I saw that I could keep up the pretence no longer.
“Let me walk behind you as your servant,” I said. “If any heed me, I pray you make what tale you can for me.”
“What can I say to you in thanks?” she cried quickly, and letting go my hand which she yet held. “If you are slain, it is my fault. Tell me your name at least.”
“Ranald Vemundsson, a Northman of King Alfred’s,” I said. “Now I am your servant—ever.”
Then Thora left my side suddenly, and ran forward to meet the foremost horseman—for they were close to us—calling aloud to Osmund to stay. And he reined up and leaped from his horse with a cry of joy, and took her in his arms for a moment.
I got my cloak around me, pulling the hood over my helm, and stood in the shadow where I was. I saw the jarl lift his daughter into the saddle, and the whole troop turned to go back. The footmen cast down their burdens where each happened to be, and went quickly after them; and I was turning to go my way also, when a man came riding back towards me.
“Ho, comrade,” he said, “hasten after us. Mind not the things left in the boat. There is supper ere we go.”
I lifted my hand, and he turned his horse and rode away, paying no more heed to me. That was a good tale of things left that Thora had made in case I was seen to be going back to the boat.
Then I waxed light hearted enough, and thought of my other plan. Kolgrim saw me coming, and the boat was ready.
“Have you flint and steel?” I said to the fisher as I got into the boat.
“Ay, master, and tinder moreover, dry in my cap.”
“Well, then, take me to those ships we saw. I have a mind to scare these Danes.”
It was a heavy pull against the sea to where they lay afloat now, though it was not far. I fired all three in the cabins under the fore deck, so that, as their bows were towards the town, the light would not be seen till I was away.
Then we went swiftly back to Kolgrim, and as I mounted and rode off, the blaze flared up behind us, for the tarred timbers burned fiercely in the wind.
“That will tell Odda that the Danes are flying. And maybe it will save Wareham town from fire, for they will think we are on them. So I have spoiled Jarl Osmund’s supper for him.”
Then I minded that this would terrify the Lady Thora maybe, and that put me out of conceit with my doings for a moment. But it was plain that she was brave enough, for there were many things to fray her in the whole of this matter, though perhaps it was because Kolgrim stayed beyond the river that she made so sure that I was a man of King Alfred’s and no friend to the Danes.
So we rode away, pleased enough with the night’s work, and reached Poole in broad daylight, while the gale was slackening. Well pleased was Odda to see me back, and to hear my news.
Then he asked me what I would do next. There seemed to be no more work at sea, and yet he would have me speak with King Alfred and take some reward from him. And I told him that the season grew late, and that I would as soon stay in England for this winter as anywhere.