Produced by Martin Robb.
Havelok the Dane: A Legend of Old Grimsby and Lincoln.
By Charles W. Whistler
If any excuse is needed for recasting the ancient legend of Grim the fisher and his foster-son Havelok the Dane, it may be found in the fascination of the story itself, which made it one of the most popular legends in England from the time of the Norman conquest, at least, to that of Elizabeth. From the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries it seems to have been almost classic; and during that period two full metrical versions—one in Norman-French and the other in English— were written, besides many other short versions and abridgments, which still exist. These are given exhaustively by Professor Skeat in his edition of the English poem for the Early English Text Society, and it is needless to do more than refer to them here as the sources from which this story is gathered.
These versions differ most materially from one another in names and incidents, while yet preserving the main outlines of the whole history. It is evident that there has been a far more ancient, orally-preserved tradition, which has been the original of the freely-treated poems and concise prose statements of the legend which we have. And it seems possible, from among the many variations, and from under the disguise of the mediaeval forms in which it has been hidden, to piece together what this original may have been, at least with some probability.
We have one clue to the age of the legend of Havelok in the statement by the eleventh-century Norman poet that his tale comes from a British source, which at least gives a very early date for the happenings related; while another version tells us that the king of “Lindesie” was a Briton. Welsh names occur, accordingly, in several places; and it is more than likely that the old legend preserved a record of actual events in the early days of the Anglo-Saxon settlement in England, when there were yet marriages between conquerors and conquered, and the origins of Angle and Jute and Saxon were not yet forgotten in the pedigrees of the many petty kings.
One of the most curious proofs of the actual British origin of the legend is in the statement that the death of Havelok’s father occurred as the result of a British invasion of Denmark for King Arthur, by a force under a leader with the distinctly Norse name of Hodulf. The claim for conquest of the north by Arthur is very old, and is repeated by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and may well have originated in the remembrance of some successful raid on the Danish coasts by the Norse settlers in the Gower district of Pembrokeshire, in company with a contingent of their Welsh neighbours.
This episode does not occur in the English version; but here an attack on Havelok on his return home to Denmark is made by men led by one Griffin, and this otherwise unexplainable survival of a Welsh name seems to connect the two accounts in some way that recalls the ancient legend at the back of both.
I have therefore treated the Welsh element in the story as deserving a more prominent place, at least in subsidiary incidents, than it has in the two old metrical versions. It has been possible to follow neither of these exactly, as in names and details they are widely apart; but to one who knows both, the sequence of events will, I think, be clear enough.
I have, for the same reason of the British origin of the legend, preferred the simple and apposite derivation of the name of “Curan,” taken by the hero during his servitude, from the Welsh Cwran, “a wonder,” to the Norman explanation of the name as meaning a “scullion,” which seems to be rather a guess, based on the menial position of the prince, than a translation.
For the long existence of a Welsh servile population in the lowlands of Lincolnshire there is evidence enough in the story of Guthlac of Crowland, and the type may still be found there. There need be little excuse for claiming some remains of their old Christianity among them, and the “hermit” who reads the dream for the princess may well have been a half-forgotten Welsh priest. But the mediaeval poems have Christianized the ancient legend, until it would seem to stand in somewhat the same relationship to what it was as the German “Niebelungen Lied” does to the “Volsunga Saga.”
With regard to the dreams which recur so constantly, I have in the case of the princess transferred the date of hers to the day previous to her marriage, the change only involving a difference of a day, but seeming to he needed, as explanatory of her sudden submission to her guardian. And instead of crediting Havelok with the supernatural light bodily, it has been transferred to the dream which seems to haunt those who have to do with him.
As to the names of the various characters, they are in the old versions hardly twice alike. I have, therefore, taken those which seem to have been modernized from their originals, or preserved by simple transliteration, and have set them back in what seems to have been their first form. Gunther, William, and Bertram, for instance, seem to be modernized from Gunnar, Withelm, and perhaps Berthun; while Sykar, Aunger, and Gryme are but alternative English spellings of the northern Sigurd, Arngeir, and Grim.
The device on Havelok’s banner in chapter xxi. is exactly copied from the ancient seal of the Corporation of Grimsby, which is of the date of Edward the First. The existence of this is perhaps the best proof that the story of Grim and Havelok is more than a romance. Certainly the Norse “Heimskringla” record claims an older northern origin for the town than that of the Danish invasion of Alfred’s time; and the historic freedom of its ships from toll in the port of Elsinore has always been held to date from the days of its founder.
The strange and mysterious “blue stones” of Grimsby and Louth are yet in evidence, and those of the former town are connected by legend with Grim. Certainly they have some very ancient if long-forgotten associations, and it is more than likely that they have been brought as “palladia” with the earliest northern settlers. A similar stone exists in the centre of the little East Anglian town of Harleston, with a definite legend of settlement attached to it; and there may be others. The Coronation Stone of Westminster and the stone in Kingston-on-Thames are well-known proofs of the ancient sanctity that surrounded such objects for original reasons that are now lost.
The final battle at Tetford, with its details, are from the Norman poem. The later English account is rounded off with the disgrace and burning alive of the false guardian; but for many reasons the earlier seems to be the more correct account. Certainly the mounds of some great forgotten fight remain in the Tetford valley, and Havelok is said to have come to “Carleflure,” which, being near Saltfleet, and on the road to Tetford, may be Canton, where there is a strong camp of what is apparently Danish type.
Those who can read with any comfort the crabbed Norman-French and Early English poetic versions will see at once where I have added incidents that may bring the story into a connected whole, as nearly as possible on the old Saga lines; and those readers to whom the old romance is new will hardly wish that I should pull the story to pieces again, to no purpose so far as they are concerned. And, at least, for a fairly free treatment of the subject, I have the authority of those previous authors whom I have mentioned.
In the different versions, the founder of Grimsby is variously described as a steward of the Danish king’s castle, a merchant, a fisher, and in the English poem—probably because it was felt that none other would have undertaken the drowning of the prince—as a thrall. Another version gives no account of the sack episode, but says that Grim finds both queen and prince wandering on the shore. Grim the fisher is certainly a historic character in his own town, and it has not been hard to combine the various callings of the worthy foster-father of Havelok and the troubles of both mother and son. A third local variant tells that Havelok was found at Grimsby by the fisher adrift in an open boat; and I have given that boat also a place in the story, in a different way.
The names of the kings are too far lost to be set back in their place in history, but Professor Skeet gives the probable date of Havelok and Grim as at the end of the sixth century, with a possible identification of the former with the “governor of Lincoln” baptized by Paulinus. I have, therefore, assumed this period where required. But a legend of this kind is a romance of all time, and needs no confinement to date and place. Briton and Saxon, Norman and Englishman, and maybe Norseman and Dane, have loved the old story, and with its tale of right and love triumphant it still has its own power.
Chas. W. Whistler
CHAPTER I. GRIM THE FISHER AND HIS SONS.
This story is not about myself, though, because I tell of things that I have seen, my name must needs come into it now and then. The man whose deeds I would not have forgotten is my foster-brother, Havelok, of whom I suppose every one in England has heard. Havelok the Dane men call him here, and that is how he will always be known, as I think.
He being so well known, it is likely that some will write down his doings, and, not knowing them save by hearsay, will write them wrongly and in different ways, whereof will come confusion, and at last none will be believed. Wherefore, as he will not set them down himself, it is best that I do so. Not that I would have anyone think that the penmanship is mine. Well may I handle oar, and fairly well axe and sword, as is fitting for a seaman, but the pen made of goose feather is beyond my rough grip in its littleness, though I may make shift to use a sail-needle, for it is stiff and straightforward in its ways, and no scrawling goeth therewith.
Therefore my friend Wislac, the English priest, will be the penman, having skill thereto. I would have it known that I can well trust him to write even as I speak, though he has full leave to set aside all hard words and unseemly, such as a sailor is apt to use unawares; and where my Danish way of speaking goeth not altogether with the English, he may alter the wording as he will, so long as the sense is always the same. Then, also, will he read over to me what he has written, and therefore all may be sure that this is indeed my true story.
Now, as it is needful that one begins at the beginning, it happens that the first thing to be told is how I came to be Havelok’s foster-brother, and that seems like beginning with myself after all. But all the story hangs on this, and so there is no help for it.
If it is asked when this beginning might be, I would say, for an Englishman who knows not the names of Danish kings, that it was before the first days of the greatness of Ethelbert of Kent, the overlord of all England, the Bretwalda, and therefore, as Father Wislac counts, about the year of grace 580. But King Ethelbert does not come into the story, nor does the overlord of all Denmark; for the kings of whom I must speak were under-kings, though none the less kingly for all that. One must ever be the mightiest of many; and, as in England, there were at that time many kings in Denmark, some over wide lands and others over but small realms, with that one who was strong enough to make the rest pay tribute to him as overlord, and only keeping that place by the power of the strong hand, not for any greater worth.
Our king on the west coast of Denmark, where the story of Havelok the Dane must needs begin, was Gunnar Kirkeban–so called because, being a heathen altogether, as were we all in Denmark at that time, he had been the bane of many churches in the western isles of Scotland, and in Wales and Ireland, and made a boast thereof. However, that cruelty of his was his own bane in the end, as will be seen. Otherwise he was a well-loved king and a great warrior, tall, and stronger than any man in Denmark, as was said. His wife, the queen, was a foreigner, but the fairest of women. Her name was Eleyn, and from this it was thought that she came from the far south. Certainly Gunnar had brought her back from Gardariki, whither he had gone on a trading journey one year. Gunnar and she had two daughters and but one son, and that son was Havelok, at this time seven years old.
Next to the king came our own lord, Jarl Sigurd, older than Gunnar, and his best counsellor, though in the matter of sparing harmless and helpless church folk his advice was never listened to. His hall was many miles from the king’s place, southward down the coast.
Here, too, lived my father, Grim, with us in a good house which had been his father’s before him. Well loved by Jarl Sigurd was Grim, who had ever been his faithful follower, and was the best seaman in all the town. He was also the most skilful fisher on our coasts, being by birth a well-to-do freeman enough, and having boats of his own since he could first sail one. At one time the jarl had made him steward of his house; but the sea drew him ever, and he waxed restless away from it. Therefore, after a time, he asked the jarl’s leave to take to the sea again, and so prospered in the fishery that at last he bought a large trading buss from the Frisian coast, and took to the calling of the merchant.
So for some years my father, stout warrior as he proved himself in many a fight at his lord’s side, traded peacefully—that is, so long as men would suffer him to do so; for it happened more than once that his ship was boarded by Vikings, who in the end went away, finding that they had made a mistake in thinking that they had found a prize in a harmless trader, for Grim was wont to man his ship with warriors, saying that what was worth trading was worth keeping. I mind me how once he came to England with a second cargo, won on the high seas from a Viking’s plunder, which the Viking brought alongside our ship, thinking to add our goods thereto. Things went the other way, and we left him only an empty ship, which maybe was more than he would have spared to us. That was on my second voyage, when I was fifteen.
Mostly my father traded to England, for there are few of the Saxon kin who take ship for themselves, and the havens to which he went were Tetney and Saltfleet, on the Lindsey shore of Humber, where he soon had friends.
So Grim prospered and waxed rich fast, and in the spring of the year wherein the story begins was getting the ship ready for the first cruise of the season, meaning to be afloat early; for then there was less trouble with the wild Norse Viking folk, for one cruise at least. Then happened that which set all things going otherwise than he had planned, and makes my story worth telling.
We—that is my father Grim, Leva my mother, my two brothers and myself, and our two little sisters, Gunhild and Solva—sat quietly in our great room, busy at one little thing or another, each in his way, before the bright fire that burned on the hearth in the middle of the floor. There was no trouble at all for us to think of more than that the wind had held for several weeks in the southwest and northwest, and we wondered when it would shift to its wonted springtide easting, so that we could get the ship under way once more for the voyage she was prepared for. Pleasant talk it was, and none could have thought that it was to be the last of many such quiet evenings that had gone before.
Yet it seemed that my father was uneasy, and we had been laughing at him for his silence, until he said, looking into the fire, “I will tell you what is on my mind, and then maybe you will laugh at me the more for thinking aught of the matter. Were I in any but a peaceful land, I should say that a great battle had been fought not so far from us, and to the northward.”
Then my mother looked up at him, knowing that he had seen many fights, and was wise in the signs that men look for before them; but she asked nothing, and so I said, “What makes you think this, father?”
He answered me with another question.
“How many kites will you see overhead at any time, sons?”
I wondered at this, but it was easy to answer—to Raven, at least.
“Always one, and sometimes another within sight of the first,” Raven said.
“And if there is food, what then?”
“The first swoops down on it, and the next follows, and the one that watches the second follows that, and so on until there are many kites gathered.”
“What if one comes late?”
“He swings overhead and screams, and goes back to his place; then no more come.”
“Ay,” he said; “you will make a sailor yet, son Raven, for you watch things. Now I will tell you what I saw today. There was the one kite sailing over my head as I was at the ship garth, and presently it screamed so that I looked up. Then it left its wide circles over the town, and flew northward, straight as an arrow. Then from the southward came another, following it, and after that another, and yet others, all going north. And far off I could see where others flew, and they too went north. And presently flapped over me the ravens in the wake of the kites, and the great sea eagles came in screaming and went the same way, and so for all the time that I was at the ship, and until I came home.”
“There is a sacrifice to the Asir somewhere,” I said, “for the birds of Odin and Thor have always their share.”
My father shook his head.
“The birds cry to one another, as I think, and say when the feast is but enough for those that have gathered. They have cried now that there is room for all at some great feasting. Once have I seen the like before, and that was when I was with the ship guard when the jarl fought his great battle in the Orkneys; we knew that he had fought by the same token.”
But my mother said that I was surely right. There was no fear of battle here, and indeed with Gunnar and Sigurd to guard the land we had had peace for many a long year on our own coasts, if other lands had had to fear them. My father laughed a little, saying that perhaps it was so, and then my mother took the two little ones and went with them into the sleeping room to put them to rest, while I and my two brothers went out to the cattle garth to see that all was well for the night.
Then, when our eyes were used to the moonlight, which was not very bright, away to the northward we saw a red glow that was not that of the sunset or of the northern lights, dying down now and then, and then again flaring up as will a far-off fire; and even as we looked we heard the croak of an unseen raven flying thitherward overhead.
“Call father,” I said to Withelm, who was the youngest of us three. The boy ran in, and presently my father came out and looked long at the glow in the sky.
“Even as I thought,” he said. “The king’s town is burning, and I must go to tell the jarl. Strange that we have had no message. Surely the king’s men must be hard pressed if this is a foe’s work.”
So he went at once, leaving us full of wonder and excited, as boys will be at anything that is new and has a touch of fear in it. But he had hardly gone beyond the outbuildings when one came running and calling him. The jarl had sent for him, for there was strange news from the king. Then he and this messenger hastened off together.
In half an hour the war horns were blowing fiercely, and all the quiet town was awake, for my father’s forebodings were true, and the foe was on us. In our house my mother was preparing the food that her husband should carry with him, and I was putting a last polish on the arms that should keep him, while the tramp of men who went to the gathering rang down the street, one by one at first, and then in twos and threes. My mother neither wept nor trembled, but worked with a set face that would not show fear.
Then came in my father, and I armed him, begging at the same time that I might go also, for I could use /my/ weapons well enough; but he told me that some must needs bide at home as a guard, and that I was as much wanted there as at the king’s place, wherewith I had to be content. It was by no means unlikely that we also might be attacked, if it was true that the king’s men were outnumbered, as was said.
Now when my father went to say farewell to us, nowhere could be found my brother Withelm.
“The boy has gone to watch the muster,” my father said. “I shall see him there presently.”
Then, because he saw that my mother was troubled more than her wont, he added, “Have no fear for me. This will be no more than a raid of Norsemen, and they will plunder and be away with the tide before we get to the place.”
So he laughed and went out, having done his best to cheer us all, and I went with him to where the men were gathered in their arms in the wide space in the midst of the houses. There I sought for little Withelm, but could not find him among the women and children who looked on; and before we had been there more than a few minutes the jarl gave the word, and the march was begun. There were about fifteen miles to be covered between our town and the king’s.
I watched them out of sight, and then went home, having learned that I was to be called out only in case of need. And as I drew near the homestead I saw a light in the little ash grove that was behind the garth. In the midst of the trees, where this light seemed to be, was our wooden image of Thor the Hammer Bearer, older than any of us could tell; and in front of this was what we used as his altar —four roughly-squared stones set together. These stones were blue-black in colour, and whence they came I do not know, unless it was true that my forefathers brought them here when first Odin led his folk to the northern lands. Always they had been the altar for my people, and my father held that we should have no luck away from them.
So it was strange to see a light in that place, where none would willingly go after dark, and half was I feared to go and see what it might mean. But then it came into my mind that the enemy might be creeping on the house through the grove, and that therefore I must needs find out all about it. So I went softly to the nearest trees, and crept from one to another, ever getting closer to the light; and I will say that I feared more that I might see some strange thing that was more than mortal than that I should see the leading foeman stealing towards me. But presently it was plain that the light did not move as if men carried it, but it flickered as a little fire; and at last I saw that it burned on the altar stones, and that frightened me so that I almost fled.
Maybe I should have done so, but that I heard a voice that I knew; and so, looking once more, I saw a figure standing before the fire, and knew it. It was little Withelm, and why a ten-year-old boy should be here I could not think. But I called him softly, and he started somewhat, turning and trying to look through the darkness towards me, though he did not seem afraid. There was a little fire of dry sticks burning on the stones, and the gaunt old statue seemed to look more terrible than ever in its red blaze. One might have thought that the worn face writhed itself as the light played over it.
“It is I, Withelm,” I said softly, for the fear of the place was on me. “We have sought you everywhere, and father would have wished you farewell. What are you doing here?”
I came forward then, for it was plain that the child feared nothing, so that I was put to shame. And as I came I asked once more what he was doing in this place.
“The jarl has surely forgotten the sacrifice to the Asir before the warriors went to fight, and they will be angry,” he answered very calmly. “It is right that one should remember, and I feared for father, and therefore—“
He pointed to the altar, and I saw that he had laid his own untasted supper on the fire that he had lighted, and I had naught to say. The thing was over-strange to me, who thought nothing of these things. It was true that the host always sacrificed before sailing on the Viking path, but tonight had been urgent haste.
“Thor will not listen to any but a warrior,” I said. “Come home, brother, for mother waits us.”
“If not Thor, who is maybe busy at the battle they talk of, then do I think that All Father will listen,” he said stoutly. “But this was all that I had to make sacrifice withal, and it may not be enough.”
“The jarl will make amends when he comes back,” I said, wishing to get home and away from this place, and yet unwilling to chide the child. “Now let us go, for mother will grow anxious.”
With that he put his hand in mine, and we both saluted Thor, as was fitting, and then went homeward. It seemed to me that the glare in the north was fiercer now than when I had first seen it.
Now, after my mother had put Withelm to bed, I told her how I had found him; and thereat she wept a little, as I could see in the firelight.
After a long silence she said, “Strange things and good come into the mind of a child, and one may learn what his fate shall be in the days to come. I am sure from this that Withelm will be a priest.”
Now as one may buy the place of a godar, with the right to have a temple of the Asir for a district and the authority that goes therewith, if so be that one falls vacant or is to be given up by the holder, this did not seem unlikely, seeing how rich we were fast growing. And indeed my mother’s saying came to pass hereafter, though not at all in the way of which we both thought.
There was no alarm that night. The old warriors watched round the town and along the northern tracks, but saw nothing, and in the morning the black smoke hung over the place of the burning, drifting slowly seaward. The wind had changed, and they said that it would doubtless have taken the foe away with it, as my father had hoped. So I went down to the ship with Raven, and worked at the few things that were still left to be done to her as she lay in her long shed on the slips, ready to take the water at any tide. She was only waiting for cargo and stores to be put on board her with the shift of wind that had come at last, and I thought that my father would see to these things as soon as he came back.
Now in the evening we had news from the Jarl, and strange enough it was. My father came back two days afterwards and told us all, and so I may as well make a short story of it. The ways of Gunnar Kirkeban had been his end, for a certain Viking chief, a Norseman, had wintered in Wales during the past winter, and there he had heard from the Welsh of the wrongs that they had suffered at his hands. Also he had heard of the great booty of Welsh gold that Gunnar had taken thence in the last summer; and so, when these Welsh asked that he would bide with them and help fight the next Danes who came, he had offered to do more than that —he would lead them to Gunnar’s place if they would find men to man three ships that he had taken, and would be content to share the booty with them.
The Welsh king was of the line of Arthur, and one who yet hoped to win back the land of his fathers from the Saxons and English; and so he listened to this Hodulf, thinking to gain a powerful ally in him for attack on the eastern coast of England after this. So, favoured by the wind that had kept us from the sea, Hodulf, with twenty ships in all, had fallen on Gunnar unawares, and had had an easy victory, besetting the town in such wise that only in the confusion while the wild Welsh were burning and plundering on every side had the messenger to the jarl been able to slip away.
But when the jarl and our men reached the town there was naught to be done but to make terms with Hodulf as best he might, that the whole country might not be overrun. For Gunnar had been slain in his own hall, with his two young daughters and with the queen also, as was supposed. Havelok the prince was in his hands, and for his sake therefore Sigurd had been the more ready to come to terms.
Then Hodulf sent messengers to the overlord of all Denmark, saying that he would hold this kingdom as for him, and backed up that promise with a great present from Gunnar’s treasure, so that he was listened to. Therefore our jarl was helpless; and there being no other king strong enough to aid him if he rose, in the end he had to take Hodulf for lord altogether, though it went sorely against the grain.
I have heard it said by the Welsh folk that Hodulf held the kingdom for their lord; and it is likely that he humoured them by saying that he would do so, which was a safe promise to make, as even King Arthur himself could never have reached him to make him pay scatt.
CHAPTER II. KING HODULF’S SECRET.
My father came home heavy and anxious enough, for he did not know how things would go under this new king, though he had promised peace to all men who would own him. We in our place saw nothing of him or his men for the next few weeks, but he was well spoken of by those who had aught to do with him elsewhere. So my father went on trying to gather a cargo for England; but it was a slow business, as the burnt and plundered folk of the great town had naught for us, and others sold to them. But he would never be idle, and every day when weather served we went fishing, for he loved his old calling well, as a man will love that which he can do best. Our two boats and their gear were always in the best of order, and our kinsman, Arngeir, used and tended them when we were away in the ship in summertime.
Now, one evening, as we came up from the shore after beaching the boat on the hard below the town, and half a mile from the nearest houses, and being, as one may suppose, not altogether in holiday trim, so that Grim and his boys with their loads of fish and nets looked as though a fisher’s hovel were all the home that they might own, we saw a horseman, followed at a little distance by two more, riding towards us. The dusk was gathering, and at first we thought that this was Jarl Sigurd, who would ask us maybe to send fish to his hall, and so we set our loads down and waited for him.
But it was not our lord, and I had never seen this man before. From his arms, which were of a new pattern to me, he might be one of the host of Hodulf, as I thought.
“Ho, fisher!” he cried, when he was yet some way from us; “leave your lads, and come hither. I have a word for you.”
He reined up and waited, and now I was sure that he was a Norseman, for his speech was rougher than ours. He was a tall, handsome man enough; but I liked neither his voice nor face, nor did I care to hear Grim, my father, summoned in such wise, not remembering that just now a stranger could not tell that he was aught but a fisher thrall of the jarl’s.
But my father did as he was asked, setting down the nets that he was carrying, and only taking with him the long boathook on which he had slung them as he went forward. I suppose he remembered the old saying, that a man should not stir a step on land without his weapons, as one never knows when there may be need of them; and so, having no other, he took this.
I heard the first questions that the man asked, for he spoke loudly.
“Whose man are you?”
“Sigurd’s,” answered my father shortly.
“Whose are the boats?”
“Mine, seeing that I built them.”
“Why, then, there is somewhat that you can do for me,” the horseman said. “Is your time your own, however?”
“If the jarl needs me not.”
“I have naught to do after I have carried the nets home.”
“That is well,” said the stranger; and after that he dropped his voice so that I heard no more, but he and my father talked long together.
We waited, and at last the talk ended, and my father came hack to us, while the stranger rode away northward along the sands. Then I asked who the man was, and what he wanted.
“He is some chief of these Norsemen, and one who asks more questions of a thrall, as he thinks me, than he would dare ask Sigurd the jarl, or Grim the merchant either, for that matter.”
Seeing that my father did not wish to say more at this time, we asked nothing else, but went homeward in silence. It seemed as if he was ill at ease, and he went more quickly than was his wont, so that presently Raven and little Withelm lagged behind us with their burdens, for our catch had been a good one.
Then he stopped outside the garth when we reached home, and told me not to go in yet. And when the others came up he said to them, “Do you two take in the things and the fish, and tell mother that Radbard and I have to go down to the ship. There is cargo to be seen to, and it is likely that we shall he late, so bid her not wait up for us.”
Then he told me to come, and we left the two boys at once and turned away towards the haven. There was nothing strange in this, for cargo often came at odd times, and we were wont to work late in stowing it. I did wonder that we had not stayed to snatch a bit of supper, but it crossed my mind that the Norseman had told my father of some goods that had maybe been waiting for the whole day while we were at sea. And then that did not seem likely, for he had taken us for thralls. So I was puzzled, but held my peace until it should seem good to my father to tell me what we were about.
When we reached a place where there was no house very near and no man about, he said to me at last, “What is on hand I do not rightly know, but yon man was Hodulf, the new king, as I suppose we must call him. He would not tell me his name, but I saw him when he and the jarl made terms the other day. Now he has bidden me meet him on the road a mile from the town as soon as it is dark, and alone. He has somewhat secret for me to do.”
“It is a risk to go alone and unarmed,” I answered; “let me go home and get your weapons, for the errand does not seem honest.”
“That is what I think also,” said my father, “and that is why I am going to meet him. It is a bad sign when a king has a secret to share with a thrall, and I have a mind to find out what it is. There may be some plot against our jarl.”
He was silent for a few minutes, as if thinking, and then he went on.
“I cannot take arms, or he would suspect me, and would tell me nothing; but if there is any plotting to be done whereof I must tell the jarl, it will be as well that you should hear it.”
Then he said that he thought it possible for me to creep very close to the place where he was to meet Hodulf, so that I could hear all or most of what went on, and that I might as well be armed in case of foul play, for he did not suppose that the Norseman would think twice about cutting down a thrall who did not please him.
It was almost dark by this time, and therefore he must be going. I was not to go home for arms, but to borrow from Arngeir as we passed his house. And this I did, saying that I had an errand beyond the town and feared prowling men of the Norse host. Which danger being a very reasonable one, Arngeir offered to go with me; and I had some difficulty in preventing him from doing so, for he was like an elder brother to all of us. However, I said that I had no great distance to go, and feigned to be ashamed of myself for my fears; and he laughed at me, and let me go my way with sword and spear and seax also, which last my father would take under his fisher’s jerkin.
I caught up my father quickly, and we went along the sands northwards until we came to the place where we must separate. The road was but a quarter of a mile inland from this spot, for it ran near the shore, and it was not much more than that to the place where Hodulf would be waiting.
“Creep as near as you can,” my father said; “but come to help only if I call. I do not think that I am likely to do so.”
Then we went our ways, he making straight for the road, and I turning to my left a little. It was dark, for there was no moon now, but save that I was soundly scratched by the brambles of the fringe of brushwood that grew all along the low hills of the coast, there was nothing to prevent my going on quickly, for I knew the ground well enough, by reason of yearly bird nesting. When I reached the roadway the meeting place was yet to my left, and I could hear my father’s footsteps coming steadily in the distance. So I skirted the road for a little way, and then came to an open bit of heath and rising land, beyond which I thought I should find Hodulf. Up this I ran quickly, dropping into the heather at the top; and sure enough, in a hollow just off the road I could dimly make out the figure of a mounted man waiting.
Then my father came along the road past me, and I crawled among the tall heather clumps until I was not more than twenty paces from the hollow, which was a little below me.
Hodulf’s horse winded me, as I think, and threw up its head snorting, and I heard its bit rattle. But my father was close at hand, and that was lucky.
“Ho, fisher, is that you?” he called softly.
“I am here,” was the answer, and at once my father came into the hollow from the road.
“Are any folk about?” Hodulf said.
“I have met none. Now, what is all this business?” answered my father.
“Business that will make a free man of you for the rest of your days, and rich, moreover, master thrall,” said Hodulf. “That is, if you do as I bid you.”
“A thrall can do naught else than what he is bidden.”
“Nay, but he can do that in a way that will earn great reward, now and then; and your reward for obedience and silence thereafter in this matter shall be aught that you like to ask.”
“This sounds as if I were to peril my life,” my father said. “I know naught else that can be worth so much as that might be.”
“There is no peril,” said Hodulf scornfully; “your skin shall not be so much as scratched—ay, and if this is well done it will know a master’s dog whip no more.”
I heard my father chuckle with a thrall’s cunning laugh at this, and then he said eagerly, “Well, master, what is it?”
“I will tell you. But first will you swear as on the holy ring that of what you shall do for me no man shall know hereafter?”
“What I do at your bidding none shall know, and that I swear,” answered my father slowly, as if trying to repeat the king’s words.
“See here, then,” said Hodulf, and I heard his armour clatter as he dismounted.
Then the footsteps of both men shuffled together for a little while, and once I thought I heard a strange sound as of a muffled cry, at which Hodulf muttered under his breath. I could see that they took something large from the saddle bow, and set it on the ground, and then they spoke again.
“Have you a heavy anchor?” asked the king.
“A great one.”
“Well, then, tie it to this sack and sink it tonight where tide will never shift it. Then you may come to me and claim what reward you will.”
“Freedom, and gold enough to buy a new boat—two new boats!” said my father eagerly.
Hodulf laughed at that, and got on his horse again. I saw his tall form lift itself against the dim sky as he did so.
“What is in the sack?” asked my father.
“That is not your concern,” Hodulf answered sharply. “If you know not, then you can tell no man, even in your sleep. Put off at once and sink it.”
“It is in my mind,” said my father, “that I had better not look in the sack. Where shall I find you, lord, when the thing is in the sea? For as yet I have not heard your name.”
I think that Hodulf had forgotten that he would have to answer this question, or else he thought that everyone knew him, for he did not reply all at once.
“You may ask the king for your reward,” he said, after a little thought, “for this is his business. Now you know that it will be best for you to be secret and sure. Not much worth will your chance of escape from torture be if this becomes known. But you know also that the reward is certain.”
“The king!” cried my father, with a sort of gasp of surprise.
I could almost think that I saw him staring with mouth agape as would a silly thrall; for so well had he taken the thrall’s part that had I not known who was speaking all the time, I had certainly had no doubt that one was there.
“Come to Hodulf, the king, and pray for freedom and your gold as a boon of his goodness, saying naught else, or making what tale you will of a hard master, or justice, so that you speak naught of what you have done, and that—and maybe more—shall be granted.”
“You yourself will speak for me?”
“I am the king—and think not that the darkness will prevent my knowing your face again,” Hodulf replied.
There was a threat in the words, and with them he turned his horse and rode away quickly northwards. I heard the hoofs of his men’s horses rattle on the road as they joined him, before he had gone far.
When the sounds died away altogether, and there was no fear of his coming back suddenly on us, my father whistled and I joined him. He almost started to find how near I was.
“You have heard all, then?” he said.
“Every word,” I answered, “and I like it not. Where is this sack he spoke of?”
It lay at his feet. A large sack it was, and full of somewhat heavy and warm that seemed to move a little when I put my hand on it. Still less did I like the business as I felt that.
“More also!” quoth my father, as if thinking of the king’s last words. “If that does not mean a halter for my neck, I am mistaken. What have we here, son, do you think?”
“Somewhat that should not be here, certainly,” I answered. “There would not be so much talk about drowning a dog, as one might think this to be.”
“Unless it were his wife’s,” answered my father, with a laugh.
Then he stooped, and I helped him to get the sack on his shoulders. It was heavy, but not very—not so heavy as a young calf in a sack would be; and he carried it easily, taking my spear to help him.
“The thrall is even going to take this to the house of Grim the merchant, whom the king will not know again, though he may see in the dark,” said he; “then we shall know how we stand.”
We met no one on our way back, for the town had gone to sleep, until the watchman passed the time of night with us, thinking no doubt that we had fish or goods in the burden. And when we came home a sleepy thrall opened to us, for all were at rest save him. And he too went his way to the shed where his place was when he had stirred the fire to a blaze and lit a torch that we might see to eat the supper that was left for us.
Then we were alone, and while I set Arngeir’s weapons in a corner, my father put down the sack, and stood looking at it. It seemed to sway a little, and to toss as it settled down. And now that there was light it was plain that the shape of what was inside it was strangely like that of a child, doubled up with knees to chin, as it showed through the sacking.
“Hodulf or no Hodulf,” said my father, “I am going to see more of this.”
With that he took a knife from the table and cut the cord that fastened the mouth, turning back the sack quickly.
And lo! gagged and bound hand and foot in such wise that he could not move, in the sack was a wondrously handsome boy of about the size of Withelm; and for all his terrible journey across the king’s saddle, and in spite of our rough handling, his eyes were bright and fearless as he looked up at us.
“Radbard,” said my father, “what if Hodulf had met with a thrall who had done his bidding in truth?”
I would not think thereof, for surely by this time there had been no light in the eyes that seemed to me to be grateful to us.
Now my father knelt down by the boy’s side, and began to take the lashings from him, telling him at the same time to be silent when the gag was gone.
And hard work enough the poor child had to keep himself from screaming when his limbs were loosed, so cramped was he, for he had been bound almost into a ball. And even as we rubbed and chafed the cold hands and feet he swooned with the pain of the blood running freely once more.
“This is a business for mother,” said my father, on that; “get your supper, and take it to bed with you, and say naught to the boys in the morning. This is a thing that may not be talked of.”
Now I should have liked to stay, but my father meant what he said, and I could be of no more use; so I took my food, and went up to the loft where we three slept, and knew no more of what trouble that night might have for others.
CHAPTER III. HAVELOK, SON OF GUNNAR.
Now after I had gone, Grim, my father, tried to bring the child round, but he could not do so; and therefore, leaving him near the fire, he went softly to call Leva, my mother, to help him; and all the while he was wondering who the child might be, though indeed a fear that he knew only too well was growing in his heart, for there would surely he only one whom Hodulf could wish out of his way.
As he opened the door that led to the sleeping room beyond the high seat, the light shone on Leva, and showed her sitting up in bed with wide eyes that seemed to gaze on somewhat that was terrible, and at first he thought her awake. But she yet slept, and so he called her gently, and she started and woke.
“Husband, is that you?” she said. “I had a strange dream even now which surely portends somewhat.”
Now, as all men know, our folk in the north are most careful in the matter of attending to dreams, specially those that come in troubled times, holding that often warning or good counsel comes from them. I cannot say that I have ever had any profit in that way myself, being no dreamer at all; but it is certain that others have, as may be seen hereafter. Wherefore my father asked Leva what this dream might be.
“In my dream,” she answered, “it seemed that you came into the house bearing a sack, which you gave into my charge, saying that therein lay wealth and good fortune for us. And I would not believe this, for you said presently that to gain this the sack and all that was therein was to be thrown into the sea, which seemed foolishness. Whereon I cast it into a corner in anger, and thereout came pitiful cries and wailings. Then said I that it were ill to drown aught that had a voice as of a child, and so you bade me leave it. Then I seemed to sleep here; but presently in my dream I rose and looked on the sack again, and lo! round about it shone a great light, so that all the place was bright, and I was afraid. Then you came and opened the sack, and therein was a wondrous child, from whose mouth came a flame, as it were the shaft of a sunbeam, that stretched over all Denmark, and across the sea to England, whereby I knew that this child was one who should hereafter be king of both these lands. And on this I stared even as you woke me.”
Now Grim was silent, for this was passing strange, and moreover it fitted with his thought of who this child might be, since Hodulf. would make away with him thus secretly.
“What make you of the dream?” asked Leva, seeing that he pondered on it.
“It is in my mind that your dream will come true altogether, for already it has begun to do so,” he answered. “Rise and come into the hall, and I will show you somewhat.”
On that Leva made haste and dressed and came out, and there, lying as if in sleep before the fire, was the wondrous child of her dream, and the sack was under his head as he lay; and she was wont to say to those few who knew the story, that the kingliness of that child was plain to be seen, as had been the flame of which she had dreamed, so that all might know it, though the clothes that he wore were such as a churl might be ashamed of.
Then she cried out a little, but not loudly, and knelt by the child to see him the better; and whether he had come to himself before and had dropped asleep for very weariness, or out of his swoon had passed into sleep, I cannot say, but at her touch he stirred a little.
“What child is this? and how came he here?” she asked, wondering.
“Already your dream has told you truly how he came,” Grim answered, “but who he is I do not rightly know yet. Take him up and bathe him, wife; and if he is the one I think him, there will be a mark whereby we may know him.”
“How should he be marked? And why look you to find any sign thus?”
But Grim had turned down the rough shirt and bared the child’s neck and right shoulder, whereon were bruises that made Leva well-nigh weep as she saw them, for it was plain that he had been evilly treated for many days before this. But there on the white skin was the mark of the king’s line—the red four-armed cross with bent ends which Gunnar and all his forebears had borne.
Seeing that, Leva looked up wondering in her husband’s face, and he answered the question that he saw written in her eyes.
“He is as I thought—he is Havelok, the son of Gunnar, our king. Hodulf gave him to me that I might drown him.”
Then he told her all that had happened, and how from the first time that he had lifted the sack and felt what was within it he had feared that this was what was being done. Hodulf would have no rival growing up beside him, and as he dared not slay him openly, he would have it thought that he had been stolen away by his father’s friends, and then folk would maybe wait quietly in hopes that he would come again when time went on.
Now Leva bathed Havelok in the great tub, and with the warmth and comfort of the hot water he waked and was well content, so that straightway, when he was dressed in Withelm’s holiday clothes, which fitted him, though he was but seven years old at this time, and Withelm was a well-grown boy enough for his ten winters, he asked for food, and they gave him what was yet on the board; and we lived well in Denmark.
“There is no doubt that he hath a kingly hunger,” quoth Grim as he watched him.
“Friend,” said Havelok, hearing this, though it was not meant for his ears, “it is likely, seeing that this is the third day since I have had food given me. And I thank you, good people, though I would have you know that it is the custom to serve the king’s son kneeling.”
“How should we know that you are the king’s son indeed?” asked Grim.
“I am Havelok, son of Gunnar,” the boy said gravely. “Yon traitor, Hodulf, has slain my father, and my two sisters, and driven out my mother, whither I cannot tell, and now he would drown me.”
Then the boy could hardly keep a brave front any longer, and he added, “Yet I do not think that you will do to me as I heard him bid you.”
Then came over Grim a great pity and sorrow that it should seem needful thus to sue to him, and there grew a lump in his throat, so that for a while he might not answer, and the boy thought him in doubt, so that in his eyes there was a great fear. But Leva wept outright, and threw herself on her knees beside him, putting her arms round him as he sat, speaking words of comfort.
Then Grim knelt also, and said, “Thralls of yours are we, Havelok, son of Gunnar, and for you shall our lives be given before Hodulf shall harm you. Nor shall he know that you live until the day comes when you can go to him sword in hand and helm on head, with half the men of this realm at your back, and speak to him of what he did and what he planned, and the vengeance that shall be therefor.”
So Grim took on himself to be Havelok’s foster-father, and, as he ended, the boy said with glowing eyes, “I would that I were grown up. How long shall this be before it comes to pass?”
And then of a sudden he said, as a tired child will, “Friends, I am sorely weary. Let me sleep.”
So Leva took him in her arms and laid him in their own bed; and at once he slept, so that she left him and came back to Grim by the fireside, for there was much to be said.
First of all it was clear that Havelok must be hidden, and it was not to be supposed that Hodulf would be satisfied until he had seen the thrall to whom he had trusted such a secret come back for his reward. If he came not he would be sought; and then he would find out to whom he had spoken, and there would be trouble enough.
But it seemed easy to hide Havelok on board the ship, and sail with him to England as soon as possible. A few days might well pass before a thrall could get to Hodulf, so that he would suspect nothing just at first. There were merchants in England who would care for the boy well, and the two boats might be sunk, so that the king should not ask whose they were. So when Grim came home again the fisher would be thought of as drowned on his errand, and Hodulf would be content.
But then, after a little talk of this, it was plain that all the town could not be told to say that the fisher was drowned on such a night, and Hodulf would leave naught undone to find the truth of the matter. So the puzzle became greater, and the one thing that was clear was that Grim was in sore danger, and Havelok also.
Then suddenly outside the dogs barked, and a voice which they obeyed quieted them. Grim sprang for his axe, which hung on the wall, and went to the door, whereon someone was knocking gently.
“Open, uncle; it is I, Arngeir.”
“What does the boy want at this time?” said Grim, taking down the great bar that kept the door, axe in hand, for one must be cautious in such times as these.
Arngeir came in—a tall young man of twenty, handsome, and like Grim in ways, for he was his brother’s son.
“Lucky am I in finding you astir,” he said. “I thought I should have had to wake you all. Are you just home from sea, or just going out?”
“Not long home,” answered Leva; “but what has brought you?”
“I have a guest for you, if I may bring one here at this hour.”
“A friend of yours never comes at the wrong time,” Grim said. “Why not bring him in?”
“If it were a friend of mine and a man he would do well enough at my house for the night,” said Arngeir, smiling; “but the one for whom I have come is a lady, and, I think, one in sore trouble.”
“Who is she?” asked my mother, wondering much.
“From the king’s town, certainly,” answered Arngeir, “but I do not know her name. Truth to tell, I forgot to ask it, for she is sorely spent; and so I made haste to come to you.”
Then Leva would know how a lady came at this time to Arngeir’s house, for he was alone, save for his four men, being an orphan without other kin beside us, and his house was close to our shipyard and the sea.
“She came not to me, but I found her,” he replied. “My horse is sick, and I must get up an hour ago and see to it for the second time tonight. Then as I came from the stable I saw someone go towards the shipyard, and, as I thought, into the open warehouse. It was dark, and I could not tell then if this was man or woman; but I knew that no one had business there, and there are a few things that a thief might pick up. So I took an axe and one of the dogs, and went to see what was on hand, but at first there was naught to be found of anyone. If it had not been for the dog, I think that I should have gone away, but he went into the corner where the bales of wool are set, and there he whined strangely, and when I looked, there was this lady on the bales, and she was weeping and sore afraid. So I asked her what was amiss, and it was not easy to get an answer at first. But at last she told me that she had escaped from the burning of the king’s town, and would fain be taken across the sea into some place of peace. So I cheered her by saying that you would surely help her; and then I took her to my house and came to you. Worn and rent are her garments, but one may see that they have been rich, and I deem her some great lady.”
“Go and bring her here, husband,” said my mother, on hearing that.
But he was already going, and at once he and Arngeir went out and down the street. There were many other ladies and their children who had taken refuge here with the townsfolk after the burning, and the coming of this one was but another count in the long tale of trouble that began on the Welsh shore with the ways of Gunnar, the church’s bane.
My father was long gone, and the day was breaking when he came back. My mother slept in the great chair before the fire, for waiting had wearied her, but she woke as she heard Grim’s footstep, and unbarred the door to him, ready to welcome the guest that she looked for. But he was alone, and on his face was the mark of some new trouble, and that a great one.
He came in and barred the door after him, and then sat down wearily and ate for the first time since we had had our meal at sea; and while he did so Leva asked him nothing, wondering what was wrong, but knowing that she would hear in good time. And when he had eaten well he spoke.
“The lady is Eleyn the queen. She has been wandering for these many days from place to place, sometimes in the woods, and sometimes in hiding in the cottages of the poor folk, always with a fear of staying in one place, lest Hodulf should find her, for it is known that he is seeking her. Then at last one told her of my ship, and she is here to seek me.”
Now one may know what the wonder and pity of my mother was, and she would fain have gone to her. But Grim had left her at Arngeir’s house, for folk were stirring in the town, and there were many who would know the queen if they saw her.
“It will soon be known that Arngeir has a guest,” my mother said, “whereas none would have wondered had she been here.”
“By this time tomorrow it will not matter if Hodulf knows,” answered Grim, “for she will be safe.”
“Where will you hide her then and what of Havelok?”
“For those two there is no safety but across the sea, and they are the most precious cargo that I shall ever have carried. Already Arngeir and the men are at work on the ship, getting the rollers under her keel, that she may take the water with the next tide. I shall sail with the tide that comes with the darkness again, saying that I shall find cargo elsewhere in other ports, as I have done once before.”
“I had not looked to say farewell to you quite so soon,” my mother said; “but this is right. Now I will have all things ready, that the queen shall be in what comfort she may on the voyage. But it will be well that none shall know, even of your seamen, who the passengers are, else will word go to Hodulf in some way hereafter that Havelok has escaped.”
“I have thought of that,” answered Grim. “It will be best that none, not even Radbard, shall know who this is whom we have in the house. A chance word goes far sometimes.”
“The boy will tell his name.”
“There are many who are named after him, and that is no matter. Do you speak to him, for it is plain that he has sense enough, and bid him say naught but that he and his mother have escaped from the town, and, if you will, that he escaped in the sack. I will speak to Radbard, and there will be no trouble. Only Arngeir must know the truth, and that not until we are on the high seas perhaps.”
So there seemed to be no more fear, and in an hour the house was astir, and there was work enough for all in preparing for the voyage. As for me, I went down to the ship with my father, and worked there.
Now, I will say that not for many a long year did I know who this foster-brother of mine was. It was enough for me to be told that he was the son of some great man or other with whom Hodulf had a private feud. Nor did I ever speak of that night’s work to any, for my father bade me not to do so. Presently I knew, of course, that the lady was Havelok’s mother; but that told me nothing, for I never heard her name.
We worked at the ship for three hours or so, stowing the bales of wool and the other little cargo we had; and then my father sent me to the fishing-boats for a pair of oars belonging to the ship’s boat that were there, and, as it fell out, it was a good thing that I and not one of the men went. When I came to the place where they were drawn up on the beach, as we had left them last night, there was a stranger talking to some of the fisher folk, who were working at their nets not far off; and though another might have paid no heed to this, I, with the remembrance of last night fresh in my mind, wondered if he was by any chance there on an errand from Hodulf. I thought that, were I he, I should surely send someone to know, at least, if the fisher went out last night after I had spoken with him. So I loitered about until the man went away, which he did slowly, passing close to me, and looking at the boats carefully, as if he would remember them. Then I went and asked the men to whom he had been speaking what he wanted. They said that they wondered that he had not spoken to me, for he had been asking about my father and of his ship, and if he took any passenger with him this voyage. It would seem that he wanted to sail with us, from all he said.
Certainly he had begun by asking whose boats these were, and wondered that a merchant should go fishing at all, when there was no need for him to do so. Also he had asked if Grim had been out last night, and they had of course told him that he had not, for neither boat had been shifted from the berth she had been given when we came in at dusk.
“Ah,” he had said, “well did I wot that your merchant would do no night work,” and so made a jest of the matter, saying that in his country it were below the state of a merchant to have aught to do with a thrall’s work. He was certainly a Norseman, and they thought that I should find him with my father. Now I thought otherwise, and also I saw that all was known. This man was a spy of Hodulf’s, and would go straight back to his master. My father must hear of this at once; and I hurried back to the ship, and took him aside and told him. And as I did so his face grew grey under the tan that sea and wind had given it, and I knew not altogether why.
“Tell Arngeir to come to me,” he said; “I am going to the jarl. Tell no one, but go home and say to mother that I shall be with her in an hour. Then come back and work here.”
Then he and Arngeir went to Sigurd, and told him all from the beginning. And when the jarl heard, he was glad for the safety of the queen and of Havelok, but he said that there was no doubt that Denmark was no place for Grim any longer.
“That is my thought also,” said my father; “but now am I Havelok’s foster-father, and for him I can make a home across the sea, where I will train him up for the time that shall surely come, when he shall return and take his father’s kingdom.”
“That is well,” the jarl said, “but you have little time. What Hodulf will do one cannot say, but he may come here with his men behind him to force me to give you up, and the town will be searched for Havelok, and both he and the queen will be lost.”
“If that is so,” my father answered, “we have time enough. Two hours for the spy to reach his master; one hour for Hodulf to hear him, and to bethink himself; an hour for gathering his men; and four hours, at the least, in which to get here. Eight hours, at the least, have we, and the tide serves in six. I had thought of waiting till dark, but that is of no use now. We may as well go, for there are true men here, who will wait to welcome him who flies when he comes again.”
“This is a sore wrench for you and yours, good friend and faithful,” Sigurd said, “but it must be. Nevertheless I can make your loss as little as it may be. You shall sell all that is yours to me at your own price, that you may have the means to make a new home well, wherever you may choose.”
At first my father would not have that, saying that there would be much trouble on his account presently.
But Sigurd said that, first, the trouble was not of his making at all; and next, that if Hodulf plundered the place, it was as well to send away as much as possible beforehand; and lastly—and this was what touched my father most—that he must think of his charge.
“Why, old friend, you are giving up all for Havelok, as would I. And am I to have no share in the training of him for the days to come?”
Therewith he waited for no more words, but went to his great chest, and took thereout chain after chain of linked gold rings, and put them in a canvas bag, without weighing or counting them, and gave them to Grim.
“Lord, here is enough to buy half the town!” my father said.
“What of that? The town is Havelok’s by right, and maybe you can buy him a village across seas with it. But give me a full quittance for my purchase of your goods and cattle and house, that I may have right to them.”
That Grim did at once, before witnesses who were called in, none wondering that he chose thus to secure his property while he was away, because Hodulf might make demands on it. They did not know that any money changed hands, and thought it formal only, and a wise thing to be done.
After that Grim and Arngeir took leave of the jarl, thanking him, and they went to our house.
There waited my mother anxiously enough, for she knew from my message that there was somewhat new to be told, or my father had not left the ship. Nor do I think that what was to be done was altogether a surprise to her, for she had thought much, and knew the dangers that might crop up. So, being very brave, she strove to make light of the trouble that leaving her home cost her, and set about gathering the few things that she could take.
Now on the hearth sat Withelm, tending the fire, and he heard presently that we were all to go to sea; and that pleased him well, for he had ever longed to sail with his father. As for Havelok, he had waked once, and had well eaten, and now was sleeping again.
Then said Withelm, “When will the sacrifice to Aegir and Ran  for luck on the swan’s path be?”
“Scant time have we for that,” my father said, “for tide will not wait.”
“Then,” said the boy, “it were well to take the stone altar with us, and make sacrifice on board. I have heard that Aegir is wrathful and strong.”
Then my father said to Leva, “The boy is right in one thing, and that is, that if we are to make a new home beyond the sea, the blue stones that have belonged to our family since time untold should go with us, else will there be no luck in this flitting.”
“West they came with us in the days of Odin, and west they shall go with us once more,” my father said.
And there was an end of question on the matter, for presently Arngeir came up with the team of oxen and a sled, and my father hastily cried to Thor as in time of sudden war, and then on the sled they loaded the stones easily. I helped, and it is certain that they were no trouble to uproot or lift, though they were bedded in the ground and heavy. Wherefrom we all thought that the flitting was by the will of the Norns, and likely to turn out well.
But in no way could we lift Thor himself. It was as if he were rooted, and maybe he was so. Therefore we left him, but sadly.
One may suppose that, had any noticed that Grim was taking these sacred things with him, there would have been a talk; but as we sailed light, none thought them aught but needed ballast; and we brought other stones to the ship with them and afterwards.
Of course folk did wonder at this sudden sailing of ours, but my father made no secret of his wish to get out of the way of Hodulf, who had taken the ships of one or two other men elsewhere, so that all thought he feared that his would be the next to be seized, and deemed him prudent in going. As for our own crew, they were told that it was certain that the ship would be taken unless we went on this tide, and so they worked well.
Very early in the morning, and unseen, Arngeir had brought Eleyn, the queen, on board, and she was in the cabin under the raised after deck all the while that the bustle of making ready was going on. Only my father went in there at any time, unless he gave the key to one of us, for there he kept his valuables and the arms.
Presently, when all the men were forward and busy, I got Havelok on board unnoticed. We had kept Withelm running to and fro from ship to house with little burdens all the morning, mightily busy; and then, when the chance came, Havelok in Withelm’s clothes, and with a bundle on his head, came running to me. I waited by the after cabin, and I opened the door quickly and let him in. Then he saw his mother; and how those two met, who had thought each other lost beyond finding, I will not try to say.
I closed the door softly and left them, locking it again, and found Withelm close to me, and Arngeir watching to see that all went well.
Soon after that there came a Norseman, dressed as a merchant, who talked with my father of goods, and lading, and whither he was bound, and the like. When he went away, he thought that he had found out that we were for the Texel, but I do not know that he was from Hodulf. There had been time for him to send a spy in haste, however, if he wished to watch us; but at any rate this man heard naught of our charges.
Then, at the last moment, my mother and the children came on board, and at once we hauled out of the harbour. I mind that an old woman ran along the wharf when she found that all were going, and cried that Dame Leva had not paid for certain fowls bought of her; and my father laughed in lightness of heart, and threw her a silver penny, so that she let us go with a blessing. And after that it did not matter what the people thought of this going of ours, for in an hour we were far at sea with a fair wind on the quarter, heading south at first, that the Norseman might see us, but when the land was dim astern, and there was no more fear, bearing away south and west for the Humber in far-off England.
Now that was the last I saw of Denmark for many a long year, and I knew it must be so. But, as I have told, none but my father and mother, and now Arngeir, knew all that we were carrying with us.
CHAPTER IV. ACROSS THE SWAN’S PATH.
All that night, and during the morning of the next day, we sailed steadily with a fresh northwest breeze that bade fair to strengthen by-and-by. If it held, we should see the cliffs of Northumbria on our bow tomorrow morning, and then would run down the coast to the Humber, where my father meant to put in first. He thought to leave the queen and Havelok with merchants whom he knew in Lindsey, and with them would stay my mother and the little ones while he made a trading voyage elsewhere. There would be time enough to find out the best place in which to make a home when the autumn came, and after he had been to an English port or two that he did not know yet.
When half the morning was past, the sun shone out warmly, and all came on deck from the after cabin, where the ladies and children were. Our men knew by this time that we had passengers, flying like ourselves from Hodulf, and therefore they were not at all surprised to see Havelok and his mother with their mistress. None of them had ever seen either of them before, as it happened, though I do not think that any could have recognized the queen as she was then, wan and worn with the terror of her long hiding. Very silent was she as she sat on deck gazing ever at the long white wake of the ship that seemed to stretch for a little way towards Denmark, only to fade away as a track over which one may never go back. And silent, too, was my mother; but the children, who had no care, were pleased with all things, and Raven and I were full of the ways of old seamen.
So everything went quietly until after we had our midday meal. We were all amidships on the wide deck, except my father and Arngeir, who sat side by side on the steersman’s bench on the high poop. There was no spray coming on board, for we were running, and the ship was very steady. Raven and I were forward with the men, busy with the many little things yet to be done to the rigging and such like that had been left in the haste at last, and there was no thought but that this quiet, save for some shift of wind maybe, would last until we saw the English shore.
Now I do not know if my father had seen aught from the after deck, but presently he came forward, and passed up the steps to the forecastle, and there sat down on the weather rail, looking out to leeward for some time quietly. I thought that maybe he had sighted some of the high land on the Scots coast, for it was clear enough to see very far, and so I went to see also. But there was nothing, and we talked of this and that for ten minutes, when he said, “Look and see if you can catch sight of aught on the skyline just aft of the fore stay as you sit.”
I looked long, and presently caught sight of something white that showed for a moment as we heaved up on a wave, and then was gone.
“Somewhat I saw,” I said, “but it has gone. It might have been the top of a sail.”
Then I caught a glimpse of it again, and my father saw it also, and, as we watched, it hove up slowly until it was plain to be seen. The vessel it belonged to was sailing in such a way as to cross our course in the end, though she was only a few points nearer the wind than we were. It seemed that she was swifter than ourselves, too, from the way she kept her place on our bow. Now a merchant must needs look on every sail with more or less distrust, as there is always a chance of meeting with ship-plundering Vikings, though the best of them will do naught but take toll from a trader on the high seas. So before long all our men were watching the stranger, and soon it was plain that she was a longship, fresh from her winter quarters. We thought, therefore, that she was not likely to trouble about us, having no need of stores as yet, and we being plainly in ballast only. Nor did she alter her course in any way, but mile after mile she sailed with us, always edging up nearer as she went, until at last we could see the men on her bows and the helmsman at his place.
I thought that one could hardly see a more handsome ship than she was, fresh with new paint, and with her dragon head shining golden in the sun. But I had seen her before, and that in no pleasant way. She was the ship of which I have already spoken–that which we beat off two years ago, taking their cargo of plunder by way of amends for being attacked.
There was this difference, however, at that time, that then we had all our men on board, and the Viking was short-handed after a fighting raid, whereas now we had but fifteen men instead of five-and-twenty, because in the hurry we had not had time to summon any who lived beyond the town, and it was plain that the Viking had a full crew, maybe of sixty men.
“It is in my mind,” my father said to Arngeir, “that our old foe will think twice before he attacks us again; but seeing whom we have to deal with, it is as well to be ready. We might keep him off with arrows, if he does not find out how few we are, should he make an attempt on us; but if he boards, we must submit, and make the best bargain we can.”
So he passed word that the men were to lie down on deck, leaving only a few to be seen, that the Viking might think us as he had known us before; and then the arms-chests were opened, and the bows and throwing weapons were set to hand by us boys while the men armed themselves.
Then my father spoke to them, saying, “I do not know if this Viking will pass us by as too hard a nut to crack, seeing that he knows of us already; but if he does not, it will be of no use our trying to fight him, as you can see. I would not waste your lives for naught. But it may be that a show of force will keep him off, so we will wait under arms until we are sure what he will do.”
Then the men broke out, saying that they had beaten this man before with him as leader, and they were in no mind to give up without a fight.
“Well, then,” my father answered, “it is plain that you will back me, and so I will call on you if there is need or chance. But we have the women folk to think of now, and we must not risk aught.”
Now the longship held on her course steadily, never shifting her helm for so much as a point. In half an hour or so we must be alongside one another, at this rate, and that Arngeir did not altogether like the look of, for it would seem as if she meant to find out all about us at least. There was some little sea running, and it might be thought easier to board us on the lee side, therefore. We could not get away from her in any way, for even now, while she was closer hauled than we, she kept pace with us, and had she paid off to the same course as ourselves, she would have left us astern in a very short time.
Presently a man swarmed up her rigging in order to look down on our decks, and as he went up, my father bade our men crawl over to windward, so that he should see all one gunwale lined with men, and so think that both were, and deem that we were setting a trap for them in order to entice them alongside by pretending to be hardly manned. At the same time, he sent the ladies and children into the cabin, so that they might not be seen.
That did not please Havelok at all, for he seemed to scent a fight in the air, and wanted weapons, that he might stand beside the other men, asking for an axe for choice. It was all that I could do to quiet him by saying that if there was any need of him I would call him, but that just now we thought the Vikings would go away if they saw many warriors on deck. Which indeed was all that we hoped, but he thought that would spoil sport, and so hastened into the shelter.
After that there fell a silence on us, for at any moment now we might be hailed by the other ship. And when we were but a bow shot apart the hail came. The two vessels were then broadside on to each other, we a little ahead, if anything. My father was steering now, fully armed, and Arngeir was beside him with myself. I had the big shield wherewith one guards the helmsman if arrows are flying.
The Viking bade us strike sail, and let him come alongside, but my father made no answer. Still we held on, and the Viking paid off a little, as though he were not so sure if it were wise to fall on us, as we showed no fear of him.
Then my father spoke to Arngeir in a stern voice that I had heard only when we met this same ship before.
“This will not last long. If there is one chance for us, it is to run him down and it may be done. Our ship will stand the blow, for these longships are but eggshells beside her. Pass the word for the men to shoot the steersman when I give the word. Then they must run forward, lest the Vikings climb over the bows as we strike her.”
Arngeir’s eyes flashed at that, and at once he went to the men, and there was a click and rattle as the arrows went to string, and they gathered themselves together in readiness to leap up when the word came. There seemed every chance that we should be upon the longship before they knew what we were about, for we had the weather gauge.
Now the Viking hailed again, and again bore up for us a little, whereat my father smiled grimly, for it helped his plan. And this time, as there was no answer, his men sent an arrow or two on board, which did no harm.
“It is plain that we are to be taken,” my father said on that, “so we will wait no longer. Stand by, men, and one lucky shot will do all. Shoot!”
The helm went up as he spoke, and the men leaped to their feet, raining arrows round the two men who were at the helm, and down on the Viking we swept with a great cheer.
But in a moment there were four men on her after deck, and whether the first helmsman was shot I cannot say; but I think not, for quickly as we had borne down on her she was ready, rushing away from us, instead of luffing helplessly, as we had expected. It would almost have seemed that our move had been looked for.
Ten more minutes passed while we exchanged arrow flights, and then the longship had so gained on us that she struck sail and waited for us with her long oars run out and ready.
“That is all we can do,” said my father, with a sort of groan. “Put up your weapons, men, for it is no good fighting now.”
They did so, growling; and as we neared the longship, her oars took the water, and she flew alongside of us, and a grappling hook flung deftly from her bows caught our after gunwale, and at once she dropped astern, and swung to its chain as to a tow line. We were not so much as bidden to strike sail now, and the Vikings began to crowd forward in order to board us by the stern, as the grappling chain was hove short by their windlass.
“Hold on,” my father cried to them “we give up. Where is your chief?”
Now the men were making way for him when a strange thing happened. Out of the after cabin ran Havelok when he heard that word, crying that it was not the part of good warriors to give up while they could wield sword–words that surely he had learned from Gunnar, his father. And after him came his mother, silent, and terrified lest he should be harmed.
Havelok ran up the steps to my father, and the queen followed. I have said that there was a little sea running, and this made the ships jerk and strain at the chain that held them together fiercely, now that it was so short. And even as the queen came to the top step, where there was no rail, for the steps were not amidships, but alongside the gunwale, one of these jerks came; and in a moment she was in the sea, and in a moment also Arngeir was after her, for he was a fine swimmer.
The Vikings cried out as they saw this, but the poor queen said no word, nor did she ever rise again after the first time. It is likely that she was drawn under the longship at once.
So for a little while there was no talk of terms or fighting, but all held their breath as they watched to see if the queen floated alongside anywhere; but there was only Arngeir, who swam under the lee of the Viking, and called to her men for guidance. They threw him a rope’s end as he came to the stern, and he clung to it for a little while, hoping to see the flash of a white hood that the queen wore, over the white wave crests: but at last he gave up, and the Vikings hauled him on board, praising him for his swimming, as he had on his mail.
Then the chief turned to my father, and spoke to him across the few fathoms of water that were between the ships.
“We meet again, Grim, as time comes round; and now I have a mind to let you go, though I have that old grudge against you, for I think that your wife is loss enough.”
“Not my wife, Arnvid, but a passenger–one whom I would not have lost for all that you can take from me.”
“Well, I am glad it is no worse. But it seems that you are in ballast. How comes it that you have no cargo for me, for you owe me one?”
Then my father told him shortly that he had fled from Hodulf; and all those doings were news to the Viking, so that they talked in friendly wise, while the men listened, and the ships crept on together down the wind.
But when all was told, save of the matter of Havelok, and who the lost lady was, the Viking laughed shortly, and said, “Pleasant gossip, Grim, but not business. What will you give us to go away in peace? I do not forget that you all but ran us down just now, and that one or two of us have arrows sticking in us which came from your ship. But that first was a good bit of seamanship, and there is not much harm from the last.”
“Well,” said my father, “it seems to me that you owe me a ship, for it is certain that I once had that one, and gave her back to you.”
The Viking laughed.
“True enough, and therefore I give you back your ship now, and we are quits. But I am coming on board to see what property I can lift.”
My father shrugged his shoulders, and turned away, and at once the Vikings hauled on the chain until their dragon head was against our quarter, when the chief and some twenty of his men came on board. The way in which they took off the hatches without staying to question where they should begin told a tale of many a like plundering.
Then, I do not know how it was rightly, for I was aft with my father, there began a quarrel between the Vikings and our men; and though both Grim and the chief tried to stop it, five of our few were slain outright, and three more badly hurt before it was ended. The rest of our crew took refuge on the fore deck, and there bided after that. The whole fray was over in a few minutes, and it seemed that the Vikings half expected somewhat of the sort.
Then they took all the linen and woollen goods, and our spare sails, and all the arms and armour from the men and from the chests to their own ship. Only they left my father and Arngeir their war gear, saying that it were a shame to disarm two brave men.
Then the chief said, “Little cargo have you, friend Grim, and therefore I am the more sure that you have store of money with you. Even flight from Hodulf would not prevent you from taking that wherewith to trade. So I must have it; and it rests with you whether we tear your ship to splinters in hunting for your hiding place or not.”
“I suppose there is no help for it, but I will say that the most of what I have is not mine,” said my father.
“Why, what matter? When one gives gold into the hands of a seafarer, one has to reckon with such chances as this. You must needs hand it over.”
So, as there was naught else to do, Grim brought out the jarl’s heavy bag, and gave it to the chief, who whistled to himself as he hefted it.
“Grim,” he said, “for half this I would have let you go without sending a man on board. What is this foolishness? You must have known that.”
“The gold is not mine,” my father answered; “it was my hope that you would have been content with the cargo.”
“Well, I have met with an honest man for once,” the Viking said; and he called his men, and they cast off and left us.
But we were in no happy plight when he had gone away to the eastward on his old course. Half our men were gone, for the wounded were of no use, and the loss of the queen weighed heavily on us. And before long it began to blow hard from the north, and we had to shorten sail before there was real need, lest it should be too much for us few presently, as it certainly would have been by the time that darkness fell, for the gale strengthened.
Then, added to all this, there was trouble in the cabin under the after deck, for since his mother was lost, Havelok had spoken no word. I had brought him down to my mother from the deck, and had left him with her, hoping that he did not know what had happened; but now he was in a high fever, and sorely ill. Perhaps he would have been so in any case, after the long days of Hodulf’s cruelty, but he had borne them well. A child is apt, however, to give up, as it were, suddenly.
So, burdened with trouble, we drove before the gale, and the only pleasant thing was to see how the good ship behaved in it, while at least we were on our course all the time. Therefore, one could not say that there was any danger; and but for these other things, none would have thought much of wind or sea, which were no worse than we had weathered many a time before. We had sea room, and no lee shore to fear, and the ship was stanch, and no sailor can ask for more than that.
CHAPTER V. STORM AND SHIPWRECK.
The gale held without much change through the night, and then with morning shifted a few points to the westward, which was nothing to complain of. The sea rose, and a few rain squalls came up and passed; but they had no weight in them, and did not keep the waves down as a steady fall will. And all day long it was the same, and the ship fled ever before it. There was no thought now of reaching any port we might wish, but least of all did we think of making the Lindsey shore, which lies open to the north and east. When the gale broke, we must find harbour where we could; and indeed; to my father at this time all ports were alike, as refuge from Hodulf. When darkness came again one of the wounded men died, and Havelok was yet ill in the after cabin, so that my mother was most anxious for him. The plunging ship was no place for a sick child.
Now it was not possible for us to tell how far we had run since we had parted from the Viking, and all we knew was that we had no shore to fear with the wind as it was, and therefore nothing but patience was needed. But in the night came a sudden lull in the gale that told of a change at hand, and in half an hour it was blowing harder than ever from the northeast, and setting us down to the English coast fast, for we could do naught but run before such a wind. It thickened up also, and was very dark even until full sunrise, so that one could hardly tell when the sun was above the sea’s rim.
I crept from the fore cabin about this time, after trying in vain to sleep, and found the men sheltering under the break of the deck and looking always to leeward. Two of them were at the steering oar with my father, for Arngeir was worn out, and I had left him in the cabin, sleeping heavily in spite of the noise of waves and straining planking. Maybe he would have waked in a moment had that turmoil ceased.
It was of no use trying to speak to the men without shouting in their ears, and getting to windward to do that, moreover, and so I looked round to see if there was any change coming. But all was grey overhead, and a grey wall of rain and flying drift from the wave tops was all round us, blotting out all things that were half a mile from us, if there were anything to be blotted out. It always seems as if there must be somewhat beyond a thickness of any sort at sea. But there was one thing that I did notice, and that was that the sea was no longer grey, as it had been yesterday, but was browner against the cold sky, while the foam of the following wave crests was surely not so white as it had been, and at this I wondered.
Then I crawled aft and went to my father and asked him what he thought of the wind and the chance of its dropping. He had had the lead going for long now.
“We are right off the Humber mouth, to judge by the colour of the water,” he told me, “or else off the Wash, which is more to the south. I cannot tell which rightly, for we have run far, and maybe faster than I know. If only one could see–“
There he stopped, and I knew enough to understand that we were in some peril unless a shift of wind came very soon, since the shore was under our lee now, if by good luck we were not carried straight into the great river itself. So for an hour or more I watched, and all the time it seemed that hope grew less, for the sea grew shorter, as if against tide, and ever its colour was browner with the mud of the Trent and her sisters.
Presently, as I clung to the rail, there seemed to grow a new sound over and amid all those to which I had become used–as it were a low roaring that swelled up in the lulls, and sank and rose again. And I knew what it was, and held up my hand to my father, listening, and he heard also. It was the thunder of breakers on a sandy coast to leeward.
He put his whistle to his lips and called shrilly, and the men saw him if they could not hear, and sprang up, clawing aft through the water that flooded the waist along the rail.
“Breakers to leeward, men,” he cried “we must wear ship, and then shall clear them. We shall be standing right into Humber after that, as I think.”
Arngeir heard the men trampling, if not the whistle, and he was with us directly, and heard what was to be done.
“It is a chance if the yard stands it,” he said, looking aloft.
“Ay, but we cannot chance going about in this sea, and we are too short of men to lower and hoist again. Listen!”
Arngeir did so, and heard for the first time the growing anger of the surf on the shore, and had no more doubt. We were then running with the wind on the port quarter, and it was useless to haul closer to the wind on that tack, whereas if we could wear safely we should be leaving the shore at once by a little closer sailing.
“Ran is spreading her nets,” said Arngeir, “but if all holds, she will have no luck with her fishing.” 
Then we manned the main sheet and the guys from the great yards, but we were all too few for the task, which needed every man of the fifteen that we had sailed with. There was the back stay to be set up afresh on the weather quarter for the new tack also, and three men must see to that.
We watched my father’s hand for the word, and steadily sheeted home until all seemed to be going well. But the next moment there was a crash and a cry, and we were a mastless wreck, drifting helplessly. Maybe some flaw of wind took us as the head of the great sail went over, but its power was too much for the men at guys and back stay, and they had the tackle torn through their hands. The mast snapped six feet above the deck, smashing the gunwales as it fell forward and overboard, but hurting none of us.
Then a following sea or two broke over the stern, and I was washed from the poop, for I had been at the sheet, down to the deck, and there saved myself among the fallen rigging, half drowned. One of the men was washed overboard at the same time, but a bight of the rigging that was over the side caught him under the chin, and his mates hauled him on board again by the head, as it were. He was wont to make a jest of it afterward, saying that he was not likely to be hanged twice, but he had a wry neck from that day forward.
No more seas came over us, for the wreck over the bows brought us head to wind, though we shipped a lot of water across the decks as she rolled in the sea. Then we rode to the drag of the fallen sail for a time, and it seemed quiet now that there was no noise of wind screaming in rigging above us. But all the while the thunder of the breakers grew nearer and plainer.
I bided where I was, for the breath was knocked out of me for the moment. I saw my father lash the helm, and then he and the rest got the two axes that hung by the cabin door, and came forward with them. The mast was pounding our side in a way that would start the planking before long, and it must be cut adrift, and by that time I could join him.
When that was done, and it did not take long, we cleared the anchor and cable and let go, for it was time. The sound of the surf was drowning all else. But the anchor held, and the danger was over for the while, and as one might think altogether; but the tide was running against the gale, and what might happen when it turned was another matter.
Now we got the sail on deck again, and unlaced it from the yard, setting that in place with some sort of rigging, ready to be stepped as a mast if the wind shifted to any point that might help us off shore.
It may be thought how we watched that one cable that held us from the waves and the place where they broke, for therein lay our only chance, and we longed for the clear light that comes after rain, that we might see the worst, at least, if we were to feel it. But the anchor held, and presently we lost the feeling of a coming terror that had been over us, the utmost peril being past. My father went to the after cabin now, and though the poor children were bruised with the heavy rolling of the ship as she came into the wind, they were all well save Havelok, and he had fallen asleep in my mother’s arms at last.
With the turn of the tide, which came about three hours after midday, the clouds broke, and slowly the land grew out of the mists until we could see it plainly, though it was hardly higher than the sea that broke over it in whirling masses of spindrift. By-and-by we could see far-off hills beyond wide-stretching marshlands that looked green and rich across yellow sandhills that fringed the shore. And from them we were not a mile, and at their feet were such breakers as no ship might win through, though, if we might wait until they were at rest, the level sand was good for beaching at the neap tides. For we were well into Humber mouth, and to the northward of us, across the yellow water, was the long point of Spurn, and the ancient port of Ravenspur, with its Roman jetties falling into decay under the careless hand of the Saxon, under its shelter. There was no port on this southern side of the Humber, though farther south was Tetney Haven and again Saltfleet, to which my father had been, but neither in nor out of them might a vessel get in a northeast gale.
I have said that this clearness came with the turn of the tide, and now that began to flow strongly, setting in with the wind with more than its wonted force, for the northwest shift of the gale had kept it from falling, as it always will on this coast. That, of course, I learned later, but it makes plain what happened next. Our anchor began to drag with the weight of both tide and wind, and that was the uttermost of our dread.
Slowly it tore through its holding, and as it were step by step at first, and once we thought it stopped when we had paid out all the cable. But wind and sea were too strong, and presently again we saw the shore marks shifting, and we knew that there was no hope. The ship must touch the ground sooner or later, and then the end would come with one last struggle in the surf, and on shore was no man whose hand might be stretched to drag a spent man to the land, if he won through. It would have seemed less lonely had one watched us, but I did not know then that no pity for the wrecked need be looked for from the marshmen of the Lindsey shore. There was not so much as a fisher’s boat of wicker and skins in sight on the sandhills, where one might have looked to see some drawn up.
Now my father went to the cabin and told my mother that things were at their worst, and she was very brave.
“If you are to die at this time, husband,” she said, “it is good that I shall die with you. Better it is, as I think, than a sickness that comes to one and leaves the other. But after that you will go to the place of Odin, to Valhalla; but I whither?”
Then spoke little Withelm, ever thoughtful, and now not at all afraid.
“If Freya wants not a sailor’s wife who is willing to fight the waves with Grim, my father, it will be strange.”
My mother was wont to say that this saying of the child’s did much to cheer her at that time, but there is little place for a woman in the old faiths. So she smiled at him, and that made him bold to speak of what he had surely been thinking since the storm began.
“I suppose that Aegir is wroth because we made no sacrifice to him before we set sail. I think that I would cast the altar stones to him, that he may know that we meant to do so.”
This sounds a child’s thought only, and so it was; but it set my father thinking, and in the end helped us out of trouble.
“I have heard,” my father said, “that men in our case have thrown overboard the high-seat pillars, and have followed them to shore safely. We have none, but the stones are more sacred yet. Overboard they shall go, and as the boat with them goes through the surf we may learn somewhat.”
With that he hastened on deck, and told the men what he would do; and they thought it a good plan, as maybe they would have deemed anything that seemed to call for help from the strong ones of the sea. So they got the boat ready to launch over the quarter, and the four stones, being uncovered since the Vikings took our cargo, were easily got on deck, and they were placed in the bottom of the boat, and steadied there with coils of fallen rigging, so that they could not shift. They were just a fair load for the boat. Then my father cried for help to the Asir, bidding Aegir take the altar as full sacrifice; and when we had done so we waited for a chance as a long wave foamed past us, and launched the boat fairly on its back, so that she seemed to fly from our hands, and was far astern in a moment.
Now we looked to see her make straight for the breakers, lift on the first of them, and then capsize. That first line was not a quarter of a mile from us now.
But she never reached them. She plunged away at first, heading right for the surf, and then went steadily westward, and up the shore line outside it, until she was lost to sight among the wild waves, for she was very low in the water.
“Cheer up, men,” my father said, as he saw that; “we are not ashore yet, nor will be so long as the tide takes that current along shore. We shall stop dragging directly.”
And so it was, for when the ship slowly came to the place where the boat had changed her course, the anchor held once more for a while until the gathering strength of the tide forced it to drag again. Now, however, it was not toward the shore that we drifted, but up the Humber, as the boat had gone; and as we went the sea became less heavy, for we were getting into the lee of the Spurn headland.
Soon the clouds began to break, flying wildly overhead with patches of blue sky and passing sunshine in between them that gladdened us. The wind worked round to the eastward at the same time, and we knew that the end of the gale had come. But, blowing as it did right into the mouth of the river, the sea became more angry, and it would be worse yet when the tide set again outwards. Already we had shipped more water than was good, and we might not stand much more. It seemed best, therefore, to my father that we should try to run as far up the Humber as we might while we had the chance, for the current that held us safe might change as tide altered in force and depth.
So we buoyed the cable, not being able to get the anchor in this sea, and then stepped the yard in the mast’s place, and hoisted the peak of the sail corner-wise as best we might; and that was enough to heel us almost gunwale under as the cable was slipped and the ship headed about up the river mouth. We shipped one or two more heavy seas as she paid off before the wind, but we were on the watch for them, and no harm was done.
After that the worst was past, for every mile we flew over brought us into safer waters; and now we began to wonder where the boat with its strange cargo had gone, and we looked out for her along the shore as we sailed, and at last saw her, though it was a wonder that we did so.
The tide had set her into a little creek that opened out suddenly, and there Arngeir saw her first, aground on a sandbank, with the lift of each wave that crept into the haven she had found sending her higher on it. And my father cried to us that we had best follow her; and he put the helm over, while we sheeted home and stood by for the shock of grounding.
Then in a few minutes we were in a smother of foam across a little sand bar, and after that in quiet water, and the sorely-tried ship was safe. She took the ground gently enough in the little creek, not ten score paces from where the boat was lying, and we were but an arrow flight from the shore. As the tide rose the ship drifted inward toward it, so that we had to wait only for the ebb that we might go dry shod to the land.
Before that time came there was rest for us all, and we needed it sorely. It was a wonder that none of the children had been hurt in the wild tossing of the ship, but children come safely through things that would be hard on a man. Bruised they were and very hungry, but somehow my mother had managed to steady them on the cabin floor, and they were none the worse, only Havelok slept even yet with a sleep that was too heavy to be broken by the worst of the tossing as he lay in my mother’s lap. She could not tell if this heavy sleep was good or not.
Then we saw to the wounded men, and thereafter slept in the sun or in the fore cabin as each chose, leaving Arngeir only on watch. It was possible that the shore folk would be down to the strand soon, seeking for what the waves might have sent them, and the tide must be watched also.
Just before its turn he woke us, for it was needful that we should get a line ashore to prevent the ship from going out with the ebb, and with one I swam ashore. There was not so much as a stump to which to make fast, and so one of the men followed me, and we went to the boat, set the altar stones carefully ashore, then fetched the spare anchor, and moored her with that in a place where the water seemed deep to the bank.
It was a bad place. For when the tide fell, which it did very fast, we found that we had put her on a ledge. Presently therefore, and while we were trying to bail out the water that was in her, the ship took the ground aft, and we could not move her before the worst happened. Swiftly the tide left her, and her long keel bent and twisted, and her planks gaped with the strain of her own weight, all the greater for the water