CHAPTER I. HOW LODBROK THE DANE CAME TO REEDHAM.
Elfric, my father, and I stood on our little watch tower at Reedham, and looked out over the wide sea mouth of Yare and Waveney, to the old gray walls of the Roman Burgh on the further shore, and the white gulls cried round us, and the water sparkled in the fresh sea breeze from the north and east, and the bright May-time sun shone warmly on us, and our hearts went out to the sea and its freedom, so that my father said:
"Once again is the spirit of Hengist stirring in me, and needs must that you and I take ship, and go on the swan's path even as our forefathers went; let us take the good ship somewhere--anywhere to be on the sea again. What say you, son Wulfric?"
And at that I was very glad, for I had longed for that word of his. For never, since I could remember, was a time when I knew not all that a boy might learn, for his years, of sea and the seaman's craft; and the sea drew me, calling me as it were with its many voices, even as it drew my father.
Yet, all unlike Hengist and his men, we sailed but for peaceful gain, and very rich grew Elfric, the thane of Reedham; for ours was the only ship owned by English folk on all our East Anglian shores, and she brought us wealth year by year, as we sailed to Humber and Wash northwards, and Orwell and Thames to the south, as seemed best for what merchandise we had for sale or would buy. But, more than all, my father and I alike sailed for the love of ship and sea, caring little for the gain that came, so long as the salt spray was over us, and we might hear the hum of the wind in the canvas, or the steady roll and click of the long oars in the ship's rowlocks, and take our chance of long fights with wind and wave on our stormy North Sea coasts.
So we went down to the shipyard, under the lee of Reedham Hill, and found old Kenulf our pilot, and with him went round our stout Frisian ship that my father had bought long ago, and at once bade him get ready for sailing as soon as might be. And that was a welcome order to Kenulf and our crew also; for well do the North Folk of East Anglia love the sea, if our Saxon kin of the other kingdoms have forgotten for a while the ways of their forbears.
Not so welcome was our sailing to my mother, who must sit at home listening to the song of the breezes and the roll of breakers, with her heart stirred to fear for us at every shift of wind and change of tide. And fair Eadgyth, my sister, beautiful with the clear beauty of a fair-haired Saxon lady, shared in her fears also, though I think that she believed that no storm could rage more fiercely than her father and brother and their crew could ride through in safety. Once she had sailed with us in high summer time to London, and so she held that she knew well all the ways of the ship and sea; fearing them a little, maybe.
Yet there was another dread in the heart of my mother, for this is what she said:
"What of the Danes, Elfric, my husband? Surely there is risk--aye, and great risk--of falling into their hands."
Thereat my father laughed easily, and answered:
"Not to an East Anglian ship now; for they have kept the pact we have made with them....