“What will you do next in the matter of these Danes, however?” was my question.
Then he said:
“I must chase them through the country till they are within the king’s reach. He has the rest pent in Exeter, and there will be trouble if they sail out to join these. I must follow them, therefore, end send men to Alfred to warn him. Then he will know what to do. Now I would ask you to take the ships back into the river Exe and join us there.”
I would do that willingly, and thought that if the wind held fair after the gale ended, I might be there before he joined the king by land. But I should have to wait for a shift to the eastward before sailing.
So Odda brought his men ashore, and marched on Wareham and thence after the Danes, not meaning to fight unless some advantage showed itself, for they were too many, but to keep them from harming the country. And I waited for wind to take me westward.
Then the strange Norsemen left us. They had gained much booty in the Danish ships, for they carried what had been won from the Saxons, and what plunder should be taken was to be their share in due for their services. They were little loss, for they were masterless vikings who might have given trouble at any time if no plunder was to be had, and I was not sorry to see them sail away to join Rolf Ganger in France.
Now these men would have followed me readily, and so I should have been very powerful at sea, or on any shore where I cared to land. But Odda had made me feel so much that I was one in his counsel, and a friend whom he valued and trusted, that I had made this warfare against the Danes my own quarrel, as it were in his company. Already I had a great liking for him, and the more I heard of Alfred the king, the more I wished to see him. At the least, a man who could build ships like these, having every good point of the best I knew, and better than any ever heard of before, was worth speaking with. I thought I knew somewhat of the shipwright’s craft, and one thinks much of the wisdom of the man who is easily one’s master in anything wherein one has pride.
Moreover, Alfred’s men were wont to speak of him with little fear, but as if longing for his praise. And I thought that wonderful, knowing only Harald Fairhair and the dread of him.
Chapter V. Two Meetings in England.
It was not long before the shift of wind that I looked for came, and at once I took all the ships round to the river Exe. Odda had left me all the seamen he had, and they were enough for the short, fair passage. We came to the haven in the river, and there heard what news there was, and it was good enough. Odda had sent well-mounted men to reach the king by roads away from the retreating Danes, and he had been ready for them. He drew off his levies from before the walls of the town, and let his enemies pass him; then he and Odda fell on their rear and drove them into Exeter, and there was holding them. It was well done; for though the host sallied from the town to meet the newcomers, they gained nothing but a share in the rout that followed when Odda closed on the rear guard and the king charged the flank.