lords of Ivarsdale reared its gray walls above the surrounding
greenery. Far away, a speck through the dark foliage, the great London road
gleamed white; but wooded hills made a sheltering hedge between, and all
around spread the great beech forest that fostered the markmen's herds. It was
a kingdom to itself, with the light slanting warmly upon its fertile slopes
and the forest standing like a strong army at its back.
Because it was so peacefully lovely, and because of her utter weariness, tears
welled up under the girl's heavy lids as she looked. She said unsteadily, "Saw
I never a fairer cage, lord."
But the Etheling's eager glance had travelled on; for the first time the sun
was shining out brightly in his face.
"The sight has more cheer than has wine," he said. "I cannot comprehend my
folly in wanting to leave it. To live one's own master on one's own land, that
is the only life!" He looked back at the yeomen with a sudden smile. "Noise!"
he ordered. "Cheer again! it expresses the state of my feelings. And let your
horn sound merrily, Kendred, that they may know we are coming."
Amid a joyous tumult, they swept over the terrace-like plain and broke ranks
around the old elm. Evidently it was the disbanding place, for the
yeomen-soldiers, one and all, came crowding around their leader to press his
hand and speak a parting word.
"You have fought with the sword of your tongue, chief!" ... "as worthy a
battle as when you strove against the Danes!" ... "The spirit of the old days
is not dead while you are alive, Oswald's son." ... "None now are born thereto
save you alone!" ... "Till that time when you send for us, my chief." ... "One
eye on our ploughs and one watching for your messenger." ... "God keep you in
safety, young lord!"
In the meadows beyond the stream, little shepherd boys had heard the horn and
were swarming, spider-like, over the hedges, sending up shrill shouts. And now
women came running across the fields from the farmhouses, waving their aprons.
More children raced behind them; and then a dozen old men, limping and
hobbling on crutches and canes. A moment, and they were all over the foot-
bridge and up the slope; and the sweet clamor of greetings was added to the
tumult. Now it was a crowd of little brothers throwing themselves upon a big
one; now a blooming lass flinging her arms around her sweetheart's neck; and
again, a farmer's little daughter leaping joyously into her father's embrace.
In the midst of it, the Lord of Ivarsdale looked around and found that
Fridtjof the page was crying as though his heart would break.
"How! Tears, my Beowulf!" he said in amazement.
She was far beyond words, the girl in the page's dress; she could only bury
her face deeper in her slender hands and try to control the sobs that shook
her from head to foot.
But it was not long before the young man's kind-ness divined the source of her
pain. He spoke a quick word to those behind, and waving aside those before,
touched spur to the white horse. In a moment, the good steed had borne them
out of the crowd and down the slope, followed only by the old cnihts and the
dozen armed retainers.
As the hoofs rang hollow on the little bridge that spanned the stream, the
Etheling spoke again in his voice of careless gentleness. "It is easy to enter
into the sorrowfulness of your heart, youngling, and I think it no dishonor to
your courage that you should mourn your kin with tears; yet I pray you to lay
aside as much grief as you can. Bear in mind that no dungeon is gaping for
She could not speak to him yet, but when he put his hand back to feel of a
strap, she bent and touched the brown fingers gratefully with her lips. The
answer seemed to renew his kindly impulse.
"After all, you should not feel so strange among us," he said lightly. "Do you
know that it was one of your own countrymen who built the Tower? Ivar Wide-
Fathomer he was named, whence it is still called Ivarsdale. He was of the
stock of Lodbrok, they say; and it is said, too, that one of his race is even
now with Canute. Since Alfred, my fathers have had possession of it, but it is
Danish-built, every stone. You must make believe that you are coming home." So
he spun on, carelessly good-humored, as they climbed the wind-ing hill-path.
Across the ditch and through the wide-open gate in the moss-grown palisade,
and they came into a broad grassy space that was more like a lawn than a
court. Ahead of them rose the massive three-storied tower, built of mighty
gray stones without softening wings or adorning spires, beautiful only in its
mantling ivy. From the great door in its side a crowd of serfs came running,
ducking grinning salutations; and they were followed by a half-dozen old
warriors. Seized by a boyish whim, their master rode past them with no more
than a wave of his hand.
"If we make haste, it may be that we can take Hildelitha and Father Ingulph by
surprise," he laughed, leaping down on the crumbling doorstep and pulling his
captive with him.
In the tunnel-like arch of the great entrance they met another throng, but he
shook them off with good-natured impatience and hurried through the great
guard-room to the winding stairs, that were cut out of the core of the massive
stones. Up and across another mighty hall, and then up again, and into a great
women's-room, full of looms and spinning-wheels, where a buxom English
housewife and half-a-dozen red-cheeked maids were gaping over their distaffs
at the tale a jolly old monk was telling between swallows of wine.
He choked in his cup when he saw who stood laughing in the doorway, and there
was a great screaming and scrambling among his audience. Knocking over her
spinning-wheel to get to him, the woman Hildelitha threw her arms around her
young lord's neck and gave him a hearty smack on either cheek; while the fat
monk sputtered blessings between his paroxysms of coughing, and the six
blooming girls made a screaming circle around them.
Though he endured it amiably enough, the Etheling appeared in some haste to
offer a diversion. He evaded a second embrace by turning and beckoning to his
"Save a little of your greeting for my guest, good nurse. Behold the fire-
eating Dane that I have captured with my own right arm!" As the red-cloaked
figure still hung back, he pulled it gently forward until the light of the
notched candles fell brightly on the face, pitifully white for all its
blood-stains, in the frame of tumbled black tresses.
"A Dane?" the women cried shrilly; then, with equal unanimity, burst out
laughing. Randalin drew a little nearer the Etheling's sheltering side. He
said half reprovingly, half freakishly, "It would not be well for you to anger
him. He is the page of Canute himself, a real Wandering Wolf, and recks not
whom he attacks. He came near to spitting Oslac at the battle, and even
"Oslac!" screamed one of the serving-maids, turning very red. "The murderous
"He deserves to have his neck wrung!" two more cried out.
And Father Ingulph cleared his throat loudly. "Well-fitting is your charity
both toward my teachings and your heart, my son; and yet--Discretion is the
mother of other virtues. To bring one of those roving children of Satan into a
Christian household will lay upon me a responsibility which--which--" He
paused to take a mouthful of wine and eye the stranger over the goblet rim
with much disfavor.
While the maids whispered excitedly in one another's ears, Hildelitha began to
sniff behind her apron. "I do not see why you wanted to bring him home, Lord
Sebert. You know that Danes are odious to me since my husband, of holy memory,
fell under their axes--most detestable-- Yet I would not anger you, my
honey-sweet lord," she broke off abruptly.
For the Lord of Ivarsdale had suddenly grown very stiff and grave; there was
something curiously haughty in the quiet distinctness of his words.
"I have brought the boy home by reason of the King's command that he be held
in safety--and because it was my pleasure to succor him. And I have fetched
him up here in order that you should supply his needs, being distressed for
want of food and drink and healing salves. I am not pleased that you should
meet my wishes in so light and cold a manner. I desire your love will, as is
becoming, receive him kindly and charitably."
He raised his hand as the pertest of the maids would have answered him, and
there followed an uncomfortable pause. Then seven gowns swept the reed-strewn
floor as seven courtesies fell, and Hildelitha thrust out her palm to give the
pert maid a resounding box on the ear.
"You have heard your master, hussy! Why do you not exert yourself to bring
food? Elswitha, if you do not want the mate to that, fetch the salve out of my
In an instant all was confusion; under cover of it the fat monk returned to
his cup and the young master walked quietly to the door.
Homesick and heartsick, the waif in the page's dress was left facing the
unfriendly glances. Even in her bravest days, she had never known what it was
to be disliked, and now--! Suddenly she limped after her friend and caught at
"Let me go with you," she cried. "I beseech it of you! I want not their
After a moment, the Etheling threw his arm protectingly around the boyish
"I do not blame you, poor youngling," he said. "I was wrong to treat you as a
child when you were bred up as a man. You shall have a bed in the closet off
my chamber, and they shall not enter except as you will it. And you shall eat
off my plate and drink from my cup. Come!"
The Foreign Page
Early should rise
He who has few workers,
And go his work to see to;
Greatly is he retarded
Who sleeps the morn away;
Wealth half depends on energy.
It was August, when Mother Earth had nearly completed her task of providing
for her children, and the excitement of a mighty work drawing to its close was
in the air; when the sun-warmed stillness was a-quiver with the of growing
things coming to their strength, and every cloudless day held in its golden
heart a song of exultation. The grassy space around the Tower, which was wont
to be thronged with joyous idlers, was to-day almost deserted. A single groom
lounged in the shade of the wide-spreading trees as he kept a lazy eye on the
croppings of two saddled horses, and an endless chain of fagot-laden serfs
plodded joylessly across the open. On one side of the great entrance arch a
half-dozen of the manor poor gabbled and basked in the sun while they waited
to receive their daily dole of food; on the other, a dark-locked foreign page
sat on the mossy step abiding the coming of his master.
Leaning back with one arm bent carelessly behind his head and one hand
caressing a shaggy hound that pressed against his knee, the boy's far-away
gaze was designed to intimate his haughty oblivion to the castle-world in
general and the movements of the almsfolk in particular. Seeing which, the
people on the other side of the step had laid aside any reserve they might
have felt and were indulging their curiosity with cheerful freedom.
"Six weeks he has been here, and this is the first good look I have had at
him," the buzzing whispers ran. "It is said that they were obliged to catch
him between shields before they could take him."... "Such hair on a Dane is
more rare than a white crow."... "I believe no good of any one with locks of
that color."... "Tibby, the weaving-woman, says he is skilful in magic."...
"It is by reason of that, that he has become my lord's darling."... "Why is he
not in the hall, then, while the ethel-born is sitting at table?"... "Perhaps
his luck is beginning to fail him."... "Perhaps he has fallen out of favor."
The two old men who offered these last suggestions chuckled with malicious
enjoyment, and two of the old women mumbled with their toothless gums as
though tasting sweet morsels; but the third drew herself up with a kind of
"You can tell by the green silk of his tunic that he is of some quality," she
reproved them. "Danishmen are ever the ones to adorn themselves. It occurs to
my mind how, in Edgar's time, when I was a girl, one was quartered in my
father's house. He changed his raiment once a day and bathed every Sunday. I
used to comb his yellow hair when I took in his ale, of a morning." Long after
her voice had passed into a rattle, she stood in a simpering revery, her
palsied hands resting heavily upon her stick, her blinking eyes fixed on the
picturesque young foreigner musing in the sunshine.
Then the voice of the steward sounded sharply in the archway. There was an
eager catching up of bags and baskets, a shuffling forward of unsteady feet,
and the goody came out of her day-dream to throw herself into the strife over
a jar of peppered broth.
The Danish page bent to pillow a very red cheek on the soft cushion of the
dog's head, then drew back and straightened himself stiffly as a strapping
serving-lass, flagon-laden, came out of the door behind him. She saw the
motion and looked down with a teasing laugh. "Aha, young Fridtjof! How do you
like being sent to cool your heels on the doorstep while your master eats?
What! I think that the next time you thrust your foot out to trip me up as I
hand my lord his ale, you will attend to keeping it under your stool."
Young Fridtjof regarded her with a kind of righteous indignation. "And I think
that the next time you will look where you are going, even if it happen that
it is Lord Sebert's ale you are bearing. Silly jades, that cannot come nigh
him without biting your lips or sparkling your eyes! I wonder he does not clap
masks over your faces."
"And I wonder he does not clap rods to your back," the lass retorted with
sudden spite. She flounced past him down the step, on her way to the great
lead-roofed storehouse that flanked the forest side of the Tower.
The boy looked after her sternly. "It is likely that you will be less pert of
tongue after I tell what I found out in the corn-bins yesterday," he said.
The maid whirled. "What did you find out, you mischief-full brat?"
He continued to stroke the dog's head in dignified silence. "If you mean
the--the brown-cloaked beggar, let me inform you that that is naught."
Busying himself with pulling burrs from the hound's ears, the page began to
She came a step nearer, and her voice wheedled. "It was only that he was
distressed for want of drink, poor fellow, and followed me into the storehouse
when he saw me go in to fill the master's flagon. It was naught but a swallow.
My lord would be the last to grudge a harmless body--"
"Harmless?"the page said sternly. "Did I not hear him tell you the same as
that he was an English spy?"
The girl abandoned the last shred of her dignity, to come and stand before
him, nervously fingering her apron. "For the dear saints' sake, let no one
hear you say that, good Fridtjof! Alas, how you have got it twisted! He is an
Englishman who bent his head for food in the evil days. And now they that
bought him will not set him loose, so he has cast off their yoke and fled to
the Danes to get freedom and fortune. He was on his way to join your people
when he stopped to beg food. I could not be so hard of heart as to refuse,
though Hildelitha's hand would be hot about my ears did she suspect it. Say
that you will hold your tongue, sweet lad, and I will make boot with anything
He was very deliberate about it, the page, pursing his rosy mouth into any
number of judicial puckers; but at last he conceded, "Now, since you know for
certain that he is not one of Edmund's spies, -- and you are so penitent, as
is right,"--pausing, he regarded her severely,--" if I do promise, will you
make a bargain to put an end to your silly behavior toward my lord? Will you
undertake to deliver his dishes into my hands, and leave it for me to pass his
"Yes, in truth; by Father Ingulph's book!" the maid cried, wringing her hands.
The page made her a magnanimous gesture. "In that case I will not be so mean
as to refuse you," he consented. And he sat smiling to himself in sly content
after she had hurried away.
Emboldened by that smile, the dog suddenly laid aside his soberness of
demeanor. Pouncing upon a fagot which had fallen from one of the loads, he
brought it in his teeth, with shining eyes and much frantic tail-wagging, and
rubbed it against his friend's knee. He had not miscalculated. The boy's smile
deepened easily into a laugh, and he leaped to his feet to accept the
challenge. Seizing the stick, he put all the strength of his lithesome body
into an effort to make off with it, while the great hound braced himself, with
a rapture of rumbling growls and short delighted barks. So they tussled, back
and forth, this way and that, amid a merry tumult of barking and laughter,--
such a tumult that neither heard the steps that both were waiting for, when at
last those steps came briskly through the archway. The first they knew of it,
the Lord of Ivarsdale was standing under the lintel, chatting with those who
came behind him.
With lips yet parted by their breathless laughter, the lad straightened
quickly from his sport, and stood shaking back his tumbling curls and mopping
his hot face, in which the rich color glowed through the tanned skin like the
velvety red on a golden peach. When, for one flashing instant, they
encountered a keen glance from the young lord, the color deepened, and the
iris-blue eyes suddenly brimmed over with mischievous sparkles; then the black
lashes were lowered demurely, and the page, retreating to his place beside the
step, signified only deference and decorum.
Followed by old Morcard and the fat monk, the Etheling descended from the
doorway and stood on the broad step, shading his eyes from the glare of
brilliant light while he looked about him with evident pleasure in the
fairness of the day.
"Now is the time to lay by a store of sweet memories against the stress of
winter weather," he said. "Whither do you go to harvest the sunshine, father?"
The monk pulled his round red face to a devout length. "Why, there is a good
woman at the other end of the dale, my son, that labors under a weakness of
her limbs; and I have bethought me that it would be a Christian act to fetch
her this holy relique I wear about my neck, that she may lay it upon the
afflicted members and perhaps, aided by my exhortations, experience some
"If the question may be permitted me, whither do you betake yourself, my
lord?" the old cniht asked.
With the light wand he carried, the young man made a gesture quite around the
horizon. "Everywhere and nowhere. After I have been to see what they are doing
with that portion of the palisade which I bade them repair as soon as they had
finished the barrier, I am--"
"That is something that had clean fallen out of my mind to tell you, Lord
Sebert," Morcard spoke up hastily. "Yesterday, before you had got in from
hunting, Kendred of Hazelford came, as spokesman for the rest, to say that
inasmuch as the Barn Month is well begun, it will not be possible for them to
labor more upon the building; and, by your leave, they will put off this,
which is not pressing, until after the time of the harvest."
It was several moments before the Etheling spoke, and then his voice was
noticeably deliberate. "Oh!" he said, "so they ask my leave, but stop at their
"My lord!"--the old man looked at him in surprise--"they act only according to
custom. Surely you would not have them neglect the harvest, which waits no
man's leisure, to put to their hands as laborers when there is no present
need, now that they have completed the barriers by the stream? What present
harm because the drain off the hill has rotted the palisade? All of that part
is toward the forest. How? Do you expect some Grendel of the March to fall
upon us from that direction?"
The Etheling smiled against his will. "Our foe would needs be a Grendel to
reach us from that side." He struck the wand sharply against his riding-boots.
"Oh, it is not that I think the work so pressing."
"In the Fiend's name, what then is the cause of your distemper?" Father
Ingulph inquired impatiently, as he finished the girding-up of his robes and
picked up his staff preparatory to setting forth.
After a moment, the young noble began to laugh. "Why, to tell it frankly,
methinks it is more temper than distemper. That they should take it upon them
to decide how much of my order is necessary--" He let a pause finish for him,
and suddenly he turned with a flourish of gay defiance: "I will tell you how I
am going to spend my morning, Morcard. I am going to ride over every acre that
is under my hand and see how much I can spare for loan-land. And when I have
found out, I will rent every furlong to boors who shall be bound to pay me
service, not when it best pleases them, but whensoever I stand in need of it."
Rubbing his chin, the monk heard him in silence; but the old warrior grew
momentarily grave. "Take care that you seem not over proud, young lord. It is
in such a mood that Edmund creates thanes."
It may be that the Etheling's eyes widened for an instant, but directly after
he laughed with gay perverseness. "Is it?" he said. "Then, for the first time
in six weeks, I see that the Ironside is cunning in thought."
Shaking his head, Father Ingulph moved down the step. "Nay, if you are in that
humor, my son, I waste no breath. Speed you well, and may you wax in wisdom!"
With a gesture, half paternal, half respectful, he betook himself across the
grass to the gate.
Old Morcard turned and stepped up into the doorway, from which he looked down
indulgently upon his laughing master. "It happened formerly, Lord Sebert, that
I knew how to command your earnestness, and that speedily; but that time has
long gone by. Methinks I can accomplish more among the watchmen upon the
platform. By your leave, my lord!" Bowing, he disappeared in the dark tunnel
of the archway, and the Etheling was left alone save for the graceful figure
awaiting him beside the step. The instant he moved, it sprang forward.
"Lord, is it your wish that I get the horses?"
As the old man had looked down upon the young one, so now the young man stood
looking down upon the boy, regarding him with tolerant severity. "You most
mischief-full elf!" he said. "It would be treating you deservedly were I to
leave you at home."
It did not appear that the lad was seriously cast down; a betraying dimple
came out and played in his cheek, though his mouth struggled for gravity.
"That is unjustly spoken, lord," he protested. "Did I not bear my punishment
with befitting penitence?"
"Penitence!" the Etheling gave one of the small ears a menacing pull as he
descended to the grass. "What! Do you think I did not see your antics with the
dog? You made a jest of the matter, you pixie!"
The page sobered. "I think it great luck that I could, Lord Sebert! Your
servants were eager in making a jest of me when they got the courage from your
But Lord Sebert reached out the wand and gave him a gentle stroke across the
"Take that for your foolishness," he said lightly. "What matters their babble
when you know how safe you sit in my favor?"
Through lowered lashes the boy stole him a glance, half mischievous, half
coaxing. "How safe, lord?" he murmured.
But the Etheling only laughed at him, as he drew up his long riding-boots and
readjusted his belt. "Safe enough so that I forgive you some dozen floggings a
day, you imp; and choose you for my comrade when I should be profiting by the
companionship of your betters. Waste no more golden moments on whims,
youngling, but go bid them fetch the horses, and we will have another day of
Blithe they were, in truth, as they cantered through shaded lanes and daisied
meadows, nothing too small to be of interest or too slight to give them
pleasure. An orchard of pears, whose ripening they were watching with eager
mouths, a group of colts almost ready for the saddle,--for the young master
the fascination of ownership gave them all a value; while another fascination
made his companion hang on his least word, respond to his lightest mood.
By grassy commons and rolling meadows sweet with clustering haycocks, they
came at last to the crest of the hill that guarded the eastern end of the
dale. The whole round sweep of the horizon lay about them in an unbroken chain
of ripening vineyards and rich timber-land, of grain-fields and laden
orchards; not one spot that did not make glorious pledges to the harvest time.
Drinking its fairness with his eyes, the lord of the manor sighed in full
content. "When I see how fine a thing it is to cause wealth to be where before
was nothing, I cannot understand how I once thought to find my pleasure only
in destroying," he said. "Next month, when the barley beer is brewed, we will
have a harvest feast plentiful enough to flesh even your bones, you bodkin!"
The Danish page laughed as he dodged the plaguing wand. "It is true that you
owe something to my race, lord. He had great good sense, the Wide-Fathomer, to
stretch his strips of oxhide around this dale and turn it into an odal."
"Nay now, it was Alfred who had sense to take it away from him," the Etheling
But the boy shook back his long tresses in airy defiance. "Then will Canute be
foremost in wisdom, for soon he will get it back, together with all England.
Remember who got the victory last week at Brentford, lord."
In the midst of his exulting, a cloud came over the young Englishman's smile.
"I would I knew the truth concerning that," he said slowly. "The man who
passes to-day says one thing; whoso comes to-morrow tells another story. Yet
since Canute is once more free to beset London--" He did not finish, and for a
while it appeared as though he did not see the sunlit fields his eyes were
But suddenly the boy broke in upon him with a burst of stifled laughter.
"Look, lord! In yonder field, behind the third haycock!"
The moment that he had complied, laughter banished the Etheling's meditations.
Cozily ensconced in the soft side of a haycock was Father Ingulph, a couple of
jovial harvesters sprawled beside him, a fat skin of ale in his hands on its
way to his mouth. As the pair on the hilltop looked down, one of the trio
began to bellow out a song that bore no resemblance whatever to a hymn.
Keeping under cover of the bushes, the eavesdroppers laughed with malicious
"But I will make him squirm for that!" the Etheling vowed. "I will tell him
that your paganism has made spells over me so that I cannot tell a holy
relique from an ale-skin; and a bedridden woman looks to me like two strapping
yeomen. I will, I swear it!"
"And I shall be able to hold it against him as a shield, the next time he is
desirous to fret me about taking a new belief," the boy rejoiced.
But presently Sebert's remarks began to take a new tone. "They have the
appearance of relishing what they have in that skin," he observed first. And
then, "I should not mind putting my own teeth into that bread-and-cheese." And
at last, "By Saint Swithin, lad, I think they have more sense than we, that
linger a half-hour's ride from food with a noonday sun standing in the sky! It
is borne in upon me that I am starving."
Backing his horse out of the brush, he was putting him about in great haste,
when the boy leaped in his stirrups and clapped his hands.
"Lord, we need not be a half-hour from food! Yonder, across the stubble, is a
farmhouse. If you would consent that I might use your name, then would I ride
thither and get their best, and serve it to you here in the elves' own
The answer was a slap on the green shoulders that nearly tumbled their owner
from the saddle. "Now, I was right to call you elf, for you have more than
human cleverness!" the Etheling cried gayly. "Do so, by all means, dear lad;
and I promise in return that I will tell every puffed-up dolt at home that you
are the blithest comrade who ever fitted himself to man's moods. There, if
that contents you, give wings to your heels!"
When Might Made Right
Now may we understand
That men's wisdom
And their devices
And their councils
Are like naught
'Gainst God's resolve.
What difference that, somewhere beyond the hills, men were fighting and
castles were burning? At Ivarsdale in the shelter and cheer of the lord's
great hall, the feast of the barley beer was at its height. While one set of
serfs bore away the remnants of roast and loaf and sweetmeat, another carried
around the brimming horns; and to the sound of cheers and hand-clapping, the
gleeman moved forward toward the harp that awaited him by the fireside.
Where the glow lay rosiest, the young lord sat in the great raised chair,
jesting with his Danish page who knelt on the step at his side. Now the boy's
answering provoked him to laughter, and he put out a hand and tousled the
thick curls in his favorite caress. One of the tresses caught in his jewelled
ring; and as he bent to unfasten it, he stared at the wavy mass in lazy
surprise. It was as soft and rich as the breast of a blackbird, and the fire
had laid over it a sheen of rainbow lights.
"Never did I think there could be any black hair so alluring," he said
He could not see how the face under the clark veil grew suddenly as bright as
though the sun had risen in it. And the lad said, rather breathlessly, "I
wonder at your words, lord. You know that such hair is the curse of black
Leaning back in his chair, the Etheling shook his head in whimsical obstinacy.
"Not so, not so," he persisted. "It has to it more lustre than has yellow. My
lady-love shall have just such locks."
He had a glimpse like the flash of a bluebird's wing in the sun, as the page
glanced up at him, and the sight of a face grown suddenly rose-red. Then the
boy turned shyly, and slipping back to his cushion on the step, nestled
himself against the chair-arm with a sigh that was almost pathetic in its
Like a quieting hand, the first of the mellow chords fell upon the noise of
the revel. The servants bearing away the dishes began to tread the rushes on
tiptoe, and a dozen frowns rebuked any clatter. Through the hush, the gleeman
began to sing the "Romance of King Offa," the king who married a wood nymph
for dear love's sake. It began with the wooing and the winning, out in the
leafy greenwood amid bird-voices and murmuring brooks; but before long the
enmity of the queen-mother entered, with jarring discords, to send the lovers
through bitter trials. Lord and page, man and maid and serf, strained eye and
ear toward the harper's tattered figure. So breathless grew the listening
stillness that the crackling of the fire became an annoyance. What matter that
outside an autumn wind was howling through the forest and stripping the leaves
through the vines? Within sound of the mellow harp-music it was balmiest
spring-time, as the castlefolk followed the gleeman over the hills and dales
of a flowering dream-world.
For a space after he had finished, the silence remained unbroken, then gave
way only to an outburst of applause. And one did even better than applaud.
Bending forward, his beautiful face quite radiant with his pleasure, the
curly-headed page pulled a golden ring from his pouch and tossed it into the
As he caught the largess, the man's mouth broadened. "I thank you for your
good-will, fair stripling," he returned. "May you find as true a love when
your time comes to go a-wooing."
The maids tittered, while the men guffawed, and a richer glow came into the
cheeks of Fridtjof the page. Suddenly his iris-blue eyes were daringly
"The spirits will have forgot your wish before that time comes," he laughed,
"for I vow that I will raise a beard or ever I woo a maiden."
Above the mirth that followed rose the voice of the brawniest of the henchmen,
passing his judgment on the ballad. "Now that is my own desire of songs," he
declared. "That was worth possessing,--the love of that lass. A sweetheart who
will cleave to your side when your fortune is most severe, and despise every
good because she has not you also, she is the filly to yoke with. Drink to the
wood maiden, comrades, bare feet and wild ways and all!" Swinging up his horn,
he drained off the toast at a draught. "Give us a mistress like that, my
lord," he cried merrily, "and we will hold Ivarsdale for her though all of
Edmund's men batter at the doors."
Laughing, they all looked up where the young master leaned in his chair,
watching the revels with a smile of idle good-humor. All except the blue-eyed
page; he bent forward instead, so that his long locks fell softly about his
The Lord of Ivarsdale shook his head indolently against the cushion. "No wood
lass for me, friend Celric," he said. "The lady of my love shall be a
high-born maid who knows no more of the world's roughness than I of woman's
ways. Nor shall she follow me at all, but stay modestly at home with her maids
and keep herself gentle and fair against my return. Deliver me from your
sun-browned, boy-bred wenches!"
"I am consenting to that, lord!" a voice cried from the benches; and a hubbub
of conflicting opinions arose. Only the page neither spoke or moved.
The henchman would not be downed; again his voice rose above the others. "In
soft days, my lord, in soft days, it might easily be so. But bear in mind such
times as these, when grief happens to a man oftener than joy. Methinks your
lily-fair lady would swoon at the sight of your blood; and tears would be the
best answer you would get, should you seek to draw comfort out of her."
White as a star at dawn, the page's face was raised while his wide eyes hung
on his master's; and from the little reed wound between his brown fingers, the
juice began to ooze slowly as though some silent force were crushing the life
out of its green heart.
But the young noble laughed with gay scorn: "Tears would be in all respects a
better answer than I should deserve, should I whimper faint-hearted words into
a maiden's ear. What folly-fit do you speak in, fellow? What! Do you think I
would wed another comrade like yourself, or a playfellow like this youngster?"
Ever so gently his foot touched the boyish form on the step. "It is something
quite different from either of you that is my desire; something that is as
much higher as the stars are above these candles."
Disputing and agreeing, the clamor rose anew, and the Etheling turned to his
favorite with a jest. But the page was no longer in his place. He had risen to
his feet and was standing with his head flung back like one in pain, both
hands up tearing the tunic away from his throat. Sebert bent toward him with a
question on his lips.
He forgot the query before he could speak it, however, for at that moment
there was a sound of hurried steps on the stone stairs, and one of the armed
watchmen from the top of the Tower burst into the room.
"Lord," he gasped, "some one is upon us! We thought first it was naught but
the noise of the wind--then Elward saw a light. We swear they came not over
the bridge, yet--"
His words were cut short by a horn-blast from the darkness, loud and clear
above the whistling wind. Though only one woman screamed out Edmund's name, it
is probable that the same thought was in every mind. Jests and laughter died
on the lips that bore them, and with one accord the men turned in their seats
to watch their master.
His face had sobered as he listened; before the first echo had died away he
had spoken swiftly to the fellow at his side. "Celric, get you down to the
guard at the gate and inquire into the meaning of that."
When the henchman had left, he began a sharp questioning of the sentinel, and
the noise did not begin again. Whispering, the women drew together like herded
sheep; and the men left their barley beer, to stand in little groups,
muttering in one another's ears. An old bowman took his weapon down from the
wall and set silently to work to restring it.
In the quiet, the tap of the man's feet upon the steps was audible long before
he reached the waiting roomful. Every eye fastened itself upon the curtained
Swinging back, the arras disclosed a face full of amazement. "Lord," the man
said, "it is Danes! None know how many or how they came there. And their chief
has sent you a messenger."
"Danes!" For the first time in the history of Ivarsdale, the word was spoken
with an accent of relief.
The page turned from the fire with a cry of bitter rejoicing: "If it is
Canute, I will go to him!"
In the revulsion of his feelings, the Etheling laughed outright. "Since it is
not Edmund, I care not if it be the Evil One himself; and it cannot be he, for
Canute is in Mercia." He rose and faced them cheerily. "Lay aside your
uneasiness, friends; it is likely only such another band as we put to flight
last month, that hopes to surprise us into some weakness. Let the signal fires
blaze to warn the churls, while we amuse ourselves with the messenger.
To-morrow we will chase them so far over the hills that they will never find
their way back again."
Beckoning to Morcard, he began to consult him concerning the most effective
arrangement of the sentinels; and there was a muffled clatter of weapons as
men went to and fro with hasty steps. At a word from the steward, the women
went softly from the room and up the winding stairs to their quarters, the
rustling of their dresses coming back with ghostly stealthiness.
When all was ready the messenger was brought in between guards. Wrapped in
dirty sheepskins, he swaggered to the centre of the room, and the light that
fell on his tanned face showed a scar running the full length of his cheek.
With his first glance, the Lord of Ivarsdale uttered an exclamation.
"Now, by Saint Mary, I have seen you before, fellow! Were you not the leader
of the band we drove away last month?"
The Scar-Cheek laughed impudently. "I will not conceal it; yet I did not know
that my beauty was so showy. The chief was wise to send Brown-Cloak to do the
"Brown-Cloak! The beggar?" was cried all down the hall.
But the messenger's eyes had fallen on the black-haired boy, who stood staring
at him from the fireside. His wide mouth opened in astonishment. "The King's
ward? Here is a happening!" he ejaculated. "If I am not much mistaken, Canute
will be glad to find this out. It was his belief that you had got your
death-blow at Scoerstan, and he took it ill."
The King's ward made no other answer than to regard him with a strange mixture
of attention and aversion; but the Etheling reached out and pushed the boy
farther behind the great chair.
"Fridtjof Frodesson is my captive and no longer concerns you," he said
briefly. "Give him no further thought, but come to your message."
The swaggering assurance of the man's laugh was more offensive than rudeness
would have been. "If I say that we will shortly set him free, I shall not be
going very wide from my message. My errand hither is that I bring word from
Rothgar Lodbroksson to surrender the Tower."
The page uttered a little cry, and his lord raised a hand mechanically to
impose silence; but no one else seemed able to speak or to move. From the
master in his chair to the serf by the door, they stared dumb-founded at the
He, on his part, appeared to realize all at once that the time for formality
had come. Pitching his cloak higher on his shoulders, he fastened his eyes on
a hole in the tapestry behind the Etheling's chair and began monotonously to
recite his lesson: "Rothgar, the son of Lodbrok, sends you greeting, Sebert
Oswaldsson; and it is his will that you surrender to him the odal and Tower of
Ivarsdale; as is right, because the odal was created and the Tower was built
by Ivar Vidfadmi, who was the first son of Lodbrok and the father's father's
father of my chief---" In spite of himself, he was obliged to stop to take in
In the pause, the page bent toward his master, his face alight with a sudden
fierce triumph. "Lord," he whispered, "you can never get out! You are caught
as though they had you in a trap!"
Astounded, Sebert drew back to stare at him. "Fridtjof! It is not possible
that you are unfaithful to me!"
The boy's only answer was to drop down upon the step and bury his face in his
hands. And nov: the messenger had recovered his wind and his place.
"Since the time of Alfred," he went on, "my chief and his kin have been kept
out of the property by your stock and you; yet because he does not wish to
look mean, he offers you to go out in safety with all of your housefolk, both
men and women, and as much property as you can walk under,--if you go quietly
and in peace." This time his inflection showed that he had finished. He turned
his eyes from the hole and fastened them on the Lord of Ivarsdale, in the
confidence of invincible power.
The room was so still that when a gust came in around the ill-fitting windows,
the flare of the torch-flames sounded loud as the hiss of serpents.
The Etheling's voice was very deep and quiet. "If we go in peace," he repeated
slowly. "And if we do not?"
The Dane shrugged his burly shoulders. "There are no terms for that. You will
find it necessary to take what comes."
Again there was silence.
Sebert put his last question: "How long does the son of Lodbrok give me to
consider how I am to order things?" The man shattered the silence with his
boisterous laughter. "It is not a lie about you English that you never do
aught that you do not sit down first and consider, till the crews have eaten
all your provisions and the timbers of your boats are rotting. When a Dane
strikes, it is like the striking of lightning. So soon as you hear the thunder
of his coming, that instant you see the flashing of his weapon. My chief gives
you no time at all. So long a time, he has studied out, will it take me to
come in to you; so much longer to do my errand; and so much longer to get
back. At the end of that time he will blow his horn, and if your gates do not
fly open in obedience, he will take that for your answer."
Either the Lord of Ivarsdale had been doing some rapid thinking during the
long speech, or else he was too incensed to think. Now he rose with sparks
flashing from the steel of his eyes. "By Peter, he is right! I do not need
even that long," he cried. "Since the Wide-Fathomer began the game, the Tower
has been the prize of the strongest. Shall I flinch from a challenge? Our
rights are equal; our luck shall decide. For his answer, be he reminded of his
own Danish saying, that 'It is a strong bird that can take what an eagle has
in his claws,' and let him get what comfort he can from that."
After his ringing tones, the unmoved voice of the messenger fell flat on the
ear. "It has happened as we supposed, that you would answer unfavorably," he
said as he turned. "It was seen in battle that you are a brave man. Otherwise
the chief would not have thought it necessary to hew a path through the forest
in order to take you by surprise." Saluting with some appearance of respect,
he joined his conductors at the door and passed out of sight down the stair.
Like smoke in the wake of a firebrand, confusion rose behind him; a din of
exclamations loosed on the air and the clangor of weapons caught down from the
wall. Through it, the Etheling's voice sounded strongly. "To the palisade, all
of you! They may not wait till morning. To the forest side; and keep them from
it as you would keep off death!" He bent and shook the crouching page. "My
armor, boy! How! Would you have me read treason in your sluggishness? My
The page started up, but it was only to stare past him and fling out his hand
toward a window, where a bright light had suddenly shot athwart the darkness:
"Lord, they have set fire to something!"
The voice of old Morcard rose shrill: "To the storehouses! Save the grain!"
There was a wild rush for the door; but on the threshold they were met by the
shouts of watchmen hurrying from the parapets.
"Lord, the court is swarming with them!"... "They have cut through the
palisade on the forest side!"... "They had brush laid ready--"... "Waited only
for him--"... "Holy saints, what is the meaning of that?"..."Something else
From the stairway above them came a piercing cry: "The storehouses! They have
fired them from inside! The lead is melting like ice!"... "The grain!"... "The
In their midst the young lord stood in helpless fury; and the hand he had
grasped around his sword-hilt gripped it so hard that blood started under each
nail. But his page bent and kissed the clenched fist with a cry of fierce
"You will never get out to find your lily-fair lady. You will never have a
lady wife, lord! We shall die together."
How The Fates Cheated Randalin
There is a mingling of affection
Where one can tell
Another all his mind.
After that night the deep-set windows of Ivarsdale looked out upon some grim
sights. The first morning it was a skirmish in the meadow beyond the
foot-bridge, when the three-score farmer-soldiers came loyally to their
leader's aid. Though Kendred of Hazelford marched bravely at their head, they
were practically uncaptained; with any kind of weapon in their hands and no
kind of armor over their home-spun. What chance had they against sixty picked
warriors, led by the fiercest chief of a race of chieftains? They met, and
there was a moment of clash and of clangor, a moment of awful commotion; and
when the whirling dust-clouds settled, the only homespun that was moving was
that which was flying, sped by Danish arrows. All the rest of the day the
Tower windows looked out upon a litter of brown heaps, here and there a white
face upturned or a scarf-end fluttering in the autumn wind.
Wild with helpless misery, the Lord of Ivarsdale would have charged the
Berserkers with his handful of armed servants if the old cniht had not
restrained him almost by force; when he spent his breath in railing at
everything between earth and sky.
"It is the folly of it that maddens me," he cried over and over, "the needless
folly! Had I but used my mind to think with, instead of to plan feasts-- I am
moved to dash my brains out when I remember it!"
"Nay, it is my judgment that was lacking," Morcard said bitterly. "I was an
old dog that could not learn a new trick. I should have seen that the old ways
no longer avail. The fault was mine." His wrinkled old face was so haggard
with self-reproach that the Etheling hastily recanted.
"Now I bethink me, I am wrong, and it is no one's fault. It comes of the curse
that lies over the Island. Was there not something rotten in all English
palisades, it would never have happened that the pirates got their first
foothold. But we have shaken off the spell, and they have not mastered us yet.
To-night we will try to get a messenger out to my kinsman in Yorkshire, and
another to my father's friend in Essex."
The next day, and for many days thereafter, the Tower windows stared out like
expectant eyes. But no delivering bands ever came over the hills to reward
their watching. From the moment that he was swallowed by the outer darkness,
the messenger for Yorkshire was as lost to their sight and their knowledge as
though he had plunged into the ocean. And a week later, the man who had been
sent into Essex crept back with a dejection that foretold his ill success. The
ealdorman was taxed, might and main, to protect his own lands. He regretted
it, to his innermost vitals, but these were days when each must stand or fall
for himself. He could only send his sympathy and the counsel to hold out
unflinchingly in the hope that some fortune of war would call the besiegers
When he heard that, Father Ingulph forgot his robes to indulge in a curse.
"Does he think we have possession of the widow's blessed oil-cruse? If the
larder had not been stocked for a week's feasting, we must needs have been
starved under ere this. How much longer can we endure, even at one meal a
day?" He sighed as he drew his belt in another notch.
When the beginning of the Wine Month came, the bitterest sight that the Tower
windows gave out upon was the band of foragers that every morning went forth
from the Danish camp-fires. Every noon they returned, amid a taunting racket,
with armfuls of ale-skins, back-loads of salted meats, and bags bulging with
the bread which they had forced the terrorized farm-women into baking for
them. "They have the ingenuity of fiends!" Father Ingulph was wont to groan
after each of these spectacles.
At last the time arrived when it looked as though these visions were to be the
only glimpses of food vouchsafed to them.
"Bread for one more meal; and the last ale-cask has been broached," the
steward answered in a very faint voice when Morcard put the nightly question.
Because it was not possible for the old man's face to record more misery, the
light of the guard-room fire over which he crouched showed no change whatever
in his expression.
It was the young lord, who sat beside him, that answered. After a pause he
said gently, "Go and try to get some sleep. At least you can dream of food."
"I have done no otherwise for a sennight," the man sighed as he hurried away
to snatch the tongs from a serf who was spending an unnecessary fagot upon the
fire. At any other time he would have shouted at him, but it was little loud
talking that was done within the walls these days.
When they were left alone, the old cniht threw himself back upon the bench and
covered his face with his mantle. "I have outlived my usefulness," he moaned.
"I have lived to bring ruin on the house that has sheltered me. What guilt I
lie under!" For a time he lay as stark and rigid under his cloak as though
death had already closed about him. The guard-room seemed to become a funeral
chamber, with a mass of hovering shadows for a pall. The fire held up funeral
tapers of flickering flame, and the whispers of the starving men who warmed
themselves in its heat broke the silence as dismally as the voices of
But the Lord of Ivarsdale said steadily, "Not so, good friend; and it hurts my
pride sorely that you should speak as if I were still of no importance in my
father's house. That which I call myself lord of, it behooved me to rule over.
If ever I get out of this--" checking himself, he rose to his feet. "The smoke
makes my wits heavy. Methinks I will go up into the air a while."
He took a step toward the door, but halted when the red-cloaked page, who had
been stretched near him on the bench, started up as though preparing to
accompany him. "Stay where you are, lad. These fasts from sleep will parch
your young brains. I go up to the platform because I would rather walk than
rest; but do you remain here by the fire and try to catch a drowsiness from
But the page advanced with the old wilful shake of his curly head. "I also
would rather walk, if you please." As he looked at him, compassion came into
the Etheling's face. The hollowness of their sockets made the boy's large eyes
look larger, and his fever-flush trebled their brightness. Sebert said, with a
poor attempt at a smile, "Little did I think that my hospitality would ever
produce such a guest. Poor youngling! You would better have crept out to your
countrymen, as I bade you."
Again the dark head shook obstinately. "Rather would I starve with you than
feast with them. I go not out till you go."
Something seemed to come into the young man's throat as he was about to speak,
for he swallowed hard and was silent. Putting an arm about the slender figure,
he drew it to his side; and so they left the room and began to climb the
As soon as the curtain fell at their heels a stifling mustiness came to their
nostrils, and a chill that was like the flat of a knife-blade pressed against
their cheeks. They drew breath thankfully when they had come up into the sweet
freshness of the night air. Flashing on the weapons of the pacing sentinels, a
glory of silver moonlight lay like a visible silence over the parapets. In the
darkness below, a sea of forest trees was murmuring and splashing at the
passing of a wind. Yet deeper down in the dark glowed the fires of the Danish
camp,--red eyes of the dragon that would rise ere long and crush them under
his iron claws.
After they had twice made the round without speaking, the page said gravely,
"I heard what Brithwald told you about the bread, lord. What will overtake us
when that is gone? Shall we charge them, so that we may die fighting?" When
the Etheling did not answer immediately, his companion looked up at him with
loving reproach. "You forget that you need conceal nothing from me, dear lord.
I am not as those clowns below. You have even said that you found pleasure in
telling me your mind."
Sebert's hand was lifted from the red cloak to touch the thin cheek
caressingly. "I should be extreme ungrateful were I to say less, dear lad.
There is a man's courage in your boy's body, and I think a woman could not be
more faithful in her love--How! Are you cold that you shiver so? Pull the
corner of my cloak about you."
But the page cast it off impatiently. "No, no, it is nothing; no more than
that one of those men out there may have walked across the spot that is to be
my grave. Sooner would I bite my tongue off than interrupt you. I ask you not
to let it hinder your speech."
Again a kind of affectionate pity came into the young noble's face. "Does it
mean so much to you to hear that you have been faithful in your service?"
"It means--so much to me!" the boy repeated softly; and if the man's ear had
not been far afield, he might have divined the secret of the green tunic only
from the tenderness of the low voice. But when his mind came back to his
companion again, the lad was looking at him with a little smile touching the
curves of his wistful mouth.
"Do you know why this mishap which has occurred to you seems great luck for
me? Because otherwise it is not likely that you would have found out how true
a friend I could be. If it had happened that I had gone with Rothgar's
messenger that night, you would have remembered me only as one who could
entertain you when it was your wish to laugh. But now, since it has been
allowed me to endure suffering with you and to share your mind when it was
bitterest, you have given me a place in your heart. And to-morrow, when we go
forth together, and the Dane slays me with you because it will be open to him
then that for your sake I have become unfaithful to him, you will remember our
fellowship even to--"
But Sebert's hand silenced the tremulous lips. "No more, youngling! I adjure
you by your gentleness," he whispered unsteadily. "You owe me no such love;
and it makes my helplessness a thousand-fold more bitter. Say no more, little
comrade, if you would not turn my heart into a woman's when it has need to be
of flint. Sit you here on the ledge the while that I take one more turn. You
will not? Then come with me, and we will make the round together, and apply
our wits once more to the riddle. Until swords have put an end to me, I shall
not cease to believe that it has an answer."
Below, in the dense blackness of the forest, an occasional owl sounded his
echoless cry. From still deeper in the dark, where the Danish camp-fires
glowed, a harp-note floated up on the wind with a fragment of wild song. But
it was many a long moment before the silence that hovered over the doomed
Tower was broken by any sound but the measured tramp of the sentinels.
It was Sebert who brought the dragging pace finally to a halt, throwing
himself upon a stone bench to hold his head in his hands. "We cannot drive
them off; that needs no further proof. And I do not see how we can hold out
till the time that chance entices them away, when but one meal stands between
us and starvation, and already we are as weak as rabbits. Naught can profit us
The dark head beside him shook hopelessly; but he repeated the verdict with
additional emphasis. "I tell you, craft is our only hope; some artfulness that
shall undermine their strength even as their tricks crept, snake-like, under
our guard." Turning in his seat, he set his face toward the darkness,
clutching his head in renewed effort.
No word came from the page, but a strange look was dawning in his upturned
face. Whether it was a great terror that had shaken his soul or whether a joy
had come to him that raised him to heaven itself, it was impossible to tell,
for the signs of both were in his eyes. And when at last he spoke, both
thrilled through his voice. "Lord," he said slowly, "I think I see where a
trick is possible."
As Sebert turned from the darkness, the boy struggled up and stood before him.
"If they could be made to believe a lie about the food? If they could be made
to believe that you have enough to continue this for a long time? Their
natures are such that already it must have become a hardship for them to
The Etheling's eyes were riveted on the other's lips; his every muscle
strained toward him. Under the stimulus the page's words seemed to come a
little less uncertainly, a little more quickly.
"I think I could manage it for you, lord. They think me your unwilling
captive: you remember what the messenger said about freeing me? If I should go
to Rothgar--" his voice broke and his eyes sought his friend's eyes as though
they were wine-cups from which he would drink courage--" if I should go to
Rothgar, lord, I could declare myself escaped, and he would be likely to
believe any story I told him."
Sebert leaped up and caught the lad by the shoulders, then hesitated, weighing
it in his mind, half fearing to believe. "But are you sure that your tongue
will not trip you? Or your face, poor mouse? What! Can you make them believe
in abundance when your cheeks are like bowls for the catching of your tears?"
The boy seemed to gather strength from the caressing hands, as Thor from the
touch of his magic belt. He even gave a little breathless laugh of elation.
"As to that, I think he is not wise enough to guess the truth. I will tell him
that you have thought it revengeful toward him to starve your Danish captive;
and because it is in every respect according to what he would do in your
place, I think he will have no misgivings."
Pulling the soft curls with a suggestion of his old lightheartedness, the
Etheling laughed with him. "You bantling! Who would have dreamed you to that
degree artful? Are you certain your craft will bear you out? I would not have
you suffer their anger. Are you capable of so much feigning?"
For an instant the boy's eyes were even audacious; and all the hollowness of
the cheeks could not hide a flashing dimple. "Oh, my dear lord, I am capable
of so much more feigning than you guess!" he answered daringly.
"Nay, have I not been wont to call you elf?" Sebert returned. Then his voice
deepened with feeling. "By the soul of my father, Fridtjof, if you bring me
out of this snare, me and mine, I declare with truth that there will be no
recompense you can ask at my hands which I shall not be glad to grant--" He
paused in the wonder of seeing the sparkle in the blue eyes flee away like a
The page turned from him almost with a sob. "Pray you, promise me nothing!" he
said hastily. "If ever I see you again, and you have more to give me than
pity-- Nay, I shall lose my courage if I think of that part. Get me out
quickly while the heart is firm within me. And give me a draught from your cup
to warm my blood."
"Certainly it would be best for you to come to them while they are in such a
state of feasting that their good-humor is keenest and their wits dullest,"
He spoke but with the matter-of-factness of a soldier reconnoitring a
position, but on the girl in the page's dress the words fell like blows. Then
it was that she realized for the first time how ill a crumb can satisfy the
hunger which asks for a loaf; that she knew that her body was not the only
part of her which was starving. Somewhere on that dark stairway she lost the
boyishness out of her nature forever. The thin cheeks were white under their
tan when they came again into the light of the guard-room fire; and the blue
eyes had in them a woman's reproach.
"It would show no more than friendship if you said that you were sorry to have
me go," she told him with quivering lips. "Are you so eager in getting me off
that you cannot say you will miss me?"
But the young lord only laughed good-humoredly as he poured the wine. "What a
child you are! Do you not know those things without my telling you? And as for
missing you, I am not likely to have time. The first chance you get, you will
slip back to me if you do not, I will come after you and flog you into the
bargain; be there no forgetting!"
She could not laugh as she would once have done; instead she choked in the cup