Now it is hard to me to think of what passed so close to me while I was helpless. But I saw nought of the battle that was at Pen-Selwood, and even as I heard thereof from men who had left the levy, the greatest battle of all was being fought within a morning’s ride of us, at Sherston.
Two days that battle raged, and all men say that Eadmund would surely have chased the Danes in the end to their ships, but for a trick of Edric Streone’s. It was another count in the long score against him, and I seemed to see that the words of the witch of Senlac were coming true—his shadow was over our king, for ill in all things.
The battle was going against Cnut—once Eadmund himself had cut his way through the press of Danes before their king, and had almost come to hand strokes with him, but had been borne back. And then Streone’s eyes lit on one Osmer, a warrior of the Danish host, standing near him, and he saw that he was like our king. Therefore he slew him, and set his head on a spear, and rode forward to where the English line pressed most hardly on the Danish ranks. There he raised the head aloft, shouting in his great voice:
“Fly, English, fly! Eadmund is dead. Know his head!”
Then for a moment panic seized our folk, and they held their hands, and in that pause Ulf the jarl charged among them, and the line was broken and flight began.
But Eadmund unhelmed when he heard the cry that he was slain, and rode through the ranks, and our men knew him, and cheered, and fell on the Danes afresh, and the broken line closed up, and they fought till night fell, and in the night the Danes drew off. And in the night by twos and threes, and then in companies, Eadmund’s levies melted away from him, for his men were worn out and sick of slaughter, and knew not enough to bid them stay to follow their foes and turn retreat into rout, and doubt into victory. The Danes were going, they saw and heard; what need to stay longer?
So it came to pass that nothing was wrought by that awful fighting, and both sides claimed victory, for our men deemed that they had won, and the Danes claimed it because they were not followed, and because Ulf the jarl had cut through our line.
It was through this last that I lost Godwine as a companion. For Ulf lost himself in the forest that was in the rear of our forces, because he followed the flying too far, and the dusk of the evening was close at hand. He thought that the victory was surely won, for it had ever been that the first sign of flight was followed by rout of our men. At least the Danes learnt this at Sherston, that Eadmund could hold his own against them.
So Ulf the jarl wandered all night in the wood, and came out of it on the hillside where Godwine was speaking to one of his father’s shepherds. And Godwine brought him, unknowing who he was, back to Berkeley.
Then maybe came into Wulfnoth’s mind that rede of the witch of Senlac, that bade Godwine mind his sheep, and so find his place, or else this was part of the plan which had brought him into Wessex. For he asked Ulf to take Godwine to Cnut, and find him a place in his court, and the jarl did so. It was not until Godwine came to the ships that he knew who it was that he had guided, and they won him over, and he stayed.