A sudden clamour in the air! A clash of arms! A running of swift feet and Walkyn sprang betwixt them, his face grimed with dust and sweat, his armour gone, his great axe all bloody in his hand: “Master!” he cried, “in Winisfarne lieth Pertolepe with over a thousand of his company, I judge—and in the woods ’twixt here and Winisfarne is Hollo of Revelsthorne marching on us through the woods with full five thousand of Ivo’s picked levies, new come from Barham Broom!”
TELLETH HOW THEY MARCHED FROM THE VALLEY OF BRAND
Within the camp was prodigious stir, a fanfare of trumpets and hoarse commands, where archers and pikemen, knights and men-at-arms were mustering; but nowhere was hurry or confusion, wherefore Beltane’s heart rejoiced and he smiled glad-eyed as he came where, before Sir Benedict and the assembled council, stood Roger and Ulf with fifteen of their twenty men.
“Walkyn,” said Sir Benedict, what time his esquire strapped and buckled him into his bright armour, “where-abouts do they hold their march?”
“Scarce twenty miles from here due west, lord.”
“Ha, and they come through the forest, ye say?” questioned Sir Brian, “so shall they move more slowly, methinks.”
“Why see you, messire,” said Walkyn, “they march by way of Felindre that was once a fair town, and from Felindre is a road that leadeth through the wild unto this valley of Brand.”
“So have we, I judge, ’twixt six and seven hours,” quoth Hacon of Trant.
“Less, Hacon, less!” said Sir Benedict, beginning to stride up and down in his clanking armour, “Sir Rollo ever rideth with busy spur, and he will doubtless push on amain nor spare his men that he may take us unprepared. Put it at five hours, Hacon, mayhap less!”
“’Tis so I pray!” said Beltane, glancing towards the glowing west, “and in two hours it will be dark, my lords! Walkyn, thy company doth lack for five, meseemeth?” “Aye, master—for five; two fell in Winisfarne where I lay in bonds; other three were slain in the pursuit.”
“Saw Sir Rollo aught of thee?”
“Nay, lord, we lay well hid.”
“’Tis very well. Are they many?”
“Of horsemen I counted full three thousand, master.”
“And I, lord,” quoth Ulf, “did reckon over two thousand foot.”
“’Tis a fairish company!” said Sir Brian.
“And I do lack my sword-arm!” sighed Sir Benedict, “but my left hath served me well ere now.”
“And Sir Pertolepe lieth yet in Winisfarne!” said Beltane thoughtfully.
“Aye,” nodded Sir Benedict, “and shall march south to cut off our retreat if haply any of us escape Sir Rollo’s onfall.”
“So should we strike camp and march forthright,” said Sir Brian.
“March—aye, but whither?” questioned Sir Hacon. “We are threatened on two fronts and for the rest, we have the trackless wilderness! Whither would’st march, Brian?”