Edmund raised himself in the stirrups.
“Englishmen! brethren!” he cried, “you see your foe, the ruthless destroyers of your land and kinsfolk; the pagan murderers of your archbishop, the sainted Alphege. God will help them that help themselves. It shall be ours to strike one glorious blow for liberty and for just vengeance on this field. I vow to the God of battles I will conquer or die.”
He took off his helmet and looked solemnly to Heaven, as he called on the Supreme Being to register his vow, and a deep murmur of sympathy arose around, until it found loud utterance in the cry, “We will conquer with our king or die,” from a thousand voices, until the glorious enthusiasm spread throughout the camp. Glorious when men fight for hearth and altar.
Edmund looked proudly around.
“With such warriors,” he said, “I need not fear Canute.”
The trench and mound were completed, but the enemy did not advance. He planted his black raven banner two miles off in the plain, arranged his forces, and halted for the night.
“We must fight tomorrow at dawn of day,” said Edmund. “Now, bid the campfires be lighted; we have plenty of meat and bread, mead and wine; bid each man eat and drink his fill. Men never fight well on empty stomachs. Then return yourself to my side, and share my tent this night; perhaps—perhaps—for the last time.”
“If so, woe to England—woe!” said Alfgar. “But I have confidence that her day of tribulation is passing from her. The blood of the martyred saints cries aloud for vengeance on the Danes.”
CHAPTER XXI. EDMUND AND CANUTE.
The watch was duly set; campfires were lighted, and joints of meat suspended over them; barrels of wine and mead were broached, for all the country around contributed with loving willingness to the support of its defenders; and when hunger was appeased the patriotic song arose from the various fires, and stirring legends of the glorious days of old, when Danes and Norsemen fled before the English arms, nerved the courage of the men for the morrow’s stern conflict.
Around the fire kindled next the tent of Edmund sat the warrior monarch himself, with all the chieftains, the ealdormen, and lesser thanes who shared his fortunes.
The minstrels and gleemen were not wanting here, but none could touch the harp more sweetly than Edmund himself; and, the banquet over, he sang an ancient lay, which kindled the enthusiasm of all his hearers, and nerved them to do or die, so that they longed for the morrow.
Before it was over the trumpet announced some event of importance, and soon a messenger brought the tidings to Edmund that a large force was advancing from the west.
All rose to look at them, not without anxiety; as yet they were far distant, across a wild moor, but as they drew nearer, and their standards could be more clearly discerned, it became gradually evident that it was a reinforcement; and so it proved, for heralds, galloping forward, announced the men of Dorsetshire.