Chas. W. Whistler
This story is not about myself, though, because I tell of things that I have seen, my name must needs come into it now and then. The man whose deeds I would not have forgotten is my foster-brother, Havelok, of whom I suppose every one in England has heard. Havelok the Dane men call him here, and that is how he will always be known, as I think.
He being so well known, it is likely that some will write down his doings, and, not knowing them save by hearsay, will write them wrongly and in different ways, whereof will come confusion, and at last none will be believed. Wherefore, as he will not set them down himself, it is best that I do so. Not that I would have anyone think that the penmanship is mine. Well may I handle oar, and fairly well axe and sword, as is fitting for a seaman, but the pen made of goose feather is beyond my rough grip in its littleness, though I may make shift to use a sail-needle, for it is stiff and straightforward in its ways, and no scrawling goeth therewith.
Therefore my friend Wislac, the English priest, will be the penman, having skill thereto. I would have it known that I can well trust him to write even as I speak, though he has full leave to set aside all hard words and unseemly, such as a sailor is apt to use unawares; and where my Danish way of speaking goeth not altogether with the English, he may alter the wording as he will, so long as the sense is always the same. Then, also, will he read over to me what he has written, and therefore all may be sure that this is indeed my true story.
Now, as it is needful that one begins at the beginning, it happens that the first thing to be told is how I came to be Havelok’s foster-brother, and that seems like beginning with myself after all. But all the story hangs on this, and so there is no help for it.
If it is asked when this beginning might be, I would say, for an Englishman who knows not the names of Danish kings, that it was before the first days of the greatness of Ethelbert of Kent, the overlord of all England, the Bretwalda, and therefore, as Father Wislac counts, about the year of grace 580. But King Ethelbert does not come into the story, nor does the overlord of all Denmark; for the kings of whom I must speak were under-kings, though none the less kingly for all that. One must ever be the mightiest of many; and, as in England, there were at that time many kings in Denmark, some over wide lands and others over but small realms, with that one who was strong enough to make the rest pay tribute to him as overlord, and only keeping that place by the power of the strong hand, not for any greater worth.