Even as I rose at his word, loath to leave my comrade, but knowing that I must, and while I still had my face from the gate, there came a blinding flash of lightning from the ragged black edge of the cloud overhead, and with it one short, awesome crash of thunder. The storm which had crept up behind us had broken on the hilltop.
After that crash came a dead silence, and then were yells of terror such as the fight had had no power to raise from men on either side. And among them one voice cried shrill that this was the work of Ethelbert, the slain king.
Then as the foe fled back the gates swung to, and I heard the bars clatter into their sockets, and Kynan came to me.
“Holy saints!” he said; “look yonder!”
I went a pace or two up the earthwork and looked over toward the foe. Some twenty yards from the gate lay as it were a blackened heap, round which reeled and staggered men with hands to blinded faces, and from which those who were unhurt fled in wildest terror down the hill, casting even their weapons from them. Save only those who could not fly, not one Mercian was staying.
“Yonder lies Gymbert,” Kynan said in a still voice. “The bolt struck him. It is the judgment of Heaven on him for that which he wrought in darkness.”
For a moment I looked and then turned away, with but one thought in my mind, and that was the knowledge that it was a good thing that the punishment of this man had been taken from our hands. I do not think that I took in all the terror of it at the time, for on that field there was death in so many forms—death brought needlessly by his contriving again, and in all injustice—and this end of his was to me but right and fitting. Some terrible fate the man deserved, and he had met it. Now I had my own friends to think of.
“See to Jefan!” I said to Kynan, without a word of Gymbert. “He fell at the gate, in the first onset.”
“My fault,” groaned the brother, “my fault. I should have waited his word before sallying out. I heard you call me back, too, and heeded not.”
He called some men, and they opened the gate and passed out hastily, while I knelt at the side of Erling. The old priest was trying to stay the bleeding from a great wound in his side; but he shook his head at me, and I knew that it was hopeless.
Erling knew it also.
“Get to the others, father,” he said; “I am past your heeding.”
“They will fetch me if I am needed, my son,” the old man answered. “There are few of us who cannot tend a common wound. I am but wanted at the last.”
“Ay, for the one thing,” said Erling, with a great light springing into his weary eyes. “For me also, father.
“Tell him, master.”
The old man looked at me, and I nodded. He was a British priest, and one had been told that they and our priests hated each other and quarrelled over deep matters; but what was that in this moment? Neither Briton nor Englishman, priest of St. David’s nor of Canterbury would heed that here and thus. He rose and went hurriedly, and we two were alone.