Now did Beltane divide the three hundred into five companies of sixty; over the first company he set Walkyn, over the second, Roger, over the third, Ulf, over the fourth Jenkyn o’ the Ford. Then spake he on this wise:
“Walkyn, take now these sixty good fellows and march you north-westerly yonder across the valley; let your men lie well hid a bow-shot within the forest, but do you stay upon the verge of the forest and watch for the coming of our foes. And when they be come, ’tis sure they will plant outposts and sentinels within the green, so be ye wary to smite outpost and sentinel suddenly and that none may hear within the camp nor take alarm; when ’tis done, cry you thrice like unto a curlew that we may know. Are all things understood?”
“Aye, lord!” they cried, one and all.
“Why then, be ye cautious each and every, for, an our foes do take alarm, so shall it be our death. March, Walkyn—away!”
Forthwith Walkyn lifted his axe and strode off up the slope until he and his sixty men had vanished quite into the glooming woods to the north-west.
“Jenkyn, didst hear my commands to Walkyn, so shalt thou do also—your post doth lie to the east, yonder.”
“Aye, master, and look’ee now—my signal shall be three owl-hoots, master, look’ee!”
So saying, Jenkyn turned, his sixty at his heels, and swung away until they were lost to sight in the woods to the east.
“Ulf the Strong, thy post doth lie south-westerly, and Roger’s south-easterly; thus I, lying south, shall have ye on my left and right: go get ye to your places, watch ye, and wait in patience for the signals, and when time for action cometh, be swift and sure.”
Away marched Roger and Ulf with their companies, and presently were gone, and there remained within the little valley only Beltane and his sixty men. Awhile he stood to look to the north and east and west but nought saw he save the dense gloom of forest growing dark and ever darker with evening. Then of a sudden turned he, and summoning his company, strode away into the forest to the south.
Thus, as night fell, the valley of Brand lay deserted quite, and no sound brake the pervading quiet save the wind that moaned feebly through those dark and solitary woods wherein Death lay hid, so very silent—so very patient, but Death in grim and awful shape.
HOW THE FOREST FOUGHT FOR THEM
A hum upon the night-wind, lost, ever and anon, in wailing gust, yet a hum that never ceased; a sound that grew and grew, loud and ever more loud until it seemed to fill the very night, a dreadful sound, ominous and threatening, a sound to shake the boldest heart—the ring and tramp of an armed, oncoming multitude.
Now, lying amid the leaves and fern with Cnut and the small man Prat beside him. Beltane presently espied certain figures moving in the valley below, stealthy figures that were men of Sir Rollo’s van-ward. Soft-creeping they approached the deserted camp, soft-creeping they entered it; and suddenly their trumpets brayed loud and long, and, dying away, gave place to the ring and trampling thunder of the advancing host.