Learmouth accepted this news with silence as he departed the long ship for his accommodation onshore. He shook the rainwater from his white blond hair and pulled up his sodden cloak over his shoulders, he hadn’t spoken a word to any of the crew save the Captain, then only to tell him the landfall in England. Once he had gained the shelter of the small stone-built grass-roofed hut he settled down to wait. Learmouth was good at waiting, he had been waiting twenty years since he escaped from England, following Blackmorns treasonous attempt upon the King’s life.
He was a thin man with white blond hair grown long to his shoulders; his eyebrows were so fair that they were almost invisible, as were his pale ginger white eyelashes. He had a thin pointed nose and a chin so weak receding from his pale lips; Learmouth’s black rimmed eyes, sunk in their sockets, were a pale emotionless grey.
He left his miserable damp hut once every day to check the progress of the repairs to the ship. Every day at noon regardless of the wind and rain he would watch for an hour silently, standing stock still shrouded in his travelling cloak with the hood up. Learmouth would stand overlooking the ship for thirteen consecutive days, until the repairs were finished and the winds were favorable, he joined the ship in silence just as he had on the very first occasion.
It was bitterly cold in the open long ship, yet Learmouth showed no sign of discomfort, he ate sparingly and drank only water from his own supplies, occasionally he checked for his only weapon, a thin bladed pointed dagger that he concealed in his boot; he regretted the loss of his vials of poison, the last storm had ruined them all.
On this the last day of the voyage, the fifth since he had left the rugged Norwegian shore, the Northumberland coast, just a faint line of grey on the western horizon. Learmouth instructed the Captain to wait till nightfall, nightfall comes early in winter in Northumberland as twilight fell, the sky turned red in the west. The ship sailed in on the rising tide close to the shore. A rowing boat was made ready for the final leg of Learmouth’s North Sea crossing.
When all was ready, Learmouth pointed to a young Norseman and said, “He rows.”
The young Norseman was, as Learmouth knew very well, the Captain’s son. Learmouth took from his cloak two bags of gold coins, gave one to the Captain saying,
“Half now and the other when I am ashore.”
Then he climbed expertly over the side of the long ship, down into the rowing boat that was dancing on the near-shore waves. It began to snow as he was rowed towards the shore, he could hear the waves crashing on the sandy beach as the rowing boat pitched and rolled in the increasing surf. He thought of killing the oarsman and keeping the gold, changed his mind only because he feared discovery of a rowing boat and a body.
Learmouth slipped over the stern of the rowing boat by moonlight, gasped as he was immersed in the ice cold water up to his chest. He threw the bag of gold into the boat and waded silently ashore. He emerged from the freezing water shivering as he climbed across the sand dunes and began to run in a gentle jog, not for haste, simply to keep warm.
Following the North Star for direction he came to the banks of the River Wansbeck, and there turned inland; at midnight, with the snowfall increasing, he arrived at a small stone-built shepherd’s cottage. Long disused but still dry enough to provide shelter and warmth. He found wood for the fire, tinder and flint lay ready, they soon provided warmth and light.