Read CHAPTER XIV. ELGAH THE FISHER of A Thane of Wessex, free online book, by Charles W. Whistler, on ReadCentral.com.

Now men have said that this plan of mine needed no ghost to set it forth, but is such that would enter the mind of any good leader. That might be so had there been one there who knew the country as I knew it, but there was not. And I was no general as was Eanulf. However that might be, I tell what happened to me in the matter, and sure am I that but for Matelgar’s bidding I had never thought of this place or plan.

But once Ealhstan had heard thereof, the thought of it seemed ever better to him. And when we were fairly marching along the level towards Bridgwater he called me, and began to talk of that business of spying out the crossing place.

Now I too had been thinking of that same, and asked him to let me go at once, taking one man with me. Then would I rejoin him as best I might, and close to the place where I might fix on means of getting over.

Now there seemed little danger in the matter, for our spies had reported no Danes on this side of Parret, for they kept the water between us and them, doubtless knowing that Osric had gone to Brent at first, and thinking it likely that another levy might be made. So the bishop, not very willingly, as it seemed to me, let me go, as there was none else who could go direct to the point as I could without loss of time, even as Osric told him.

Then I gave the standard into Wulfhere’s hand, and must seek one to go with me. First I thought of Wislac, but he was a stranger, and then my eyes lit on my collier, and I knew that I need go no further. So I called him, and taking him aside while the men streamed past us, looking at my silver arms and speaking thereof to one another told him what we had to do.

Whereat his eyes sparkled, and he said that it was good hearing.

“But, master,” he went on, “take off those bright arms of yours and let us go as marshmen. Then will be no suspicion if the Danes see us from across the water.”

That was wise counsel, and we left our arms in a baggage wagon, borrowing frocks from the churls who followed us, and only keeping our seaxes in our belts.

Then Dudda found a horse that was led with the wagons, and I bade the man whose it was lend it to him, promising good hire for its use. And so we two rode off together across the marshland, away by Burnham, while the levy held on steadily by the main road.

Then was I glad that I had brought the collier, for the marsh was treacherous and hard to pass in places. But he knew the firm ground, as it were, by nature, and we went on quickly enough. Now and then we passed huts, but they were empty; for away across the wide river mouth at Burnham, though we rode not into that village, we could see the six long black ships as they lay at Stert, and the smoke of the fires their guard had made on shore.

But on this side of the river they had been, for Burnham was but a heap of ashes. They had crossed in their small boats, doubtless, and found the place empty.

Then at last we came to a hut some two miles off in the marshes from Combwich, and in that we left our horses, giving them hay from the little rick that stood thereby. To that poor place, at least, the Danes had not come, for the remains of food left on the table showed that the owners had fled hastily, but in panic, and that none had been near the place since.

Now Dudda would have us take poles and a net we found left, on our shoulders, that we might seem fishers daring to return, or maybe driven by hunger to our work. For we must go unhidden soon, where the marshland lay open and bare down to the river, the alder and willow holts ceasing when their roots felt the salt water of the spring tides. But we had been able to keep under their cover as far as the hut.

So we went towards the river, as I had many a time seen the fishers go in the quiet days that were past; and we said little, but kept our eyes strained both up and down the river for sign of the Danes.

But all we saw was once, far off on Stert, the flash of bright arms or helm; and there we knew before that men must be.

On Combwich hill was no smoke wreath of the outpost fires I had feared, nor could I see aught moving among the trees. Then at last we stood on the river bank and looked across at the little haven. All the huts were burnt and silent. There were many crows and ravens among the trees above where they had stood, and a great osprey wheeled over our heads as we looked.

“No men here,” said my comrade, “else would not yon birds be so quiet.”

But I could see no boat, and my heart sank somewhat; for nothing was there on this bank wherewith to make the raft of which Wulfhere spake.

Then said I: “Let us swim over and see what we can find.”

Now it was three hours after noon, or thereabouts, and the tide was running out very swiftly, and it was a long passage over. Nevertheless we agreed to try it, and so, going higher up the stream, we cast ourselves in, and swam quartering across the tide.

A long and heavy swim it was, but no more than two strong men could well manage. All the time, however, I looked to see some red-cloaked Dane come out from the trees and spy us; but there was none.

Then we reached the other bank, and stood to gain breath, for now we were in the enemy’s country, and tired as we were, we threw ourselves down in the shelter of a broad-stemmed willow tree, on the side away from the hill and village.

In a moment the collier touched my arm and pointed. On the crest of the hill stood a man, looking down towards us, but he was unarmed, as well as I could see, and, moreover, his figure seemed familiar. We watched him closely, for he began to come down towards us, and as he came nearer I knew him. It was one of the Combwich villeins a fisher of the name of Elgar.

Now I would speak with him, for he could tell me all I needed; yet I knew not if he had made friends with the Danes, being here and seeming careless.

We lost sight of him among the trees, and the birds flew up, croaking, from them, marking his path as yet towards us; and at last he came from behind a half-burnt hut close to us. Then I called him by name.

He started, and whipped out a long knife, and in a moment was behind the hut wall again. So I knew that he was not in league with the enemy, but feared them. Therefore I rose up and called him again, adding that I was Heregar, and needed him.

Then he came out, staring at me with his knife yet ready. But when he saw that it was really myself he ran to meet me with a cry of joy and knelt before me, kissing my hands and weeping; so that it was a while before I could ask him anything. Very starved and wretched he looked, and I judged rightly that he had taken to the woods from the first.

Presently he was quiet enough to answer my questions, and he told me that at first the Danes had had a strong post on the hill above us; but that, growing confident, they had left it these two days. But there were many passing and repassing along the road, bringing plunder back to the ships. He had watched them from the woods, he said.

Also he told me that even now mounted men had ridden past swiftly, going to the ships, and from that I guessed that Eanulf’s force had been seen at least, and tidings sent thereof.

Then I asked him if any boats were left unburnt, and at that a cunning look came into his thin face, and he answered:

“Aye, master. Three of us were minded to save ours, and we sank them with stones in the creek before we fled. But the other two are slain, and I only am left to recover them.”

Now that was good hearing, and I bade the men show me where they lay, and going with him found that now the water was low, we could see them and reach them easily. There were two small boats that might hold three men each, and one larger.

Then I told Elgar how I needed them for this night’s work, and at first he was terrified, fearing nothing more than that his boats should be lost to him after all. But I promised him full amends if harm came to them, and that in the name of Osric, which he knew well. And with that he was satisfied.

So with a little labour we got the two small boats afloat, and then cast about where to hide them; for though Elgar said that the Danes came not nigh the place, it was likely that patrols would be sent out after the alarm of Eanulf’s approach, and might come on them.

At last Elgar said that there was a creek half a mile or less up the river, and on the far side, where they might lie unseen perhaps. And that would suit us well if we could get them there. And the time was drawing on, so that we could make no delay.

Then out of a hollow tree Elgar drew oars for both boats, and we got them out into the river, and Dudda rowing one, and Elgar the other, in which I sat, we went to the place where they should be, keeping under the bank next the Danes. And it was well for us that the tide was so low, for else we should surely have been spied.

Yet we got them into the creek, Elgar making them fast so that they would rise as the water rose. Then he said he would swim back, and if he could manage it would raise the large boat and bring that also.

So without climbing out from under the high banks of the creek he splashed out into the tideway, and started back.

Now Dudda and I must make our way along to the horses, and so we began to get out of the creek, which was very deep, at this low ebb of the water, below the level of the meadows. Dudda was up the bank first, and looked towards Combwich. Then he dropped back suddenly, and bade me creep up warily and look also, through the grass.

So I did, and then knew how near an escape we had had, for there was a party of Danes, idlers as it seemed, among the burnt huts, turning over the ashes with their spears and throwing stones into the water.

Then I saw Elgar’s head halfway across the river, and knew he could not see the Danes over the high bank. He was swimming straight for them, and unless he caught sight of one who stood nearest, surely he was lost. It was all that I could do to keep myself from crying out to him; but that would have betrayed us also, and, with us, the hope of our ambush. So we must set our teeth and watch him go.

Then a Dane came to the edge of the high bank and saw him, and at the same moment was himself seen. The Dane shouted, and Elgar stopped paddling with his hands and keeping his head above water.

Now we looked to see him swim back to this bank, and began to wonder if the enemy would follow him and so find us. And for one moment I believe he meant to do so, and then, brave man as he was, gave himself away to save us; for he stretched himself out once more and began to swim leisurely downstream, never looking at the Danes again; for now half a dozen were there and watching him, calling, too, that he should come ashore, as one might guess. But Elgar paid no heed to them, and swam on.

They began to throw stones, and one cast a spear at him, but that fell short. Then the bank hid him from us; but we saw a Dane fixing arrow to bowstring, and saw him shoot; but he missed, surely, for he took another arrow and ran on down the bank.

Then Dudda pulled me by the arm, and motioned me to follow him, and I saw no more.

Now the creek wherein we were ran inland for a quarter mile that we could see, ever bending round so that our boats were hidden from the side where the Danes were. Up that creek we ran, or rather paddled, therefore, knee deep in mud, but quite unseen by any but the great erne that fled over us crying.

Hard work it was, but before the creek ended we had covered half a mile away from danger, and looking back through the grass along the bank could see the Danes no longer. Yet we had no surety that they could not see us, and therefore crawled yet among grass and thistles, along such hollows as we could find.

At last we dared stand up, and still we could see no Danes as we looked back. And then we grew bolder and walked leisurely, as fishers might, not daring to run, across to that hut where the horses were. And reaching that our adventure was ended, for we were safe, and believed ourselves unnoticed if not unseen, for there was no reason why the Danes should think aught of two thralls, as we seemed, crossing the marsh a mile away, and quietly, even if they spied us.

After we reached our horses, there is nothing to tell of our ride back to the bishop. We overtook him before dark, where his men were halted two miles from Bridgwater, on the road, waiting for word from Eanulf.

Much praise gave he to me and the collier for what we had done, as also did Osric. And we, getting our arms again, went back to our own places well content; eager also was I to tell Wulfhere and Wislac of all that had befallen, and how I had boats for the crossing.

And when they heard how Elgar the fisher had swam on, rather than draw attention to the place where we two lay, Wulfhere nodded and said: “That was well done,” and Wislac said: “Truly I would I could do the like of that. Much courage is there in the man who will face a host with comrades beside him against odds; but more is there in the man who will go alone to certain death because thereby he will save others.”

Even as we talked there came riding a man from Bridgwater, going fast, yet in no great hurry as it seemed. He rode up to us, for there was the standard, and asked for the bishop, having word from Eanulf for him; and Guthlac told Ealhstan, who came up to speak to him, bidding us bide and listen.

What the man had to tell was this. That the Danes had, in some way, had word of the march of our levies, and had straightway gathered together, or were yet gathering from their raidings here and there, on the steep hill above Bridgwater, having passed through the town, or such as was left thereof after many burnings. And it was Eanulf’s plan to attack them there with the first light, if the bishop would join him with his levy.

Then the bishop asked if there had been any fighting. And the man said that there had been some between the van of our force, and the rear of the Danish host; but that neither side had lost many men, nor had there been any advantage gained except to clear the town of the heathen.

Having heard that, Ealhstan bade me go aside with him, and called Osric and some more of the thanes to hold a council. And in the end it was decided that Osric should take on the bulk of the levy to join the ealdorman, while the bishop and I, and two hundred of the men, should try that crossing at Combwich.

“For thus,” said Ealhstan, “we can fall on the Danes from behind if they stand or in flank if they retreat.”

And except that the bishop would go with me, this pleased them well enough; but they tried to dissuade him from leaving the levy. But he laughed and said that indeed he was only going on before it, for to reach him they would have to go clear through the Danes where they stood thickest, and when they reached the standard, victory would be theirs.

Then they cried that they would surely not fail to reach him, and so the matter was settled, and the thanes told this to their men, who shouted and cheered, so that this seemed to be a good plan after all.

Now the bishop rode among the men, calling out those whom he knew well, and bidding the thanes give him their best, or if they had no best, such as could swim, and very shortly we had full two hundred men ranged on one side of the road, waiting with us, while the rest went off towards Bridgwater, the bishop blessing them ere they started. And as they went they shouted that we should meet again across the ranks of Danes.

When they were gone the bishop bade us rest. And while we lay along the roadside he went up and down, sorting out men who could swim well, and there were more than half who could do so, and more yet who said they were swimmers though poor at it.

Then he told me his plan. How that the men who could not swim must go over first in the boats, and then the arms of the rest should be ferried over while they swam, and so little time would be lost: but all must be done in silence and without lights. So we ate and slept a little, and then, when it grew dark, started off across the meadows. And there the collier guided us well, having taken note of all the ground we had crossed in the morning, as a marshman can.

It was dark, and a white creeping mist was over the open land when we reached it. But over the mists to our left we could see the twinkle of Danish watchfires, where they kept the height over Bridgwater; and again to the right we could see lights of fires at Stert, where the ships lay. But at Combwich were no lights at all, and that was well.

Presently we reached a winding stretch of deep water, and though it was far different when I saw it last, I knew it was the creek in which our boats lay, and up which Dudda and I had fled, full now with the rising tide.

We held on down its course until Dudda told me in a low voice that we were but a bowshot from the boats, and that now it were well for the men to lie down that they might be less easily noticed.

So the word was passed in a whisper down the line, and immediately it seemed as if the force had vanished, as the white mist crept over where they had stood.

Now Dudda and I went down to the boats and there found, not the two we had left only, but a third and larger one beside them. And at first this frightened us, and we stood looking at them, almost expecting armed men to rise from the dark hollows of the boats and fall on us.

Then I would see if such were there, and stepped softly into the nearest. It was empty, and so was the next, and these were our two. Dudda came after me, and he hissed to me under his breath. The oars had been muffled with sacking.

Now none but a friend would have done this, unless it was a most crafty trap to take us withal; and yet to leave the boats as they were had been surer than to meddle with them, if such was meant.

Now Dudda, perplexed as I, though in my heart was a thought that after all Elgar had escaped, stepped into the large boat, and there he started back so suddenly as almost to overturn it, smothering a cry. Then was silence for a moment, while I for my part drew my dagger. Then I saw him stoop down, and again he hissed to me. The boats were afloat, and I drew that I was in up to the big boat.

“Oh, master,” said Dudda, whispering, “surely this is Elgar the fisher!”

And I, peering into the dark bottom of the boat could see a dark still form, lying doubled over a thwart, that seemed to me to bear likeness to him.

“Is he dead?” I asked.

“Aye, master, but not long,” answered the collier; feeling about.

“Ah!” he said, with a sort of groan, “here is a broken arrow in his shoulder, and in his hand somewhat to muffle the oars withal. Well done, brave Elgar well done!”

Then I climbed softly over the gunwale, and so it was. Wounded to death as he had been by the arrow shot, he had yet in some way contrived to get this boat here, and afterwards to use his last strength in muffling the oars, and so died, spent, before he could end his task!

And for him I was not ashamed of weeping, thinking there in the darkness, as we bore him hastily to the bank and laid him beyond the reach of hurrying feet to come, of how he must have been shot, and so at once feigning death have floated, or perhaps stranded on the mud, till the Danes were gone, and then returned in spite of pain and growing weakness to do what he had set himself for the sake of his country.

But there was no time for more than thought, and now that we knew the boats safe, I went back to the bishop, and told him that all was ready. And he, ever thoughtful, had told off skilful men to row the boats over, and though now we must have enough for three, he had found six or eight oarsmen, and there was no delay, though they must work with less change, and the tide was still making, so that the pull to Combwich creek would be hard.

Then ten men went softly to the boats, and at the last I bade them pull across to where they might, not making for the creek, and in a minute or two they were gone into the mist and darkness.

Then came crawling to the river bank some six or eight men, strong swimmers, and would have tried to cross; but I bade them wait till the next boatloads went over, so that they might cross beside them, and cling to the gunwale if the stream was too strong. However, though most knew that was good counsel, two must needs try it, and one got across, nearly spent, and the other came back, clinging to the first boat to return, else had he been drowned, and it was a lucky chance that the boat met him.

Now the man who rowed this first boat reported that there was silence, and no sign of Danes, on the other side, and so also did the rest as they came. After that the crossing went on quickly, men swimming beside the boats, and in an hour and a half all were over.

When we found that all was safe, the bishop bade me cross with the standard, and so keep the men together. He himself came last of all.

When Wulfhere came, swimming beside the boat in which sat Wislac, he took three men and went quietly to Combwich, which was nearly half a mile from where we landed, and was back presently, reporting all quiet.

Then Dudda and the other rowers sank the boats, lest they should be seen by chance, and so betray us and our crossing.

Now we went I leading through this place I knew so well round the head of the little creek, and so on up the hill, walking in single file almost, and very silently. And when we topped the hill there before us, among the tree trunks, glowed a little fire, and round that sat six Danes, wrapped in their red cloaks, and, as I could see, all or most of them asleep.

At that I stopped, and the line behind me stopped also, making a clatter of arms as men ran against one another in the dark.

One of the Danes stirred at that, and looked up and round; but he could see nothing, and so folded himself up again. Then I saw that they had an ale cask.

Now I knew that this post must be surrounded and taken, and whispered to Wulfhere, who was next me, what to do. And he answered that he would manage it, bidding me stand still. Then he went down the line, whispering in each man’s ear, till he had told off twenty men, and them he sent off right and left into the darkness and I was left with Wislac standing alone, watching the Danes.

I kept my eyes fixed on them till they seemed to waver and grow dim, so intently did I watch them; and then all of a sudden there was the sound of a raven’s croak, and into the firelight and on those careless watchers leapt Wulfhere and his men from all around.

There was one choked cry, and that was all, and Wulfhere beckoned to me. I advanced, and the line closed up and followed.

Now we stood on Combwich hill, and all was well so far. Ealhstan came up to me, unknowing of what had caused the halt, being over the brow of the hill, and when he knew, said it was well done, and that now we might rest safely for a time.

So we bade the men sit down, and those who were wet made up the fire afresh: for there was no need to put it out, but rather reason for allowing the Danes to see it burning, as if in safety.

When we three sat by the bishop, Wislac asked what we were to wait for, and, indeed, that must be the next thought.

Then said the bishop that after a while he would take the force to the woods that overhung the roadway, and so wait for the Danes as Eanulf and Osric drove them back; but that it was not more than midnight yet.

Then came a little silence, and in that I seemed to hear the sound of footsteps coming up the hill from Combwich, and bade the others listen. And at the same time some of the men heard the sound, and started up to see who came. But they were the steps of one man only, walking carelessly.

Into the light of the fire stepped one, at the sight of whom the men stared, though Wislac laughed quietly. It was that young thane who had wanted to fight my friend Wislac on the day of the council. He was very wet, and tired, throwing himself down beside us when he saw where we sat.

Ealhstan asked him who bade him come, and how he had followed us.

“Nearly had I forgotten a dispute I have with Wislac the Thane here. Wherefore I asked no man’s leave, but followed you just too late for the crossing. So needs must swim. And here am I to see that Wislac counts fairly, and that he may have the same surety of me.”

Whereat we were obliged to laugh, and most of all the bishop, because he would fain have been angry, and could not. Then the thane, whose name was Aldhelm, asked who was the slain man over whose body he had well-nigh fallen on the other side of the river. So I told them of Elgar the fisher and of his brave deeds, and they were silent, thinking of what his worth was; too great indeed for praise. Only the bishop said he should surely have a mound raised over him as over a warrior, charging us three, or whichever lived after this fight, to see to that.

Now we slept a little, posting sentries at many points, and giving those next the Danes on either side the red cloaks of the picket we had slain, lest daylight should betray them. It was in all our minds that at daybreak our men would attack from Bridgwater, driving the Danes back on us, and so we should fall on them while they were retreating, and complete the victory. So we had men on the hill overlooking the road to Bridgwater through Cannington that they might give us the first warning.

Therefore I slept quietly, and all with me. And as I slept I dreamed.

It seemed that I was standing alone on Brent Hill and from that I could look all over the land of Somerset, as an eagle might look, but being close to everything that I would see. And I saw all that I had done since I stood there as a prisoner, watching myself curiously in all that I did, and yet knowing all the thoughts that drove me to deed after deed.

And so through the mirk wood till I turned and slew, and armed myself, and tormented my prisoner; then to the collier’s hut, and my talking with the child; then on till I saw the lights of the viking ships and so thereafter bore the war arrow everything, till at last I saw myself sleeping under the trees, on the top of this hill of Combwich, and there I thought my dream would surely end; but it did not.

For now out of the shadows came Matelgar and stood beside me and waked me, and he told me that when the tide was out I must be up and doing. And so he passed. And the old crone, Gundred, came out of the shadows, and sat on her bundle of sticks and looked at me, and she too bade me be up and doing when the tide was low. And she looked at the standard that lay beside me, and said, “Aye, a standard; but not yet the Dragon of Wessex”; and so she, too, faded away.

And then came Alswythe, and as she came, it seemed, as I looked, that I stretched my arms to her; but she smiled and said, “Love, when the tide is out, I shall be praying in the abbey for you and your men.”

And then from beside her came Turkil, the little child, smiling also, but hanging to Alswythe’s dress as he said, “Warrior, when the water falls low, my father will call me from the hill, and I will pray for you and for him.”

So these two were gone. And at that I seemed to see our men lie in Bridgwater, and there was Turkil’s father, the franklin, sleeping with the rest. But up and down among them went Eanulf the Ealdorman, watching ever.

Then fled I, as it were, to that hill where lay the Danes, and on the road thither I saw Osric and twenty men, looking up at the fires that burnt where the enemy lay.

And then I looked on those fires, and there were no men round them.

One shook me by the shoulder, and my dream went.

It was Dudda, and his eyes were bright in the firelight.

And over Brent the first streaks of dawn were broadening, and the mists were gone.

“Master, master,” he said, “come with me to the roadway. Something is afoot.”

Then I woke Wulfhere, asking him to wait for me, guarding the standard, and followed my man swiftly to the place where the road cuts the hill. And there was a knot of the men, standing and listening.

I listened also, and far off towards Cannington I could hear the sound of the tread of many feet, for the morning was still and quiet; and the men said that this was growing nearer.

Then knew I that the Danes were falling back to the ships without risking battle, and my dream came back to me, with its vision of unguarded watch fires, and it seemed to me that surely, unless we could stay them, they would depart with the tide as it fell.

“How is the tide?” asked I of the men round me.

“Failing now,” said one who knew, “but not fast.”

Then I remembered things I had hardly noted in years gone by. How the tide hung around Stert Point, as though Severn and Parret warred for a while, before the mighty Severn ebb sucked Parret dry, and how the ebb at last came swift and sudden.

“When the tide is low,” said they whom I had seen in my dream.

And in a moment I recalled the first fight, and the words of Gundred, and I knew that we had the Danes in a trap.

They were marching now in time to gain their ships and be off as the last man stepped on board, with the full draft of the ebb to set them out to sea beyond Lundy Isle, into open water. Nor had they left their post till the last moment, lest our levy should be on their heels, or else some more distant marauding party had not come in till late.

I went back to Wulfhere and told him this, and in it all he agreed.

And, as we whispered together, Ealhstan sat up, asking quickly, “Who spoke to me?” and looking round for one near him, as it seemed.

“None spoke, Father,” said I, “or none but Wulfhere to me, whispering.”

“What said Wulfhere?”

“That the tide was failing,” I answered.

The bishop was silent for a moment, and then he said:

“I heard a voice, plainly, that cried to me, ’Up! for the Lord has delivered these heathen into your hands’.”

“We heard no such voice, Father,” I said, “but I think it spoke true.”

Now the light was broadening, making all things cold and gray as it came. And quickly I told Ealhstan what I had heard, and what both I and Wulfhere thought of the matter.

“Can we let them pass us, and so fall on them as they gain the level land of Stert?” asked Ealhstan, saying nothing more.

“That can we,” I answered. “They will keep to the road, and we can draw back to the edge of the hill, so taking them in flank as they leave it.”

For the hills bend round a little beyond the place where the road falls into the level below Matelgar’s hall.

“So be it,” said the bishop. “Go you, Wulfhere, and see how near the host is, and come back quickly.”

When he was gone the bishop bade me wake the men. And at first I was for going round, but by this thane Wislac had waked, and had been listening to us: and he said that if I would let him wake the men he could do it without alarm or undue noise. Only I must raise the standard and bid them be silent. At that the bishop smiled and nodded, and I raised the standard, and waited.

Then Wislac stood up and crowed like a cock, and instantly the men began to turn and sit up, and as their eyes lit on the standard raised in their midst, became broad awake, each man rousing the next sleeper if one lay near him. And there was the bishop, finger on lip, and they were silent.

“Verily I thought on the hard chapel stones,” muttered Guthlac, the lay brother, behind me.

“It is the war chime, not the matin bell, you shall hear this morning,” said one of his brethren.

“That is better mea culpa,” said Guthlac, clapping his hand on his mouth to stop his own warlike ejaculation.

Then came Wulfhere back, swiftly. Barely a mile were they from the hill, he said, and coming on quickly in loose order. Moreover, a horseman had passed, riding hard to the ships, doubtless to bid them be ready. But that would take little time, for these vikings are ever ready for flight, keeping their ships prepared from day to day.