The voyage round the Norfolk coast was rough and wild. Torfrida was ill, the little girl was ill; the poor old mother was so ill that she could not even say her prayers. Packed uncomfortably under the awning on the poop, Torfrida looked on from beneath it upon the rolling water-waste, with a heart full of gloomy forebodings, and a brain whirling with wild fancies. The wreaths of cloud were gray witches, hurrying on with the ship to work her woe; the low red storm-dawn was streaked with blood; the water which gurgled all night under the lee was alive with hoarse voices; and again and again she started from fitful slumber to clasp the child closer to her, or look up for comfort to the sturdy figure of her husband, as he stood, like a tower of strength, steering and commanding, the long night through.
Yes; on him she could depend. On his courage, on his skill. And as for his love, had she not that utterly? And what more did woman need?
But she was going, she scarce knew whither; and she scarce knew for what. At least, on a fearful adventure, which might have a fearful end. She looked at the fair child, and reproached herself for a moment; at the poor old mother, whining and mumbling, her soft southern heart quite broken by the wild chill northern sea-breeze; and reproached herself still more. But was it not her duty? Him she loved, and his she was; and him she must follow, over sea and land, till death; and if possible, beyond death again forever. For his sake she would slave. For his sake she would be strong. If ever there rose in her a homesickness, a regret for leaving Flanders, and much more for that sunnier South where she was born, he at least should never be saddened or weakened by one hint of her sadness and weakness. And so it befell that, by the time they made the coast, she had (as the old chronicler says) “altogether conquered all womanly softness.”
And yet she shuddered at the dreary mud-creek into which they ran their ships, at the dreary flats on which they landed shivering, swept over by the keen northeast wind. A lonely land; and within, she knew not what of danger, it might be of hideous death.
But she would be strong. And when they were all landed, men, arms, baggage, and had pitched the tents which the wise Hereward had brought with them, she rose up like a queen, and took her little one by the hand, and went among the men, and spoke:—
“Housecarles and mariners! you are following a great captain upon a great adventure. How great he is, you know as well as I. I have given him myself, my wealth, and all I have, and have followed him I know not whither, because I trust him utterly. Men, trust him as I trust him, and follow him to the death.”
“That will we!”
“And, men, I am here among you, a weak woman, trying to be brave for his sake — and for yours. Be true to me, too, as I have been true to you. For your sake have I worked hard day and night, for many a year. For you I have baked and brewed and cooked, like any poor churl’s wife. Is there a garment on your backs which my hands have not mended? Is there a wound on your limbs which my hands have not salved? O, if Torfrida has been true to you, promise me this day that you will be true men to her and hers; that if — which Heaven forbid! — aught should befall him and me, you will protect this my poor old mother, and this my child, who has grown up among you all — a lamb brought up within the lions’ den. Look at her, men, and promise me, on the faith of valiant soldiers, that you will be lions on her behalf, if she shall ever need you. Promise me, that if you have but one more stroke left to strike on earth, you will strike it to defend the daughter of Hereward and Torfrida from cruelty and shame”
The men answered by a shout which rolled along the fen, and startled the wild-fowl up from far-off pools. They crowded round their lady; they kissed her hands; they bent down and kissed their little playmate, and swore — one by God and his apostles, and the next by Odin and Thor — that she should be a daughter to each and every one of them, as long as they could grip steel in hand.
Then (says the chronicler) Hereward sent on spies, to see whether the Frenchmen were in the land, and how folks fared at Holbeach, Spalding, and Bourne.
The two young Siwards, as knowing the country and the folk, pushed forward, and with them Martin Lightfoot, to bring back news.
Martin ran back all the way from Holbeach, the very first day, with right good news. There was not a Frenchman in the town. Neither was there, they said, in Spalding. Ivo Taillebois was still away at the wars, and long might he stay.
So forward they marched, and everywhere the landsfolk were tilling the ground in peace; and when they saw that stout array, they hurried out to meet the troops, and burdened them with food, and ale, and all they needed.
And at Holbeach, and at Spalding, Hereward split up the war-arrow, and sent it through Kesteven, and south into the Cambridge fens, calling on all men to arm and come to him at Bourne, in the name of Waltheof and Morcar the earls.
And at every farm and town he blew the war-horn, and summoned every man who could bear arms to be ready, against the coming of the Danish host from Norwich. And so through all the fens came true what the wild-fowl said upon the meres, that Hereward was come again.
And when he came to Bourne, all men were tilling in peace. The terror of Hereward had fallen on the Frenchmen, and no man had dared to enter on his inheritance, or to set a French foot over the threshold of that ghastly hall, over the gable whereof still grinned the fourteen heads; on the floor whereof still spread the dark stains of blood.
Only Geri dwelt in a corner of the house, and with him Leofric the Unlucky, once a roistering housecarle of Hereward’s youth, now a monk of Crowland, and a deacon, whom Lady Godiva had sent thither that he might take care of her poor. And there Geri and Leofric had kept house, and told sagas to each other over the beech-log fire night after night; for all Leofric’s study was, says the chronicler, “to gather together for the edification of his hearers all the acts of giants and warriors out of the fables of the ancients or from faithful report, and commit them to writing, that he might keep England in mind thereof.” Which Leofric was afterwards ordained priest, probably in Ely, by Bishop Egelwin of Durham; and was Hereward’s chaplain for many a year.
Then Hereward, as he had promised, set fire to the three farms close to the Bruneswold; and all his outlawed friends, lurking in the forest, knew by that signal that Hereward was come again. So they cleansed out the old house: though they did not take down the heads from off the gable; and Torfrida went about it, and about it, and confessed that England was, after all, a pleasant place enough. And they were as happy, it may be, for a week or two, as ever they had been in their lives.
“And now,” said Torfrida, “while you see to your army, I must be doing; for I am a lady now, and mistress of great estates. So I must be seeing to the poor.”
“But you cannot speak their tongue.”
“Can I not? Do you think that in the face of coming to England and fighting here, and plotting here, and being, may be, an earl’s countess, I have not made Martin Lightfoot teach me your English tongue, till I can speak it as well as you? I kept that hidden as a surprise for you, that you might find out, when you most needed, how Torfrida loved you.”
“As if I had not found out already! O woman! woman! I verily believe that God made you alone, and left the Devil to make us butchers of men.”
Meanwhile went round through all the fens, and north into the Bruneswold, and away again to Lincoln and merry Sherwood, that Hereward was come again. And Gilbert of Ghent, keeping Lincoln Castle for the Conqueror, was perplexed in mind, and looked well to gates and bars and sentinels; for Hereward sent him at once a message, that forasmuch as he had forgotten his warning in Bruges street, and put a rascal cook into his mother’s manors, he should ride Odin’s horse on the highest ash in the Bruneswold.
On which Gilbert of Ghent, inquiring what Odin’s horse might be, and finding it to signify the ash-tree whereon, as sacred to Odin, thieves were hanged by Danes and Norse, made answer —
That he Gilbert had not put his cook into Bourne, nor otherwise harmed Hereward or his. That Bourne had been seized by the king himself, together with Earl Morcar’s lands in those parts, as all men knew. That the said cook so pleased the king with a dish of stewed eel-pout, which he served up to him at Cambridge, and which the king had never eaten before, that the king begged the said cook of him Gilbert and took him away; and that after, so he heard, the said cook had begged the said manors of Bourne of the king, without the knowledge or consent of him Gilbert. That he therefore knew naught of the matter. That if Hereward meant to keep the king’s peace, he might live in Bourne till Doomsday, for aught he, Gilbert, cared. But that if he and his men meant to break the king’s peace, and attack Lincoln city, he Gilbert would nail their skins to the door of Lincoln Cathedral, as they used to do by the heathen Danes in old time. And that, therefore, they now understood each other.
At which Hereward laughed, and said that they had done that for many a year.
And now poured into Bourne from every side brave men and true — some great holders dispossessed of their land; some the sons of holders who were not yet dispossessed; some Morcar’s men, some Edwin’s, who had been turned out by the king.
To him came “Guenoch and Alutus Grogan, foremost in all valor and fortitude, tall and large, and ready for work,” and with them their three nephews, Godwin Gille, “so called because he was not inferior to that Godwin Guthlacsson who is preached much in the fables of the ancients,” “and Douti and Outi, 28 the twins, alike in face and manners;” and Godric, the knight of Corby, nephew of the Count of Warwick; and Tosti of Davenesse, his kinsman; and Azer Vass, whose father had possessed Lincoln Tower; and Leofwin Moue, 29— that is, the scythe, so called, “because when he was mowing all alone, and twenty country folk set on him with pitchforks and javelins, he slew and wounded almost every one, sweeping his scythe among them as one that moweth”; and Wluncus the Black-face, so called because he once blackened his face with coal, and came unknown among the enemy, and slew ten of them with one lance; and “Turbertin, a great-nephew (surely a mistake) of Earl Edwin”; and Leofwin Prat (perhaps the ancestor of the ancient and honorable house of Pratt of Ryston), so called from his “Praet” or craft, “because he had oft escaped cunningly when taken by the enemy, having more than once killed his keepers;” and the steward of Drayton; and Thurkill the outlaw, Hereward’s cook; and Oger, Hereward’s kinsman; and “Winter and Linach, two very famous ones;” and Ranald, the butler of Ramsey Abbey — “he was the standard-bearer”; and Wulfric the Black and Wulfric the White; and Hugh the Norman, a priest; and Wulfard, his brother; and Tosti and Godwin of Rothwell; and Alsin; and Hekill; and Hugh the Breton, who was Hereward’s chaplain, and Whishaw, his brother, “a magnificent” knight, which two came with him from Flanders; and so forth; — names merely of whom naught is known, save, in a few cases, from Domesday-book, the manors which they held. But honor to their very names! Honor to the last heroes of the old English race!
These valiant gentlemen, with the housecarles whom, more or fewer, they would bring with them, constituted a formidable force, as after years proved well. But having got his men, Hereward’s first care was, doubtless, to teach them that art of war of which they, like true Englishmen, knew nothing.
The art of war has changed little, if at all, by the introduction of gunpowder. The campaigns of Hannibal and Caesar succeeded by the same tactics as those of Frederic or Wellington; and so, as far as we can judge, did those of the master-general of his age, William of Normandy.
But of those tactics the English knew nothing. Their armies were little more than tumultuous levies, in which men marched and fought under local leaders, often divided by local jealousies. The commissariats of the armies seem to have been so worthless, that they had to plunder friends as well, as foes as they went along; and with plunder came every sort of excess: as when the northern men marching down to meet Harold Godwinsson, and demand young Edwin as their earl, laid waste, seemingly out of mere brute wantonness, the country round Northampton, which must have been in Edwin’s earldom, or at least in that of his brother Morcar. And even the local leaders were not over-well obeyed. The reckless spirit of personal independence, especially among the Anglo–Danes, prevented anything like discipline, or organized movement of masses, and made every battle degenerate into a confusion of single combats.
But Hereward had learned that art of war, which enabled the Norman to crush, piecemeal, with inferior numbers, the vast but straggling levies of the English. His men, mostly outlaws and homeless, kept together by the pressure from without, and free from local jealousies, resembled rather an army of professional soldiers than a country posse comitatus. And to the discipline which he instilled into them; to his ability in marching and manoeuvring troops; to his care for their food and for their transport, possibly, also, to his training them in that art of fighting on horseback in which the men of Wessex, if not the Anglo–Danes of the East, are said to have been quite unskilled — in short, to all that he had learned, as a mercenary, under Robert the Frison, and among the highly civilized warriors of Flanders and Normandy, must be attributed the fact, that he and his little army defied, for years, the utmost efforts of the Normans, appearing and disappearing with such strange swiftness, and conquering against such strange odds, as enshrouded the guerilla captain in an atmosphere of myth and wonder, only to be accounted for, in the mind of Normans as well as English, by the supernatural counsels of his sorceress wife.
But Hereward grew anxious and more anxious, as days and weeks went on, and yet there was no news of Osbiorn and his Danes at Norwich. Time was precious. He had to march his little army to the Wash, and then transport it by boats — no easy matter — to Lynn in Norfolk, as his nearest point of attack. And as the time went on, Earl Warren and Ralph de Guader would have gathered their forces between him and the Danes, and a landing at Lynn might become impossible. Meanwhile there were bruits of great doings in the north of Lincolnshire. Young Earl Waltheof was said to be there, and Edgar the Atheling with him; but what it portended, no man knew. Morcar was said to have raised the centre of Mercia, and to be near Stafford; Edwin to have raised the Welsh, and to be at Chester with Alfgiva, his sister, Harold Godwinsson’s widow. And Hereward sent spies along the Roman Watling Street — the only road, then, toward the northwest of England — and spies northward along the Roman road to Lincoln. But the former met the French in force near Stafford, and came back much faster than they went. And the latter stumbled on Gilbert of Ghent, riding out of Lincoln to Sleaford, and had to flee into the fens, and came back much slower than they went.
At last news came. For into Bourne stalked Wulfric the Heron, with axe and bow, and leaping-pole on shoulder, and an evil tale he brought.
The Danes had been beaten utterly at Norwich. Ralph de Guader and his Frenchmen had fought like lions. They had killed many Danes in the assault on the castle. They had sallied out on them as they recoiled, and driven them into the river, drowning many more. The Danes had gone down the Yare again, and out to sea northward, no man knew whither. He, the Heron, prowling about the fenlands of Norfolk to pick off straggling Frenchmen and looking out for the Danes, had heard all the news from the landsfolk. He had watched the Danish fleet along the shore as far as Blakeney. But when they came to the isle, they stood out to sea, right northwest. He, the Heron, believed that they were gone for Humber Mouth.
After a while, he had heard how Hereward was come again and sent round the war-arrow, and thought that a landless man could be in no better company; wherefore he had taken boat, and come across the deep fen. And there he was, if they had need of him.
“Need of you?” said Hereward, who had heard of the deed at Wrokesham Bridge. “Need of a hundred like you. But this is bitter news.”
And he went in to ask counsel of Torfrida, ready to weep with rage. He had disappointed, deceived his men. He had drawn them into a snare. He had promised that the Danes should come. How should he look them in the face?
“Look them in the face? Do that at once — now — without losing a moment. Call them together and tell them all. If their hearts are staunch, you may do great things without the traitor earl. If their hearts fail them, you would have done nothing with them worthy of yourself, had you had Norway as well as Denmark at your back. At least, be true with them, as your only chance of keeping them true to you.”
“Wise, wise wife,” said Hereward, and went out and called his band together, and told them every word, and all that had passed since he left Calais Straits.
“And now I have deceived you, and entrapped you, and I have no right to be your captain more. He that will depart in peace, let him depart, before the Frenchmen close in on us on every side and swallow us up at one mouthful.”
Not a man answered.
“I say it again: He that will depart, let him depart.”
They stood thoughtful.
Ranald, the Monk of Ramsey, drove the White–Bear banner firm into the earth, tucked up his monk’s frock, and threw his long axe over his shoulder, as if preparing for action.
Winter spoke at last.
“If all go, there are two men here who stay, and fight by Hereward’s side as long as there is a Frenchman left on English soil; for they have sworn an oath to Heaven and to St. Peter, and that oath will they keep. What say you, Gwenoch, knighted with us at Peterborough?”
Gwenoch stepped to Hereward’s side.
“None shall go!” shouted a dozen voices. “With Hereward we will live and die. Let him lead us to Lincoln, to Stafford, where he will. We can save England for ourselves without the help of Danes.”
“It is well for one at least of you, gentlemen, that you are in this pleasant mind,” quoth Ranald the monk.
“Well for all of us, thou valiant purveyor of beef and beer.”
“Well for one. For the first man that had turned to go, I would have brained him with this axe.”
“And now, gallant gentlemen,” said Hereward, “we must take new counsel, as our old has failed. Whither shall we go? For stay here, eating up the country, we must not do.”
“They say that Waltheof is in Lindsay, raising the landsfolk. Let us go and join him.”
“We can, at least, find what he means to do. There can be no better counsel. Let us march. Only we must keep clear of Lincoln as yet. I hear that Gilbert has a strong garrison there, and we are not strong enough yet to force it.”
So they rode north, and up the Roman road toward Lincoln, sending out spies as they went; and soon they had news of Waltheof — news, too, that he was between them and Lincoln.
“Then the sooner we are with him, the better, for he will find himself in trouble ere long, if old Gilbert gets news of him. So run your best, footmen, for forward we must get.”
And as they came up the Roman road, they were aware of a great press of men in front of them, and hard fighting toward.
Some of the English would have spurred forward at once. But Hereward held them back with loud reproaches.
“Will you forget all I have told you in the first skirmish, like so many dogs when they see a bull? Keep together for five minutes more, the pot will not be cool before we get our sup of it. I verily believe that it is Waltheof, and that Gilbert has caught him already.”
As he spoke, one part of the combatants broke up, and fled right and left; and a knight in full armor galloped furiously down the road right at them, followed by two or three more.
“Here comes some one very valiant, or very much afeared,” said Hereward, as the horseman rode right upon him, shouting —
“I am the King!”
“The King?” roared Hereward, and dropping his lance, spurred his horse forward, kicking his feet clear of the stirrups. He caught the knight round the neck, dragged him over his horse’s tail, and fell with him to the ground.
The armor clashed; the sparks flew from the old gray Roman flints; and Hereward, rolling over once, rose, and knelt upon his prisoner.
“William of Normandy, yield or die!”
The knight lay still and stark.
“Ride on!” roared Hereward from the ground. “Ride at them, and strike hard! You will soon find out which is which. This booty I must pick for myself. What are you at?” roared he, after his knights. “Spread off the road, and keep your line, as I told you, and don’t override each other! Curse the hot-headed fools! The Normans will scatter them like sparrows. Run on, men-at-arms, to stop the French if we are broken. And don’t forget Guisnes field and the horses’ legs. Now, King, are you come to life yet?”
“You have killed him,” quoth Leofric the deacon, whom Hereward had beckoned to stop with him.
“I hope not. Lend me a knife. He is a much slighter man than I fancied,” said Hereward, as they got his helmet off.
And when it was off, both started and stared. For they had uncovered, not the beetling brow, Roman nose, and firm curved lip of the Ulysses of the middle age, but the face of a fair lad, with long straw-colored hair, and soft blue eyes staring into vacancy.
“Who are you?” shouted Hereward, saying very bad words, “who come here aping the name of king?”
“Mother! Christina! Margaret! Waltheof Earl!” moaned the lad, raising his head and letting it fall again.
“It is the Atheling!” cried Leofric.
Hereward rose, and stood over the boy.
“Ah! what was I doing to handle him so tenderly? I took him for the Mamzer, and thought of a king’s ransom.”
“Do you call that tenderly? You have nigh pulled the boy’s head off.”
“Would that I had! Ah,” went on Hereward, apostrophizing the unconscious Atheling — “ah, that I had broken that white neck once and for all! To have sent thee feet foremost to Winchester, to lie by thy grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and then to tell Norman William that he must fight it out henceforth, not with a straw malkin like thee, which the very crows are not afraid to perch on, but with a cock of a very different hackle — Sweyn Ulfsson, King of Denmark.”
And Hereward drew Brain-biter.
“For mercy’s sake! you will not harm the lad?”
“If I were a wise man now, and hard-hearted as wise men should be, I should — I should —” and he played the point of the sword backwards and forwards, nearer and nearer to the lad’s throat.
“Master! master!” cried Leofric, clinging to his knees; “by all the saints! What would the Blessed Virgin say to such a deed!”
“Well, I suppose you are right. And I fear what my lady at home might say; and we must not do anything to vex her, you know. Well, let us do it handsomely, if we must do it. Get water somewhere, in his helmet. No, you need not linger. I will not cut his throat before you come back.”
Leofric went off in search of water, and Hereward knelt with the Atheling’s head on his knee, and on his lip a sneer at all things in heaven and earth. To have that lad stand between him and all his projects, and to be forced, for honor’s sake, to let him stand!
But soon his men returned, seemingly in high glee, and other knights with them.
“Hey, lads!” said he, “I aimed at the falcon and shot the goose. Here is Edgar Atheling prisoner. Shall we put him to ransom?”
“He has no money, and Malcolm of Scotland is much too wise to lend him any,” said some one. And some more rough jokes passed.
“Do you know, sirs, that he who lies there is your king?” asked a very tall and noble-looking knight.
“That do we not,” said Hereward, sharply. “There is no king in England this day, as far as I know. And there will be none north of the Watling Street, till he be chosen in full husting, and anointed at York, as well as Winchester or London. We have had one king made for us in the last forty years, and we intend to make the next ourselves.”
“And who art thou, who talkest so bold, of king-making?”
“And who art thou, who askest so bold who I am?”
“I am Waltheof Siwardsson, the Earl, and yon is my army behind me.”
“And I am Hereward Leofricsson, the outlaw, and yon is my army behind me.”
If the two champions had flown at each other’s throats, and their armies had followed their example, simply as dogs fly at each other, they know not why, no one would have been astonished in those unhappy times.
But it fell not out upon that wise; for Waltheof, leaping from his horse, pulled off his helmet, and seizing Hereward by both hands, cried —
“Blessed is the day which sees again in England Hereward, who has upheld throughout all lands and seas the honor of English chivalry!”
“And blessed is the day in which Hereward meets the head of the house of Siward where he should be, at the head of his own men, in his own earldom. When I saw my friend, thy brother Osbiorn, brought into the camp at Dunsinane with all his wounds in front, I wept a young man’s tears, and said, ‘There ends the glory of the White–Bear’s house!’ But this day I say, the White–Bear’s blood is risen from the grave in Waltheof Siwardsson, who with his single axe kept the gate of York against all the army of the French; and who shall keep against them all England, if he will be as wise as he is brave.”
Was Hereward honest in his words? Hardly so. He wished to be honest. As he looked upon that magnificent young man, he hoped and trusted that his words were true. But he gave a second look at the face, and whispered to himself: “Weak, weak. He will be led by priests; perhaps by William himself. I must be courteous; but confide I must not.”
The men stood round, and looked with admiration on the two most splendid Englishmen then alive. Hereward had taken off his helmet likewise, and the contrast between the two was as striking as the completeness of each of them in his own style of beauty. It was the contrast between the slow-hound and the deer-hound; each alike high bred; but the former, short, sturdy, cheerful, and sagacious; the latter tall, stately, melancholy, and not over-wise withal.
Waltheof was a full head and shoulders taller than Hereward — one of the tallest men of his generation, and of a strength which would have been gigantic, but for the too great length of neck and limb, which made him loose and slow in body, as he was somewhat loose and slow in mind. An old man’s child, although that old man was as one of the old giants, there was a vein of weakness in him, which showed in the arched eyebrow, the sleepy pale blue eye, the small soft mouth, the lazy voice, the narrow and lofty brain over a shallow brow. His face was not that of a warrior, but of a saint in a painted window; and to his own place he went, and became a saint, in his due time. But that he could outgeneral William, that he could even manage Gospatrick and his intrigues Hereward expected as little as that his own nephews Edwin and Morcar could do it.
“I have to thank you, noble sir,” said Waltheof, languidly, “for sending your knights to our rescue when we were really hard bestead — I fear much by our own fault. Had they told me whose men they were, I should not have spoken to you so roughly as I fear I did.”
“There is no offence. Let Englishmen speak their minds, as long as English land is above sea. But how did you get into trouble, and with whom?”
Waltheof told him how he was going round the country, raising forces in the name of the Atheling, when, as they were straggling along the Roman road, Gilbert of Ghent had dashed out on them from a wood, cut their line in two, driven Waltheof one way, and the Atheling another, and that the Atheling had only escaped by riding, as they saw, for his life.
“Well done, old Gilbert!” laughed Hereward. “You must beware, my Lord Earl, how you venture within reach of that old bear’s paw!”
“Bear? By the by, Sir Hereward,” asked Waltheof, whose thoughts ran loosely right and left, “why is it that you carry the white bear on your banner?”
“Do you not know? Your house ought to have a blood-feud against me. I slew your great-uncle, or cousin, or some other kinsman, at Gilbert’s house in Scotland long ago; and since then I sleep on his skin every night, and carry his picture in my banner all day.”
“Blood-feuds are solemn things,” said Waltheof, frowning. “Karl killed my grandfather Aldred at the battle of Settrington, and his four sons are with the army at York now —”
“For the love of all saints and of England, do not think of avenging that! Every man must now put away old grudges, and remember that he has but one foe — William and his Frenchmen.”
“Very nobly spoken. But those sons of Karl — and I think you said you had killed a kinsman of mine?”
“It was a bear, Lord Earl, a great white bear. Cannot you understand a jest? Or are you going to take up the quarrels of all white bears that are slain between here and Iceland? You will end by burning Crowland minster then, for there are twelve of your kinsmen’s skins there, which Canute gave forty years ago.”
“Burn Crowland minster? St. Guthlac and all saints forbid!” said Waltheof, crossing himself devoutly.
“Are you a monk-monger into the bargain, as well as a dolt? A bad prospect for us, if you are,” said Hereward to himself.
“Ah, my dear Lord King!” said Waltheof, “and you are recovering?”
“Somewhat,” said the lad, sitting up, “under the care of this kind knight.”
“He is a monk, Sir Atheling, and not a knight,” said Hereward. “Our fenmen can wear a mail-shirt as easily as a frock, and handle a twybill as neatly as a breviary.”
Waltheof shook his head. “It is contrary to the canons of Holy Church.”
“So are many things that are done in England just now. Need has no master. Now, Sir Earl and Sir Atheling, what are you going to do?”
Neither of them, it seemed, very well knew. They would go to York if they could get there, and join Gospatrick and Marlesweyn. And certainly it was the most reasonable thing to be done.
“But if you mean to get to York, you must march after another fashion than this,” said Hereward. “See, Sir Earl, why you were broken by Gilbert; and why you will be broken again, if this order holds. If you march your men along one of these old Roman streets — By St. Mary! these Romans had more wits than we; for we have spoilt the roads they left us, and never made a new one of our own —”
“They were heathens and enchanters,”— and Waltheof crossed himself.
“And conquered the world. Well — if you march along one of these streets, you must ride as I rode, when I came up to you. You must not let your knights go first, and your men-at-arms straggle after in a tail a mile long, like a scratch pack of hounds, all sizes but except each others’. You must keep your footmen on the high street, and make your knights ride in two bodies, right and left, upon the wold, to protect their flanks and baggage.”
“But the knights won’t. As gentlemen, they have a right to the best ground.”
“Then they may go to — whither they will go, if the French come upon them. If they are on the flanks, and you are attacked then they can charge in right and left on the enemy’s flank, while the footmen make a stand to cover the wagons.”
“Yes — that is very good; I believe that is your French fashion?”
“It is the fashion of common-sense, like all things which succeed.”
“But, you see, the knights would not submit to ride in the mire.”
“Then you must make them. What else have they horses for, while honester men than they trudge on foot?”
“Make them?” said Waltheof, with a shrug and a smile. “They are all free gentlemen, like ourselves.”
“And, like ourselves, will come to utter ruin, because every one of them must needs go his own way.”
“I am glad,” said Waltheof, as they rode along, “that you called this my earldom. I hold it to be mine of course, in right of my father; but the landsfolks, you know, gave it to your nephew Morcar.”
“I care not to whom it is given. I care for the man who is on it, to raise these landsfolk and make them fight. You are here: therefore you are earl.”
“Yes, the powers that be are ordained by God.”
“You must not strain that text too far, Lord Earl; for the only power that is, whom I see in England — worse luck for it! — is William the Mamzer.”
“So I have often thought.”
“You have? As I feared!” (To himself:) “The pike will have you next, gudgeon!”
“He has with him the Holy Father at Rome, and therefore the blessed Apostle St. Peter of course. And is a man right, in the sight of Heaven, who resists them? I only say it. But where a man looks to the salvation of his own soul, he must needs think thereof seriously, at least.”
“O, are you at that?” thought Hereward. “Tout est perdu. The question is, Earl,” said he aloud, “simply this: How many men can you raise off this shire?”
“I have raised — not so many as I could wish. Harold and Edith’s men have joined me fairly well; but your nephew, Morcar’s —”
“I can command them. I have half of them here already.”
“Then — then we may raise the rest?”
“That depends, my Lord Earl, for whom we fight!”
“For whom? — I do not understand.”
“Whether we fight for that lad, Child Edgar, or for Sweyn of Denmark, the rightful king of England.”
“Sweyn of Denmark! Who should be the rightful king but the heir of the blessed St. Edward?”
“Blessed old fool! He has done harm to us enough on earth, without leaving his second-cousins’ aunts’ malkins to harm us after he is in Heaven.”
“Sir Hereward, Sir Hereward, I fear thou art not as good a Christian as so good a knight should be.”
“Christian or not, I am as good a one as my neighbors. I am Leofric’s son. Leofric put Harthacanute on the throne, and your father, who was a man, helped him. You know what has befallen England since we Danes left the Danish stock at Godwin’s bidding, and put our necks under the yoke of Wessex monks and monk-mongers. You may follow your father’s track or not, as you like. I shall follow my father’s, and fight for Sweyn Ulfsson, and no man else.”
“And I,” said Waltheof, “shall follow the anointed of the Lord.”
“The anointed of Gospatrick and two or three boys!” said Hereward. “Knights! Turn your horses’ heads. Right about face, all! We are going back to the Bruneswold, to live and die free Danes.”
And to Waltheof’s astonishment, who had never before seen discipline, the knights wheeled round; the men-at-arms followed them; and Waltheof and the Atheling were left to themselves on Lincoln Heath.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56