My cousin stayed his horse also with a grip of the reins that brought him up short, and he also made an exclamation, but by no means for the same reason as myself.
“Ho!” he said, “what are these ships?”
Then he set his hand to his forehead and looked long at them from under it, while I watched them also, unknowing that there was anything unusual in the sight for one who lived so near the sea and the little haven of Weymouth below us.
“Well, what do you think of them?” I asked presently.
“On my word, I do not know,” he answered thoughtfully. “They are no Frisian traders, and I have never seen their like before. Moreover, it seems to me that they are full of armed men. See how the sun sparkles on their decks here and there!”
But we were too far off to make out more than that, and as we watched it was plain that the ships would make for the river mouth and haven.
“We will ride down and see more of them,” said my cousin. “I only hope—”
There he stayed his words; but I saw that his face had grown grave of a sudden, and knew that some heavy thought had crossed his mind.
“What?” I asked.
“It must be impossible,” he said slowly—“and this is between you and me—for it seems foolish. But have you heard of the northern strangers who have harried the Welsh beyond the Severn sea?”
I had heard of them, of course, for they traded with the Devon men at times, having settled in towns of their own in Wales beyond the Severn. It was said that they were heathen, worshipping the same gods whom our forefathers had worshipped, and were akin to ourselves, with a tongue not unlike our own at all, and easy to be understood by us. Also they had fought the Welsh, as we had to fight them; but one heard of them only as strangers who had naught to do with us Saxons.
“Well, then,” my cousin said, “suppose these are more of the northern folk.”
“If they are, they will have come to trade,” I said lightly. “But they will more likely be men from the land across this sea—men from the land of the Franks, such as we saw at Winchester the other day.”
“Maybe, maybe,” he said. “We shall see presently.”
So we rode on. I dare say we had four miles to go before we came to the outskirts of Weymouth village, and by that time the ships were in the haven. By that time also the Weymouth folk were leaving the place, and that hastily; and before we were within half a mile of the nearest houses we met two men on horseback, who rode fast on the road toward Dorchester.
“What is amiss?” cried my cousin as they neared us.
The men knew him well, and stayed.
“Three strange ships in the haven, and their crews ashore armed, and taking all they can lay their hands on. We are going to the sheriff; where is he?”
“Home at Dorchester. Whence are the ships? Have they hurt any one?”