Although for a time the Northmen abstained from grand assaults, continue_kirmishes took place. Sometimes parties landed beneath the walls, and strov_o carry off the cattle which the besieged turned out to gather a little fres_ood there. Sometimes the citizens, led by Eudes or Ebble, would take boat an_ross, and endeavour to cut off small parties of the enemy. They had no_ufficient boats at their disposal for expeditions of this kind; for, in thei_ast defeat, the Danes had in their haste left several boats behind them. O_ne of the largest of these Edmund took possession, and going out in her a_ight, several times succeeded in capturing Danish vessels, sometimes whil_hey were rowing along the river unsuspicious that any foes were near, sometimes by boarding them as they lay alongside the bank.
As the vessels so captured were too large to be dragged ashore, and could hav_een easily recaptured by the Danes, they were, after being emptied of thei_ontents, always burned. The plague continued its ravages, and the city becam_traitened for provisions. Count Eudes therefore determined to go to Kin_harles to urge him to hurry to the succour of the town. Almost all the chief_f the defence had fallen victims to the pest, or had been killed in battl_ith the Danes, and the count at his departure committed the defence of th_ity to the Abbe Ebble and Edmund. He then crossed the stream at night, an_ade his way successfully through the Danes.
The abbe and Edmund vied with each other in keeping up the spirits of th_arrison with successful little forays with the Danes, frequently crossing th_iver to the one bank or the other, sometimes with parties of only five or si_en, and falling upon similar bodies of the enemy. Several times they pounce_pon small herds of the enemy's cattle, and driving them into the river, directed them in their boats across the stream.
In the commencement of July Eudes appeared on the slopes on Mont Martre wit_hree battalions of soldiers. The enemy, who were for the most part on th_ther side of the Seine, crossed the river. A desperate battle ensued. _ortion of the garrison crossed in boats to the assistance of their friends, Edmund leading over his band of Saxons. With these he fell upon the rear o_he Danes engaged in fighting with the force under the count, and th_orthmen, attacked on both sides, gave way and took to flight. They were hotl_ursued by the Franks.
The reinforcements entered Paris triumphantly by the bridge, which had lon_ince been repaired. But the siege was not yet over. When the news of th_ictory of Eudes spread, the Danes again drew together from all parts, an_rossing the river, attacked the city on every side. The onslaught was mor_urious than any which had preceded it. The Danes had provided themselves wit_arge numbers of mangonels and catapults. Every man capable of bearing arm_as upon the walls; but so furious was the attack, so vast the number of th_ssailants, so prodigious were the clouds of missiles which they rained upo_he walls, that the besieged almost lost heart.
The relics of St. Genevieve were taken round the walls. In several places th_anes had formed breaches in the walls, and although the besieged stil_truggled, hope had well-nigh left them, and abject terror reigned in th_ity. Women ran about the streets screaming, and crying that the end was a_and. The church bells tolled dismally, and the shouts of the exultant Dane_ose higher and higher. Again a general cry rose to St. Germain to come to th_id of the town. Just at this moment Edmund and Egbert, who had till now hel_he Saxons in reserve, feeling that a desperate effort must be made, formed u_heir band, and advancing to the principal breach, passed through the ranks o_he disheartened Franks, and with levelled pikes charged headlong down int_he crowd of Danes. The latter, already exhausted by their efforts, were a_nce borne back before the serried pikes of their fresh assailants. In vai_heir chiefs at that point tried to rally them; nothing could withstand th_mpetus of the Saxon attack.
Astonished at seeing the tide of battle swept away from the breach, the Frenc_elieved that St. Germain had wrought a miracle in their favour, and takin_eart poured out in the rear of the Saxons. The news of the miracle sprea_apidly. Through the breaches, and from every gate, they poured out suddenl_pon the Danes, who, struck with consternation at this sudden onslaught by _oe whom they had already regarded as beaten, hesitated, and soon took t_light. Vast numbers were cut down before they could reach their vessels. _reat portion fled towards the bridge and endeavoured to cross there; bu_heir numbers impeded them, and the Saxons and Franks, falling upon thei_ear, effected a terrible slaughter.
Two days after the battle a force of six hundred Franks arrived from th_mperor Charles. The Danes sought to oppose their entrance to the city, bu_ere defeated with a loss of three thousand men. The siege was now virtuall_ver, and in a short time the emperor himself with a great army arrived. I_as now November, and after some negotiations the Danes agreed upon th_eceipt of seven hundred pounds of silver to retire to Burgundy and to leav_he country at the beginning of March.
Having wasted Burgundy, however, they again returned to Paris. Consternatio_eized the capital when the fleet of the Northmen was seen approaching. _reaty was, however, made, for the wind had fallen just when the Danish fleet, which had but lately arrived and was descending the river, was abreast o_aris. As soon as the wind became favourable the Northmen broke the truce, slew a number of Franks who had mingled among them, and passed up the Marne.
In the meantime Emperor Charles had died and Count Eudes had been chosen hi_uccessor. When the Danes again advanced against Paris he speedily sen_einforcements. The town had already repulsed an attack. Eudes himself on St.
John's Day was advancing with 1000 men-at-arms when he was attacked by 10,00_ounted Danes and 9000 footmen. The combat was desperate but the Franks wer_ictorious. Eudes, however, had other difficulties. Burgundy and Aquitain_evolted, and in order to secure peace to the kingdom he made a treaty wit_he Danes, giving over to them the province of Normandy.
Edmund and Egbert had no part in the second siege of Paris. As soon as th_lace was relieved by the Emperor Charles they prepared to depart. Takin_oats they ascended the river, and to their joy found the Dragon safe in th_iding place where she had been lying for nearly a year. She was brought ou_nto the stream and floated down to Paris, where by the order of Count Eude_he was thoroughly repaired and redecorated.
The Franks, convinced that next only to the assistance of St. Germain the_wed the safety of their city to the valour of the Saxons, loaded them wit_resents; and these, with the gifts which they had previously received afte_he destruction of the three towers, and the sums for which the booty capture_rom the Danes had been sold, made up a great treasure.
Upon the day before they had arranged to sail a Danish boat was seen rowin_own the stream. It approached the Dragon and the helmsman asked:
"Is this ship the Dragon? and has it for a captain Edmund the Saxon?"
"I am Edmund," he replied, "and this is the Dragon. What would you with me?"
"I am sent by the Jarl Siegbert, who lies wounded near, to beg that you wil_ome to him immediately, as he is in a sore strait and needs your assistance."
"I will come at once," Edmund said. "Put one of your men on board to show m_here he is, for I shall be there before you."
Edmund's horn sounded the signal, and messengers were sent to the town t_rder the crew at once to repair on board the Dragon. Edmund landed and too_eave of the Frankish leaders. The provisions and stores were hastily carrie_n board, and then, amidst the enthusiastic cheers of the inhabitants, wh_hronged the walls and shore, the oars were got out and the Dragon proceede_t the top of her speed up the river.
On the way Edmund questioned the Dane, and found that Siegbert had bee_ounded in the last assault upon Paris. He had not been present at the firs_art of the siege, having but recently arrived from Norway. His daughter Fred_ad accompanied him. "Yes," she was still unmarried, although many valian_orthmen had sought her hand, chief among them the brave leader Sweyn "of th_eft hand;" but there had been a fray on the previous night in Siegbert'_amp, and it was said—but for that he could not vouch—that Freda had bee_arried off.
The news filled Edmund with anxiety. Ever since the day he left her on he_ather's galley his thoughts had turned often to the Danish maiden, and th_esolution to carry out his promise and some day seek her again had never fo_ moment wavered. He had seen many fair young Saxons, and could have chosen _ride where he would among these, for few Saxons girls would have turned _eaf ear to the wooing of one who was at once of high rank, a prime favourit_ith the king, and regarded by his countrymen as one of the bravest of th_axon champions; but the dark-haired Freda, who united the fearlessness an_ndependence of a woman with the frankness and gaiety of a child, had won hi_eart.
It was true she was a Dane and a pagan; but her father was his friend, an_ould, he felt sure, offer no objections on the ground of the enmity of th_aces. Since Guthorn and his people had embraced Christianity, the enmit_etween the races, in England at least, was rapidly declining. As to he_eligion, Edmund doubted not that she would, under his guidance and teaching, soon cast away the blood-stained gods of the Northmen and accept Christianity.
In the five years of strife and warfare which had elapsed since he saw he_dmund had often pictured their next meeting. He had not doubted that sh_ould remain true to him. Few as were the words which had been spoken, he kne_hat when she said, "I will wait for you even till I die," she had meant it, and that she was not one to change. He had even been purposing, on his retur_o England, to ask King Alfred to arrange through Guthorn for a safe pass fo_im to go to Norway. To hear, then, that she had been carried off from he_ather's side was a terrible blow, and in his anxiety to arrive at Siegbert'_ent Edmund urged the rowers to their fullest exertions.
It was three hours after leaving Paris when the Dane pointed to a village at _hort distance from the river and told him that Siegbert was lying there. Th_ragon was steered to shore, and Edmund leaping out followed the Dane wit_apid footsteps to the village. The wounded jarl was lying upon a heap o_traw.
"Is it really you, Edmund?" he exclaimed as the young Saxon entered. "Glad a_ indeed that my messenger did not arrive too late. I heard of you when w_irst landed—how the Danes, when they sailed up the Seine, had seen a Saxo_alley of strange shape which had rowed rapidly up the river; how the galle_erself had never again been seen; but how a young Saxon with his band ha_erformed wonders in the defence of Paris, and had burned well-nigh half th_anish fleet.
"They said that the leader was named Edmund, for they had heard the nam_houted in battle; and especially when he, with one other alone, escaped fro_he burning tower and swam the river. So I was sure that it was you. Then, _eek back, my men told me of a strange ship which had passed down the river t_aris, and I doubted not that it was your Dragon, which had been hidde_omewhere during the siege. I thought then of sending to tell you that I wa_ying here wounded; but Freda, who had always been talking of you, suddenl_urned coy and said that you might have forgotten us, and if you wanted us yo_ould come to us in Norway."
"But where is Freda?" Edmund, who had been listening impatiently, exclaimed.
"One of your men told me that she had been carried off. Is it true?"
"Alas! it is true," Siegbert replied; "and that is why I sent for you. I hav_ever been good friends with Bijorn since the wounding of his son, but after _ime the matter blew over. Sweyn, who though but with one arm, and that th_eft, has grown into a valiant warrior, is now, Bijorn being dead, one of ou_oldest vikings. A year since he became a declared suitor for Freda's hand. I_his, indeed, he is not alone, seeing that she has grown up one of our faires_aidens, and many are the valorous deeds that have been done to win a smil_rom her; but she has refused all suitors, Sweyn with the others. He took hi_efusal in bad part, and even ventured to vow she should be his whether sh_illed it or not. Of course I took the matter up and forbade all furthe_ntimacy, and we had not met again till the other day before Paris. We ha_igh words there, but I thought no more of it. A few days afterwards I wa_truck by a crossbow bolt in the leg. It smashed my knee, and I shall never b_ble to use my leg again. I well-nigh died of fever and vexation, but Fred_ursed me through it. She had me carried on a litter here to be away from th_oise and revelry of the camp. Last night there was a sudden outcry. Some o_y men who sprang to arms were smitten down, and the assailants burst in her_nd tore Freda, shrieking, away. Their leader was Sweyn of the left hand. As _ay tossing here, mad with the misfortune which ties me to my couch, I though_f you. I said, 'If any can follow and recapture Freda it is Edmund.' Th_anes had for the most part moved away, and there were few would care to ris_ quarrel with Sweyn in a matter which concerned them not closely; but I fel_hat I could rely upon you, and that you would spare no pains to rescue m_hild."
"That will I not!" Edmund exclaimed; "but tell me first what you think are hi_lans. Which way has he gone, and what force has he with him?"
"The band he commands are six shiploads, each numbering fifty men. What hi_lans may be I know not, but many of the Danes, I know, purposed, when the wa_as finished here, to move east through Burgundy. Some intended to build boat_n the banks of the Rhine and sail down on that river, others intended t_ourney further and to descend by the Elbe. I know not which course Sweyn ma_dopt. The country between this and the Rhine swarms with Danes. I do no_uppose that Sweyn will join any other party. Having Freda with him, he wil_refer keeping apart; but in any case it would not be safe for you to journe_ith your band, who would assuredly become embroiled with the first party o_anes they met; and even if they be as brave as yourself they would b_efeated by such superior numbers."
"You do not think that Sweyn will venture to use violence to force Freda t_ecome his wife?"
"I think he will hardly venture upon that," Siegbert said, "however violen_nd headstrong he may be. To carry off a maiden for a wife is accounted n_ery evil deed, for the maiden is generally not unwilling; but to force her b_iolence to become his wife would be a deed so contrary to our usages that i_ould bring upon him the anger of the whole nation. Knowing Sweyn'_isposition, I believe that were there no other way, he would not hesitat_ven at this, but might take ship and carry her to some distant land; but h_ould not do this until all other means fail. He will strive to tire her out, and so bring her in her despair to consent to wed him."
Edmund was silent for three or four minutes; then he said: "I must consult m_insman Egbert. I will return and tell you what I purpose doing."
On leaving the cottage Edmund found Egbert walking up and down outsid_waiting the result of the interview. He had been present when the Dane ha_old of Freda's abduction, and knew how sore a blow it was to the youn_aldorman, for Edmund had made no secret to him of his intention some day t_ed the Danish jarl's daughter. Edmund in a few words related to him th_ubstance of Siegbert's narrative, and ended by saying: "Now, Egbert, what i_est to be done?"
"'Tis of no use asking me, Edmund; you know well enough that it is you tha_lways decide and I agree. I have a hand to strike, but no head to plan. Tel_e only what you wish, and you may be sure that I will do my best to execut_t."
"Of course we must follow," Edmund said; "of that there is no question. Th_nly doubt is as to the force we must take. What Siegbert said is true. Th_anish bands are so numerous to the east that we should be sure to fall i_ith some of them, and fight as we might, should be destroyed; and yet with _maller number how could we hope to rescue Freda from Sweyn's hands?"
Edmund walked up and down for some time.
"I think," he went on at last, "the best plan will be to take a party of bu_our at most. I must choose those who will be able to pass best as Danes. Wit_o small a number I may traverse the country unobserved. I will take with m_wo of Siegbert's men, who, when we get nigh to Sweyn's band, may join wit_im and tell me how things are going, and how Sweyn treats his captive. If _ind he is pushing matters to an extreme I must make some desperate effort t_arry her off; but if, as is more probable, he trusts to time to break he_esolution, I shall follow at a short distance."
"Shall I go with you, Edmund?"
"I think it will be better not, Egbert. Your beard would mark you as a Saxo_t once."
"But that I can cut off," Egbert said. "It would be a sacrifice truly, but _ould do it without hesitation."
"Thanks, dear kinsman, but I think it would be of more purpose for you t_emain in command of the Dragon. She may meet many foes, and it were best tha_ou were there to fight and direct her. I pray you at once to descend th_eine and sailing round the north coast of France, place the Dragon at th_outh of the Rhine. Do not interfere with any Danish ships that you may se_ass out, but keep at a distance. Should Sweyn descend the Rhine I will, i_ossible, send a messenger down before him, so do you look out for smal_oats; and if you see one in which the rower hoists a white flag at the end o_is oar, you will know he is my messenger. If I find Sweyn goes on towards th_lbe I will also send you word, and you will then move the Dragon to the mout_f that river.
"Lastly, if you receive no message, but if you mark that in a Danish vesse_hen passing you a white cloth is waved from one of the windows of the cabin_n the poop, that will be a signal to you that the vessel is Sweyn's, and tha_reda is a captive on board. In that case you will of course at once attac_t. Let us ask Siegbert. He has sailed up both the Rhine and the Elbe, and ca_ell us of some quiet port near the mouth of each river where you may lay th_ragon somewhat out of sight of passers-by, while you can yet note all ship_hat go down the river. My messengers will then know where to find you."
Having settled this point they returned to Siegbert, and Edmund told him wha_e thought of doing.
"I can advise no better," Siegbert said. "Assuredly you cannot prevail b_orce. At present I have only ten of my followers with me; the rest, after _as wounded, and it was plain that a long time must elapse before I coul_gain lead them in the field, asked me to let them follow some other chief, and as they could not be idle here I consented. I have ten men with me, bu_hese would be but a small reinforcement. As you say, your Saxons would b_nstantly known, and the Northmen have suffered so at their hands during th_iege that the first party you met would set upon you."
"I will take two only of your men," Edmund said. "Choose me two who are no_nown by sight to Sweyn. I wish one to be a subtle fellow, who will act as _py for me; the other I should choose of commanding stature; and the air of _eader. He will go with my party, and should we come upon Danes he will assum_he place of leader, and can answer any questions. There is far too muc_ifference between the Saxon and Danish tongue for me and my men to pass a_anes if we have many words to say. I shall take four of my men, all ful_rown, strong, and good fighters. They have but little hair upon their chin_t present, and they can shave that off. Now, jarl, I want five Danis_resses, for your costume differs somewhat from ours. Have you horses? If not, I must send back to Paris to buy some."
"I have plenty to mount you and your party."
"Good," Edmund said; "I will go down to my ship and pick my men."
In half an hour the party were ready to start. Egbert had received fro_iegbert particulars of villages at the mouths of the Rhine and Elbe, and h_romised Edmund that a watch should be kept night and day at the mouth of th_hine until a messenger arrived. Edmund had already ascertained that Sweyn ha_eft a fortnight before with his following, and had marched towards Champagne.
There probably he had halted his main body, returning only with a party o_orsemen to carry off Freda.
"I would I could go with you," Siegbert groaned as Edmund said adieu to him.
"I would ride straight into his camp and challenge him to mortal combat, bu_s it is I am helpless."
"Never fear, good Siegbert," Edmund said cheerfully; "when your leg is cure_ravel straight homeward, and there, I trust, before very long to place Fred_afe and unharmed in your arms. If I come not you will know that I hav_erished."
A minute later, after a few parting words with Egbert, Edmund mounted hi_orse, and followed by his six companions, rode off at full speed. He kne_hat it would be useless making any inquiries about Sweyn and his party. Bu_ew of the inhabitants of the country were to be seen about, for the Danes ha_urned every house within very many miles of Paris, and the peasants woul_ssuredly not have paid any special attention to a party of Danes, fo_henever they saw the dreaded marauders even at a distance they forsook thei_omes and fled to the forests. The party therefore rode eastward unti_ightfall, then picketed their horses, and having lit a fire, made thei_upper from the store of provisions they had brought with them, and then la_own to sleep for the night.
At daybreak they again started and continued their journey until it wa_ecessary to halt to give their horses a rest. They had passed several partie_f Danes, for these in great numbers, after the siege of Paris had been give_p, were journeying towards Burgundy. There was but slight greeting as the_assed; but on one occasion a horseman rode out from one of the bands an_ntered into conversation with the two Danes who rode at the head of th_arty. They told them that they were followers of the Jarl Siegbert, and wer_iding to join the rest of his band, who were with the company of Jarl Eric, as Siegbert would be long before he would be able to move, and had therefor_ept only a few of his followers with him.
"Eric is a long way ahead," the Dane said; "he must be full as far as Nancy b_his time. Those who left first," he grumbled, "will have the pick of th_ountry. We were fools to linger so long before Paris." Then turning hi_orse, he rode back to his comrades, and the party continued their way.
They avoided all towns and large Danish encampments on the way, but mad_nquiries from all small parties they met after the party of Sweyn. The_earned without difficulty the place where he had been encamped a few day_efore, but on their arriving in the neighbourhood they found that the plac_as deserted, nor could any tell them the direction in which the Northmen ha_ravelled.