So one day I rode with Werbode, who was all eagerness to see the land (to which his forbears would not come when Hengist asked them, by the way, as he told me) across the great heaths that lie north and east of Thetford, with Erling after us, leading two greyhounds which had been lent us from the royal kennels. There were bustards in droves on these heaths, and roe deer to be found easily enough by those who had skill to seek them in the right places. The bustards were nesting; but that is the time when one can best course the great birds, and many a good gallop we had after them.
Whereby we lost ourselves presently, and made light of it until we had wandered for some hours, and then remembered that we had never seen a man of whom to ask the way back to the town. Of course we tried to make our way back by the sun, but ever there would seem to grow up a thicket or wood before us, which we must skirt, or some marshy lake shone across our path in a hollow of the heath; and it was slow work, and the horses grew weary as ourselves. The hounds trailed after us with bent heads, hardly rousing themselves to tug at the long leash when a hare scudded from its form away from us, for they had had their fill of sport by that time. And it grew near sunset before we met with any trace of man. There was not even a track across the wild upland which we could follow.
“We shall have to make a night out of it,” said I at last. “However, that will not matter. Here is game enough for us and to spare.”
“And no ale to wash it down withal,” said Werbode and Erling in a breath.
“Why, then, we will find the best water we can,” I answered; and we rode on our way looking for a clear pool.
And then the first sound which told us that any one was near came to us.
There rose from off to our left, where a patch of woodland lay, a cry that made each one of us rein in his horse and stare at the others.
“That was some one in dire distress,” said I.
“A woman crying for help,” said Werbode.
Then we forgot our own plight, and set spurs to our horses and rode toward the place whence the cry came. We heard it once more, and that quickened us. My horse pricked up his ears, and broke into a long stride that left the other two behind in a few minutes, as if he knew that there was need for dire haste. I had to ride carefully, too, for there were holes and great stones among the heather.
So I was the first to see what was amiss; and it seemed bad enough. Round the spur of the cover I came, and there before me I saw a wild throng of men, savage as any I have ever seen in the mines of our Mendips—bareheaded save for great shocks of black hair, barefooted and hoseless, dressed in untanned hides of deer and sheep, and armed with uncouth clubs and spears on rough ash poles. They did not hear my coming, and they had their faces from me at first. Twenty or more of them there were; and two horses rolled on the ground