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   Chapter 11 No.11

Wulnoth the Wanderer By Herbert Escott-Inman Characters: 15431

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


How Wulnoth met with Wyborga again

Now after the slaying of Edmund the King, the Danes cast his body into a field as though it were but the body of some base-born slave, and even those who had cried shame forgot all about it, and went back to their feasting; for what was one foe more or less? And as to burying the body, the viking lords were too busy slaying to think of burying, and the dogs and the crows would soon make an end of the corpse.

But the heart of Wulnoth was heavy within him at this murder, for so he felt it was, and he thought within himself that these Danes were ill masters to serve. Yet he would not leave them, because he knew not whom else to follow, and also because he felt in his heart that there was a matter yet to be settled between Hungwar and himself; and moreover, unless he tarried, how should he ever learn the fate of Guthred his friend?

Now that night all over the land there shone the glare of flames, telling of the work which was being done by the Danish bands, but in the camp the leaders stayed and feasted.

Some were for pushing on at once, but Hungwar was too cunning for that, and he said that it was ill to put too great a distance between themselves and the sea until their ships returned with more of their men, seeing that they were safe where they were.

"The army of the East Saxons is destroyed," he said, "and will not come against us again; therefore here will we abide for the time, and the people shall serve us, and presently we will march into Mercia and join our brethren there."

Most agreed to this, but some grumbled, and in the end left Hungwar and marched inland, and amongst these was Hubba, but that was not yet.

Now on the night of the killing of the King, Wulnoth took his spear in his hand, and, with his sword by his side, he wandered into the darkness, for his mind was full of restless thoughts, and he cared not whither his feet bore him.

And as he went he thought of Wyborga and the little cross she had made, and the wonder tale which Edgiva had told him, and of the way in which the King had died for his Lord; and he wondered also whether the tales of the gods of the Northland were true tales or false, and he wondered whither he must go to seek the strongest and the mightiest lord, now that old Regner Lodbrok was dead.

And as he wandered he came to a wood, and he entered its darkness and solitude, for he had little fear of meeting any foe, all having fled far from the Danes, and only the churls remaining, and they would be more afraid of him than he need be of them.

It was quiet here, and reminded him of the woods in distant Lethra, where he had walked with Edgiva the Beautiful in the happy days. And the Danes had destroyed Lethra and laid it in ruins-and yet he was serving with the Danes! Wulnoth shook his spear at that thought, and he said aloud-

"Yet for the while I will tarry, and presently I will speak a word with the sons of Regner for the deeds they have done to those dear to me, and then shall Hungwar know who the Wanderer is and why he has joined him."

And then he paused and stared in wonder, thinking that some night hag must be playing with him, for from the darkness came the voice of Edgiva the Beautiful, and it said-

"Greeting, Wanderer, who wast called Wulnoth!"

"Who art thou who callest to me with the voice of my Princess?" he cried. "Whoever thou art, good or evil, show thyself I command thee by the name of Thor."

"Little care I for that name, Wanderer," the voice answered, and then there was silence, and he called again and again, but without success.

Then just as he would have turned back, another voice spoke and said-

"Greeting, Wulnoth!" and this time he made out a figure coming towards him. And he sprang forward and caught at it, saying-

"Now who art thou who walkest by night and callest greeting to me?"

"One whom thou hast known as a friend, Wulnoth," came the reply, and Wulnoth knew the voice then for that of Wyborga the Wise, and he cried, trembling with eagerness-

"O Wyborga, is it thou? How dost thou come into this land? Then I was not deceived when I thought that my Princess spoke to me not long since! O Wyborga, lead me to her, for I have sought her with a long and weary seeking, and my heart failed me at last."

But Wyborga answered-

"No, Wulnoth, for it has already been told to thee that you two will not meet again to abide until thou hast learnt the wonder tale, which thou hast till now rejected."

"The story of the White Christ?" said Wulnoth. "Oh, Wyborga, I have heard that tale, but it seems to me an idle saga and fit for nithings."

"Wulnoth," said Wyborga gravely, "there was one in yonder camp of murderers who was not a nithing, and yet who believed in that tale."

"The Saxon King!" he said. "Ah, Wyborga, I dare not ask thee how thou dost know that, for thou knowest so many things, thou woman of mystery. But this I say-that King was a brave man, and they who put him to shame are cowards even though they are brave in the war game."

"Tell me how he died, Wulnoth," said Wyborga. "Tell me all." And he obeyed, while Wyborga listened with bent head and with many a sigh.

"So does the Lord desire of His people," she said when he finished, "and so does Edmund gain a better crown than the golden one of earth."

"I understand not your words," Wulnoth made answer. "They are still dark with mystery-all the world is a puzzle to me now, and where to seek for Guthred the Prince I know not. Cannot you speak clearly to me, Wyborga?"

"Edgiva spoke clearly, Wulnoth, but you could not understand her tale."

"But that was of the White Christ," he cried. "Does everything refer to Him?" And Wyborga said-

"Everything is to Him."

Then there was silence for a space, and Wulnoth spoke again and asked of Edgiva; and Wyborga made reply and inquired whether he would like to see her.

"To see Edgiva, O Wyborga!" he cried. "I would do anything to see my Princess again." And Wyborga nodded.

"Now I will test thee, Wulnoth, and there shall be nothing of dishonor in my request. Tell me first, where is the body of the King?"

This Wulnoth told to her, and then Wyborga said-

"Now listen, Wulnoth. Thou art to stand here without moving, and there will come to thee a man. Him thou must lead stealthily into the camp, and if any meet thee, thou must pass him off as a companion. Canst thou do this?"

"Easily can it be done, Wyborga, for the camp is feasting now, and only the watchers are at their posts."

"That is good, then," the wise woman replied. "Now thou must guide this man, asking no questions, to the place where the dead King is thrown, and thou must help him to bear the body without the camp. Wilt thou do this?"

"Yea, Wyborga, for there is no harm in it; and if, as I suppose, this man is the King's man, seeking to do honor to the dead, then will I gladly do it. But how may I see Edgiva?"

"When thy work is done the reward shall be sure, Wulnoth. The man who will go with thee will tell thee how and when thou shalt see the Princess."

But then an angry suspicion came to Wulnoth, and he cried-

"O Wyborga, of old the Princess told me that she had a Lord. Now is this man her lord, or was the dead King her lord, that she is in his country?"

"Set thy heart at rest, Wulnoth," replied Wyborga. "Edgiva's Lord is the Lord for Whose honor the King died. Thou art hasty and foolish, and therefore trouble has been thine. Be patient now, and remember that as of old, I am thy friend."

"I will trust you, Wyborga," Wulnoth answered.

And then Wyborga called softly thrice, like the cry of the wood owl, and a step sounded, and throu

gh the bushes a man came and greeted Wyborga.

"Thou hast called, good mother," he said. "Then thy mission is successful, and thou hast found some one who can guide me, and who will help me?"

"I have found some one," answered Wyborga, and then again she turned to Wulnoth and addressed him by his name of Wanderer.

"Wanderer, this is the man I spoke of; and were it not that I know thee to be brave and true, I would not have trusted thee, for though thou knowest it not, thou hast a great treasure-ay, the hope of this land in thy hand. Wanderer, guard this man as thou wouldst guard thine own life-nay, more closely even, for thy life thou wouldst risk, but this man's life thou must not risk. Only because a holy duty is to be done shall this danger be run."

"Now," thought Wulnoth, "this must be some son of the dead King who will seek to reign in his stead. But that matters not. I will guide him and so shall I see my Princess again, and if any try to hinder me, well, it will mean hard blows will be given."

Then he loosened his sword in its sheath, and he turned to the man, saying simply-

"Come with me, stranger, and tread boldly. To do otherwise might be to make suspicion. Thou art one of the soldiers returning with me, and thou must laugh and sing and be merry; so shall we pass through the camp without fear."

"Atheling!" cried Wyborga in alarm. And Wulnoth thought to himself-

"So I am right! We have a prince here," for so the word meant in the Saxon.

But the man laughed and said-

"Have no fear, my good mother, for the way this good man advises is the best. 'T is often safer when we wish to hide something to place it where all may see it, and the best disguise may be to appear to desire to be seen. Come, Wanderer, since so you are called, and we will go about our work."

"I am ready," answered Wulnoth. "Farewell, Wyborga, and greet me to my Princess. 'T is for her that I undertake this work to-night."

"Thy Princess greets thee, Wulnoth, but not in the name of Thor."

It was Edgiva's voice again! Then she was somewhere near at hand, hidden in the darkness of the forest. Wulnoth stopped, but the voice spoke again, bidding him hasten to his task, and so, muttering to himself that all this was too deep for him to understand, Wulnoth accompanied the stranger from the wood towards the Danish camp.

And when they drew near to it he said to the other-

"Now there is much danger here. Shall I go by myself and bear the body out to you?"

"Nay, friend," came the quiet answer. "I have faced danger before. Do thou lead the way and I will follow."

"So be it," answered Wulnoth, and they went in, passing the guard who, knowing Wulnoth, took no notice of his companion.

There was little to fear. The Danes knew that no foe was near, for their bands had come in with the report that they had driven the East Saxons far afield, and now all were resting from the labor, and telling their tales of the fight, and but few were away from the camp fires.

So on the two went, talking as though they were friends, and the stranger acted his part well and laughed as though he had been in the war game himself, though when they passed a watch fire Wulnoth noted that his face was stern and his eyes gleamed, and he thought that presently this man would indeed be in the war game and avenge the story of that day's fight.

A young man was he and without the girth and strength of the viking men. But his face was noble and his brow high, and a crisp red-brown beard graced his mouth and chin.

So they reached the place where the body of the dead King had been thrown, and lo, a man stood there guarding it, and at sight of that Wulnoth gripped his sword.

But the man rose and spoke, and it was Wahrmund's voice, and he asked who they were and what they did there; and to him Wulnoth answered-

"Wahrmund," he said, "thou art a brave man who loves not to see a hero put to shame."

"And for that cause am I here, Wanderer," the Dane replied. "For there was a sneaking wolf howled, and methought that so brave a man should not become wolf's food. Therefore, to-night I watch, and to-morrow will I bury the body of this hero, so deep that no wolf can dig it up."

"Wahrmund, there be others who would bury the body of this man with the honor due to a fallen hero," Wulnoth made reply, "and I have such a one with me. We come to carry this body without the camp, that it may be given honor and have a death-song sung."

"And thou hast brought a stranger within the camp, Wanderer," was the stern retort. "That is not right."

"Then to-morrow let me pay for it, if you think it wrong, comrade. But for the sake of a brave man who died well, let him now take the King's body away."

Then gruff old Wahrmund smote his spear into the ground and swore a lusty oath.

"Now, Wanderer, my mind misgives me that we two are doing that for which our heads may leave our bodies," he growled, "but still it shall be done. So lend me thy aid and we will lift this hero from his humble bed and bear him away."

"I knew that thou wert a true comrade, Wahrmund," said Wulnoth. But the Dane answered-

"I knew that thou wert a fool, Wanderer; and thou dost make me one, and, by Thor, perhaps I love thee the better for the doing of it."

Reverently did the young stranger take the severed head from Wulnoth; and he bowed his head for the moment over it, while the other two lifted their heavy burden.

"Now, how shall we bear this through the camp?" mused Wulnoth. And his friend answered-

"We will not bear it through the camp; we will cross from here to the forest. There are no sentries on this side that I know."

And so quietly the two carried their burden, the stranger walking beside them with the head, and when they reached the shelter of the wood they laid the body down and asked what next was to be done and whither it was to be borne.

"Leave it here with me," answered the stranger, "and all will be well. For you, kind foe, my best thanks." This he said to Wahrmund, who growled again, feeling perhaps a little ashamed of himself that he had been led into doing this thing; and the stranger turned to Wulnoth-

"To you I am bidden to say that if you wait here to-morrow night, about this hour, that which you most desire shall be, and a messenger will be here to guide you."

"Thou wilt give yon hero honor?" growled Wahrmund. "He should be buried with honor." And the stranger smiled-

"If thou dost want to see that, warrior, come thou with thy friend to-morrow and see for thyself-"

"How do you know that you can trust me, and how do I know that I can trust you, Saxon?" the Dane asked mockingly; and the Saxon answered calmly-

"I can trust a man who is noble enough to watch by the body of a shamed hero through the long night hours."

"Good," said Wahrmund. "Then how may I know that I can trust you?"

"You may trust me," answered the other, "because for that which you have done I am grateful. Not even to a foe does a true man repay kindness with ingratitude." And again Wahrmund said, "Good."

"I know not who you are, stranger; but I know you to be a true man," he said. "One day we may meet face to face in the war game, but to-morrow night we will meet, as thou sayest, in peace."

"Till then, farewell," said the stranger; and then the two turned and went. And the stranger called like the wood owl, and from the shadows came silent ones, who lifted the dead King and bore him away, with sound of weeping and lamentation.

Now, this is how Wulnoth met Wyborga the Wise in the woods of East Anglia, and this is how the body of King Edmund was carried from the camp of the Danes.

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