“They are in a hurry to get rid of us,” said Thrand, as we went through and passed the last houses of the town beyond the river.
Then the road lay white in the moonbeams before us until it ran among the trees of the first woodland, and there in the black shadow was a sparkle as of armour in the shafts of light that came through the leaves into the over-arched hollow of the track.
If any man was there he could see us clearly, though we could not well see him, for we were in full brightness.
Then Guthorm spoke, peering under his hand.
“Four men across the road, lord—horsemen standing still.”
Then said I:
“If they are friends they will stand aside for us. If not, they will expect us to halt and argue matters with them. Any way, they have no right to the whole road, even if they mean us no harm. Ride on steadily, one on either side of me, and when we are twenty paces from them, if they yet bar our way, spur your horses and we will clear the road.”
“Swords out, master?” said Thrand.
“No, spear butts ready; maybe they are friends. But I am in a hurry.”
So we rode over those four men, and I fear they were hurt, for we left two rolling horse and two men in the road. Nor did I ever know if they were Edric’s men or not. Howbeit, their swords were drawn, and so I think we were not wrong in what we did, though the Colchester men smote hard, and my spear shaft was badly sprung over a helm.
After that we did not draw rein till we came to our comrades, and they were halfway back to Stamford looking for me. Then we took the road to London, for we would not tarry now at Peterborough.
Maybe my story would have had a different end had I gone there—but it was not to be. Yet, though I knew it not, I was close to Hertha at that time.
I came back to Olaf while he gathered his ships in the Pool below London Bridge, and I found him ill at ease and angry with Ethelred and Eadmund, and when I told him all, most angry with Streone.
“Now you must stay with me, cousin, for that man will have you slain if he can. There is no doubt that he works for Cnut. And this word of his about a bribe for me is not his own invention; he has been told to make it.”
Then he told me of the vast host that had poured into Kent. It was the greatest host that had ever landed on English shores—greater even than had been ours when we Angles left our old home a desert, and came over to this new land and took it. Olaf and the Kentish levies had fought and had been driven back, and now day by day we looked to see Cnut’s armies before London, and also for the coming of Eadmund with his men. But neither came, for the Mercian levies would not fight unless the king himself headed them, and Cnut passed through Surrey into Wessex and none could withstand him.