Some said that it was of no use, but then Havelok answered that even so it was good to send a challenge to him.
“For the sake of peace we will do this, though I would rather meet him in open fight, for I have my father to avenge.”
Now I rose up and said, “Let me go and speak with him, taking Withelm as my counsellor. For I know all the story, and that will make him sure that he has the right man to fight against. I will speak with him in open hall, and more than he shall learn how he thought to slay Havelok.”
All thought that this was good, and I was to go at once. It was but a few hours’ ride, as has been said, to his town, and the matter was as well done with.
So they gave me a guard of twenty of the jarl’s courtmen, and in half an hour I was riding northward on my errand. And to say the truth I did not know if it was certain that I should come back, for Hodulf was hardly to be trusted.
I did wait to break my fast, and that was all, for I had no mind to spend the night on the road back from the talk that I should have had; but though I wasted so little time, the people were already beginning to prepare for rejoicing in their own way with games of all sorts and with feasting in the open. I saw, as we rode down the street, the piles of firewood that were to roast oxen whole, and near them were the butts that held ale for all comers. There were men who set up the marks for the archers, and others who staked out the rings for the wrestling and sword play. And as we left the town we met two men who led a great brown bear by a ring in his nose, for the baiting. I was sorry for the poor beast, but the men called him “Hodulf,” already, and I thought that a good sign in its way.
Another good sign, and that one which could not be mistaken, was to see the warriors coming in by twos and threes as the news reached them. They were dotted along the roads from all quarters, and across the heaths we saw the flash of the arms of more.
And ever as they met us they hailed us with, “What cheer, comrades? Is the news true? Is Havelok come to his own?” and the like, and they would hurry on, rejoicing in the answer that they had.
But I will say that presently, when we passed a stretch of wild moor where we saw no man, the same was going on towards the town of Hodulf; for if the news came to a village, some would be for the king that was, and other and older men for the king that might be. Yet all asked that question; and more than once, when they heard the reply, there would be a halt and a talk, and then the men would turn and cast in their lot with the son of Gunnar, hastening to him with more eager steps than had taken them to Hodulf.