Surely that was a voice singing! There was a strange melody I had never heard the like of, and it came from the brightness not far from me. I came back to knowledge of where I was with a start, trying to make out from which direction it sounded.
“This is a nixie trying to lure me to the depth,” I thought. “Truly, he need not take the trouble; for thither I must go shortly, without any coaxing.”
I turned myself in the water, trying to see if I could make out the singer, but I could not. Seeing that no other was likely to be swimming in Portland race but myself, I had no thought that the song was human.
But I could find nothing. When my face was seaward, I saw far off the ships I had left, indeed; and one seemed to have set her sail, for it showed as a square patch of blackness against the sky, but no voice could come from them to me. Presently I thought that somewhat dark rose and fell on the little waves between me and her, but that was doubtless the tunic I had given to the water. I did not think of wondering why I still saw it after all this long swim, but I seemed to have made no headway from the ships, which were as near as when I last looked at them.
So I turned again and swam easily, as I thought, shoreward. The song went on, but it seemed to ring in my ears as the drone of our miller’s pipes comes up from the river on a still summer evening. Yet it grew more plain.
Then I saw the ships before me. I was swimming in a circle, my right arm mastering the left, I suppose. That told me how weary I was, if I had not known it to the full before. At that moment the song, which was close to me, stopped, and a fiery arm rose from a wave top against the sky, and seemed to hail me.
“Ho, Wilfrid! have you had enough yet? By Aegir himself, you are a fine swimmer!”
Through the brightness came a sparkling head, round which the foam curled in fleecy fire; and shining as I shone, Thorleif the viking floated up to me and trod the water.
“What, you also?” I said. “Both of us drowned together at last?”
And with that I went into the brightness below me, and troubled no more for anything.
CHAPTER III. HOW WILFRID MET ECGBERT THE ATHELING.
It was indeed Thorleif whom I saw as the deadly faintness of utter weariness and want of food came over me, and I sank. The Danes had hardly lost sight of me from the ships, for they had drifted backward and forward on the tide as I drifted, and I was never more than a mile from them. Until the tide turned to the eastward there had been no wind of any use to them, and that which came with sunset was barely enough to give them steerage way. So they had watched me for want of somewhat else to do, being worn out with the long fight; and when I was far off, some keen-sighted seaman would spy my head as it rose on a wave, and cry that the Saxon was yet swimming.