Little rest and much care had I all the way thus. I will not write it, but will go on to the time when we came safely in sight of Winchester town. I could not enter it with my charges, but must needs go by myself, for here I should learn more sure news than anywhere. And what I might learn would decide whether I could take ship in Southampton Water or turn eastwards a little and go to Portsmouth or Bosham havens.
Now I knew that the Danes held the place in force, and so I told the queen. But to pass by her royal city seemed more than she could bear, and she wished and commanded us to ride in and call on her citizens to rise and protect her.
“Queen of England I am and will be,” she said. “I have borne indignity long enough.”
“My queen,” I said, “if you see Winchester you will not see Normandy.”
Then Elfric spoke with her, and at last she wept, saying that she was deserted, and the like, and so turned sullen, bidding us give her up to the Danes, who would respect a queen in distress.
Having seen this manner of submission to counsel not once or twice before, I put on a franklin’s dress, and gave sword Foe’s Bane into Eadward’s keeping, and took a hunting spear instead, and went down into the town, leaving my party ten miles away in a nook of the wooded hills.
The scarlet-cloaked Danish thingmen at the gates paid no heed to me, for it was market day, and many countryside people were going in and out. So I went to the marketplace, and sat down on a bench outside an inn with others and listened to all that I could, while I drank my ale and ate as did the rest.
Some I talked with. There was little hatred of Cnut here, as I found. There was some change, too, in the ways of the thingmen, for it was not their plan here to make themselves hated and feared as in East Anglia.
Then came a man whose face and walk were those of a seaman, and he sat down close to me, and I pushed the ale mug towards him, and we began to talk of his calling. He had come to Winchester to find some merchant who needed a ship, as it seemed, and he began, as a good sailor will, to praise his own vessel with little encouragement.
I found out from him that Southampton Water was full of Danish vessels, and so I asked where his own lay.
“In Bosham haven,” he said. “Earl Wulfnoth will have no Danes in his land. I must get some safe conduct from the Danish folk here if I come into the Water. So being tired of doing nought I even rode up to this place to see if aught could be managed for a voyage.”
Now I thought that I was in luck’s way, for from this man, who seemed honest enough, I could perhaps gain all I wanted. His ship was a great buss, fitted with a cabin fore and aft under the raised decks, and I could wish for no better chance than this might be.
“Would you take passengers for Normandy instead of goods?” I asked him carelessly.