The Battle of Maldon
THE LAST STAND OF THE THANES
And then they went forth - for life they recked not.
Then 'gan the house men hardly to fight,
The fierce spear bearers - and they begged God
That they might avenge their friendly lord,
And on their enemies bring death.
Then the hostage 'gan eagerly help,
He was in Northumbria of a hardy kin,
Eclaf's child, and Aesferth his name.
He weakened not a whit in the warplay,
But he sent forth often a shaft,
Often he a buckler struck, often a man hit,
Ever and again he dealt out wounds
The while he his weapons might wield.
Then yet in the rank stood Eadward the tall,
Ready and eager - a boastful word spoke,
That he would not flee a foot's space of land,
Or budge back, now that his better chief was fall'n.
He shattered the shield wall and fought with the soldiers
Until he his treasure-giver upon the seamen
Had worthily avenged - 'ere he lay with the slain.
So did Aeturic - a noble companion,
Eager and impetuous - he fought keenly,
Sibright's brother, - and full many more, -
Split the hollow shields, sharply parried.
The buckler's edge burst, breast-plate sang
A grisly song. Then in the strife struck
Offa a seaman, that he sank to the earth,
And then Gadda's kinsman the ground sought.
Soon in the struggle was Offa struck down
Yet had he done what he boasted to his friend
As he bragged before to his ring-giver:-
That they both to the burg should ride
Hale to their home, or in the battle fall,
On the war field perish of their wounds.
He fell like true thane at his chief's side.
Then was breaking of bucklers, the seamen came on
Stern to the strife; the spear often pierced
A feyman's body. Forth then went Wistan,
Thurstan's son, with the enemy fought,
He was in the throng - of three men the bane
Ere him Wigelin's son on the battlefield laid.
Then was stern meeting, stood fast
Warriors in the war, then men sank down
Wearied with wounds - slaughter fell on earth.
Oswald and Ealdwald all the while
Brothers both, urged on the men,
Their dear kinsmen, with words incited
That they there at need should hold out,
Stoutly wield their weapons.
Brythwold spoke, grasped his buckler,
He was an old comrade, urged the men,
He full boldly cheered his soldiers,
"Thought must be the harder, heart the keener
Spirit shall be more - as our might lessens.
There lies our chief all cut down,
Good man on the ground; for ever may he grieve
Who now from this war-play thinketh to go.
I am old in years - hence I will not,
But by the side of mine own lord,
By my chief so loved, I think to lie."
And thus them all did Aethelgar's son urge,
Even Godric, to the battle - oft he cast a spear,
A spear of slaughter to go upon the Vikings,
As he 'mid the folk foremost went,
Smote and struck down till he sank down in the fight.
He was not that Godric who left the battle.