“We kept the gate,” he said.
“Ay, we kept it; and all is well.”
“Jefan is not dead,” he said next; “he lay and watched it all. I could see him.”
Then across my shoulder he saw some one, and smiled. I turned, and there was Hilda, white and still, standing by us, and she set her hand on my shoulder. Then she bent toward my comrade.
“Ay, you two kept the gate, and all are praising you. They say that but for you the fort had been lost.”
The lightning came again, and after a second or two the thunder, close still, but not so terribly so. The rain would come presently, and I longed for it, but not yet. I dared not move Erling, and there was the priest to come.
Now he came, and with him brought that which was needed; and so we two knelt, and there came one or two Welshmen, gently, and knelt also, unlike our Saxons, who would have stood aloof, with bared heads indeed, but unsharing.
I will say naught of that little service. When it was ended Erling closed his eyes and sighed, as one who is content; and we waited for them to open again, but they did not. It was the first and last sacrament of the new-made Christian.
The priest ended his words, and looked at me. Hilda took her cloak and gave it to him, and he set it across my comrade, and that was all. He was Ethelbert’s first follower to the new place he had won, and that also seemed good to me.
Through the gate came Kynan, followed by four men who bore on a spear-framed stretcher their prince who had fallen.
“All well,” he called up to me cheerfully. “Naught but a broken leg from the fall, and no wound.”
Then the rain came, sweeping in a sheet across the open hilltop. Hilda took my arm.
“Come,” she said, “take me to the hut again. My father is well-nigh raving because he is too weak to fight. Once he rose and staggered to the door, and there fell. He cried to you as you stood alone with those savage men before you in the gate. Did you not hear him?”
So she spoke fast, and drew me away to the hut, and there Sighard bade me tell him all I might of the fight. It had been hard for him to lie and hear the din going on, to know that the battle was for Hilda and for him, and not to be able to share it. And he grumbled that the girl would not look out on it and tell him how it went.
“But I saw Wilfrid in the gate,” she said, “and I feared for him for a moment, until I saw that the foe feared him; and then I was proud. But Erling has gone, father.”
“A good man and steadfast,” Sighard said. “I think that you and I owe life to him and Wilfrid alike. It will be long before we forget him, or before you find such another comrade and follower, Wilfrid.”
More there was said of him at that time, but not too much. I had known him but a little while, but in that we had gone through peril together with but one mind. It hardly seemed possible that it was only a matter of six weeks since I took him from the Norwich marketplace.