This is a short extract in Old English taken from ‘The Battle Of Maldon’ an Old English poem written sometime after the battle, which occurred in August 991.
An English force, lead by Ealdorman Byrhtnoth, trapped a Viking army on an Island in the river Pant, now the Blackwater in Essex. The island was, and still is, separated from the mainland by a causeway covered by the tide.
Prior to this extract, the Vikings have sent a messenger to Byrthnoth. If he agrees to pay them off they will sail away. This is his reply.
I’ve attempted the reading in Old English because the poem loses so much even in the best of translations: Byrhtnoth’s bitter joke about Heriot is not the only part that needs footnotes, so this is a very simple gloss.
Byrhtnoth spoke, raised his shield, brandished the slender ash spear, angry and resolute, gave back his answer: ‘Do you hear seaman, what this folk say? They will give you bitter point and trusted sword for tribute, a heriot that will be of little use to you in battle. Go back and tell a more unpleasant tale. Here stands an Earl, undisgraced, with his troop, who will defend this land, my lord Aethelred’s land, folk and fold. Heathens will fall in battle! I think it too shameful that you should go to your ships with our treasure without a fight; to have come so far into our country unopposed. You shall not so easily gain treasure; first point and edge, grim battle play, will decide between us before we will give you any tribute’.