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   Chapter 9 No.9

Wulnoth the Wanderer By Herbert Escott-Inman Characters: 16931

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


How the Sea-kings sailed for East Anglia

So Wulnoth tarried in the Danish camp, and the vikings greeted him as one of themselves, but old Wahrmund took him aside and whispered more than once that he should beware of Wiglaf the Boxer as soon as his arm was well.

"Wiglaf forgives no injury," he said, "and the greatest injury which thou canst do to him is to beat him fairly. Therefore beware of Wiglaf, O Wanderer."

"Surely a brave man should feel no bitterness against him who overthrows him in fair fight!" answered Wulnoth. But to that Wahrmund only said again-

"Beware of Wiglaf when he is recovered."

And that was not the only warning that was received by Wulnoth, for Guthrun the viking lord met him, having sought such a meeting, and he said to him grimly-

"Wanderer, I love a man who plays the man's game well and truly, but some there be who love thee not; and if thou takest my advice, thou wilt not tarry with the sons of Regner too long. Yet if thou hast desire for service, my ships have places for such warriors as thou art." And with that he went his way.

"Now," thought Wulnoth to himself, "truly this is a hard case for me. If I tarry here, I am like to come to harm; and if I tarry not, how shall I either meet with this champion Regner Lodbrok, or learn tidings of Prince Guthred my friend? Truly the Lord Guthrun seems more noble than these sons of Regner, and yet with them I must abide, methinks."

So for a week Wulnoth stayed there, and none sought to do him harm, and even Hungwar spoke fairly to him, having somewhat conquered his anger at Wiglaf's defeat.

But it was with Wahrmund that Wulnoth spoke most, for a friendship had grown between them, and very cautiously did Wulnoth question the viking, not letting him know the cause, and ask him if he remembered aught of the conquest of Lethra.

"That do I," answered the warrior, laughing deeply, "seeing that I fought there from first to last. And that same King of Lethra was a hero, and fought a good fight. Methinks sometimes that 't is a pity there is so much sword-singing between brave men. 'T is our trade, yet sometimes I think that peace time is the best. Yea, I remember Lethra, and I mind me of the anger of Hungwar because a boy-who by the way was a Saxon thrall to Jarl Berwulf-smote the champion with a broken sword, and left its kiss upon his cheek, as thou seest until this day. 'T was my hand that cut the boy down, but by Thor, he was a proper lad, and I have been sorry for it since."

"But there was another boy there, comrade!" said Wulnoth eagerly. "A son of Hardacnute. What was his fate?"

The viking looked at him sharply and pondered a moment.

"Wanderer, thou knowest far too much about Lethra for thy health, if thy questioning come to the ears of the holdas," he said sternly. "Thus I counsel to question none save me, and if thy questions may be answered with honor, then I will answer them. Dost know thou mindest me of that Saxon boy, full grown now? It might be ill for thee didst thou remind some we know of in this same way."

"Wahrmund," said Wulnoth quietly, "thou art a brave man and true, and now I will place my life in thy hand, for of a truth I am that boy-Wulnoth the son of Cerdic. Yet know, Wahrmund, that Cerdic was no thrall to Berwulf, for Berwulf murdered the Saxon jarl Tholk, and Cerdic refused to serve the Dane. And when Berwulf had him whipped, then he smote him with his own axe and fled, and, by Thor, 't was the deed of a man to do that!"

"Perchance so," answered the other, and then Wulnoth went on with his story-

"Now, Wahrmund, in those days did the son of Hardacnute make friendship with the outlaw Saxon boy, and they swore to live as brothers; and on the day when the evil came to Lethra-this was prophesied by a wise woman-Guthred the Prince made me swear that I would seek for him and aid him if might be; and for this reason am I come to the camp, that of him I might learn tidings if he is still alive."

"I remember the boy," the Dane answered. "And surely 't was a hard thing that was done to him by Hungwar and Hubba, for they sold him as a slave, though he was a king's son; and I have heard that his master took him to the land of the Anglo Saxons, though in what part of that land he dwells, if he be still alive, is more than I can tell."

"I thank thee for thy words, Wahrmund," answered Wulnoth, "and I trust thee with my story."

"Thou mayst trust me with it, Wanderer," answered the Dane. "So long as thou art true while thou dost stay with us, that is all I ask. If thou go into battle with us, fight for us and not for our foes; and if thou dost ever desire to depart, depart without striking secret blow-"

"As to that, the rede that I follow directed me to seek this camp and serve Regner Lodbrok; and so I have no desire to fight for your foes or against you."

"Regner tarries long in Angleland," the Dane said gloomily. "I would that he were back to lead us himself, for the camp is broken with so many holdas, and there is like to be mischief done ere long."

"Wahrmund," said Wulnoth, "canst thou tell me this? Dost thou know any people who worship not the gods of the North, but One who died on a cross?"

"Ay, that do I. 'T is the religion of most of the Anglo Saxons now. They have forgotten their old faith, and turned to this strange one. Yet it is a strange story, and one that touches the heart, Wanderer," he went on; "and it hath wondrous power with them, making them merciful to the foe and calm in face of torment and death. Some of our men have put their captives to sharp torture to make them renounce this God of theirs; but I have not known one succeed. They have killed their victims, but in dying the Christians-for so they call themselves-have sung songs of triumph. They are men indeed who can fight, and suffer, and die, and yet this creed is the creed of a nithing. 'T is beyond my poor wits, who know nothing of aught save the storm-sea and the sword-song."

"And this religion is in Angleland, and Guthred is in Angleland, and Regner Lodbrok is in Angleland also! 'T is strange. It points to my going there also"; and Wulnoth was silent, and mused on what he heard.

Then said Wahrmund, pointing out to the water: "What ship is this which comes speeding towards the land? Let us go down and see who these may be who come over the swan-bath thus."

So down to the shore they went, and the ship drew near; and it was but a small one, with a few rowers, and no shields hung on its sides; and yet as Wahrmund looked he started and cried-

"Now here are evil tidings; for of a surety yonder man at the helm is Bern, and Bern was the man of Regner Lodbrok."

Then the boat reached the land, and the men laid aside their oars and came ashore, and stood with drooping heads, as those who carried heavy tidings; and the viking cried-

"Oh, thou who art Bern, man of Regner Lodbrok, why comest thou thus, as they that flee in battle? and where is thy master, our Holda?"

"With those who feast in Walhalla," answered the seaman. "Lead me to Hungwar, or to his noble brother, for I have heavy tidings to tell; and the soul of Regner Lodbrok calls aloud for vengeance, for the nithing deed and the shame deed that were done to him."

"Now, by Thor," cried Wahrmund, "he will not cry in vain; for, if aught of wrong hath been done to Regner the son of Sigurd, the vikings will have a song to sing and a fire to light"; and, with that, Wahrmund turned and guided the man to the vikings' hall; and Wulnoth followed to hear what had befallen Regner Lodbrok.

And in the hall the holdas feasted; only some looked weary, for their souls hungered for the man's game, and they tired of tarrying on land; and when Hungwar saw Wahrmund enter, he cried-

"Greeting, Wahrmund! Whom dost thou bring, and why dost thou turn thy spear head down, as if evil had come to some?"

"Evil hath come, Hungwar," answered Wahrmund. "This man is Bern, who sailed with thy mighty father, and he hath ill news to tell to thee, O jarl." And then the chiefs looked up, and all voices were hushed; for they knew that the death-song had been sung for Regner Lodbrok, the old sea-king.

And then Hungwar said, while Hubba sat silent by his side-

"So the son of Sigurd is dead, and the death-song hath been sung. Then I will warrant that he died as a mighty hero, and that his sword sang merrily ere he fell, and the Valkyrs were busy. Is

it not so, silent one? Speak and tell thy tale, lest I open thy lips with a touch of fire."

"I will tell my tale, Hungwar son of Regner," the man answered. "But it is a heavy one, and the telling of it is hard. No hero death did Regner die, but such a death as a nithing would have deserved; and yet he died a hero, and sang his death-song. By treachery and falsehood was he conquered, O Hungwar, and for vengeance does he cry to thee and to all thy people."

"Tell thy story, man," answered Hungwar grimly, "and be sure that the son of Sigurd shall not cry in vain. Truly, our swords are weary of idleness and our ships yearn for the waves. Tell thy story, and tell it true, all of it, neither more nor less."

"I obey thee," answered the man; and this is the story that he told. Eastward to Angleland had Regner Lodbrok sailed, with only a few men, chiefs of fame, for they had not meant to tarry in the land, but to see for themselves if it was a good land and fair, and worth the attacking. And on the eastern coast a great storm had come, and driven them on shore, so that the ship was wrecked and only a few escaped death. They were in the land of the East Angles, whereover one Edmund is king; and he at first received Regner and his companions with friendship, and gave them gifts.

Yet some of the people murmured because of the Danes being there; and Regner heard how in the north dwelt one Ella King of Northumbria, who was himself of Danish blood; and thither to greet him Regner went. But Ella liked not the coming of the stranger; for the Danes, who had settled in the north and taken possession of the land, desired that no more of their numbers should come to share the prize with them. So this Ella, though he received Regner with soft speech, yet purposed to do him harm, and plotted to take his life; yet in what manner to do so he did not know.

Now the King had built him a high tower, called Ella's Tower, and beneath this tower was a dungeon dark and drear; and into this dungeon did King Ella cause a number of deadly vipers to be let loose-for he had a mind to shame Regner Lodbrok as well as slay him, because that this Regner boasted, and made much of his having slain the dragon and rescued Thora the Fair from its power.

So when Regner and his friends sat at feasting, the soldiers of the King of Northumbria came upon them and put them to the sword; but Regner they took and bound, and cast into the vipers' tower, bidding him, since he had slain the dragon, slay also the snakes, which were less than the dragon. And the vipers bit the old sea-king deep and sore, so that he knew that his death was nigh, and none were there to sing his death-song.

And alone in the dungeon, with the biting vipers, Regner Lodbrok sang his own death-song; and the name thereof is Krakamal; and that song is known to this day amongst the sagas of the Northland; and that song he sang, while the darkness gathered, and the Valkyrs carried his spirit to Walhalla.[2]

Such was the tale that the messenger told in the hall of the sea-kings; and when the story was finished there was silence for a short space, and then uprose Hungwar, and Hubba rose and stood by his side, and Hungwar spoke and said-

"Oh, holdas of Denmark, ye have heard this story, and it is a shame tale; and the spirit of the son of Sigurd calls to my brother and to me, and bids us take vengeance on his foes. Now, those who list come, and those who will tarry, tarry; but, as for Hubba and me, we will cross the Westarweg and carry fire and sword into Angleland; and from south to north will we harry it. Now, viking lords, and sea-kings, who comes with us?"

Then did all there start to their feet, and then did their great swords flash out, as they cried Skoal to the memory of Regner Lodbrok; and with one mighty voice they answered and cried-

"We will come, sons of Regner. We will man our ships and come; and from south to north we will follow the footsteps of Regner Lodbrok, and leave a pathway of ashes and death; and then will we take this land for our own. But as for Ella, King of Northumbria, better for him that he had never lived, than that he fall into our hands. For each sting that the son of Sigurd received, he shall receive a thousand pains."

Then all was bustle and hurry in the realm; and each lord went his way to summon his own men, and to make ready his long ships; so that never before in all the land was so vast a fleet prepared, nor so great an army gathered, and in no history is there a full list of names of all the sea-kings who sailed to Angleland at that time.

There were Frena, and Guthrun, and Sidric the elder, and Sidric the younger, and Hungwar and Hubba, all jarls of fame. And there were Kings Godron and Halfdane, and Bacseg, and Hamond, and Oskettle-five kings of might; and Biorn Ironsides and many champions, so that one knows not all their names. And with them came many young warriors, the sons of holdas, seeking to make a name, and many old vikings who had spent their lives on the sea, and whose play was the man's game; and landless men, and nameless men, who had joined the vikings to seek their fortunes in land afar.

Never was such a scene; never did so many long ships lie like black snakes on the water; never did so many shields gleam like suns, as the light played upon them.

And in Hungwar's own ship they placed the great banner of Regner Lodbrok, which his daughters had woven and made in the space of one noontide; and thereon was the Raven of Odin, worked in cunning work; and it stretched its wings and stood erect, and all men shouted that the omen was good, and that victory would be theirs.

For this banner was supposed to be of wondrous might; and if defeat was to come then the raven's wings drooped and its head hung; but if victory was to be their portion, then its wings were raised, and it stood defiant.

Such was the story; though whether any man ever saw the bird change cannot be told. Yet afterwards, as you shall presently hear, the men of Wessex took that banner and slew Hubba, and still the raven's wings were spread and its head raised; so perchance the power of the magic spell had fled from its folds.

And then all the war-horns blared, and all the sails were hoisted, and out over the dark, rolling sea the rovers sailed; so that the ships were as many as the forest leaves on the stream when the wind blows among the trees.

And some sailed for Northumbria and some went south to Wessex, and some shaped their course to land in Mercia; but Hungwar and Hubba and those who followed with him sailed on towards East Anglia, where their father, Regner Lodbrok, had landed at the first; and over the ship the great raven banner streamed, and around the seamews circled and screamed; and the wind blew the salt foam into their faces. Yet on and on they went, until, far ahead, they saw the land lying like a cloud upon the horizon; and Wahrmund pointed towards it, and said to Wulnoth, who stood beside him-

"Yonder, Wanderer, is the land to which you desire to go. Yonder is the land of the Christians; and it is a rich land and fat, where much spoil may be gathered; and the people are soft and easy to conquer. Skoal to the Angleland, and Skoal to the landing; for heroic deeds will be done, and the man's game played long, and the sword sing a merry song, ere we put to sea again, and turn our faces to Denmark."

Then nearer and nearer the ships drew; and at last they dropped the sails and the vikings swarmed to the ships' sides, and there, ahead, they saw the sands, golden yellow; and the warriors of the land drawn up to drive them off.

"Now," laughed Wahrmund, "why do not these fools have good ships and come and meet us; so that we fought on sea and kept the fire from their land? These fools will never conquer us until they learn to fight in ships, as we do."

So said Wahrmund; but little did he think that even then there was in the land of the West Saxons a young man, one whose face was pale and pain marked, who pondered the same thing, and who afterwards caused such long ships to be built, and not only beat the Danes at their own game, but laid the foundations of that navy, by which, in after years, this Britain of ours has kept her proud boast and ruled the waves.

Now, this is how evil tidings came to Hungwar and Hubba, and this is how Wulnoth sailed with the sea-kings to the land of the East Angles.

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