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Wulnoth the Wanderer By Herbert Escott-Inman Characters: 19135

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The Coming of Hungwar and Hubba

Down into the angry waves went Wulnoth, treading the birds' road; for only thus could he hope to reach Edgiva in time to save her. Down he went, and he smote the waves and sank, even to the very bottom of the depths, while the surges roared and thundered above him.

Weak was he from loss of blood and sore pain, for the knife of Osbert the Dane had bitten deeply; but strong was he with his devotion for Edgiva, and the strength overcame the weakness.

Down, down he went; then he rose and came to the surface and shook the water from his eyes and glanced around; and there, floating away now on the ebbing tide, her golden hair rising and falling on the waves, he saw the jewel of Lethra, the Princess Edgiva.

Then, cleaving the waves with strong arms, though every stroke left a crimson stain behind it, Wulnoth pressed forward, swift as the sturgeon takes its way. His eyes were fixed upon the fair little face, which was now slowly sinking beneath the waves; and he gave a loud cry and leaped sheer out of the water, as the salmon leaps when it climbs the falls, and his right hand snatched at her and lifted her above the water again; and then the heart of Wulnoth was very glad, for he felt that once more he should save Edgiva.

And now back to the land he turned and on he swam, but the tide ran fierce, and his blood oozed fast, and the way was long, and he was faint and could swim no more. So he turned on his back and floated, letting Edgiva's golden, crowned head rest on his bosom; and so he stayed while the sea-birds flew overhead and called to him, bidding him be of good cheer, for that help was coming.

And help was coming indeed; for the Prince had run swift as the arrow flies and had cried to Hald the Constable; and now one of the King's boats was coming over the waves, and strong arms were at the oars, while Hald stood shading his eyes and crying-

"Holloa! Holloa! Wulnoth son of Cerdic! Holloa!"

And Wulnoth heard as one who hears a sound from afar, when sleep presses upon his eyes; and he tried to answer but his voice was gone. But the sea-birds aided him, for they gathered over his head, screaming shrilly; and when Hald saw that, he knew that thither he must go, and he gave order and the boat sped on and came to the spot, and there floated Wulnoth, with Edgiva's head pillowed on his heart, and both with their eyes closed as in their last sleep.

Strong but tender hands lifted them in, and strong hands urged the boat back; and they were taken to the King's hall and tended by the Queen herself; for Queen Wulfreda was skilled in healing. And search was made through the land for the nithing who had done this thing; yet, though they rode throughout all the King's borders, they found no trace of Osbert the Dane.

And Wyborga the Wise also came, bringing medicines of her own; and so soon the sick ones awoke from their slumber, and Wulnoth was commanded to come before the King.

And there, in the great hall, with all the jarls around him, the King praised Wulnoth, and asked him what he would choose as his gift, and said that now he would take the thrall's collar from his neck.

But Wulnoth made answer, and his voice was low and sad, and he said that the collar should not be taken from his neck, but that instead of gifts he should be scourged, because he, being armed, and the Princess's watcher, had suffered harm to come to her.

"Not honor, but disgrace, do I deserve, O King," he said; "for I have proved myself a false watcher."

"Now, that may not be," cried the King, "for none would have dared to tread the birds' road as thou hast done." But to that Hald said-

"There is reason in the boy's words, O King. Therefore let it be as he says; but for his reward take the collar from his father's neck, and give Cerdic five hides of good land, so that he shall be noble." And all the redesmen said that the Constable's words were good words and that it was a wise saying.

So the King commanded that Cerdic should be given five hides of good land and that the thrall collar should be taken from his neck; and then Reinbaldus the scald made a song and sang it in the great hall while the King feasted, and this was the song he sang-

Over the storm wave, over the swan bath,

Cerdic the Saxon came, to Lethra fleeing

From the fierce anger of Berwulf the viking,

Fleeing with Olfa, and the child Wulnoth;

Thus came young Wulnoth to fair Lethra.

Wulnoth the boy thrall, friend of Prince Guthred,

Straying with Edgiva deep in the woodland,

Then came the waster roaring against them,

Fierce in his anger, he the death giver.

Woe for Prince Guthred! woe for Edgiva!

Swift to their succor came Wulnoth hasting,

Armed with a knife alone, slew he the monster,

Dead now before them lies the wood waster.

Nithing and traitor, Osbert the Dane came,

Wounded with coward blow, Wulnoth the watcher,

Cast from the Raven Rock, Lethra's Edgiva,

Into the stormy waves hurled he the fair one.

"Thus, tell ye Lethra's King, Osbert repays him."

Laughter to sorrow turned when the spear bit him,

Fleeing, like frightened hare, swiftly the Dane ran,

Wulnoth's love token bore he away with him.

Far 'neath the Raven Rock, in the wild swan bath,

There is Edgiva, Edgiva the Beautiful-

Who from the death sleep backward shall bear her?

Who by the birds' road rushes to save her?

Who from the angry waves bravely doth bear her,

While his own crimson blood marks out his pathway?

Wulnoth, Cerdic's son, Wulnoth the watcher,

He trod the birds' road, saving Edgiva,

Skoal then to Cerdic's son,

And skoal to Edgiva.

Such was the song which Reinbaldus sang; and the soldiers and the people said it was a fair song and a true song, and that Wulnoth was worthy of honor. And they called the Raven's Rock "Wulnoth's Road," because of the great leap which he took thence into the swan bath to rescue Edgiva.

Yet still Wulnoth himself felt darkened, for he reflected that he, being the Princess's watcher, ought to have been standing on guard rather than lying there taking his ease so that Osbert the Dane could come upon them; and though many strove to banish such thoughts from his mind, old Hald said-

"Let be. The boy will be all the better for thinking on it. I will warrant me he will never now be found asleep at his post, let the watch be as long as it will."

But now King Hardacnute was indeed grave, for here was Wyborga's prophecy fulfilled, and he looked for the foe to come.

But no enemy came, no, not for a week, nor two, nor a full month; and then, one morning, just as the King was beginning to think that it was but a fable after all, far out on the Westarweg six long ships appeared, each with its huge sail, each with its long pennon, each with its sides bright with the long rows of shields hung over the bulwarks, each propelled by banks of long oars; and from the foremost one floated a mighty banner with a great black raven upon it, so that all might know that these were ships of the sea-kings and pirates, lords from Juteland and Denmark.

"Now," said old Hald, as he stood on the tower and gazed seaward long and hard, "if these be the ships of Regner Lodbrok, the son of Sigurd, it will be a hard fight and a long that we shall have; for of all the sea-kings that carry fire and sword, there is none so mighty as the dragon slayer."

"Methinks 't is the banner of the son of Sigurd," said the King, who stood beside him, and old Hald nodded.

"By land or by sea, O King?" he asked. And the King mused-

"By sea if it would save the land from blood," he said, "but I fear it will not. My word is, meet them on land."

"And ere they land, every ship that Lethra possesses will be in flames," answered Hald. "If we must lose our ships, better to man them and lose them in the man's game than to sit like sheep and see them burn." And the King answered-

"Be it so."

So the war horns sounded, and the beacons blazed, and all men came trooping in, and the women and children gathered in the King's hall, for there alone might be found safety for them. And all the cattle were driven into the courtyard, or else turned loose in the deep forest where the foe would not be likely to find them.

"Guthred, my friend and brother," said Wulnoth, as he stood by the side of the Prince, "so at last we are really to see the man's game played and to take part in it! Is this Regner Lodbrok so mighty, then?"

"I have heard my father say that there lives no greater warrior, and that though he is terrible in battle he is just and loves brave men, and not cruel like some-not like his two sons, Hungwar and Hubba; for where they go there is the cry of the woman and the child, and the scream of the tortured one. Thou knowest that it was Regner Lodbrok who slew the dragon?"

"Nay," answered Wulnoth. "I know not the story. Tell it to me, I pray."

"This is how the scalds have it," answered the Prince. "You must know that this Regner Lodbrok, the son of Sigurd, loved a lady named Thora, who was the fairest woman who ever lived-"

"Not fairer than our Edgiva," cried Wulnoth jealously, and the Prince smiled.

"That I cannot say, seeing that Edgiva my sister is but a child, and this lady was a woman. But be that as it may. A warlock took the Lady Thora and carried her away, and left her guarded by a fiery dragon-a dreadful monster whom no man could overcome because it belched out flames at them. But Regner Lodbrok[1] heard of this

, and he swore by Thor that he would slay the monster and free the Lady Thora. So he took skins of oxen, and thereof he made clothing to cover all his body, from the feet to the neck, and thus covered he went to the cave and rushed at the dragon. The monster spat fire at him, but Regner Lodbrok held his shield before his face, and the flames scorched the skins but harmed not him, and he buried his sword in the dragon's heart and slew him, and freed the Lady Thora and carried her back with him."

"How brave of him!" cried Wulnoth. "Surely 't was a man's deed, and if such a foe is coming, thou and I, O Prince, shall see some great deeds done to-day."

"We may, Wulnoth, my friend," answered Guthred. "But remember what Wyborga the Wise has said. In this battle the King, my father, is to be slain, and I am to become a slave," and at that Wulnoth had no word to say, for the grief of it was too much for him.

"Wulnoth," the Prince went on sadly, "if this thing is true, will you promise not to forget me? And if you may, afterwards come and seek me out and aid me. Wulnoth, we have been friends and brothers, will you promise me this?"

"That will I promise, Guthred," answered Wulnoth. "As soon as my trust to Edgiva is over, I will come."

"Poor Edgiva," sighed the Prince. "I wonder what fate will be in store for her."

Now, while the boys talked, all was hurry and bustle, and Hald went to the ships with the sailors, and King Hardacnute gathered the army on the shore, and Cerdic, and Hith, and ?thelmar, and others went into the hold to be able to succor the rest, should they have to flee, and then the war horns blew again, and the ships went to sea to meet the foe.

And when they neared each other, old Hald, standing in the prow, called across the water and said-

"Greeting, strangers! Sea-kings and pirates I trow ye are, and your message is war; yet tell us whom we war against lest we shame you by saying ye are nameless men."

Then a great warrior, yet a young man, standing in the poop of one of the foremost of the foe ships, laughed and replied-

"Little care we what you call us, warrior, yet know that we are the sons of Regner, called Lodbrok, Hungwar and Hubba, and we come to avenge injury done to Osbert the Dane. We come to war against Hardacnute for sheltering a thrall of Berwulf's named Cerdic and his family; and we come to carry away a fair child Edgiva, that when she is maiden grown she may mate with the best of the sea-kings' warriors. Now dost thou yield?"

"Thus do I yield, you wolves of Denmark," replied Hald, hurling his spear, but Hungwar caught it on his shield, and then the battle commenced.

Now, we have no time to talk long of that battle, for we have to follow the song of Wulnoth; but it was a brave and fierce one, when many hero deeds were done, and when the sword sang its death-song again and again. Yet in the end the ships of Hardacnute were destroyed and his sailors perished, and the Danes ran their own ships aground, and swarmed out to meet the forces of Hardacnute on land.

And there, on land, a mighty war was waged, and many heroes fell; yet still the victory was with the Danes, and the men of Lethra were driven back, leaving many slain on the seashore.

Now while this battle was raging, Wulnoth was in the King's courtyard, when a man touched him on the arm; and the man was big and brawny and shaggy like some wild berserker, and this man said to Wulnoth-

"Are you Wulnoth, the watcher of the Princess?" and to this Wulnoth answered that he was.

"Then," said the man, "I have a message for thee, O Wulnoth," and Wulnoth asked whom the message was from.

"It is from Wyborga the Wise," answered the stranger, "and thus she says: 'Fire and sword are come, O Wulnoth, and by to-night will Edgiva be without father or mother. Now, therefore, bring her to me, and I will shelter her in safety, for Hungwar the Dane has sworn to carry her off and to make her his slave child. If my words are wrong, then can you have her back; but if they are right, then will the King know that his daughter is spared the fate which shall befall his son.'"

Now, when Wulnoth heard this, he sped to the Queen, and he told her all the truth. And Wulfreda answered and said-

"Now, if these words are true, and if the King my husband perish, then shall I rejoice to have the death-song sung to me also; and if that be so, then shall it be well that Edgiva has a friend to aid her. Therefore, take her to Wyborga, Wulnoth."

So Wulnoth and Guthred took Edgiva the Beautiful, and carried her away into the forest and gave her to Wyborga, and Wyborga said that they had done well. And then said Wulnoth-

"Why should not Guthred tarry here also, good mother, so that he will be safe?"

But Wyborga shook her head.

"Guthred must go back," she said, "for so the lines of his runes run. But let Guthred be of good cheer and brave heart, for he shall have a kingdom and a name in the end, and ye three shall meet again."

"When shall we meet?" cried Guthred. And for answer Wyborga again drew the cross on the ground and said-

"When you all understand this, then shall you meet, and then shall you be united."

And that was all she could say. So Wulnoth and Guthred hurried back, for the blood was hot in Wulnoth's veins, and he longed to be in the man's game. And they got back to the hall just as King Hardacnute's men were being driven in, and there they saw the brothers Hungwar and Hubba, the sons of Regner, mighty warriors, with long black moustachios and sweeping hair, and arms like the stout branches of an oak.

And also there did Wulnoth see Osbert the Dane, and he cried to him in a voice that rang over the din of the fight-

"Hi, there! Greeting to you, Osbert, nithing and attacker of little children. Come hither, for I have a greeting for thee, unless thou dost still fear my spear."

"By Thor's hammer!" growled Hungwar as he heard this. "Thou must answer this, Osbert. Go thou, whilst we rest a space, and silence that wolf cub." But Osbert looked as though he liked not his task.

Still he could not escape, and he advanced towards the keep; and Wulnoth sprang from the wall and ran to meet him.

"Now, now, Osbert," he cried, "never have I slain a man yet, but thou wilt do for a start!" And Osbert answered with a thrust of his spear.

But Wulnoth caught it on his shield and turned it aside, and then he struck once, and once only, and the blow pierced through shield and arm behind it, and Osbert gave a bitter cry and fell.

"Mercy! mercy!" he cried, and the Danes howled with anger. But the wild war madness was in Wulnoth's blood now, and he drew his sword and plunged it into the nithing's throat, crying out, "So shall all nithings and Danish pirates perish!"

"By Troth!" cried Hubba, "that is a gamesome young wolf. We must have him alive." But Wulnoth had fled back, and was let into the hold by the men, who cried "Skoal" to him.

And then did the man's game begin again, and still the fight was with the vikings. And Cerdic was slain by a sling stone, and one after another of the King's champions went to the storm-world, and the flames burst from the roofs, and the cries of the women sounded on the air, for the vikings slew and spared none.

In the courtyard Wulfreda stood by her husband's side and shielded him while he fought, and around him lay a ring of Danish slain. But he fell at last, and Hubba himself smote off his head.

"This is the King's son!" cried Hungwar, seizing Guthred. "I have an oath as regards this boy and his sister. They shall be thralls in my castle." But to that Guthred answered boldly-

"Thou Danish pirate, though thou hast me in thy power, thou shalt never have my sister, for she is beyond thy reach."

"That we will see," answered Hungwar. "Bind this boy with chains, and take him to my long ship."

Then he caught sight of Wulnoth, who had fought as a man fights and was sore wounded, and he cried aloud-

"By my beard, but 't is our little warrior wolf!-a boy, but thou must be of us. Now, methinks, thou art the son of that Cerdic that we came to seek, for thou hast Saxon blood in thee I will swear, and thou hast thrall collar on. But thou art a man and we will spare thee, and thou shalt be my servant. What dost thou say to that?"

"No servant of thine will I be, thou pirate of Denmark!" cried Wulnoth. "Thou art a champion and a sea-king, and I but a boy and a thrall, and only one of a few left of all Lethra's soldiers, yet thus and thus do I answer thee." And with that he rushed at the great Dane, and smote twice with his broken sword; and the first blow gashed Hungwar's brow, and the second pierced his arm, so that the champion of Denmark reeled backwards and would have fallen but that a soldier smote Wulnoth down with his axe, so that they thought him slain.

Then did the Danes gather together all the treasure of Lethra for their plunder, and they slew all, man, woman, and child, as many as they found, and they set fire to each house and hall, and spread the red flames through the land; and then they sailed away, and of all the people they took only some fair maids and the Prince, who Hungwar had sworn should live as a thrall, for the blows which Hardacnute had caused to be laid upon the back of Osbert the Dane.

Now, this is how the words of Wyborga the Wise came true, and Hungwar and Hubba carried fire and sword through the land of Lethra and took Guthred the Prince prisoner back to Denmark when they went away.

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