So we went outside the house, and called a man, telling him to find one of the Poole fishermen and bring him to speak to us.
“There were twelve thousand Danes in Wareham,” he said, “for more have come lately. I thought they would all have been in the ships.”
“If that had been possible, not one would have seen the morning’s light,” I answered, “for their ships are lost in this gale certainly.”
Now I will say that I was right. The wrecks strewed the shore of Dorset and Hants next morning; and if any men won to land, there waited for them the fishers and churls, who hated them. No Danish fleet was left in the channel after that gale was spent.
When the fisher came, he told us that as many more Danes were left in Wareham, and that those from Poole had fled thither when they saw what had happened to the fleet.
“Shall you march on Wareham and scatter them, or will they fall on us here?” I asked; for we had no more than two thousand men at most.
“I would that I knew what they thought of this business,” he answered; “but I shall not move tonight. It is far by land, and I suppose we could not get the ships up in the dark.”
So he posted pickets along the road to Wareham, and we went back to the house for a while. And presently, as it grew dark, a wild thought came into my mind. I would go to Wareham with a guide, and see what I could find out of the Danish plans. Maybe there were fewer men than was thought, or they might be panic-stricken at our coming in this wise; or, again, they might march on us, and if so, we should have to get to sea again, to escape from double our numbers.
Now the more I thought of this, the more I grew bent on going, for I was sure that we must know what was going on. And at last I took Odda aside while Harek sang among the men, and told him what I would do.
At first he was against my running the risk; but I told him that a Norseman might go safely where a Saxon could not among the Danes, and at last I persuaded him. Then I called Kolgrim, and we went out together into the moonlight and the wind, to find the fisherman we had spoken with already and get him to act as guide. I think that Odda did not expect to see either of us again; and when I came to know more of Saxons, I learned that he trusted me most fully, for many thanes would have thought it likely that I went on some treacherous errand.
Chapter IV. Jarl Osmund’s Daughter.
To my mind, no gale seems so wild as one that comes at the time of full moon, when the clouds break up and fly in great masses of black and silver against the deeper sky beyond, while bright light and deepest shadow chase each other across land and sea beneath them. Kolgrim and I stood under the lee of a shed, waiting for the fisher to get his boat afloat, and looked out on bending trees and whitened water, while beyond the harbour we could see the great downs, clear cut and dark, almost as well as by day, so bright it was.