Then one ship left the rest and came swiftly towards us, under oars. And when the ship drew near, we saw that she bore the banner of Ethelred himself.
So the fair plans that had been made had come to naught, and when Olaf understood this his face grew dark with anger, and he said:
“Almost would I leave this foolish king to go his own way without help of mine. But I have promised Eadmund, and I must keep my word. Henceforward I shall know what I must look for.”
Little, therefore, had Olaf to say to Ethelred when they met, nor would he go on board the English ship, but Ethelred must come to him. Eadmund was at his father’s side, and his face was very wrathful, for he felt even as did Olaf.
“London is ours already,” Ethelred said. “Wherefore I would join you.”
“London by this time may be in other hands,” answered Olaf; “but we shall see when we get there. Now must there be no more time lost but we must make all speed up the river, tarrying nowhere.”
So we sailed on. When we came to Greenwich there were no Danes there, nor any Danish ships. I went ashore in a boat, and asked the men I saw what was become of them. And they told me that Thorkel’s fleet had sailed northward on Swein’s death, and that the thingmen whom he had left in the place had gone to London.
“That is as I thought,” said Olaf. “Now there will be more trouble in driving them out than there has been in letting them in.”
When we came at last in sight of London Bridge I knew that Olaf was right, for since the Danes had gained the city they had not been idle. They had built a great fort on the Southwark side of the river, girt with a wide moat, and all the stronger that the walls thus surrounded were partly of timber and stone. The road from across London Bridge runs through this fort, so that one might by no means pass over it until the place was won. And at the other end of the bridge the old Roman walls of London itself were far too strong for our force to take by storm.
But the strangest thing to me was to see what they had done to the great timber bridge itself, for they had made that also into a fortress. The old railing along the roadway was gone, and in its place were breast-high bulwarks of strong timber, and on each span of the bridge was a high wooden tower whose upper works overhung the water, looking downstream, as if they feared assault from the river itself.
We came up to the Pool on a good flood-tide, and as we dropped anchor there we saw all this, and, moreover, that the place was held by the Danes in force. The red cloaks of Cnut’s thingmen were on bridge and walls and fort alike, and no few of them in either stronghold. There was work before us if we would win the place for our king.
Before any word had come to Olaf of what should be done, Eadmund had gone ashore with all his warriors, and had fallen on the Southwark earthwork. It was Olaf’s first thought to follow him, but he held back.