Now there seemed to be a grim joy in the faces of the men before me, and the Briton at my right fell. There was none left to take his place, and there were but three of us in the gate.
“Kynan! Kynan!” I cried, for in a moment he would find his retreat barred. I do not know whether any voice came from me, but I seemed to call him.
Then Erling and I were alone in the gateway, and the snarling Mercians leaped at us. The last Welshman had fallen, hurling his broken sword at a man who smote at me, and so staying the blow.
“A good fight for a man’s last, master,” said Erling to me through his teeth, standing steadily as a rock with his hacked shield linked in mine, and his notched sword swinging untiringly to the grim old viking war shout “Ahoy!” as it fell.
Kynan was twenty yards from us, and now I saw Gymbert among those whom he was steadily driving back.
A shadow swept over me, and it grew darker. I saw all the land below me lying in brightest sunlight, and then the great swift cloud shadow fled across it, though round us there was not a breath of wind. I think the men before us two shrank back a little at that moment, so that I had time to note all that went on, as a man will at such a time, and yet without taking his eyes from the foe before him.
That was but a breathing space. With a fresh yell the Mercians fell on us again, and I had three of them on me; and my hands were full, though they hampered one another. The old Wessex war cry which I had not heard for so long came back to me, and I shouted “Out! out!” and met them. There needed but a little time and Kynan would be on the causeway. His song rang close to us.
Erling reeled and steadied himself against me, and the Mercians howled. His war shout rang once, and then he fell across my feet, face downward, and I stood over him in a white rage, and set my teeth and smote. It came to me that there were more men on the causeway now, but that they would not near me. I was fending spearheads from me, and I forgot Kynan.
Then of a sudden those who were on me seemed to know that his song was in their very ears, and they looked round. His men were on the narrow gate path, and they were between them and me; and with that they yelled and fled into the ditch on either side the causeway, and I was aware that for a long minute I had kept the gate alone.
But I did not think of that. Out of the way of heedless, tramping feet of those who came back into safety I must get my fallen comrade, and I threw my sword within the gate and stooped and dragged him after it, setting him on one side, on the steep rampart bank, out of the way. He smiled and tried to speak, but could not; and even so much cheered me, for I had thought him dead.
Some one came swiftly and touched me as I bent over him, and I saw the old priest.
“Leave him to me,” he said. “See to Kynan now; there may be work yet for the lady’s sake.”