“If that is all, we will do it,” the man answered, while his look grew less careful, and the other men assented readily enough with the fierce townsmen and their broad spears waiting around them.
“Go and tell Cnut, then, that Ethelred is king, and how you have fared. That is all I bid you. Are there any Norsemen among you?”
There were eight or ten among the six-score prisoners, and Olaf spoke aside with them.
“Go back to our own land and say what you have seen of the dealings of Olaf Haraldsson with those who fight bravely though against him. And if when you hear that I have returned to Norway you come and mind me of today, I will give you a place among my own men.”
Then they said that they would fain serve him now; but he would not have that, and then they said that they would surely come to him if they heard that he was anywhere in their land.
There were two trading busses in the river, and into these vessels we put the Danes, giving them all they needed to take them back to Denmark, but leaving them no arms. The townsfolk would have it that they would return and take revenge in spite of their promise, but Olaf told them that they must not fear so few men, but rather take care to be ready against the coming of more.
So the Danes sailed away down the river and to sea, and whether they kept their promise or not I cannot say. But I think that Olaf had done somewhat towards preparing a welcome for himself when he should return to his own land by acting thus. I would that Ethelred and Eadmund had been wise as he, for by forgiveness they would have won men to them. But evil counsel was ever waiting on them, and maybe they are not to blame so much as is he who gave it.
There were no men of note among these Danes whom we took, and we thought that Ulfkytel would maybe hear of Egil before long, if he could by any means get his scattered forces together. Yet the rout was very complete, else he would have been back in Colchester before us.
The townsfolk made a great feast in Colchester for us that night, and next day Olaf called the headmen and set all in order for Ethelred the king. And we thought that the town was safe for him, for a levy would be made to hold the place at once. We rode back to Bures in the evening, therefore, taking a few of our men as a guard lest there should be parties of Danes on the road—a likely thing enough, as a beaten and disbanded force in a hostile land must live by plunder, for a time at least. But we met none.
As we rode over the uplands we saw that the Sudbury men would do all honour to those who had fallen fighting beside them, for they made a great mound over Olaf’s men, and Ailwin our priest was there with us to see that they had Christian burial with such solemnity as might be in those troubled days. There might be no chanting of choir or swinging of censer at that burying; but when the holy rites were ended Ottar the scald sang the deeds of those who were gone, while the mound was closed. And that would be what those valiant warriors loved to hear.