Charles W. Whistler.

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that, I challenged him to fight on these points, that being needful
before they were done with. So we fought, and our feud was ended. Hodulf
is dead, and his courtmen would not live after him while there was a
chance of avenging his fall. That was before the host came up. Now I
offer peace and friendship to all, and I can blame none who have held to
the king who has fallen. It was not to be expected that all would own me
at once. Only those Norsemen who came with Hodulf or have come hither
since must leave the land, and they shall go in honour, taking their
goods with them. Their time is up; that is all."

It was a long speech for Havelok, but in it was all that could be said.
Long and closely did the chiefs look at him as he spoke, for none of
them had seen him before. His words were not idly to be set aside
either, and they spoke together in a low voice when he had ended.

"This is a matter for the whole host to settle," one said at last. "We
will speak to them, and give you an answer shortly."

"Take one of Hodulf's courtmen with you, that he may tell all of the
fight," Havelok said: "he need not come back."

I gave the man his arms again, for he might as well have them if he stayed.

"Thanks, lord," he said. "Here is one who will tell the truth for Havelok."

Then our host sat down, and we watched the foemen as the news came to
them. We could not hear, of course, for they were a quarter of a mile
away, but if any tumult rose we should be warned in time. They were very
still, however. There was a long talk, and then one chief came back to us.

"I am going to ask a strange thing," he said, "but the men wish to see
Havelok face to face."

Now Sigurd said that this was too great a risk, and even Withelm agreed
with him.

But Havelok answered, "The men are my own men, but they are not sure
that I am the right king. It is plain that I am like my father, and
therefore it is safe for me to go."

"That," said the chief, "is what we told them, and what they wish to see."

"Then," said Havelok, "I will come. Bid your men sit down, and bid the
horsemen dismount, and I will ride to them with five others. Then can be
no fear on either side."

"That will do well," said Sigurd; and the chief went back, and at once
the host sat down.

Then Havelok rode to them, and with him went we three and Sigurd and Biorn.

There was a murmur of wonder as he came, and it grew louder as he
unhelmed and stayed before them.

And then one shouted, "Skoal to Havelok Gunnarsson!" and at once the
shout was taken up along the line. And that shout grew until the chiefs
joined in it, for it was the voice of the host, which cannot be
gainsaid; and without more delay, one by one the leaders pressed forward
and knelt on one knee to their king, and did homage to him. Only the
Norsemen held back; and presently, when we were talking to the Danish
chiefs in all friendly wise, they drew apart with their men, and formed
up into a close-ranked body that looked dangerous.

"Surely they do not mean to fight!" said Withelm.

Then one of them shouted that he must speak to the king, and that seemed
as if they owned him at least, so Havelok went to them.

"You have heard my terms," he said, "and I think that they are all that
you could ask. What is amiss?"

"Your terms are good enough," the speaker said, "and we know that our
time is come. But we must have surety that the people will not fall on
us, for we are flying, as it were. And we want the body of our king. We
would not have him buried any wise, as if he was a thrall."

"He shall be given to you, and as for the rest none shall harm you.
Moreover, for that saying about your king I will add this: that if there
are any of you who hold lands to which there is no Danish heir, he shall
take service with me if he will, and so keep them."

So there was no man in all the host who was not content; and that was
the second king-making of Havelok, as it were, for now there was no man
against him. The hosts were disbanded then and there, and we went that
day to Hodulf's town, and took possession of all that had been in his
hands. Then was rejoicing over all the land, for a king of the old line
was on the throne once more, and his way was full of promise.


Now there was one thing that was in the minds of all of us, and that was
the winning of Goldberga's kingdom for her; but that was a matter which
was not to be thought of yet for a long while. Two years were we in
Denmark, and well loved was Havelok by all, whether one speaks of the
other kings who owned him as Gunnar's heir at once, or the people over
whom he and Goldberga reigned. But we sent messages to Arngeir and to
Ragnar to say that all was well, and we heard from them in time how Alsi
feared what was to come, and had rather make friends with the Anglians
than offend them. So he had not given out anything that was against the
princess, but had told all how she had wedded the heir of Denmark, and
that she had given up her land to himself, and followed her husband
across the sea. It was not hard for him to feign gladness in her
well-doing; and Berthun counselled Ragnar to let things be thus, and yet
prepare for her return.

In my own heart was the wish to go back to England always, for there was
my home; and I found that it was the same with my brothers, for there is
that in the English land which makes all who touch it love it. And there
was the mound that held my father, and there were the folk among whom we
had been brought up in the town that we had made; and I longed to see
once more the green marshes and the grey wolds of Lindsey, and the brown
waves of the wide Humber rolling shorewards, line after line. I tired of
the heaths and forests and peat mosses of this land of my birth. And if
that was so to me, it was a yet deeper longing in the hearts of the
brothers who hardly remembered this place; and after a while we spoke of
it more often.

I do not know if we said much to others, but at last the younger chiefs
began to wonder when the promised time when they should cross the
"swan's path" for Goldberga should come. Maybe they tired of the long
peace, as a Dane will. But when that talk began, Withelm knew that
things were ripe, and he told Havelok. That was in the third spring of
Havelok's kingship, when it grew near to the time when men fit out their

"This is what I have looked for," he said; "and now we will delay no
longer, for here am I king indeed, and there is none who will rise
against me. Wonderful it is that men have hailed me thus. And now I will
tell you, brother, that I long for England. If I might take my friends
with me, I do not think that I should care if I never came here again.
It is not my home; and here my Goldberga is not altogether happy, well
as the folk love her."

Thereafter he called a great Thing[12] of all the
freemen in the land, and set the matter plainly before them, asking if
they minded the words he spoke when they crowned the queen, and if they
were still ready to follow him to the winning of her crown beyond the sea.

There was no doubt what the answer would be; and it was said at once
that the sooner the ships were got ready the better.

"Then," said Havelok, "who shall mind this land while I am away? It may
be long ere I come back."

Now there was a cry that I should be king while Havelok was away,
forsooth! and a poor hand I should have made at the business. But I said
that it was foolishness, and that, moreover, I would go with Havelok.
And when they said that this was modesty on my part, I answered that I
had seen several kings, and that there was but one who was worth
thinking of, and that was my brother; therefore, I would go on serving
him where I could see him.

"This is what Grim, my father, said to me long ago," I said - "I was to
mind the old saying, 'Bare is back without brother behind it;' and,
therefore, I must see Havelok safe through this."

"Why, brother," says Havelok, laughing, "if that saying must be
remembered - and I at least know it is true - it would make for
leaving you behind me here to see all fair when my back was turned."

Then he saw that I was grieved, for I thought for the moment that he
would bid me to stay, and so I should have to do so; but he took my part.

"I cannot be without my brothers," he said. "If I had any word in the
matter - which mainly concerns the folk to be ruled, as it seems to me
(for I do not know of any man who would not uphold me) - I should say
that Sigurd the jarl was the right man, for all know that he is a good
ruler, nor will it be any new thing to submit to him."

That pleased all, and the end of it was that Sigurd was chosen to hold
the land for Havelok.

Then Sigurd sat on the steps of the high place at Havelok's feet, and
the king said, "I have no need to tell any man here who this is, and why
I think him worthy of the highest honour, for all know him and his worth
as well as I. Mainly by him was the thought of my return kept in the
minds of men, so that when the time came all were ready to hail me, as
you have done. Therefore, as by him I am king, so I make him king also
for me. He shall rule all the land while I am away, and to him shall all
men account as to me. And because it is right that his kingship should
be certain, I give him all his jarldom as a kingdom from henceforth,
only subject to me and my heirs as overlord. King therefore he is, and
none can say that you are ruled by naught but a jarl."

Then Havelok girt on the new king's sword, and set his own crowned helm
on his head for a moment; and all the Thing hailed him gladly, for he
was the right man without doubt.

Then Sigurd did homage for his new honour; and after that he rose up,
and grew red and uneasy, as if there was somewhat that he wished to say,
and was half afraid to do so.

Thereat some friend in the hall said, "You take your kingship worse than
did Radbard himself, as it seems. What is amiss?"

"Why, I wanted to go on the Viking path with Havelok, and now it seems
that I cannot."

Then one shouted, "I never heard of a land going wrong while its king
was away risking his life to get property for his men. There is no man
here who is going to rise against either you or Havelok. And it is only
to send a message to our great overlord to say what we are about, and he
will see that the land is in peace. Nor do I think that any king would
harry Havelok's land, for he is well loved by all his peers."

Wherefore it seemed that Sigurd must go also, and we had to set Biorn as
head man while Sigurd was away; but that would only be for a month or
two. So all things were ordered well, and in a month we set sail with
twenty ships, and in them a matter of fifteen hundred men.

At first we thought that we would make for Grimsby; but then it seemed
best to land elsewhere, and more to the south, for we would have
messages sent at once to Ragnar to call East Anglia to Havelok's banner,
and Alsi would have less chance of cutting us off from him. So we sailed
to Saltfleet haven, which lies some twenty-five miles southward from
Grimsby. Raven piloted us in safely, and there were none to hinder our
landing. The town was empty, indeed, when the ships came into the haven,
for all had fled in haste, except a few thralls, for fear of the Vikings.

Yet when we sent these thralls to say that Goldberga had come for her
own, the people came back and made us welcome, for her story was in
every mouth; and after that we fared well in Saltfleet, and men began to
gather to us.

We sent to Arngeir and to Ragnar at once, and next day the Grimsby folk
were with us, but long before any word could come to Norwich, Alsi had
set about gathering a host against us.

But we had not come to fight him for Lindsey, and our errand was to bid
him give up her own rights to Goldberga. One must be ready with the
strong hand if one expects to find justice from such a man; and Havelok
had thought it possible that if we came here first we should bring him
to reason at once, whereas if we went to Norfolk there would be fighting
with all the host of the Lindsey kingdom before long; while if he did
fight here we might save Goldberga's land from that trouble, and maybe
have fewer to deal with.

So a message was to be sent to Alsi at once, bidding him know that
Goldberga had come to ask for her rights, and that he might give them to
her in all honour. Arngeir was to take this, for it did not seem right
that a Dane should do so, and he was one who would be listened to. I was
to go with him, with my courtmen as guard; and we rode to Lincoln on the
fourth day after our coming to Saltfleet. Good it was to ride over the
old land again, and I thought that it had never looked more fair with
the ripening harvest, for when last I had seen it there was none. The
track of the famine was yet on all the villages, for fewer folk were in
them than in the days before the pestilence and the dearth, but these
had enough and to spare.

And when these poor folk heard from us that Curan and his princess had
come again for what was hers, they took rusty weapons and flint-tipped
arrows and stone hammers from the hiding places in the thatch of their
hovels, and went across the marshlands to where the little hill of
Saltfleet stands above its haven, that they might help the one whom they
had loved as a fisher lad to become a mighty king.

So we came to Lincoln, and already there was a gathering of thanes and
their men in the town, and they knew on what errand we had come well
enough. But they were courteous, and we were given quarters in the town
at once, that we might see Alsi with the first light in the morning.

I will not say that we had a quiet night there, for we did not trust
Alsi; but we had no need to fear. In the morning Eglaf came to bid us to
the palace to speak with the king.

"This is about what I expected, when I heard of the mistake that our
king had made," he said, "and so far you are in luck. It is not everyone
who is a fisher one day and captain of the courtmen next, as one might
say. I like the look of your men, and I am going to take some of the
credit of that to myself, for a man has to learn before he can command."

"I will not deny your share in the matter," I answered, laughing, "for
had it not been for my time with you I had been at sea altogether. Now,
shall we have to fight you?"

He shrugged his broad shoulders.

"Who knows what is in the mind of our king? I do not, and you know
enough of him by this time to be certain that one cannot guess. He may
be all smiles and rejoicing that his dear niece has come back safely, or
just the other way. He has been very careful how he has dealt with the
Norfolk thanes of late, and what that means I do not know."

Then he asked what had become of Griffin, and I told him. I do not think
that he was surprised, for some word of the matter had reached here by
the news that chapmen bring from all parts.

Now there was no more time for talk, for we came to the hall; and we
went in, Arngeir leading, and the rest of us following two by two. The
hall was pretty full of thanes and their men, and it was just as I had
last seen it. Alsi sat alone on his high seat, and there was no man with
him on the dais. I thought that he looked thinner and anxious.

Arngeir went up the hall at once, and stood before the king, and greeted
him in the English way, which seemed strange to me after the two years
of Danish customs; and then Alsi bade him tell his errand.

"I have come from Goldberga of East Anglia, and from Havelok the Dane,
her husband, to say that she has returned to her land, and would ask
that you would give her the throne that you have held for her since the
day that her father made you her guardian. It has been said that she
might ask you to give account of your management of the realm to her;
but that she does not wish to do, being sure that all will be rightly
done in the matter, and she only asks to be set in the place that was
her father's."

So said Arngeir, plainly, and I could see that the thanes thought the
words good.

And Alsi answered, "Has this matter been put before the Witan of the
East Angles?"

I suppose that he thought to hear Arngeir say that there had been no
time for so doing at present, but my brother was readier than I should
have been.

"Doubtless it has," he said, "for that was your own promise to Goldberga
on her marriage."

At that Alsi flushed, and his brows wrinkled. He had said nothing to the
Witan at all, but had waited in hopes that he should hear no more of his
niece, telling the tale that we had heard.

"I have had no answer from them," he said at last, for Arngeir was
looking at him in a way that he could not meet. "It was her saying that
she would do this for herself."

"Then they do not refuse," said Arngeir quietly, "nor did I think that
they would do so. It only remains therefore, that you, King Alsi, should
do your part. Then can the queen speak to the Witan, even as she said,
concerning her husband."

Now it must have been clear to the king that nothing short of a plain
answer would be taken, and he sat and thought for a while. One could see
that he was planning what to say, as if things had not gone as he
expected. Maybe he hoped to put off the matter by talk of asking the
Witan, and so to gain time, for we had certainly taken him unawares.

At last he said, "How am I to know that you are here with full power to
speak for Goldberga? For this is a weighty matter."

Arngeir held out his hand, and on it was the ring of Orwenna the queen,
which Alsi had last seen here on the high place.

"There is the token, King Alsi, and it is one which you know well," he

"Ay, I know it," answered the king with a grin that was not pleasant.

And then he said, "I will speak with my thanes, and give you word to
carry back in an hour's time, now that I know you to be a true messenger."

"There should be no reason for waiting so long as that, nor do I think
that the matter of the throne of East Anglia is a question for Lindsey
thanes," answered Arngeir at once. "All this is between you and the

Thereat one of the thanes rose up and said, "If a kingdom has been
handed over to our king, it is not to be taken again without our having
a good deal to say about it. I do not know, moreover, if we can have a
foreigner over any part of our land."

"Goldberga never gave up her right to the kingdom," Arngeir answered,
"as anyone who was here at the wedding would tell you. And as for
Havelok, her husband, being a foreigner, it seems to me that a Jute who
has been brought up here in Lindsey since he was seven winters old is
less a foreigner than a Briton is to us."

None made any answer to that, and I could see that the king was growing
angry at being met thus at every turn. But he began to smile in that way
of his that I had learned to mistrust.

"That is not altogether courteous to either Goldberga or myself," he
said, as if he would think the words a jest, seeing that he was half
Welsh. "Give me time, I pray you, to think of this, as I have asked, and
you shall go back with your answer."

There was no help for it, and we had to leave the hall in order that
Alsi might say what he had to say to his thanes. And I said to Arngeir
that it seemed that we should have to fight the matter out.

"Alsi risks losing both kingdoms if he does that," he answered, "for we
shall take what we choose if we are the victors. The visions that have
been thus right so far say that we shall be so."

"I shall be glad if we do come out on the right side," I said; "but I
have not so much faith in these dream tellings as some. Nor do I think
that it seems altogether fair to fight on a certainty."

"When it is a matter of punishing one who does not keep faith, I do not
think that it matters much," he answered, laughing. "I should like
certainty that he would not get the best of the honest side in that case."

We were outside on the wide green within the square of the Roman walls
at this time, and now from within the hall came the sound of shouts and
cheering which we heard plainly enough. But whether it meant that the
thanes cheered Alsi because he would fight, rather than that they
applauded his justice to his niece, was not to be known as yet. As for
me, I thought that it was hardly likely to be the latter.

Then came three thanes from the hail with the message, and it was this,
"Alsi bids Havelok go back to his own land and bide content therewith."

"What word is there for Goldberga, then?" asked Arngeir.

"None. She has thrown in her lot with the Dane, and it is he with whom
we will not deal."

Then said I, "How was it that she had to throw in her lot with Havelok?
He was Alsi's own choice for her."

"That is not what we have heard," the spokesman answered. "Now it is
best that you go hence, for you have the answer."

"This means fighting for Goldberga's rights," said Arngeir, "and I will
tell you that Havelok will not be backward in the matter."

"In that case we shall meet again on the battlefield ere long," answered
the thane. "I will not say that Havelok is in the wrong, and things
might have been better settled. Farewell till then. The Norns will show
who is right."

So we went, and I thought, as did Arngeir, that there was some little
feeling among his men that Alsi was wrong.

Now Alsi set to work to gather forces in earnest, and he went to work in
a way that was all his own: for, saying nothing about Goldberga, he sent
to all his thanes with word that the Vikings had come in force and
invaded the land, led by the son of Gunnar Kirkeban, whose ways were
worse than those of his father, for he spared none, whereas Kirkeban
harried but the Welsh Christian folk. He prayed them therefore to
hasten, that this scourge might be driven back to the sea whence he
came. And that brought men to him fast, for no Englishman can bear that
an invader shall set foot on his shore, be he who he may. Few knew who
the wife of Havelok was at that time, but I do not know that it would
have made so much difference if they had. None thought that into England
had come the fair princess who was so well loved.

Sorely troubled was Goldberga when she heard this answer, but it was all
that the rest of us looked for. And the next question was how best to
meet the false king.

In the end we did a thing that may seem to some to have been rash
altogether, but it was our wish to compel Alsi to fight before his force
was great enough to crush us. It might be long before Ragnar could raise
a host and join us, for there was always a chance that he might have
trouble in getting the Norfolk thanes to come to his standard for a
march on Lindsey. If we had gone to Norfolk at once there would have
been no fear of that kind, but the fighting might have been more bitter
and longer drawn out.

We sent the fleet southward into the Wash, that it might wait for us at
the port of the Fossdyke, on what men call the Frieston shore; and then
we left Saltfleet and marched across country to the wolds, and southward
and westward along them, that we might draw Alsi from Lincoln. And all
the way men joined us for the sake of Curan, whom they knew, and of
Goldberga, of whom they had heard, so that in numbers at least our host
was a great one. Ragged it might be, as one may say, with the wild
marshmen, who had no sort of training and no chiefs to keep them in
hand; but I knew that no host Alsi could get together had any such
trained force in it as we had in the fifteen hundred Vikings, for they
had seen many fights, and the ways of the sea teach men to hold together
and to obey orders at once and without hesitating.

So we went until we came to Tetford, above Horncastle town; and there is
a great camp on a hilltop, made by the British, no doubt, in the days
when they fought with Rome. There we stayed, for Alsi was upon us. We
saw the fires of his camp in the village and on the hillsides across the
valley, but a mile or two from us that night; and it seemed that his
host was greater than ours, as we thought it would be, but not so much
so as to cause dread of the battle that was to come.

Now there were two men who came to us that night, and we thought that
they had brought some message from Alsi at first. But all that they
wanted was to join Havelok, and we were glad of them. They were those
two seconds of Griffin's, Cadwal and the other, whose name was Idrys,
and with them was David the priest, who had fled to us.

"We know that Havelok is one who is worth fighting for," they said, "for

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Online LibraryCharles W. WhistlerHavelok the Dane A Legend of Old Grimsby and Lincoln → online text (page 19 of 21)