“It seems to me that there are jealousies already among your thanes concerning me, and I will not be the cause of any divisions among your folk. Yet I would help you, and here is what I can do. I will see that no landing is made on these southern shores while you are northward, for if you beat Cnut he will take ship and come to Essex or Kent; or maybe even into the Thames again. Give me authority to command here until you return, and I think I can be of more use than if I went with you.”
So that was what was done in the end, and Olaf was named as captain of the ships and of any southern host that he might be able to raise, and Olaf asked that I might stay with him.
That our atheling granted gladly, telling me that it was for no lack of wish on his part to have me at his side, as ever of late, but that I should take a better place with the king my kinsman than among the crowd of thanes who were round Ethelred. Then he took his own sword from his side and gave it me.
“Farewell therefore for a while, Redwald, my comrade,” he said when he went away. “You have helped me to tide over many heavy hours that would have pressed sorely on me but for your cheerfulness. When peace comes you shall have your Anglian home again, with more added to its manors for the sake of past days and good service.”
That was much for the atheling to say, and heartily did I thank him. Yet I had grown to love Olaf my kinsman better than any other man, and I was glad to be with him, away from the court jealousies and strivings for place. There was little of that in Olaf’s fleet, where all were old comrades, and had each long ago found the place that he could best fill.
So the levies marched on Gainsborough, and Olaf bided in the Thames and gathered ships and men till we had a fair fleet and a good force. Then came the news that Cnut and all his host had taken ship and fled from England without waiting to strike a blow at Ethelred, and our folk thought that this was victory for us. But Olaf rode down to the ships in haste, and took them down to Erith, while his land levies followed on the Kentish shore. For he thought it likely that Cnut did but leave Ethelred and his armies in Lindsey while he would land here unopposed.
Then came a fisher’s boat with word that Cnut’s great fleet was putting into Sandwich, but before we had planned to throw our force between him and London came the strange news that again he had left Kent and had sailed northwards.
We sailed then to Sandwich to learn what we might, sending two swift ships to watch if Cnut put into the Essex creeks. But at Sandwich we found the thanes whom Swein had held as hostages left, cruelly maimed in hand and face, with the message from Cnut that he would return.
“He may return,” said Olaf, “but if all goes well he will find England ready for him. There is some trouble in Denmark or he would not leave us thus.”