“Now I think that all is well, Redwald,” the abbot said, “and every mile from the English shore takes us further from danger.”
And so we stood and talked in the waist of the ship, and Eadward came and joined us. The men ate their breakfast forward, and brought us some, and the two churchmen came out with the little atheling, and then Sister Sexberga, as I called her, came and shivered in the cold breeze and spoke to Bertric, who was alone on the after deck steering, and so went back to the cabin, where the queen had all things needful for breaking her fast.
Then Bertric whistled sharply, and I looked up at him. He pointed away to the eastward, and out to sea. There I saw far off on the skyline the sails of two ships that grew larger as I watched them.
I went to the break of the after deck and climbed up beside him.
“Men say that two ships passed westwards tonight, master,” he said. “Here be two more heading over from the south.”
“Can you tell what they are?” I asked him.
“Longships, as I think,” he answered. “We shall know betimes.”
The vessels hove up quickly, for our great brown sail bore us more or less across their course.
“It is safer to hold on, master,” he said, “for to up helm and fly would be to bring them after us if they are vikings. They will see that we are not laden with cargo, and will not pay heed to us therefore.”
It was but half an hour after that when we knew that the two ships were Danish war vessels, and that they were laying a fresh course to overhaul us. Nor was there any chance of our escaping them. They were thrice as fast as we.
Then I feared greatly, for I knew not what would happen. It might be that they would let our party go on, finding them to all seeming nought but church folk; but one could not tell, and I feared. So also did Elfric when I went to him and told him what these ships were, and that they were bearing down on us.
“We cannot fight,” he said. “We must let things be as the Lord will.”
“If any roughness is shown to the womenfolk,” I said, “there will be one man who will fight.”
“And will lose his life for naught,” he answered. “If the worst comes to the worst we must even do as the queen has bidden us before now. We must proclaim her, and then we shall be safe from harm, if captives to Cnut. Tell me, have you heard that he is cruel to those he takes?”
“Rather I have heard that he is not,” I said. “Moreover, if Emma of Normandy suffers aught at his hands he will have the duke to deal with very shortly.”
“Now are we in the Lord’s hands,” said Elfric, for a hoarse hail came from the leading ship, which was to windward of us. She was a splendid dragonship, bright with gold and colour.
“What will you have me do, master?” Bertric cried to me.
“They can do what they will with us whatever we try. We may fare better by obeying,” I said, for in truth there was nought else to do.