“What can be done?”
“The man is one of a thousand, as it seems to me. Let us bid him leave the town and get back to Guthrum as he can.”
“He can have the Danish horses,” I said.
Now before sunset we had seen the Danish force, and our hearts sank. There were full ten thousand men, many of whom were mounted.
Then we rode back, and found the town in such tumult as it is not good to think on. There is nothing more terrible to see than such a flight, and in midwinter.
When we came to my lodging, Heregar went in to find Osmund. I would not see him again, lest Thora should weep. But in a few minutes he came out with the jarl.
“Here is a wise man,” said Heregar. “He says that he swore to keep the peace with Alfred, and he will do it. He and the Lady Thora will go with us. There are one or two also of the other hostages who blame him for returning. He cannot stay among the Danes here.”
Then I was very glad, and we made haste to have all ready for Thora’s comfort on the ride that might be so long. And so we rode out after the king along the road to Glastonbury, and I think that the Danes were in the town half an hour after we left it.
Next we knew that Danes were on the road before us, and that more were hard after us. Some had skirted the town in order to cut off the king, and were pursuing him. So we struck off the road into by-lanes that Heregar knew, resting at lonely houses as we went on. And when we came to Glastonbury at last, the king was not there, nor did any know of his fate.
Then we rode, with the Danes swarming everywhere, through the Sedgemoor wastes to Bridgwater, and found rest at Cannington, Heregar’s great house not far off.
Chapter IX. The Sign of St. Cuthberht.
I suppose that in our flight from Glastonbury to Bridgwater we passed through more dangers than we knew of; for Danes were hard after us, riding even into sight from the town that evening, and next day coming even to the eastern end of the old bridge, and bandying words with the townsfolk who guarded it. Across it they dared not come, for there is a strong earthwork on the little rise from the river, which guards both bridge and town, and in it were my Norsemen with the townsfolk.
So we were in safety for a time; and it seemed likely that we might be so for long if but a few men could be gathered, for here was a stretch of country that was, as it were, a natural fastness. Three hundred years ago the defeated Welsh had turned to bay here while Kenwalch of Wessex and his men could not follow them; and now it seemed likely that here in turn would Wessex stand her ground.