It was the custom of the invaders to burn all their resting places when they left them, and to slay all captives, save such as could be held to ransom, or a few whom they detained in slavery, till they died a worse death from want and ill usage.
Thus they moved from spot to spot, until towards the middle of November they reached the coast opposite the Isle of Wight, in which unfortunate island they decided, after due consideration, to winter.
Opposite the host, across the Solent, rose the lovely and gentle hills of the “garden of England;” but between them lay the Danish fleet, in all its grandeur, calmly floating on the water. Each of the lofty ships bore the ensign of its commander; some carried at the prow the figures of lions, some of bulls, dolphins, dragons, or armed warriors, gaudily painted or even gilded; while others bore from their mast the ensign of voracious birds—the eagle, the raven—which appeared to stretch their wings as the flag expanded in the wind.
The sides of the ships were also gay with bright colours, and as the warriors embarked and hung up their bright shields, grander sight was never seen.
But chiefly Alfgar admired the ship of Sweyn, called the “Great Dragon.” It was in the form of an enormous serpent; the sharp head formed the prow, with hissing tongue protruding forth, and the long tail tapered over the poop.
In this ship Anlaf himself had his place, in deference to his descent, and Alfgar accompanied him. It may easily be imagined he would sooner have been elsewhere.
Scarcely a fishing boat belonging to the English could be discerned: the Danes made a desert around them.
Eight years before, in the year 998, they had wintered on the island, and since that time had regarded it as a Danish colony. No English remained in it save in the position of slaves, and the conquerors had accumulated huge stores of spoil therein, while they drew their stores of provisions from every part of the adjacent mainland.
“Is it not a grand sight, Alfgar?” exclaimed his father. “Are you not proud of your people, the true monarchs of the sea?”
Alfgar was for the moment inclined to sympathise; but he thought of the darker side of the picture, and was silent.
There was a higher glory far than all this, and it had left a lifelong impression on his soul.
The fleet bore the troops of savage soldiery safely—too safely—across the waters of the Solent, to the estuary formed by the Medina, where now thousands of visitors seek health and repose, and the towers of Osborne crown the eastern eminences. A fleet may still generally be discerned in its waters, but a fleet of pleasure yachts; far different were the vessels which then sought the shelter of the lovely harbour, beautiful even then in all the adornment of nature.