Then Eadmund bade our bowmen get to work; but the arrows were as nought against the long line that did but quicken its advance as they felt their sting here and there.
The Danes spread out along the hillside to surround us, and then when they had gained the summit they charged on us, and again we were hand to hand with them.
I suppose we fought so, without stirring from the place where we were, for half an hour. Our circle thinned, but never broke, and Dane after Dane fell or drew back to let fresh men come forward, and as we might we also sent fresh men from our inner ranks to relieve those who had grown weary. It was stern hand-to-hand fighting, and one knows how that will ever be—one of two men must go down or give way, and our men fell, but give way they would not.
I have said we were on the edge of the hilltop circle, and therefore the attack from the steep hill slope was weakest. And so it came to pass that presently the line against us there was thinned out, because men pressed upwards to the level, and then those Wessex thanes saw that we might break through and cut our way down the hill and make good our retreat.
Where Eadmund was I followed, and I know that I saved him once or twice from spear thrusts that would have slain him when he charged among the Danes, where they pressed us most hardly. Wearied was my arm, but sword Foe’s Bane bit through helm and harness, and once I was facing Ulf the jarl, and he cried out to me:
“Well smitten, Wulfnoth’s man!”
For he knew me. And I looked for Egil, that I might call him to come and win the sword from me, but I could not see him; and a foolish fear that some other than he might get the good blade got hold of me, for I had no doubt that I must fall, and no fear thereof, save that. And why I longed for Egil thus was, I think, because of utter weariness and loss of hope.
Then they pushed us as it were over the hill edge, and we began to go down, and I knew at once what would come next.
The line of Danes on the hill slope gave way before us and left the way clear; and at first we went slowly and in good order, and then they charged on us down the hill with crushing weight of numbers.
And so we fled. I saw the Wessex thanes catch Eadmund’s bridle, and they turned his horse and spoke to him. And he threatened them with his sword for a moment; but they were urgent, and at last he fled. And I, knowing that if we could keep back the Danes but for a few minutes longer he might escape, cried to what chiefs were left to us, and we rallied on the hillside for a last stand.
Then my horse reared and fell back on me, and I heard a great shout, and the rush of many feet passed over me, and Ashingdon fight and aught else was lost in blackness.
Chapter 15: The Shadow Of Edric Streone.
“The man is dead,” said a rough voice. “Let him bide.”