Now came Sir Benedict to grasp Ulf’s great hand.
“Forsooth, hast done a great and noble thing!” quoth he. “Thy twisted body doth hide a great and manly soul, meseemeth, so ne’er shalt lack for friend whiles Benedict doth live!”
And after Sir Benedict came many other knights and esquires of degree, to bring him of their own viands and press upon him rich and goodly wine. In so much that Ulf grew hot and awkward, and presently stole away to eat with Roger in a quiet corner.
But now within the market-place was sound of song, of jest and laughter, where bow-strings were looked to heedfully, sword-belts buckled tighter, mail-coifs laced the closer, stirrup-chain and saddle-girth carefully regarded, whiles ever and anon all eyes turned where Beltane sat among the older knights, Sir Benedict beside him, hearkening to their counsel. And presently he rose and lifted his hand, whereat the trumpets blared and, thereafter, with ring of hoof and tramp of foot, marched they forth of Winisfarne, the sun bright on helm and shield, a right gallant array.
And at their head rode Ulf the Strong.
TELLETH OF THE ONFALL AT BRAND
By wild and lonely ways Ulf led them, through mazy thicket, o’er murmurous rill, through fragrant bracken that, sweeping to their saddle-girths, whispered as they passed; now rode they by darkling wood, now crossed they open heath; all unerring rode Ulf the Strong, now wheeling sharp and sudden to skirt treacherous marsh or swamp, now plunging into the gloom of desolate woods, on and on past lonely pools where doleful curlews piped, nor faltered he nor stayed until, as the sun grew low, they climbed a sloping upland crowned by mighty trees and thick with underbrush; here Ulf checked his horse and lifted long arm in warning, whereon the company halted, hard-breathing, yet very orderly and silent.
Forthwith down lighted Beltane with Sir Benedict and Ulf who pointed before them with his finger.
“Lords,” said he, “beyond yon trees is a valley and in the valley the tower of Brand, the which you may see from the brush yonder—aha! and hear also, methinks!”
And indeed the air was full of a strange droning sound that rose and fell unceasing, a drowsy, ominous hum.
“Ah, Benedict,” said Beltane, frowning a little, “I like not that sound! Summon we our wisest heads, for here is matter for thought and sudden action methinks!”
Hereupon Sir Benedict beckoned to his five chiefest knights and they together followed Ulf’s broad back up the slope until they were come within the little wood; and ever as they advanced the strange hum grew louder, hoarser—a distant roar, pierced, ever and anon, by sharper sound, a confused din that was the voice of desperate conflict. Presently Ulf brought them to the edge of the little wood and, parting twig and leaf, they looked forth and down. And what they saw was this: