We were above a little cliff of red rock that went down to the valley of the Ashbourne brook. And all the valley from side to side was full of the morning mists so that it seemed one lake, while the woods were bright with the change of the leaf, from green to red and gold—oak and beech and chestnut and hazel each with its own colour, and all beautiful. The blue downs rose far away to our left across the ridges of the forest land, and inland the Andred’s-weald stretched, rising hill above hill as far as one might see, timber covered. There were trees between us and the village that we sought; but above its place rose a dun cloud of smoke from some houses fired that night by those who held it, and that was the one thing that spoiled the beauty of all that I saw.
Now Olaf and I spoke of all this, whispering together, for we were close to the village, and already we had heard voices from thence as men woke. For Olaf was ever touched by the sight of a fair land lying before him. And while he spoke, a man seemed to rise out of a cleft of the rocks below us, and climbed up to us, and bowed before us, saying that he was to guide us.
He was a great man, clad in leather from head to foot, and carrying a sledgehammer over his shoulder. That and a billhook stuck in his belt were his only weapons.
“I am Spray the smith,” he said, in a low voice. “The earl is ready, and the thane also. The knaves are all drunken with our ale, and we may fall on them at once.”
“Have they no watch kept?” asked Olaf wondering.
“Are there Danes with them?”
“Aye; half are Danes. But I met one of them last night and spoke to him peacefully, being stronger than he, and I said that vikings had come to Pevensea, and that the earl was minding them. So they fear no one.”
Then came a herdsman’s call from the woods beyond the village, and the smith said:
“That is the thane. Fall on, master, and fear nought.”
Whereat I laughed, and the men sprang up. The smith led us for a hundred paces through the beech trees and then across the brook, and the steep slope up to the village was before us. There was a little, ancient earthwork of no account round the place, but if there had been a stockade on it, it was gone.
Then came a roar of yells and shouts from the far side, and we knew that the work had begun, and ran up the hillside. Then fled a man in chain mail out of the place, leaping over the earthworks straight at us, unknowing.
Spray the smith swung his hammer, not heeding at all the sword in the man’s hands. Sword and helm alike shivered under the blow, and the man rolled over and over down the hillside.
“That is the first Dane I ever slew,” said Spray to me as we topped the ridge.
Then we were in the village and among a crowd of wild-looking, half-armed forest men, who fled and yelled, and smote and cried for quarter in a strange and ghastly medley. There was no order, and seemingly no leader among them, and an end was soon made. Before I had struck down two men they scattered and fled for hiding, and we followed them. Wulfnoth would have no mercy shown to these wretches who would harry the peaceful villagers—their own kin. They would but band together again.