“Here is one who knows the hill well,” I said; “maybe he will guide us.”
And then the lightning showed the horseman close to us. He reined up, and cried in a great voice:
“Ho, strangers! are you wandering here?”
“Ay; we are lost till the storm passes. Can you guide us to shelter before the rain comes?” I said.
“Whence come you?” he asked.
“We are Alfred’s men from Taunton—going to the thane’s house at Cannington.”
“Ay, is that so? Then I will guide you. Follow,” he said, and he rode on.
One could see him plainly when the lightning came, and it showed a tall man, grey bearded, and clad in a long hooded horseman’s cloak, under which gleamed golden-shining mail. Well mounted on a great horse he was also, and its sides were white with foam on the dark skin, as though he had ridden hard.
We mounted and went after him, with the lightning playing round us and glancing from the mail of our leader as his arm threw the cloak back over his shoulder from time to time. He led us along the hill crest northward, crossing the places where the fire beacons had been; and we wondered whither he was taking us, for shelter here was none. And now the storm grew wilder, with the wind and chill of coming rain.
Then he turned downhill, riding fast until we came to a place where rocks lay loose and scattered everywhere, and our horses stumbled among them. There he reined up suddenly, holding up his hand, and shouting through the uproar of wind and thunder:
“Hold, for your lives! Hearken!”
We stayed motionless, listening, and again we heard the cry and clang of Odin’s hunt, coming now from inland over us, and I made the sign of the Cross on my breast, in fear thereof.
“Ho for Odin’s hunt!” the strange man cried, in his mighty voice. “Hear it, Alfred’s men, for you shall join it and ride the wind with him if you defy him.”
“We fear him not,” said Harek; “he has no power over us.”
“Has he not?” the man roared, facing full upon us; and as he did so the lightning glared on him, and I saw that his drawn sword was aloft, and that from its point glowed a blue flame, and that blue flames also seemed to start from his horse’s ears. One-eyed the man was also, and he glowered on us under shaggy eyebrows.
Harek saw also, and he raised his hand towards the man and signed the holy sign, crying:
“Speak! who are you?”
Thereat the man gave a hoarse roar as of rage, and his horse reared, trampling wildly on the loose rocks, and, lo, he was gone from before our eyes as if he had never been, while the thunder crashed above us and below us everywhere!
“Odin! the Cross has conquered!” Harek cried again, in a voice that was full of triumph; and the blood rushed wildly through me at the thought of what I had seen.
Then Harek’s horse shifted, and his hoof struck a great stone that rolled as if going far down the hill, and then stopped, and maybe after one could count five came a crash and rattle underneath us that died away far down somewhere in the bowels of the hill. And at that Osmund shouted suddenly: