“Aye, truly, and gladly if they could pay well.”
“Now I will tell you that I am Earl Wulfnoth’s friend,” I said, “and you may know that pay is safe, therefore. I was at Pevensea when Olaf the Thick, the viking, came there.”
He took my word for my friendship with the earl, and then I arranged for all things to be ready for us in a week’s time. We had some rough country to cross before we came to Bosham, and I would not hurry over it. We wrangled over the price a little, as was fitting, for I would not seem too eager; but at last he said that he would depart on the morrow, and we shook hands and were satisfied.
“Speak not of this matter, friend Bertric,” I said, “or we may be waylaid by Danes off the haven’s mouth.”
“Little fear of that, master,” he laughed. “Our young Earl Godwine has beaten one or two ships already.”
Then I went back light hearted to my people, and when the queen heard what I had done her mood changed, and she was most gracious, and thanked me, saying that she feared that I had run into danger for her in going into the town. So I felt myself repaid in full for the little trouble, that had been without risk as it fell out.
Very fair was the great Andred’s-weald in the late April weather, but the forest tracts were rough and the way seemed long. Once we beat off, easily enough, some cowardly outlaws, but there were no Danes in Andred’s-weald, and we came to Bosham in safety.
There Bertric’s good ship was ready for us, and it happened that no other vessels, save fishing craft, were in the haven. I had looked to meet Godwine, my friend, but he and his ships were in Dorchester water, and there were few to mark our coming into the quiet town, or our going on board, which we did without delay.
We had no need of the stout housecarles, who had led the horses and served us so well, so the queen, as I asked her, gave them the horses as gifts in recompense for their journey, and so when they had gone we were few indeed. But there was room for few passengers in the buss. The queen and her ladies had the larger after cabin, and Elfric and the athelings and the two priests had that under the fore deck. I would remain on deck with Bertric and his crew of twenty men, but there was no hardship in that.
That night on Bertric’s ship was the first for three long weeks that had sound sleep for me, for they hauled out into the middle of the haven, and none could come near us unseen, and I was at last free from care and watching.
But one thing troubled honest Bertric, and that was that he had found a black kitten on board. None knew whence it came, and he said it was an ill sign. And he dared do nought but treat it well, since it had come.
When the early sunlight woke me, we were almost at the haven mouth, and slipping past Selsea, with its gray pile of buildings, on the first of the ebb tide. The wind was in the northeast, with a springtime coldness in it, but it was fair for Normandy, and there was no sea running under the land. We were well out at sea, therefore, ere Elfric, almost as worn out as I, came from his close quarters forward and stood by me, looking over the blue water of the Channel to where the Isle of Wight loomed to the westward.