They saw what was done, and roared, and charged on us; and we began to retreat slowly, fighting all the way, up the long slope of land towards the fort. But I saw Heregar’s horse rear and fall, and the banner went down, and I thought him slain in that attack.
Presently they let us go. We won ever to better ground, and they had to fight uphill; and then we gained the fort, and there they durst not come.
Then rode towards me a man in silver armour that was dinted and hacked—shieldless, and with a notched sword in his hand. It was Heregar.
“I thought you slain, friend,” I said gladly.
“Would that I were! for my charge is lost; they have my banner,” he answered.
“That may be won back yet,” I said. “But there is no shame to you; we were outnumbered by more than two to one.”
“I have borne it through ten battles,” he said, and that was all; but he put his face in his hands and groaned.
Now I looked out over the field we had left, and saw the Danes scattering in many ways. Some were going in a long line up the steep hill beyond which the village lay, and over this line swayed and danced the lost banner. There was a crowd of our men from the broken wings gathered there—drawn together by the king as he fled, as I knew afterwards; and I think the Danes bore our banner with them in order to deceive them. I knew that the lane was deep and hollow up which they must go, and there were woods on either side.
Whereat I sprang up.
“Thane,” I said, “here is a chance for us to win back the banner, as I think.”
He looked up sharply, and I pointed.
“Let us ride at once into the wood, and wait for them to pass us. Then, if we dare, we can surely dash through them.”
Kolgrim sat close to me, and our horses were tethered to a spear. He rose up when he heard me speak, saying:
“Here is more madness. But trust to Ranald’s luck, thane.”
Then in a few more minutes we were riding our hardest towards the wood. I heard Odda shout after us from the entrance to the fort as we went, but we heeded him not.
We edged up to the deep lane through the trees until we were so near that we could almost see into it. The banner was at the head of the column, and there were no mounted men with it. Hubba had brought no horses with him from across the sea.
Then we waited for a long minute, hearing the tramp of the coming men, and their loud talk and laughter as they boasted of their prize. They were going very carelessly.
“If we get it,” I whispered to the thane, whose eyes were shining, “ride hard up the hill to our folk who are there.”
He nodded and then before us fluttered the folds of his treasure. Instantly he spurred his great white horse, and leaped straight at it into the lane, and after him on either side came Kolgrim and I.
A great howl rose from the startled Danes, and I saw Heregar wheel his horse and tear the banner from the man who held it, cutting down another warrior who tried to catch his bridle. Then Helmbiter was hard at work for a moment, and Kolgrim’s axe rattled on a helm or two; and we were away up the lane before the shouting and confusion were over, none of the Danes knowing but that more of us would follow from out the cover.