At that he seemed to form some sudden resolve; and calling to them, he rode straight at Thorleif and griped him by the collar of his mail shirt, crying that he arrested him in the name of Bertric the king. Thorleif never struggled, but twisted himself round strongly, and hauled the sheriff off his horse in a moment, and the two rolled over and over on the ground, wrestling fiercely. Three or four of Beaduheard’s men rode up to their master’s help in haste, caring naught that a dozen of the Danes had sprung forward. There was a wild shouting and stamping, and the horses went down as the axes of the Danes flashed. Two more of the sheriff’s men joined in, and I saw the Danes hew off the points of their levelled spears. Then into the huddled party of our men who were watching the fight—still doubting whether they should join in or fly—rode a dozen Danes from out of the country, axe and sword in hand, driving them back on the main line of the vikings, and then the fight seemed to end as suddenly as it began. Two or three horses went riderless homeward, and that was how Dorchester learned that Beaduheard the sheriff had met his end.
The Danes fell back into their places, one or two with wounds on them; and Thorleif rose up from the ground, shaking his armour into place, and looking round him on those who lay there. They were all Saxons. Not one had escaped.
“Pick up the sheriff,” he said to some of his men. “I never saw a braver fool. Maybe he is not hurt.”
But, however he died, Beaduheard never moved again. Some of the Danes said that a horse must have kicked him; Thorleif had never drawn weapon.
“Pity,” said Thorleif. “He was somewhat of a Berserk; but he brought it on himself.”
Which was true enough, and we knew it. Neither Elfric nor I had a word to say to each other. The whole fight had sprung up and was over almost before we knew what was happening.
Then the Danes mounted the horses of the men who had fallen, caught the others they had turned loose on the alarm, and were off on their errands without delay. The ranks fell out, and went back to their work as if nothing had happened, and the wharf buzzed with peaceful-seeming noise again.
That is how the first Danes came to Wessex. Men say that these three ships were the first Danish vessels that came to all England; and so it may be, as far as coming on viking raids is concerned. Wales knew them, and Ireland, and now our turn had come.
CHAPTER II. HOW WILFRID KEPT A PROMISE, AND SWAM IN PORTLAND RACE.
All the rest of that afternoon we two had to bide on the narrow fore deck of the long ship, watching the pillage of the little town. Once I waxed impatient, and asked my cousin if we might not try to escape, seeing that little heed was paid to us, and that our staying here as hostages had been of no use. But he shook his head, telling me that until he had spoken with Thorleif or Thrond, to whom we had passed our word, we must bide; which I saw was right.