“Here is a gale coming,” said Kolgrim, looking at the sky and the whitening wave crests. “We had best get our ships into this haven while we can.”
It seemed that Thord was of the same mind, for now he was heading homeward, and the other Saxons were putting about and following him. So I got men into the best of the ships we had taken, and waited till Thord in Odda’s ship led the way, and so followed into Poole Harbour.
Well it was for us that we had refuge so handy. For by noonday the gale was blowing from the southwest, and two Danish ships were wrecked in trying to gain the harbour—preferring to yield to us rather than face the sea, with a lee shore, rocky and hopeless, waiting for them.
We went into the Poole inlet, which is on the eastern side of the wide waters of the haven, and there found good berths enough. The village was empty, save for a few Saxon fishermen, who hailed us joyfully. And then Odda made for us as good a feast as he might in the best house that was there, bidding every shipmaster to it. Merry enough were all, though we had but ship fare; for the Saxons had great hopes from this victory.
Now Odda made much of what I had done—though it was little enough—saying that I and my men deserved well of Alfred, and that he hoped that we should stay with him for this winter, which would perhaps see the end of the war.
“Why,” said I, “things would have been much the same if I had not been here.”
“That they would not,” he answered. “I should have blundered past this place in the night, and so lost the Danes altogether; or if I had not done that, they would soon have found out what state my men were in. You should have heard old Thord rate them into order; it is in my mind that he even called me—Odda the ealdorman—hard names in his broad Norse tongue. But at least he gave us somewhat more to think of than the sickness that comes of heaving planks that will by no means keep steady for a moment.”
He laughed heartily at himself, and then added:
“Good King Alfred thought not at all of that matter. Now I can shift the whole credit of this victory to your shoulders, and then he will not believe that I am the born sea captain that he would have me think myself.”
“I will not have that,” I said, “for I have not deserved it.”
“Ay; but, I pray you, let me put it from myself, else shall I be sent to sea again without any one to look to for advice,” he said earnestly, and half laughing at the same time. “I did but take command of this fleet because the king could find no one else at a pinch. Heaven defend me from such a charge again!”
“Now you have only the Exeter Danes to deal with,” I said.
“How many men might these ships have held?” he asked.
“Maybe five thousand,” I answered.
Thereat his face changed, and he rose up from his seat at the high table, and said that he would go down to see that the ships were safe, for the gale was blowing heavily as the night fell.