Havelok the Dane - Charles Whistler - E-Book

Havelok the Dane E-Book

Charles Whistler



If any excuse is needed for recasting the ancient legend of Grim the fisher and his foster-son Havelok the Dane, it may be found in the fascination of the story itself, which made it one of the most popular legends in England from the time of the Norman conquest, at least, to that of Elizabeth. From the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries it seems to have been almost classic; and during that period two full metrical versions --- one in Norman-French and the other in English --- were written, besides many other short versions and abridgments, which still exist. These are given exhaustively by Professor Skeat in his edition of the English poem for the Early English Text Society, and it is needless to do more than refer to them here as the sources from which this story is gathered.

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Havelok the Dane

Charles Whistler


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Copyright © 2016 by Charles Whistler

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THIS STORY IS NOT about myself, though, because I tell of things that I have seen, my name must needs come into it now and then. The man whose deeds I would not have forgotten is my foster-brother, Havelok, of whom I suppose every one in England has heard. Havelok the Dane men call him here, and that is how he will always be known, as I think.

He being so well known, it is likely that some will write down his doings, and, not knowing them save by hearsay, will write them wrongly and in different ways, whereof will come confusion, and at last none will be believed. Wherefore, as he will not set them down himself, it is best that I do so. Not that I would have anyone think that the penmanship is mine. Well may I handle oar, and fairly well axe and sword, as is fitting for a seaman, but the pen made of goose feather is beyond my rough grip in its littleness, though I may make shift to use a sail-needle, for it is stiff and straightforward in its ways, and no scrawling goeth therewith.

Therefore my friend Wislac, the English priest, will be the penman, having skill thereto. I would have it known that I can well trust him to write even as I speak, though he has full leave to set aside all hard words and unseemly, such as a sailor is apt to use unawares; and where my Danish way of speaking goeth not altogether with the English, he may alter the wording as he will, so long as the sense is always the same. Then, also, will he read over to me what he has written, and therefore all may be sure that this is indeed my true story.

Now, as it is needful that one begins at the beginning, it happens that the first thing to be told is how I came to be Havelok’s foster-brother, and that seems like beginning with myself after all. But all the story hangs on this, and so there is no help for it.

If it is asked when this beginning might be, I would say, for an Englishman who knows not the names of Danish kings, that it was before the first days of the greatness of Ethelbert of Kent, the overlord of all England, the Bretwalda, and therefore, as Father Wislac counts, about the year of grace 580. But King Ethelbert does not come into the story, nor does the overlord of all Denmark; for the kings of whom I must speak were under-kings, though none the less kingly for all that. One must ever be the mightiest of many; and, as in England, there were at that time many kings in Denmark, some over wide lands and others over but small realms, with that one who was strong enough to make the rest pay tribute to him as overlord, and only keeping that place by the power of the strong hand, not for any greater worth.

Our king on the west coast of Denmark, where the story of Havelok the Dane must needs begin, was Gunnar Kirkeban — so called because, being a heathen altogether, as were we all in Denmark at that time, he had been the bane of many churches in the western isles of Scotland, and in Wales and Ireland, and made a boast thereof. However, that cruelty of his was his own bane in the end, as will be seen. Otherwise he was a well-loved king and a great warrior, tall, and stronger than any man in Denmark, as was said. His wife, the queen, was a foreigner, but the fairest of women. Her name was Eleyn, and from this it was thought that she came from the far south. Certainly Gunnar had brought her back from Gardariki,whither he had gone on a trading journey one year. Gunnar and she had two daughters and but one son, and that son was Havelok, at this time seven years old.

Next to the king came our own lord, Jarl Sigurd, older than Gunnar, and his best counsellor, though in the matter of sparing harmless and helpless church folk his advice was never listened to. His hall was many miles from the king’s place, southward down the coast.

Here, too, lived my father, Grim, with us in a good house which had been his father’s before him. Well loved by Jarl Sigurd was Grim, who had ever been his faithful follower, and was the best seaman in all the town. He was also the most skilful fisher on our coasts, being by birth a well-to-do freeman enough, and having boats of his own since he could first sail one. At one time the jarl had made him steward of his house; but the sea drew him ever, and he waxed restless away from it. Therefore, after a time, he asked the jarl’s leave to take to the sea again, and so prospered in the fishery that at last he bought a large trading buss from the Frisian coast, and took to the calling of the merchant.

So for some years my father, stout warrior as he proved himself in many a fight at his lord’s side, traded peacefully – that is, so long as men would suffer him to do so; for it happened more than once that his ship was boarded by Vikings, who in the end went away, finding that they had made a mistake in thinking that they had found a prize in a harmless trader, for Grim was wont to man his ship with warriors, saying that what was worth trading was worth keeping. I mind me how once he came to England with a second cargo, won on the high seas from a Viking’s plunder, which the Viking brought alongside our ship, thinking to add our goods thereto. Things went the other way, and we left him only an empty ship, which maybe was more than he would have spared to us. That was on my second voyage, when I was fifteen.

Mostly my father traded to England, for there are few of the Saxon kin who take ship for themselves, and the havens to which he went were Tetney and Saltfleet, on the Lindsey shore of Humber, where he soon had friends.

So Grim prospered and waxed rich fast, and in the spring of the year wherein the story begins was getting the ship ready for the first cruise of the season, meaning to be afloat early; for then there was less trouble with the wild Norse Viking folk, for one cruise at least. Then happened that which set all things going otherwise than he had planned, and makes my story worth telling.

We – that is my father Grim, Leva my mother, my two brothers and myself, and our two little sisters, Gunhild and Solva – sat quietly in our great room, busy at one little thing or another, each in his way, before the bright fire that burned on the hearth in the middle of the floor. There was no trouble at all for us to think of more than that the wind had held for several weeks in the southwest and northwest, and we wondered when it would shift to its wonted springtide easting, so that we could get the ship under way once more for the voyage she was prepared for. Pleasant talk it was, and none could have thought that it was to be the last of many such quiet evenings that had gone before.

Yet it seemed that my father was uneasy, and we had been laughing at him for his silence, until he said, looking into the fire, “I will tell you what is on my mind, and then maybe you will laugh at me the more for thinking aught of the matter. Were I in any but a peaceful land, I should say that a great battle had been fought not so far from us, and to the northward.”

Then my mother looked up at him, knowing that he had seen many fights, and was wise in the signs that men look for before them; but she asked nothing, and so I said, “What makes you think this, father?”

He answered me with another question.

“How many kites will you see overhead at any time, sons?”

I wondered at this, but it was easy to answer – to Raven, at least.

“Always one, and sometimes another within sight of the first,” Raven said.

“And if there is food, what then?”

“The first swoops down on it, and the next follows, and the one that watches the second follows that, and so on until there are many kites gathered.”

“What if one comes late?”

“He swings overhead and screams, and goes back to his place; then no more come.”

“Ay,” he said; “you will make a sailor yet, son Raven, for you watch things. Now I will tell you what I saw today. There was the one kite sailing over my head as I was at the ship garth, and presently it screamed so that I looked up. Then it left its wide circles over the town, and flew northward, straight as an arrow. Then from the southward came another, following it, and after that another, and yet others, all going north. And far off I could see where others flew, and they too went north. And presently flapped over me the ravens in the wake of the kites, and the great sea eagles came in screaming and went the same way, and so for all the time that I was at the ship, and until I came home.”

“There is a sacrifice to the Asir somewhere,” I said, “for the birds of Odin and Thor have always their share.”

My father shook his head.

“The birds cry to one another, as I think, and say when the feast is but enough for those that have gathered. They have cried now that there is room for all at some great feasting. Once have I seen the like before, and that was when I was with theship guard when the jarl fought his great battle in the Orkneys; we knew that he had fought by the same token.”

But my mother said that I was surely right. There was no fear of battle here, and indeed with Gunnar and Sigurd to guard the land we had had peace for many a long year on our own coasts, if other lands had had to fear them. My father laughed a little, saying that perhaps it was so, and then my mother took the two little ones and went with them into the sleeping room to put them to rest, while I and my two brothers went out to the cattle garth to see that all was well for the night.

Then, when our eyes were used to the moonlight, which was not very bright, away to the northward we saw a red glow that was not that of the sunset or of the northern lights, dying down now and then, and then again flaring up as will a far-off fire; and even as we looked we heard the croak of an unseen raven flying thitherward overhead.

“Call father,” I said to Withelm, who was the youngest of us three. The boy ran in, and presently my father came out and looked long at the glow in the sky.

“Even as I thought,” he said. “The king’s town is burning, and I must go to tell the jarl. Strange that we have had no message. Surely the king’s men must be hard pressed if this is a foe’s work.”

So he went at once, leaving us full of wonder and excited, as boys will be at anything that is new and has a touch of fear in it. But he had hardly gone beyond the outbuildings when one came running and calling him. The jarl had sent for him, for there was strange news from the king. Then he and this messenger hastened off together.

In half an hour the war horns were blowing fiercely, and all the quiet town was awake, for my father’s forebodings were true, and the foe was on us. In our house my mother was preparing the food that her husband should carry with him, and I was putting a last polish on the arms that should keep him, while the tramp of men who went to the gathering rang down the street, one by one at first, and then in twos and threes. My mother neither wept nor trembled, but worked with a set face that would not show fear.

Then came in my father, and I armed him, begging at the same time that I might go also, for I could use my weapons well enough; but he told me that some must needs bide at home as a guard, and that I was as much wanted there as at the king’s place, wherewith I had to be content. It was by no means unlikely that we also might be attacked, if it was true that the king’s men were outnumbered, as was said.

Now when my father went to say farewell to us, nowhere could be found my brother Withelm.

“The boy has gone to watch the muster,” my father said. “I shall see him there presently.”

Then, because he saw that my mother was troubled more than her wont, he added, “Have no fear for me. This will be no more than a raid of Norsemen, and they will plunder and be away with the tide before we get to the place.”

So he laughed and went out, having done his best to cheer us all, and I went with him to where the men were gathered in their arms in the wide space in the midst of the houses. There I sought for little Withelm, but could not find him among the women and children who looked on; and before we had been there more than a few minutes the jarl gave the word, and the march was begun. There were about fifteen miles to be covered between our town and the king’s.

I watched them out of sight, and then went home, having learned that I was to be called out only in case of need. And as I drew near the homestead I saw a light in the little ash grove that was behind the garth. In the midst of the trees, where this light seemed to be, was our wooden image of Thor the Hammer Bearer, older than any of us could tell; and in front of this was what we used as his altar – four roughly-squared stones set together. These stones were blue-black in colour, and whence they came I do not know, unless it was true that my forefathers brought them here when first Odin led his folk to the northern lands. Always they had been the altar for my people, and my father held that we should have no luck away from them.

So it was strange to see a light in that place, where none would willingly go after dark, and half was I feared to go and see what it might mean. But then it came into my mind that the enemy might be creeping on the house through the grove, and that therefore I must needs find out all about it. So I went softly to the nearest trees, and crept from one to another, ever getting closer to the light; and I will say that I feared more that I might see some strange thing that was more than mortal than that I should see the leading foeman stealing towards me. But presently it was plain that the light did not move as if men carried it, but it flickered as a little fire; and at last I saw that it burned on the altar stones, and that frightened me so that I almost fled.

Maybe I should have done so, but that I heard a voice that I knew; and so, looking once more, I saw a figure standing before the fire, and knew it. It was little Withelm, and why a ten-year-old boy should be here I could not think. But I called him softly, and he started somewhat, turning and trying to look through the darkness towards me, though he did not seem afraid. There was a little fire of dry sticks burning on the stones, and the gaunt old statue seemed to look more terrible than ever in its red blaze. One might have thought that the worn face writhed itself as the light played over it.

“It is I, Withelm,” I said softly, for the fear of the place was on me. “We have sought you everywhere, and father would have wished you farewell. What are you doing here?”

I came forward then, for it was plain that the child feared nothing, so that I was put to shame. And as I came I asked once more what he was doing in this place.

“The jarl has surely forgotten the sacrifice to the Asir before the warriors went to fight, and they will be angry,” he answered very calmly. “It is right that one should remember, and I feared for father, and therefore –”

He pointed to the altar, and I saw that he had laid his own untasted supper on the fire that he had lighted, and I had naught to say. The thing was over-strange to me, who thought nothing of these things. It was true that the host always sacrificed before sailing on the Viking path, but tonight had been urgent haste.

“Thor will not listen to any but a warrior,” I said. “Come home, brother, for mother waits us.”

“If not Thor, who is maybe busy at the battle they talk of, then do I think that All Father will listen,” he said stoutly. “But this was all that I had to make sacrifice withal, and it may not be enough.”

“The jarl will make amends when he comes back,” I said, wishing to get home and away from this place, and yet unwilling to chide the child. “Now let us go, for mother will grow anxious.”

With that he put his hand in mine, and we both saluted Thor, as was fitting, and then went homeward. It seemed to me that the glare in the north was fiercer now than when I had first seen it.

Now, after my mother had put Withelm to bed, I told her how I had found him; and thereat she wept a little, as I could see in the firelight.

After a long silence she said, “Strange things and good come into the mind of a child, and one may learn what his fate shall be in the days to come. I am sure from this that Withelm will be a priest.”

Now as one may buy the place of a godar, with the right to have a temple of the Asir for a district and the authority that goes therewith, if so be that one falls vacant or is to be given up by the holder, this did not seem unlikely, seeing how rich we were fast growing. And indeed my mother’s saying came to pass hereafter, though not at all in the way of which we both thought.

There was no alarm that night. The old warriors watched round the town and along the northern tracks, but saw nothing, and in the morning the black smoke hung over the place of the burning, drifting slowly seaward. The wind had changed, and they said that it would doubtless have taken the foe away with it, as my father had hoped. So I went down to the ship with Raven, and worked at the few things that were still left to be done to her as she lay in her long shed on the slips, ready to take the water at any tide. She was only waiting for cargo and stores to be put on board her with the shift of wind that had come at last, and I thought that my father would see to these things as soon as he came back.

Now in the evening we had news from the Jarl, and strange enough it was. My father came back two days afterwards and told us all, and so I may as well make a short story of it. The ways of Gunnar Kirkeban had been his end, for a certain Viking chief, a Norseman, had wintered in Wales during the past winter, and there he had heard from the Welsh of the wrongs that they had suffered at his hands. Also he had heard of the great booty of Welsh gold that Gunnar had taken thence in the last summer; and so, when these Welsh asked that he would bide with them and help fight the next Danes who came, he had offered to do more than that – he would lead them to Gunnar’s place if they would find men to man three ships that he had taken, and would be content to share the booty with them.

The Welsh king was of the line of Arthur, and one who yet hoped to win back the land of his fathers from the Saxons and English; and so he listened to this Hodulf, thinking to gain a powerful ally in him for attack on the eastern coast of England after this. So, favoured by the wind that had kept us from the sea, Hodulf, with twenty ships in all, had fallen on Gunnar unawares, and had had an easy victory, besetting the town in such wise that only in the confusion while the wild Welsh were burning and plundering on every side had the messenger to the jarl been able to slip away.

But when the jarl and our men reached the town there was naught to be done but to make terms with Hodulf as best he might, that the whole country might not be overrun. For Gunnar had been slain in his own hall, with his two young daughters and with the queen also, as was supposed. Havelok the prince was in his hands, and for his sake therefore Sigurd had been the more ready to come to terms.

Then Hodulf sent messengers to the overlord of all Denmark, saying that he would hold this kingdom as for him, and backed up that promise with a great present from Gunnar’s treasure, so that he was listened to. Therefore our jarl was helpless; and there being no other king strong enough to aid him if he rose, in the end he had to take Hodulf for lord altogether, though it went sorely against the grain.

I have heard it said by the Welsh folk that Hodulf held the kingdom for their lord; and it is likely that he humoured them by saying that he would do so, which was a safe promise to make, as even King Arthur himself could never have reached him to make him pay scatt.


MY FATHER CAME HOME heavy and anxious enough, for he did not know how things would go under this new king, though he had promised peace to all men who would own him. We in our place saw nothing of him or his men for the next few weeks, but he was well spoken of by those who had aught to do with him elsewhere. So my father went on trying to gather a cargo for England; but it was a slow business, as the burnt and plundered folk of the great town had naught for us, and others sold to them. But he would never be idle, and every day when weather served we went fishing, for he loved his old calling well, as a man will love that which he can do best. Our two boats and their gear were always in the best of order, and our kinsman, Arngeir, used and tended them when we were away in the ship in summertime.

Now, one evening, as we came up from the shore after beaching the boat on the hard below the town, and half a mile from the nearest houses, and being, as one may suppose, not altogether in holiday trim, so that Grim and his boys with their loads of fish and nets looked as though a fisher’s hovel were all the home that they might own, we saw a horseman, followed at a little distance by two more, riding towards us. The dusk was gathering, and at first we thought that this was Jarl Sigurd, who would ask us maybe to send fish to his hall, and so we set our loads down and waited for him.

But it was not our lord, and I had never seen this man before. From his arms, which were of a new pattern to me, he might be one of the host of Hodulf, as I thought.

“Ho, fisher!” he cried, when he was yet some way from us; “leave your lads, and come hither. I have a word for you.”

He reined up and waited, and now I was sure that he was a Norseman, for his speech was rougher than ours. He was a tall, handsome man enough; but I liked neither his voice nor face, nor did I care to hear Grim, my father, summoned in such wise, not remembering that just now a stranger could not tell that he was aught but a fisher thrall of the jarl’s.

But my father did as he was asked, setting down the nets that he was carrying, and only taking with him the long boathook on which he had slung them as he went forward. I suppose he remembered the old saying, that a man should not stir a step on land without his weapons, as one never knows when there may be need of them; and so, having no other, he took this.

I heard the first questions that the man asked, for he spoke loudly.

“Whose man are you?”

“Sigurd’s,” answered my father shortly.

“Whose are the boats?”

“Mine, seeing that I built them.”

“Why, then, there is somewhat that you can do for me,” the horseman said. “Is your time your own, however?”

“If the jarl needs me not.”

“Tonight, then?”

“I have naught to do after I have carried the nets home.”

“That is well,” said the stranger; and after that he dropped his voice so that I heard no more, but he and my father talked long together.

We waited, and at last the talk ended, and my father came hack to us, while the stranger rode away northward along the sands. Then I asked who the man was, and what he wanted.

“He is some chief of these Norsemen, and one who asks more questions of a thrall, as he thinks me, than he would dare ask Sigurd the jarl, or Grim the merchant either, for that matter.”

Seeing that my father did not wish to say more at this time, we asked nothing else, but went homeward in silence. It seemed as if he was ill at ease, and he went more quickly than was his wont, so that presently Raven and little Withelm lagged behind us with their burdens, for our catch had been a good one.

Then he stopped outside the garth when we reached home, and told me not to go in yet. And when the others came up he said to them, “Do you two take in the things and the fish, and tell mother that Radbard and I have to go down to the ship. There is cargo to be seen to, and it is likely that we shall he late, so bid her not wait up for us.”

Then he told me to come, and we left the two boys at once and turned away towards the haven. There was nothing strange in this, for cargo often came at odd times, and we were wont to work late in stowing it. I did wonder that we had not stayed to snatch a bit of supper, but it crossed my mind that the Norseman had told my father of some goods that had maybe been waiting for the whole day while we were at sea. And then that did not seem likely, for he had taken us for thralls. So I was puzzled, but held my peace until it should seem good to my father to tell me what we were about.

When we reached a place where there was no house very near and no man about, he said to me at last, “What is on hand I do not rightly know, but yon man was Hodulf, the new king, as I suppose we must call him. He would not tell me his name, but I saw him when he and the jarl made terms the other day. Now he has bidden me meet him on the road a mile from the town as soon as it is dark, and alone. He has somewhat secret for me to do.”

“It is a risk to go alone and unarmed,” I answered; “let me go home and get your weapons, for the errand does not seem honest.”

“That is what I think also,” said my father, “and that is why I am going to meet him. It is a bad sign when a king has a secret to share with a thrall, and I have a mind to find out what it is. There may be some plot against our jarl.”

He was silent for a few minutes, as if thinking, and then he went on.

“I cannot take arms, or he would suspect me, and would tell me nothing; but if there is any plotting to be done whereof I must tell the jarl, it will be as well that you should hear it.”

Then he said that he thought it possible for me to creep very close to the place where he was to meet Hodulf, so that I could hear all or most of what went on, and that I might as well be armed in case of foul play, for he did not suppose that the Norseman would think twice about cutting down a thrall who did not please him.

It was almost dark by this time, and therefore he must be going. I was not to go home for arms, but to borrow from Arngeir as we passed his house. And this I did, saying that I had an errand beyond the town and feared prowling men of the Norse host. Which danger being a very reasonable one, Arngeir offered to go with me; and I had some difficulty in preventing him from doing so, for he was like an elder brother to all of us. However, I said that I had no great distance to go, and feigned to be ashamed of myself for my fears; and he laughed at me, and let me go my way with sword and spear and seax also, which last my father would take under his fisher’s jerkin.

I caught up my father quickly, and we went along the sands northwards until we came to the place where we must separate. The road was but a quarter of a mile inland from this spot, for it ran near the shore, and it was not much more than that to the place where Hodulf would be waiting.

“Creep as near as you can,” my father said; “but come to help only if I call. I do not think that I am likely to do so.”

Then we went our ways, he making straight for the road, and I turning to my left a little. It was dark, for there was no moon now, but save that I was soundly scratched by the brambles of the fringe of brushwood that grew all along the low hills of the coast, there was nothing to prevent my going on quickly, for I knew the ground well enough, by reason of yearly bird nesting. When I reached the roadway the meeting place was yet to my left, and I could hear my father’s footsteps coming steadily in the distance. So I skirted the road for a little way, and then came to an open bit of heath and rising land, beyond which I thought I should find Hodulf. Up this I ran quickly, dropping into the heather at the top; and sure enough, in a hollow just off the road I could dimly make out the figure of a mounted man waiting.

Then my father came along the road past me, and I crawled among the tall heather clumps until I was not more than twenty paces from the hollow, which was a little below me.

Hodulf’s horse winded me, as I think, and threw up its head snorting, and I heard its bit rattle. But my father was close at hand, and that was lucky.

“Ho, fisher, is that you?” he called softly.

“I am here,” was the answer, and at once my father came into the hollow from the road.

“Are any folk about?” Hodulf said.

“I have met none. Now, what is all this business?” answered my father.

“Business that will make a free man of you for the rest of your days, and rich, moreover, master thrall,” said Hodulf. “That is, if you do as I bid you.”

“A thrall can do naught else than what he is bidden.”

“Nay, but he can do that in a way that will earn great reward, now and then; and your reward for obedience and silence thereafter in this matter shall be aught that you like to ask.”

“This sounds as if I were to peril my life,” my father said. “I know naught else that can be worth so much as that might be.”

“There is no peril,” said Hodulf scornfully; “your skin shall not be so much as scratched – ay, and if this is well done it will know a master’s dog whip no more.”

I heard my father chuckle with a thrall’s cunning laugh at this, and then he said eagerly, “Well, master, what is it?”

“I will tell you. But first will you swear as on the holy ring that of what you shall do for me no man shall know hereafter?”

“What I do at your bidding none shall know, and that I swear,” answered my father slowly, as if trying to repeat the king’s words.

“See here, then,” said Hodulf, and I heard his armour clatter as he dismounted.

Then the footsteps of both men shuffled together for a little while, and once I thought I heard a strange sound as of a muffled cry, at which Hodulf muttered under his breath. I could see that they took something large from the saddle bow, and set it on the ground, and then they spoke again.

“Have you a heavy anchor?” asked the king.

“A great one.”

“Well, then, tie it to this sack and sink it tonight where tide will never shift it. Then you may come to me and claim what reward you will.”

“Freedom, and gold enough to buy a new boat – two new boats!” said my father eagerly.

Hodulf laughed at that, and got on his horse again. I saw his tall form lift itself against the dim sky as he did so.

“What is in the sack?” asked my father.

“That is not your concern,” Hodulf answered sharply. “If you know not, then you can tell no man, even in your sleep. Put off at once and sink it.”

“It is in my mind,” said my father, “that I had better not look in the sack. Where shall I find you, lord, when the thing is in the sea? For as yet I have not heard your name.”

I think that Hodulf had forgotten that he would have to answer this question, or else he thought that everyone knew him, for he did not reply all at once.

“You may ask the king for your reward,” he said, after a little thought, “for this is his business. Now you know that it will be best for you to be secret and sure. Not much worth will your chance of escape from torture be if this becomes known. But you know also that the reward is certain.”

“The king!” cried my father, with a sort of gasp of surprise.

I could almost think that I saw him staring with mouth agape as would a silly thrall; for so well had he taken the thrall’s part that had I not known who was speaking all the time, I had certainly had no doubt that one was there.

“Come to Hodulf, the king, and pray for freedom and your gold as a boon of his goodness, saying naught else, or making what tale you will of a hard master, or justice, so that you speak naught of what you have done, and that – and maybe more – shall be granted.”

“You yourself will speak for me?”

“I am the king – and think not that the darkness will prevent my knowing your face again,” Hodulf replied.

There was a threat in the words, and with them he turned his horse and rode away quickly northwards. I heard the hoofs of his men’s horses rattle on the road as they joined him, before he had gone far.

When the sounds died away altogether, and there was no fear of his coming back suddenly on us, my father whistled and I joined him. He almost started to find how near I was.

“You have heard all, then?” he said.

“Every word,” I answered, “and I like it not. Where is this sack he spoke of?”

It lay at his feet. A large sack it was, and full of somewhat heavy and warm that seemed to move a little when I put my hand on it. Still less did I like the business as I felt that.

“More also!” quoth my father, as if thinking of the king’s last words. “If that does not mean a halter for my neck, I am mistaken. What have we here, son, do you think?”

“Somewhat that should not be here, certainly,” I answered. “There would not be so much talk about drowning a dog, as one might think this to be.”

“Unless it were his wife’s,” answered my father, with a laugh.

Then he stooped, and I helped him to get the sack on his shoulders. It was heavy, but not very – not so heavy as a young calf in a sack would be; and he carried it easily, taking my spear to help him.

“The thrall is even going to take this to the house of Grim the merchant, whom the king will not know again, though he may see in the dark,” said he; “then we shall know how we stand.”

We met no one on our way back, for the town had gone to sleep, until the watchman passed the time of night with us, thinking no doubt that we had fish or goods in the burden. And when we came home a sleepy thrall opened to us, for all were at rest save him. And he too went his way to the shed where his place was when he had stirred the fire to a blaze and lit a torch that we might see to eat the supper that was left for us.

Then we were alone, and while I set Arngeir’s weapons in a corner, my father put down the sack, and stood looking at it. It seemed to sway a little, and to toss as it settled down. And now that there was light it was plain that the shape of what was inside it was strangely like that of a child, doubled up with knees to chin, as it showed through the sacking.

“Hodulf or no Hodulf,” said my father, “I am going to see more of this.”

With that he took a knife from the table and cut the cord that fastened the mouth, turning back the sack quickly.

And lo! gagged and bound hand and foot in such wise that he could not move, in the sack was a wondrously handsome boy of about the size of Withelm; and for all his terrible journey across the king’s saddle, and in spite of our rough handling, his eyes were bright and fearless as he looked up at us.

“Radbard,” said my father, “what if Hodulf had met with a thrall who had done his bidding in truth?”

I would not think thereof, for surely by this time there had been no light in the eyes that seemed to me to be grateful to us.

Now my father knelt down by the boy’s side, and began to take the lashings from him, telling him at the same time to be silent when the gag was gone.

And hard work enough the poor child had to keep himself from screaming when his limbs were loosed, so cramped was he, for he had been bound almost into a ball. And even as we rubbed and chafed the cold hands and feet he swooned with the pain of the blood running freely once more.

“This is a business for mother,” said my father, on that; “get your supper, and take it to bed with you, and say naught to the boys in the morning. This is a thing that may not be talked of.”

Now I should have liked to stay, but my father meant what he said, and I could be of no more use; so I took my food, and went up to the loft where we three slept, and knew no more of what trouble that night might have for others.


NOW AFTER I HAD gone, Grim, my father, tried to bring the child round, but he could not do so; and therefore, leaving him near the fire, he went softly to call Leva, my mother, to help him; and all the while he was wondering who the child might be, though indeed a fear that he knew only too well was growing in his heart, for there would surely he only one whom Hodulf could wish out of his way.

As he opened the door that led to the sleeping room beyond the high seat, the light shone on Leva, and showed her sitting up in bed with wide eyes that seemed to gaze on somewhat that was terrible, and at first he thought her awake. But she yet slept, and so he called her gently, and she started and woke.

“Husband, is that you?” she said. “I had a strange dream even now which surely portends somewhat.”

Now, as all men know, our folk in the north are most careful in the matter of attending to dreams, specially those that come in troubled times, holding that often warning or good counsel comes from them. I cannot say that I have ever had any profit in that way myself, being no dreamer at all; but it is certain that others have, as may be seen hereafter. Wherefore my father asked Leva what this dream might be.

“In my dream,” she answered, “it seemed that you came into the house bearing a sack, which you gave into my charge, saying that therein lay wealth and good fortune for us. And I would not believe this, for you said presently that to gain this the sack and all that was therein was to be thrown into the sea, which seemed foolishness. Whereon I cast it into a corner in anger, and thereout came pitiful cries and wailings. Then said I that it were ill to drown aught that had a voice as of a child, and so you bade me leave it. Then I seemed to sleep here; but presently in my dream I rose and looked on the sack again, and lo! round about it shone a great light, so that all the place was bright, and I was afraid. Then you came and opened the sack, and therein was a wondrous child, from whose mouth came a flame, as it were the shaft of a sunbeam, that stretched over all Denmark, and across the sea to England, whereby I knew that this child was one who should hereafter be king of both these lands. And on this I stared even as you woke me.”

Now Grim was silent, for this was passing strange, and moreover it fitted with his thought of who this child might be, since Hodulf. would make away with him thus secretly.

“What make you of the dream?” asked Leva, seeing that he pondered on it.

“It is in my mind that your dream will come true altogether, for already it has begun to do so,” he answered. “Rise and come into the hall, and I will show you somewhat.”

On that Leva made haste and dressed and came out, and there, lying as if in sleep before the fire, was the wondrous child of her dream, and the sack was under his head as he lay; and she was wont to say to those few who knew the story, that the kingliness of that child was plain to be seen, as had been the flame of which she had dreamed, so that all might know it, though the clothes that he wore were such as a churl might be ashamed of.

Then she cried out a little, but not loudly, and knelt by the child to see him the better; and whether he had come to himself before and had dropped asleep for very weariness, or out of his swoon had passed into sleep, I cannot say, but at her touch he stirred a little.

“What child is this? and how came he here?” she asked, wondering.

“Already your dream has told you truly how he came,” Grim answered, “but who he is I do not rightly know yet. Take him up and bathe him, wife; and if he is the one I think him, there will be a mark whereby we may know him.”

“How should he be marked? And why look you to find any sign thus?”

But Grim had turned down the rough shirt and bared the child’s neck and right shoulder, whereon were bruises that made Leva well-nigh weep as she saw them, for it was plain that he had been evilly treated for many days before this. But there on the white skin was the mark of the king’s line – the red four-armed cross with bent ends which Gunnar and all his forebears had borne.

Seeing that, Leva looked up wondering in her husband’s face, and he answered the question that he saw written in her eyes.

“He is as I thought – he is Havelok, the son of Gunnar, our king. Hodulf gave him to me that I might drown him.”

Then he told her all that had happened, and how from the first time that he had lifted the sack and felt what was within it he had feared that this was what was being done. Hodulf would have no rival growing up beside him, and as he dared not slay him openly, he would have it thought that he had been stolen away by his father’s friends, and then folk would maybe wait quietly in hopes that he would come again when time went on.

Now Leva bathed Havelok in the great tub, and with the warmth and comfort of the hot water he waked and was well content, so that straightway, when he was dressed in Withelm’s holiday clothes, which fitted him, though he was but seven years old at this time, and Withelm was a well-grown boy enough for his ten winters, he asked for food, and they gave him what was yet on the board; and we lived well in Denmark.

“There is no doubt that he hath a kingly hunger,” quoth Grim as he watched him.

“Friend,” said Havelok, hearing this, though it was not meant for his ears, “it is likely, seeing that this is the third day since I have had food given me. And I thank you, good people, though I would have you know that it is the custom to serve the king’s son kneeling.”

“How should we know that you are the king’s son indeed?” asked Grim.

“I am Havelok, son of Gunnar,” the boy said gravely. “Yon traitor, Hodulf, has slain my father, and my two sisters, and driven out my mother, whither I cannot tell, and now he would drown me.”

Then the boy could hardly keep a brave front any longer, and he added, “Yet I do not think that you will do to me as I heard him bid you.”

Then came over Grim a great pity and sorrow that it should seem needful thus to sue to him, and there grew a lump in his throat, so that for a while he might not answer, and the boy thought him in doubt, so that in his eyes there was a great fear. But Leva wept outright, and threw herself on her knees beside him, putting her arms round him as he sat, speaking words of comfort.

Then Grim knelt also, and said, “Thralls of yours are we, Havelok, son of Gunnar, and for you shall our lives be given before Hodulf shall harm you. Nor shall he know that you live until the day comes when you can go to him sword in hand and helm on head, with half the men of this realm at your back, and speak to him of what he did and what he planned, and the vengeance that shall be therefor.”

So Grim took on himself to be Havelok’s foster-father, and, as he ended, the boy said with glowing eyes, “I would that I were grown up. How long shall this be before it comes to pass?”

And then of a sudden he said, as a tired child will, “Friends, I am sorely weary. Let me sleep.”

So Leva took him in her arms and laid him in their own bed; and at once he slept, so that she left him and came back to Grim by the fireside, for there was much to be said.

First of all it was clear that Havelok must be hidden, and it was not to be supposed that Hodulf would be satisfied until he had seen the thrall to whom he had trusted such a secret come back for his reward. If he came not he would be sought; and then he would find out to whom he had spoken, and there would be trouble enough.

But it seemed easy to hide Havelok on board the ship, and sail with him to England as soon as possible. A few days might well pass before a thrall could get to Hodulf, so that he would suspect nothing just at first. There were merchants in England who would care for the boy well, and the two boats might be sunk, so that the king should not ask whose they were. So when Grim came home again the fisher would be thought of as drowned on his errand, and Hodulf would be content.

But then, after a little talk of this, it was plain that all the town could not be told to say that the fisher was drowned on such a night, and Hodulf would leave naught undone to find the truth of the matter. So the puzzle became greater, and the one thing that was clear was that Grim was in sore danger, and Havelok also.

Then suddenly outside the dogs barked, and a voice which they obeyed quieted them. Grim sprang for his axe, which hung on the wall, and went to the door, whereon someone was knocking gently.

“Open, uncle; it is I, Arngeir.”

“What does the boy want at this time?” said Grim, taking down the great bar that kept the door, axe in hand, for one must be cautious in such times as these.

Arngeir came in – a tall young man of twenty, handsome, and like Grim in ways, for he was his brother’s son.

“Lucky am I in finding you astir,” he said. “I thought I should have had to wake you all. Are you just home from sea, or just going out?”

“Not long home,” answered Leva; “but what has brought you?”

“I have a guest for you, if I may bring one here at this hour.”

“A friend of yours never comes at the wrong time,” Grim said. “Why not bring him in?”

“If it were a friend of mine and a man he would do well enough at my house for the night,” said Arngeir, smiling; “but the one for whom I have come is a lady, and, I think, one in sore trouble.”

“Who is she?” asked my mother, wondering much.

“From the king’s town, certainly,” answered Arngeir, “but I do not know her name. Truth to tell, I forgot to ask it, for she is sorely spent; and so I made haste to come to you.”

Then Leva would know how a lady came at this time to Arngeir’s house, for he was alone, save for his four men, being an orphan without other kin beside us, and his house was close to our shipyard and the sea.

“She came not to me, but I found her,” he replied. “My horse is sick, and I must get up an hour ago and see to it for the second time tonight. Then as I came from the stable I saw someone go towards the shipyard, and, as I thought, into the open warehouse. It was dark, and I could not tell then if this was man or woman; but I knew that no one had business there, and there are a few things that a thief might pick up. So I took an axe and one of the dogs, and went to see what was on hand, but at first there was naught to be found of anyone. If it had not been for the dog, I think that I should have gone away, but he went into the corner where the bales of wool are set, and there he whined strangely, and when I looked, there was this lady on the bales, and she was weeping and sore afraid. So I asked her what was amiss, and it was not easy to get an answer at first. But at last she told me that she had escaped from the burning of the king’s town, and would fain be taken across the sea into some place of peace. So I cheered her by saying that you would surely help her; and then I took her to my house and came to you. Worn and rent are her garments, but one may see that they have been rich, and I deem her some great lady.”

“Go and bring her here, husband,” said my mother, on hearing that.

But he was already going, and at once he and Arngeir went out and down the street. There were many other ladies and their children who had taken refuge here with the townsfolk after the burning, and the coming of this one was but another count in the long tale of trouble that began on the Welsh shore with the ways of Gunnar, the church’s bane.

My father was long gone, and the day was breaking when he came back. My mother slept in the great chair before the fire, for waiting had wearied her, but she woke as she heard Grim’s footstep, and unbarred the door to him, ready to welcome the guest that she looked for. But he was alone, and on his face was the mark of some new trouble, and that a great one.

He came in and barred the door after him, and then sat down wearily and ate for the first time since we had had our meal at sea; and while he did so Leva asked him nothing, wondering what was wrong, but knowing that she would hear in good time. And when he had eaten well he spoke.

“The lady is Eleyn the queen. She has been wandering for these many days from place to place, sometimes in the woods, and sometimes in hiding in the cottages of the poor folk, always with a fear of staying in one place, lest Hodulf should find her, for it is known that he is seeking her. Then at last one told her of my ship, and she is here to seek me.”

Now one may know what the wonder and pity of my mother was, and she would fain have gone to her. But Grim had left her at Arngeir’s house, for folk were stirring in the town, and there were many who would know the queen if they saw her.

“It will soon be known that Arngeir has a guest,” my mother said, “whereas none would have wondered had she been here.”

“By this time tomorrow it will not matter if Hodulf knows,” answered Grim, “for she will be safe.”

“Where will you hide her then and what of Havelok?”