So, not only those who survived of the fifty who had left Aescendune the previous morning, but all whom they could persuade to join them, actuated separately by the same considerations, made their way in small detachments through the forest towards the hall. Redwald had thoroughly earned the confidence of all his warriors, and they would follow him to death or victory with equal devotion. Now, in adversity, they only sought to put themselves once more under the rule of their talented and daring chieftain.
Therefore it was that while Father Cuthbert was yet kneeling in the chapel, where the body of the departed thane had been placed, the devotions of the good priest were disturbed by the blowing of horns and the loud shout whereby the first fugitives sought admittance into the castle.
Redwald had also been up nearly all night pacing his room, muttering incoherently to himself. Over and over again he regarded intently a locket containing a solitary tress of grey hair, and once or twice the word “Avenged” rose to his lips.
“And they little know,” said he, soliloquising, “who the avenger is, or what have been his wrongs; little know they how the dead is represented in the halls of his sire—blind! blind! Whichever way the victory eventually turn, he is avenged.”
While he thus soliloquised he was aroused by the same noise which had disturbed Father Cuthbert’s devotions, and, recognising its source, betook himself to the gateway, where some of his own soldiers were on guard, who, true to discipline, awaited his permission to allow their comrades to enter: it is needless to say it was readily given.
Broken and dispirited was the little troop of ten or a dozen men, who first appeared in this manner after the fight; their garments torn and bloody, some of them wounded, they yet raised a shout of joy as they saw their trusted leader.
“Whence come ye, my comrades in arms?” said he, “and what are your news —you look like men who have fled from battle.”
“We did not fly till all was lost.”
The countenance of Redwald indicated some little emotion, though it was transient as the lightning’s flash in the summer night.
“The king—is it well with him?”
“He has fled with a small troop to the south.”
“Saw you aught of Elfric of Aescendune?”
“He fell in the last charge of the cavalry.”
“We think so.”
“How is it that you have suffered yourselves to be beaten?”
“Had you been there it might have ended differently. We became the aggressors, and attacked a superior force, while they had all the advantage of ground.”
“Come in. You must first have some food and wine; then you shall tell me all. We may need your help here, and shall be glad of every able-bodied man.”
“More are on the road.”
And so it proved, for party after party continued to fall in. The solemn quiet, which so well befitted the house of mourning, was banished by the presence of the soldiery in such large numbers, for early in the day nearly a hundred and fifty were gathered together, and accommodation threatened to fall short.