We crossed a room where a few young thanes’ sons slept, as I had slept before the king’s door when I was first at court, and these leapt up, sword in hand.
“What will you?” one said in a low voice, setting his back against the door.
“I must see Eadmund, our atheling, on king’s business,” I said gently, remembering how I should have felt when on the same duty, if one had come thus.
“He may not be waked,” the boy said.
Then I spoke loudly, so as to end the business without troubling these faithful guards.
“I am Redwald of Bures. I think that Eadmund will see me.”
“Hush! hush! thane,” the boy said.
But there was no need to say more, for the long camp life had sharpened Eadmund’s ears to aught unusual. Now I heard the bar of the door thrown down, and Eadmund came out with a cloak round him and his sheathed sword in his left hand.
“Redwald—friend—what is it?” he said.
“Even what we have feared, my prince,” I answered, looking at him.
“Where has the blow fallen?”
“At Sandwich. Olaf is there, and the Kentishmen have risen. His word is that he has not enough men.”
“Surely Kent and London and Olaf—” he said.
“Eight hundred ships lie in Ebbsfleet. A ship may hold a hundred or but twenty men—not less.”
Then Eadmund made a sign to his people, and they went out and left us together, and we looked on one another.
“Let me send for the earl,” he said; but I put my hand on his arm.
“You are enough, my prince. But for sending for him your levies would be here, and we should march together even now to London.”
“You are right, and I am a fool,” he said.
“Wait for the earl no longer,” I urged; “raise your own levy, and bid him follow you or the king as he will. There must be a raising of all England. Send to the king tonight.”
“What will Cnut do?” he asked me.
“Olaf thought that if he landed in Kent he would make for London and besiege it. If so, you have time yet.”
“There shall be no delay. Bide here and help me.”
“I cannot,” I said, and told him plainly of Edric’s message to me, and the way in which it was sent; and I ended: “Let me go to Olaf, therefore, and take word from you that you come in haste. The earl doubts me yet.”
“I do not understand it,” Eadmund said, “but it must be so. Go back and tell Olaf to hold Cnut under London walls, and I will be there in a day before he expects, gathering forces as I come.”
I kissed his hand and went, and as I did so I heard him bid his followers arm him. So I knew that he was roused, and that if he were himself all might yet be well.
Then I got to horse, and I and my two men rode down the street as fast as we had come. No man was about, and the bridge gates swung open for us.