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´╗┐Title: Edwy the Fair or the First Chronicle of Aescendune
Author: Crake, A. D. (Augustine David), 1836-1890
Language: English
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Edwy the Fair or the First Chronicle of Aescendune:

A Tale of the Days of Saint Dunstan,

by the Rev. A. D. Crake.



    PREFACE.

It has been the aim of the Author, in a series of original tales told to
the senior boys of a large school, to illustrate interesting or
difficult passages of Church History by the aid of fiction. Two of these
tales--"Aemilius," a tale of the Decian and Valerian persecutions; and
"Evanus," a tale of the days of Constantine--he has already published,
and desires gratefully to acknowledge the kindness with which they have
been received.

He is thus encouraged to submit another attempt to the public, having
its scene of action in our own land, although in times very dissimilar
to our own; and for its object, the illustration of the struggle between
the regal and ecclesiastical powers in the days of the ill-fated and
ill-advised King Edwy.

Scarcely can one find a schoolboy who has not read the touching legend
of Edwy and Elgiva--for it is little more than a legend in most of its
details; and which of these youthful readers has not execrated the
cruelty of the Churchmen who separated those unhappy lovers? While the
tragical story of the fate of the hapless Elgiva has been the theme of
many a poet and even historian, who has accepted the tale as if it were
of as undoubted authenticity as the Reform Bill.

The writer can well remember the impression the tale made upon his
youthful imagination, and the dislike, to use a mild word, with which he
ever viewed the character of the great statesman and ecclesiastic of the
tenth century, Dunstan, until a wider knowledge of history and a more
accurate judgment came with maturer years; and testimonies to the
ability and genius of that monk, who had been the moving spirit of his
age, began to force themselves upon him.

Lord Macaulay has well summed up the relative positions of Church and
State in that age in the following words: "It is true that the Church
had been deeply corrupted by superstition, yet she retained enough of
the sublime theology and benevolent morality of her early days to
elevate many intellects, and to purify many hearts. That the sacerdotal
order should encroach on the functions of the chief magistrate, would in
our time be a great evil. But that which in an age of good government is
an evil, may in an age of grossly bad government be a blessing. It is
better that men should be governed by priest craft than by brute
violence; by such a prelate as Dunstan, than by such a warrior as Penda."

The Church was indeed the salt of the earth, even if the salt had
somewhat lost its savour; it was the only power which could step in
between the tyrant and his victim, which could teach the irresponsible
great--irresponsible to man--their responsibility to the great and
awful Being whose creatures they were. And again, it was then the only
home of civilisation and learning. It has been well said that for the
learning of this age to vilify the monks and monasteries of the medieval
period, is for the oak to revile the acorn from which it sprang.

The overwhelming realisation of these facts, the determination to set up
the dominion of truth and justice which they held to be identical with
that of the Church, as that was identical with the kingdom of God,
supplies the key to the lives and characters of such men as Ambrose,
Cyril, Dunstan, and Becket. They each came in collision with the civil
power; but Ambrose against Justina or even Theodosius, Cyril against
Orestes, Dunstan against Edwy, Becket against Henry Plantagenet--each
represented, in a greater or less degree, the cause of religion, nay of
humanity, against its worst foes, tyranny or moral corruption.

Yet not one of these great men was without his faults; this is only to
say he was human; but more may be admitted--personal motives would mix
themselves with nobler emotions. Self would assert her fatal claims, and
great mistakes were sometimes made by those who would have forfeited
their lives rather than have committed them, had they known what they
were doing. Yet, on the whole, their cause was that of God and man, and
they fought nobly. Shall we asperse their memories because they "had
this treasure in earthen vessels"?

The tale itself is intended to depict what the writer believes to be the
true relative positions of Edwy and the great ecclesiastic; therefore he
will not attempt to deal with the subject here. It will be noticed
however, that he has shorn the narrative of the dread catastrophe with
which it terminated in all the histories of our childhood. Scarcely any
writer has made such wise research into the history of this period as
Mr. E. A. Freeman, and the author has adopted his conclusions upon this
point. With him he has therefore admitted the marriage of Edwy with
Elgiva, although it was an uncanonical marriage beyond all doubt, and
has given her the title of queen, which she bore in a document preserved
by Lappenburg. But, in agreement with the same authority, the writer
feels most happy to be able to reject the story of Elgiva's supposed
tragical death. All sorts of stories are told by later writers, utterly
contradictory and confused, of a woman killed by the Mercians in their
revolt. This could not be Elgiva, for she was not divorced till the
rebellion was over; and even the sad tale that she was seized by the
officers of Odo, and branded to disfigure her beauty, rests on no good
authority. In spite of the reluctance with which men relinquish a
touching tragedy, the calumny should be banished from the pages of
historians; and it is painful to see it repeated, as if of undoubted
authenticity, in a recent popular history for children by one of the
greatest of modern novelists.

Edwy's character has cost the writer much thought. He has endeavoured to
paint him faithfully--not so bad as all the monastic writers of the
succeeding period (the only writers with few exceptions) describe him;
but still such a youth as the circumstances under which he became placed
would probably have made him--capable of sincere attachment, brave,
and devoted to his friends, yet careless of all religious obligations;
bitterly hostile to the Church, that is to Christianity, for the terms
were then synonymous; and reckless of obligations, or of the sanctity of
truth and justice.

His measures against St. Dunstan, as they are related in the tale, have
the authority of history; although it is needless to say that the agents
are in part fictitious characters. The writer's object has been to
subordinate fiction to history, and never to contradict historic fact;
if he has failed in this intention, it has been his misfortune rather
than his fault; for he has had recourse to all such authorities as lay
in his reach.[i] Especially, he is glad to find that the
character he had conceived as Edwy's perfectly coincides with the
description given by Palgrave in his valuable History of the Anglo-Saxons:

"Edwy was a youth of singular beauty, but vain, rash, petulant,
profligate, and surrounded by a host of young courtiers, all bent on
encouraging and emulating the vices of their master."

Another object of the tale has been to depict the trials and
temptations, the fall and the recovery, of a lad fresh from a home full
of religious influences, when thrown amidst the snares which abounded
then as now. The motto, "Facilis descensus Averno," etc, epitomises the
whole story.

In relating a tale of the days of St. Dunstan, the author has felt bound
to give the religious colouring which actually prevailed in that day. He
has found much authority and information in Johnson's Anglo-Saxon
Canons, especially those of Elfric, probably contemporaneous with the
tale. He has written in no controversial spirit, but with an honest
desire to set forth the truth.

It may be objected that he has made all his characters speak in very
modern English, and has not affected the archaisms commonly found in
tales of the time. To this he would reply, that if the genuine language
were preserved, it would be utterly unintelligible to modern Englishmen,
and therefore he has thought it preferable to translate into the
vernacular of today. The English which men spoke then was no more
stilted or formal to them than ours is to us.

Although he has followed Mr. Freeman in the use of the terms English and
Welsh, as far less likely to mislead than the terms Saxons and Britons,
and far truer to history, yet he has not thought proper to follow the
obsolete spelling of proper names; he has not, e. g., spelt Edwy, Eadwig
or Elgiva, Aelfgifu. Custom has Latinised the appellations, and as he
has rejected obsolete terms in conversation, he has felt it more
consistent to reject these more correct, but less familiar, orthographies.

The title, "First Chronicle of Aescendune," has been adopted, because
the tale here given is but the first of a series of tales which have
been told, but not yet written, attaching themselves to the same family
and locality at intervals of generations. Thus, the second illustrates
the struggle between Edmund Ironside and Canute; the third, the Norman
Conquest; etc. Their appearance in print must depend upon the indulgence
extended to the present volume.

In conclusion, the writer dedicates this book with great respect to Mrs.
Trevelyan, authoress of "Lectures upon the History of England;" whose
first volume, years ago, first taught him to appreciate, in some degree,
the character of St. Dunstan.

All Saints' School, Bloxham,

Easter 1874.


    CHAPTER I. "THIS IS THE FOREST PRIMEVAL."

IT was a lovely eventide of the sunny month of May, and the declining
rays of the sun penetrated the thick foliage of an old English forest,
lighting up in chequered pattern the velvet sward thick with moss, and
casting uncertain rays as the wind shook the boughs. Every bush seemed
instinct with life, for April showers and May sun had united to force
each leaf and spray into its fairest development, and the drowsy hum of
countless insects told, as it saluted the ears, the tale of approaching
summer.

Two boys reclined upon the mossy bank beneath an aged oak; their dress,
no less than their general demeanour, denoted them to be the sons of
some substantial thane. They were clad in hunting costume: leggings of
skin over boots of untanned leather protected their limbs from thorn or
brier, and over their under garments they wore tunics of a dull green
hue, edged at the collar and cuffs with brown fur, and fastened by
richly ornamented belts: their bows lay by their sides, while quivers of
arrows were suspended to their girdles, and two spears, such as were
used in the chase of the wild boar, lay by them on the grass. They had
the same fair hair, which, untouched by the shears, hung negligently
around neck and shoulder; the same blue eyes added an indescribable
softness to the features; they had the same well-knit frames and agile
movements, but yet there was a difference. The elder seemed possessed of
greater vivacity of expression; but although each well-strung muscle
indicated physical prowess, there was an uncertain expression in his
glance and in the play of his features, which suggested a yielding and
somewhat vacillating character; while the younger, lacking the full
physical development, and somewhat of the engaging expression of his
brother, had that calm and steady bearing which indicated present and
future government of the passions.

"By Thor and Woden, Alfred, we shall be here all night. At what hour did
that stupid churl Oscar say that the deer trooped down to drink?"

"Not till sunset, Elfric; and it wants half an hour yet; see, the sun is
still high."

"I do think it is never going to set; here we have been hunting, hunting
all the day, and got nothing for our pains."

"You forget the hare and the rabbit here."

"Toss them to the dogs. Here, Bran, you brute, take this hare your
masters have been hunting all day, for your dinner;" and as he spoke he
tossed the solitary victim of his own prowess in the chase to the huge
wolfhound, which made a speedy meal upon the hare, while Alfred threw
the rabbit to the other of their two canine companions.

"I would almost as soon have lost this holiday, and spent the time with
Father Cuthbert, to be bored by his everlasting talk about our duties,
and forced to repeat '_hic, haec, hoc_,' till my head ached. What a long
homily [ii] he preached us this morning--and then that
long story about the saint."

"You are out of spirits. Father Cuthbert's tales are not so bad, after
all you seemed to like the legend he told us the other night."

"Yes, about our ancestor Sebbald and his glorious death; there was
something in that tale worth hearing; it stirred the blood--none of
your moping saints, that Sebbald."

"I once heard another legend from Father Cuthbert, about the burning of
Croyland Abbey, and how the abbot stood, saying mass at the altar,
without flinching or even turning his head, when the Danes, having fired
the place, broke into the chapel. Do you not think it wanted more
bravery to do that in cold blood than to stand firm in all the
excitement of a battle?"

"You are made to be a monk, Alfred, and I daresay, if you get the
chance, will be a martyr, and get put in the calendar by-and-by. I
suppose they will keep your relics here in the priory church, and you
will be St. Alfred of Aescendune; for me, I would sooner die as the old
sea kings loved to die, surrounded by heaps of slain, with my sword
broken in my hand."

It was at this moment that their conversation was suddenly interrupted
by a loud crashing of boughs in the adjacent underwood, a rush as of
some wild beast, a loud cry in boyish tones--"Help! help! the wolf!
the wolf!"

Elfric jumped up in an instant, and rushed forward heedless of danger,
followed closely by his younger brother, who was scarcely less eager to
render immediate assistance.

The cries for help became more and more piercing, as if some pressing
danger menaced the utterer. Elfric, who, in spite of his flippant
speech, was by no means destitute of keen sympathies and self devotion,
hurried forward, fearless of danger, bounding through thicket and
underwood, until, arriving upon a small clearing, the whole scene
flashed upon him.

A huge grey wolf, wounded and bleeding, was about to rush for the second
time upon a youth in hunting costume, whose broken spear, broken in the
first encounter with the beast he had disturbed, seemed to deprive him
of all chance of success in the desperate encounter evidently impending.
His trembling limbs showed his extreme apprehension, and the sweat stood
in huge drops on his forehead; his eyes were fixed upon the beast as if
he were fascinated, while the shaft of his spear, presented feebly
against the coming onslaught, showed that he had lost his self
possession, for he neglected the bow and arrows which were slung at his
side--if indeed there was time to use them.

The beast sprang, but as he did so another spear was stoutly presented
to meet him, and he literally impaled himself in his eager spring on the
weapon of Elfric.

Still, such was his weight that the boy fell backward beneath the mighty
rush, and such the tenacity of life that, though desperately wounded,
even to death, the beast sought the prostrate lad with teeth and claws,
in frantic fury, until a blow from the hunting knife, which Elfric well
knew how to use, laid the wolf lifeless at his side.

Breathless, but not severely injured, he rose from the ground covered
with blood; his garments torn, his face reddened by exertion, and paused
a moment, while he seemed to strive to repress the wild beatings of his
heart, which bounded as if it would burst its prison.

But far more exhausted was the other combatant, yet scarcely so much by
exertion as by fear, of which he still bore the evident traces. After a
few moments he broke the silence, and his words seemed incoherent.

"Where is my horse? the beast threw me--I wish the wolves may get him
--I fear you are hurt; not much, I hope; where can those serfs be? Fine
vassals, to desert their master in peril. I'll have them hung. But, by
St. Cuthbert, you are all covered with blood."

"'Tis that of the wolf, then, for I have scarcely a scratch: one of the
beast's claws ripped up my sleeve, and the skin with it; that was all he
could do before he felt the cold steel between his ribs."

"Not a moment too soon, or he would have killed you before we could
interfere; why, as you rolled together, I could hardly see which was boy
and which was wolf. But where's my horse? Did you see a white horse rush
past you?"

"We heard a rush as of some wild animal."

"Wild enough. I was riding through the glade, and my attendants were on
in front, when we stumbled on this wolf, crouched under that thicket.
The horse started so violently that it threw me almost upon the monster
you have killed."

Here the speaker paused, and blew impatient blasts upon a horn which had
been slung round his neck. They were soon answered, and some attendants,
dressed in semi-hunting costume, made their appearance with haste and
confusion, which showed their apprehensions.

"Guthred! Eadmer! Why did you get so far away from me? I might have been
killed. Look at this monstrous wolf; why, its teeth are dreadful. It
broke my spear, and would have had me down, but for this--this youth.

"I forgot, I haven't asked to whom I am indebted. Aren't you two brothers?"

"Our father is the Thane of Aescendune. His hall is not far from here.
Will you not go home with us? We have plenty of room for you and yours."

"To be sure I will. Aescendune? I have heard the name: I can't remember
where. Have you horses?"

"No; we were hunting on foot, and expecting to let fly our shafts at
some deer. May I ask, in return, the name of our guest?"

Before the youth could answer, one of the attendants strode forward, and
with an air of importance replied, "You are about to receive the honour
of a visit from the future lord of Britain, Prince Edwy."

"Keep your lips closed till I give you leave to open them, Guthred. You
may leave me to announce myself.

"I shall be only too glad to go with you both; and these two huntsmen
deserve to be left in the forest to the mercy of your wolves."

Somewhat startled to find that they had saved the future Basileus or
King of Britain--the hope of the royal line of Cerdic--the brothers
led their guest through the darkening forest until the distant light of
a clearing appeared in the west, and they emerged from the shadow of the
trees upon the brow of a gentle hill.

Below them lay the castle (if such it should be called) of their father
the Thane of Aescendune. Utterly unlike the castellated buildings which,
at a later period, formed the dwellings of the proud Norman nobility, it
was a low irregular building, the lower parts of which were of stone,
and the upper portions, when there was a second story, of thick timber
from the forest.

A river, from which the evening mist was slowly rising, lay beyond, and
supplied water to a moat which surrounded the edifice, for in those
troublous times few country dwellings lacked such necessary protection.
The memory of the Danish invasions was too recent; the marauders of
either nation still lurked in the far recesses of the forest, and
plundered the Saxon inhabitant or the Danish settler indiscriminately,
as occasion served.

On the inner side of the moat a strong palisade of timber completed the
defence. One portal, opening upon a drawbridge, formed the sole apparent
means of ingress or egress.

Passing the drawbridge unquestioned, the boys entered the courtyard,
around which the chief apartments were grouped. Before them a flight of
stone steps led to the great hall where all the members of the community
took their meals in common, and where, around the great fire, they wiled
away the slow hours of a winter evening.

On each side of the great hall stood the bowers, as the small
dormitories were called, furnished very simply for the use of the higher
domestics with small round tables, common stools, and beds in recesses
like boxes or cupboards. Such were commonly the only sleeping chambers,
but at Aescendune, as generally in the halls of the rich, a wide
staircase conducted to a gallery above, from each side of which opened
sleeping and sitting apartments allotted to the use of the family. It
was only in the houses of the wealthy that such an upper floor was found.

On the right hand, as they entered the courtyard, stood the private
chapel of the household, where mass was said by the chaplain, to whom
allusion has been already made, as the first duty of the day, and where
each night generally saw the household again assembled for compline or
evening prayers.[iii] On the left hand were domestic offices.

Upon the steps of his hall stood Ella, the Thane of Aescendune, the
representative of a long line of warlike ancestors, who had occupied the
soil since the Saxon conquest of Mercia.

He was clad in a woollen tunic reaching to the knee, over which a cloak
fastened by a clasp of gold was loosely thrown; and his feet were clad
in black pointed boots, while strips of painted leather were wound over
red stockings from the knee to the ankle.

"You are late, my sons," he said, "and I perceive you have brought us a
visitor. He is welcome."

"Father," said Elfric, in a voice somewhat expressive of awe, "it is
Prince Edwy!"

The thane had in his earlier days been at court, and had known the
murdered Edmund, the royal father of his guest, intimately. It was not
without emotion, therefore, that he welcomed the son to his home, and
saluted him with that manly yet reverential homage their relative
positions required of him.

"Welcome, thrice welcome, my prince," he said, "to these humble halls."
He added, with some emotion, "I could think the royal Edmund stood
before me, as I knew him while yet myself a youth."

The domestics, who had assembled, gazed upon their visitor with country
curiosity, yet were not wanting in rude but expressive courtesy; and
soon he was conducted to the best chamber the house afforded, where
change of raiment and every comfort within the reach of his host was
provided, while the cooks were charged to make sumptuous additions to
the approaching supper.


    CHAPTER II. THE HOUSE OF AESCENDUNE.

The earlier fortunes of the house of Aescendune must here obtrude
themselves upon the notice of the reader, in order that he may more
easily comprehend the subsequent pages of our veritable history.

Sebbald, the remote ancestor of the family, was amongst the earliest
Saxon conquerors of Mercia. He fell in battle with the Britons, or
Welshmen as our ancestors called them, leaving sons valiant as their
sire, to whom were given the fertile lands lying between the river Avon
and the mighty midland forests, to which they gave the name "Aescendune."

They had held their own for three hundred years with varying fortunes;
once or twice home and hearth were desolated by the fierce tide of
Danish invasion, but the wars subsided, and the old family resumed its
position, amidst the joy of their dependants and serfs, to whom they
were endeared by a thousand memories of past benefits.

But a generation only had passed since the shadow of a great woe fell on
the family of Aescendune.

Offa, who was then the thane, had two sons, Oswald the elder, and Ella
the younger, with whom our readers are already acquainted.

The elder possessed few of the family virtues save brute courage. He was
ever rebellious, even in boyhood, and arrived at man's estate in the
midst of unsettled times of war and tumult. Weary of the restraints of
home, he joined a band of Danish marauders, and shared their victories,
enriching himself with the spoils of his own countrymen. Thus he
remained an outlaw, for his father disowned him in consequence of his
crime, until, fighting against his own people in the great battle of
Brunanburgh, [iv] where Athelstane so gloriously conquered the allied
Danes, Scots, and Welsh, he was taken prisoner.

The victor king sat in judgment upon the recreant, surrounded by his
chief nobility and vassal kings. The guilt of the prisoner was evident,
nay undenied, and the respect in which his sire was held alone delayed
the doom of a cruel death from being pronounced upon him.

While the council yet deliberated, Offa appeared amongst them, and, like
a second Brutus, took his place amongst his peers. Disclaiming all
personal interest in the matter, he sternly proposed that the claims of
justice should be satisfied.

Yet they hesitated to shed Oswald's blood: the alternative they adopted
was perhaps not more merciful--although a common doom in those times.
They selected a crazy worm-eaten boat, and sent the criminal to sea,
without sail, oar, or rudder, with a loaf of bread and cruse of water,
the wind blowing freshly from off the land.

Oswald was never heard of again; but after his supposed death,
information was brought to his father that the outlaw had been married
to a Danish woman, and had left a son--an orphan--for the mother
died in childbirth.

Offa resolved to seek the boy, and to adopt him, as if in reparation for
the past. The effort he had made had cost him a bitter pang, and the
father's heart was well-nigh broken. For a time the inquiries were
unsuccessful. It was discovered that the mother was dead, that she had
died before the tragedy, but not a word could be learned respecting the
boy, and many had begun to doubt his existence, when, after years had
elapsed, one of the executioners of the cruel doom deposed on his
deathbed that a boy of some ten summers had appeared on the beach, had
called the victim "father," and had so persistently entreated to share
his doom, that they had allowed him to do so, but had concealed the
fact, rightly fearing blame, if not punishment. The priest who had
attended his dying bed, and heard his last confession, bore the tidings
to Offa at the penitent's desire.

The old thane never seemed to lift up his head again: the sacrifice his
sense of duty had exacted from him had been too great for a heart
naturally full of domestic affection, and he sank and died after a few
months in the arms of his younger and beloved son Ella.

The foundation of the neighbouring priory and church of St. Wilfred had
been the consolation of his later years, but the work was only half
completed at his death. It was carried on with equal zeal by Ella, now
the Thane of Aescendune.

He married Edith, the daughter of a rich thane of Wessex, and the
marriage proved a most happy one.

Sincerely religious, after the fashion of their day, they honoured God
with their substance, enriched the church of St. Wilfred, where the dust
of the aged Offa awaited the resurrection of the just, and continued the
labour of building the priory. Day after day they were constant in their
attendance at mass and evensong, and strove to live as foster parents to
their dependants and serfs.

The chief man in his hundred, Ella acted as reeve or magistrate, holding
his court for the administration of justice each month, and giving such
just judgment as became one who had the fear of God before him. No
appeal was ever made from him to the ealdorman (earl) or scirgerefa
(sheriff) and the wisdom and mercy of his rule were universally renowned.

His land was partly cultivated by his own theows, who were in those days
slaves attached to the soil, and partly let out to free husbandmen (or
ceorls) who owed their lord rent in kind or in money, and paid him, as
"his men," feudal service.

Around his hospitable board the poor of the district found sustenance,
while work was made for all in draining meres, mending roads, building
the priory, or in the various agricultural labours of the year.

In the first year of King Edmund the lady Edith presented her lord with
his first-born son, to whom in baptism they gave the name Elfric, and a
year later Alfred was born, and named after the great king. One
daughter, named Edgitha, completed the fruits of their happy union, and
in their simple fashion they strove to train their children in the fear
of the Lord.

We will now resume the thread of our story.

It was now the hour of eventide, and the time for "laying the board"
drew near. From forest and field came in ceorl and theow, hanging up
their weapons or agricultural implements around the lower end of the
hall. Meanwhile the domestics brought in large tressels, and then huge
heavy boards, which they arranged so as to form the dining table, shaped
like the letter T, the upper portion being furnished with the richest
dainties for the family and their guest, the lower with simpler fare for
the dependents.

A wild boar caught in the forest formed the chief dish, and was placed
at the upper end, while mutton and beef; dressed in various ways,
flanked it on either side.

The thane, Ella, occupied the central seat at the high table: his chair,
rudely carved, had borne the weight of his ancestors before him; on his
left hand was seated the once lovely Edith. Age had deprived her of her
youthful beauty, but not of the sweet expression which told of her
gentleness and purity of heart; they had left their impress on each line
of her speaking countenance; and few left her presence unimpressed with
respect and esteem.

On his right hand sat Prince Edwy, "Edwy the fair" men called him, and
right well he deserved the name. His face was one which inspired
interest at a glance: his large blue eyes, his golden hair which floated
over his shoulders, his sweet voice, his graceful bearing, all united to
impress the beholders.

Elfric, Alfred, and their sister Edgitha, completed the company at the
high table.

The hungry crowd of ceorls and serfs, who were, as we have said, fresh
from field or forest, sat at the lower table, which was spread with huge
joints of roasted meat, loaves of bread, wedges of cheese, piles of
cabbage or other vegetables, rolls or coils of broiled eels, and huge
pieces of boiled pork or bacon.

Around the table sat the hounds and other dogs, open jawed, waiting such
good luck as they might hope to receive at the hands of their masters,
while many "loaf eaters," as the serfs were called who fed at their
master's table, stood with the dogs, or sat on the rush-strewn floor,
for want of room at the board.

It was marvellous to see how the food disappeared, as hand after hand
was stretched out to the dishes, in the absence of forks--a modern
invention--and huge horns of ale helped the meat downwards.

Game, steaks of beef and venison on spits, were handed round. The
choicer joints were indeed reserved for the upper board, but profusion
was the rule everywhere throughout the hall, and there was probably not
a serf; nay, not even a dog, whose appetite was not fully satisfied
before the end of the feast.

The prince seemed thoroughly to have recovered his spirits, somewhat
damped perhaps before by his adventure with the wolf; and exerted his
talents to make himself agreeable. He had seen life on an extended
scale, young as he was, and his anecdotes of London and the court, if a
little wild, were still interesting. Elfric and Alfred listened to his
somewhat random talk, with that respect boys ever pay to those who have
seen more of the wide world than themselves--a respect perhaps
heightened by the high rank of their princely guest, who was, however,
only a month or two older than Elfric.

As they heard of the marvels of London, and of the court, home and its
attractions seemed to become dim by comparison, and Elfric especially
longed to share such happiness.

Their father seemed to wish to change the conversation, as he asked the
prince whether he had been long in Mercia.

Edwy replied, "Nay, my host; this is almost my first day of perfect
freedom, and I only left London, and my uncle the king, a few days back.
Dunstan has gone down to Glastonbury, for which the Saints be thanked,
and I am released for a few days from poring over the musty old
manuscripts to which he dooms me."

"It is well, my prince, that you should have a preceptor so well
qualified to instruct you in the arts your great ancestor King Alfred so
nobly adorned."

"Ah yes, Alfred," said Edwy, yawning; "but you know we can't all be
saints or heroes like him: for my part, I sometimes wish he had never
lived."

The astonished looks of the company seemed to demand further explanation.

"Because it is always, 'Alfred did this,' and 'Alfred did that.' If I am
tired of '_hic, haec, hoc_,' I am told Alfred was never weary; if I
complain of a headache, Dunstan says Alfred never complained of pain or
illness, but bore all with heroic fortitude, and all the rest of it. If
I want a better dinner than my respected uncle gives us on fast days in
the palace, I am told Alfred never ate anything beyond a handful of
parched corn on such days; if I lose my temper, I am told Alfred never
lost his; and so on, till I get sick of his name; and here it greets me
in the woods of Mercia."

"I crave pardon, my liege," said Ella, who hardly knew whether to smile
or frown at the sarcastic petulance of his guest, who went on with a sly
smile--"And now old Dunstan does not know where I am. He left me with
a huge pile of books in musty Latin, or crabbed English, and I had to
read this and to write that, as if I were no prince, but a scrivener,
and had to get my living by my pen; but as soon as he was gone I had a
headache, and persuaded my venerable uncle the king, through the
physician, that I needed change of air."

"But what will Dunstan say?"

"Oh, he must fight it out with Sigebert the leech, and Sigebert knows
which side his bread is buttered."

The whole tone of Edwy indicated plainly that the headache was but a
pretence, but he spoke with such sly simplicity that the boys could not
help joining in his contagious laughter; sympathising, doubtless, in his
love of a holiday in the woods.

"Your headache is not gone yet, I trust, my prince," said Elfric.

"Why?" said Edwy, turning his eyes upon him with a smile.

"Because we have splendid woods near here for hunting, and I must have"
(he whispered these words into Edwy's ear) "a headache, too."

Edwy quite understood the request conveyed in these words, and turning
to the old thane requested him to allow his boys to join the sport on
the morrow as a kind of bodyguard, adding some very complimentary words
on the subject of Elfric's courage shown in the rescue that afternoon.

"Why, yes," said the old thane, "I have always tried to bring up the
boys so as to fear neither man nor beast, and Elfric did indifferently
well in the tussle. So he has earned a holiday for himself and brother,
with Father Cuthbert's leave," and Ella turned to the ecclesiastic.

"They are good boys," said the priest, "only, my lord, Elfric is
somewhat behind in his studies."

Elfric's looks expressed his contempt of the "studies," but he dared not
express the feeling before his father.

"But I trust, my prince," said Ella, "that we shall not keep you from
your duties at court. Dunstan is a severe, although a holy man."

"Oh, he is gone to have another encounter with the Evil One at
Glastonbury, and is fashioning a pair of tongs for the purpose," said
Edwy, alluding to the legend already current amongst the credulous
populace; "and I wish," he muttered, "the Evil One would get the best of
it and fly away with him. But" (in a louder tone) "he cannot return for
a month, which means a month's holiday for me."

Ella could interpose no further objection, although scarcely satisfied
with the programme.

The conversation here became general. It turned upon the subject of
hunting and war, and the enthusiasm of young Edwy quite captivated the
thane, who seemed to see Edmund, the father of the young prince, before
his eyes, as he had known him in his own impetuous youth. Dear, indeed,
had that prince been to Ella, both before and after his elevation to the
throne, and as he heard the sweet boyish voice of Edwy, his thoughts
were guided by memory to that ill-omened feast at Pucklechurch, where
the vindictive outlaw Leolf had murdered his king. The sword of Ella had
been amongst those which avenged the crime on the murderer, but they
could not call back the vital spark which had fled. "Edmund the
Magnificent," as they loved to call him, was dead. [v]

So, as Ella listened, he could hardly help condoning the wild speeches
of the young prince in deference to the memory of the past.

And now they removed the festive board from the hall, while kneeling
serfs offered basin and towel to the thane and his guest to wash their
hands. Wine began to circulate freely in goblets of wood inlaid with
gold or silver; the clinking of cups, the drinking of healths and
pledges opened the revel, cupbearers poured out the wine. The glee-wood
(harp) was introduced, while pipes, flutes, and soft horns accompanied
its strains. So they sang--

Here Athelstane king,
Of earls the lord,
To warriors the ring-giver
Glory world-long
Had won in the strife,
By edge of the sword,
At Brunanburgh.

And Ella--who had stood by his father's side in that dread field where
Danes, Scots, and Welshmen fled before the English sword--listened
with enthusiasm, till he thought of his brother Oswald, when tears,
unobserved, rolled down his cheeks.

Not so with the boys. They had no secret sorrow to hide, and they
listened like those whose young blood boils at the thought of mighty
deeds, and longed to imitate them. And when the gleeman finished his
lengthy flight of music and poesy, they applauded him till the roof rang
again.

Song followed song, legend legend, the revelry grew louder, while the
lady Edith, with her daughter, retired to their bower, where they
employed their needles on delicate embroidery. A representation in
bright colours of the consecration of the church of St. Wilfred occupied
the hands of the little Edgitha, while her mother wove sacred pictures
to serve as hangings for the sanctuary of the priory church.

But soon the tolling of the bell announced that it was the compline
hour, nine o'clock, and that hour was never allowed to pass unobserved
at Aescendune, but formed the termination of the labour or the feast,
after which it was customary for the whole household to retire, as well
they might who rose with the early dawn.

Neither was it passed by on this occasion, although the boys looked very
disappointed, for they would fain have listened to song or legend till
midnight, if not later.

"Come, my children," said the thane; "we must rise early, so let us all
commit ourselves to the keeping of God and His holy angels, and seek our
pillows."

So the whole party repaired to the chapel, where the chaplain said the
compline office or night song, after which Ella saluted his royal guest
with reverent affection, and bestowed his paternal benediction upon his
children. Then the whole party separated for the night.

The household was speedily buried in sleep, save the solitary sentinel
who paced around the building. Not that danger was apprehended from any
source, but precaution had become habitual in those days of turmoil.
Occasionally the howl of the wolf was heard from the woods, and the
sleepers half awoke, then dreamt of the chase as the night flew by.


    CHAPTER III. LEAVING HOME.

The sun arose in a bright and cloudless sky on the following morning,
and his first beams aroused every sleeper in the hall of Aescendune from
his couch of straw, for softer material was seldom or never used for
repose. Even the chamber in which the prince slept could not be called
luxurious: the bed was in a box-like recess; its coverlets, worked
richly by the fair hands of the ladies, who had little other occupation,
covered a mattress which even modern schoolboys would call rough and
uncomfortable.

The wind played with the tapestry which represented the history of
Joseph and his brethren, as it found its way in through crevices in the
ill-built walls. There were two or three stools over which the thane's
care for his guest had caused coverlets to be thrown; a round table of
rough construction stood like a tripod on three legs, upon which stood
the unwonted luxury of ewer and basin, for most people had to perform
their ablutions at the nearest convenient well or spring.

Leaving this chamber in good time, Prince Edwy acompanied his new
friends to the priory church, where they heard mass before the sun was
high in the heavens, after which they returned to the hall to take a
light breakfast before they sought the attractions of the chase in the
forest. Full of life they mounted their horses, and galloped in the wild
exuberance of animal spirits with their dogs through the leafy arches of
the forest, startling the red deer, the wolf, or the wild boar. Soon
they roused a mighty individual of the latter tribe, who turned to bay,
when the boys dismounted and finished the affair with their boar spears,
not without some personal danger, and the loss of a couple of dogs.

Onward again they swept, past leafy glades of beech trees, where the
swineherd drove his half-tame charges, or where the woodcutters plied
their toil, and loaded their rude carts or hand barrows with fuel for
the kitchen of the hall; past rookeries, where the birds made the air
lively by their noise; over brook, through the half-dry marsh, until
they came upon an old wolf; whom they followed and slew for want of
better game, not without a desperate struggle, in which Elfric, ever the
foremost, got a much worse scratch than on the preceding day.

But how enjoyable the sport was, how sweet to breathe the bright pure
air of that May day; how grand to outstrip the wind over the yielding
turf, and at last to carry home the trophies of their prowess; the scalp
of the wolf, the tusks of the boar, leaving the serfs to bring in the
succulent flesh of the latter, while the hawks and crows fed upon the
former.

And then with what appetite they sat down to their "noon meat," taken,
however, at the late hour of three, after which they wandered down to
the river and angled for the trout which abounded in the clear stream.

The youthful reader will not wonder that such attractions sufficed to
detain Edwy several days, during which he was continually hunting in the
adjacent forests, always attended by Elfric, and sometimes by Alfred. To
the elder brother he seemed to have conceived a real liking, and
expressed great reluctance to part with him.

"Could you not return with me to court," he said, "and relieve the
tedium of old Dunstan's society? You cannot think what pleasures London
affords; it is life there indeed--it is true there are no forests like
these, but then, in the winter, when the country is so dreary, the town
is the place."

"My father will never consent to my leaving home," returned Elfric, who
inwardly felt his heart was with the prince.

"We might overcome that. I am to have a page. You might be nominally my
page, really my companion; and should I ever be king, you would find you
had not served me in vain."

The idea had got such strong possession of the mind of Edwy, that he
ventilated it the same night at the supper table, but met with scant
encouragement. Still he did not despair; for, as he told Elfric, the
influence of his royal uncle, King Edred, might be hopefully exerted on
their joint behalf.

"I mean to get you to town," he said. "I shall persuade my old uncle,
who is more a monk than a king, that you are dreadfully pious, attached
to monkish Latin, and all that sort of thing, so that he will long to
get you to town, if it is only to set an example to me."

"But if he does not find that I answer his expectations?"

"Oh, it will be too late to alter then; you will be comfortably
installed in the palace; and, between you and me, he is but old and
feeble, and has always had a disease of some kind. I expect he will soon
die, and then who will be king save Edwy, and who in England shall be
higher than his friend Elfric?"

It was a brilliant prospect, as it seemed to boys of fifteen, for such
was the mature age of the speakers.

Shortly after the last conversation, an express came from the court to
seek the young prince--the messenger had been long delayed from
ignorance of the present abode of Edwy, who had carefully concealed the
secret until he felt he could tarry no longer, fearing the wrath not
only of the king, but of Dunstan, whom he dreaded yet more than his uncle.

So he and his attendants, who had, like him, found pleasant
entertainment at Aescendune, bade farewell to the home where he had been
so hospitably entertained: and so ended a visit, pregnant with the most
important results, then utterly unforeseen and unintended, to the family
he had honoured by his presence.

Some few weeks passed, and under the tuition of their chaplain, who was
charged with their education, Elfric and Alfred had returned to their
usual course of life.

It would seem somewhat a hard one to a lover of modern ease. They rose
early, as we have already seen, and before breaking their fast went with
their father and most of the household to the early mass at the
monastery of St. Wilfred, returned to an early meal, and then worked
hard, on ordinary occasions at their Latin, and such other studies as
were pursued in that primitive age of England. The midday meal was
succeeded by somewhat severe bodily exercise, generally hunting the boar
or wolf which still abounded in the forests, an excitement not
unattended by danger, which, however, their father would never permit
them to shun. He knew full well the importance of personal courage at an
age when the dangers of hunting were only initiatory to the stern duties
of war, and no Englishman could shun the latter when his country called
upon him to take up arms. Nor were martial exercises unknown to the
boys; the bow, it is true, was somewhat neglected then in England, but
the use of sword, shield, and battle-axe was daily inculcated.

"_Si vis pacem_," Father Cuthbert said on such occasions, "_para arma._"

Wearied by their exertions, whether at home or abroad, the brothers
welcomed the evening social meal, and the rest which followed, when old
Saxon legend or the harp of the gleeman enlivened the household fire,
till compline sweetly closed the day.

Swiftly and pleasantly were passing the weeks succeeding the visit of
the prince, when a royal messenger appeared, bearing a letter sealed
with the king's signet. The old thane, who had passed his youth in more
troublous times, and could scarcely read the Anglo-Saxon version of the
Gospels, then extant, could not construe the monkish Latin in which it
was King Edred's good pleasure to write.

So the chaplain, Cuthbert, read him the letter in which the king greeted
his loyal and well-beloved subject, Ella of Aescendune, and begged of
him, as a great favour, that he would send his eldest boy to court, to
be the companion of the young prince, who had (the king said) conceived
a great affection for Elfric.

"I hear," added Edred, "that your boy is a boy after his father's heart,
full of love for the saints, diligent in his studies, and I trust well
qualified to amend by example the somewhat giddy ways of my nephew."

Ella felt that this latter commendation might be better bestowed upon
Alfred, who, although far less full of boyish spirit and energy than his
brother, was far more attached to his religious duties, as also far more
attentive to the wishes of his parents; but his love for Elfric blinded
him to more serious defects in the character of his son, or he might
have feared their development in a congenial soil.

So the father saw his boy alone, and communicated the contents of the
letter. The news was indeed welcome to Elfric, who panted for travel and
adventure and the freedom he fancied he should get in Edwy's society.
But Ella hardly perceived this, and enlarged upon the dangers to which
his son would be exposed, and tried to put before the boy all the "pros
" and "cons" of the question faithfully.

"He would not keep him back," he said, "if he desired to leave home,"
but as he uttered the words he felt his heart very heavy, for Aescendune
would lose half its brightness in losing Elfric.

But Elfric's choice was already made, and he only succeeded in
repressing his delight with great difficulty, in deference to the
serious aspect and words of his revered sire. But his decision, for it
was left to him, was unchanged, and he stammered forth his desire to be
a man, and to see the world, in words mingled with expressions of his
deep love for his parents, which he was sure nothing could ever change.

Strange to say, now that the parental consent was gained, and no
obstacle lay between him and the accomplishment of his ardent wish, he
did not feel half so happy as he had expected to feel. Home affections
seemed to increase as the hours rushed by which were to be his last in
the bosom of his family; every familiar object became precious as the
thought arose that it might be seen for the last time; favourites, both
men and animals, had to be bidden farewell. There was the old forester,
the gleeman, the warder, the gardener, the chamberlain, the cellarius,
the cook (not an unimportant personage in Saxon households), the foster
mother, his old nurse, and many a friend in the village. Then there were
his favourite dogs, his pony, some pigeons he had reared; and all had
some claim on his affection, home nurtured as he had been in a most
kindly household.

But the appointed day came, the horse which was to bear him away stood
at the door, another horse loaded with his personal effects stood near,
for carriages were then unknown, neither would the roads have permitted
their use, so changed were the times since the Roman period.

His father and mother, his brother and sister, stood without the
drawbridge, where the last goodbye took place; tears started unbidden to
his eyes--he was only fifteen--as he heard the parting blessing, and
as his mother pressed him to her bosom.

Alfred and his sister Edith seemed almost broken hearted at the parting.
But Elfric tried to bear up, and the end came.

The little cavalcade left the castle, two attendants, well armed and
mounted, being his bodyguard.

Again and again he looked back; and when, after a journey of two miles,
the envious woods closed in, and hid the dear familiar home from his
sight, a strange sense of desolation rushed upon him, as if he were
alone in the world.

The route taken by the cavalcade led them in the first place to Warwick,
even then a flourishing Saxon town: this was the limit of Elfric's
previous wanderings, and when they left it for the south, the whole
country was strange to him.

The royal messenger had business at the cathedral city of Dorchester, at
the junction of the Tame and Isis, and they did not take the more direct
route by the Watling Street, the most perfect Roman road remaining. The
land was but thinly peopled, forests covered the greater portion, and
desolate marshes much of the remainder; thus, through alternate forest
and marsh, the travellers advanced along the ruinous remains of an old
Roman crossroad, which had once afforded good accommodation to
travellers, but had been suffered to fall into utter ruin and decay by
the neglect of their successors, our own barbarous ancestors.

Originally it had been paved with stone, and causeways had been formed
over marsh and mere, but the stones had been taken away, for the road
formed the most accessible quarry in the neighbourhood. Here and there,
however, it was still good, surviving the wear of centuries, and even
the old mileposts of iron were still existing covered with rust, with
the letters denoting so many Roman miles--or thousands of paces--
still legible.

A few hours' riding from Warwick brought them at the close of the day in
sight of Beranbyrig (Banbury), where three centuries earlier a bloody
battle had been fought, [vi] wherein success--almost for the last time
--visited the British arms, and saved the Celtic race from expulsion
for twenty years.

The spot was very interesting to Elfric, for here his ancestor Sebbald
had fought by the side of the invading king, Cynric, the son of Cerdic,
and had fallen "gloriously" on the field.

"Look," said Anlaf, the guide, "at that sloping ground which rises to
the northwest. There the Welsh (Britons) stood, formed in nine strong
battalions. In that hollow they placed their archers, and here their
javelin men and cavalry were arranged after the old Roman fashion. Our
Englishmen were all in one battalion, and charged them fiercely, when
they were thrown into confusion by the cunning tricks of the Welsh, who
made up in craft what they wanted in manly courage.

"Look at this brook which flows to the river, it was running with blood
that evening, and our men lay piled in huge heaps where they tried to
scale the hill which you see yonder."

"And did the Welsh gain the day so easily?" said Elfric, sorrowfully.

"I don't wonder; they were fighting for their lives, and even a rat will
fight if you get him into a corner; besides, they had all their best men
here."

"Do you know where Sebbald fell?" said Elfric, referring to his own
ancestor.

"Just under this hillock, close by King Cynric, who fought like a lion
to save the body, but was unable to do so. The Welsh were then gaining
the day. Still, even his foes respected his valour, and gave your
forefather a fair and honourable burial."

Leaving the battlefield, they entered the Saxon town, which was defended
on one side by the Cherwell, on the other by a mound and palisade, with
an outer ditch supplied by the river. Here they found hospitable
entertainment, and left on the morrow for the town of Kirtlington.

They left Beranbyrig early, and reached the village of Sutthun (King's
Sutton), where they perceived a great multitude of people collected
around a well at the outskirts of the village.

"What are these people doing?" asked Elfric.

"Oh, do you not know?" replied Anlaf. "This is St. Rumbald's well," and
he crossed himself piously.

"Who was St. Rumbald?" asked Elfric innocently.

"Oh, he was son of the king of Northumbria, and of his queen, the
daughter of the old king Penda of Mercia, and the strange thing is that
he is a saint although he only lived three days."

"How could that be?"

"Why it was a miracle, you see. On the day after his birth he was taken
to Braceleam (Brackley), where he was baptized, and after his baptism he
actually preached an eloquent sermon to the people. They brought him
back to Sutthun next day, where he died, having first blessed this well,
so that many precious gifts of healing are shown thereat. His relics
were removed first to Braceleam, then to Buccingaham (Buckingham), where
his shrine is venerated by the faithful. But come, you must drink of the
holy water."

So they approached the spot, and, after much labour to get at the well,
drank of the water, which had a brackish taste, and proceeded on their
journey southward through Kirtlington, then a considerable city,
although now a small village. It was their intention to pass by the
cathedral city of Dorchester, where Wulfstan was then bishop, where they
arrived on the second night of their journey.

It was the largest city Elfric had as yet seen, possessing several
churches, of which only one now remains. The hand of the ruthless Danes
had not yet been laid heavily upon it, and the magnificence of the
sacred fanes, built by cunning architects from abroad, amazed the
Mercian boy.

There was the tomb of the great Birinus, the apostle of Mercia, who had
founded the see in the year 630 A.D., and to whose shrine multitudes of
pilgrims flocked each year. But the remains of Roman greatness most
astonished Elfric. The ruins of the amphitheatre situate near the river
Tame were grand even in their decay, and all the imaginative faculties
of the boy were aroused, as one of the most learned inhabitants
described the scenes of former days, of which tradition had been
preserved, the gladiatorial combats, the wild beast fights.

The heir of Aescendune found hospitality at the episcopal palace, where
Wulfstan,[vii] once the turbulent Archbishop of York, held his court.
The prelate seemed favourably impressed with his youthful guest, whom
he dismissed with a warm commendation to Dunstan.

They left the city early in the morning, and passed through Baenesington
(Benson), which having been originally taken from the Welsh by the Saxon
chieftain Cuthulf, in the year 571, became the scene of the great
victory of Offa, the Mercian king, over Cynewulf of Wessex in the year
777. One of Elfric's ancestors had fought on the side of Offa, and the
exploits of this doughty warrior had formed the subject of a ballad
often sung in the winter evenings at Aescendune, so that Elfric explored
the scene with great curiosity. Inferior to Dorchester, it was still a
considerable town.

Late at night they reached Reading, where they slept, and started early
on the morrow for London, where they arrived on the evening of the
fourth day.


    CHAPTER IV. LONDON IN THE OLDEN TIME.

London, in the days of King Edred, differed widely from the stately and
populous city we know in these days, and almost as widely from the
elegant "_Colonia Augusta_," or Londinium, of the Roman period. Narrow,
crooked, and unpaved lanes wound between houses, or rather lowly
cottages, built of timber, and roofed with thatch, so that it is not
wonderful that a conflagration was an event to be dreaded.

Evidence met the eye on every side how utterly the first Englishmen had
failed to preserve the cities they had conquered, and how far inferior
they were in cultivation, or rather civilisation, to the softer race
they had so ruthlessly expelled; for on every side broken pedestal and
shattered column appeared clumsily imbedded in the rude domestic
architecture of our forefathers.

St. Paul's Cathedral rose on the hill once sacred to Diana but was
wholly built within the ruins of the vast temple which had once occupied
the site, and which, magnificent in decay, still surrounded it like an
outwork. Further on were the wrecks of the citadel, where once the stern
legionary had watched by day and night, and where Roman discipline and
order had held sway, while the wall raised by Constantine, broken and
imperfect, still rose on the banks of the river. Near the Ludgate was
the palace of the Saxon king, and the ruins of an aqueduct overshadowed
its humbler portal, while without the walls the river Fleet rolled,
amidst vineyards and pleasant meadows dotted with houses, to join the
mighty Thames.

Edred, the reigning king of England, was the brother of the murdered
Edmund, and, in accordance with the custom of the day, had ascended the
throne on the death of his brother, seeing that the two infant sons of
the late king, Edwy and Edgar, were too young to reign, and the idea of
hereditary right was not sufficiently developed in the minds of our
forefathers to suggest the notion of a regency. It must also be
remembered that, within certain limits, there was an elective power in
the Witenagemot or Parliament, although generally limited in its scope
to members of the royal family.

Edred was of very delicate constitution, and suffered from an inward
disease which seldom allowed him an interval of rest and ease. Like so
many sufferers he had found his consolation in religion, and the only
crime ever laid to his charge (if it were a crime) was that he loved the
Church too much. Still he had repeatedly proved that he was strong in
purpose and will, and the insurgent Danes who had settled in Northumbria
had owned his prowess. In the internal affairs of his kingdom he was
chiefly governed by the advice of the great ecclesiastic and statesman,
with whose name our readers will shortly become familiar.

Upon the morning after the arrival of Elfric in London, Edwy, the young
prince, and his new companion, sat in a room on the upper floor of the
palace, which had but two floors, and would have been considered in
these days very deficient in architectural beauty.

The window of the room opened upon the river, and commanded a pleasant
view of the woods and meadows on the Surrey side, then almost
uninhabited, being completely unprotected in case of invasion, a
contingency never long absent from the mind in the days of the sea kings.

A table covered with manuscripts, both in Latin and Anglo-Saxon,
occupied the centre of the room, and there Elfric was seated, looking
somewhat aimlessly at a Latin vocabulary, while Edwy was standing
listlessly at the window. The "library," if it deserved the name, was
very unlike a modern library; books were few, and yet very expensive, so
that perhaps there was no fuller collection in any layman's house in the
kingdom. There were Alfred's translations into Anglo-Saxon, the
"_Chronicle of Orosius_," or the history of the World; the "_History of
the Venerable Bede_," both in his original Latin and in English;
Boethius on the "_Consolations of Philosophy_;" narratives from ancient
mythology; extracts from the works of St. Augustine and St. Gregory; and
the Apologues or Fables from Aesop.[viii]

"Oh, put those stupid books aside," exclaimed the prince; "this is your
first day in town, and I mean to take a holiday; that surly old Dunstan
should have left word to that effect last night."

"Will he not be here soon?"

"Yes, he is coming this morning, the old bear, to superintend my
progress, and I wish him joy thereof."

"What has he given you to do?" inquired Elfric.

"Why, a wretched exercise to write out. There, you see it before you;
isn't it a nuisance?"

"It is not very hard, is it?"

"Don't you think it hard? See whether you can do it!"

Elfric smiled, and wrote out the simple Latin with ease, for he had been
well instructed by Father Cuthbert at Aescendune.

He had scarcely finished when a firm step was heard upon the stairs.

"Hush," said Edwy; "here comes Dunstan. Be sure you look solemn enough,"
and he composed his own countenance into an expression of preternatural
gravity.

The door opened, and an ecclesiastic in the prime of life entered the
room, one whose mien impressed the beholder with an indefinable awe.

He was dressed in the Benedictine habit, just then becoming common in
England, and his features were those of a man formed by nature to
command, while they reconciled the beholder to the admission of the fact
by the sad yet sweet smile which frequently played on the shapely
countenance. He was now in the thirtieth year of his age, having been
born in the first year of King Athelstane, and had been abbot of
Glastonbury for several years, although his services as counsellor to
King Edred had led him to spend much of his time in town, and he had
therefore accepted the general direction of the education of the heir to
the throne. Such was Dunstan.

He seemed but little welcome to Edwy, and the benediction with which he
greeted his pupil was but coldly received.

Not appearing to notice this, he mildly said, "You must introduce your
young companion to me, my prince. Am I not right in concluding that I
see before me Elfric, heir to the lands of Aescendune?"

Elfric blushed as he bent the knee to the great churchman to receive the
priestly benediction with which he was greeted, but remained silent.

"Father Cuthbert, whom I knew well years agone, has told me about you,
and your brother Alfred; is not that his name?"

"He is so named, my father."

"I am glad to perceive that my royal pupil has chosen so meet a
companion, for Father Cuthbert speaks well of your learning. You write
the Latin tongue, he tells me, with some little facility."

Elfric feared his powers had been overrated.

"I trust you have resumed your studies after your long holiday,"
continued Dunstan. "Youth is the season for sowing, age for reaping."

"I have had a very bad headache," said Edwy, "and have only been able to
write a page of Latin. Here it is, father."

And he extended the exercise Elfric had written to the abbot, who looked
at the writing for one moment, and then glanced severely at the prince.
The character was very like his own, but there was a difference.

"Is this your handwriting, Prince Edwy?" he asked.

"Of course. Elfric saw me write it, did you not?"

Elfric was not used to falsehood; he could not frame his lips to say "Yes."

Dunstan observed his confusion, and he turned to the prince with a look
in which contempt seemed to struggle with passive self-possession.

"I trust, Edwy," he said, "you will remember that the word of a king is
said to be his bond, and so should the word of a prince be if he ever
hopes to reign. I shall give Father Benedict charge to superintend your
studies as usual."

He wished them a grave good morning, and left the room.

As soon as the last sound of his steps had ceased, Edwy turned sharply
to Elfric--"Why did you not say yes at once? Surely you have a tongue?"

"It has never learnt to lie."

"Pooh! What is the harm of such a white lie as that would have been? If
you cannot give the credit of a Latin exercise, which you happen to have
written, to your future king, you must be selfish; it is my writing, if
you give it me, isn't it?"

Elfric did not quite see the matter in that light, yet did not care to
dispute the point; but his conscience was ill at ease, and he was glad
to change the subject.

"When can we go out?" he said, for he was anxious to see the city.

"Oh, not till after the midday meal, and you must see the palace first;
come now."

So they descended and traversed the various courts of the building; the
dormitories, the great dining hall, the audience chambers where Edred
was then receiving his subjects, who waited in the anteroom, which alone
the two boys ventured to enter. Finally, after traversing several courts
and passages, they reached the guardroom.

Three or four of the "hus-carles" or household guards were here on duty.
But in the embrasure of the window, poring over a map, sat one of very
different mien from the common soldiers, and whose air and manner, no
less than his dress, proclaimed the officer.

"Redwald," said the prince, advancing to the window, "let me make you
acquainted with my friend and companion, Elfric of Aescendune."

The officer started, as if with some sudden surprise, but it passed away
so quickly that the beholder might fancy the start had only existed in
imagination, as perhaps it did.

"This gallant warrior," said Edwy to Elfric, "is my friend and
counsellor in many ways; and if he lives there shall not be a thane in
England who shall stand above him. You will soon find out his value,
Elfric."

"My prince is pleased to flatter his humble servant," said Redwald.

But Elfric was gazing upon the soldier with feelings he could scarcely
analyse. There was something in his look and the tone of his voice which
struck a hidden chord, and awoke recollections as if of a previous
existence.

"Redwald," as Edwy named him, was tall and dark, with many of the
characteristics of the Danish race about him. His nose was slightly
aquiline, his eyes hid beneath bushy eyebrows, while his massive jaw
denoted energy of character--energy which one instinctively felt was
quite as likely to be exerted for evil as for good.

He was captain of the hus-carles, and had but recently entered the royal
service. Few knew his lineage. He spoke the Anglo-Saxon tongue with
great fluency, and bore testimonials certifying his valour and
faithfulness from the court of Normandy, where the Northmen under Rollo
had some half-century earlier founded a flourishing state, then ruled
over by the noble Duke "Richard the Fearless."

Edwy seemed to be on intimate terms with this soldier of fortune; in
fact, with all his proud anticipation of his future greatness, he was
never haughty to his inferiors, perhaps we should say seldom, for we
shall hereafter note exceptions to this rule. It would be a great
mistake to suppose that the pomp and ceremony of our Norman kings was
shared by their English predecessors: the manners and customs of the
court of Edred were simplicity itself.

After a few moments of private conversation with Redwald, the boys
returned to their chamber to prepare for dinner.

"You noted that man," said Edwy; "well, I don't know how I should live
without him."

Elfric's looks expressed surprise.

"You will find out by and by; you have little idea how strictly we are
kept here, and how much one is indebted to one's servants for the gift
of liberty, especially in Lent and on fast days, when one does not get
half enough to eat, and must sometimes escape the gloom and starvation
of the palace."

"Starvation?"

"What else do you call it, when you get nothing but fish, fish, fish,
and bread and water to help it down. My uncle is awfully religious. I
can hardly stand it sometimes. He would like to spend half the day in
chapel, but, happily for all the rest of us, the affairs of state are
too urgent for that, so we do get a little breathing time, or else I
should have to twist my mouth all of one side singing dolorous chants
and tunes which are worse than a Danish war whoop, for he likes, he
says, to hear the service hearty."

"But it helps you on with your Latin."

"Not much of that, for I sing anything that comes into my head; the
singing men make such a noise, they can hear no one else, and I fancy
they don't know what a word of the Latin prayers means."

"But isn't it irreverent--too irreverent, I mean. Father Cuthbert made
me afraid to mock God, he told such stories about judgment."

"All fudge and nonsense--oh, I beg your pardon, it is all very godly
and pious, and really I expect to be greatly edified by your piety in
chapel. Pray, when shall you be canonised?"

Elfric could not bear ridicule, and blushed for the second time that
morning. Just then the bell rang for dinner, or rather was struck with a
mallet by the master of the ceremonies.

King Edred dined that day, as one might say, in the bosom of his family;
only Dunstan was present, besides the boys Edwy, Edgar his younger
brother, and Elfric. It was then that Elfric first saw the younger
prince, a pale studious-looking boy of twelve, but with a very firm and
intellectual expression of countenance. He was a great favourite with
Dunstan, whom the boy, unlike his brother, regarded with the greatest
respect and reverence.

The conversation was somewhat stiff; Edred spoke a few kind words to the
young stranger, and then conversed in an undertone with Dunstan, the
whole dinner time; the princes themselves were awed by the presence of
their uncle and his spiritual guide.

But at last, like all other things, it was over, and with feelings of
joy the boys broke forth from the restraint. The whole afternoon was
spent in seeing the sights of London, and they all three, for Edgar
accompanied them, returned to the evening meal, fatigued in body, but in
high spirits. Compline in the royal chapel terminated the day, as mass
had begun it.


    CHAPTER V. TEMPTATION.

But a few days had passed before Elfric learned the secret of Redwald's
influence over the young prince.

The household of Edred was conducted with the strictest propriety.[ix]
All rose with the lark, and the first duty was to attend
at the early mass in the royal chapel. Breakfast followed, and then the
king on ordinary days gave the whole forenoon to business of state, and
he thought it his duty to see that each member of the royal household
had some definite employment, knowing that idleness was the mother of
many evils. So the young princes had their tasks assigned them by their
tutor, as we have already seen, and the spare hours which were saved
from their studies were given to such practice in the use of the
national weapons as seemed necessary to those who might hereafter lead
armies, or to gymnastic exercises which strengthened nerve and muscle
for a time of need.

In the afternoon they might ride or walk abroad, but a strict interdict
was placed upon certain haunts where temptation might perchance be
found, and they had to return by evensong, which the king generally
attended in person when at home. Then, in winter, indoor recreations
till compline, for it was a strict rule of the king that his nephews
should not leave the palace after sundown.

He further caused their tutor, who directed their education under the
supervision of Dunstan--Father Benedict--whom we have already
introduced, to see that they properly discharged all the duties of
public and private devotion.

But he did not see, in the excess of his zeal, that he was really
destroying the prospects which were nearest his heart, and that there
can be no more fatal mistake than to compel the performance of religious
duties which exceed the measure of the youthful capacity or endurance.

With Edgar, who was naturally pious, the system produced no evil result;
but with Edwy the effect was most sad. He had become, as we have seen,
deceitful; and a character, naturally fair, was undermined to an extent
which neither the king nor Dunstan suspected.

The reader may naturally ask how could Dunstan, so astute as he was,
make this mistake, or at least suffer Edred to make it?

The fact was that Dunstan understood the affairs of state better than
those of the heart, and although well fitted for a guide to men of
sincere piety, and capable of opposing to the wicked an iron will and
inflexible resolution, he did not understand the young, and seemed to
have forgotten his own youth. Sincerely truthful and straightforward, he
hardly knew whether to feel more disgust or surprise at Edwy's evident
unfaithfulness. He little knew that unfaithfulness was only one of his
failings, and not the worst.

A few nights after Elfric's arrival, when the palace gates had been shut
for the night, the compline service said, the household guard posted,
and the boys had retired to their sleeping apartments, he heard a low
knock at his door. He opened it, and Edwy entered.

"Are you disposed for a pleasant evening, Elfric?"

"Such pleasure as there is in sleep."

"No, I do not mean that. We cannot sleep, like bears in winter, during
all the hours which should be given to mirth. I am going out this
evening, and I want you to go with me."

"Going out?"

"Yes. Don't stand staring there, as if I was talking Latin or something
harder; but get your shoes on again--

"No; you had better come down without shoes; it will make less noise."

"But how can we get out? I have not the least idea where you are going?"

"All in good time. We shall get out easily enough. Are you coming?"

Half fearful, yet not liking to resist the prince, and his curiosity
pressing him to solve the secret, Elfric followed Edwy down the stairs
to the lower hall, where Redwald was on guard. He seemed to await the
lads, for he bowed at once to the prince and proceeded to the outer
door, where, at an imperious signal from him, the warder threw the
little inner portal open, and the three passed out.

"Is the boat ready?" said Edwy.

"It is; and trusty rowers await you."

Redwald led the way to the river's brink, and there pointed out a skiff
lying at a short distance from the shore. At a signal, the men who
manned it pulled in and received the two youths on board, then pulled at
once out into the stream.

"How do you like an evening on the river?" said Edwy.

"It is very beautiful, and the stars are very bright tonight; but where
are we going?"

"You will soon find out."

Finding his royal companion so uncommunicative, Elfric remained silent,
trusting that a few minutes would unravel the mystery.

But an hour had passed, during which the boat steadily progressed up
stream, before the watermen pulled in for the shore, and a dark building
loomed before them in dim shadow.

"Here is the place," said Edwy. "Be ready, my men, to take us back about
midnight, or a little later;" and he threw some pieces of money amongst
them.

Passing through a large garden, they arrived at a porch before a stout
door garnished with knobs of iron, which might bid defiance to thief or
burglar.

"Whose house is this?" asked Elfric.

"Wait; you shall soon see."

The loud knocking Edwy made at the door soon brought some domestics,
who, opening a small wicket, discovered the identity of their principal
visitor, and immediately threw open the door.

"Thanks," said Edwy; "we were almost frozen."

Passing through a kind of atrium--for the old Roman fashion was still
sometimes followed in this particular--the domestics ushered the
visitors into a room brilliantly lighted by torches stuck in cressets
projecting from the walls, and by huge wax candles upon a table spread
for a feast. The light revealed a small but apparently select party, who
seemed to await the prince: a lady, who appeared to be the mistress of
the mansion; a young girl apparently about the age of Edwy, who, calling
her his fair cousin, saluted her fondly; and two or three youths, whose
gaudy dress and affected manners were strongly in contrast with the
stern simplicity of the times.

After saluting each person with the greatest freedom, Edwy introduced
his companion.

"Here is a young novice I have brought to learn the noble art of
merrymaking, of wine and wassail. We have both been literally starved at
the palace--I should say monastery--of Monk Edred today. It is
Friday, and we have been splendidly dining upon salt fish served up on
golden salvers. My goodness! the flavour of that precious cod is yet in
my mouth. Food for cats, I do assure you, and served up to kings. What
did you think of it, Elfric?"

Elfric was ashamed to say that it had not been so very bad after all.
Truth to say his conscience was uneasy, for he had been brought up to
respect the fasts of the Church, and he saw a trial awaiting him in the
luscious dishes before him.

"What does it matter?" the reader may exclaim; "it is not that which
goeth into the mouth which defileth a man," etc.

True, most wise critic, but it is that which goeth out; and if
disobedience be not amongst the evils which defile, then Adam did not
fall in Paradise when he ate the forbidden fruit. Elfric could not touch
flesh on fast days without the instinctive feeling that he was doing
wrong, and no one can sin against the conviction of the heart without
danger.

The party now seated themselves, and without any grace or further
preface the feast began. Servants appeared and served up the most
exquisite dishes, of a delicacy almost unknown in England at that day,
and poured rich wines into silver goblets. It was evident that wealth
abounded in the family they were visiting, and that they had expended it
freely for the gratification of Edwy.

Ethelgiva, the lady of the house, was of noble presence, which almost
seemed to justify the claim of royal blood which was made for her. Tall
and commanding, age had not bent her form, although her locks were
already white. Her beauty, which must have been marvellous in her
younger days, had attracted the attention of a younger son of the
reigning house, and they were married at an early age, secretly, without
the sanction of the king.

The fruit of their union was Elgiva, a name destined to fill a place in
a sad and painful tragedy; but we are anticipating, and must crave the
reader's pardon.

Bright and cheerful indeed was the fair Elgiva at this moment. Her
beauty was remarkable even in a land so famed for the beauty of its
daughters; and the ill-advised Edwy may be pitied, if not altogether
pardoned, for his infatuation, for infatuation it was in a day when the
near tie of blood between them precluded the possibility of lawful
matrimony, save at the expense of a dispensation never likely to be
conceded, since the temperament of men like Odo, the Archbishop of
Canterbury, and of Dunstan, was opposed to any relaxation of the law in
the case of the great when such relaxation was unattainable by the poor
and lowly.

To return to our subject:

The feast proceeded with great animation. At first Elfric hesitated when
the meat was placed before him, but he withered, in his weakness, before
the mocking smile of Edwy, and the sarcasm which played upon the lips of
the rest of the company, who perceived his hesitation. So he yielded,
and, shaking off all restraint, ate heartily.

Dish followed dish, and the wine cup circulated with great freedom.
Excited as he was, Elfric could but remark the loose tone of the
conversation. Subjects were freely discussed which had never found
admittance either in the palace of King Edred or at Aescendune, and
which, indeed, caused him to look up with surprise, remembering in whose
presence he sat.

But, as is often the case in an age where opinion is severely repressed
in its outward expression, and amongst those compelled against their
will to observe silence on such subjects on ordinary occasions, all
restraint seemed abandoned at the table of Ethelgiva. It was not that
the language was coarse, but whether the conversation turned upon the
restraints of the clergy, or the court, or upon the fashionable
frivolities of the day--for there were frivolities and fashions even
in that primitive age--there was a freedom of expression bordering
upon profanity or licentiousness.

Edred was mocked as an old babbler; Dunstan was sometimes a fool,
sometimes a hypocrite, sometimes even a sorcerer, although this was said
sneeringly; the clergy were divided into fools and knaves; the claims of
the Church--that is of Christianity--derided, and the principle
freely avowed--"Enjoy life while you can, for you know not what may
come after."

Excited by the wine he had drunk, Elfric became as wild in his talk as
the other young men, and as the intoxicating drink mounted to his brain,
seemed to think that he had just learnt how to enjoy life.

The ladies retired at last, and Edwy followed them. Elfric was on the
point of rising too, but a hint from his companions restrained him. The
wine cup still circulated, the conversation, now unrestrained, initiated
the boy into many an evil secret he had never known earlier; and so the
hours passed on, till Edwy, himself much flushed, came in and said that
it was time to depart, for midnight had long been tolled from the
distant towers of London.

He smiled as he saw by Elfric's bloodshot eyes and unsteady gait, as he
rose, upsetting his seat, that his companion was something less master
of himself than usual; he felt, it need hardly be said, no remorse, but
rather regarded the whole thing as what might now be termed "a jolly lark."

"Shall you require bearers, or can you walk to the boat? I do not wonder
you are ill, you have eaten too much fish today; it is a shame to make
the knees weak through fasting in this style."

"I--I--am all right now."

"You will be better in the air."

So, bidding a farewell of somewhat doubtful character to his
entertainers, Elfric was assisted to the boat. The air did not revive
him, he felt wretchedly feverish and giddy, and could hardly tell how he
reached the river.

Reach it, however, he did, and the strong arms of the watermen impelled the
boat rapidly down the tide, until it reached the stairs near the palace.

Here Redwald was in waiting, and assisted them to land.

"You are very late, or rather early," he said.

"Yes," said Edwy, "but it has been a jolly evening, only poor Elfric has
been ill, having of course weakened himself by fasting."

Redwald smiled such a scornful smile, and muttered some words to
himself. Yet it did not seem as if he were altogether displeased at the
state in which he saw Elfric. It may be added that Edwy was but little
better.

"You must keep silent," said Redwald; "I believe the king and Dunstan
are hearing matins in the chapel: it is the festival of some saint or
other, who went to the gridiron in olden days."

The outer gate of the palace was cautiously opened, and, taking off
their shoes, the youths ascended the stairs which led to their
apartments as lightly as possible.

"Send the leech Sigebert to us in the morning--he must report Elfric
unwell--for he will hardly get up to hear Dunstan mumble mass."

"Perhaps your royal highness had better rest also."

"And bring suspicion upon us both? No," said Edwy, "one will be enough
to report ill at once; Dunstan is an old fox."

Poor Elfric could hardly get to bed, and, almost for the first time
since infancy, he laid himself down without one prayer. Edwy left him in
the dark, and there he lay, his head throbbing, and a burning thirst
seeming to consume him.

Long before morning he was very sick, and when the bell was sounded for
the early mass it need hardly be said that he was unable to rise.

Sigebert the physician, who, like Redwald, was in the confidence of the
future king, Edwy, came in to see him, and asked what was the matter.

"I am very sick and ill," gasped Elfric.

"I suppose you have taken something that disagreed with you--too much
fish perhaps." (with a smile).

"No--no--I do not--"

"I understand," said the leech; "you will soon be better; meanwhile, I
will account for your absence at chapel. Here, take this medicine; you
will find it relieve you."

And he gave Elfric a mixture which assuaged his burning thirst, and
bathed his forehead with some powerful essence which refreshed him
greatly, whereupon the leech departed.

Only an hour later, and Edred, hearing from the physician of Elfric's
sudden illness, came in to see the boy, whose bright cheerful face and
merry disposition had greatly attracted him. This was hardest of all for
Elfric to bear; he had to evade the kind questions of the king, and to
hear expressions of sympathy which he felt he did not deserve.

More than once he felt inclined to tell all, but the fear of the prince
restrained him, and also a sense of what he thought honour, for he would
not betray his companion, and he could not confess his own guilt without
implicating Edwy.

Poor boy! it would have been far better for him had he done so: he had
taken his first step downward.


    CHAPTER VI. LOWER AND LOWER.

It becomes our painful duty to record that from the date of the feast,
described in our last chapter, the character of poor Elfric underwent
rapid deterioration. In the first place, the fact of his having yielded
to the forbidden indulgence, and--as he felt--disgraced himself,
gave Edwy, as the master of the secret, great power over him, and he
never failed to use this power whenever he saw any inclination on the
part of his vassal to throw off the servitude. It was not that he
deliberately intended to injure Elfric, but he had come to regard virtue
as either weakness or hypocrisy, at least such virtues as temperance,
purity, or self restraint.

The great change which was creeping over Elfric became visible to
others: he seemed to lose his bright smile; the look of boyish innocence
faded from his countenance, and gave place to an expression of sullen
reserve; he showed less ardour in all his sports and pastimes, became
subject to fits of melancholy, and often seemed lost in thought, anxious
thought, in the midst of his studies.

He seldom had the power, even if the will, to communicate with home.
Mercia was in many respects an independent state, subject to the same
king, but governed by a code of laws differing from those of Wessex; and
it was only when a royal messenger or some chance traveller left court
for the banks of the Midland Avon, that Elfric could use the art of
writing, a knowledge he was singular in possessing, thanks to the wisdom
of his sire.

So the home authorities knew little of the absent one, for whom they
offered up many a fervent prayer, and of whom they constantly spoke and
thought. And yet, so mysterious are the ways of Providence, it seemed as
if these prayers were unanswered--seemed indeed, yet they were not
forgotten before God.

Seemed forgotten; for Elfric was rapidly becoming reckless. Many
subsequent scenes of indulgence had followed the first one, and other
haunts, residences of licentious young nobles, or taverns, had been
sought out by the youths, and always by Redwald's connivance.

He was Edwy's evil genius, and always seemed at hand whensoever the
prince sought occasion to sin. Still, he was not at all suspected by
Edred, before whom he kept up an appearance of the strictest morality--
always punctual in his attendance at mass, matins, and evensong, and
with a various stock of phrases of pious import ready at tongue in case
of need or opportunity of using them to advantage.

To Elfric, his behaviour was always reserved, yet he seemed even more
ready to lend him a helping hand downward than did the prince.

So time passed on; weeks became months; and Christmas with all its
hallowed associations had passed; it had been Elfric's first Christmas
away from home, and he was sad at heart, in spite of the boisterous
merriment of his companions. The spring of the year 955 came on, and
Lent drew near, a season to which Edwy looked forward with great dread,
for, as he said, there would be nothing in the whole palace to eat until
Easter, and he could not even hope to bribe the cook.

The canons of the church required all persons to make confession, and so
enter upon the fast tide, having "thus purified their minds;" [x]
it may, alas! be easily guessed how the guilty lads performed this duty,
how enforced confession only led to their adding the sin of further
deceit, and that of a deadly kind.

Thus they entered upon Lent: their abstinence was entirely compulsory,
not voluntary; and although they made up for it in some degree when they
could get away from the palace, yet even this was difficult, for it was
positively unlawful for butchers to sell or for people to buy meat at
the prohibited seasons, and the law was not easily evaded. But it was a
prayerless Lent also to Elfric, for he had, alas! even discontinued his
habit of daily prayer, a habit he had hitherto maintained from
childhood, a habit first learned at his mother's knee.

Holy Week came, and was spent with great strictness; the king seemed to
divide his whole time between the business of state and the duties of
religion.

Dunstan was absent at Glastonbury, but other ecclesiastics thronged the
palace, and there were few, save the guilty boys and Redwald, who seemed
uninfluenced by the solemn commemoration.

But it must not be supposed that Elfric was wholly uninfluenced: after
the preaching of the Passion by a poor simple monk on Good Friday, he
retired to his own little room, where he wept as if his heart would
break. Had Dunstan been then in town, the whole story would have been
told, and much misery saved, for Elfric felt he could trust him if he
could trust anybody; but unhappily Dunstan was, as we have seen, keeping
Passiontide at his abbey.

Still, Elfric felt he must tell all, and submit to the advice and
penance which might be imposed; and as he sat weeping over his sin that
Good Friday night, with the thought that he might find pardon and peace
through the Great Sacrifice so touchingly pleaded that day, he felt that
the first step to amendment must lie in a full and frank confession of
all; he knew he should grievously offend Edwy, and that he should lose
the favour of his future king, but he could not help it.

"Why, oh why did I leave Aescendune, dear Aescendune?--fool that I was
--I will go back."

And a sweet desire of home and kindred rose up before him--of his
father's loving welcome, his fond mother's chaste kiss, and of the dear
old woods and waters--the hallowed associations of his home life. He
rose up to seek Father Benedict, determined to enter upon the path of
peace at any cost, when Edwy entered.

He did not see in the gathering darkness the traces of emotion visible
on poor Elfric's countenance, and he began in his usual careless way--
"How are you, Elfric, my boy; glad Lent is nearly over? What a dismal
time that wretched monk preached this morning!"

"Edwy, I am utterly miserable: I must tell all; I cannot live like this
any longer."

"What a burst of penitence! go to confession; to be sure it looks well,
and if one can only manage to get out a few tears they account him a
saint; tell me the receipt."

"But, Edwy, I must tell all!"

"Not if you are wise."

"Why not? It is all in secrecy."

"No it is not; you will be required as a penance to go and tell the king
all that we have done; you may do so, and I will manage to represent
matters so as to throw the whole blame on you; you will be sent home in
disgrace."

Poor Elfric hung down his head; the thought of his disgrace reaching
home had not occurred to him.

"Come," said Edwy, "I don't want to be hard upon you. Cheer up, my man.
What have you done amiss? Only enjoyed yourself as nature has guided
you. Why should you think God meant us to pass through life like those
miserable shavelings Edred delights to honour? Cheer up, Elfric; your
bright face was never meant for that of a hypocrite. If you are so
dreadfully bad, you are in a pretty numerous company; and I don't think
the shavelings believe their own tales about fire and torment hereafter.
They are merry enough, considering."

In short, poor Elfric's short-lived penitence was given to the winds.
Edwy went alone to be shriven on the morrow.

On Easter Day they both received the Holy Communion in the royal chapel.

From that time remorse ceased to visit the heir of Aescendune, as if he
had at last quenched the Spirit, and he became so utterly wild and
reckless, that at last Dunstan thought it necessary to speak to him
privately on the subject. It was nearly six months after Easter.

The boy entered the study set apart for the use of the great monk and
statesman with a palpitating heart, but he managed to repress its
beatings, and put on a perfectly unconcerned expression of countenance.
He had gained in self control if in nothing else.

"I wished to speak with you, Elfric," said the abbot, "upon a very
serious matter. When you first came here, I was delighted to have you as
a companion to the prince. You were evidently well brought up, and bore
an excellent character; but, I grieve to say, you have greatly changed
for the worse. Are you not aware of it?"

"No, father. What have I done?"

Dunstan sighed at the tone of the reply, and continued--"It is not any
particular action of which I wish to accuse you, but of the general
tenor of your conduct. I do not speak harshly, my boy; but if truth be
told, you are as idle as you were once diligent, as sullen and reserved
as once candid and open: and, my son, your face tells a tale of even
worse things, and, but that I am puzzled to know where you could obtain the
means of self indulgence, I should attribute more serious vices to you."

"Who has accused me, father?"

"Yourself--that is, your own face and manner. Did you ever contemplate
yourself in a mirror when at home? There is a steel one against that
wall, go and look at yourself now."

Elfric blushed deeply.

"My face is still the same," he said.

"It is the same, and yet not the same. Innocence once took her place at
its portals, and had sealed it as her own; the expression is all
changed; my boy, I am absolutely certain that all is not well with you.
For your own sake, delay no longer to avoid the danger of losing your
salvation, for the habits you form now will perhaps cling to you through
life. Turn now to your own self; confess your sin, and be at peace."

"I came to confession at Shrovetide; I am not required to come now, am I?"

"Required? No, my boy, it is your own sense of guilt, alone, which
should draw you. The Church, since there has been no public scandal,
leaves you to your own judgment at such a time as this. Have you never
felt such remorse of conscience as would tell you your duty?"

"Never."

He thought of Good Friday, and blushed.

"Your tone and words belie each other, my boy. God grant you repentance;
you will not accept my help now, but the time may come when you will
seek help in vain."

Elfric bowed, without reply, and at a sign left the chamber.

A few weeks later, at the beginning of November, Edred left London for a
tour in the west, and quitted his nephews with more than his usual
affection, although his goodbye to Elfric was more constrained, for the
good old king, not knowing the whole truth, was beginning to fear that
Elfric was a dangerous companion. He little thought that he was rather
sinned against than sinning.

Dunstan was to follow him in a week, and only remained behind to
discharge necessary business.

The heart of the amorous Edwy beat with delight as he saw his uncle
depart, and he made arrangements at once to spend the night after
Dunstan's departure in mirth and jollity at the house of Ethelgiva and
her fair daughter.

He came back after an interview with Redwald on the subject, and found
Elfric in their common study. There was an alcove in the room, and it
was covered by a curtain.

"O Elfric," said the prince, "is it not delightful? The two tyrants, the
king and the monk, will soon be gone. I wish the Evil One would fly off
with them both, and when the cat is away will not the mice play? I have
made all the arrangements; we shall have such a night at the lady
Ethelgiva's."

"How is the fair Elgiva?"

It was now Edwy's turn to blush and look confused.

"I wish I had the power of teasing you, Elfric. But if you have a secret
you keep it close. Remember old Dunstan vanishes on the fifteenth, and
the same evening, oh, won't it be joyful? But I am tired of work. Come
and let us take some fresh air."

They left the room, when the curtain parted, and the astonished
countenance of Father Benedict, who had been quietly reading in the deep
embrasure of the window, presently appeared. He looked like a man at
whose feet a thunderbolt had fallen, and hastily left the room.

The week passed rapidly away, and at its close Dunstan took his
departure. A train of horses awaited him, and he bade the young princes
Edwy and Edgar farewell, with the usual charge to work diligently and
obey Father Benedict.

That same night, after the clerks had sung compline in the chapel, and
the chamberlain had seen to the safety of the palace, Edwy came quietly
to the room of his page, and the two left as on the first occasion.
Redwald attended them, and just before the boat left the bank he spoke a
word of caution.

"I fear," he said, in a low tone, "that all is not quite right. That old
fox Dunstan is up to some trick; he has not really left town."

"Perhaps he has a similar appointment tonight," said Edwy,
sarcastically. "I should keep mine though he and all his monks from
Glastonbury barred the way."

They reached the castellated mansion of Ethelgiva in due course, and the
programme of the former evening was repeated, save that, if there was
any change, the conversation was more licentious, and the wine cup
passed more freely.

It was midnight, and one of the company was favouring them with a song
of questionable propriety, when a heavy knock was heard at the door. The
servants went to answer it, and all the company awaited the issue in
suspense.

One of the principal domestics returned with haste, and whispered some
words into the ear of Ethelgiva--which seemed to discompose her.

"What can this mean?" she said. "A guard of soldiers demand admittance
in the king's name?"

A louder knocking attested the fact.

"You must admit them, or they will batter the door down. Edwy, Elfric!
here, hide yourselves behind that curtain, it veils a deep recess."

They had scarcely concealed themselves when Dunstan entered, attended by
a guard of the royal hus-carles.

"What means this insolence?" said Ethelgiva.

"No insolence is intended, royal lady, nor could be offered to the widow
of the Etheling, by me," replied Dunstan, "but I seek to discharge a
sacred trust committed to me. Where are my pupils, the Prince Edwy and
his companion?"

"In their beds, at the palace, I should suppose."

"Nay, be not so perfidious; they are here, lady, and probably within
hearing; they must come forth, or I must order the guard to search the
house, which I should regret."

"By whose authority?"

"By that of the king, whose signet is on my hand."

"They are not here; they left half-an-hour ago."

"Pardon me, madam, if I observe that we have watched the house for an hour.

"Had not this scene better terminate?" he added, with icy coldness.

At this moment a favourite dog, which Edwy had often petted, and which
had entered with the guard, found him out behind the curtain, and in its
vociferous joy betrayed the whole secret.

Confusion or smiles sat on every face save that of the imperturbable
Dunstan.

"Your dog, madam, is more truthful than its mistress," he said, bluntly
yet quietly; and then, advancing to the recess, he drew aside the
curtain and gazed upon the discovered couple.

"Will you kindly return to the palace with me?"

"How dare you, insolent monk, intrude upon the pleasures of your future
king?"

"I dare by the orders of the present king, your royal uncle, who has
committed the whole matter into my hands; and, Prince Edwy, in the
discharge of my duty 'dare' is a superfluous word. Will you, as I said
before, both follow me, if you are sufficiently masters of yourselves to
do so?"

The import of all this was seen at a glance, but there was no course but
submission, and Edwy well knew how utterly indefensible his conduct was;
so, with crestfallen gait, he and Elfric followed their captor to the
river, where was another large boat by the side of their own. They
entered it, and returned to the palace stairs much more sober than on
previous occasions.


    CHAPTER VII. "THE KING IS DEAD!--LONG LIVE THE KING!"

The unhappy Elfric passed the night in a most unenviable frame of mind.
He felt distinctly how utterly he was in the power of Dunstan, and that
he could only expect to return home in disgrace; yet there was no real
repentance in all this: he had sinned and suffered, but although he
dreaded punishment he no longer hated sin.

He scarcely slept at all, and early in the morning he rose to seek an
interview with Edwy, when he found that he was a prisoner. One of the
hus-carles posted at his door forbade all communication.

Early in the morning the bell sounded for the early service, still he
was not released, and later his breakfast was brought to him, after
which he heard a heavy step approaching, and Dunstan appeared at the
door of the sleeping chamber.

He entered, and gazed at Elfric for a moment without speaking, as if he
would read his very heart by his face; it was hardly comfortable.

"Elfric," he said at last, "do you remember the warning I gave you six
months ago?"

"No," said Elfric, determined, in desperation, to deny everything.

"I fear you are hardly telling me the truth; you must remember it,
unhappy boy! Why were you not warned in time? Why did you refuse the
advice which might have saved you from all this?"

"Because it was my fate, I suppose."

"Men make their own fates, and as they make their beds so must they lie
upon them; however, I have not come here to reproach you, but to bid you
prepare to return home."

"Home?--so soon?" said Elfric.

"Yes, you must leave tomorrow, when a messenger will be prepared to
accompany you, and to explain the cause of your dismissal from court to
your father, whom I most sincerely pity; and let me hope that you will
find leisure to repent of your grievous sin in the solitude of your
native home."

"Must my father be told everything?"

"I fear he must: you have left us no choice; and it is the better thing,
both for him and for you; he will understand better what steps are
necessary for your reformation--a reformation, I trust, which will be
accomplished in good time, whereat no one will rejoice more than I."

A pert answer rose to Elfric's lips, but he dared not give utterance to
it; the speaker was too great in his wrath to be defied with impunity.

"Farewell," said Dunstan, "would that I could say the word with brighter
hopes; but should you ever repent of your sin, as I trust you may, it
will gladden me to hear of it. I fear you may have done great harm to
England in the person of her future king, but God forgive you in that
case."

Elfric felt the injustice of the last accusation; he coloured, and an
indignant denial had almost risen to his lips, but he repressed it for
Edwy's sake--faithful, even in his vice, to his friend.

"Am I to consider myself a prisoner? you have posted a sentinel, as if I
were a criminal."

"You must be confined to your apartment, but you may have books and
anything else you desire. The prince is forbidden to see you again. Your
confinement will only be for one day; tomorrow you will be free enough;
let me beg you to use the occasion for calm reflection, and, I hope,
penitence."

Dunstan left the room, and Elfric heard his retreating steps go heavily
down the stairs, when a sudden and almost unaccountable feeling came
over him--a feeling that he had thrown himself away, and that he was
committed to evil, perhaps never to be able to retrace his course, never
to all eternity; the retreating steps sounded as if his sentence were
passed and the door of mercy shut. He shook off the strange feeling;
yet, could he have seen the future which lay undiscovered before him, and
which must intervene before he should see that face again, or hear those
steps, he might have been unable thus to shake off the nameless dread.

The day wore away, night drew on; he laid himself down and tried to
sleep, when he heard voices conversing outside, and recognised Edwy's
tones; immediately after the prince entered.

"What a shame, Elfric," he said, "to make you a prisoner like this, and
to send you away--for they say you are to go tomorrow--you shall not
be forgotten if ever I become king, and I don't think it will be long
first. The first thing I shall do will be to send for you; you will
come; won't you?"

"I will be yours for life or death."

"I knew it, and this is the faithful friend from whom they would
separate me; well, we will have this last evening together in peace; old
Dunstan has gone out, and Redwald has put a man as your guard who never
sees anything he is not wanted to see."

"What a convenient thing!"

"But you seem very dull; is anything on your mind which I do not know?
What did Dunstan say to you?"

"He is going to write home to my father all particulars. It will make
home miserable."

"Perhaps we may find a remedy for that," said Edwy, and left the room
hastily.

Shortly he returned in company with Redwald.

"Come with us, Elfric," said the prince "there is no one in the palace
to interfere with us. Old Dunstan received a sudden message, and has
gone out hastily; we will go and see what he has written."

Somewhat startled at the audacity of the proposal, Elfric followed the
prince, and Redwald accompanied them. After passing through a few
passages, they arrived at the cell, or rather study, usually occupied by
Dunstan when at court, and entered it, not without a slight feeling of
dread, or rather of reluctance.

"Here it is," said Edwy, and held up a parchment, folded, sealed, and
directed to "Ella, Thane of Aescendune."

"I should like to know what he has written," said the prince. "Redwald,
you understand these things; can you open the letter without breaking
the seal?"

"There is no need of that," replied the captain of the hus-carles, "I
can easily seal it again; see, there is the signet, and here the wax."

So he broke the letter open and extended it to the prince, whose liberal
education had given him the faculty of reading the monkish Latin, in
which Dunstan wrote, at a glance, and he read aloud:

"TO MY BROTHER IN CHRIST,

"ELLA, THANE OF AESCENDUNE--

"It grieveth me much, most beloved brother, to be under the necessity of
sending your son Elfric home in some little disgrace; but it is, alas a
necessity that I should do so, in virtue of the authority our good lord
and king, Edred, hath entrusted to me. The lad was bright, and, I think,
innocent of aught like deadly sin, when he came to this huge Babel,
where the devil seems to lead men even as he will, and he hath fallen
here into evil company--nay, into the very company most evil of all in
this wicked world, that of designing and shameless women, albeit of
noble birth. It hath been made apparent to me that there is great danger
to both the prince and your son in any further connection, therefore I
return Elfric to your care, sincerely hoping that, by God's help, you
will be enabled to take such measures as will lead to his speedy
reformation, for which I devoutly pray. The bearer will give such
further information as you may desire.

"Wishing you health, and an abiding place in the favour of God and His
saints--Your brother in the faith of Christ,

"DUNSTAN, O.S.B."

Edwy read the letter aloud with many a vindictive comment, and then said
to Redwald--"What can be done? Must this letter go?"

"Does your father know the Saint's handwriting, Elfric?"

"He never heard from him before, I believe."

"Well, then, I will venture to enclose a different message," and he sat
down at the table, and wrote--"TO MY BROTHER IN CHRIST,

"ELLA, THANE OF AESCENDUNE--

"It rejoiceth me much, most beloved brother, to send you good tidings of
the good behaviour and growth in grace of your son, whom the king hath
concluded to send home for the benefit of his health, since London hath
in some degree destroyed the ruddy hue of his countenance, and he
needeth a change, as his paleness sufficiently declareth.

"The king hath bidden me express his great satisfaction with the lad's
conduct, and the prince mourneth his enforced departure. Wishing you
health and an abiding place in the favour of God and His saints--Your
brother in the faith of Christ,

"DUNSTAN, O.S.B."

The boys laughed aloud as they read the forgery.

"But about the messenger--will he not tell the truth?"

"Oh, I will see to him, he is not above a bribe, and knows it is his
interest to serve his future king, although Dunstan thinks him so trusty."

All at once the booming of a heavy bell smote their ears.

"It is the bell of St. Paul's, it tolls for the death of some noble,"
said Redwald; "what can it mean? has any member of the royal family been
ill?"

They listened to the solemn dirge-like sound as it floated through the
air, calling upon all good Christians to pray for the repose of the
departed or departing soul. No prayer rose to their lips, and they soon
returned to the subject in hand.

"When is the letter to be despatched?"

"Early in the morning the messenger will await you; and now, I should
recommend some sleep to prepare for a fatiguing journey."

Elfric and the prince returned to their chamber, but they did not take
Redwald's hint, and remained talking till just before daybreak, when
they were aroused by the hasty step of an armed heel, and Redwald stood
before them. His demeanour was very strange; he bent down on one knee,
took the hand of Edwy, who resigned it passively to him, kissed it and
cried aloud--"God save the king!"

"What can you mean, Redwald?" exclaimed both the youths.

"Heard you not the passing bell last night? Edred sleeps with his
fathers; he died at Frome on St. Clement's day."

For a moment they were both silent.

"And Edwy, the great grandson of Alfred, is king of England."

At first the young prince was deeply shocked at the sudden news of the
death of his uncle, to whom, in spite of appearances, he was somewhat
attached. He turned pale, and was again silent for some minutes; at
last, he gulped down a cup of water, and asked--"But how did Dunstan
know?"

"Why, it is a strange tale. Three days ago, at the very hour the king
must have died, he says that he saw a bright light, and beheld a vision
of angels, who said, 'Edred hath died in the Lord,' but he treated it as
a dream, and last night a messenger came with the news of the sudden
illness of the king, bidding Dunstan hasten to his side. He left
everything, and started immediately, but in a few miles met another
messenger, bearing the news of the death. He has gone on, but sent the
messenger forward to the Bishop of London, who caused the great bell to
be tolled.

"We must all die some day," said Edwy, musingly; "but it is very very
sudden."

"And I trust he has obtained a better kingdom," added Redwald; "he must,
you know, if the monks tell the truth, so why should we weep for him?"

"At least," said Edwy, looking up, "Elfric need not go home now."

"No, certainly not, but he had better disappear from court for a time.
The lady Ethelgiva might afford him hospitality, or he might stay at the
royal palace at Kingston. I will tell the messenger to keep out of the
way, and Dunstan may suppose that his orders have been obeyed to the
letter."

"Why should we trouble what he may think or say?"

"Because the Witan has not yet met, and until it has gone through the
form, the mere form, of recognising your title, you are not actually
king. Dunstan has some influence. Suppose he should use it for Edgar?"

"Edgar, the pale-faced little priestling!"

"All the better for that in Dunstan's eyes. Nay, be advised, my king;
keep all things quiet until the coronation is over, then let Dunstan
know who you are and who he is."

"Indeed I will. He shall have cause to rue his insolent behaviour the
other night."

"Bide your time, my liege; and now the great officers of state require
your presence below."

A few days later a sorrowful procession entered the old city of
Winchester, the capital of Wessex, and once a favourite residence of
Edred, now to be his last earthly resting place. Much had the citizens
loved him; and as the long train defiled into the open space around the
old minster--old, even then--the vast assemblage, grouped beneath
the trees around the sacred precincts, lifted up their voices and joined
in the funeral hymn, while many wept tears of genuine sorrow. It was awe
inspiring, that burst of tuneful wailing, as the monks entered the
sacred pile, and it made men's hearts thrill with the sense of the
unseen world into which their king had entered, and where, as they
believed, their supplications might yet follow him.

There were the chief mourners--Edwy and Edgar--and they followed the
royal corpse, the latter greatly afflicted, and shedding genuine tears
of sorrow--and the royal household. All the nobility of Wessex, and
many of the nobles from Mercia and other provinces, were gathered
together, and amidst the solemn silence of the vast crowd, Dunstan
performed the last sad and solemn rites with a broken voice; while the
archbishop--Odo the Good, as he was frequently called--assisted in
the dread solemnity.

It was over; the coffin was lowered to the royal vaults to repose in
peace, the incenses had ceased to float dreamily beneath the lofty
roof,[xi] the various lights which had borne part in the
ceremony were extinguished, the choral anthem had ceased, for Edred
slept with his fathers.

And outside, the future king was welcomed with loud cries of "God save
King Edwy, and make him just as Alfred, pious as Edred, and warlike as
Athelstane!"

"Long live the heir of Cerdic's ancient line!"

Thus their cries anticipated the decision of the Witan, and without all
was noise and clamour; while within the sacred fane the ashes of him who
had so lately ruled England rested in peace by the side of his royal
father Edward, the son of Alfred, three of whose sons--Athelstane,
Edmund, Edred--had now reigned in succession.

It must not be supposed that Edwy was as yet king by the law of the
land. The early English writers all speak of their kings as elected; it
was not until the Witan had recognised them, that they were crowned and
assumed the royal prerogatives.

Edwy had followed Redwald's advice: he had kept Elfric out of the way,
and meant to do so until his coronation day. And meanwhile he
condescended to disguise his real feelings, and to affect sorrow for his
past failings when in the presence of Dunstan.

Yet he took advantage of the greater liberty he now enjoyed to renew his
visits to the mansion up the Thames, and to spend whole days in the
society of Elgiva. In their simplicity and deep love they thought all
the obstacles to their happy union now removed. Alas! ill-fated pair!


    CHAPTER VIII. THE CORONATION.

Nothing could exceed in solemnity the "hallowing of the king," as the
coronation ceremony was termed in Anglo-Saxon times. It was looked upon
as an event of both civil and ecclesiastical importance, and therefore
nothing was omitted which could lend dignity to the occasion.

The Witan, or parliament, had already met and given its consent to the
coronation of Edwy. It was not, as we have already remarked, a mere
matter of course that the direct heir should occupy the throne. Edred
had already ascended, while Edwy, the son of his elder brother, was an
infant, not as regent, but as king; and in any case of unfitness on the
part of the heir apparent, it was in the power of the Witan to pass him
over, and to choose for the public good some other member of the royal
house. The same Witan conferred upon Edgar the title of sub-king of
Mercia under his brother.

Solemn and imposing was the meeting of the Witenagemot, or "assembly of
the wise." It was divided into three estates. The first consisted of the
only class who, as a rule, had any learning in those days--the clergy,
represented by the bishop, abbot, and their principal officials: the
second consisted of the vassal kings of Scotland, Cumbria, Wales, Mona,
the Hebrides, and other dependent states, the great earls, as of Mercia
or East Anglia, and other mighty magnates: the third, of the lesser
thanes, who were the especial vassals of the king, or the great
landholders, for the possession of land was an essential part of a title
to nobility.

Amongst these sat Ella of Aescendune, who, in spite of his age, had come
to the metropolis to testify his loyalty and fealty to the son of the
murdered Edmund, his old friend and companion in arms, and to behold his
own eldest son once more.

It was the morning of a beautiful day in early spring, one of those days
of which the poet has written--

"Sweet day, so calm, so pure, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky"

--when winter seems to have loosed its stern hold upon the frozen
earth, and the songs of countless birds welcome the bright sunlight, the
harbinger of approaching summer.

The roads leading to Kingston-on-Thames were thronged with travellers of
every degree--the ealdorman or earl with his numerous attendants, the
bishop with rude ecclesiastical pomp, the peasant in his rough jerkin--
all hastening to the approaching ceremony, which, as it had been
definitely fixed, was to take place at that royal city.

There Athelstane had been crowned with great pomp and splendour, for it
was peculiarly "_Cynges tun_" or the King's Town, and after the
coronation it was customary for the newly-crowned monarch to take formal
possession of his kingdom by standing on a great stone in the churchyard.

The previous night, Archbishop Odo had arrived from Canterbury, and his
bosom friend and brother, Dunstan, from Glastonbury, as also Cynesige,
Bishop of Lichfield, a man in every way like-minded with them; while
nearly all the other prelates, abbots, and nobles, arrived in the early
morn of the eventful day.

The solemn service of the coronation mass was about to commence, and the
people were assembling in the great church of St. Mary, filling every
inch of available room. Every figure was bent forward in earnest gaze,
and every heart seemed to beat more quickly, as the faint and distant
sound of deep solemn music, the monastic choirs chanting the
processional psalms, drew near.

Suddenly the jubilant strains filled the whole church, as the
white-robed train entered the sacred building while they sang:

"_Quoniam praevenisti eum in benedictionibus dulcedinis, posuisti in
capiti ejus coronam de lapide pretioso_." [xii]

Incense ascended in clouds to the lofty roof; torches were uplifted,
banners floated in the air, every eye was now strained to catch a
glimpse of the youthful monarch.

He came at last. Oh, how lovely the ill-fated boy looked that day! His
beauty was of a somewhat fragile character, his complexion almost too
fair, his hair shone around his shoulders in waves of gold, for men then
wore their hair long, his eyes blue as the azure vault on that sweet
spring morning: alas, that his spiritual being should not have been
equally fair!

Elfric stood by his father, amidst the crowd of thanes, near the rood
screen, for he had spent the last few days at Kingston, and there his
father had found him, and had embraced him with joy, little dreaming of
the change which had come over his darling boy.

"Look, father, is he not every inch a king?" Elfric could not help
exclaiming, forgetting the place and the occasion in his pride in his
king and his friend.

He would have been one of the four boys who bore the royal train, but it
had not seemed advisable on such a day to offend Dunstan too seriously.

The mass proceeded after the royal party had all taken their places, and
the coronation service was incorporated into the rite, following the
Nicene Creed and preceding the canon.

Kneeling before the altar, the young prince might well tremble with
emotion. Before him stood the archbishop, clad in full pontifical
vestments; around were the most noted prelates and wisest abbots of
England; behind him the nobility, gentry, and commonalty of the whole
country--all gazing upon him, as the archbishop dictated the solemn
words of the oath, which Edwy repeated with trembling voice after him.

"In the name of the ever-blessed Trinity, I promise three things to the
Christian people, my subjects:

"First, that the Church of God within my realm shall enjoy peace, free
from any molestation."

"Second, that I will prevent, to the utmost of my power, theft and every
fraud in all ranks of men."

"Thirdly, that I will preserve and maintain justice and mercy in all
judicial proceedings, so that the good and merciful God may, according
to His mercy, forgive us all our sins, Who liveth and reigneth for ever
and ever. Amen."

Then followed a most solemn charge from "Odo the Good," setting forth
all the deep responsibilities of the oath Edwy had taken, and of the
awful account to be rendered to God of the flock committed to his
youthful charge, at the great and awful day of judgment.

Then the holy oil was solemnly poured upon the head of the kneeling boy,
after which he made the usual offertory of "gold, frankincense, and
myrrh," at the altar, emblematical of the visit of the three kings of
old, who from Sheba bore their gold and incense to the Lord.

Then was the sacred bracelet put upon his arm, the crown on his head,
the sceptre in his hand, after which the mass proceeded.

It is touching to recall the worship of those far-off days, when all the
surrounding circumstances differed so widely from those of the present
hour; yet the Church, in her holy conservatism, has kept intact and
almost changeless all that is hers; that day the "Nicene Creed,"
"Sanctus," "Agnus Dei," "Gloria in Excelsis," rolled as now in strains
of melody towards heaven, and the "Te Deum" which concluded the jubilant
service is our Te Deum still, albeit in the vulgar tongue.

The sacred rites concluded, the royal procession left the church and
proceeded to the churchyard, when Edwy took formal possession of Wessex,
by the ceremony of standing upon a large rock called the King's Stone,
whence the town derived its name.

The feast was spread in the palace hard by, and all the nobles and
thanes (if the words are not synonymous) flocked thither, while the
multitude had their liberal feast spread at various tables throughout
the town, at the royal expense.

Elfric followed his father to the palace, and was about to take his
place at the board, when a page appeared and summoned him to the
presence of Edwy.

"I shall keep a vacant place for you by my side," said Ella, "so that we
may feast together, my son, when the king releases you; it is a great
honour that he should think of you now."

Elfric followed the messenger, who led him into the interior of the
palace, where he found Edwy impatiently awaiting him in the royal
dressing chamber.

Elfric had expected to find the newly-crowned king deeply impressed, but
if such had been the case, at the moment it had passed away.

"Thanks to all the saints, including St. George, and especially the
dragon, that I can look into your jolly face again, Elfric, it is a
relief after all the grim-beards who have surrounded me today. I shudder
when I think of them."

Elfric had been about to kneel and kiss the royal hand, in token of
homage, but Edwy saw the intention and prohibited him.

"No more of that an thou lovest me, Elfric; my poor hand is almost worn
out already."

"The day must have tired you, the scene was so exciting."

Edwy yawned as he replied, "Thank God it is over; I thought Odo was
going to preach to me all day, and the incense almost stifled me; the
one good thing is that it is done now, and all England--Kent, Sussex,
Wessex, Essex, Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia--have all
acknowledged me as their liege lord, the Basileus of Britain. What is
done can't be undone, and Dunstan may eat his leek now, and go to fight
Satan again."

Elfric looked up in some surprise.

"What do you think, my friend; who do you suppose is here in the palace,
in the royal apartments?"

"Who?"

"Elgiva, the fair Elgiva, the lovely Elgiva, dear Elgiva, and her
mother. Oh, but I shall love to look upon her face when the feast is
done, and the grim-beards have gone!"

"But Dunstan?"

"Dunstan may go and hang himself; he can't scrape off the consecrated
oil, or carry away crown, bracelet, and sceptre, to hide with the other
royal treasures at Glastonbury; but the feast is beginning, and you must
come and sit on my right hand."

"No, no," said Elfric, who saw at once what an impropriety this would
be, "not yet; besides, my old father is here, and has kept a seat beside
himself for me."

"Well, goodbye for the present; I shall expect you after the feast.
Elgiva will be glad to see you."

Elfric returned to his father, but a feeling of sadness had taken
possession of him, an apprehension of coming evil.

The feast began; the clergy and the nobility of the land were assembled
in the great hail of the palace, and there was that profusion of good
cheer which befitted the day, for the English were, like their German
ancestors, in the habit of considering the feast an essential part of
any solemnity.

How much was eaten and drunk upon the occasion it would be dangerous to
say, for it would probably exceed all modern experience, but it seemed
to the impatient Edwy that the feast and the subsequent drinking of
pledges and healths would never end, and he was impatient the whole time
to get away and be in the company of the charmer.

An opportunity seemed at last to offer itself to his immature judgment.
Gleemen had sung, harpers had harped, but the excitement culminated when
Siward, a Northumbrian noble, who was a great musician, and skilful in
improvisation, did not disdain, like the royal Alfred, to take the harp
and pour forth an extemporary ode of great beauty, whereupon the whole
multitude rose to their feet and waved their wine cups in the air, in
ardent appreciation of the patriotic sentiments he had uttered, and the
beauty of the music and poetry.

During the full din of their heated applause, when all eyes were fixed
upon the accomplished musician, Edwy rose softly from his chair; a door
was just behind him, and he took advantage of it to leave the hail and
thread the passages quickly, till he came to the room where he had left
Elgiva, when he threw aside his royal mantle and all his restraint at
the same time.

It was not for a few moments that the company in the hall discovered the
absence of their king, but when they did there was a sudden hush, and
men looked at each other in mute astonishment; it appeared to all, with
scarce an exception, a gross insult to the assembled majesty of the
nation. [xiii]

Poor Edwy, in his thoughtlessness and want of proper feeling, little
knew the deep anger such a proceeding would cause; in his lack of a
reverential spirit he was constantly, as we have seen, offending against
the respect due to the Church, the State, or himself--first as heir
presumptive, then as king.

Men stood mute, as we have said, then murmurs of indignation at the
slight arose, and all looked at Dunstan.

He beckoned to Cynesige of Lichfield, who came to his side.

"We must bring this thoughtless boy back," he said, "or great harm will
be done."

"But how?"

"By persuasion, if possible. Follow me."

The two prelates entered the interior of the palace, and sought the
king's private chamber.

As they drew near they heard the sound of merry laughter, and each of
them frowned as men might do who were little accustomed to condone the
weakness of human flesh. Entering the chamber very unceremoniously, they
paused, as if aghast, when they beheld the king in the company of
Elgiva, his royal diadem cast upon the ground.

He started in surprise, and for a moment in fear; then, remembering who
he was, he exclaimed, angrily--"How dare you, sir monk, intrude upon
the privacy of your king, unbidden?"

"We do so as the ambassadors of the King of kings."

It is out of our power to describe the scene which followed, the fiery
words of Edwy, the stern yet quiet rejoinders of the churchmen, the
tears of the mother and daughter; but it is well known how the scene
ended. Edwy absolutely refused to return to the assembled guests, saying
he would forfeit his kingdom first; and Dunstan replied that for his
(Edwy's) own sake he should then be compelled to use force, and suiting
the action to the word, he and Cynesige took each an arm of the youthful
king, and led him back by compulsion to the assembled nobles and clergy.

Before condemning Dunstan, we must remember that Elgiva could not stand
in the relation of the affianced bride of the king; that Edwy really
seemed to set the laws of both Church and State at defiance, those very
laws which but that day he had sworn solemnly to maintain; and that but
recently he had stood in the relation of pupil to Dunstan, so that in
his zeal for Church and State, the abbot forgot the respect due to the
king. He saw only the boy, and forgot the sovereign.

The guests assembled in the banqueting hall had seen the desertion of
their royal master with murmurs both loud and deep; but when they saw
him return escorted by Dunstan and Cynesige, their unanimous approval
showed that in their eyes the churchmen had taken a proper step.

Yet, although Edwy tried to make a show of having returned of his own
free will, an innocent device at which his captors connived when they
entered the hall with him, the bitterest passions were rankling in his
heart, and he determined to take a terrible revenge, should it ever be
in his power, upon Dunstan.

There was comparatively little show of merriment during the rest of the
feast, and the noble company separated earlier than was usual on such
occasions.

"If this be the way King Edwy treats his guests," said the Earl of
Mercia, "he will find scant loyalty north of the Thames."

"Nor in East Anglia," said another.

"There is another of the line of Cerdic living."

"Yes, Edgar, his brother."

"Dunstan and Cynesige brought him back with some difficulty, I'll be
bound."

"Yes; although he tried to smile, I saw the black frown hidden beneath."

"He will take revenge for all this."

"Upon whom?"

"Why, upon Dunstan to be sure."

"But how can he? Dunstan is too powerful for that."

"Wait and see."

Such was the general tone of the conversation, from which the sentiments
of the community might be inferred.

Elfric went, as he had been bidden to do, at the conclusion of the
feast, to seek Edwy, and found him, it is needless to state, in a
towering rage.

"Elfric," he said, "am I a king? or did I dream I was crowned today?"

"You certainly were."

"And yet these insolent monks have dared to force me from the company of
Elgiva to return to that sottish feast, and what is worse, I find they
have dared to send her and her mother home under an escort, so that I
cannot even apologise to them. As I live, if I am a king I will have
revenge."

"I trust so, indeed," said Elfric, "they deserve death."

"I would it were in my power to inflict it; but this accursed monk--I
go mad when I mention his name--is all too powerful. I believe Satan
helps him."

"Still there may be ways, if you only wait till you can look around you."

"There may indeed."

"Only have patience; all will be in your hands some day."

"And if it be in my power I will restore the worship of Woden and Thor,
and burn every monk's nest in the land."

"They were at least the gods of warriors."

"Elfric, you will stand by me, will you not?"

"With my life."

"Come to the window, now; see the old sots departing. There a priest,
there a thane, there an earl--all drunk, I do believe; don't you think
so?"

"Yes, yes," said Elfric, disregarding the testimony of both his eyes
that they were all perfectly sober.

Just then his eye caught a very disagreeable object, and he turned
somewhat pale.

"What are you looking at?" said Edwy.

"There is that old fox, Dunstan, talking with my father; he will learn
that I am here."

"What does it matter?"

"Only that he will easily persuade my father to take me home."

"Then the commands of a king must outweigh those of a father. I have
heard Dunstan say a king is the father of all his people, and I command
you to stay."

"I want to stay with all my heart."

"Then you shall, even if I have to make a pretence of detaining you by
force."

The anticipations of Elfric were not far wrong. Dunstan had found out
the truth. He had sought out the old thane to condole with him upon the
pain he supposed he must recently have inflicted by his letter.

"I cannot express to you, my old friend and brother," he said, "the
great pain with which I sent your poor boy Elfric home, but it was a
necessity."

"Sent him home?" said Ella.

"Yes, at the time our lamented Edred died."

"Sent him home!" repeated Ella, in such undisguised amazement that
Dunstan soon perceived something was amiss, and in a few short minutes
became possessed of the whole facts, while Ella learnt his son's disgrace.

They conferred long and earnestly. The father's heart was sorely
wounded, but he could not think that Elfric would resist his commands,
and he promised to take him back at once to Aescendune, where he hoped
all would soon be well--"soon, very soon," he said falteringly.

So the old thane went to his lodgings, hard by the palace, where he
awaited his son.

Late in the evening Elfric arrived, his countenance flushed with wine:
he had been seeking courage for the part he had to play in the wine cup.

Long and painful, most painful, was the interview that followed.
Hardened in his rebellion, the unhappy Elfric defied his father's
authority and justified his sin, flatly refusing to return home, in
which he pretended to be justified by "the duty a subject owed to his
sovereign."

Thus roused to energy, Ella solemnly adjured his boy to remember the
story of his uncle Oswald, and the sad fate he had met with. It was very
seldom indeed that Ella alluded to his unhappy brother, the story was
too painful; but now that Elfric seemed to be commencing a similar
course of disobedience, the example of the miserable outlaw came too
forcibly to his mind to be altogether suppressed.

"Beware, my son," added Ella, "lest the curse which fell upon Oswald
fall upon you, and your younger brother succeed to your inheritance."

"It is not a large one," said Elfric, "and in that case, the king whom I
serve will find me a better one."

"Is it not written, 'Put not your trust in princes?' O my son, my son;
you will bring my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave!"

It was of no avail. The old thane arose in the morning with the
intention of taking Elfric home even by force, such force as Dunstan had
used, if necessary, but found that the youth had disappeared in the
night; neither could he learn what had become of him, but he shrewdly
guessed that the young king could have told him.

Broken-hearted by his son's cruel desertion, the thane of Aescendune
returned home alone.


    CHAPTER IX. GLASTONBURY ABBEY.

Rich in historical associations and reputed sanctity, the abbey of
Glastonbury was the ecclesiastical centre of western England. Here grew
the holy thorn which Joseph of Arimathea had planted when, fatigued with
travel, he had struck his staff into the ground, and lo! a goodly tree;
here was the holy well of which he had drunk, and where he baptized his
converts, so that its waters became possessed of miraculous power to
heal diseases.

Here again were memorials, dear to the vanquished Welsh; for did not
Arthur, the great King Arthur, the hero of a thousand fights, the
subject of gleeman's melody and of the minstrel's praise, lie buried
here? if indeed he were dead, and not spirited away by magic power.

A Welsh population still existed around the abbey, for it was near the
borders of West Wales, as a large portion of Devon and Cornwall was then
called, and Exeter had not long become an English town. [xiv] The
legends of Glastonbury were nearly all of that distant day when the
Saxons and Angles had not yet discovered Britain, and she reposed safe
under the protection of mighty Rome; hence, it was the object of
pilgrimage and of deep veneration to all those of Celtic blood, while
the English were unwilling to be behind in their veneration.

Here, in the first year of the great English king Athelstane, Dunstan
was born, the son of Herstan and Kynedred, both persons of rank--a man
destined to influence the Anglo-Saxon race first in person and then in
spirit for generations--the greatest man of his time, whether, as his
contemporaries thought, mighty for good, or, as men of narrower minds
have thought, mighty for evil.

In his early youth, Glastonbury lay, as it lies now, in ruin and decay;
the Danes had ravaged it, and its holy walls were no longer eloquent
with prayer and praise. Yet the old inhabitants still talked with regret
of the departed glories of the fane; the pilgrim and the stranger still
visited the consecrated well, hoping to gain strength from its healing
wave, for the soil had been hallowed by the blood of martyrs and the
holy lives of saints; here kings and nobles, laying aside their
greatness, had retired to prepare for the long and endless home, and in
the calm seclusion of the cloister had found peace.

Here the mind of the young Dunstan was moulded for his future work;
here, weak in body, but precocious in intellect, he drew in, as if with
his vital breath, legend and tradition; here, from a body of Scottish
missionaries, or, as we should now call them, Irish,[xv]
he learned with rapidity all that a boy could acquire of civil or
ecclesiastical lore, and both in Latin and in theology his progress
amazed his tutors.

Up to this time the world had held possession of his heart, and,
balancing the advantages of a religious and a secular life, he chose, as
most young people would choose, the attractions of court, to which his
parents' rank entitled him, and leaving Glastonbury he repaired to the
court of Edmund.

There his extraordinary talents excited envy, and he was accused of
magical arts: his harp had been heard to pour forth strains of ravishing
beauty when no human hand was near, and other like prodigies, savouring
of the black art, were said to attend him, so that he fled the court,
and took refuge with his uncle, Elphege, the Bishop of Winchester.

A long illness followed, during which the youth, disgusted with the
world, and startled by his narrow escape from death, reversed the choice
he had previously made, and renounced the world and its pleasures.

Ordained priest at Winchester, he was sent back with a monk's attire to
Glastonbury, where he gave himself up to austerities, such as, in a
greater or less degree, always accompanied a conversion in those days;
here miracles were reported to attend him, and stories of his personal
conflicts with the Evil One were handed from mouth to mouth, until his
fame had filled the country round.[xvi]

The influence he rapidly acquired enabled him to commence the great work
of rebuilding Glastonbury, in which he was only interrupted by the
frequent calls which he had to court, to become the adviser of King
Edmund; where indeed he was often in the discharge of the office of
prime minister of the kingdom, and showed as much aptitude in civil as
in ecclesiastical affairs.

Glastonbury being rebuilt, the Benedictine rule [xvii]
was introduced, and Dunstan himself became abbot. It was far the noblest
and best monastic code of the day, being peculiarly adapted to prevent
the cloister from becoming the abode of either idleness or profligacy.

But this was not done without much opposition; the secular priests--as
the married clergy and those who lived amongst their flocks (as English
clergy do now) were called--opposed the introduction of the
Benedictine rule with all their might, and were always thorns in
Dunstan's side.

The unfortunate Edmund, after the sad event at Pucklechurch, on the
feast of St. Augustine, was buried at Glastonbury by the abbot, and his
two sons, Edwy and Edgar, were put under Dunstan's especial care by the
new king Edred. The rest of the story is tolerably well known to our
readers.

The first steps of Edwy's reign were all taken with a view to one great
end--to revenge himself and to destroy Dunstan, who, aware of the
royal enmity, and of his inability to restrain the sovereign, withdrew
himself quietly to Glastonbury, and confined himself to the discharge of
his duties as its abbot.

But this did not satisfy Edwy, who, panting for the ruin of the monk he
hated, sought occasion for a quarrel, and soon found it. Dunstan had
been the royal almoner, and had had the disposal of large sums of money,
for purposes connected with the Church, on which they had been strictly
expended. Now Edwy required a strict account of all these disbursements,
which Dunstan refused to give, saying it had already been given to
Edred, and that no person had any right to investigate the charities of
the departed king.

His stout resistance gained the day in the first instance, but Edwy
never felt at rest while Dunstan lived at peace in the land, and
Ethelgiva and her fair daughter were ever inciting him to fresh acts of
hostility, little as he needed such incitement.

The first measures were of a very dishonourable kind. Evil reports were
spread abroad to destroy the character of the great abbot, and prepare
people's minds for his disgrace: then disaffection was stirred up
amongst the secular clergy surrounding Glastonbury--a very easy thing;
and attempts were made in vain to create a faction against him in his
own abbey; then at last the neighbouring thanes, many of Danish
extraction and scarcely Christian, were stirred up to invade the
territory of the abbey, and were promised immunity and secure possession
of their plunder. They liked the pleasant excitement of galloping over
Dunstan's ecclesiastical patrimony, of plundering the farms and driving
away the cattle, and there was scarcely a night in which some fresh
outrage was not committed. At this point the action of our tale recommences.

It will be remembered that the father of Ella had found relief from his
grief, after the death of his unhappy son Oswald, in building and
endowing the monastery of St. Wilfred, situate on the river's bank, at a
short distance from the hall.

The completion of the work had, however, been reserved for his son, and,
everything being now done, it became the earnest desire of Ella, with
the consent of the brethren who had been gathered into the incomplete
building, to place it under the Benedictine rule.

For this end he determined to send a messenger to negotiate with Dunstan
at Glastonbury, and, yielding to Alfred's most earnest request, he
consented to send him, in company with Father Cuthbert, who was to be
the future prior, upon the mission.

Since the desertion of Elfric, his brother Alfred had been as a
ministering angel to his father, so tender had been his affection, yet
so manly and pure. He was by nature gifted with great talents, and his
progress in ecclesiastical lore, almost the only lore of the day, would
have well fitted him for the Church; but if this idea had ever been in
the mind of the thane, he put it aside after the departure of Elfric.

But it must not be supposed that the only literature of the period was
in Latin. Alfred, the great King Alfred, skillful in learning as in war,
had translated into English (as we have mentioned earlier in our tale)
the _History of the World_, by Orosius, and other works, which formed a
part of the royal library in the palace of Edred. All these works were
known to his young namesake, Alfred, far better than they had been
either to Edwy or Elfric, in their idleness, and he was well informed
beyond the average scope of his time. But his imagination had long been
fired by the accounts he had received of Glastonbury and its sanctuary,
so that he eagerly besought his father to allow him to go thither.

But the poor old thane felt much like Jacob when he was begged to send
Benjamin into Egypt. Elfric was not, so far as home ties were concerned,
they had never heard of him since the coronation day, and now they would
take Alfred from him.

It may seem strange to our readers that Ella should regard a journey
from the Midlands to Glastonbury in so serious a light; but Wessex and
Mercia had long been independent states, communication infrequent, and
it would certainly be many weeks before Alfred could return; while
inexperience magnified the actual dangers of the way.

Coaches and carriages were not in use, neither would the state of the
roads have rendered such use practicable. All travellers were forced to
journey on horseback, and, like Elfric when he departed from home, to
carry all their baggage in a similar manner.

The navigation of the Avon, which would have opened the readiest road to
the southwest, was impeded by sandbanks and rapids; there were as yet no
locks, no canals.

Once the Romans had made matchless roads, as in other parts of their
empire, but not a stone had been laid thereon since the days of Hengist
and Horsa, and many a stone had been taken away for building purposes,
or to pave the courtyards of Saxon homes.[xviii]

Still the ancient Foss Way, which once extended from Lincolnshire to
Devonshire, formed the best route, and it was decided to travel by it,
making a brief detour, so as to enable the party to pass the first night
at the residence of an old friend of the family who dwelt on the high
borderland which separates the counties of Oxford and Warwick, in old
times the frontier between the two Celtic tribes, the Dobuni and the
Carnabii.

So Father Cuthbert and Alfred, with three attendant serfs, left
Aescendune early on a fine summer morning, and followed a byroad through
the forest, until, after a few difficulties, arising from entanglement
in copse or swamp, they reached the Foss Way. Wide and spacious, this
grand old road ran through the dense forest in an almost unbroken line;
huge trees overshadowed it on either side, and the growth of underwood
was so dense that no one could penetrate it without difficulty.
Sometimes the scene changed, and a dense swamp, amidst which the timber
of former generations rotted away, succeeded, but the grand old road
still offered, even in its decay, a firm and sure footing. Built with
consummate skill, the lower strata of which it was composed remained so
firm and unyielding, that, could the Romans but have returned for a few
years, they might have restored it to its ancient perfection, when the
traveller might post rapidly upon it from Lincoln even to Totness in
Devonshire.

Little, however, did our travellers think of the grand men of old who
had built this mighty causeway six or seven centuries earlier. Their
chief feeling, when they reached it, was one of relief; the change was
so acceptable from the tangled and miry bypath through the forest.

"Holy St. Wilfred," exclaimed Father Cuthbert, "but my steed hath
wallowed like a hog. I have sunk in the deep mire where was no footing."

"A little grooming will soon make him clean again, father."

"But verily we have passed through a slough and a wilderness, and my
inner man needeth refreshment; let us even partake of the savoury pies
wherewith the provident care of thy father hath provided us."

The suggestion was by no means a bad one, and the party sat down on a
green and sloping bank, overshadowed by a mighty oak which grew by the
wayside. It was noontide, and the shelter from the heat was not at all
unpleasant. Their wallets were overhauled, and choice provision found
against famine by the road. There were few, very few inns where
travellers could obtain decent accommodation, and every preparation had
been made for a camp out when necessary.

So they ate their midday meal with thankfulness of heart, and reclined
awhile ere courting more fatigue. The day was lovely, and the silence of
the woods almost oppressive; nought save the hum of insects broke its
tranquillity.

Fatigued by the exertions of the morning, the whole party fell asleep;
the gentle breeze, the quiet rustling of the leaves, all combined to
lull the senses. While they thus slept, the day wore on, and the sun was
declining when they awoke and wondered that they had wasted their time
for so long a period.

Starting again with renewed energy, they travelled onward through the
mighty forest till sunset, when they approached the high ground which
now runs along the northern boundary of Oxfordshire and of which
Edgehill forms a portion. Though progress had been slow, for the road,
although secure, was yet in so neglected a state as to form an obstacle
to rapid travelling, and they had met no fellow travellers. Leaving the
Foss Way, which followed the valley, and slowly ascending the hill by a
well-marked track, they looked back from its summit upon a glorious
view. Far as the eye could reach stretched the forest to the northward,
one huge unbroken expanse save where the thin wreaths of smoke showed
some village or homestead, where English farmers already wrestled with
the obstacles nature had formed. But westward the view was more
home-like; the setting sun was sinking behind the huge heights now known
as the Malvern Hills, which reared their forms proudly in the distant
horizon.

The western sky was rich in the hues of the departing sun, which cast
its declining beams upon village and homestead, thinly scattered in the
fertile vale through which the Foss Way pursued its course.

But our travellers did not stay long to contemplate the beauty of the
scene; they were yet ten miles from the hospitable roof where they had
purposed spending the night, and they had overslept themselves so long
at their noontide halt, that they found darkness growing apace, while
their weary animals could scarcely advance farther.

"Is there no inn, no Christian dwelling near, where we may repose?
Verily my limbs bend beneath me with fatigue," said Father Cuthbert.

"There is no dwelling of Christian men nearer than the halls of the
Thane of Rollrich, and we shall scarcely reach them for a couple of
hours," said Oswy, the serf.

"Thou art a Job's comforter. What sayest thou, Anlac?"

"There are the remains of an old temple of heathen times not far from
here, a little on the right hand of the road, but they say the place is
haunted."

"Has it a roof to shelter us?"

"Part of the ruins are well covered."

"Then thither we will go. Peradventure it will prove a safe abiding
place against wolves or evil men, and if there be demons we must even
exorcise them."

When they had emerged from the forest, they had, as we have seen,
ascended the high tableland which formed the northern frontier of the
territory of the Dobuni--passing over the very ground where, seven
hundred years later, the troops of the King and the Parliament were
arrayed against each other in deadly combat for the first time.

But at this remote period the country where the Celts had once lived,
and whence their civilised descendants had been driven by the English,
had become a barren moorland. Scarce a tree grew on the heights, but a
wild common, with valley and hill alternating, much as on Dartmoor at
the present day, stretched before the travellers, and was traversed by
the old Roman trackway. Dreary indeed it looked in the darkening
twilight; here and there some huge crag overtopped the road, and then
the track lay along a flat surface. It was after passing some huge
misshapen atones, which spoke of early Celtic worship, that suddenly, in
the distance on the right, the ruined temple lay before them.

Pillars of beautiful workmanship, evidently reared by Roman skill,
surrounded a paved quadrangle raised upon a terrace approached on all
sides by steps. These steps and the pavement were alike of stone, but
where weeds could grow they had grown, and the footing was damp and
slippery with rank vegetation and fungus growth.

At the extremity of the quadrangle the roof still partly covered the
adytum or shrine from the sky, the platform reared itself upon its
flight of massive steps where early British Christianity had demolished
the idol, and beneath were chambers once appropriated to the use of the
priests, which, by the aid of fire, could shortly be made habitable.

There was plenty of brushwood and underwood near, and our travellers
speedily made a large fire, which expelled the damp from the place,
albeit, as the smoke could only escape by an aperture in the roof,
which, it is needless to say, was not embraced in the original design of
the architect, it was not till the blaze had subsided and the glowing
embers alone warmed the chamber, that mortal lungs could bear the
stifling atmosphere, so charged had it been with smoke.

Still it was very acceptable shelter to the travellers, who must
otherwise have camped out on the exposed moorland, and they made a
hearty and comfortable meal, which being concluded, Father Cuthbert made
a very brief address.

"My brethren," he said, "we have travelled, like Abraham from Ur of the
Chaldees, not '_sine numine_,' that is not without God's protection; and
as we are about to sleep in a place where devils once deluded Christian
people, it will not be amiss to say the night song, and commend
ourselves '_in manus Altissimi_,' that is to say, to God's care."

The compline service was familiar to each one present, and Father
Cuthbert intoned it in a stentorian voice, particularly those portions
of the 91st Psalm which seemed to defy the Evil One, and he recited just
as if he were sure Satan was listening:

"Thou shalt go upon the lion and the adder; the young lion and the
dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet."

All the company seemed to feel comfort in the words, and, first posting
a sentinel, to be relieved every three hours, they commended themselves
to sleep.

Alfred found his couch very pleasant at first, but before he had been
long asleep his rest became disturbed by singular dreams. He thought he
was standing within a grassy glade in a deep forest; it was darkening
twilight, and he felt anxious to find his way from the spot, when his
guardian angel appeared to him, and pointed out a narrow track between
two huge rocks. He followed until he heard many voices, and saw a
strange light reflected on the tree tops, as if from beneath, when
amidst the din of voices he recognised Elfric's tones.

"Wouldst thou save thy brother, then proceed," his guardian angel seemed
to whisper.

He strove, in his dream, to proceed, when he awoke so vividly impressed
that he felt convinced coming events were casting their shadows before.
He could not drive the thought of Elfric from his mind; he slept, but
again in wild dreams his brother seemed to appear; once he seemed to
oppose Elfric's passage over a plank which crossed a roaring torrent;
then he seemed as if he were falling, falling, amidst rushing waters,
when he awoke.

"I can sleep no longer. I will look out at the night," he said.

A faint moon had arisen, and lent an uncertain light to the outlines of
hill, crag, and moorland, while it gilded the cornice above, where the
wind seemed to linger and moan over departed greatness. The Druidical
worship of olden days, the deluded worshippers now turned into dust, and
the cruel rites of their bloodstained worship, older even than those of
the ruined temple, rose before his imagination, until fancy seemed to
people the silent wastes before him with those who had once crowded
round that circle of misshapen stones which stood out vividly on the
verge of the plain.

He felt that nameless fear which such thoughts excite so strongly, that
he sought the company of the sentinel whom they had posted to guard
their slumbers, and found not one but two at the post.

"Oswy and Anlac! both watching?"

"It was too lonesome for one," said Oswy.

"Have you seen or heard aught amiss?"

"Yes. About an hour ago, there were cries such as men make when they die
in torture, smothered by other sounds like the beating of drums, blowing
of horns, and I know not what."

"You were surely dreaming?"

"No; it came from yonder circle of stones, and a light like that of a
great fire seemed to shine around."

Alfred made no reply; but he remembered that they had talked of the
Druidical rites the night before, and thought that the idea had taken
such hold upon the minds of his followers as to suggest the sounds to
their fancy. Still he watched with them till the first red streak of day
appeared in the east.


    CHAPTER X. ELFRIC AND ALFRED.

Early in the morning our travellers arose and took their way through an
open country which abounded with British and Roman remains; no fewer
than three entrenched camps, once fortifying the frontier of the Dobuni,
lying within sight or hard by the road, which, skirting the summit of
the watershed between the Thames and the Avon, afforded magnificent views.

About an hour after starting they came upon a singular monument of
Druidical times, consisting of sixty huge stones arranged in a circular
form, with an entrance at the northeast, while a single rock or large
stone, the largest of all, stood apart from the circle, as if looking
down into the valley beneath.[xix]

"What can be the origin of this circle?" said Alfred.

"It belongs to the old days of heathenesse; before the Welsh were
conquered by the Romans, perhaps before our Blessed Lord came into the
world, these stones were placed as you now see them," replied Father
Cuthbert.

"What purpose could they serve?"

"For their devil worship, I suppose; you see those five stones which
stand at some little distance?"

"They are the Five Whispering Knights," said Oswy.

"They are the remains of a cromlech or altar whereon they offered their
sons and daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood, wherefore the
Lord brought the Romans upon them."

"But the Romans were idolatrous, too."

"Yet their religion was milder than the one it superseded. Jupiter
required no human sacrifices; and even otherwise, God has said that the
wicked man is often His sword to avenge Him of His adversaries."

"Oswy looks as if he had a tale to tell."

"Speak out, Oswy, and let us all hear," said the good father.

"Well, then," said Oswy, "these were not once stones at all, but living
men--a king, five knights, and sixty soldiers--who came to take Long
Compton, the town down there, in the valley; but it so happened that a
great enchanter dwelt there, and being out that morning he saw them
coming, muttered his spells, and while the king--that stone yonder--
was in front looking down on his prey, the five knights all whispering
together, and the sixty soldiers behind in a circle, they were all
suddenly changed into stone."

They all laughed heartily at this, and leaving the Rholdrwyg Stones,
turned aside to the hospitable hall where they ought to have spent the
previous night. So delighted was the Thane of Rholdrwyg or Rollrich to
receive his guests that he detained them almost by force all that day,
and it was only on the morrow that he permitted them to continue their
journey.

They joined the Foss Way again after a few miles at Stow on the Wold;
the road was so good that they succeeded in reaching Cirencester, the
ancient Corinium, that night, a distance of nearly thirty miles. Here
they found a considerable population, for the town had been one of great
importance, and was still one of the chief cities of southern Mercia,
full of the remains of her departed Roman greatness, with shattered
column and shapely arch yet diversifying the thatched hovels of the
Mercians.

Two more days brought them to Bath, but the old Roman city had been
utterly destroyed, and long subsequently the English town had been
founded upon its site, so that there seemed no identity between Bath and
Aqua Solis, such as prevailed between Cirencester and Corinium.

One day's journey from Bath brought them at eventide within an easy day
of Glastonbury, so that they paused in their journey for the last time
at a well-known hostelry, chiefly occupied by pilgrims bound for
Glastonbury, for the morrow was a high festival, or rather the
commencement of one, and Dunstan was expected to conduct the ceremonies
in person.

So crowded was the hostelry that Alfred and his revered tutor could only
obtain a small chamber for their private accommodation, while their
servants were forced to content themselves with such share of the straw
of the outbuildings as they could obtain, in company with many others.

It was still early when they stopped at the inn, for one of their
horses, which they had purchased by the way, had broken down so
completely that they could not well proceed, and they were about to
enter a dark and dangerous forest, full of ravenous bears and wolves,
which had already cast its shade upon their path.

But this was not an uncommon feature in English travelling of that
century, when there were no horses to be hired at the inns, and
travellers could only purchase the animals they needed (if there were
any to be sold); the forest, too, was reported to be the haunt of
freebooters, and men dared to affirm that they were encouraged by the
king to prey upon the fraternity at Glastonbury.

Still the dangers of the forest did not deter Alfred, who dearly loved
woodland scenery and sport, from strolling therein when their hasty meal
had been despatched, weary of the continuous objurgations and smalltalk
of the crowded inn.

He had wandered some distance, lost in thought, when all at once he
started in some surprise, for the spot on which he was seemed familiar
to him, although he had never been in Wessex before.

Yes, he certainly knew the glade, with the fine beech trees surrounding
it: where could he have seen it before? All at once he remembered his
dream in the ruined temple, and started to discover the secret
foreknowledge he had thus possessed.

He wandered up and down the glade till it became dusk, and then shook
off the thoughts to which he had been a prey, and started to return to
the inn, when, to his dismay, he found he had forgotten in which
direction it lay.

While seeking to find the path by which he had entered the glade, he
suddenly noticed a beaten track between two huge rocks, which seemed to
point in the direction he had come, and yet which he recognised as the
path he had been bidden to follow in his dream. He hesitated not, but
committed himself to it, while darkness seemed to increase each moment.

He was beginning to fear the dangers of a night in the woods, when he
was startled by a sound as of many low voices, and at the same moment
became conscious that a light was tinging with red the upper branches of
the trees at no little distance, as if proceeding from some fire, hidden
by the formation of the ground.

At first he thought that he was in the neighbourhood of outlaws, and
tried to retire, but, as in his dream, he felt so strong an impulse to
discover the party whom the woods concealed that he persevered.

Suddenly he stopped short, for he had come to the edge of a kind of
natural amphitheatre, a deep hollow in the earth, the sides of which
were covered with bushes and trees, while the area at the bottom might
perhaps have covered a hundred square yards, and was clothed with
verdant turf. Not one, but several fires were burning, and around them
were reclining small groups of armed men, while some were walking about
chatting with each other.

Alfred gazed in much surprise, for the party did not at all realise his
conception of a body of freebooters or robbers; they all seemed to wear
the same uniform, and to resemble each other in their accoutrements and
characteristics; they rather resembled, in short, a detachment of
regular forces than a body of men whom chance might have thrown
together, or the fortune of predatory war.

While he gazed upon them, two of their number, whose attire was rich and
costly, and who seemed to be of higher rank than the rest, perhaps their
officers, attracted his attention as they walked near the spot where,
clinging to a tree, he overlooked the encampment from above.

One of them was a tall, dark warrior, whose whole demeanour was that of
the professional soldier, whose dress was plain yet rich, and who might
easily be guessed to be the commander of the party. He was talking
earnestly, but in a subdued tone, to his younger companion, whom he
seemed to be labouring to convince of the propriety of some course of
action.

Alfred watched them eagerly; the form of the younger--for so he
appeared by his slender frame--seemed familiar to him, and when at
last they turned their faces and walked towards him, the light of a
neighbouring fire showed him the face of his brother Elfric.

"My dream!" he mentally exclaimed.

They were evidently talking about some very important subject, and it
was also evident that the objections of the younger, whatever they might
be, were becoming rapidly overruled, when, as chance, if it were chance,
would have it, they paused in their circuit of the little camp just
beneath the tree where Alfred was posted.

"You see," said the elder, "that our course is clear, so definitely
clear that we have but to do our duty to the king, while we avenge a
thousand little insults we have ourselves received from this insolent
monk--such insults as warriors wash out with blood."

"Yet he is a churchman, and it would be called utter sacrilege."

"Sacrilege! is a churchman's blood redder than that of layman, and is he
not doomed as a traitor by a judgment as righteous as ever English law
pronounced! did he not keep Edwy from his throne during the lifetime of
the usurper Edred!"

"That was the sentence of the Witan, and you served Edred."

"I did not owe the allegiance of an Englishman to either, being of
foreign birth, and so was no traitor; as for the Witan, it is well known
Dunstan influenced their decision at the death of the royal Edmund."

"I never heard the assertion before."

"You have many things still to learn; you are but young as yet. But let
it pass. Does not his conduct to Queen Elgiva merit death!"

"I think it does. But still not without sentence of law."

"That sentence has been in fact pronounced, for in such cases as these,
where the subject is too powerful for the direct action of the law to
reach him, the decision of the king and council must pass for law, and
they have decided that Dunstan must die, and have left the execution of
the sentence--to us."

He did not add that the council in question consisted of the giddy young
nobles who had surrounded Edwy from the first, aided by a few hoary
sinners whose lives of plunder and rapine had given them a personal
hatred of the Church.

Elfric heaved a sigh, and said:

"If so, I suppose I must obey; but I wish I had not been sent on the
expedition."

"It is to test your loyalty."

"Then it shall be proved. I have no personal motives of gratitude
towards Dunstan."

"Rather the contrary."

"Rather the contrary, as you say. But what sound was that? Surely
something stirred the bush!"

"A rabbit or a hare. You are becoming fanciful and timid. Well, you will
remember that tomorrow there must be no timidity, no yielding to what
some would call conscience, but wise men the scruples of superstition.
We shall not reach the monastery till dark, most of the visitors will
then have quitted it, and we shall take the old fox in a trap."

"You will not slay him in cold blood!"

"No. I shall bid him follow me to the king, and if he and his resist, as
probably they will, then their blood be on their own heads. But surely--"

At that moment a large stone, which Alfred had most inopportunely
dislodged, rolled down the bank, and made Elfric, who was in its path,
leap aside. Alfred, whose foot had rested upon it, slipped, and for a
moment seemed in danger of following the stone, but he had happily time
to grasp the tree securely, and by its aid he drew himself back and
darted into the wood.

Luckily there was moonlight enough to guide him by the track he had
hitherto followed, and he ran forward, dreading nothing so much as to
fall into the hands of the friends of his brother, and trusting that he
might prevent the execution of the foul deed he had heard meditated. He
ran for a long distance before he paused, when he became aware that
pursuers were on his track. Luckily his life had been spent so much in
the open air that he was capable of great exertion, and could run well.
So he resumed his course, although he knew not where it would lead him,
and soon had the pleasure of feeling that he was distancing his
pursuers. Yet every time he ran over a piece of smooth turf he fancied
he could hear them in his rear, and it was with the greatest feeling of
relief that he suddenly emerged from the wood upon the Foss Way, and saw
the lights of the hostelry at no great distance below him.

His pursuers did not follow him farther, probably unwilling to betray
their presence to the neighbourhood, and perhaps utterly unconscious
that the intruder upon their peace was possessed of any dangerous
secrets, or other than some rustic woodman belated on his homeward way,
who would be unable in any degree to interfere with them or to guess
their designs.

But it was not till the ardour of his flight had abated, that Alfred
could fully realise that his unhappy brother was committed to a deed of
scandalous atrocity, and the discovery was hard for him to bear. The
strong impression which his dream had made upon him--an impression
that he was to be the means of saving his brother from some great sin--
came upon him now with greater force than ever, and was of great
comfort. The identity of the scenery he had seen in dreamland with the
actual scenery he had gone through, made him feel that he was under the
special guidance of Providence.

Returning to the inn he sought Father Cuthbert, and found him somewhat
uneasy at his long absence, and to him he communicated all that he had
seen and heard.

The good father was a man of sound sense but of much affection, and at
first he could not credit that the boy he had loved so well, Elfric of
Aescendune, should have grown to be the associate of murderers, for such
only could either he or Alfred style the agents of Edwy's wrath.

But, once fully convinced, he was equal to the emergency.

"We will not start at once, we should but break down on the road, and
defeat our own object. We must rest quietly, and sleep soundly if
possible, and start with the earliest dawn. We shall reach Glastonbury
by midday, and be able to warn the holy abbot of his danger in good time."

So Alfred was forced to curb his impatience and to try to sleep soundly.
Father Cuthbert soon gave good assurance that he was asleep; but the
noisy manner in which the assurance was given banished sleep from the
eyelids of his anxious pupil. At length he yielded to weariness both of
mind and body, and the overwrought brain was still.

He was but little refreshed when he heard Father Cuthbert's morning
salutation, "_Benedicamus Domino_," and could hardly stammer out the
customary reply, "_Deo gratias_."

Every one rose early in those days, and the timely departure of the
party from Aescendune excited no special comment. Hundreds of pilgrims
were on the road, and Alfred expressed his conviction that there would
be force enough at Glastonbury to protect Dunstan, to which Father
Cuthbert replied--"If he would accept such protection."

On former days their journey had been frequently impeded by broken
bridges and dangerous fords; but as they drew near Glastonbury the
presence of a mighty civilising power became manifest. The fields were
well tilled, for the possessions for miles around the abbey were let to
tenant farmers by the monks, who had first reclaimed them from the
wilderness. The farm houses and the abodes of the poor were better
constructed, and the streams were all bridged over, while the old Roman
road was kept in tolerable repair.

A short distance before they reached the city, the pilgrims, who were a
space in advance of the party, came in sight of the towers of the
monastery, whereupon they all paused for one moment, and raised the
solemn strain then but recently composed--

I.
Founded on the Rock of Ages,
Salem, city of the blest,
Built of living stones most precious,
Vision of eternal rest,
Angel hands, in love attending,
Thee in bridal robes invest.
II.
Down from God all new descending
Thee our joyful eyes behold,
Like a bride adorned for spousals,
Decked with radiant wealth untold;
All thy streets and walls are fashioned,
All are bright with purest gold!
III.
Gates of pearl, for ever open,
Welcome there the loved, the lost;
Ransomed by their Saviour's merits;
This the price their freedom cost:
City of eternal refuge,
Haven of the tempest-tost.
IV.
Fierce the blow, and firm the pressure,
Which hath polished thus each stone:
Well the Mastermind hath fitted
To his chosen place each one.
When the Architect takes reck'ning,
He will count the work His Own.
V.
Glory be to God, the Father;
Glory to th' Eternal Son;
Glory to the Blessed Spirit:
One in Three, and Three in One.
Glory, honour, might, dominion,
While eternal ages run.
Amen.[xx]

The grand strains seemed to bring assurance of Divine aid to Alfred, and
he could but imitate Father Cuthbert, who lifted up his stentorian voice
and thundered out in chorus, as they drew near the pilgrims.

Here they left the Foss Way for the side road leading to the monastery,
now only a short distance from them.


    CHAPTER XI. THE FLIGHT OF DUNSTAN.

It was the day of St. Alban, the protomartyr of England, and the saint
was greatly honoured at Glastonbury, where, as we have seen, Dunstan was
in residence, and, as a natural consequence, every department of the
monastic life was quickened by his presence. The abbey was full of monks
who had professed the Benedictine rule, and having but recently been
rebuilt, it possessed many improvements hardly yet introduced into
English architecture in general. The greater part of the building was of
stone, and it was not, in its general features, unlike some of the older
colleges at Oxford or Cambridge, although the order of the architecture
was, of course, exclusively that of the Saxon period, characterised by
the heavy and massive, yet imposing, circular arch.

But upon the church or abbey chapel all the skill of the architect had
been concentrated, and it seemed worthy alike of its founder and of its
object. Seen upon the morning in question, when the bright summer sun
filled every corner with gladsome light, just as the long procession of
white-robed priests, and monks in their sombre garb, with their hoods
thrown back, were entering for high mass, and the choral psalm arose, it
was peculiarly imposing.

The procession had not long entered the church, when the party of
pilgrims we have described, closely followed by our friends from
Aescendune, entered the quadrangle, and crossed it to the great porch of
the church. It was with the greatest difficulty they could enter, for
the whole floor of the huge building was crowded with kneeling
worshippers. The portion of Scripture appointed for the epistle was
being chanted, and the words struck Alfred's ears as he entered--"He
pleased God, and was beloved of Him, so that, living among sinners, he
was translated."

The words seemed to come upon him with special application to the danger
the great abbot was in, and the thought that the martyr's day might be
stained by a deed of blood, or, as some might say, hallowed by another
martyrdom, added to his agitation.

And now he had gained a position where the high altar was in full view,
illuminated by its countless tapers, and fragrant with aromatic odours.
There, in the centre of the altar, his face turned to the people as the
sequence was ended, and the chanting of the gospel from the rood loft
began, stood the celebrant, and Alfred gazed for the first time upon the
face of Dunstan, brought out in strong relief by the glare of the
artificial light.

He strove earnestly to concentrate his thoughts upon the sacred words.
They were from the sixteenth of St. Matthew, beginning at the words:

"Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after Me, let
him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

"For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it and whosoever will lose
his life for My sake, shall find it."

He could not but feel the strange coincidence that words such as these
should come to strengthen him, when he felt he had most need to shelter
himself under the shadow of the Cross. The service proceeded, the creed,
sanctus, and other choral portions being sung by the whole monastic body
in sonorous strains; and for a time Alfred was able to make a virtue of
necessity, and to give himself wholly to the solemnity; but when it was
over and the procession left the church, he sought an immediate
interview with the abbot, in company with Father Cuthbert.

Dunstan had removed his sacerdotal garments, and had returned to his own
cell, which only differed in size from the cells of his brethren. The
furniture was studiously plain: hard wooden chairs; an unvarnished
table; a wooden bedstead, with no bed, and only a loose coverlet of
sackcloth; the walls uncovered by tapestry; the floor unfurnished with
rushes;--such was the chamber of the man who had ruled England, and
still exercised the most unbounded spiritual influence in the land.

There was no ostentation in this; every monk in the monastery lived in
similar simplicity. Precious books and manuscripts, deeply laden with
gold and colours, were deposited on coarse wooden shelves, while the
Benedictine Breviary lay on the table, written by some learned and
painstaking scribe, skilful in illumination.

The appearance of the abbot was little changed since we last beheld him;
perhaps care had traced a few more lines in his countenance, and his
general manner was more prompt and decided, now that danger menaced him,
for menace him he knew it did, although he hardly knew from what quarter
the bolt would fall.

A lay brother brought him some slight refreshment, the first he had
taken during the day.

The humility inculcated by each precept of the order forbade the brother
in question to speak until his superior gave him leave to do so; but
Dunstan read at once the desire of his subordinate, and said:

"What hast thou to tell me, Brother Osgood?"

"Many people are without, seeking speech of thee."

"This is the case each day; are there any whose business appears pressing?"

"A company has arrived from Aescendune, or some such place in Mercia,
and two of the party--a priest and a young layman--seek an immediate
interview, saying their business is of life and death."

"Aescendune!--admit them first."

The brother left the cell at once, and soon returned, ushering in Father
Cuthbert and Alfred, who saluted the great churchman with all due
humility, and waited for him to speak, not without much evident
uneasiness; perhaps some little impatience was also manifest.

"Are you of the house of Aescendune, my son?" enquired Dunstan of
Alfred. "Methinks I know you by your likeness to your brother Elfric."

"I am the son of Ella, father; we have been sent on pressing business,
which is notified by this parchment" (presenting the formal request on
the part of the brethren of Aescendune, which was the original cause of
their journey) "but we have yet a more pressing matter to bring before
you: wicked men seek your life, my father."

"I am well aware of that; surely you do not dream, my son, that my eyes
are closed to a fact known throughout unhappy England."

"But, my father, I speak of immediate danger, which God in His great
mercy enabled me to discover but last night; this very night the abbey
will be attacked, and your life or liberty in danger."

"This night!" said Dunstan, in surprise; "and how have you discovered
this? Do not hesitate, my son tell me all."

Thus adjured, Alfred repeated the whole story of his discovery of the
concealed expedition.

"You saw the leaders closely then?" said Dunstan, when he had finished;
"describe the elder one to me."

"A tall dark man, like a foreign soldier, in plain but rich apparel, a
scar on the right cheek."

"Stay, my son, I know him; his name is Redwald, and he is the captain of
the king's bodyguard. Now describe the other with whom he held converse."

"Father, I cannot."

"My son--" but Dunstan paused, for he saw that poor Alfred had covered
his face with his hands, and he at once divined the truth, with full
conviction, at the same time, of the truth and earnestness of Alfred's
statement.

"My son, God can dispose and turn the hearts of all men as seemeth best
to His wisdom; and I doubt not, in answer to our fervent prayers, He
will turn the heart of your poor brother. Meanwhile, we ourselves will
take such precautions as shall spare him the guilt of sacrilege.

"Brother Osgood, summon the prior to my presence, and cause the brethren
to assemble, one and all, in the chapter house: we have need of instant
deliberation."

The lay brother departed, and Dunstan, whose cheerfulness did not desert
him for one moment, chatted familiarly with Father Cuthbert, or perused
the parchment the good father had just presented through Alfred.

"It is a great and pleasing thing," he said, "to behold how our Order is
spreading through this benighted land, and how spiritual children arise
everywhere to our holy father Benedict; surely the time is near at hand
when the wilderness shall blossom as the rose."

The prior, Father Guthlac, entered at this moment, and Dunstan talked
apart with him for some moments with extreme earnestness, but only the
last words which passed between them were audible.

"Yes, my brother, you have the words of Scripture," said Dunstan, "to
support your proposal: 'When they persecute you in one city, flee ye
unto another.'"

"Yet it is hard to leave a spot one has reared with such tender care."

"There was One Who left more for us; and I do not think they will
destroy the place, or even attempt to destroy it: they will fill it with
those 'slow bellies, those evil beasts,' the secular clergy, with their
wives."

"Fitter it should be a stye for hogs." [xxi]

"Nay, they are men after all; yet there is some reason to fear that,
like hogs, they wallow in the mire of sensuality; but their day will be
but a short one."

"My father!"

"But a short one; it hath been foreshown me in visions of the night that
the Evil One will triumph indeed, but that his triumph will be very
short; and, alas a green tree which standeth in the pride of its youth
and might must, ere the close of that triumph, be hewn down."

"By our hands, father?"

"God forbid! by the Hand of God, I speak but as it has been revealed to me."

It was a well-known fact that Dunstan either was subject to marvellous
hallucinations, and was a monomaniac on that one point, while so wise in
all other matters, or that he was the object of special revelations, and
was favoured with spiritual visions, as well as temptations, which do
not ordinarily fall within the observation or experience of men.

So Father Guthlac and the rest of the company listened with the greatest
reverence to his declaration, as to the words of an inspired oracle.

"But let us go to our brethren; they await us," said Dunstan, speaking
to the prior. "Brother Osgood, take these our guests to the
refectorarius, and ask him to see that they and all their company taste
our bounty at least this day; tomorrow we may have nought to offer them."

In the famous chapter of the whole house of Glastonbury which followed,
and which became historical, prompt resolution was taken on Dunstan's
report, which did honour to the brotherhood, as evincing both their
resignation and their trust in God, Who they believed would, to use the
touching phrase of the Psalmist, "turn their captivity as the rivers in
the south;" so that they "who went forth weeping, bearing good seed,
should come again with joy, and bring their sheaves with them."

So it was at once agreed that the whole community should break up
immediately; that within the next hour all the monks should depart for
the various monasteries of the Benedictine order; and that Dunstan
himself, with but two companions, should take refuge across the sea,
sailing from the nearest port on the Somersetshire coast.

A dozen of the brethren were to return with Father Cuthbert and Alfred
to Aescendune at once, and to bear with them all the necessary powers
for the accomplishment of the good thane's wishes in regard to the
monastery of St. Wilfred, while Father Cuthbert was then and there
admitted by Dunstan to the order of St. Benedict--the necessity of the
case justifying some departure from the customary formalities.

All being completely ordered and arranged, the chapter broke up, and
within an hour the monks were leaving as rapidly as boys leave school
when breaking-up day comes, but not quite so joyously. They strove to
attract as little attention as possible, and, in most cases, travelled
in the ordinary dress of the country.

Father Cuthbert and the Benedictines who were to accompany him on his
return---so much more speedy than had been anticipated--were already
prepared to start, when, to their surprise, Alfred could not be found.

Alfred was at that moment in the cell of Dunstan, with whom he had
obtained, not without great trouble, another brief interview.

"God bless you, my son," said Dunstan, "and render unto you according to
all you have done for His glory this day, and restore you your brother
safe in body and soul!"

But it was not merely for a blessing that Alfred had sought the abbot.

"Father," he said, "if I have happily been of service to you, I ask but
one favour in return; one brother has sought your life, let the other
remain with you as a bodyguard."

"But your father?"

"I am satisfied that I am but speaking as he would have me speak."

"But you will become an exile."

"Gladly, if I can but serve you, father."

"But, my child, I have no means of support for you abroad; as monks we
shall find hospitality in every Benedictine house, but you are only a
layman."

"Then, father, I but ask you to allow me to accompany you to the coast."

"I grant it, my son, for I believe God inspires the wish. Be it as you
desire, but one of your serfs must accompany you; it would not be safe
to travel home alone."

So Father Cuthbert and the Benedictines started back to Aescendune
without Alfred, bearing Dunstan's explanation of the matter to the
half-bereaved father whose faith, they feared, would be sorely tried,
and leaving Oswy to be his companion.

It was now drawing near nightfall, and the abbey was almost deserted;
all the pilgrims had left with the monks, although many of them would
willingly have put their trust in the arm of flesh and remained to fight
for Dunstan against his temporal foes, even as he--so they piously
believed--routed their spiritual enemies. In that vast abbey there
were now but six persons--Dunstan, Guthlac, Alfred, the lay brother
Osgood, Oswy, and a guide who knew all the bypaths of the country.

Desolate and solitary indeed seemed the huge pile of untenanted
buildings as the evening breeze swept through them. The last straggler
had gone; Dunstan was still in his cell arranging or destroying certain
papers, the guide and lay brothers held six strong and serviceable
horses in the courtyard below, near the open gate, impatient to start,
and blaming secretly the dilatoriness of their great chieftain. They
watched the sun as he sank lower and lower in the western sky, and
thought of the woods and forests they must traverse, frequented by
wolves, and sometimes by outlaws whom they dreaded far more. Still
Dunstan did not appear.

Alfred and Guthlac, on a watchtower above, gazed on the plain stretched
before them. Mile after mile it extended towards that forest where the
enemy was now known to lurk, and they watched each road, nay, each copse
and field, with jealous eye, lest it should conceal an enemy. Ofttimes
the shadow of some passing cloud, as it swept over moor or mere, was
taken for an armed host; ofttimes the wind, as it sighed amongst the
trees and blew the dried leaves hither and thither, seemed to carry the
warning "An enemy is near."

At length danger seemed to show itself plainly: just as the sun set, a
dark shadow moved from a distant angle of the forest on the plain
beneath, and the words "The enemy!" escaped simultaneously from Alfred
and Guthlac as the setting sun seemed reflected upon spear and sword,
flashing in a hundred points as they caught the reflection of the
departing luminary.

Alfred, at the prior's desire, hurried to the chamber of Dunstan.

"Father," he said, "the enemy are near. They have left the forest."

"That is four miles in distance: there will be time for me to finish
this letter to my brother of Abingdon."

"But, father, their horses may be fleeter than ours."

"We are under God's protection: I am sure we shall not be overtaken: be
at peace, my son."

Poor Alfred felt as if his faith were very sorely tried indeed, but he
strove to acquiesce.

It was now quite dark, and the ears of the would-be fugitives were
strained to catch the sounds which should warn them of approaching danger.

At length they fancied they heard sounds arise from the plain before
them: suppressed noises, such as must unavoidably be made by a force on
its passage; and Alfred again sought the cell of Dunstan, yet dared not
enter, urgent though the emergency seemed.

At this moment he was startled by a demoniacal burst of laughter, which
seemed to fill the corridor in which he waited with exultant joy.

What could it be? he felt as if he had never heard such laughter before
--so terrible, yet so boisterous.

A moment of dread silence, and then it began again, and filled each
corridor and chamber.

At that moment Dunstan came forth, and saw the pale face of Alfred.

"It is only the devil," he said "we are not ignorant of his devices.

"O Satan! thou that wert once an angel in heaven, art thou reduced to
bray like a jackass?" [xxii]

Again the exultant peal resounded.

"Be at peace," said the abbot; "thou rejoicest at my departure; I shall
soon return to defy thee and thy allies."

And the laughter ceased.

"We must lose no time," he said; "the moment is at hand."

Locking each door behind him, he reached the party in the courtyard, and
each person mounted in a moment; then they passed under the great
archway. Oswy had remained behind one moment to lock the great gates,
and then they all rode forth boldly into the darkness.

They passed rapidly in a direction at right angles to that in which
their pursuers were approaching, and at the distance of a mile they
halted for one moment to ascertain the cause of a great uproar which
suddenly arose. It was not difficult to divine its cause: it was the
heating of axes and hammers on the great outer door of the monastery.

"It will occupy them nearly an hour," said Dunstan, "and we shall be far
far away before they have succeeded in effecting an entrance."

So they rode on rapidly into the night. Before them lay the Foss Way,
the road was good and well known to them, the moon was shining brightly,
and their spirits rose with the excitement and the exertion. Onward! Onward!


    CHAPTER XII. AT HIS WORST.

The unhappy Elfric had indeed fallen from his former self before he
reached the depth at which our readers have just seen him, joining with
Redwald in the unhallowed enterprise so happily frustrated, if indeed it
were yet frustrated, by his own brother.

But when his father had returned to Aescendune alone, Elfric felt that
home ties were shattered, and that he had nothing but the royal favour
to depend upon, so he yielded to the wishes of King Edwy in all points.

Immediately after his coronation, the reckless and ill-advised Edwy had
married Elgiva, [xxiii] in defiance of the ban of the Church, and then
had abandoned himself to the riotous society and foolish counsels of
young nobles vainer than those who cost Rehoboam so large a portion of
his kingdom. Amongst these Elfric was soon conspicuous and soon a
leader. His spirit and physical courage far beyond his years excited
their admiration, and in return they taught him all the mysteries of
evil which were yet unknown to him.

Under such influences both the king and his favourite threw off all
outward semblance even of religion, and only sought the means of
enjoyment. Redwald ministered without reserve or restraint to all their
pleasures, and under his evil influence Edwy even found occasion to rob
and plunder his own grandmother, a venerable Saxon princess, in order
that he might waste the ill-gotten substance in riotous living.

Yet there was a refinement in his vice: he did not care for coarse
sensual indulgence to any great extent; his wickedness was that of a
sensitive cultivated intellect, of a highly-wrought nervous temperament.
Unscrupulous--careless of truth--contemptuous of religion--yet he
had all that attraction in his person which first endeared him to
Elfric, whom he really loved. Alas! his love was deadly as the breath of
the upas tree to his friend and victim. When the first measures of
vengeance were taken against Dunstan, with the concurrence of wicked but
able ministers of state, Redwald was selected as the agent who should
bribe the thanes, and begin the course of conduct which should
eventually lead to the destruction of the enemy of the king. He had only
waited till the temper of the times seemed turned against Dunstan (he
judged it wrongly); and the king seemed secure against every foe ere he
planned the expedition we have introduced to our readers.

We will now resume the thread of our narrative.

When the band of soldiers, headed by Redwald, had gained the gates of
the monastery, they found them, as we have seen, firmly locked and barred.

"Blow your horns; rouse up these sleepy monks to some purpose," said
Redwald. "Why, they have not a light about the place."

A loud and vigorous blast of horns was blown, while the greater part of
the troop dismounted and paused impatiently for an answer from within.

"Two or three of you step forward with your axes," exclaimed Redwald.

They did so, and thundered on the gate without any success, so stoutly
was it made.

"What can it mean?" said Redwald. "All is silent as the grave."

"No; there is some one laughing at us," said Elfric.

A peal of merry laughter was heard within.

Redwald was thoroughly enraged, and seizing an axe with his own hand, he
set the example of applying it to the gate, but without any result save
to split a few planks, while the iron framework, designed by Dunstan
himself, who was clever at such arts, held as firmly as ever.

Unprovided with other means of forcing it, the besiegers had recourse to
fire, and gathering fuel with some difficulty, they piled it against the
gate. Shortly the woodwork caught, and the whole gate presently yielded
to the action of the fire; the iron bars, loosened by the destruction of
the woodwork, gave way, and the besiegers rushed into the quadrangle.
Here, all was dark and silent, not a sound to be heard or a light seen.

"What can it mean? Have they fled? You all heard the laughter!"

"There it is again."

The boisterous and untimely mirth had begun just within the abbot's
lodgings, and the doorway at the foot was immediately attacked. It
presently yielded, and Redwald, who had obtained a good notion of the
place, rushed with his chief villains to the chamber he knew to be
Dunstan's; yet he began to fear failure, for the absence of all the
inmates was disheartening. No, not all, for there was the loud laughter
within the very chamber of the abbot.

The door was fastened securely, and while the axes were doing their
destructive work upon it, the mocking laughter was again heard. Redwald
had become so enraged that he mentally vowed the direst vengeance upon
the untimely jester, when the door burst open and he rushed in.

"Where is he? Surely there was some one here?"

"Who could it be? We all heard the laughter."

But victim there was none; and searching all the place in vain, they had
to satiate their vengeance by destroying the humble furniture of the abbot.

What to do next they knew not, and Redwald, deeply mystified, was
reluctantly forced to own his discomfiture, and to prepare to pass the
night in the abbey. Accordingly, his men dispersed in search of food and
wine. Some found their way to the buttery; it was but poorly supplied,
all the provisions in the place having been given to the poorer pilgrims
by the departing monks. The cellar was not so easily emptied, and such
wine as had been stored up for future use was at once appropriated.

Redwald and Elfric, having shared the common meal gloomily, were seated
in the abbot's chamber--little did Elfric dream that his brother had
so recently been in the same room--when one of the guards entered,
bringing with him a stranger. He turned out to be a neighbouring thane,
one of those bitter enemies to Dunstan whom Edwy had planted round the
monastery, and he came to give information that he had seen Dunstan with
five companions escaping by the Foss Way.

Redwald jumped up eagerly. "How long since?" he asked.

"About two hours, and ten miles off, I was returning home from a distant
farm of mine."

"Why did you not stop them?"

"I was too weak for that; they were six to one. I heard you had been
seen coming here by a cowherd, and came to warn you. If you ride fast
you may catch the holy fox yet before he runs to earth; but you must be
very quick."

"What pace were they riding?"

"Slowly at that moment; it was up a hill."

Redwald rushed from the room, crying, "To horse, to horse!" but found
only a portion of his men awake: the others were mainly drunk and
sleeping it off on the floor.

Cursing their untimely indulgence, he got about a dozen men rapidly
mounted on the fleetest horses, taking care Elfric should be one, and
dashed off in pursuit of the fugitives.

Dunstan and his party had ridden some four or five hours, when the moon
became overcast, and low peals of distant thunder were heard. The
atmosphere was so intensely hot, and the silence of nature so
oppressive, that it was evident some convulsion was at hand.

"Is there any shelter near?"

"Only a ruined city [xxiv] in the wood on the left hand,
but it is a dangerous place to approach after nightfall. They say evil
spirits lurk there."

"They tell that story of every ruined place, be it city, temple, or
house; and even if it be, we have more cause to dread evil men than evil
spirits."

The guide hesitated no longer, and struck into a bypath, which
penetrated the depth of the woody marsh through which the Foss Way then
had its course. After a minute or two it became evident, from the
footing, that they were upon the paved work of a causeway overgrown with
weeds and rank herbage; huge mounds showed where fortifications had once
existed, and shortly, broken pillars and ruined walls appeared at
irregular intervals.

They had little time to look around them, for the storm had come rapidly
up, and the glare of the lightning was incessant, while the rain poured
down in absolute torrents. Before them rose a huge ruin covered with ivy
and with the roof partly protecting the interior. It was so large that
they were able to lead their horses within its protection and wait the
cessation of the rain.

Between the flashes the sky was intensely dark, but they were almost
incessant, and revealed the city of the dead in which they had found
refuge. It was an ancient Welsh town, and in the latter years of the
deadly struggle with the English, had been taken after a protracted
resistance. Tradition had not even preserved its name, and only stated
that every living soul had perished in the massacre when the outer walls
were at length stormed and the town given to fire and sword. The
victors, as was frequently the case, had avoided the spot, preferring to
build elsewhere, and, like Silchester or Anderida, it had fallen into
desolation such as befell mighty Babylon.

And now the ignorant rustic peopled its buildings with the imaginary
forms of doleful creatures, and shunned the fatal precincts where once
family love and social affections had flourished; where hearts, long
mouldered to dust, had beaten with tender affection, where all the
little circumstances which make up life--the trivial round, the common
task--had gone on beneath the summer's sun or winter's storm, till the
great convulsion which ended the existence of the whole community.

Dunstan noticed that his whole party crowded closely together, and when
the lightning illuminated each face saw that fear had left its visible mark.

The continuous roar of thunder, the hissing of the descending rain, the
wind which blew in angry gusts, prevented all conversation until nearly
an hour had elapsed, when the strife began to diminish. It was a sad and
mournful sight to gaze upon the remains of departed greatness when thus
illuminated by the electric flash, and easily might the fancy, deceived
by the transient glimpses of things, people the ruins with the shades of
their departed inhabitants.

"Father," said Alfred, at length, "who were they who lived here? Do you
know aught about them?"

"The men whom our ancestors subdued--the Welsh, or British--an
unhappy race."

"Were they heathen?"

"At one time, but they were converted by the missions from Rome and the
East, of which the earliest was that of St. Joseph of Arimathea to our
own Glastonbury; he may have preached to the very people who lived here,
nay, in this very basilica, which, I think, may have been converted into
a church."

It was indeed the ruin of a basilica wherein they stood, but no trace
survived to show whether Dunstan's conjecture was correct.

"It seems strange that God should have permitted them to fall before the
sword of our heathen ancestors."

"Their own historian Gildas, who lies buried at Glastonbury, explains
it. He tells us that such was the corruption of faith and of morals
towards the close of their brief day, that had not the Saxon sword
interposed; plague, pestilence, or famine, or some similar calamity,
must have done the fatal work. God grant that we, now that in turn we
have received the message of the Gospel, may be more faithful servants,
or similar ruin may, at no distant period, await the Englishman also, as
it did the Welshman."

He sighed deeply, and Alfred echoed the sigh in his heart; he read the
abbot's thoughts.

"Do you believe," said he, after a pause, "that their spirits ever
revisit the earth?"

"I know not; many wise men have thought it possible, and that they may
haunt the places where they sinned, ever bearing their condemnation
within them, even while they clothe themselves in semblance of the
mortal flesh they once wore."

The whole party shuddered, and Father Guthlac said, deprecatingly:

"My father, let us not talk of this now. We are too weak to bear it, and
the place is so awful!"

By this time the wind had made a huge rent in the black clouds overhead,
and the moon came suddenly in sight, sailing tranquilly in the azure
void above, and casting her beams on the ruins, as she had once cast
them on the beauteous city; its basilicas, palaces, and temples yet
standing.

At this moment their guide came hastily to them.

"We are in some danger, father. Horsemen, twelve of them, are galloping
along the Foss Way in spite of the storm."

Dunstan left the shelter, which was no longer needed, the rain having
ceased, and followed the guide to the summit of the huge mound which
marked the fall of some giant bastion of early days. From that position
they could see the Foss Way, now about half-a-mile distant in the bright
moonlight, and Dunstan's eye at once caught twelve figures--horsemen
--sweeping down it like the wind, which brought the sound of their
passage faintly to the ear.

"Wait," he said, "and see whether they pass the bypath; in that case we
are safe."

The whole party was now on the mound, their persons carefully concealed
from the view of the horsemen, while they watched their passage with
intense anxiety. The enemy reached the bypath; eleven of them passed
over it, but the twelfth reined his horse suddenly, almost upon its
haunches, and pointed to the ground. He had evidently seen the tracks of
the fugitives upon the soft turf.

The next moment they all turned their horses into the bypath.

"Follow," said the guide; and they all rushed eagerly down the mound and
mounted at once.

"Follow me closely; I think I can save you from them; only lose not a
moment."

The guide led them by a wandering path amongst the ruins, where their
tracks would leave the least trace, until he passed through a gap in the
external fortifications on the opposite side. Then he rode rapidly along
a descending path in the woods, until the sound of rushing water greeted
their ears, and they arrived on the brink of a small river which was
swollen by the violent rain, and which dashed along an irregular and
stony bed with fearful impetuosity.

There was but one mode of crossing it: a bridge constructed of planks
was thrown over, which one horseman might pass at a time. The whole
party rode over in safety, although the crazy old bridge bent terribly
beneath the weight of each rider.

But when all were over, the guide motioned to Alfred and Oswy to remain
behind for one moment, while the monks proceeded. He threw himself from
his horse, and taking the axe which he had slung behind him, commenced
hacking away at the bridge. But although the bridge was old, yet it was
tough; and although Alfred, and Oswy who was armed with a small
battle-axe, assisted with all their might, the work seemed long.

Before it was completed, they heard the voices of their pursuers calling
to each other amongst the ruins. They had evidently lost the track, and
were separating to find it.

Crash went one huge plank into the raging torrent, then a second, and
but one beam remained, when a horseman emerged from the trees opposite,
and by the light of the moon Alfred recognised his brother.

Desperate in the excitement of the chase, Elfric leapt from his horse,
and drawing his sword rushed upon the bridge.

Alfred, who felt it tremble, cried:

"Back, Elfric! Back if you value your life!" while at the same moment,
true to his duty, without raising his axe or any other attempt at
offence, he opposed his own body in passive resistance to Elfric's
passage over the beam.

Elfric knew the voice, and drew back in utter amazement. He had already
stepped from the half-severed beam, when he saw it bend, break, and
roll, with Alfred, who had advanced to the middle of the bridge, into
the torrent beneath, which swept both beam and man away with resistless
force.


    CHAPTER XIII. THE RETURN OF ALFRED.

The reader is, we trust, somewhat impatient to learn the fate of Alfred
of Aescendune, whom we left in so critical a position.

The fall of the bridge was so sudden and unexpected, that he scarcely
knew where he was, till he found himself sucked rapidly down stream by
the raging waters, when he struck out like a man, and battled for dear
life. But the only result seemed to be that he was bruised and battered
against the rocks and stones, until, exhausted, he was on the point of
succumbing to his fate, as the current bore him into a calm deep pool,
where he sank helplessly, his strength gone. But the guide and his
companion Oswy had succeeded in reaching the spot, which was
inaccessible from the other side, and plunging at once into the waters,
the latter succeeded in bringing the dying youth to land. Dunstan and
the other members of the party were soon on the spot; the lay brother
was skilled in the art of restoring suspended animation, and they soon
had the happiness of beholding Alfred return to consciousness; he raised
his head, and gazed about him like one in a dream, not able to realise
his position.

"Where am I? What have I been doing?" he exclaimed.

"You are safe, my dear son, and in the hands of friends," replied
Dunstan, "although you have had a narrow, narrow escape; we are secure
for the present from our foes."

They consulted together in low tones as to their future movements, and
the abbot inquired particularly of the guide concerning the fords and
bridges.

"There is a ford only a mile or two away, but I expect they will find
they cannot cross it."

"Is there no place of refuge near? He is unable to sit his horse."

"There is a cottage close by, kept by a cowherd, who is a good and true
man."

"Then lead us to it at once," replied Dunstan.

Alfred had by this time recognised his position, and he implored Dunstan
not to endanger his own safety for his sake; but the abbot paid no
attention. They reached the cottage just as the day was dawning, and the
east was bright with rosy light. It was such a place as the great king,
after whom Alfred was named, had found refuge in when pressed by the
Danes. It was poor, but neat and clean beyond the usual degree; and when
the wants of their early visitors were known, and Dunstan was
recognised, the utmost zeal was displayed in his cause.

All that could be done for Alfred was done at once, but he was
manifestly too shaken and bruised to be able to travel; and, giving him
his fatherly blessing, Dunstan was compelled by the guide to hurry on,
leaving him in the care of Oswy.

They had not, however, great fear of their pursuers, for their own
horses were comparatively fresh after the rest in the ruined city, and
those of their foes would be necessarily fatigued, after the rapid ride
along the Foss Way, and their exertions to pass the stream.

So it was not with great uneasiness, well mounted as they were, that,
gaining the road, they beheld their pursuers in the distance, who, on
their part, beholding their intended victims afar off, hastened to spur
their horses on.

It was useless: the pursued had the advantage, and after the gallop of a
mile or two, it became evident they were in no especial danger, although
it must be remembered that a false step or slip, or any accident, would
have been fatal.

"I should not mind racing them down the Foss to the Sea Town," [xxv]
said the guide; "but if the abbot has no objection, I should prefer
leaving them to pursue the road, while we take a cross-country route,
which I have often travelled; it is a very good one."

"By all means," said Dunstan, "and then we may slacken this furious pace."

They were quite out of sight of their pursuers when, coming upon a track
of dry stony ground, they suddenly left the road, and crossing a wild
heath, put a copse between them and the enemy, who did not this time
discover for miles the absence of the footprints, for the soil was very
dry and hard, the storm not having passed that way, and the foe were
intent upon hard riding.

So they gained a long start, and eventually reached a hill, from which
they obtained their first view of the sea. It was eventide, and the
western sun, sinking towards the promontories beyond the distant Exe,
reddened the waters with his glowing light. Dunstan and his brethren
thanked God.

"We have come to the setting sun," said they, "and at eventide have seen
light; let us thank Him Who hath preserved us."

But the guide, who knew what relentless pursuers were yet behind, would
allow them no rest. In another hour they reached a small fishing village
on the coast, where a solitary bark was kept. The owner was just about
to put out for an evening's fishing, but at the earnest request of his
visitors, backed by much gold, he consented to take them over to the
opposite coast.

"The weather promises to be very clear and fine," he said; "and we may
sail across without any danger."

It was indeed a lovely night; they stepped on board, the anchor was
loosed, the sail set, and with the wind behind, they stood rapidly out
to sea. They were quite silent, each immersed in his own thoughts. At
last they heard the sound of horsemen galloping on the fast-receding
shore, and looking back, they saw twelve riders reach the beach, and
pause, looking wistfully out to sea.

"Our soul is escaped, even as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; the
snare is broken, and we are delivered," said Dunstan.

"Our help standeth in the name of the Lord, Who hath made heaven and
earth," replied Father Guthlac.

Meanwhile, Alfred rapidly gained strength. Happily no bones were broken,
he was only sadly bruised. The next day he expressed his earnest wish to
return home, but his host would not permit him, saying he should have to
answer to Dunstan some day for his guest.

The time passed monotonously enough that second day, yet not
unpleasantly: there were a thousand things to observe in the woods and
marshes around, full of animal life.

Early in the morning, a sweet fresh morning, the cowherd drove his
cattle forth to graze, where he knew the pastures were sweetest, and
Alfred would willingly have gone, too, but they told him he must rest.
So he took his breakfast of hot milk and bread, with oat cakes baked on
the hearth, and waited patiently till the warmth of the day tempted him
out, under the care of Oswy, to watch the distant herd, to drink of the
clear spring or recline under some huge spreading beech, while the
breeze made sweet melodies in his ears, and lulled him pleasantly to sleep.

At midday they returned to the customary dinner, which was not of such
inferior quality as one would now expect to find in such a place,
contrasting strongly with the fare on the tables of the rich: then there
was far more equality in the food of rich and poor, and Alfred had no
cause to complain of the cowherd's table.

Then he sauntered forth again with Oswy, and strove to amuse himself
with the book of nature; till just at eventide, as he was longing
earnestly that he could know the fate of his fugitive friends, they
heard the sound of a horse at full trot, and soon the guide appeared in
sight.

Alfred rose up eagerly.

"Are they safe?" he cried.

"Yes, quite safe; they had got a mile out to sea when their pursuers got
to the beach; I saw it all, hidden in a woody hill above."

"Did they try to follow?"

"They could not, there was no boat: I never saw men in such a rage."

Alfred felt as if a weight were removed from his heart, then he looked
up in the face of the guide.

"Will you guide us home?" he said.

"Yes," was the reply; "the holy abbot particularly desired me to return
to his son Alfred, and to take care of him on his journey home; and if
you will have me as your guide, I will warrant you a safe journey to
Aescendune, for we are not worth following."

"Then let us start tomorrow morning," said Alfred, longing to be once
more in his old father's presence, and to cheer his mother's heart.

They returned together to the cowherd's cottage, and slept peacefully
that night. Early in the morning they retook the path to the Foss Way,
crossing the stream at a ford higher up. Their horses being well rested
and full of spirit for the journey, they passed Glastonbury, still empty
and desolate, in the middle of the day, and retraced by easy stages the
whole of Alfred's previous route from home.

After a week's easy travelling, by the blessing of Providence, they
reached the neighbourhood of Aescendune: it had never looked so lovely,
so home-like to Alfred as then. He felt as if every spot were full of
joy, and as he was recognised by person after person, by his favourite
dogs as they bounded forth, and finally fell into his mother's arms at
the gate of the hall, he experienced feelings which in these days, when
we are all so familiar with the thought of travel, can seldom be realised.

Then he had to recount his adventures that night, after supper, to an
admiring audience, who listened enraptured to his account of the
holiness of Dunstan and the cruelty of his foes. But it will easily be
imagined that he made no allusion to his rencontre with Elfric; and
Oswy, instructed by his young master, was equally silent.

He had quite made up his mind to persevere in this course: it could do
no good to tell father or mother how grievously Elfric had fallen, and
how nearly he had been the involuntary instrument of his brother's death.

"God can change his heart," said Alfred to himself, "and bring him home
like the prodigal son about whom Father Cuthbert talks so often."

So he prayed earnestly every day for his brother, and many a
supplication on his behalf arose from the altar of St. Wilfred. Time
will show whether they were lost.


    CHAPTER XIV. EDWY AND ELGIVA.

Edwy, King of England, and Elgiva, his queen, gave a great feast at
their royal palace in London, a month after the events recorded in our
last chapter; and a numerous company had assembled to do honour to their
hospitality. Yet the company was very different from that which had
assembled round the same hospitable board in the days of King Edred.
First, the Churchmen were conspicuous by their absence; and secondly,
all the old grey-headed counsellors, who had been the pride and ornament
of the reigns of Edmund and Edred, were not seen; for, after the rumour
of their marriage had reached Odo, he had pronounced the sentence of the
lesser excommunication upon them, severing them from the sacraments; and
this was felt by the old counsellors of Edred to be a most serious
stigma, yet one which they could not call undeserved: hence they
deserted the court.

In their place were the young and giddy, the headstrong sons of wiser
fathers, the spendthrifts, the young fops of the period, those who went
in for a fast life, to use a modern phrase--who spent the night, if
not the day, over the wine cup, and consumed their substance in riotous
living--such were they who gathered around Edwy the Fair and the yet
fairer Elgiva.

And truly king and queen more beautiful in person had never sat upon a
throne; and it was difficult to look upon them and feel aught but
admiration, save when one knew all their history, and then pity and
sorrow might supply the place of admiration, at least with the sober minded.

Fish, flesh, and fowl; nought was wanting. The earth the air, and the
water, all yielded their tribute; for was it not the anniversary of the
marriage--the uncanonical marriage, alas!--of the royal pair, if
marriage it had truly been?

Eels of enormous size, fine as the Roman lamprey, pike roasted with
puddings in their bellies, tench and carp stewed; while the sea yielded
its skate, its sturgeon, and its porpoise, which the skill of the cook
had so curiously dressed with fragrant spices that it won him great
renown. The very smell, said a young gourmand, was a dinner in itself;
and the wild buck supplied its haunch, and the boar its head, while fowl
of all kinds were handed round on spits.

The drinking was of like sumptuous character, and Rhenish wine contended
with the wines of sunny France for precedence, as they were passed round
in silver cups and gold-mounted horns; for glass was seldom, if ever,
used for such purposes then.

The floor was strewed with the sweetest summer flowers, and exhaled an
odour balmy as the breath of eastern climes, where the breeze plays with
the orange blossoms. The tapestry was beautifully woven by foreign
artists, and represented the loves of the gods; while there was nothing
in keeping with the olden style throughout the whole apartment.

But one seat was vacant near the king's throne, and every now and then
Edwy seemed to cast a wistful eye upon it, as if he would fain see its
ordinary occupant there.

The gleemen rose and sang, the harpers harped, but something was
wanting; they brought tears to the eyes of the fair queen by their
plaintive songs of hapless lovers, which had superseded alike the war
songs of Athelstane and the monkish odes of Edred.

"Where is Elfric? He promised to be back by our wedding day; why does he
delay, my Edwy?" asked Elgiva.

"It is little less than treason to the queen of youth and beauty to be
thus absent, my Elgiva, but remember he has been unwell, and Redwald
told me that for prudential reasons they delayed his return to court."

"And your brother Edgar--"

"Is somewhere in Mercia: the churlish boy has declined our invitation to
honour our feast with his presence. We do not want his serious face at
the board. I am sure he would preach on the duty of fasting."

"He has but seldom been our visitor."

"No; he is afraid, perhaps, to trust his cold heart within the magic of
my Elgiva's sunshine, lest the ice should be melted."

These had been asides, while all the company were listening to the
gleeman; but now Edwy threw himself heart and soul into the current
conversation, and all went merry as a marriage peal, until the
ceremoniarius--for Edwy loved formality in some things--threw open
the folding doors and announced the captain of the hus-carles, and
Elfric of Aescendune.

The whole company rose to receive them, and Elfric in particular
received a warm welcome; but it was at once seen that there was a marked
constraint upon him: his eye was restless and uneasy, and he seemed like
one carrying a load at his breast.

In truth, since that fatal night when, as he believed, he had witnessed
the death of his brother, he had striven in vain to drown care and to
banish remorse: the thought of his aged father deprived of both his sons
--the one by death, the other by desertion--would force its way
unbidden to his mind. Still, he had determined to throw aside reserve in
honour of the occasion, and he made heroic efforts to appear happy and gay.

Redwald was at his ease, as usual in all company, and seemed to cause
prodigious laughter as he told his adventures to the younger folk at the
bottom of the board. Dark and malign as his demeanour usually was, yet
he could affect a light and airy character at times.

"Redwald, my trusty champion," said Edwy, "this is the first campaign
thou hast ever returned from unsuccessful. Tell us, how did Dunstan
outwit you?"

"By the aid of the devil, my liege."

"Doubtless; but we had all hoped for a different result, and that thou
wouldst either have left the traitor no eyes in his head, or no head on
his shoulders.

"Said I not rightly, my Elgiva?"

The eyes of the fair enemy of the abbot flashed fire, and she exchanged
some very significant words with her mother, Ethelgiva, who occupied the
next chair.

"Come, my fairy-given [xxvi] one, you must not be too hard
on Redwald, who doubtless did his best--

"How was it, Elfric?"

"The devil was certainly on Dunstan's side: he and no other could have
betrayed our coming, for betrayed it was."

"How long had he left when you reached the abbey?"

"Only an hour or two; but there was a sound of mocking laughter,
doubtless caused by his incantations, which kept us for some hours
forcing doors and the like."

"And you could discover no cause?"

"None whatever; however, we found he had taken the Foss Way for the
coast, and followed, and nearly caught him."

"What prevented you?"

Elfric turned pale as if with great mental emotion, and tried to proceed
in vain.

"You are not well," said Elgiva, anxiously.

"Not quite," he said; and then, overcoming his feelings by a vigorous
effort, while no one save Redwald suspected the true cause, he continued:

"There had been a great storm, and they had broken down the only bridge
which existed for miles over a swollen river: we lost hours."

"And yet, as your messengers told us, you arrived in time to see him
leave the coast."

"The vessel which bore him was still distinctly in sight when we stood
on the sands."

"But had you no means of following?"

"None: it was a lonely fishing village with a small harbour, and his
bark was a mere fishing smack, the only one of the place."

"I trust the sea has swallowed him," said the king; "but there is a
rumour today that he is playing the saint in Flanders with great pomp.
Well, only let him show his face in England again, and the devil may
pinch my nose with his tongs if I leave him a head on his shoulders: he
shall be a sacrifice to your outraged dignity, my Elgiva."

"And yours, my Edwy."

Husband and wife were quite agreed on this subject: they had never
forgiven Dunstan in the least degree, and, identifying him with
religion, had well-nigh abjured it altogether.

The ordinary dishes being now removed, the guests all partook lavishly
of wine, and, their heads already heated, yielded entirely to the
excitement of the moment. Toast after toast was drunk to the king: he
was compared to Apollo for his beauty, and Elgiva to Venus, while the
old northern mythology was ransacked also for appellations in honour of
the youthful pair.

Adjoining, in the outer hall, the higher domestics had their music and
dancing, and the king and queen came to honour the entertainment by
their presence. So the happy hours wore away, and at length the company
were on the eve of departure, for fatigue was making itself felt, when
an ominous blowing of a horn was heard at the outer gate.

A pause, during which the company looked at each other, so strangely had
the sound struck them, and yet they knew not why, save that it was an
unlikely hour for such an occurrence.

There was one only who knew what the message would probably be--
Redwald; and he had kept the secret purposely from the king.

The doors opened, and an usher brought in a messenger who had only been
allowed a moment to change a dusty dress, ere he broke into the presence
of royalty.

"Speak," said Edwy, as the messenger bowed before him, and kissed his hand.

"My lord and king--" and the messenger glanced at Elgiva.

"Let him speak, Edwy, my lord. Are we not one? What you can bear, your
wife must bear also."

Thus adjured, the messenger spoke his news.

"Mercia has revolted, and proclaimed Edgar king."

"The cause alleged?"

"I know not, my lord."

"I can tell you," said Redwald; "the banishment of the holy fox,
Dunstan, and very shame prevents my adding that--"

"No more," said Edwy; "I can guess the rest."

He wished to spare Elgiva.

He walked up and down the hall several times. His festive air had gone.

"And on my wedding day, too," he said. "Redwald, you knew this."

"Yes, my lord, but I wished to spare my king upon his wedding day, still
I have not spared myself. The necessary steps are taken, your immediate
vassals are summoned, and my own men are ready to march; we will sweep
these rebels off the field."

"Elfric," said the king, "you must be my right hand in the field: you
will be ready to invade your native Mercia tomorrow. Think you your own
friends are firm?"

"My father, although he has disowned me, would never disown his lawful
king; the duty and love he bore to your murdered father would forbid."

"Well, Redwald, have you known this many hours?"

"I heard it at the frontier town of Mercia, Reading, last night, and
took all my measures immediately."

"Then, can we really depend upon Wessex?"

"I treat so indeed, my lord, else we should be in a very bad way indeed."

"Well, we must rest now. Elgiva, darling, this is a cold termination to
our first anniversary, but your husband's love shall ever protect you
until he be cold in death.

"Goodnight, Elfric, be ready for the morrow.

"Goodnight, Redwald, trustiest warrior who ever served grateful lord.

"Goodnight, gentlemen all."

And thus the royal party broke up, and thus ended the first anniversary
of the ill-starred union.

On the morrow all was haste and confusion in the royal palace. Elgiva
departed early for Winchester, which, being farther removed from the
frontier, was safer than London from any sudden excursion on the part of
the Mercians, and the city was also devoted to the royal family. The
citizens of London were directed to provide for the defence of their
city, while the royal guards, attended by the immediate vassals of the
crown, prepared to march into the heart of the rebellious district.

It is too often supposed that the feudal system was of Norman
importation, whereas its very foundation--the act of homage, or of
"becoming your man,"--was brought by the Saxons and Angles from their
German home. The lord was the protector of the vassal, but the vassal
was bound to attend his feudal superior both in peace and war.

So imperative was this obligation, that a vassal who abandoned his lord
in the field of battle was liable to the death of a traitor.

Therefore Edwy soon found himself at the head of a compact body of ten
thousand men, all bound to stand by him to death. But there was one very
disheartening circumstance, which attracted notice. No volunteers joined
the little army, although a royal proclamation had promised lands from
the territories of the rebels to each successful combatant in the cause
of Edwy and Elgiva.

The fear of the Church hung on all, the conviction that the law of both
Church and State had been broken by the young king; the universal belief
in the sanctity of Dunstan, and in the true patriotism of Odo whom they
called "the good;" the thoughtless misgovernment since the wiser
counsellors had dispersed--all these things weakened the hearts of the
followers of Edwy.

There was therefore but little enthusiasm when the inhabitants saw the
soldiers of the king march out by the Watling Street, and the soldiers
themselves looked dispirited.

It was early dawn on the second day from the feast that the departure
took place. Cynewulf, a valiant Earl of Wessex, was the real commander;
nominally, Edwy commanded in person, and Elfric rode out of London by
his side. Redwald's rank would not have entitled him to the chief command.

Passing through the environs of the city, they gained the open country,
and marched steadily along the causeway the Romans had so firmly laid,
until they reached Verulam or St. Alban's, where they passed the night.
It excited great discontent amongst the inhabitants that Edwy did not
visit the shrine of the saint, the glory of their town; and his
departure again took place amidst gloomy silence.

They were now about to cross the frontier and enter Mercia, then in many
respects an independent state; governed, it might be, by the same
monarch and Witan as Wessex, even as Scotland and England are governed
by the same sovereign and Parliament, yet retaining like them its own
peculiar code of laws in many respects.

And now Mercia had sternly refused to be governed any longer by the
"enemy of the Church," and chose the Etheling, Edgar, to be its king.

Acting with the sanction of Odo, whom he deeply revered, the young
Edgar, then only in his fifteenth year, accepted the offer, and the
whole force of Mercia was gathering to support him when Edwy crossed the
border.

It must not be supposed that either Cynewulf or Redwald expected to
conquer the Mercians with ten thousand men. No, their design was
simpler: they had learned where Edgar was residing, and that the forces
around him were small. One bold stroke might secure his person, and then
Edwy might make his own terms. This was the secret of the advice they
both gave to the young king.

Redwald had, as we shall see, deep designs of his own to serve also, but
they had been locked for years in his own breast, and no servant could
seem more trusty and faithful than he did, or act with more energy in
his master's cause.

The forces of Edwy, as we have related, left St. Alban's on the second
morning, and travelled, horse and foot, very rapidly all that day.

Crossing the Icknield Street at Dunstable, where the remains of a huge
temple, once sacred to Diana, were visible, they entered Mercia, and
soon reached Towcester, a town which had been walled round by King
Athelstane; here they found no force prepared to receive them, and the
town opened its gates at once.

They tarried here for a day, while they sent scouts and spies in all
directions, many of whom never returned. The troops were quartered
freely upon the inhabitants, who were evidently very hostile; and, in
return, the soldiers of Edwy insulted the women and bullied the men.
Every hour some quarrel arose, and generally ended in bloodshed; the
citizens being commonly the victims.

Late at night messengers arrived at the royal quarters, bringing
information that Edgar was at Alcester, the ancient Alauna, beyond the
Avon, and that Osric, the great Earl of Mercia, was with him collecting
troops.

A council was held at once, and it was decided to leave the Watling
Street and to march for the Avon by cross-country routes. They rested
that night amidst the ruins of the ancient Brinavae, and here another
council was held, to deliberate on their future movements, and it was
decided to march westward at once, for tidings came that Edgar's forces
were rapidly increasing, and prudence suggested prompt measures. Edwy
was becoming very anxious.

The route for the next day was then made out and, with beating heart,
Elfric learned that they purposed crossing the river not far from
Aescendune.

"Elfric, my friend," said Edwy, "there will be a chance for you to visit
Aescendune, and to obtain the old man's forgiveness."

He said this with a slight sneer.

"I cannot go there; I would die first."

Edwy started at the tone of deep feeling with which the words were said;
he knew nothing of the rencontre of Elfric with his brother.

"Still I think that I must spend this coming night there, and I will try
and act the Christian for the occasion: perhaps I may do you a good
turn, while I renew my acquaintance with your people."

In his very heart Elfric wished that Edwy might never arrive there, yet
he knew not what to say.

"Well," said the prince, observing his hesitation, "you may go on with
Cynewulf and the main body of the army, which will cross the Avon higher
up, and I will make excuse that your duties detain you. I must go--I
have special reasons, I wish at least to secure the fidelity of the few
--and Redwald will accompany me; we join the army on the morrow,
without losing any time by the move."

And so the matter was settled.


    CHAPTER XV. THE ROYAL GUEST.

It was the morning of the first of August, and the sun, dispersing the
early mists, gave promise of a bright summer day.

The inhabitants of Aescendune, lord and vassals alike, were astir from
the early daybreak; for that day the harvest was to be commenced, and
the crops were heavier than had been known for many a year. A good
harvest meant peace and prosperity in those times, a bad harvest famine,
and perhaps rebellion; for if the home crop failed, commerce did not, as
now, supply the deficiency.

So it was with joy and gladness that the people went forth that day to
reap with their sharp sickles in their hands, while the freshness of the
early morn filled each heart insensibly with energy and life. The corn
fell on the upland before their sharp strokes, while behind each reaper
the younger labourers gathered it into sheaves.

Old Ella stood in their midst looking on the familiar scene, while his
pious heart returned many a fervent thanksgiving to the Giver of all
good. Under the shade of some spreading beeches, which bordered the
field, the domestics from the manor house were spreading the banquet for
the reapers--mead and ale, corn puddings prepared in various modes
with milk, huge joints of cold roast beef--for the hour when toil
should have sharpened the appetite of the whole party.

By the side of his father stood young Alfred administering with filial
affection to all his wants, as if he felt constrained to supply a double
service in his own person now that Elfric was no more, or, at least,
dead to home ties.

Thicker and thicker fell the wheat, and they thought surely such heavy
sheaves had never fallen to their lot before.

At last the blowing of a horn summoned all the reapers to their dinner,
and when Father Cuthbert had said grace, the whole party fell to--the
thane at the head of them; and when the desire of eating and drinking
was appeased, the labourers lay on the grass, in the cool shade, to pass
away the hour of noontide heat, before resuming their toil.

"Father," said Alfred, "a horseman is coming."

"My old eyes are somewhat dim; I do not see any one approaching."

"Nor I, as yet, but I hear him; listen, he is just crossing the brook; I
can hear the splashing."

"Some royal messenger, perhaps, from Edgar or from Edwy, my son. I fear
such may be the case; yet I wish I could be left in peace, afar from the
strife which must convulse the land, if the ill-advised brothers cannot
agree to reign--the one over Mercia, the other over Wessex."

"We have repeatedly said that we should be quite neutral, father."

"And yet, my son, we offend both parties, and, I fear me, we shall be
forced to defend ourselves in the end. But God is our refuge and
strength, a very present help in trouble. And now that I am old I can
lean more and more upon Him. He will be a father to you, my Alfred, when
these hoary hairs are hidden in the grave."

It was seldom that the old thane expressed his devotion in this strain;
it seemed to Alfred as if there were a foreboding of coming trial in it,
and he felt as when a cloud veils the face of the sun in early spring.

The messenger now came in sight--a tall, resolute looking man, well
armed and well mounted, and evidently bound for the hall. But when he
saw the party beneath the trees he bent his course aside, and saluting
the thane with all deference, inquired if he spoke to Ella of Aescendune.

"I am he," replied Ella. "I trust you are not the bearer of other than
good tidings; but will you first refresh yourself, since it is ill
talking between the full and the fasting?"

"With gladness do I accept your bounty; for I have ridden since early
dawn, and rider and horse are both exhausted."

"There is corn for your horse, and food and wine for his master.

"Uhred, take charge of the steed.

"Alfred, my son, place that best joint of beef before the stranger, and
those wheaten cakes.

"I drink to you, fair sir."

The messenger seemed in no hurry to open his tale until he had eaten and
drunk, and it was with the greatest patience that the thane, who was one
of nature's gentlemen, awaited his leisure.

At length the messenger looked up, and pushed his wooden platter aside.

"I have come to be the bearer of good tidings to you, noble thane. Edwy,
your king, with a small troop of horse, his royal retinue, proposes
honouring your roof with his presence, and asks bed and board of his
loyal subject, Ella of Aescendune."

"The king's will is my law; and since it pleases the son of my late
beloved master, King Edmund, to visit me, he shall find no lack of
hospitality. But may I ask what sudden event has brought him into the
heart of our country?"

"He comes to chastise rebellion. A large force of several thousand men
crosses the river a few miles higher this evening, and, not to incommode
you with numbers, King Edwy comes apart from his followers."

Although he foresaw grave inconvenience, and even danger, in the
proposal, yet Ella could not appear churlish and inhospitable;
therefore, learning from the messenger that the king might be expected
before sunset, he returned home to make such preparations as should
suggest themselves for the entertainment of his royal master, for so he
still would have styled Edwy, deeply as he felt he had been wronged by him.

"Father," said Alfred, as he walked homeward by his side, "think you
Elfric will be in his train? I wish he may be."

"Alas, my son! I fear I shall never see poor Elfric again. My mind
always seems to misgive me when I think of him; and I have so strong a
foreboding that he has received my last blessing, that I cannot overcome
it. No, Alfred, I fear we shall not see Elfric tonight."

No more was said upon the subject; they reached the hall in good time,
and startled the lady Edith by their tidings.

Instantly all was in preparation: the best casks of wine were broached,
fowls and wild birds alike had cause to lament that their lives were
shortened, chamberlain and cook were busy, clean rushes were brought in
to adorn the floor of the hall, sweet flowers and aromatic grass for
that of the royal bedchamber; and it was not till a flourish of trumpets
announced the approach of the cavalcade that all was ready, and the
maidens and men servants, arrayed in their best holiday attire, stood
grouped without the gate to receive their king.

At last the glitter of the departing ray upon pointed lances announced
the approach, and soon the whole party might be seen--a hundred horse
accompanying the king's person, and one or two nobles of distinction,
including Redwald, riding by his side.

When the train first reached the spot from which the castle was visible,
a strange thing occurred. The king's eyes were fixed upon Redwald, and,
to the royal astonishment, the whole frame of that worthy seemed shaken
by a sudden emotion. His countenance became pale, his lips were
compressed, and his eyes seemed to dart fire.

"What is the matter, my Redwald?" asked the king.

"Oh, nothing, my lord!" said he, resuming his wonted aspect with
difficulty, but at last becoming calm as a lake when the wind has died
away. "Only a sudden spasm."

"I hope you are not ill?"

"No, my lord; you need not really feel anxious concerning me.

"The hall of Aescendune appears a pleasant place for a summer
residence," he added.

"I have been there before," said the king. "Spent some weeks there. Yes;
I thought it a great change for the better then, after the musty odour
of sanctity which reigned in the palace of my uncle the monk, but all
things go by comparison. I might not relish a month there now."

"Yet it looks like a place formidable for its kind, and it might not be
amiss to persuade the worthy old thane to receive a garrison there, so
that if the worst came to the worst we might have a place of refuge,
otherwise the Mercians would soon have possession of it."

"Ella is one of themselves."

"But the rebel Edgar may not forgive him for entertaining us!"

"He can hardly help himself. Still, the smoke of those fires, which, I
trust, betokens good cheer; and the peaceful aspect of that party coming
out to meet us, in the midst of whom I recognise old Ella and his son
Alfred, Elwy's brother, does not look much like compulsion."

"Making the best of a bad bargain, perhaps."

"I prefer to think otherwise."

At this moment the two parties met, and Edwy at once dismounted from his
courser with that bewitching and kingly grace which became "Edwy the
Fair." He advanced gracefully to the old thane, and, presenting the
customary mark of homage, embraced him as a son might embrace a father
--"For," said he, "Elfric has taught me to revere you as a father even
if Aescendune had not taught me before then. I robbed you of your son,
now I offer you two sons, Elfric and myself."

The tears stood in the old man's eyes at this reception, and the mention
of his dear prodigal son.

"He is well, I hope?" said he, striving to speak with such sternness and
dignity as sell-respect taught in opposition to natural feeling.

"Well and happy; and I trust you will see him in a day or two, when we
shall have chastised our rebels; justice, mingled with mercy, must first
have its day."

"Where is he now?"

"With the main body of the army; in fact, he is my right hand. It is my
fault, not his, that he is not here now; but we could not both leave,
and he preferred that I should come and proffer my filial duty first,
and perhaps that I should assure you of his love and duty, however
appearances may have seemed against him."

Then the eye of Edwy caught Alfred. It must be remembered that Elfric
had kept the secret of his brother's supposed death, even from the king.

"And of Alfred, too, I have ever been reminded by his brother; your name
has seldom been long absent from our conversation."

Alfred reddened.

"I trust now," he continued, "that I may profitably renew an
acquaintance suspended for three years. I am but young, only in my
eighteenth year, and I have no father; let me find one in the wisest of
the Mercians."

So bewitching was the grace of the fair speaker that he seemed to carry
all before him. Ella began to think he must have misjudged the king.
Alfred alone, who knew much more of the relations between the king and
the Church than his father, still suspended his belief in these most
gracious words.

Leaning upon the still powerful arm of Ella, his young agile form
contrasting strongly with the powerful build of the old thane--
powerful even in decay--they came in front of the hall, where the
serfs and vassals all received them with joyful acclamations, and amidst
the general homage the king entered the hall.

There he reverentially saluted the lady Edith.

"The mother of my friend, my brother, Elfric, is my mother also," said he.

Then he was conducted to his chamber, where the bath was provided for
him, and unguents for anointing himself, after which, accepting the loan
of a change of clothing more suitable than his travelling apparel, he
received the visit of Ella, who came to conduct him to the banquet.

All this while his followers had been received according to their
several degrees; and a board was spread, of necessity, in a barn, for
the due feasting of the soldiers of Edwy and the vassals of Aescendune;
while the officers and the chief tenants of the family met at the royal
table in the great hall once before introduced to our readers.

It boots not to repeat an oft-told tale, to describe the banquet in all
its prodigal luxury, to tell how light the casks in the cellars of
Aescendune seemed afterwards, how empty the larder; suffice it to say
that in due course the banquet was ended, the toasts were drunk, and,
with an occasional interlude in the gleeman's song and the harper's wild
music, the conversation was at its height. Wine and wassail unloosed
men's tongues.

Redwald sat near the king, who had introduced him to Ella as a dear
friend both to him and his son--"a very Mentor," he said, "who, since
the unhappy quarrel into which my counsellors forced me--yes, forced
me--with Dunstan, has done more to keep Elfric and me straight in our
morals than at one time I should have thought possible for any man to do.

"Redwald, you need not blush; it is true, and your king is proud to own it."

Redwald was not exactly blushing; he had spent the interval before the
banquet in looking eagerly and wistfully all round the house, and now
his countenance had a cold composure, which made it seem as if he had
never known emotion; still he answered fittingly to the king's humour:

"Alack, my lord, such credit is due only to the blessed saints,
especially St. Wilfred, whom you first learned to love at Aescendune, as
you have often told me."

"Yes," said Edwy; "you remember, Ella, how I used to steal away even
from the chase, and visit his chapel at the priory which your worthy
father founded. Truly, I mused upon the saint so much that I marvel he
appeared not to me; I think he did once."

"Indeed!" exclaimed his auditors.

"Yes; I had been musing upon my condition as a poor orphan boy, deprived
of my brave father--he was your friend, Ella!--when methought a
figure in the dress of a very ancient bishop, stood beside me, yet
immaterial as the breeze of evening. 'Thy prayer is heard' said he to
me; 'thou hast brought many gifts to St. Wilfred; he shall send thee
one, even a friend.' It was fulfilled in Elfric."

"Truly, it was marvellous," said Father Cuthbert, who listened with open
mouth. "I doubt not it was our sainted patron."

Alfred said nothing; his recollections of Edwy's days at Aescendune did
not embrace many hours in the chapel of St. Wilfred.

The great wonderment of Ella may be conceived: he had always mourned
over Edwy as a headstrong youth, dead to religion, and now he was called
upon to contemplate him in so different a light. The reader may wonder
at his credulity, but if he had listened to the sweet voice of the
beautiful king, had gazed into that innocent-looking face--those eyes
which always seemed to meet the gaze, and never lowered themselves or
betrayed their owner--he would, perhaps, have been deceived too; yet
Edwy was overdoing it, and a look from Redwald warned him of the fact.
He took the other line.

"Alas!" he said, "I have been very very unworthy of St. Wilfred's fond
interest in me, and may have done very rash things; but some day the
saint may rejoice in me again, and then he shall not find in me a
rebellious son."

Further than this he was not disposed to go, for in truth he felt
himself sickened by his very success in deceit, although half disposed
to be proud of it at the same time. But Redwald had taken up the
conversation.

"These halls of yours seem old, venerable thane; has your family long
dwelt under this hospitable roof?"

"My remote ancestor fought by the side of Cynric in the victories which
led to the foundation of Mercia."

"Ah! many a sad yet glorious tale and legend for the gleeman's harp,
doubtless, adorns your annals."

"Not many; we have our traditions."

"For instance, is there one connected with the foundation of the priory
hard by?"

"It is of recent date, my father built it."

"Strange, for generally these old places are reared up by repentant
sinners, mourning over the sins they have committed, or the day of grace
they have cast away; is there no tale attached to your foundation?"

"Alas! there is; but it is one whose stain is all too recent, one we
cannot recount, or suffer gleeman's harp to set to music, lest we harrow
the yet bleeding wound."

Redwald could not ask more; the answer was too plain and distinct, and
so he was forced to repress his curiosity.

The conversation then became desultory and, finally, when the gleemen
began the well known _piece de resistance_, the battle of Brunanburgh,
Edwy yawned and Redwald looked sleepy, while the old thane actually
slept in his huge armchair, and was awakened only by the cessation of
the music and singing.

Even in the presence of royalty itself Ella did not suffer the company
to disperse before the chaplain had said the customary compline service,
after which the guard was doubled at the door, and soon the whole
household was buried in sweet and peaceful sleep.

Yet, although they knew it not, they nourished the deadliest foe of
their race in the bosom of the family. There was one at least who could
not sleep that night who now paced his narrow chamber, now looked forth
at the meadows, woods, and hills, sleeping in the summer twilight; now,
unchecked, burst into the wildest excitement, and paced his chamber as a
wild beast might pace the floor of his cage; now calmed down into a
sarcastic smile.

"Yes!" he said in soliloquy, "and here I am at last; here in the halls
which should have been his and mine, and shall be mine yet; here! and
they know it not; here! and the reward of years of patient endurance is
at hand; here! yes, here, in the halls of Aescendune--dreamed of,
sighed after, prayed for at the shrine of such gods as promise
vengeance; here, by Woden and Thor; here by Satan's help, if there be a
Satan!--here! here! here!"


    CHAPTER XVI. NAKED THOUGH LOCKED IN STEEL.

Early in the morning the whole household was astir, and the breakfast
alone preceded the preparations for the departure of Edwy and his
retinue. Redwald did not appear, and they became uneasy at his prolonged
absence, until, sending to his room, they found him suffering from
sudden, but severe illness; which, as the leech shortly decided, would
absolutely prevent his travelling that day.

It was evident that Edwy was annoyed by this, but it was not until after
a long conference with Redwald that he took Ella aside, and pointing out
to him the exposed position of the hall, besought his permission to
leave a garrison of fifty men under the command of this trusty officer,
which would ensure their safety, in case of any sudden attack on the
part of Edgar's troops.

"I can hardly feel that I need such protection, my royal master,"
replied Ella; "I dwell among my own people, and am perhaps safer when
quite unprotected."

"In that case, may I press my own poor claims?" replied the king. "In
case of the worst, I should have Aescendune to fall back upon, a retreat
secured by chosen men behind me, where one might halt and turn to bay;
again, Redwald's sudden illness necessitates my leaving him to your
hospitality."

Thus pressed on every side, Ella felt he could but yield to a request
which the speaker had not only the power but the right, as his feudal
superior, to enforce; for Ella was not prepared to throw off his
allegiance, as most of his neighbours had done, and to make common cause
with Edgar. Again, the conversation of the previous night had given him
more confidence in Edwy, and more hope of seeing Elfric again, like the
returning prodigal, than he had previously had.

Edwy saw this, and continued:

"And it is but a few days hence, ere I propose to return with Elfric--
whom I could indeed put in command of such forces as are necessary to
secure you against our mutual foes, when I return southward. Redwald and
his troops will hold the place in trust for Elfric, till he arrives."

The last lingering feeling of reluctance was now forcibly banished, and
Ella consented to receive Redwald as his guest, with a picked troop of
fifty men.

"They shall be the best behaved warriors you have ever seen, my own
hus-carles--men who go to mass every morning, and shrift every week,"
added the deceitful prince; "at least," he added, as he saw the look of
incredulity Ella could not suppress, "some of them do, I can't say how
many."

In the course of an hour from this conversation, the royal party took
its departure, reduced to half its numbers.

Edwy left amidst the regret of all, so amiable had been his manners, so
winning his ways.

"I take a son's liberty," said he, as he saluted the venerable cheek of
the lady Edith; "but I will bring your other son back with me in a few
days."

The road leading over the hill and through the forest had swallowed up
the retreating force, when Ella personally superintended the
distribution of quarters to the guard of Redwald, many of whom
afterwards volunteered to follow him to the harvest field, and displayed
uncommon alacrity in carrying the wheat safely to its granaries, saying
the rebels should never have the reaping thereof.

There was, however, a kind of gloom over the whole party through that
day. The thought that deadly strife impended close at hand weighed upon
the spirits of Ella, but they brightened again at the renewed hope of
meeting his prodigal, and he now hoped repentant, son in peace.

Meanwhile, very different scenes were on the point of being enacted only
twice ten miles from the spot.

The main body of the army left its quarters on the right bank of the
Avon, at the same hour in which Edwy left Aescendune to join them on
their march and they proceeded in safety all through the morning. At
midday they lay down to feed and to rest, and while thus resigning
themselves to repose, with the guards posted carefully around, the sound
of cavalry was heard in the distance, and shortly the royal party
appeared. Elfric was alert to receive them, but could not conceal his
surprise when he saw their diminished numbers, and perceived the absence
of Redwald.

Edwy saw his look of embarrassment, and hastened to reply to the
question it conveyed.

"They are left at Aescendune, fifty under the command of Redwald, to
fortify the house until we return. You must go home this time, and you
need not fear, for I have been a very saint at Aescendune, and they are
expecting Dunstan will speedily return and canonise me. Elfric, I have
used my sanctity for your advantage, since I have represented you as
sharing it at least in some degree."

"I fear me, my father is too wise to be so easily deceived."

"Nothing of the kind; he really seemed to believe in it; at all events,
I have promised you shall return with me."

"Did they really seem to wish to see me?"

"They did really, especially your brother Alfred."

Elfric started as if an arrow had struck him.

"Alfred. Alfred!" he said.

"Yes, why not Alfred?"

"And you saw him alive and well?"

"To be sure, why not? Did you think he was dead."

Elfric became confused, and muttered some incoherent answer, but he
rejoiced in his very heart; he felt as if a mountain were removed from
him, and a sweet longing for home, such as he had not felt since a
certain Good Friday, sprang up in his mind, so strongly that he would
have gone then and there, had circumstances permitted.

Alas, poor boy! his wish was not thus easily to be gratified: he had
sinned very deeply--his penance had yet to be accomplished; well has
the poet written:

"_Facilis descensus Averno . . . . Sed retrograre gradum,
superasque evadere ad auras, Hoc opus--hic labor est._" [xxvii]

The midday halt concluded, the troops resumed their march for Alcester,
where they hoped to arrive about nightfall, and to surprise Edgar and
his few followers. All that afternoon they proceeded through a dense
woodland country; and the evening was setting in upon them, when
suddenly the scouts in front came galloping back, and gave the startling
information that entrenchments were thrown up across their path, and
that a large force was evidently entrenched behind.

At first Edwy could scarcely believe the report; but Cynewulf, the
experienced commander upon whom, as we have said, the real command of
the force devolved, rode forward, and soon returned, having previously
ordered a general halt, and that entrenchments should be thrown up for
their own protection during the night.

"Ealdorman," said Edwy, impatiently, "why throw up entrenchments? can we
not carry theirs by storm? we are all ready, are we not, for a valiant
charge?"

"Nay, my lord, we are but ill prepared," was the reply, "for such
desperate measures. I am not certain they do not outnumber us; even so,
we probably excel them in discipline and skill, and have every chance of
victory tomorrow, which we should lose by fighting in the dark."

So Edwy, who did not lack personal courage, and would gladly have ended
the short raid then and there, was forced to be governed by wiser heads,
and accordingly the bivouacs were made, the fires lighted, and the royal
tent pitched upon the slope of a gentle valley, which descended to a
brook in the bottom, where the ground rose similarly on the other side,
and was crowned by the hostile entrenchment, behind which rose the smoke
of the enemy's fires. The heads of numerous soldiers, seen over the
mound, showed how well they were prepared.

The entrenchment was dug, the mound thrown up, the sentinels posted, and
all in so short a space of time that to the uninitiated in the art of
war, it would have seemed little short of miraculous; but the discipline
of the Danes, who owed their success generally to the skill with which
they fortified their camps, had been partially inherited by their
adversaries, and the hus-carles were not even all English: there were
many Danes amongst them.

The suppers were soon cooked and eaten, the wine circulated freely, and
patriotic songs began to be heard: but there was one who seemed to have
no heart for them--Elfric. At the huge fire, which blazed near the
royal tent, Edwy sat as master of the feast, and he was in a state of
boisterous merriment. But all Elfric's efforts could not hide the
depression of his spirits, and Edwy, who loved him sincerely--for the
reader has seen that he was quite capable of love--tried to rouse him
from it, anxious that no one should suspect the courage of his favourite.

Once or twice Elfric seemed to make great efforts to overcome this
feeling of depression, and partially succeeded in veiling it from all
but the observant young king.

At last the feast was over.

"My friends," said the king, "we must be stirring early in the morning,
so we will now disperse for the night."

They drank a parting cup, then separated, while the king took Elfric's
arm and led him aside.

"Elfric," said he, "did I not know my friend and most faithful follower,
I should suspect that he feared the morrow's conflict."

"I cannot help it," said Elfric; "perhaps I do fear it, yet, had I but
my father's forgiveness, could I but see him once more, I could laugh at
the danger. It is not pain or death I fear, but I long to be where you
have been, I would I had gone with you now."

"So do I."

"And now I have my forebodings that I shall never hear my father's
forgiveness; and, Edwy, if I die without it, I believe my spirit cannot
rest; I shall haunt the spot till the day of doom."

"This is all moonshine, Elfric. You have not been such a bad fellow
after all; if you go wrong, what will happen to the greater part of
those amongst us who may die tomorrow? When you once get into the fight,
and your blood gets warm, you will be all right; it is only the first
battle that gives one all these fancies."

"No; it is not that. I am of a race of warriors, and I do not suppose
one of that race ever felt like this in his first battle. I have often
looked forward to mine with joy, but now my mind is full of gloomy
forebodings: I feel as if some terrible danger, not that of the fight,
were hanging over me and mine, and as if I should never meet those I did
love once, either in this world or the next."

"The next! all we know about that comes from the priestly pratings. I
think, of the two heavens, Valhalla,[xxviii] with its hunting or fighting
by day, its feasting by night, would suit me best. I don't know why we
should think ourselves wiser than our ancestors; they were most likely
right about the matter, if there be another world at all."

"I cannot disbelieve, if you can," replied poor Elfric, "I have tried
to, but I can't. Well, I daresay I shall know all about it by this time
tomorrow."

"Pshaw! let tomorrow take care of itself; 'tis our first fight, Elfric,
and we will have no cowardly forebodings; we shall live to laugh at them
all. What shall we do with Edgar, if we get him tomorrow? I suppose one
must not shed a brother's blood, even if he be a rebel?"

"Certainly not; no, no."

"Perhaps it will be shed for me, and a lucky thrust with sword or lance
may end all our trouble, and leave me sole king; but won't the holy fox
Dunstan grieve if his pet, his favourite, gets hurt? Come, cheer up,
Elfric, my boy; dismiss dull care, and be yourself again!"

Elfric tried very hard to do so, and again partly succeeded. They had
extended their walk all round the limits of the camp. It was a beautiful
starlit night: there was a new moon, which was just going down, and an
uncertain light hung about the field which was to be the scene of the
conflict. It was one of those bright nights when the very aspect of
nature suggests thoughts of the Eternal and the Infinite; when the most
untutored being, gazing up into the deep blue void, finds his mind
struggle vainly to grasp the hidden secrets those depths conceal; when
the soul seems to claim her birthright, and dreams of an existence
boundless, illimitable, as the starry wastes around. Such were, perhaps,
the ideas which animated the philosophers of the old heathen world when
they placed their departed heroes amongst the constellations; such,
perhaps, the thoughts which led the dying apostate Julian to bid his
followers weep no more for a prince about to be numbered with the stars.

Thoughts of peace would those radiant orbs have spoken, under any other
circumstances, to the ardent youth as he gazed upon them; but now they
oppressed him with the consciousness that he was at enmity with the
mighty Unknown, that he was in danger, such danger as he could not
comprehend; not that which comes from the lance point or the sword
blade, but danger which fills the soul with the consciousness of its
existence, yet is impalpable, not having revealed itself, only its presence.

"Goodnight, Elfric," said Edwy, as they reached the camp on their
return; "goodnight. I hope you will be in better spirits in the morning."

Edwy retired within the folds which concealed the entrance to his own
tent. Close by was the tent appointed for Elfric, who acted as his page;
and the latter entered also, and sat down on a camp stool.

His bed did not seem to invite him; he sat on the seat, his face buried
in his hands; then he suddenly rose, threw himself on his knees, only
for a moment, rose up again:

"I can't, I can't pray; if my fate be death, then come death and welcome
the worst. There will at least be nothing hidden then, nothing behind
the scenes. I will not be a coward."

The phrase was not yet written--"Conscience makes cowards of us all;"
yet how true the principle then as now--true before Troy's renown had
birth, true in these days of modern civilisation.

He could not sleep peacefully, although he laid himself down; his hands
moved in the air, as if to drive off some unseen enemy, as if the danger
whose presence was impalpable to the waking mind revealed itself in sleep.

"No, no" he muttered; "let the blow fall on me, on me, on me alone!"
then he rose as if he would defend some third person from the attack of
an enemy, and the word "Father" once or twice escaped his lips; yet he
was only dreaming.

"Father!" again he cried, in the accents of warning, as if some imminent
danger menaced the loved one.

He awoke, stared about, hardly recognising where he was.

"What can I have been dreaming about?" he cried; "what can it all mean?
I thought I was at Aescendune;" and he strove vainly to recall the
scenes of his dream.

The tread of the passing guard was the only sound which broke the
stillness of the camp.

"I cannot sleep," said Elfric, and walked forth.

The night was waning, and in the east a red glow was creeping upwards;
the stars were, however, still brilliant. Opposite, at the distance of
less than a mile, the reflection of the camp fires, now low, revealed
the presence of the enemy; before him the mist slowly arose in white
thin smoke-like wreaths, from the grass whereon many should soon sleep
their last sleep, now in unconsciousness of their fate.

"I wonder where I shall lie?" thought Elfric, as if it were certain he
would fall.

He felt cooler now, as the hour drew near; he watched the red light
creeping upward, and saw the light clouds above catch the glow, until
the birds began their songs, the glorious orb arose to gild the coming
strife, and the shrill trumpet in the camp was answered by the distant
notes in the camp of the foe, like an echo afar off.


    CHAPTER XVII. THE SLEEP OF PEACE.

The first day after the departure of the king from Aescendune passed
rapidly away. The soldiers who had remained behind with Redwald were
quiet and orderly in their demeanour, and even, in obedience to secret
orders, attended the evensong at the minster church, as if moved thereto
by devotion, although the curious spectator might easily discover the
unaccustomed character of their service, by the difficulty with which
they followed the prayers, and the uneasy impatience with which they
listened to a lengthened exposition of a portion of the Anglo-Saxon
version of the Gospels from Father Cuthbert.

The old thane and all his family were very anxious, it may be readily
believed, for the earliest news from the field of battle, for battle
every one agreed was impending; and, to gratify their natural curiosity.
Redwald sent out quick and alert members of his troop, to act as
messengers, and bear speedy news from the scene of action.

The night set in clear and bright, as we have already seen; and while
poor Elfric was wandering about uneasily beneath that brilliant sky, the
same stars looked down peacefully upon his home, where all slept sweetly
under the fostering care, as they would have said, of their guardian angels.

The morn broke brightly, and with every promise of a fine harvest day.
The labourers were speedily again in the fields; the cattle wandered
under the herdsman's care to their distant pastures; the subdued
tinkling of the sheep bells met the ear, and the other subdued sounds
which soothe the air on a summer's day; and so the hours fled by, and no
one would have dreamed that, not twenty miles away, man met man in the
fierce and deadly struggle of war.

When the reapers assembled for their midday meal, they discussed the
merits of the quarrel, and nearly all those who had been brought under
the eye of "Edwy the Fair" were eager in pleading his cause, and trying
to find some extenuation of his misdeeds in the matter of the illegal
marriage, for such it was, from the mildest point of view; and scarcely
a voice was raised on the opposite side, until Ella drew near the scene
of conversation, and observed that "while God forbid they should judge
the matter harshly, yet law was law, and right was right, and a
beautiful face or winsome look could not change it."

Strolling near the field, seemingly absorbed in thought, walked Redwald,
and seeing the reapers, he came towards them.

"A picture of peaceful enjoyment," he quietly said. "How often have I
wished I could but lay down sword and lance to take more innocent
weapons in hand, and to spend my declining days 'mid scenes like these."

"Indeed!" said Ella. "It is generally thought that men whose trade is
war love their calling."

"Yes; sometimes the fierce din of battle seems a pastime fit for the
gods, but the banquet is apt to cloy."

"Have you followed your profession for many years?"

"Since I was a mere child; even my boyhood was passed amid the din of arms."

There were very few professional soldiers in that day, and they were
much dreaded. An Englishman was always ready to take up arms when
lawfully called by his feudal superior, or when home or civil rights
were in danger, but he generally laid them down and returned to his
fields with joy; hence the rustics looked upon a man like Redwald with
much undisguised curiosity.

"Think you we shall soon hear from the contending parties?" asked
Alfred, who was, as usual, in attendance upon his father.

"Perhaps by nightfall; one of my men has just returned to tell me that
the king's progress was stopped by an entrenched camp of the rebels, and
that they expected to fight at early dawn."

The news was unexpected, and every one felt his heart beat more quickly.

"I have a messenger already on the spot, and so soon as the royal forces
have gained the victory he will speed hither as fast as four legs can
bring him; we shall probably hear by eventide."

It is needless to say how every one panted for the decisive news. Ella
and Alfred soon returned to the castle, and Redwald took his horse, and
rode out, as he said, to meet the messenger.

The hours seemed to pass more slowly; the sun drew near the west, the
shadows lengthened; and Ella, with the lady Edith, Alfred, Edgitha, and
all the members of the little society, could hardly bend their minds to
any occupation, mental or physical. Elfric was ever in their thoughts.

"O Ella!" said his wife, "this suspense is very hard to bear; I long to
hear about our boy."

The mother's heart was bound up in him, as if there were no other life
in danger that day; Edwy or Edgar, it was little to her in comparison
with her longing for her first-born son.

"He is in God's Hands, dearest!" returned her husband; "and in better
Hands than ours."

Well might the thoughts of the lady Edith be concentrated on the crisis
before her. She had borne, with a mother's wounded heart, the separation
of three years, and now it was a question of a few short hours whether
she should ever see him again or not. Now fancy painted him wounded, nay
dying, on the bloodstained field; now it impelled her to sally forth
towards the scene, as though her feeble strength could bear her to him.
Now she sought the chapel, and found refuge in prayer. She had found
refuge many many hours of that eventful day, but especially since
Redwald had borne the news of the imminent battle.

At length the long suspense was ended. Redwald was seen riding at full
speed towards the castle, followed by the long-expected messenger.

"Victory! victory!" he cried; "the rebels are defeated; the king shall
enjoy his own."

"But Elfric, my son! my son!"

"Is safe: and will be here in a day or two, perhaps tomorrow."

"Thank God!" and the overcharged heart found relief in tears--happy
tears of joy.

The messenger who followed Redwald brought detailed accounts of the
event. According to his statements it appeared that the king had broken
through the hostile entrenchment, and had scattered their forces in the
first attack. The messenger particularly asserted that he had seen
Elfric, and had been charged with the fondest messages for home, where
the youth hoped to be in a few days at the latest, seeing there was no
longer an enemy to fear.

The hearts of all present were filled with thankfulness and joy.

"Come, my beloved Edith," said the old thane. "Let us go first to thank
God;" and they went together to the chapel which had witnessed so many
earnest prayers that day--now, they believed, so fully answered.

All gloom and despondency seemed removed, and Ella went forth to walk
alone in the woods, to meditate in silence on the goodness of God.
Nearly each evening this had been his habit. The woods, he said, were
God's first temples, and when alone he best raised his heart from nature
to nature's God.

His thoughts were happy that evening: his first-born boy would be
restored to him, and, like the father in the Gospels, he longed to
embrace the prodigal, and to tell him that all was forgiven. But he
schooled himself to patience, and many a fervent thanksgiving did he
offer as he wandered amidst the grassy glades.

But he was more weary than usual with the toil and anxiety of the day,
and shortly seated himself upon a mossy bank beneath an aged oak. The
trees grew thickly behind and before him, on each side of the glade,
which terminated at no great distance in the heart of the pathless
forest, so that no occasional wayfarer would be likely to pass that way.

There he reposed, until a gentle slumber stole over him and buried all
his senses in oblivion.

The day was nearly spent, the light clouds which still reflected the
sun's ruddy glow were fast fading into a grey neutral tint, and darkness
was approaching. Once a timid deer passed along the glade, and started
as it beheld the sleeping form, then went on, but started yet more
violently as it passed a thicket on the opposite side. The night breeze
had arisen and was blowing freshly; but still the old man slept on, as
though he slept that sleep from which none shall awaken until the
archangel's trump.

Meanwhile they grew uneasy at the hall over his prolonged absence, and
at length Alfred started to find his father, beginning to fear that the
excitement of the day had been too great for him, and that he might need
assistance. He knew the favourite glade wherein the aged thane was wont
to walk, and the mossy bank whereon he frequently reposed, so he lost no
time, but bent his steps directly for the spot.

As he drew near, he saw his father lying on the bank beneath the oak as
still in sound sleep, and marvelled that the chilly air of the evening
had not awoke him. He was not wont to sleep thus soundly. He approached
closely, but his steps did not arouse the sleeper. He now bent over him,
and put his hand on his shoulder affectionately and lovingly.

"Father, awake," he said; "the night is coming on; you will take cold."

But there was no answering voice, and the sleeper stirred not. Alfred
became seriously alarmed, but his alarm changed suddenly into dread
certainty. The feathered shaft of an arrow met his eye, dimly seen in
the darkness, as it stuck in the left side of the sleeping Ella.
Sleeping, indeed. But the sleep was eternal.

Horrified at the sight, refusing to believe his eyes, the son first
continued his vain attempts to awake his sire, then fell on his knees,
and wrung his hands while he cried piteously, "O father, speak to me!"
as if he could not accept the fact that those lips would never salute
him more. The moonbeams fell on that calm face, calm as if in sleep,
without a spasm of pain, without the contraction of a line of the
countenance. The weapon had pierced through the heart; death had been
instantaneous, and the sleeper had passed from the sleep of this earth
to that which is sweetly called "sleep in the Lord," without a struggle
or a pang.

His heart full of joy and thanksgiving, he had gone to carry his tribute
of praise to the very throne of God.

When the first paroxysm of pain and grief was over, the necessity of
summoning some further aid, of bearing the sad news to his home, pressed
itself upon the mind of Alfred, and he took his homeward road alone, as
if he hardly knew what he was doing, but simply obeyed instinct. Arrived
there, he could not tell his mother or sister; he only sought the
chamberlain and the steward, and begged them to come forth with him, and
said something had happened to his father. They went forth.

"We must carry something to bear him home," he said, and they took a
framework of wood upon which they threw some bearskins.

Alfred did not speak during the whole way, save that in answer to the
anxious inquiries of his companions he replied, "You will see!" and they
could but infer the worst from his manner, without giving him the pain
of telling the fatal truth.

At length they reached the glade where the dead body lay. The moon was
bright, and in her light they saw the fatal truth at once.

"Alas, my master! alas, my dear lord! Who has done this? Who could have
done it?" was their cry. "Was there one who did not love and revere him?"

More demonstrative than Alfred had been were they in their lamentations,
for the deepest grief is often the most silent.

At length they raised the body, the temple of so pure and holy a spirit,
which had now returned to the God Who gave it, reverently as men would
have handled the relics of some martyr saint, and placed it on the bier
which they had prepared. Then they began their homeward route, and ere a
long time had passed they stood before the great gate of the castle with
their burden.

It now became a necessity for Alfred to announce the sad news to his
widowed mother; and here the power of language fails us--the shock was
so sudden, so unexpected. The half of her life was so suddenly torn from
the bereaved one, that the pang was well-nigh insupportable. But God
tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, and has promised that the strength
of His beloved ones shall be even as their day. So He strengthened the
sensitive frame to bear a shock which otherwise might have slain it.

The sounds of lamentation and woe were heard all over the castle as they
slowly bore the body to the domestic chapel, while some drew near,
impelled by an irresistible desire to gaze upon it, and then cried aloud
in excess of woe. Amongst the others, Redwald approached, and gazed
fixedly upon the corpse; and Eric the steward often declared, in later
days, that he saw the wound bleed afresh under the glance of the
ruthless warrior, but perhaps this was an afterthought.

Father Cuthbert, who had now been elected prior of the monastic house
below, on the banks of the river, soon heard the sad news, and hastened
up to tender the sweet consolations of religion--the only solace at
such a time, for it is in seasons of suffering that we best comprehend
the Cross.

When he entered he saw the corpse in the chapel, where they had placed
it before the altar, and he could only say, "Alas, my lord! alas, my
dear friend!" until he knelt down to pray, and rose up somewhat calmed.

Then he sought the chamber where the lady Edith hid her woe, and there
he showed her that God was love, hard though it was sometimes for the
frail flesh to see it; and he bade her look to the Divine Sufferer of
Whom it is said, "In all their afflictions He was afflicted;" and so by
his gentle ministrations he brought calm to the troubled breast, and it
seemed as if one had said to the waves of grief, "Peace, be still."

And then he gathered the household to prayer, and while they prayed many
a "_Requiescat_" for the faithful soul, as they said the dirge
commending to the Fathers Hands a sheep of His fold, so they also prayed
for strength to see the love which was hidden behind all this sad, sad
visitation, and to know the meaning of the words "Though He slay me, yet
will I trust in Him."

And then he bade them rest--those, at least, who were able to do so--
while he watched by the body, as was then the custom, all through the
deep night.

And so the stars which had looked down from heaven so peacefully upon
the house of Aescendune the night before, of which we wrote, now looked
down as coldly bright as if no change had occurred, shining alike upon
weal or woe, upon crime or holy deed of saint. Yet as the kneeling friar
saw them through the chapel window, he thought they were but the golden
lights which lay about the confines of that happy region where the
faithful live in unspeakable felicity for ever with their Lord, and he
found consolation in the thought of the Eternal and the Infinite.


    CHAPTER XVIII. THE BATTLE.

The early morn, as we have already seen, broke upon the adverse hosts of
Edwy and Edgar as the trumpet sounded to arouse them from their
slumbers, in many instances from the last slumber they should ever enjoy.

Every soldier was on his legs in a moment, and, in the first place,
preparations were made for breakfast: for it was a recognised fact
amongst our ancestors that if you wanted a man to fight or do anything
else well, you must feed him well first. So the care of the body was
never neglected, however pressing the danger.

Accordingly, Edwy called Elfric to sit by his side at the substantial
meal which commenced the day, and saw, with much pleasure, that the
cloud had partly passed from his friend's brow for the hope of immediate
action, of the excitement of battle, had done much to drive lowness and
depression from the young warrior. So he strove to chat and laugh with
the loudest, and when the moment came to marshal the host, and to put
them in array, his spirits were as high as in old times.

The cavalry, which was their strongest arm, was under the command of
Edwy himself, although a sturdy warrior, who had fought in many a
battle, rode on his right hand to supply his lack of experience.

The main body of the infantry was under the command of Earl Cynewulf,
while the reserve was under the command of Redwald's immediate
subordinate, and consisted almost exclusively of the household guard.

The plan of attack, for it was quite decided that they should take the
initiative, was simple, and in accordance with the ordinary tactics of
the times. The heavy-armed foot were bidden first to advance upon the
entrenchments which crowned the opposite hill, and to break the infantry
of the enemy, which was drawn up before them in formidable array; this
done, the horse were immediately to avail themselves of the opening thus
made, and the entrenchments to be assaulted by both cavalry and infantry.

Armed with huge axes, clad in mail, and bearing large shields, the foot
advanced to the attack. They were a gallant company; and as the sun
shone upon their glittering armour, or was reflected back from the
bright steel of their axes, they might well inspire faint hearts with
terror; but faint hearts were not amongst those opposed to them. The
chosen men of the northwest, some of half-British blood, crowned the
opposite hill, drawn up in front of their entrenchments, as if they
scorned any other defence than that supplied by their living valour.
They had borrowed their tactics from the Danes: deep and strong on all
sides, they seemed to oppose an impenetrable wall to the foe; they had
their shields to oppose to darts or arrows, their axes for the footmen,
their spears to form a hedge of steel no horse could surmount.

Even should they yield to the pressure, still all would not be lost;
their retreat was secured into the entrenchments, and there they might
well hope to detain the enemy until the whole population should rise
against the men of Wessex and their leader, and his cause become hopeless.

Steadily up the hill came the brave troops of Edwy, and from within
their ranks, as they ascended the slope, a shower of arrows was
discharged by the archers who accompanied them, under their protection;
but no return was yet made by the foe, until they were close at hand,
when a loud war cry burst from the hostile ranks, and a perfect shower
of darts and arrows rained upon the invaders.

Still they persevered, although they left a living, struggling line on
the bloody grass behind them--persevered, like men longing for the
close hand-to-hand encounter, longing to grasp their foes in deadly
grip. The shock arrived; and axe and sword were busy in reaping the
harvest of death. So great was the physical strength of the combatants
that arms and legs were mown off by a stroke, and men were cloven in
two, from the crown downwards, by the sweeping blows of the deadly steel.

It was a fearful struggle, but it was a short one; the line was unshaken
in its strength; in vain Edwy's archers behind shot their arrows so as
to curve over the heads of their brethren and fall amongst the foe; the
men of Wessex recoiled and gave way.

Edwy seized what he thought the auspicious moment when the ranks of the
foe, although unbroken, were yet weary and breathless, and ordered his
cavalry to charge. The Mercians beheld the coming storm at a distance;
down on their knees went the first line, their spears resting on the
ground; behind them the second bent over to strike with their axes;
while a third rank, the archers, drew their bows, and prepared to
welcome the rushing enemy with a discharge of deadly arrows.

Every heart beat quickly as the fatal moment came near; onward, with a
sound like thunder, galloped the horse of Edwy. He himself rode at their
head, clad in light armour, and by his side Elfric. All trace of fear
was gone now in the mad excitement of the charge; before them they saw
the wail of spear points; nearer and nearer their coursers bounded,
until they seemed to fly. Every rider leant forward, that his sword
might smite as far as possible; and, daring the points, trusting perhaps
to the breastplates of their horses and their own ready blades, they
rushed madly upon the foe.

In cold blood no one could, perhaps, have ridden fearlessly against such
an obstacle; but in the excitement of the moment the warriors of Edwy
seemed capable of charging any imaginable barrier: and it became almost
a pure calculation, not of the respective bravery of the troops, for
none were cowards on either side, but of mere physical laws of force and
resistance.

Elfric scarcely looked where he was going. He saw a shining lance point,
about to impale him, he diverted it by his sword blade, as he was
hurried into the midst of axes, swords, lances, and beheld the warrior
opposite to him in the second rank raise his axe to inflict a fearful
blow, which would have severed his horse's neck, had not an arrow
transfixed the foe.

The wedge seemed partly broken, and the king had begun to exult in the
anticipation of speedy victory, when from behind each end of the
entrenchment rushed two bodies of hostile cavalry; they fell upon Edwy's
forces in the rear, and in a few moments all was confusion.

The warriors of Edgar rallied, drove the horse out of their lines,
advanced slowly, and the horsemen of the rival brothers, mingled
together in deadly strife, in personal combat, where each man seemed to
have sought and found his individual foe.

They moved slowly down the bill towards the brook, man after man falling
and dotting the green sward of the hill with struggling, writhing bodies.

Meanwhile, Cynewulf was attempting to rally the flying foot, which had
been cut almost in two by the charge of the Mercian cavalry: he
succeeded, with great difficulty, in doing so at the brook which ran
along the bottom of the valley, and, with the stream in their front,
they prepared to afford a refuge to their own, and to resist the hostile
horse.

Edwy saw the opportunity, and, raising himself in his stirrups, called
upon his friends to follow him: he leapt the brook, and galloped round
behind the foot, where nearly all the unwounded horsemen followed him.
He had fought well, had slain more than one foe with his own royal hand,
as became a descendant of Cerdic, and now he but retired to organise
another and stouter resistance to the daring foe.

But he was forced to admit now that Cynewulf was right in his
conjecture, and that they were utterly outnumbered, for the foe poured
forth from their entrenchment and advanced in good order down the slope;
while the Mercian cavalry, forming in two detachments to the left and
right, crossed the brook and charged along its banks upon the flanks of
the Wessex infantry, at the same moment.

The warrior upon whose advice Edwy had been told to depend had fallen:
he was left to his own resources. Alas! he forgot he was a commander,
and, waving his plumed cap as a signal for his brother knights to
follow, charged upon the horsemen who were advancing up stream at like
speed, forgetting that a similar body was advancing in the opposite
direction, and that as all his force were following his lead, the
opposite flank of the foot was unprotected.

In a single minute they were all engaged in the fiercest melee which
imagination can well paint, fighting as furiously as men of the same
blood only seem to fight when once the claims of kindred are cast aside.
Swords ascended and descended with deadly violence; horses raised
themselves up on their hind legs, and, catching the deadly enthusiasm,
seemed to engage their fellows; riders fell, sternly repressing the
groan which pain would extort, while their steeds, less self controlled,
uttered, when wounded, those ear-piercing cries only heard from the
animals in deadly terror or pain.

In the midst of this tumult Elfric engaged a Mercian of superior size
and strength; it was his second personal encounter; in his first, he had
seen his adversary fall with a warrior's stern joy, but now he was
overmatched; borne down by an arm twice as strong as his own, his guard
was broken down, and a deadly blow laid open his shoulder, cutting the
veins in the neck of his horse at the same fell sweep. The animal,
blinded with blood, staggered, fell, and he was down amongst the horses'
feet, confined by one leg, for his horse rolled partly upon him in its
dying struggles; while he felt the hoofs of other chargers in close
proximity to his heed.

A loud cry, "They fly! They fly! Victory! Victory!" reached him even
then. He well knew from which party the cries must proceed, and that he
was left to the mercy of the victorious Mercians.

It was even so; the charge of the hostile cavalry on the left flank had
broken down the ranks of the infantry on that side; the hostile foot had
contrived to cross the brook in the confusion, and all was lost.

The reserve now came rapidly forward, but, seeing at a glance the state
of things, retired to defend the entrenched camp, so as to give the king
and his broken and routed followers time to escape, while they made good
the defence with their lives. So they retired at once into the camp,
whither Edwy and his few surviving companions galloped a moment after them.

Edwy was unhurt; he dismounted: his fair face flushed to a fiery red
with heat and excitement, he leapt on the entrenchment and looked on the
plain. He saw those of his own followers who had not yet made good their
escape, ridden down, cut to pieces, slaughtered in the excitement of the
moment without mercy; the sight stung him, be would have sallied out to
their defence, but Cynewulf, who was yet living, met him in the gateway,
and sternly seized the bridle of his steed.

"My lord and king," he said; "your life is precious to Wessex, you may
not throw it away."

"I cannot see my followers slaughtered: loose my bridle, I command you;"
and he raised his sword impetuously.

"You may cut me down, and so reward my faithful service; but, living,
you shall not pass me on your road to destruction. My lord, I am old
enough to be your father."

But there was one gay young noble present, who knew better than Cynewulf
the key to Edwy's heart. He was one of the boon companions we have been
before introduced to; but he had fought, poor young fellow, gallantly
all that day, and now he could fight no longer: Edwy saw him reel and
fall from his horse.

"Elfgar!" he said; as he strove to raise his friend and subject from the
ground--"not seriously wounded I hope!"

"Dying, and for my king, as is my duty let a dying voice reach you, my
dear lord. Save yourself if you would save Elgiva, if you--if you--"
the words came broken and faint "--are slain, she will be at the mercy
of her deadly foes."

His head fell helplessly down upon his shoulder, and ere the king could
make any reply, he saw that he was indeed past hope.

But his dying words had sunk deeply into the heart of Edwy.

"Poor Elfgar! he was right. O Elgiva! Elgiva! this is a sad day for thee."

"Return then to her, my lord," said Cynewulf. "See, they are preparing
now to assault the camp; I can hold it for hours, and if you are not
here, I can make good terms with our foes; but, if you stay, you but
embarrass us: ride out, my liege."

"And desert my subjects?"

"They will all acquit you: haste, my lord, haste, before they surround
the camp, for your fair queen's sake, or you are lost."

"Come, my men, we must fly," said Edwy, sullenly; and he led the way
reluctantly to the back of the camp.

The road was partly encumbered with fugitives, but not wholly, as most
of them sought the entrenched camp. Cynewulf accompanied him to the
gate, where he stopped to give one last piece of advice.

"Fly, my lord, for Wessex at once; lose no time; the best route will be
the Foss Way; they will not suspect that you have taken that direction.
Ride day and night; if you delay anywhere you are lost."

"Farewell, faithful and wise counsellor. Odin and Thor send that we may
meet again;" and Edwy with only a dozen followers rode out at full speed.

The Mercians had not yet reached that side of the camp, which was
concealed by woods which were clear of all enemies, and he rode on rapidly.

"What has become of Elfric, my Leofric?" he said to one of his faithful
train.

"I fear me he is dead: I saw him fall in the last struggle."

"Poor Elfric! poor Elfric! then his forebodings have come true; he will
never see his father again."

"It is all fortune and fate, and none can resist his doom, my lord,"
said Leofric.

"But Elfric; yes, I loved Elfric. I would I had never left that fatal
field."

"Think, my lord, of Elgiva."

"Yes, Elgiva--she is left to me and left all is left. Ride faster,
Leofric, I fancy I hear pursuers."

They had, at Cynewulf's suggestion, taken fresh horses from the reserve,
and had little cause to fear pursuit. In an hour they reached the Foss
Way and rode along the route described in our former chapter, until,
reaching the frontiers of the territory of the old Dobuni, they left the
Foss, and rode by the Roman trackway which we have previously described,
until they turned into a road which brought them deep into Oxfordshire.
Here they were in a territory which had been a debateable land between
Mercia and Wessex, where the sympathies of the people were not strongly
enlisted on either side and they were comparatively safe.

They passed Kirtlington; rested at Oxenford, then rode through
Dorchester and Bensington to Reading, whence they struck southward for
Winchester, where Edwy rested from his fatigue in the society of Elgiva.

So ended the ill-advised raid into Mercia.


    CHAPTER XIX. EARTH TO EARTH, AND DUST TO DUST.

Although Edwy and his little troop had been successful in gaining the
main road, and in escaping into Wessex, yet few of his followers had
been so fortunate, and his broken forces were seeking safety and escape
in all directions, wanderers in a hostile country. A large number found
a refuge in the entrenched camp; but it was surrounded by the foe in
less than half-an-hour after the king's escape, and all ingress or
egress was thenceforth impossible.

While one large body fled eastward towards the Watling Street, the
soldiers who had accompanied the king to Aescendune naturally turned
their thoughts in that direction. It was, as they had seen, capable of a
long defence--well provisioned, and already partly garrisoned; nor
could they doubt the joy with which their old companions would receive
them, either to share in the defence of the post, or to accompany them
in an honourable retreat southward.

So, not only those who survived of the fifty who had left Aescendune the
previous morning, but all whom they could persuade to join them,
actuated separately by the same considerations, made their way in small
detachments through the forest towards the hall. Redwald had thoroughly
earned the confidence of all his warriors, and they would follow him to
death or victory with equal devotion. Now, in adversity, they only
sought to put themselves once more under the rule of their talented and
daring chieftain.

Therefore it was that while Father Cuthbert was yet kneeling in the
chapel, where the body of the departed thane had been placed, the
devotions of the good priest were disturbed by the blowing of horns and
the loud shout whereby the first fugitives sought admittance into the
castle.

Redwald had also been up nearly all night pacing his room, muttering
incoherently to himself. Over and over again he regarded intently a
locket containing a solitary tress of grey hair, and once or twice the
word "Avenged" rose to his lips.

"And they little know," said he, soliloquising, "who the avenger is, or
what have been his wrongs; little know they how the dead is represented
in the halls of his sire--blind! blind! Whichever way the victory
eventually turn, he is avenged."

While he thus soliloquised he was aroused by the same noise which had
disturbed Father Cuthbert's devotions, and, recognising its source,
betook himself to the gateway, where some of his own soldiers were on
guard, who, true to discipline, awaited his permission to allow their
comrades to enter: it is needless to say it was readily given.

Broken and dispirited was the little troop of ten or a dozen men, who
first appeared in this manner after the fight; their garments torn and
bloody, some of them wounded, they yet raised a shout of joy as they saw
their trusted leader.

"Whence come ye, my comrades in arms?" said he, "and what are your news
--you look like men who have fled from battle."

"We did not fly till all was lost."

The countenance of Redwald indicated some little emotion, though it was
transient as the lightning's flash in the summer night.

"The king--is it well with him?"

"He has fled with a small troop to the south."

"Saw you aught of Elfric of Aescendune?"

"He fell in the last charge of the cavalry."

"Dead?"

"We think so."

"How is it that you have suffered yourselves to be beaten?"

"Had you been there it might have ended differently. We became the
aggressors, and attacked a superior force, while they had all the
advantage of ground."

"Come in. You must first have some food and wine; then you shall tell me
all. We may need your help here, and shall be glad of every able-bodied
man."

"More are on the road."

And so it proved, for party after party continued to fall in. The solemn
quiet, which so well befitted the house of mourning, was banished by the
presence of the soldiery in such large numbers, for early in the day
nearly a hundred and fifty were gathered together, and accommodation
threatened to fall short.

Under these circumstances the lady Edith became very anxious that either
the departure of her unwelcome guests should be hastened, or that the
loved remains should be removed at once to the priory church, where she
could bemoan her grief in quiet solitude, and be alone with her beloved
and God. There seemed no rest or peace possible in the hall, and Redwald
was apportioning all the accommodation to his followers as they came,
preserving only the private apartments of the lady Edith from intrusion.

She was still expecting the arrival of Elfric, for Redwald had not
communicated the news he had received, and she did not even know that
King Edwy had been defeated; so absorbed was she in her grief, that she
did not note the thousand little circumstances which might have told her
as much.

But before the hour of terce, Alfred came into the room where she was
seated with her daughter, and she saw by his troubled countenance that
he had something to communicate which pained him to tell.

"Elfric!" she said--"he is well?"

"He has not come yet, my mother; and I grieve to say that we were
deceived yesterday--deceived about the battle."

"How so?"

"The king was defeated; he has fled southward, and there has been a
great slaughter."

"But Elfric?"

"No one can tell me anything about him," said Alfred, wringing his
hands. "Mother, you must leave this place."

"Leave our home--and now?"

"They talk of defending it against the forces of the Etheling Edgar, who
has been declared king; and we should all be in great danger."

"But will they stay here against our will?"

"Yes; for they say their lives depend upon it, that the Mercians scour
all the country round about, that all the roads are now occupied and
guarded, so that they can only hope to defend this place until they can
make terms with the King of Mercia, as they call Edgar, who is likely to
be acknowledged by all north of the Thames. The curse of the Church is,
they say, upon Edwy."

"Father Cuthbert is still here, is he not?--what does he advise? where
shall we go?"

"He says we can have the old house in which he, and the mass-thanes [xxix]
before him, lived while as yet the priory was incomplete
or unbuilt. It is very comfortable, and close to the church."

"But to take him so soon from his home!"

"They will place him in God's house, before the altar; there could not
be a better place where they or we could wish his dear remains to await
the last rites upon earth."

At that moment Father Cuthbert entered the room unannounced.

"Pardon me, my revered lady," he began; "but I grieve to say that your
safety demands instant action, and must excuse my intrusion; your life
and liberty are no longer safe here."

"Life and liberty?"

"There is some foul plot to detain you all here, on pretence your safety
requires it. I have been this morning to Redwald, and he refuses
permission for any one to leave the place, asserting that thus only can
he assure your safety. Now, it is plain that if the place comes to be
besieged you would be far safer in the priory or the old priests' house.
Our own countrymen would not injure us."

"He will not detain us by force?"

"I would not trust to that; but we must meet guile by guile. I have
pretended to be content on your behalf and he is just going to leave the
hall, with the greater part of his followers, to collect provisions and
cattle. I have told him that the Grange farm is well stocked; he has
caught the bait, and is going to superintend the work of spoliation in
person: far better, in the present need, that he should rob the estate
than that a hair of your head or of those of your children should perish."

"But why do you suspect him of evil?"

"I cannot tell you now. I have overheard dark, dark speeches. So soon as
he has gone, Alfred and I must summon all your own people who are in the
hall. We will then bring the body forth, and follow it ourselves; as we
shall outnumber those left behind I do not imagine they will dare, in
his absence, to interfere with our progress."

"I will go at once," said Alfred, "and summon the household."

"No; you would be observed. I am older and perhaps a little more
discreet. Stay with your mother till all is ready."

Alfred reluctantly obeyed, and Father Cuthbert went forth. So great was
their anxiety that it almost banished the power of prayer, save such
mental shafts as could be sent heavenward in each interval of thought.

At last Alfred, who was at the window, saw Redwald and his followers--
nearly a hundred in number--leave the castle and ride across towards
the forest in the direction of the farm in question. Another moment and
Father Cuthbert entered.

"Are you ready? If so, follow me."

He took them by a private passage into the chapel, where four men
already stood by the bier, ready to head the procession, and thirty or
forty others were gathered in the chapel or about the door--their own
vassals, good and true. They all were armed.

Father Cuthbert ascended the wooden tower above the chapel, which served
as a bell cot. He looked from its windows; the party of Redwald had
disappeared behind the trees.

He came down and gave the signal. The sad procession started; they
descended the steps to the courtyard. Redwald had left some forty or
fifty men behind--men who had grown old in arms, and who, if they had
pleased, might perhaps have stopped the exit, but they were not
sufficiently in the confidence of their leader to take the initiative;
and the only man who was in his confidence, and whom he had charged to
see that no one departed, was fortunately at that moment in another part
of the building. The sentinel at the drawbridge was one of Redwald's
troop. He menaced opposition, and refused to let the drawbridge be
peaceably lowered.

"Art thou a Christian?" said Father Cuthbert, coming forward in his
priestly attire, "and dost thou presume to interfere with a servant of
the Lord and to delay a funeral?"

"I must obey my orders."

"Then I will excommunicate thee, and deliver thy soul to Satan."

And he began to utter some awful Latin imprecation, which so aroused the
superstition of the sentinel that he made no further opposition, which
perhaps saved his life, for the retainers of Aescendune were meditating
instant violence, indignant at the delay and the outrage to their lady.

They themselves let the drawbridge down and guarded the sad cortege over
the plain. Their numbers increased every moment, and before they reached
the neighbourhood of the priory they had little cause to fear any
attack, should Redwald have arrived and have been rash enough to attempt
one.

The old parsonage house, which had served for the residence of each
successive parish prior or mass-thane, was a large and commodious
building, containing all such accommodation as the family absolutely
required in the emergency, while furniture, provision and comforts of
all kinds were sent over from the priory, for the good fathers did not
forget at this hour of need that they owed their own home to the
liberality of Ella and his father.

So when they had deposited the loved remains before the altar of the
church, and had knelt a brief season in prayer, the exiled family took
possession of their temporary home. It was hard--very hard--to give
up their loved dwelling at such a season of affliction, but the dread
which Redwald had somehow inspired made it a great relief to be removed
from his immediate presence.

Yet they could give no reason for the feeling they all shared. Father
Cuthbert evidently suspected, or knew, things which he as yet concealed
from them.

"Who could have slain the husband and father?"

This was the unanswered question. Their suspicions could only turn to
Redwald or some of his crew: no marauders were known to lurk in the
forest; there was, they felt assured, not one of his own people who
would not have died in his defence. Again, it was not the lust of gold
which had suggested the deed, for they had found the gold chain he wore
untouched. What then could have been the motive of the murderer?

Father Cuthbert had found a solution, which was based upon sad
experience of the traditional feuds so frequently handed down from
father to son. Still he would not suggest further cause of disquietude,
and added no further words.

The utter uncertainty about Elfric was another cause of uneasiness.
Whether he had gone southward with the king, or had fallen on the
battlefield, they knew not; or whether he had surrendered with the
prisoners taken in the entrenched camp, and who had been all admitted to
mercy.

In the course of the morning they saw Redwald return, laden with the
spoils of the Grange farm--oxen and sheep, waggons containing corn,
driven before him. What passed within on his entrance they could not
tell; how narrow their escape they knew not--were not even certain it
had been an escape at all.

It was now determined that the interment should take place on the
morrow, and the intelligence was communicated rapidly to all the tenantry.

Hourly they expected the forces of Mercia to appear, and exact a heavy
account from Redwald for his offences. He was supposed to be the
instigator of the expedition which had failed so utterly; it was not
likely that he would be allowed to retain Aescendune a long time. The
only surprise people felt was that he should have dared to remain at the
post when all hope of successful resistance had ceased. He had his own
reasons, which they knew not.

Under these circumstances it seemed desirable to hurry forward the
interment, lest it should be interfered with from without, in the
confusion of hostile operations against the hall.

The priory church was a noble but irregular structure, of great size for
those days. The cunning architect from the Continent, who had designed
it, had far surpassed the builders of ordinary churches in the grandeur
of his conception. The lofty roof, the long choir beyond the transept,
gave the idea of magnitude most forcibly, and added dignity to the
design. In the south transept was a chapel dedicated especially to St.
Cuthbert, where the aged Offa reposed, and the mother of Ella. There
they had removed the body to await the last solemn rites. Six large wax
tapers burned around it, and watchers were there day and night--
mourners who had loved him well, and felt that in him they had lost a
dear friend.

The wife, the son, or the daughter, were ever there, but seldom alone.
For when the monks in the choir were not saying the canonical hours, or
the low mass was not being said at one of the side altars, still the
voice of intercession arose, with its burden:

"Eternal rest give unto him, O Lord,
And let perpetual light shine upon him."

At length the morning came, the second only after death. The
neighbouring thanes whom the troubled times did not detain at home, the
churls of the estate, the thralls, crowded the precincts of the minster,
as the solemn bell tolled the deep funeral knell. At length the monks
poured into the church, while the solemn "_Domino refugium_" arose from
their lips--the same grand words which for these thousand years past
have told of the eternity of God and the destiny of the creature;
speaking as deeply to the heart then as in these days of civilisation.

The mourners entered, Alfred supporting his widowed mother, who had
summoned all her fortitude to render the last sad offices to her dear
lord; her daughter, a few distant relations--there were none nearer of
kin. The bier, with its precious burden, was placed in the centre before
the high altar. Six monks, bearing torches, knelt around it. A pall,
beautifully embroidered, covered the coffin, a wreath of flowers
surmounting a cross was placed upon it.

The solemn requiem mass commenced, and the great Sacrifice once offered
upon Calvary was pleaded for the soul of the deceased thane. When the
last prayer had been said, the coffin was sprinkled with hallowed water,
and perfumed with sweet incense, after which it was removed to its last
resting place. The grave was already prepared. Again the earthly cavern
was sprinkled with the hallowed water, emblematical of the blood of
sprinkling which speaketh better things than that of Abel, and the body
--the sacred dust for which Christ had died, in which God had dwelt as
in a temple--was lowered, to be sown in corruption, that hereafter it
might be raised in incorruption and joy unspeakable.

All crowded to take the last sad look. Alfred felt his dear mother's arm
tremble as she leant on him, yet gazed firmly into that last resting
place, while the solemn strain arose:

"Ego sum resurrectio et vita. Qui credit in Me, etiam si mortuus fuerit
vivet; et omnis qui vivit, et credit in Me, non morietur in aeternum."
[xxx]


    CHAPTER XX. "AND THE DOOR WAS SHUT."

The reader is, we trust, somewhat impatient to learn what had really
been the fate of the unhappy Elfric of Aescendune--whether he had
indeed been cut off with the work of repentance incomplete, or whether
he yet survived to realise the calamity which had fallen upon his household.

He lived. When the blow of his adversary, as we have seen, crushed him
to the earth, and he lay there with his head on the ground, prostrate,
amidst kicking and plunging hoofs, and the roar and confusion of deadly
strife, Providence, without which not one sparrow falleth to the ground,
watched over him, and averted the iron hoofs from his forehead. Could
one have concentrated his gaze upon that little spot of earth and have
seen the furious hoofs graze, without injuring, that tender forehead,
could he have beheld the gallop of the retreating steeds over and around
that senseless form, for it now lay senseless, he would have realised
that there is One Whose Eye is observant of each minute detail which
concerns the life of His beloved ones--nay, Who knows the movements of
the tiniest insect, while His Hand directs the rolling spheres. And his
care preserved Elfric for His Own wise ends, until the fight receded,
leaving its traces behind it, as when the tide of ocean recedes after a
storm and the beach is strewn with wreck--bodies of men, of horses,
mutilated, dismembered, dead or dying, disabled or desperately wounded.

Hours had passed, during which the sounds of the combat still maintained
at the entrenched camp came freshly on the ear, and then died away,
until the solemn night fell upon the scene, and the only sound which
smote the ear were faint, faint moans--cries of "Water! water!"
incessantly repeated from hundreds of feeble lips.

It was then that Elfric awoke from the insensibility which had resulted
from exhaustion and the stunning blow he had received in his fall. Every
limb seemed in pain, for the loss of blood had not left the vital powers
strength for the maintenance of the due circulation through the body,
and the cold night air chilled the frame. He did not at first comprehend
where he was, but as his senses returned he perceived all too well that
he was left for dead.

His first impulse was to see whether he had strength to arise. He raised
himself partially, first on one elbow, and then he strove to stand up,
but fell back feebly and helplessly, like an infant who first essays to
escape its mother's arms and to trust its feeble limbs.

Then he looked around him, thus raising his head, and gazed upon the sad
and shocking scene. Close by him, with the head cleft literally in two
by a battle-axe, lay a horseman, and his blood reddened all the ground
around Elfric's feet, and had deeply dyed the youth's lower garments; a
horse, his own, lay dead, the jugular vein cut through, with all the
surrounding muscles and sinews; hard by, a rider had fallen with such
impetus, that his helmet had fixed itself deeply in the ground, and the
body seemed as if it had quivered for the moment in the air; a dart had
transfixed another through belt and stomach, and he lay with the weapon
appearing on either side the body. Near these lay another, whose thigh
had been pierced to the great artery, and who had bled to death, as the
deadly paleness of the face showed; here and there one yet lived, as
faint moan and broken utterance testified; but Elfric could bear no
more, his head sank upon the ground, and he hid his face.

It was bright starlight, and the gleam of the heavenly host seemed to
mock the wounded youth as he thought of the previous night, when, sound
in body, he had wandered beneath the glittering canopy of the heavens;
and thus reminded, all the thoughts of that previous night came back
upon him, especially the remembrance of his sin, of his desertion of his
father, of his vicious life at court, of his neglect for three years and
more of all the obligations of religion, and he groaned aloud in the
anguish of his spirit.

"Oh! spare me, my God!" he cried, "for I am not fit to die! Spare me,
that I may at least receive my father's forgiveness."

For he felt as if he could not ask God to forgive him until he had been
forgiven by his father. Little did he think, poor boy, that that father
lay cold in death; that never could he hear the blessed words of
forgiveness from his tongue; neither had he the consolation of knowing
how completely he had been forgiven, and how lovingly he had been
remembered in his father's last hours upon earth.

"I cannot die! I cannot die!" thus he cried; and he strove again to
raise himself from the ground, but in vain; strove again, as if he would
have dragged his feeble body through pain and anguish all the way to
Aescendune, but could not. The story of the prodigal son, often told him
by Father Cuthbert, came back to him, not so much in its spiritual as in
its literal aspect: he would fain arise and go to his father; but he
could not.

"O happy prodigal!" he cried; "thou couldst at least go from that far
off country, and the husks which the swine did eat; but I cannot, I cannot!"

While thus grieving in bitterness of spirit, he saw a light flitting
about amongst the dead bodies, and stopping every now and then; once he
saw it pause, and heard a cry of expostulation, then a faint scream, and
all was still; and he comprehended that this was no ministering angel,
but one of those villainous beings who haunt the battlefield to prey
upon the slain, and to despatch with short mercy those who offer resistance.

He lay very, very quiet, hoping that the light would not come near him,
and he trembled every time it bent its course that way; but at length
his fears seemed about to be realised--it drew near, and he saw the
face of a hideous looking hag, dressed in coarse and vile garments, who
held a bloody dagger in the right hand, and kept the left in a kind of
bag, tied to her person, in which she had evidently accumulated great
store. Her eyes were roaming about, until the light suddenly was
reflected from the poor lad's brilliant accoutrements, and she advanced
towards him.

He groaned, and sank backwards, and her hand was upon the dagger, while
she cast such a look as the fabled vampire might cast upon her destined
victim, loving gold much, but perhaps blood most, when all at once she
turned and fled.

Elfric knew not what had saved him; when voices fell upon his ear, and
the baying of a dog.

"Which way has that hag fled? Pursue her, she murders the wounded."

The sound of rushing feet was heard, and Elfric felt that help was near,
yet leaving him, and he cried aloud, "Help! help! for the love of God."

One delayed in his course, and came and stood over the prostrate form.
It was a monk, for the boy recognised the Benedictine habit, and his
heart sank within him as he remembered how pitilessly he had helped to
drive that habit from Glastonbury.

"Art thou grievously wounded, my son?"

"I feel faint, even unto death, with loss of blood. Oh! remove me, and
bear me home; if thou art a man of God leave me not here to perish in my
sins."

The piteous appeal went to the heart of the monk, and he knelt down, and
by the aid of a small lamp, examined the wounds of the sufferer.

"Thou mayst yet live, my son," he said; "tell me where is thy home; is
it in Mercia?"

"It is! it is! My home is Aescendune; it is not far from here."

"Aescendune--knowest thou Father Cuthbert?"

"I do indeed; he was my tutor, once my spiritual father."

"Thy name?"

"Elfric, son of the thane Ella."

The monk started, then raised a loud cry, which speedily brought two or
three men in the dress of thralls (theows) to his side.

"She will murder no more, father; the dog overtook her, and held her
till we came; she was red with blood, and we knocked her down; Oswy here
brained her with his club."

"It is well--she deserved her fate; but, Oswy, look at this face."

"St. Wilfred preserve us!" cried the man "it is the young lord. He is
not dying, is he? She hadn't hurt him--the she-wolf?"

"No, we were just in time, and only just in time; we must carry him home
to his father."

The monk had started for the expected scene of battle, intent on doing
good, with a small party of the thralls of Aescendune, just after Edwy
had left the hall; consequently, he knew nothing of the death of the
thane or the subsequent events. Oh, how sweetly his words fell upon
Elfric's ears, "Carry him home to his father."

A litter was speedily made; one of the thralls jumped into a willow tree
which overhung the stream, and cut down some of the stoutest boughs. The
others wove them with withes into a kind of litter, threw their own
upper garments thereon in their love, placed the poor wounded form as
tenderly upon it as a mother would have done, and bore him from the
field, ever and anon stopping to relieve some other poor wounded
sufferer, and to comfort him with the intelligence that similar aid was
at hand for all, as the various lights now appearing testified.

For themselves, they felt all other obligation fade before their duty to
their young lord. He was object of their solicitude.

So they bore him easily along, until they reached a stream; there they
paused and washed the heated brow, and allowed the parched lips to
imbibe, but only slightly, the pure fresh beverage, sweeter far than the
stimulant the good monk had poured down his throat on the field. Then
they arranged his dress--bound up his wounds, for the Benedictine was
an accomplished surgeon for the times; after which, having satisfied
himself that his patient was able to bear the transit, he departed, with
a cheerful benediction, to render the like aid to others.

So comforted was Elfric, and so relieved from pain, that he slept all
through the following hours, as they bore him along through woodland
paths; and he dreamt that he had met his father and was clasped lovingly
in his forgiving arms.

At daybreak they were six or seven miles from the camp, and they rested,
for the continued effort had wearied the bearers. They made a fire,
cooked their breakfast, and tried to persuade Elfric to eat, which he
did, sparingly.

Then they resumed their journey; they kept as much in the shade as
possible, for it was a bright day; rested again at noontide, with only
five or six miles before them; started when the heat was a little
overpast, and just after sunset came in sight of the halls of
Aescendune, from the opening in the forest whence Elfric had beheld them
that night when he first brought Prince Edwy home in company with his
brother Alfred.

The wounded youth raised himself up, looked with intense affection at
the home of his youth, and sank back contented on his couch, thinking
only of father and mother, brother and sister, and the sweet forgiveness
he felt sure awaited him. Poor boy!

It was almost dark when they reached the gate of the castle, and the
drawbridge was up. One of the bearers blew his horn loudly, and the
summons brought the warder to the little window over the postern gate.

"Who are you, and what do you seek?" was the cry.

"We are bringing my young lord, Elfric of Aescendune, home from the
battlefield wounded."

"Wait a while."

A few minutes passed; then the drawbridge was lowered, and the bearers
bore their burden into the courtyard. Every moment Elfric expected to
see the beloved faces bending over him; but all seemed strange, till he
remembered that Redwald had remained behind at the hall; the four
bearers spoke uneasily to one another, and Oswy disappeared in the dusky
twilight.

At length three or four men, in the military costume so familiar to
Elfric, approached the litter; and raising him, bore him into the
interior of the building, up the stairs, into the gallery, which partly
ran round at the height of the first floor. The door of a room was
opened, a familiar room; it had been his father's bedroom, and Elfric
was placed on the bed.

"Ask them to come to me," he said "father, mother, Alfred, Edgitha!
--where are they?"

But minute after minute passed by, and no one came near; there was no
light in the room, and it was soon very dark. Elfric became very
uncomfortable; it was not the kind of reception he had promised himself.

"Why does not my father come," he muttered impatiently, "to see his
wounded boy?" and he felt at one moment his pride revive, then a
sickening feeling of anxiety filled his heart.

But it was not until an hour had passed that he heard a heavy step on
the stairs, and soon the door opened, and Redwald appeared.

Elfric. gazed upon him with surprise; especially when he noted the stern
cold look which sat on his features. As Redwald did not speak, Elfric
took the initiative.

"Why is not my father here? I want to see him, Redwald; do send him to
me; say I must see him, I must--I cannot endure this longer; it is
more than I can bear."

"Calm yourself and listen to me, for I have a strange story to unfold to
you."

"Not now; some other time; do send them to me."

"It must be heard now; and perhaps when you have heard it, you will
comprehend why they do not come."

"But they will come?"

"Elfric, there was, two generations back, a man who had two sons; he was
a noble thane of high descent, his eldest son was worthy of his father,
high souled, impetuous, brave, fiery, and in short, all a warrior's son
should be: the younger son had the heart of a monk, and was learned in
all pious tricks; he stole the father's heart from his elder brother."

Elfric began to listen at this point.

"At last, misjudgment and unkindness drove the elder brother from home,
and he sought food and shelter from men who had the souls of conquerors.
With them he lived, for his father disinherited him; he had no father,
he had no country."

Elfric began to draw his breath quickly.

"At length war arose between those who had sheltered and protected him,
and the people who should have been his own people; say what side was
the exile to be found on?"

"He should have fought with his own people."

"His own people were those who had really adopted him when his father
and family disowned him, and with them he fought for victory; but the
fates were unpropitious, the people with whom his father and brother
fought were successful; the son was taken prisoner, and adjudged to die
a traitor's death, his own father and brother consenting."

Elfric began to comprehend all.

"They put him on board an open boat, and sent him out to sea, at the
mercy of winds and waves; but not alone; he had married amongst the
people who had adopted him, and his boy would not forsake his sire, for
he had one boy--the mother was dead. This boy besought the
hard-hearted executioners of a tyrant's will to let him share the fate
of his sire, so earnestly, that at last they consented."

"The boat, as it pleased fate, was driven by wind and tide on the shore
of Denmark, and there the unhappy exile landed; but he had been wounded
in the battle, and his subsequent exposure caused his early death;
before he died he bequeathed one legacy, and only one, to his son--

"Vengeance."

Elfric was pale as death, and trembled visibly.

"Then you are--"

"Elfric, I am your cousin, and the deadly foe of you and yours!"

"Then my poor father; but if you must find a victim seek it in me; spare
him! oh, spare him!"

Redwald smiled; but such a smile.

"At least let me see him now, and obtain his forgiveness. Redwald, he is
my father; you were faithful to your father; let me atone for my
unfaithfulness to mine."

"You believe there is another world, perhaps?"

Elfric. only answered by a look of piteous alarm.

"Because, in that case, you must seek your father there; although I fear
Dunstan would say there is likely to be a gulf between you."

Elfric comprehended him, and with a cry which might have melted a heart
of stone, fell back upon the bed. For a moment he lay like one stunned,
then began to utter incoherent ravings, and gazed vacantly around, as
one who is delirious.

Redwald seemed for one moment like a man contending with himself, like
one who felt pity struggling with sterner emotions; yet the contest was
very short.

"It is of no use--he must die; if hearts break, I hope his will break,
and save me the task of shedding his blood, or causing it to be shed;
there must be no weakness now; he has been sadly wounded; if he is left
alone, he will die; better so--I would spare him if I were not bound
by an oath so dread that I shudder to think of it. The others have
escaped: he must die."

Still he walked to and fro, as if pity yet contended with the thirst for
vengeance in his hardened breast: perhaps it was his day of grace, and
the Spirit of Him, Who has said "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,"
pleaded hard with the sinner. Yet the gentle Voice pleaded in vain;
still he walked to and fro, until his resolution seemed firmly made; and
he left the chamber, fastening it on the outside.


    CHAPTER XXI. "UNDER WHICH KING?"

It will be remembered that one of the theows who had borne Elfric home
from the field of battle had become alarmed by the suspicious aspect of
things at the hall, and had escaped, by prompt evasion, the confinement
which awaited his companions. Oswy, for it was he, thus showed his
natural astuteness, while he also conferred the greatest possible
obligation upon Elfric, since he bore the news of his ill-timed arrival
at once to the priory.

Here his worst suspicions were confirmed; and the faithful thrall heard
for the first time of the death of his late lord, and that he had given
his young master into the hands of his bitter foes. Alfred was at once
summoned; and a conference was held, in which Father Cuthbert, his
brethren, and the chamberlain and steward of the hall, took part.

"It is now generally believed," said Father Cuthbert, "that Redwald is
the bitter enemy, for some reason, of the house of Aescendune. Has any
one here suspected that reason?"

No one could give any reply.

"I fear what I am about to say," he continued, "will startle you all.
Redwald is a member of the family himself."

"A member of the family!"

"Yes. Is there any one present who remembers the unhappy brother of our
late lamented lord--Oswald, the son of Offa?"

"Yes," said the old chamberlain, "I remember him well; and I see now
what you mean."

"Is not the expression of the face identical? Are they not the same
features, as one might say?"

"Yet Redwald is much darker."

"Because his mother was Danish, and he has inherited some of her
peculiarities, that is all."

"Still," said the steward, "every one supposed that the unhappy Oswald
perished at sea with his son. Never shall I forget the grief of the old
thane Offa, when inquiring for the son, he learned that he had gone with
the father to his death. He would have adopted him."

"And do we not," added a Benedictine. "say a mass daily at St. Wilfred's
altar for the souls of Oswald and his son Ragnar?"

"Oswald may be dead; Ragnar yet lives in Redwald. The name alone is
changed."

"But where are the proofs? We cannot wholly trust an imaginary resemblance."

"It is not imaginary; and these are the proofs in question. The night
after the murder" (all looked at each other as if a sudden inspiration
struck them), "as I was going to the chapel from the lady Edith's
apartments, I passed through a passage little used, but leading past the
chamber allotted to Redwald, and only separated by a thin wainscoting. I
was startled as I passed it by the sound of a pacing to and fro; an
incessant pacing; and I heard the inmate of the room soliloquising with
himself as in a state of frenzied feeling. I caught only broken words
but again and again I heard 'Avenged;' and once 'Father you are
avenged;' and once 'Little do they know who is their guest;' once 'It is
a good beginning,' and such like ejaculations. I remained a long time,
because, as you will all see, the murderer stood revealed."

"Then why did you not tell us before?" exclaimed all, almost in a breath.

"Because it would have been of no avail. Had there been the least chance
of calling him to account, I should, you may be sure, have proclaimed
his guilt. But early in the morning fresh forces began to arrive to his
aid. My only endeavour was to get the lady Edith and her remaining
children safe from the castle; and it was only by dissembling my
feelings, by talking face to face with the man of blood, by pretending
to trust him, that I could succeed. Had he not thought us all perfectly
satisfied, he would never have left the hall to go foraging in person;
and now all would be well, but for this sad, sad chance, which has
placed the poor lad Elfric in his power."

"But," said Alfred, "this makes the case worse than ever. Poor Elfric!
they will kill him. Oh, can this be Ragnar?"

The Benedictines expressed themselves convinced, because the supposition
explained the present circumstances so clearly, and accounted for that
hitherto unaccountable circumstance--the murder. The steward and
chamberlain both fancied they recognised the family likeness; and so the
solution at which Father Cuthbert had arrived was accepted by all.

The question was now what course to adopt, for the night was fast
wearing away.

"Two things are to be done," said Father Cuthbert. "The first is to
secure the safety of the lady Edith and her children from any sudden
attack from the castle, to which effect I propose holding all the
vassals in arms; and, in case of any force leaving the hall, I purpose
giving the lady Edith and her daughter instant sanctuary in the priory,
while the vassals gather round its precincts; for, I fear me, this
Ragnar is a heathen, and would but little respect the house of God."

"Could we not attack the hall and release Elfric? Think of Elfric," said
Alfred.

"It would be madness; Redwald has more than a hundred and fifty men of
war within it. The place is full; we could not attack with the least
chance of success. No: the second thing I meant to propose was this,
that we should send an instant message to King Edgar, who is near at
hand, and explain the whole circumstances to him. He has many causes of
enmity against Redwald, and would probably come to our aid at once, as
the safety of his realm would require him to do eventually."

"Let me be the messenger; he will surely listen to the pleadings of a
brother for a brother."

"I had so designed," said Father Cuthbert; "and in order that no chance
may be thrown away, I will adventure myself in the lion's den, and
threaten with the penalties of excommunication this vindictive Redwald
or Ragnar."

"No, father; you will never come out alive. No, no!" said they all.

The last proposal was universally discouraged. Redwald had already
special cause of enmity against Father Cuthbert, who had robbed him of
part of his destined prey; and it was ultimately settled that Father
Swithin, another of the order, should be charged with the mission, with
the power to make conciliatory offers, or to act on the other course as
he should see fit; in short, to use all his wit for Elfric.

Alfred did not delay a moment unnecessarily, but in the dawning light
set forward to seek Edgar, of whom he had no definite information, but
who was believed to linger in the neighbourhood of the battlefield,
holding council with earls and thanes as to the further steps to be
taken, and receiving the submission of the whole Mercian, East Anglian,
and Northumbrian nobility.

Therefore, mounted upon a good steed, and accompanied by Oswy, he
rapidly traversed the country over which his brother had been so
painfully borne; slowly, however, in places, for here and there large
tracts of swamp obstructed the way, and in other places the thickets
were dense and impervious; even where the country was cultivated the
unpaved roads were rough and hazardous for riders.

It was past the hour of nones, the ninth hour of the day, when the
riders reached the battlefield, which still bore frightful traces of the
recent combat; reddened with blood, which had left its dark traces on
large patches of the ground, and encumbered with the bodies of horses
and men which had not yet found sepulture, although bands of theows from
the neighbouring estates were busily engaged in the necessary toil,
excavating huge pits, and placing the dead--no longer rivals--
reverently and decently in their last long home. Several wolves could be
discerned, hanging about under the skirts of the forest, but not daring
to come out into the plain while the day lasted and the men were about;
whole flocks of ravenous birds flew about the scene, now settling down
on the spots where the strife had been hottest, now soaring away when
disturbed in their sickening feast.

It was the first time Alfred had ever gazed upon a battlefield; and now
he saw it stripped of all the romance and glamour which bards had thrown
over it, and the sight appalled him.

He drew near a large pit into which the thralls were casting the dead.
Many of the bodies presented, as we have already seen, a most ghastly
spectacle; and nearly all had begun to decompose. Mentally he thanked
God that Elfric, at least, was not there; and he turned aside his head
in horror at the sight.

He now inquired of the foreman of the labourers whether he knew where
the Etheling Edgar would be.

"You mean King Edgar, for the Mercians will acknowledge no other king.
The people of Wessex may keep the enemy of the saints, if they like."

"King Edgar, I mean. Where is he now?"

"He has been holding a council at Tamworth town, in the old palace of
King Offa; and they say all the tributary kings have come there to be
his men, and all the great earls."

"Can you tell me the nearest road to Tamworth?"

"Why, it lies through the forest there, where you see those wolves
lurking about. They will begin to be dangerous when the sun goes down,
and perhaps some of them would not mind a snap at a horse or even a man,
now."

"We must take our chance;" said Alfred: "life and death hang on our
speed," and he and Oswy rode on.

The wolves were no longer seen. In the summer they generally avoided
men, at least during the day, and they were gradually becoming more
uncommon at that date. Alfred entertained little fear as he proceeded,
until the darkening shadows showed that night was near, and they were
still in the heart of the forest, when he began to feel alarmed. The
road before them was a good wide woodland path, and easy to follow even
in the gathering darkness.

Suddenly their horses started violently, as a loud howl was heard
behind, and repeated immediately from different quarters of the forest.

Alfred felt that it was the gathering of the ferocious beasts, which had
been attracted from distant forests by the scent of the battlefield, and
had thus happened to lie in increased numbers around their path. The
howling continued to increase, and their horses sped onward as if mad
with fear--it was all they could do to guide them safely.

Nearer and nearer drew the fearful sound; and looking back they beheld
the fiery eyes swarming along the road after them. They had begun to
abandon hope, when all at once they heard the sound of advancing
horsemen in front of them, accompanied by the clank of arms. The wolves
heard it too, and with all the cunning cowardice of their race scampered
away from their intended prey, just as Alfred and Oswy avoided impaling
themselves upon the lances of the coming deliverers.

"Whom have we here, riding at this pace through the woods?" cried out a
rough, manly voice.

"The wolves were after the poor fellows," said another.

"They may speak for themselves," said the leader, confronting Alfred.
"Art thou a Mercian and a friend of King Edgar? Under which king? Speak,
or die!"

"I seek King Edgar. My name is Alfred, son of Ella of Aescendune."

"Who sheltered the men of Wessex, and entertained the impious Edwy in
his castle."

"We had no power to resist had we wished to do so."

"Which you evidently did not. May a plain soldier ask you now why you
seek King Edgar?"

"Because," said Alfred, "my father has been murdered, and my brother
made a prisoner by Redwald, the captain of King Edwy's hus-carles, who
holds our house, and has driven us all out."

"Your father murdered! Your family expelled! Your brother a prisoner!
These are strange news."

"Why this delay!" cried another speaker, riding up from behind. "The
king is impatient to get on. Ride faster."

"The king!" cried Alfred. "Oh, lead me to him."

"Who is this," demanded the second officer, "who demands speech of the
royal Edgar?"

"Alfred of Aescendune. He tells us that the infamous Redwald holds the
fortified house there, has murdered the thane Ella, and expelled the
family, save the brother, whom he holds to ransom."

"No, not to ransom," cried Alfred. "It is his life that is threatened.
Oh, take me to Edgar!"

"He is close behind, in company with the Ealdorman of Mercia and Siward
of Northumbria."

"Stay behind with him, Biorn, and let us continue our route. You may
introduce him to the king, if he will see him."

The first party--the advance guard--now passed on, and was succeeded
almost immediately by the main body, foremost amongst whom rode Prince
or rather King Edgar, then only a youth of fifteen years of age. We last
beheld him a boy of twelve, at the date of Elfric's arrival at the court
of Edred. By his side rode Siward, Ealdorman of Northumbria.

"Who is this?" cried the latter, as he saw Alfred and his attendant
waiting to receive him.

"Alfred of Aescendune, with a petition for aid against Redwald, who has
seized his father's castle."

"Alfred of Aescendune!" cried Edgar. "Halt, my friends, one moment.
Alfred of Aescendune, tell me your story; to me, Edgar, your king."

Alfred hastened to pour his tale of sorrows into an ear evidently not
unsympathising, and when he had concluded Edgar asked--"And tell me
what is your request. It shall be granted even to the uttermost."

"Only that you, my lord, would hasten to our aid and deliver my brother
for his poor widowed mother's sake."

"We should send a troop against Redwald in any case, but even had our
plans been otherwise, know this, Alfred of Aescendune, that he who by
his devoted service saved the life, or at least the liberty, of Dunstan,
the light of our realm of England, and the favourite of heaven, has a
claim to ask any favour Edgar can grant.

"Siward, my father, bid the advanced guard bend its course towards
Aescendune at once."

"My lord, the men are too weary to travel all night. We had purposed
halting when we reached the battlefield on our march southward. There is
a cross-country road thence to Aescendune, almost impassable in the night."

"Then we will travel early in the morning; and doubt not, Alfred, we
shall arrive in time to chastise this insolent aggressor. Redwald has
been my poor brother's evil spirit in all things; he shall die, I swear
it," said the precocious Edgar, a man before his time.

"But, my lord," said Alfred, "may I ask but one favour, that you will
permit me to proceed and relieve the anxiety of my people with the
tidings of your approach?"

"If you must leave our side, such an errand would seem to justify you.
Poor Elfric! I remember him well. I could not have thought him in any
danger from Redwald."

"Redwald is his, is our bitterest foe."

"Indeed," said Edgar, and proceeded to elicit the whole history of the
case from Alfred.

The sad tale was not complete till they reached the battlefield, and
encamped in the entrenchments the young prince had occupied the night
before the combat.

"We had intended," said Edgar, "to march at once for London, owing to
news we have received from the south, but we will tarry at Aescendune
until the work is completed there, even if it cost us our crown.

"Nay, Siward, I may have my way this once. I am soldier enough to know I
may not leave an enemy behind me on my march."

"But a small detachment might accomplish the work."

"Then I will go with it myself; my heart is in it. But, Alfred, you look
very ill; you cannot proceed tonight. When did you sleep last?"

"Three nights ago."

"Then it would be madness to proceed; you must sleep, and at early dawn
you shall precede us on my own charger--which has been led all the way
--if your own is too wearied, and with an attendant or two in case of
danger from man or beast. Nay, it must be so."

Alfred, who could scarcely stand for very fatigue, was forced to yield,
and that night he slept soundly in the camp of Edgar. At the first dawn
they aroused him from sleep, and he found a splendid warhorse awaiting
him--a gift, they told him, from Edgar. Two attendants, well mounted,
awaited him in company with Oswy. He would willingly have dispensed with
their company; but he was told that the king, anxious for his safety,
had insisted upon their attending him, and that they were answerable for
his safe return to Aescendune, the country being considered dangerous
for travellers in its present disturbed state.

So he yielded; and before the king had arisen he left the camp, after a
hasty meal, and rode as rapidly as the roads would permit towards his
desolated home.


    CHAPTER XXIII. LOVE STRONG AS DEATH.

Meanwhile Father Swithin had gone alone and unprotected, save by his
sacred character, into the very jaws of the lion; or rather, would have
gone, had he been suffered to do so; for when he approached the hall he
found the drawbridge up, and the whole place guarded as in a state of siege.

He advanced, nothing daunted, in front of the yawning gap where the
bridge should have been, and cried aloud--"What ho! porter; I demand
speech of my lord Redwald."

"You may demand speech--swine may demand pearls--but I don't think
you will get it. Deliver me your message."

"Tell your lord, rude churl, that I, Father Swithin, of the holy Order
of St. Benedict, have come, in the name of the rightful owners of this
house, and in the power of the Church, to demand that he deliver up
Elfric of Aescendune to the safe keeping of his friends."

"I will send your message; but keep a civil tongue in your mouth, Sir
Monk, and don't begin muttering any of your accursed Latin, or I will
see whether the Benedictine frock is proof against an arrow."

In a short time Redwald appeared on the roof, above the gateway.

"What dost thou require, Sir Monk?" said he; "thy words sound strange in
my ears."

"I am come, false traitor," said Father Swithin, waxing wroth, "to
demand the person of Elfric of Aescendune, whom thou detainest contrary
to God's law and the king's."

"Elfric of Aescendune! right glad am I to hear that he is alive; my
followers have brought me word that they saw him fall in battle."

"Nay, spare thy deceit, thou son of perdition, for well do we know that
he was brought home wounded last night. One of his bearers escaped thy
toils, even as a bird the snare of the fowler, and is now with us."

"Assuredly the loon has lied unto you. Rejoiced should I be to see the
unhappy youth, and to know that he yet lived. I but hold this place,
faithful to his lord and mine, Edwy, King of all England."

"Then why hast thou expelled the rightful dwellers therein from their
house and home? We know Elfric is with thee, and that thou art a
traitor, wherefore, deliver him up, or we will even excommunicate thee."

"Thou hadst better not begin in the hearing of the men who sit upon the
wall; for myself, excommunication cannot hurt a man who never goes to
church, and does not company over much with those who do."

"Infidel! heretic! pagan! misbeliever! accursed Ragnar!" began the irate
monk, when an arrow, perhaps only meant to frighten him (for they could
hardly have missed so fair a mark), glanced by him.

He retreated, but still continued his maledictions.

"_Excommunicabo te, et omnes tibi adhaerentes_; thou art an accursed
parricide, who hast raised thine hand against thy father's house. _Vade
retro, Sathanas_, I will shake off the dust of my feet against thee,"--
another arrow stuck in his frock--"thou shalt share the fate of Sodom,
yea of Gomorrha; _in manus inimici trado te_;" by this time his words
were inaudible; and he departed, not having accomplished much good, but
having nevertheless informed Redwald of two great facts--the first,
that Elfric's return was blazed abroad; the second, that his own
identity was more than suspected.

"Ragnar!" said he, "What fiend has told them that? how came they to
suspect? Confusion! it will foil all my plans, and my vengeance will be
incomplete. At least this one victim must not escape, and yet I had
sooner he should escape than any other member of the house. Poor boy!
the sins of the fathers are heavy upon the children, as these Christians
have it; but my oath, my oath taken before a dying father! no; he must die!"

So spake the avenger of blood, a man whose heart was evidently not all
of iron; yet from childhood had he striven to restrain every tender
impulse, and had bound himself to vengeance. Long years of peace in
England had come between him and the execution of his projects, and he
had prepared himself for the task he never lost sight of, by acquiring
all the accomplishments of a knight and warrior, and even of a man of
letters, at that court of Rouen, now rapidly becoming the focus of
European chivalry, where the fierce barbarian Northmen were becoming the
refined but ruthless Normans. Then, in England, he had wormed himself
into the confidence of the future king with singular astuteness, and at
length had found the occasion he had long sought, in a manner the most
unforeseen save as a possible contingency.

And now he turned from the battlements to his own chamber, but on the
way he paused, for he passed the door of the late thane's room, where
poor Elfric lay. He passed the sentinel and entered. The unhappy boy was
extended on the bed, in a raging fever; ever and anon he called
piteously upon his father, then he cried out that Dunstan was pursuing
him, driving him into the pit, then he cried--"Father, I did not
murder thee; not I, thy son! nay, I always loved thee in my heart. Who
is laughing? it is not Dunstan; break his chamber open, slay him: is a
monk's blood redder than a peasant's? O Elgiva hast thou slain my
father? See, I am all on fire; it is thy doing. Edwy, my king, Dunstan
is burning me: save me!"

Then there was a long pause, and Redwald or Ragnar as we may now call
him stood over his unhappy cousin. The fair head lay back on the pillow,
with its profusion of golden locks; the face was red and fiery, the eyes
weak and bloodshot.

"Water! water! I burn!" he said.

There was no cooling medicine to alleviate the burning throat, no gentle
hand to smooth the pillow, no mother to render the sweet offices of
maternal love, no father to whisper forgiveness to the dying boy.

"Better he should die thus," said Ragnar, "since I cannot spare him
without breaking my oath to the dead."

Then he left the room hastily, as if he feared his own resolution. The
sentinel looked imploringly at him, as the cries of the revellers came
from below.

"Go!" said Ragnar, "join thy companions; no sentinel is required here.
Go and feast; I will come and join you."

So he tried to drown his new-born pity in wine.

At a late hour of the day, Alfred and his attendants arrived, bringing
news of the coming succour to Father Cuthbert and the other friends who
awaited him with much anxiety. They had contrived to account for his
absence to the lady Edith, from whom they thought it necessary to hide
the true state of affairs.

But everything tended to increase Alfred's feverish anxiety about his
brother. The relieving force could not arrive for hours; meanwhile he
knew not what to do. No tidings were heard: Father Swithin had failed
and Elfric might perhaps even now be dead.

So Alfred, taking counsel only of his own brave, loving heart, left the
priory in the dusk, attended by the faithful Oswy, and walked towards
his former home. The night was dark and cloudy, the moon had not yet
arisen, and they were close upon the hall ere they saw its form looming
though the darkness. Neither spoke, but they paused before the
drawbridge and listened.

Sounds of uproarious mirth arose from within; Danish war songs, shouting
and cheering; the whole body of the invaders were evidently feasting and
revelling with that excess, of which in their leisure moments they were
so capable.

"It is well!" said Alfred; and they walked round the exterior of the
moat, marking the brightly lighted hall and the unguarded look of the
place; yet not wholly unguarded, for they saw the figure of a man
outlined against a bright patch of sky, pacing the leaded roof,
evidently on guard.

And now they had reached that portion of their circuit which led them
opposite the chamber window of the lamented Ella, and Alfred gazed sadly
upon it, when both he and Oswy started as they heard cries and moans,
and sometimes articulate words, proceeding therefrom.

They listened eagerly, and caught the name "Dunstan," as if uttered in
vehement fear, then the cry. "Water! I burn!" and cry after cry, as if
from one in delirium.

"It is Elfric! it is Elfric!" said Alfred.

"It is my young lord's voice," said the thrall; "he is in a fever from
his wound."

"What can we do?" and Alfred walked impatiently to and fro; at last he
stopped.

"Oswy! if it costs me my life I will enter the castle!"

"It shall cost my life too, then. I will live and die with my lord!"

"Come here, Oswy; they do not know the little postern door hidden behind
those bushes; the passage leads up to the chapel, and to the gallery
leading to my father's chamber, where Elfric lies dying. I remember that
that door was left unlocked, and perhaps I can save him. They are all
feasting like hogs; they will not know, and if Ragnar meet me, why, he
or I must die;" and he put his hand convulsively upon the sword which
was dependent from his girdle.

"Lead on, my lord; you will find your thrall ready to live or die with
you!" said Oswy.

At the extreme angle of the building there was a large quantity of holly
bushes which grew out of the soil between the moat and the wall, which
itself was clothed with the thickest ivy; the roof above was slanting--
an ordinary timber roof covering the chapel--so that no sentinel could
be overhead. Standing on the further side of the moat, all this and no
more could be observed.

The first difficulty was how to cross the moat in the absence of either
bridge or boat. It was true they might swim over; but in the event of
their succeeding in the rescue of Elfric, how were they to bear him
back? The difficulty had to be overcome, and they reflected a moment.

"There is a small boat down at the ferry," whispered Oswy.

It was all Alfred needed, and he and Oswy at once started for the river.
They returned in a few minutes, bearing a light boat, almost like a
British coracle, on which they instantly embarked, and a push or two
with the pole sent them noiselessly across the moat.

They landed, made fast the boat, and searched in the darkness for the
door; it was an old portal, almost disused, for it was only built that
there might be a retreat in any such pressing emergency as might easily
arise in those unsettled times; the holly bushes in front, and the thick
branches of dependent ivy, concealed its existence from any person
beyond the moat, and it had not even been seen by the watchful eye of
Ragnar.

Alfred, however, had but recently made use of the door, when seeking
bunches of holly wherewith to deck the board on the occasion of the
feast given to King Edwy, and he had omitted to relock it on his return,
an omission which now seemed to him of providential arrangement.

He had, therefore, only to turn the rusty latch as noiselessly as might
be, and the door slowly opened. The key was in the lock, on the inside.

Entering cautiously, taking off their heavy shoes and leaving them in
the doorway, they ascended a flight of steps which terminated in front
of a door which entered the chapel underneath the bell cot, while
another flight led upwards to the gallery, from which all the principal
chambers on the first floor opened.

Arriving at this upper floor, Alfred listened intently for one moment,
and hearing only the sounds of revelry from beneath, he opened the door
gently, and saw the passage lie vacant before him.

He passed along it until he came to the door of his father's chamber,
feeling the whole time that his life hung on a mere thread, upon the
chance that Ragnar and his warriors might remain out of the way, and
that no one might be near to raise the alarm. With nearly two hundred
inmates this was but a poor chance, but Alfred could dare all for his
brother. He committed himself, therefore, to God's protection, and went
firmly on till he reached the door.

He opened it with trembling eagerness, and the whole scene as we have
already described it was before him. Elfric sat up in the bed, uttering
the cries which had pierced the outer air. When Alfred entered he did
not seem to know him, but saluted him as "Dunstan." His cries had become
too familiar to the present inmates of the hall for this to attract
attention. Alfred closed the door.

"It is I, Elfric!--I, your brother Alfred!"

Elfric stared vacantly, then fell back on the pillow: a moment only
passed, and then it was evident that an interval of silence had begun,
during which the patient only moaned. The noise from those who were
feasting in the hall beneath, which communicated with the gallery by a
large staircase, was loud and boisterous as ever.

A step was heard approaching.

Alfred took Oswy by the arm, and they both retired behind the tapestry,
which concealed a small recess, where garments were usually suspended.

The heavy step entered the room, and its owner was evidently standing
beside the bed gazing upon the couch. There he remained stationary for
some minutes, and again left the room. It was not till the last sound
had died away that Alfred and Oswy ventured to leave their concealment.

The silence still continued, save that it was sometimes broken by the
patient's moans.

"Take and wrap these clothes round him; we must preserve him from the
night air;" and they wrapped the blankets around him; then Oswy, who was
very strongly built, took the light frame of Elfric in his arms, and
they left the room.

One moment of dread suspense--the passage was clear--a minute more
would have placed them in safety, when the paroxysm returned upon the
unfortunate Elfric.

"Help, Edwy! Redwald, help! Dunstan has seized me, and is bearing me to
the fire! I burn! help, I burn!"

Alfred groaned in his agony; the shrieking voice had been uttered just
as they passed the staircase leading down to the hall. Up rushed Ragnar,
followed by several of his men, and started back in amazement as he
beheld Alfred and Oswy with their burden. Alfred drew his sword to
dispute the passage, but was overpowered in a moment. Ragnar himself
attacked Oswy, who was forced to relinquish his burden. All was lost.

Another moment and Ragnar confronted his prisoners. Elfric had been
carried back to his bed. Alfred and Oswy stood before him, their arms
bound behind them, in the great hall, while the soldiers retired at a
signal a short distance from them.

"What has brought you here?"

"To deliver my brother."

"To share his fate, you mean. Know you into whose hands you have fallen?"

"Yes; into those of my cousin Ragnar."

"Then you know what mercy to expect."

"I came prepared to share my brother's fate."

"And you shall share it. It must be the hand of fate which has placed
you both in my power, me, the representative of the rightful lord of
Aescendune, dispossessed by your father, and being myself the legitimate
heir."

"We do not dispute your title; give my brother his life and liberty, and
take all; we have never injured you."

"All would be nothing without vengeance; you appeal in vain to me. Did I
wish to spare you I could not; an oath, a fearful oath, binds me, taken
to one from whom I derived life, one whose death was far more agonising
and lingering than yours shall be."

"Let us at least die together."

"Do you scorn the company of your thrall in death?"

"God forbid!

"Oswy, you have given your life for us; we die in company. God protect
my poor mother, my poor childless mother! She will be alone!"

"You shall die together as you desire."

He addressed a few words in an unknown tongue to his men; his face was
now pale as death, his lips compressed as of one who has taken a
desperate resolution.

"Retire to your brother's chamber again. You will not compel me to use
force?"

They retired up the stairs; Ragnar followed, two or three of his men at
a respectful distance from him.

They re-entered the chamber; Ragnar followed and stood before them.

"I will grant you all that is in my power; you shall all die together,
and you may tend your brother to the last."

"What shall be the manner of our death?" asked Alfred, who was very
calm, fearfully calm.

"You will soon discover; my hand shall not be upon you, or red with your
blood. Believe me, I am, like you, the victim of stern necessity,
although I am the avenger, you the victims."

"You cannot thus deceive yourself, or shake off the guilt of murder; our
father's blood is upon you. You will answer for this, for him and for
us, at the judgment seat."

"I am willing to do so, if there be a judgment seat whereat to answer. I
had a father, too, who was condemned to a lingering death, by thirst,
hunger, and madness; I witnessed his agonies; I swore to avenge them.
You appeal to the memory of your father, who has perished a victim to
avenging justice; I appeal to that of mine. If there be a God, let Him
deliver you, and perhaps I will believe in Him. Farewell for ever!"

He closed the door, and, with the aid of his men, securely fastened it
on the outside, so that no strength from within could open it; he
descended to the hall.

"Warriors," he said, "the moment I predicted has come; I have received a
warning that the usurper Edgar already marches against us; tomorrow, at
the latest, he will be here; before he arrives we shall be halfway to
Wessex. Let every one secure his baggage and his plunder, and let the
horses be all got ready for a forced march. We have eaten the last feast
that shall ever be eaten in these halls."

A few moments of bustle and confusion followed, and before half-an-hour
had expired all was ready, and the men-at-arms from without announced
that every horse--their own and those of the thane, to carry their
booty, the plunder of the castle--awaited them without.

"Then," said he, "listen, my men, to the final orders. _Fire the castle,
every portion of it; fire the stables, the barns, the outbuildings._ We
will leave a pile of blackened embers for Edgar when he comes; the halls
where the princely Edwy has feasted shall never be his, or entertain him
as a guest."

A loud shout signified the alacrity with which his followers bent
themselves to the task; torches flashed in all directions, and in a few
moments the flames began to do their destroying work.

An officer addressed Ragnar--"There are three thralls locked up in an
outbuilding, shall we leave them to burn?"

"Nay; why should we grudge them their miserable lives; they have done us
no harm."

At that moment a loud cry of dire alarm was heard, the trampling of an
immense body of horse followed--a rush into the hall already filled
with smoke--loud outcries and shrieks from without.

"What is the matter?" cried Ragnar.

"The Mercians are upon us! the Mercians are upon us!"

Ragnar rushed to the gateway, and a sight met his startled eyes he was
little prepared to behold.

The clouds had been driven away by a fierce wind, the moon was shining
brightly, and revealed a mighty host surrounding the hall on every side.
Every horse before the gateway was driven away or seized, every man who
had not saved himself by instant retreat had been slain by the advancing
host; without orders the majority of his men had repassed the moat, and
had already raised the drawbridge against the foe, not without the
greatest difficulty.

"Extinguish the fires which you have raised; let each man fight fire--
then we will fight the Mercians."

It was high time to fight fire, rather it was too late.


    CHAPTER XXIII. "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY."

When the door was finally closed upon the brothers and their faithful
thrall, Alfred did not give way to despair. The words of Ragnar, "If
there be a God, let Him deliver you," had sunk deeply into his heart,
and had produced precisely the opposite effect to that which his cousin
had intended; it seemed as if his cause were thus committed to the great
Being in Whose Hand was the disposal of all things; as if His Honour
were at stake, Whom the murderer had so impiously defied.

"'If there be a God, let Him deliver you,'" repeated Alfred, and it
seemed to him as if a Voice replied, "Is My Arm shortened, that It
cannot save?"

But how salvation was to come, and even in what mode danger was to be
expected, was unknown to them; nay, was even unguessed. They heard the
bustle below, which followed Ragnar's announcement of his intended
departure from Aescendune. They heard the mustering of the horses--and
at last the conviction forced itself upon them that the foe were about
to evacuate the hall. But in that case, how would he inflict his
sentence upon his victims?

The dread truth, the suspicion of his real intention, crept upon the
minds of both Alfred and Oswy. Elfric yet lay insensible, or seemingly
so, upon the bed, lost to all perception of his danger. Alfred sat at
the head of the bed, looking with brotherly love at the prostrate form
of him for whom he was giving his life; but feeling secretly grateful
that there was no painful struggle imminent in his case; that death
itself would come unperceived, without torturing forebodings.

It was at this moment that Oswy, who stood by the window, which was
strongly barred, but which he had opened, for the night was oppressively
warm, caught the faint and distant sound of a mighty host advancing
through the forest; at first it was very faint, and he only heard it
through the pauses in the storm of sound which attended Ragnar's
preparations for departure, but it soon became more distinct, and he
turned to Alfred.

"Listen, my lord, they come to our aid; listen, I hear the army of Edgar."

Alfred rushed to the window, the hope of life strong within him; at
first he could hear nothing for the noise below, but at length there was
a lull in the confusion, and then he heard distinctly the sound of the
coming deliverers. Another minute, and he saw the dark lines leaving the
shadow of the forest, and descending the hill in serried array, then
deploying, as if to surround a foe in stealthy silence; he looked around
for the object, and beheld Ragnar's forces all unconscious of their
danger, not having heard the approach in their own hasty preparations
for departure. Another moment of dread suspense, like that with which
the gazer watches the dark thundercloud before the lightning's flash. A
moment of dread silence--during which some orders, given loudly below,
forced themselves upon him:

"Fire the castle, every portion of it; fire the stables, the barns, the
outbuildings; we will leave a pile of blackened ruins for Edgar when he
comes; the halls where the princely Edwy has feasted shall never be his,
or entertain him as guest."

Meanwhile, the dark forces, unseen by the destroyers, were still
surrounding the castle, deploying on all sides to surround it as in a
net; for they saw the intention of their victims, and meant to cut off
all chance of escape.

But the position of the brothers seemed as perilous as ever--for how
could Edgar's troops rescue them if the place were once on fire? Alfred
gazed with pallid face upon Oswy, but met only a resigned helpless
glance in return.

Yet, even at this moment of awful suspense, a voice seemed to whisper in
his ear, "Stand still, and see the salvation of God."

"Oswy," he exclaimed, "we shall not die--I feel sure that God will
save us!"

"It must be soon then," replied Oswy; "soon, my lord, for they have
already set the place on fire, just beneath us; can you not smell the
smoke?"

Just at that moment came the war cry of the Mercians, and the charge we
have already described.

It was during the following few minutes, while Ragnar and all his men
were vainly striving to extinguish the conflagration they had raised--
for the dry timber of which the hall was chiefly built had taken fire
like matchwood--it was while the friends without were preparing to
attack, that a sudden change came over the patient.

"Alfred, my brother!"

Alfred looked round in surprise; consciousness had returned, and the
face was calm and possessed as his own.

"Elfric, my dear Elfric!"

"What does all this mean? How came I here? What makes this smoke?"

"We are in danger, great danger; prisoners in our own house, which they
have set on fire."

"I remember now--is not this our dear father's room?"

"Yes; we are prisoners in it, they have barred the door upon us."

"But they cannot bar us in: there is another door, Alfred; one my father
once pointed out to me, but told me to keep its existence a secret, as
it always had been kept. Who are without?"

"The Mercians, Edgar's army, come to deliver us; if we can reach them,
we are safe."

"I thought they were our foes, but all seems strange now. Alfred, lift
up the tapestry which conceals the recess where dear father's armour hung."

Alfred complied.

"Now, just where the breastplate hung you will find a round knob of wood
like a peg."

"Yes, it is here."

"Push it hard--no, harder."

Alfred did so, and a concealed door flew open; he stepped through it
with a cry of joy, and found himself on the staircase leading up from
the postern gate by which he had entered, just below the closed door
which led into the gallery above.

"God be thanked! we are saved--saved. Elfric!

"Oswy, take him in your arms, quick! quick! I lead the way, and will get
the boat ready--door open and boat ready."

It was all the work of a moment; they were on the private staircase,
carrying Elfric, carefully wrapt up. The smoke had entered even here;
the next moment they were at the entrance. Happily the whole attention
of Ragnar was concentrated on self preservation.

One more minute, and Elfric was placed in the coracle. The Mercians on
the further bank now observed them, and at first, not knowing them,
seemed disposed to treat them as foes; when Oswy cried aloud, "Spare
your arrows; it is Elfric of Aescendune;" and they crowded to the bank
joyfully, for the purpose of the attack was known to all, and now they
saw its object placed beyond the reach of further risk of failure.

The coracle touched the further bank; a dozen willing hands assisted
them up the slope. And amidst shouts of vociferous joy and triumph they
were conducted to King Edgar, who hastened towards the scene with Siward.

"Now, let the castle burn, let it burn," said Oswy.

"Alfred, is it you?" exclaimed the young king; "just escaped from the
flames! How came you there? and this is Elfric; you have saved him."

"God has delivered us."

"But you have been the instrument; you must tell me all another time,
get him into shelter quickly.

"Here, men, bear him to the priory, while we stay to do our duty here.

"Alfred, you must not linger."

"One favour, my lord and king; show mercy to Ragnar, to Redwald, you
know not how sad his story has been."

"Leave that to me; he shall have all he deserves;" and Alfred was forced
to be content.

At this moment, aroused by the shouts of joy, Ragnar, forgetting even
his danger, rushed to the roof. There he saw a crowd surrounding some
object of their joy; in the darkness of the night he could not
distinguish more, but the cry, "Long live Alfred of Aescendune!" arose
spontaneously from the crowd, just as the brothers departed. Faint with
toil as he was, his heart beating wildly with apprehension, he rushed to
the chamber through smoke and flame, for the tongues of fire were
already licking the staircase. He withdrew the bars, he rushed in, the
room was empty.

"It is magic, sorcery, witchcraft," he groaned.

But the remembrance of his last words, of his scornful defiance of God,
came back to him, and with it a conviction that he had indeed lifted up
his arm against the Holy One. He felt a sickening feeling of horror and
despair rush upon him, when loud cries calling him from beneath aroused him.

"We must charge through them; we cannot burn here; we must die fighting
sword in hand, it is all that is left."

Not one voice spoke of surrender amongst those fierce warriors, or of
seeking mercy.

It was indeed high time, for all efforts to extinguish the flames had
proved vain; every part of the castle was on fire; the fiery element
streamed from the lower windows, and curled upwards around the towers;
it crackled and hissed in its fury, and the atmosphere became unfit to
breathe; it was like inhaling flame. Sparks flew about in all
directions, dense stifling smoke filled every room. Not a man remained
in the hall, when Redwald rushed down the gallery, holding his breath,
for the hot air scorched the lungs; when, just as he arrived, the
staircase fell with a huge crash, and the flames shot up in his face,
igniting hair and beard, and scorching his flesh. He rushed back to the
opposite end of the passage, only to meet another blast of fire and
smoke--for they had ignited the hall in twenty places at once; they
had done their work all too well. He rushed to the room he had left,
shut the door for a moment's respite from flame and smoke, and then,
springing at the window, strove to tear the bars down, but all in vain.

"There must be some egress. How did they escape? How could they escape?"
he cried; and he sought in vain for the exit, for they had closed the
door again, and he knew not where to look; in vain he lifted the
tapestry, he could not discover the secret; and at last, overpowered by
the heat, he sprang again to the window, and drank in deep draughts of
fresh cool air to appease the burning feeling in his throat.

Crash! crash! part of the roof had given way, and the whole chamber
trembled; then a single tongue of flame shot up through the floor, then
another; the door had caught outside. Even in that moment he beheld his
men, his faithful followers, madly seeking death from the swords of the
foe; they had lowered the drawbridge, and dashed out without a leader.

"Would I were with them!" he cried. "Oh, to die like this!"

"Behold," cried a voice without, "he hath digged and graven a pit, and
is fallen himself into the destruction he made for others."

It was Father Swithin, who had observed the face at the window, and who
raised the cry which now drew all the enemy to gaze upon him, for they
had no longer a foe to destroy.

The flames now filled the room, but still he clung to the window, and
thus protracted his torments; his foes, even the stern monk, could but
pity him now, so marred and blackened was his visage, so agonised his
lineaments; like, as they said, the rude pictures of the lost, where the
last judgment was painted on the walls of the churches. Yet he uttered
no cry, he had resolved to die bravely; all was lost now. Another
moment, and those who watched saw the huge beams which supported the
building bend and quiver; then the whole framework collapsed, and with a
sound like thunder the roof tumbled in, and the unhappy Ragnar was
buried in the ruin; while the flames from his funeral pyre rose to the
very heavens, and the smoke blotted the stars from view.

"Even so," said the monk, solemnly, "let Thine enemies perish, O Lord,
but let them that love Thee be as the sun, when he goeth forth in his
might."

But those were not wanting who could not sympathise with the stern
sentiment, remembering better and gentler lessons from the lips of the
great Teacher and Master of souls.

"He has passed into the Hands of his God, there let us leave him," said
Father Cuthbert, who had just arrived at the moment. "It is not for us
to judge a soul which has passed to the judgment seat, and is beyond the
sentence of men."

Meanwhile, they had borne Elfric first to the priory, for they judged it
not well that he should yet be brought to his mother; they feared the
sudden shock. Many of the good monks had studied medicine, for they were
in fact the healers both of soul and body throughout the district, and
they attended him with assiduous care. They put him to bed, they gave
him cordials which soon produced quiet sleep, and watched by him for
many hours.

It was not till the day had far advanced that he awoke, greatly
refreshed, and saw Father Cuthbert and Alfred standing by him. They had
allayed the fever, bound up the wound, which was not in itself
dangerous, and he looked more like himself than one could have imagined
possible.

And now they thought they might venture to summon the lady Edith; and
Alfred broke the intelligence to her, for she knew not the events of the
night.

"Mother," he said; "we have news of Elfric, both bad and good, to tell you."

"He lives then," she said; "he lives!"

"Yes, lives, and is near; but he was wounded badly in the battle."

"I must go to him," she said, and arose, forgetting all possible
obstacles in a mother's love.

"He is near at hand, in the priory; you will find him much changed, but
they say he will do well."

She shook like an aspen leaf, and threw her garments around her with
nervous earnestness.

"Come, mother, take my arm."

"O Alfred, may I not come, too?" said little Edgitha.

"Yes, you may come too;" and they left the house.

Elfric heard them approach, and sat up in his bed, Father Cuthbert
supporting him with his arm; while another visitor, Edgar himself, stood
at the head of the bed, but retired to give place to the mother, as if
he felt no stranger could then intrude, when the widow clasped her
prodigal to her loving breast.


    CHAPTER XXIV. SOW THE WIND, AND REAP THE WHIRLWIND.

When Alfred rebuilt the city of Winchester, after it had been burned by
the Danes, he erected a royal palace, which became a favourite retreat
of his successors.

Here the unhappy Edwy retired after his defeat, to find consolation in
the company of Elgiva. Indeed he needed it. Northumbria had followed the
example of Mercia, and acknowledged Edgar, and he had no dominions left
north of the Thames, while it was rumoured that worse news might follow.

In an inner chamber of the palace, and remote from intrusion, sat the
king and his chosen advisers. It was early in the year 958, a spring day
when the sun shone brightly and all things spoke of the coming summer--
the songs of the birds, the opening buds, the blossoming orchards.

But peace was banished from those who sat in that council chamber. Edwy
was strangely disturbed, his face was flushed, and he bore evidence of
the most violent agitation.

"It must come to that at last, my king," exclaimed Cynewulf, "or Wessex
will follow the example of Mercia."

"Better lose my crown then and become a subject, with a subject's
liberty to love."

"A subject could never marry within the prohibited degree," said a
grey-headed counsellor.

"We have messengers from all parts of Wessex, from Kent, from Essex,
from Sussex, and they all unite in their demand that you should submit
to the Church, and put away (forgive me for repeating their words) your
concubine."

"Concubine!" said Edwy, and his cheek flushed, "she is my wife and your
queen."

"Pardon me, my liege, I did not make the word my own."

"You should not have dared to repeat it."

"If I dare, my lord, it is for your sake, and for our country, which is
dear to us all. Not an Englishman will acknowledge that your connection
is lawful; from Exeter to Canterbury the cry is the same--'Let him
renounce Elgiva, and we will obey him; but we will not serve a king who
does not obey the voice of the Church or the laws of the land.'"

"Laws of the land! The king is above the laws."

"Nay, my lord, he is bound to set the first example of obedience, chief
in that as in all things; an example to his people. Remember, my lord,
your coronation oath taken at Kingston three years ago."

Edwy flushed. "Is this a subject's language?"

"It is the language of one who loves his king too well to flatter him."

At this moment an usher of the court knocked at the door, and obtaining
permission to enter, stated that Archbishop Odo had arrived, and
demanded admission to the council.

"I will not see him," said the king.

"My liege," exclaimed Athelwold, the old grey-headed counsellor we have
mentioned, "permit one who loves you, as he loved your revered father,
to entreat you to cease from this hopeless resistance. If you refuse to
see him you are no longer a king."

"Then I will gladly abdicate."

"And become the scorn of Dunstan, and receive a retiring pension from
Edgar, and put your hand between his, kneeling humbly and saying 'I am
your man.'"

"No, no. Anything rather than that. Death first."

"All this may be averted with timely submission. Elgiva herself would
not counsel you to sacrifice all for her."

"O Athelwold. my father, the only one of my father's counsellors who has
been faithful to his firstborn, what can I do? She is dearer to me than
life."

"But not than honour. You have both erred, both disobeyed the law of the
Church, both forgotten the example due from those in high places."

"Tell Odo to enter," exclaimed Edwy.

The archbishop was close at hand, patiently awaiting the answer to his
demand, yet determined, in case of a refusal, to take his pastoral staff
in his hand and enter the council room, announced or not. A more
determined priest had never occupied the primacy, yet he was benevolent
as determined, and, as we have mentioned, was known as Odo the Good
amongst the poor. Stern and unyielding to the vices of the rich, he was
gentle as a parent to the repentant sinner.

He had pronounced, as we have seen, the lesser excommunication,[xxxi]
in consequence of Edwy's refusal to put away Elgiva, immediately after
the coronation; since which the guilty pair had never communicated at
the altar, or even attended mass. Their lives had been practically
irreligious, nay idolatrous, for they had been gods to each other.

And now, in the full pomp of the archiepiscopal attire, with the mitre
of St. Augustine on his head and the crozier in his hand, Odo advanced,
like one who felt his divine mission, to the centre of the room. His
cross bearer and other attendants remained in the antechamber.

"What dost thou seek, rude priest?" said Edwy.

"I am come in the Name of Him Whose laws thou hast broken, and speak to
thee as the Baptist to Herod. Put away this woman, for it is not lawful
for thee to have her."

"And would I could reply to thee as the holy fox Dunstan once informed
me Herod replied to the insolent Baptist, and send thine head on a
charger to Elgiva."

"My lord! my liege! my king! Remember his sacred office," remonstrated
the counsellors.

"Peace, my lords. His threats or his blandishments would alike fail to
move me. The blood of Englishmen slain in civil war--if indeed any are
found to fight for an excommunicate king--is that which I seek to avert.

"In the Name of my Master, Whom thou hast defied, O king, I offer thee
thy choice. Thou must put away thy concubine, or thou shalt sustain the
greater excommunication, when it will become unlawful for Christian
people even to speak with thee, or wish thee God speed, lest they be
partakers of thy evil deeds."

"My lord, you must yield," whispered Cynewulf.

"Son of the noble Edmund, thou must save thy father's name from disgrace."

"I cannot, will not, do Elgiva this foul wrong. I tell thee, priest,
that if thy benediction has never been pronounced upon our union, we are
man and wife before heaven."

"I await your answer," said Odo. "Am I to understand you choose the
fearful penalty of excommunication?"

"Nay! nay! he does not; he cannot," cried the counsellors. "Your
holiness!--father!--in the king's name we yield!"

"You are all cowards and traitors! Let him do what he will, I cannot yield."

"Then, my lord king, I must proceed," said Odo. "You have not only acted
wickedly in this matter, but you have misgoverned the people committed
to your charge, and broken every clause of your coronation oath. First,
you have not given the Church of God peace, or preserved her from
molestation, but have yourself ravaged her lands, and even slain her
servants with the sword; one, specially honoured of God, you sought to
slay, sending that wicked man, who has been called by fire to his
judgment, to execute your impious will."

"That holy fox Dunstan! Would Redwald had slain him!" muttered Edwy.

"Secondly," continued Odo, not heeding the interruption, "so far from
preventing thefts and fraud in all manner of men, you have maintained
notorious oppressors amongst your officers, and in your own person you
have broken the oath; for did you not even rob your aged grandmother,
and consume her substance in riotous living?"

"What could the old woman do with it all?"

"Thirdly, you have not maintained justice in your judicial proceedings,
but have spent all your time, like Rehoboam of old, with the young and
giddy, and in chastising your people with scorpions."

"Would I had a scorpion to chastise you! This is unbearable.

"My lords and counsellors, have you not a word to say for me?"

"Alas!" said Athelwold, "it is all too true; but give up Elgiva now, and
all will be well!"

"It will be at least the beginning of reformation," said Odo.

"And the end, I suppose," said Edwy, "will be that I shall shave my head
like a monk, banquet sumptuously upon herbs and water, spend
three-fourths of the day singing psalms through my nose, wear a hair
shirt, look as starved as a weasel, and at last, after sundry combats
with the devil, pinch his nose, and go off to heaven in all the odour of
sanctity. Go and preach all this to Edgar; I am not fool enough to
listen to it. You have got him to be your obedient slave and vassal; you
have bought him, body and soul, and the price has been Mercia, and now
you want to add Wessex. Well, I wish you joy of him, and him of you all;
for my part, if I could do it, I would restore the worship of Odin and
Thor, and offer you priests as bloody sacrifices to him: I would!"

"Peace, my lord and king! peace! this is horrible." said Athelwold.

"Horrible!" said another. "He is possessed. My lord Odo, you had better
exorcise him."

But Edwy had given way--he was young--and burst into a passionate
fit of weeping, his royal dignity all forgotten.

"Give him time! give him time, father!" said they all.

"One day; he must then submit, or I must do my duty; I have no choice--
none," replied the archbishop.

And the council sadly broke up; but Athelwold sought a private interview
with Elgiva.

It was the evening of the same day, and the fair Elgiva sat alone in her
apartment, into which the westering sun was casting his last beams of
liquid light; tears had stained her cheeks and reddened her eyes, but
she looked beautiful as ever, like the poet's or painter's conception of
the goddess of love. Around her were numerous evidences of a woman's
delicate tastes, of tastes too in advance of her day. The harp, which
Edwy had given her the day of their inauspicious union, stood in one
corner of the apartment; richly ornamented manuscripts lay scattered
about--not, as usual, legends of the saints, and breviaries, but the
writings of the heathen poets, especially those who sang most of love:
for she was learned in such lore.

At last the well-known step was heard approaching, and her heart beat
violently. Edwy entered, his face bearing the traces of his mental
struggle; he threw himself down upon a couch, and did not speak for some
few moments. She arose and stood beside him.

"Edwy, my lord, you are ill at ease."

"I am indeed, Elgiva; oh! if you knew what I have had to endure this day!"

"I know it all, my Edwy; you cannot sacrifice your Elgiva, but she can
sacrifice herself."

"Elgiva! what do you mean?"

"You have to choose between your country and your wife; she has made the
choice for you."

Here she strove violently to repress her emotion.

"Elgiva! you shall never go--never, never--it will break my heart."

"It will break mine; but better hearts should break than that civil war
should desolate our country, or that you should be dethroned."

"No more of this, Elgiva; you shall not go, I swear it! come weal or
woe. Are we not man and wife? Have we not ever been faithful to each other?"

"But this dreadful Church, my Edwy, which crushes men's affections and
rules their intellects with a giant's strength more fearful than the
fabled hammer of Thor. It crushed the sweet mythology of old, with all
that ministered to love, and substituted the shaveling, the nun, the
monk; it has no sympathy with poor hearts like ours; it is remorseless,
as though it never knew pity or fear. You must yield, my Edwy! we must
yield!"

"I cannot," he said; "we will fly the throne together."

"But where would you go? this Church is everywhere; who would receive an
excommunicate man?"

"I cannot help it, Elgiva; say no more, it maddens me. Talk of our early
days, before this dark shadow fell upon us."

She took up her harp, as if, like David, she could thereby soothe the
perturbed spirit; but its sweet sounds woke no answer in his breast, and
so the night came upon them--night upon the earth, night upon their souls.

Early in the morning she rose, strong in a woman's affection, while Edwy
yet slept, and hastily arrayed herself; she looked around at her poor
household gods, at the harp, at the many tokens of his love.

"It is for him!" she said. She imprinted her last kiss on his sleeping
forehead, she gazed upon him with fond, fond love; love had been her
all, her heaven: and then she opened the door noiselessly.

Athelwold waited without.

"Well done, noble girl!" he said; "thou keepest thy word right faithfully."

She strove to speak, but could not; her pale bloodless lips would not
frame the words. Silently they descended the stairs; the dawn reddened
the sky; a horse with a lady's equipments waited without, and a guide.

The old thane slipped a purse of gold into her hands.

"You will need it," he said. "Where are you going? you have not told us."

"It is better none should know," she said; "I will decide my route when
without the city."

They never heard of her again.[xxxii]

When Edwy awoke and found her gone he was at first frantic, and sent
messengers in all directions to bring her back; but when one after
another came back unsuccessful, he accepted the heroic sacrifice and
submitted.

Wessex, therefore, remained faithful to him, at least for a time, but
Mercia was utterly lost; and Edgar was recognised as the lawful king
north of the Thames, by all parties; friends and foes, even by Edwy himself.


    CHAPTER XXV. "FOR EVER WITH THE LORD."

Many months had passed away since the destruction of the hall of
Aescendune and the death of the unhappy Ragnar, and the spring of 958
had well-nigh ended. During the interval, a long and hard winter had
grievously tried the shattered constitution of Elfric. He had recovered
from the fever and the effects of his wound in a few weeks, yet only
partially recovered, for the severe shock had permanently injured his
once strong health, and ominous symptoms showed themselves early in the
winter. His breathing became oppressed, he complained of pains in the
chest, and seemed to suffer after any exertion.

These symptoms continued to increase in gravity, until his friends were
reluctantly compelled to recognise the symptoms of that insidious
disease, so often fatal in our English climate, which we now call
consumption.

It was long before they would admit as much; but when they saw how
acutely he suffered in the cold frosts; how he, who had once been
foremost in every manly exercise, was compelled to forego the hunt, and
to allow his brother to traverse the woods and enjoy the pleasures of
the chase without him; how he sought the fireside and shivered at the
least draught; how a dry painful cough continually shook his frame, they
could no longer disguise the fact that his days on earth might be very
soon ended.

There was one fact which astonished them. Although he had returned with
avidity to all the devotional habits in which he had been trained, yet
he always expressed himself unfit to receive the Holy Communion, and
delayed to make that formal confession of his sins, which the religious
habits of the age imposed on every penitent.

Once or twice his fond mother, anxious for his spiritual welfare,
pressed this duty upon him; and Alfred, whom he loved, as well he might,
most dearly, urged the same thing, yet he always evaded the subject, or,
when pressed, replied that he fully meant to do so; in short, it was a
matter of daily preparation, but he could not come to be shriven yet.

When the winter at last yielded, and the bright spring sun spoke of the
resurrection, when Lent was over, they hoped at least to see him make
his Easter communion, and their evident anxiety upon the subject at last
brought from him the avowal of the motives which actuated his conduct.

It was Easter Eve, and Alfred had enticed him out to enjoy the balmy air
of a bright April afternoon. Close by the path they took, the hall was
rapidly rising to more than its former beauty, for not only had the
theows and ceorls all shown great alacrity in the work, but all the
neighbouring thanes had lent their aid.

"It will be more beautiful than ever," said Alfred, "but not quite so
homelike. Still, when you come of age, Elfric, it will be a happy home
for you."

"It will never be my home, Alfred."

"You must not speak so despondently. The bright springtide will soon
restore all your former health and vigour."

"No, Alfred, no; the only home I look for is one where my poor shattered
frame will indeed recover its vigour, but it will not be the vigour or
beauty of this world. Do you remember the lines Father Cuthbert taught
us the other night?

"'Oh, how glorious and resplendent,
Fragile body, shalt thou be,
When endued with so much beauty,
Full of health, and strong and free,
Full of vigour, full of pleasure.
That shall last eternally.'

"It will not be of earth, though, my brother."

Alfred was silent; his emotions threatened to overcome him. He could not
bear to think that he should lose Elfric, although the conviction was
gradually forcing itself upon them all.

"Alfred," continued the patient, "it is of no use deceiving ourselves. I
have often thought it hard to leave this beautiful world, for it is
beautiful after all, and to leave you who have almost given your life
for me, and dear mother, little Edgitha, and Father Cuthbert; but God's
Will must be done, and what He wills must be best for us. No; this
bright Easter tide is the last I shall see on earth; but did not Father
Cuthbert say that heaven is an eternal Easter?"

So the repentant prodigal spoke, according to the lessons the Church had
taught him. Superstitious in many points that Church of our forefathers
may have been, yet how much living faith had its home therein will never
be fully known till the judgment.

"And when I look at that castle," Elfric continued, "our own hall of
Aescendune, rising from its ashes, I picture to myself how you will
marry some day and be happy there; how our dear mother will see your
children growing up around her knee, and teach them as she taught you
and me; how, perhaps, you will name one after me, and there shall be
another Elfric, gay and happy as the old one, but, I hope, ten times as
good; and you will not let him go to court, I am sure, Alfred."

Alfred did not answer; he could not command his composure.

"And when you all come to the priory church on Sundays, and Father
Cuthbert, or whoever shall come after him, sings the mass, you will
remember me and breathe my name in your prayers when they say the
memento for the faithful dead; and again, there shall be little children
learning their paters and their sweet little prayers, as you and I
learned them at our mother's knee: and you will show them my tomb, where
I shall rest with dear father, and perhaps my story may be a warning to
them. But you must never forget to show them how brotherly love was
stronger than death when the old hall was burnt.

"After all," he continued, "our separation won't be long, the longest
day comes to an end, and a thousand years are with Him as one day. We
shall all be united at last--father, mother, Alfred, Edgitha, Elfric.
Do you not hear the Easter bells?"

They retraced their steps to the priory church for the services of
Easter Eve.

"And one thing more, dear Alfred; you think me a strange penitent, that
I am long, very long, before I make my confession. You do not know how I
sigh for Communion; it is three years since I communicated, nearly four.
But, Alfred, there is one who tried to stop me when I began going
downward, downward, and I feel as if I must have his forgiveness before
I can communicate, and it is to him I want to make my last confession.
You know whom I mean; he is in England now and near."

"I do indeed."

"Now you know my secret, let us go into church."

Oh, how sweetly those Easter psalms and lessons spoke to Alfred and
Elfric that night; how sweetly the tidings of a risen Saviour sounded in
their ears. Easter joy was joy indeed. The very heavens seemed brighter
that night, the moon--the Paschal moon--seemed to gladden the earth
and render it a Paradise, like that happy Eden of old times, before sin
entered its holy seclusion.

Easter tide was over, and Ascension drew near, but the sweet month of
May had done little to restore health to poor Elfric. He had scarcely
ever had a day free from pain. His eye was brighter than ever, but his
attenuated face told a sad tale of the decay of the vital power.

From the time that Alfred knew how his brother yearned for Dunstan's
forgiveness, and that he would be shriven by none but him, he had sought
to accomplish his wish. He heard that Dunstan had returned from abroad,
and was about to be consecrated Bishop of Worcester, and to be their own
diocesan, and he sought an early opportunity of seeing him.

At last, but not until after Dunstan's consecration, he gained the
opportunity, not without much delay; for Dunstan was sometimes in
Worcester, sometimes in London, which had thrown off Edwy's authority,
and submitted, with all Essex, to Edgar; sometimes ordaining, sometimes
confirming, sometimes assisting Edgar in the government; and he was,
like all other great men, very inaccessible.

At last Alfred learned that he would be in Worcester by a certain day,
and he started at once for that city. He arrived there after a tedious
journey; the roads were very difficult, and when he reached the city he
heard the cathedral bells, and went at once to the high mass, for it was
a festival. There he saw Dunstan as he had seen him before at
Glastonbury, at the altar, amidst all the solemn pomp in which our
ancestors robed the sacred office.

Immediately after the service he repaired to the palace, and put in his
name. Numbers, like himself, were awaiting an audience, but only a few
minutes had passed ere an usher came into the antechamber and informed
him that Dunstan requested his immediate presence.

He followed the usher amidst the envy of many who had the prospect of a
long detention ere they could obtain the same favour, and soon he had
clasped Dunstan's hand and knelt for his blessing.

"Nay! rise up, my son, it is thine: _Deus benedicat et custodiat te, in
omnibus viis tuis_. Thinkest thou, my son, thy name has been forgotten
in my poor prayers? God made thee His instrument, but thou wast a very
very willing one; and now, my son, wherein can I serve thee? Thou hast
but to speak."

Thus encouraged, Alfred told all his tale, and Dunstan listened with
much emotion.

"Yet two days and I will be with you at Aescendune. Go back and comfort
thy brother; he shall indeed have my forgiveness, and happy shall I be
as an ambassador of Christ to fulfil the blessed office of restoring the
lost sheep to the fold, the prodigal to his Heavenly Father."

When Alfred returned to Aescendune he found Elfric eagerly awaiting him;
he had not been so well in the absence of his brother, and every one saw
symptoms of the coming end.

Still he seemed so happy when Alfred delivered his message that every
one remarked it, and that evening he sat up later than usual, listening
as Father Cuthbert read for the hundredth time his favourite story from
King Alfred's Anglo-Saxon version of the Gospels, the parable of the
prodigal son, which had filled his mind on the night after the battle;
then he spoke to his mother about past days, before a cloud came between
him and his home; and talked of his father, and of the little incidents
of early youth. Always loving, he was more so than usual that night, as
if he felt time was short in which to show a son's love.

That night his mother came, as she always came, when he was asleep, to
his chamber to gaze upon him, when she was struck by the difficulty of
his breathing; she felt alarmed when she saw the struggles he seemed to
make for breath, and saw the damp sweat upon his brow, so she called Alfred.

Alfred saw at once that his brother was seriously worse, and summoned
Father Cuthbert, who no sooner gazed upon him than he exclaimed that the
end was near.

During all that night he breathed heavily and with difficulty, as if
each breath would be the last. Towards morning, however, he rallied, and
immediate danger seemed gone, although only for a short time.

He sat up for the last time that day. It was a lovely day in May, and in
the heat of the day he seemed to drink in the sweet atmosphere, as it
came gently through the open window, laden with the scents of a hundred
flowers. Often his lips moved as if in prayer, and sometimes he spoke to
his brother, and asked when Dunstan would come; but he was not equal to
prolonged conversation.

At length one of the ceorls came riding in to say that the Bishop, with
his retinue, was approaching the village, and Father Cuthbert went out
to meet him. The impatient anxiety of poor Elfric became painful to witness.

"He is coming, Elfric! he is coming!" said Alfred from the window. "I
see him near; see! he stops to salute Father Cuthbert, whom he knew
years ago; I must go down to receive him.

"Mother! You stay with Elfric."

A sound as of many feet; another moment, a firm step was heard upon the
stairs, and Dunstan entered the room.

He advanced to the bed, while all present stood in reverent silence, and
gazed upon the patient with a look of such affection as a father might
bestow upon a dying son as he took the weak nerveless hand.

Elfric looked round with a mute appeal which they all comprehended, and
left him alone with Dunstan.

"Father, pardon me!" he said.

"Thou askest pardon of me, my son--of me, a sinner like thyself; I
cannot tell thee how freely I give it thee; and now, my son, unburden
thyself before thy God, for never was it known that one pleaded to Him
and was cast out."

When, after an interval, Dunstan summoned the lady Edith and Alfred back
into the room, a look cf such calm, placid composure, such satisfied
happiness, sat upon his worn face, that they never forgot it.

"Surely," thought they, "such is the expression the blessed will wear in
heaven."

And then, in their presence, Dunstan administered the Blessed Sacrament
of the Body and Blood of Christ to the happy penitent; it was the first
Communion which he had willingly made since he first left home, a bright
happy boy of fifteen; and words would fail to describe the deep faith
and loving penitence with which he gathered his dying strength to
receive the Holy Mysteries.

And then Dunstan administered the last of all earthly rites--the holy
anointing;[xxxiii] while amidst their tears the mourners
yet thought of Him Who vouchsafed to be anointed before He sanctified
the grave to be a bed of hope to His people.

"Art thou happy now, my son?" said Dunstan, when all was over.

"Happy indeed! happy! yes, so happy!"

They were almost the last words he said, until an hour had passed and
the sun had set, leaving the bright clouds suffused in rich purple, when
he sat up in the bed.

"Mother! Alfred!" he said, "do you hear that music? Many are singing;
surely that was father's voice. Oh! how bright!"

He fell back, and Dunstan began the solemn commendatory prayer, for he
saw the last moment was come.

"Go forth, O Christian soul, from this world, in the name of God the
Father Who hath created thee, of God the Son Who hath redeemed thee, of
God the Holy Ghost Who hath been poured out upon thee; and may thy abode
be this day in peace, in the heavenly Sion, through Jesus Christ thy Lord."

It was over! Over that brief but eventful life! Over all the bright
hopes which had centred on him in this world; but the battle was won,
and the eternal victory gained.

We have little more to add to our tale; the remainder is matter of
history. The real fate of the unhappy Elgiva is not known, for the
legend which represents her as suffering a violent death at the hands of
the partisans of Edgar or Odo rests upon no solid foundation, but is
repugnant to actual facts of history. Let us hope that she found the
only real consolation in that religion she had hitherto, unhappily,
despised, but which may perhaps have come to her aid in adversity.

The unhappy Edwy sank from bad to worse. When Elgiva was gone he seemed
to have nothing to live for; he yielded himself up to riotous living to
drown care, while his government became worse and worse. Alas, he never
repented, so far as we can learn, and the following year he died at
Gloucester--some said of a broken heart, others of a broken
constitution--in the twentieth year only of his age.

Poor unhappy Edwy the Fair! Yet he had been his own worst enemy. Well
has it been written:

"Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine
heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou that for all these
things God will bring thee into judgment."

Edgar succeeded to the throne, and all England acknowledged him as lord;
while under Dunstan's wise administration the land enjoyed peace and
plenty unexampled in Anglo-Saxon annals. Such was Edgar's power, that
more than three thousand vessels kept the coast in safety, and eight
tributary kings did him homage.

Alfred became in due course Thane of Aescendune, and his widowed mother
lived to rejoice in his filial care many a long year, while the
dependants and serfs blessed his name as they had once blessed that of
his father.

"The boy is the father of the man" it has been well said, and it was not
less true than usual in this case. A bright pure boyhood ushered in a
manhood of healthful vigour and bright intellect.

Children grew up around him after his happy marriage with Alftrude, the
daughter of the thane of Rollrich. The eldest boy was named Elfric, and
was bright and brave as the Elfric of old. Need we say he never went to
court, although Edgar would willingly have numbered him in the royal
household. Truly, indeed, were fulfilled the words which the Elfric of
old had spoken on that Easter eve. To his namesake, and to all that
younger generation, the memory of the uncle they had never seen was
surrounded by a mysterious halo of light and love; and when they said
their prayers around his tomb, it seemed as if he were still one of
themselves--sharing their earthly joys and sorrows.

And here we must leave them--time passing sweetly on, the current of
their lives flowing softly and gently to the mighty ocean of eternity:

"Where the faded flower shall freshen,
Freshen never more to fade;
Where the shaded sky shall brighten,
Brighten never more to shade."
_Bonar_.

THE END.

i For authorities for his various statements the Author
must beg to refer his readers to the notes at the end of the volume.

ii Homilies in the Anglo-Saxon Church

"The mass priest, on Sundays and mass days, shall speak the sense of the
Gospel to the people in English, and of the Paternoster, and of the
Creed, as often as he can, for the inciting of the people to know their
belief, and to retain their Christianity. Let the teacher take heed of
what the prophet says, 'They are dumb dogs, and cannot bark.' We ought
to bark and preach to laymen, lest they should be lost through
ignorance. Christ in His gospel says of unlearned teachers, 'If the
blind lead the blind, they both fall into the ditch.' The teacher is
blind that hath no book learning, and he misleads the laity through his
ignorance. Thus are you to be aware of this, as your duty requires."--
23d Canon of Elfric, about A.D. 957.

Elfric was then only a private monk in the abbey of Ahingdon, and
perhaps composed these canons for the use of Wulfstan, Bishop of
Dorchester, with the assistance of the abbot, Ethelwold. They commence
"Aelfricus, humilis frater, venerabili Episcopo Wulfsino, salutem in
Domino." Others think this "Wulfsinus" was the Bishop of Sherborne of
that name. Elfric became eventually Archbishop of Canterbury, A.D.
995-1005, dying at an advanced age. No other English name before the
Conquest is so famous in literature.

iii Services of the Church.

"It concerns mass priests, and all God's servants, to keep their
churches employed with God's service. Let them sing therein the
seven-tide songs that are appointed them, as the Synod earnestly
requires--that is, the uht song (matins); the prime song (seven A.M.);
the undern song (terce, nine A.M.); the midday song (sext); the noon
song (nones, three P.M.); the even song (six P.M.); the seventh or night
song (compline, nine P.M.)"--19th Canon of Elfric.

It is not to be supposed that the laity either were expected to attend,
or could attend, all these services, which were strictly kept in
monastic bodies; but it would appear that mass, and sometimes matins and
evensong, or else compline, were generally frequented. And these latter
would be, as represented in the text, the ordinary services in private
chapels.

iv Battle of Brunanburgh.

In this famous battle, the English, under their warlike king, defeated a
most threatening combination of foes; Anlaf, the Danish prince, having
united his forces to those of Constantine, King of the Scots, and the
Britons, or Welsh of Strathclyde and Cambria. So proud were the English
of the victory, that their writers break into poetry when they come to
that portion of their annals. Such is the case with the writer of the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, from whom the following verses are abridged. They
have been already partially quoted in the text.

Here Athelstane king,
Of earls the lord,
To warriors the ring-giver,
Glory world-long
Had won in the strife,
By edge of the sword,
At Brunanburgh.
The offspring of Edward,
The departed king,
Cleaving the shields.
Struck down the brave.
Such was their valour,
Worthy of their sires,
That oft in the strife
They shielded the land
'Gainst every foe.
The Scottish chieftains,
The warriors of the Danes,
Pierced through their mail,
Lay dead on the field.
The field was red
With warriors' blood,
What time the sun,
Uprising at morn,
The candle of God,
Ran her course through the heavens;
Till red in the west
She sank to her rest.
Through the live-long day
Fought the people of Wessex,
Unshrinking from toil,
While Mercian men,
Hurled darts by their side.
Fated to die
Their ships brought the Danes,
Five kings and seven earls,
All men of renown,
And Scots without number
Lay dead on the field.
Constantine, hoary warrior,
Had small cause to boast.
Young in the fight,
Mangled and torn,
Lay his son on the plain.
Nor Anlaf the Dane
With wreck of his troops,
Could vaunt of the war
Of the clashing of spears.
Or the crossing of swords,
with the offspring of Edward.
The Northmen departed
In their mailed barks,
Sorrowing much;
while the two brothers,
The King and the Etheling,
To Wessex returned,
Leaving behind
The corpses of foes
To the beak of the raven,
The eagle and kite,
And the wolf of the wood.

The Chronicle simply adds, "A.D. 937.--This year King Athelstan, and
the Etheling Edmund, his brother, led a force to Brimanburgh, end there
fought against Anlaf, and, Christ helping them, they slew five kings and
seven earls."

v Murder of Edmund.

A certain robber named Leofa, whom Edmund had banished for his crimes,
returning after six years' absence, totally unexpected, was sitting, on
the feast of St. Augustine, the apostle of the English, and first
Archbishop of Canterbury, among the royal guests at Pucklechurch, for on
this day the English were wont to regale, in commemoration of their
first preacher; by chance, too, he was placed near a nobleman, whom the
king had condescended to make his guest. This, while the others were
eagerly carousing, was perceived by the king alone; when, hurried with
indignation, and impelled by fate, he leaped from the table, caught the
robber by the hair, and dragged him to the floor; but he, secretly
drawing a dagger from its sheath, plunged it with all his force into the
breast of the king as he lay upon him. Dying of the wound, he gave rise
over the whole kingdom to many fictions concerning his decease. The
robber was shortly torn limb from limb by the attendants who rushed in,
though he wounded some of them ere they could accomplish their purpose.
St. Dunstan, at that time Abbot of Glastonbury, had foreseen his ignoble
end, being fully persuaded of it from the gesticulations and insolent
mockery of a devil dancing before him. Wherefore, hastening to court at
full speed, he received intelligence of the transaction on the road. By
common consent, then, it was determined that his body should be brought
to Glastonbury, and there magnificently buried in the northern part of
the tower. That such had been his intention, through his singular regard
for the abbot, was evident from particular circumstances. The village,
also, where he was murdered, was made a offering for the dead, that the
spot, which had witnessed his fall, might ever after minister aid to his
soul,--William of Malmesbury, B, ii. e. 7, Bohn's Edition.

vi A. D. 556--Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

vii Wulfstan, and the See of Dorchester.

When Athelstane was dead, the Danes, both in Northumberland and Mercia,
revolted against the English rule, and made Anlaf their king. Archbishop
Wulfstan, then of York, sided with them, perhaps being himself of Danish
blood. The kingdom was eventually divided between Edmund and Aulaf,
until the death of the latter. When Edred ascended the throne--after
the murder of Edmund, who had, before his death, repossessed himself of
the whole sovereignty--the wise men of Northumberland, with Wulfstan
at their head, swore submission to him, but in 948 rebelled and chose
for their king Eric of Denmark. Edred marched at once against them, and
subdued the rebellion with great vigour, not to say riqour. He threw the
archbishop into prison at Jedburgh in Bernicia. After a time he was
released, but only upon the condition of banishment from Northumbria,
and he was made Bishop of Dorchester, a place familiar to the tourist on
the Thames, famed for the noble abbey church which still exists, and has
been grandly restored.

Although Dorchester is now only a village, it derives its origin from a
period so remote that it is lost in the mist of ages. It was probably a
British village under the name Cair Dauri, the camp on the waters; and
coins of Cunobelin, or Cassivellaunus, have been found in good
preservation. Bede mentions it as a Roman station, and Richard of
Cirencester marks it as such in the xviii. Iter, under the name Durocina.

Its bishopric was founded by Birinus, the apostle of the West Saxons;
and the present bishoprics of Winchester, Salisbury, Exeter, Bath and
Wells, Worcester and Hereford, were successively taken from it, after
which it still extended from the Thames to the Humber.

Suffering grievously from the ravages of the Danes, it became a small
town, and it suffered again grievously at the Conquest, when the
inhabited houses were reduced by the Norman ravages from 172 to 100, and
perhaps the inhabitants were reduced in proportion. In consequence,
Remigius, the first Norman bishop, removed the see to Lincoln, because
Dorchester, on account of its size and small population, did not suit
his ideas, as John of Brompton observes. From this period its decline
was rapid, in spite of its famous abbey, which Remigius partially
erected with the stones from the bishop's palace.

viii Anglo-Saxon Literature.

In the age of Bede, the eighth century, Britain was distinguished for
its learning; but the Danish invasions caused the rapid decline of its
renown.

The churches and monasteries, where alone learning flourished, and which
were the only libraries and schools, were the first objects of the
hatred of the ferocious pagans; and, in consequence, when Alfred came to
the throne, as he tells us in his own words--"South of the Humber
there were few priests who could understand the meaning of their common
prayers, or translate a line of Latin into English; so few, that in
Wessex there was not one." Alfred set himself diligently to work to
correct this evil. Nearly all the books in existence in England were in
Latin, and it was a "great" library which contained fifty copies of
these. There was a great objection to the use of the vernacular in the
Holy Scriptures, as tending to degrade them by its uncouth jargon; but
the Venerable Bede had rendered the Gospel of St. John into the
Anglo-Saxon, together with other extracts from holy Scripture; and there
were versions of the Psalter in the vulgar tongue, very rude and
uncouth; for ancient translators generally imagined a translation could
only be faithful which placed all the words of the vulgar tongue in the
same relative positions as the corresponding words in the original. An
Anglo-Saxon translation upon this plan is extant.

Alfred had taught himself Latin by translating: there were few
vocabularies, and only the crabbed grammar of old Priscian. Shaking
himself free from the trammels we have enumerated, he invited learned
men from abroad, such as his biographer, Asser, and together they
attempted a complete version of the Bible. Some writers suppose the
project was nearly completed, others, that it was interrupted by his
early death. Still, translations were multiplied of the sacred writings,
and the rubrics show that they were read, as described in the text, upon
the Sundays and festivals. From that time down to the days of Wickliffe,
England can boast of such versions of the sacred Word as can hardly be
paralleled in Europe.

The other works we have mentioned were also translated by or for Alfred.
"The Chronicle of Orosius," a history of the world by a Spaniard of
Seville; "The History of the Venerable Bede;" "The Consolations of
Philosophy," by Boethius; "Narratives from Ancient Mythology;" "The
Confessions of St. Augustine;" "The Pastoral Instructions of St.
Gregory;" and his "Dialogue," form portions of the works of this
greatest of kings, and true father of his people. His "Apologues,"
imitated from Aesop, are unfortunately lost.

ix The Court of Edred.

All the early chroniclers appear to take a similar view of the character
and court of Edred. William of Malmesbury says--"The king devoted his
life to God, and to St. Dunstan, by whose admonition he bore with
patience his frequent bodily pains, prolonged his prayers, and made his
palace altogether the school of virtue." But although pious, he was by
no means wanting in manly energy, as was shown by his vigorous and
successful campaign in Northumbria, on the occasion of the attempt to
set Eric, son of Harold, on the throne of Northumbria. The angelic
apparition to St. Dunstan, mentioned in chapter VII, is told by nearly
all the early historians, but with varying details. According to many,
it occurred while Dunstan was hastening to the aid of Edred. The
exigencies of the tale required a slightly different treatment of the
legend.

x Confession in the Anglo-Saxon Church.

"On the week next before holy night shall every one go to his shrift
(i.e. confessor), and his shrift shall shrive him in such a manner as
his deeds which he hath done require and he shall charge all that belong
to his district that if any of them have discord with any, he make peace
with him; if any one will not be brought to this, then he shall not
shrive him; [but] then he shall inform the bishop, that he may convert
him to what is right, if he he willing to belong to God: then all
contentions and disputes shall cease, and if there be any one of them
that hath taken offence at another, then shall they be reconciled, that
they may the more freely say in the Lord's Prayer, 'Forgive us our
trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us,' etc. And
having thus purified their minds, let them enter upon the holy
fast-tide, and cleanse themselves by satisfaction against holy Easter,
for this satisfaction is as it were a second baptism. As in Baptism the
sins before committed are forgiven, so, by satisfaction, are the sins
committed after Baptism." Theodulf's Canons, A.D. 994 (Canon 36).

It is evident, says Johnson, that "holy night" means "lenten night," as
the context shows.

xi Incense in the Anglo-Saxon Church.

Dr. Rock, in his "Hierurgia Anglicans," states that incense was used at
the Gospel. In vol. i., quoting from Ven. Bede, he writes--"Conveniunt
omnes in ecclesium B. Petri ipse (Ceolfridas Abbas) thure incenso, et
dicto oratione, ad altare pacem dat omnibus, stans in gradibus,
thuribulum habens in menu." In Leofric's Missal is a form for the
blessing of incense. Theodore's Penitential also affixes a penance to
its wilful or careless destruction. Ven. Bede on his deathbed gave away
incense amongst his little parting presents, as his disciple, Cuthbert,
relates. Amongst the furniture of the larger Anglo-Saxon churches was a
huge censer hanging from the roof, which emitted fumes throughout the mass.

"Hic quoque thuribulum, capitellis undique cinctum,
Pendet de summo, fumosa foramina pandens:
De quibus ambrosia spirabunt thura Sabaea,
Quando sacerdotes missas offerre jubentur."
Alcuini _Opera_, B. ii,, p. 550.

xii Psalm xxi. 3.

xiii "All were indignant at the shameless deed, and
murmured amongst themselves,"--William of Malmesbury.

xiv The Welsh were driven from Exeter by King
Athelstane; before that time, Englishmen and Welsh had inhabited it with
equal rights.

xv The earliest inhabitants of Ireland were called Scots.

xvi Legends about St. Dunstan.

"It is a great pity," says Mr. Freeman, in his valuable "Old English
History," "that so many strange stories are told about him [Dunstan],
because people are apt to think of those stories and not of his real
actions." This has indeed been the case to such an extent that his
talents, as a statesman and as an ecclesiastical legislator, are almost
unknown to many who are very familiar with the story of his seizing the
devil by the nose with a pair of tongs. Sir Francis Palgrave supposes
that St. Dunstan's seclusion at the time had led him to believe, like so
many solitaries, that he was attacked in person by the fiend, and that
he related his visions, which were accepted as absolute facts by his
credulous hearers. Hence the author has assumed the currency of some of
these marvellous legends in his tale, and has introduced a later one
into the text of the present chapter. But the whole life of the saint,
as related by his monkish biographers, is literally full of such
legends, some terrible, some ludicrous. One of the most remarkable
deserves mention, bearing, as it does, upon our tale. It is said that he
learned that Edwy was dead, and that the devils were about to carry off
his soul in triumph, when, falling to fervent prayer, he obtained his
release. A most curious colloquy between the abbot and the devils on
this subject may be found in Osberne's "Life of Dunstan."

xvii The Benedictine Rule.

St. Benedict, the founder of the great Benedictine Order, was born in
the neighbourhood of Nursia, a city of Italy, about A.D. 480. Sent to
study at Rome, he was shocked at the vices of his fellow students, ran
away from the city, and shut himself up in a hermitage, where he
resigned himself to a life of the strictest austerity. Three years he
spent in a cave near Subiaco, about forty miles from Rome, where he was
so removed from society that he lost all account of time. He did not,
however, lead an idle life of self contemplation; he instructed the
shepherds of he neighbourhood, and such were the results of his
instruction that his fame spread widely, until, the abbot of a
neighbouring monastery dying, the brethren almost compelled him to
become their superior, but, not liking the reforms he introduced,
subsequently endeavoured to poison him, whereupon he returned to his
cave, where, as St. Gregory says, "he dwelt with himself" and became
more celebrated than ever. After this the number of his disciples
increased so greatly, that, emerging from his solitude, he built twelve
monasteries, in each of which he placed twelve monks under a superior,
finally laying the foundation of the great monastery of Monte Cassino,
which has ever since been regarded as the central institution of the order.

Here was drawn up the famous Benedictine rule, which was far more
adapted than any other code to prevent the cloister from becoming the
abode of idleness or lascivious ease. To the three vows of poverty,
chastity, and obedience, was added the obligation of manual labour, the
brethren being required to work with their hands at least seven hours
daily. The profession for life was preceded by a novitiate of one year,
during which the rule was deeply studied by the novice, that the life
vow might not be taken without due consideration. The colour of the
habit was usually dark, hence the brethren were called the Black Monks.

St. Benedict died of a fever, which he caught in ministering to the
poor, on the eve of Passion Sunday, A.D. 543. Before his death, the
houses of the order were to be found in all parts of Europe, and by the
ninth century it had become general throughout the Church, almost
superseding all other orders.

xviii The Roman Roads.

Roman roads were thus constructed: Two shallow trenches were dug
parallel to each other, marking the breadth of the proposed road; the
loose earth was removed till a solid foundation was reached, and above
this were laid four distinct strata--the first of small broken stones,
the second of rubble, the third of fragments of bricks or pottery, and
the fourth the pavement, composed of large blocks of solid stone, so
joined as to present a perfectly even surface. Regular footpaths were
raised on each side, and covered with gravel. Milestones divided them
accurately. Mountains were pierced by cuttings or tunnels, and arches
thrown over valleys or streams. Upon these roads, posting houses existed
at intervals of six miles, each provided with forty horses, so that
journeys of more than 150 miles were sometimes accomplished in one day.

From the arrival of our uncivilised anceators, these magnificent roads
were left to ruin and decay, and sometimes became the quarry whence the
thane or baron drew stones for his castle; but they still formed the
channels of communication for centuries. Henry of Huntingdon (circa
1154) mentions the Icknield Street, from east to west; the Eringe, or
Ermine Street, from south to north; the Watling Street, from southeast
to northwest; and the Foss Way, from northeast to southwest, as the four
principal highways of Britain in his day. Once ruined, no communications
so perfect existed until these days of railroads.

xix The Rollright Stones.

These stones are still to be seen in the parish of Great Rollright near
Chipping Norton, Oxon, anciently Rollrich or Rholdrwygg. They lie on the
edge of an old Roman trackway, well defined, which extends along the
watershed between Thames and Avon. The writer has himself heard from the
rustics of the neighbourhood the explanation given by Oswy, while that
put in the mouth of Father Cuthbert is the opinion of the learned.

xx For this new translation of Urbs beata the author is
indebted to his friend the Rev. Gerald Moultrie.

xxi The reader will remember the strong feeling of
animosity then existing between seculars and regulars.

xxii This demoniacal laughter is one of the many
legends about St. Dunstan.

xxiii See Preface.

xxiv Ruined British Cities.

The resistance of the Britons (or Welsh) to their Saxon (or English)
foes was so determined, that, as in all similar cases, it increased the
miseries of the conquered. In Gaul the conquered Celts united with the
Franks to make one people; in Spain they united with the Goths; but the
conquerors of Britain came from that portion of Germany which had been
untouched by Roman valour or civilisation, and consequently there was no
disposition to unite with their unhappy victims, but the war became one
of extermination. Long and bravely did the unhappy Welsh struggle. After
a hundred years of warfare they still possessed the whole extent of the
western coast, from the wall of Autoninus to the extreme promontory of
Cornwall; and the principal cities of the inland territory still
maintained the resistance. The fields of battle, says Gibbon, might be
traced in almost every district by the monuments of bones; the fragments
of falling towers were stained by blood, the Britons were massacred
ruthlessly to the last man in the conquered towns, without distinction
of age or sex, as in Anderida. Whole territories returned to desolation;
the district between the Tyne and Tees, for example, to the state of a
savage and solitary forest. The wolves, which Roman authorities describe
as nonexistent in England, again peopled those dreary wastes; and from
the soft civilisation of Rome the inhabitants of the land fell back to
the barbarous manners and customs of the shepherds and hunters of the
German forests. Nor did the independent Britons, who had taken refuge
finally in Wales, or Devon and Cornwall, fare much better. Separated by
their foes from the rest of mankind, they returned to that state of
barbarism from which they had emerged, and became a scandal at last to
the growing civilisation of their English foes.

Under these circumstances the Saxons or English (the Saxons founded the
kingdoms of Wessex and Essex; the Jutes, Kent; the Angles all the
others. The predominance of the latter caused the term English to become
the general appellation.) cared little to inhabit the cities they
conquered; they left them to utter desolation, as in the case described
in the text, until a period came when, as in the case of the first
English assaults upon Exeter and the west country, they no longer
destroyed, but appropriated, while they spared the conquered.

xxv Seaton in Devonshire.

xxvi Elgiva or Aelgifu, signifies fairy gift.

Xxvii

The gate of hell stands open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But to return, and view the upper skies--
In this the toil, in this the labour lies.--Dryden.

xxviii Valhalla.

Valhalla or Waihalla was the mythical Scandinavian Olympus, the
celestial locality where Odin and Edris dwelt with the happy dead who
had fallen in battle, and who had been conducted thither by the fair
Valkyries. Here they passed the days in fighting and hunting
alternately, being restored sound in body for the banquet each night,
where they drank mead from the skulls of the foes they had vanquished in
battle. Such was the heaven which commended itself to those fierce warriors.

xxix The parish priests were commonly called "Mass-Thanes"

xxx "I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord.
He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and
whosoever liveth, and believeth in Me, shall never die."

It was not the usual English custom, in those days, to bury the dead in
coffins, still it was often done, in the case of the great, from the
earliest days of Christianity. For instance, a stone coffin, supposed to
contain the dust of the fierce Offa, who died A. D. 796, was dug up,
when more than a thousand years had passed away, in the year 1836, at
Hemel-Hempstead, with the name Offa rudely carved upon it. The earliest
mention of churchyards in English antiquities is in the canons called
the "Excerptions of Ecgbriht," A.D. 740, when Cuthbert was Archbishop of
Canterbury; and here the word "atria" is used, which may refer to the
outbuildings or porticoes of a church.


xxxi The Greater and Lesser Excommunications.

The lesser excommunication excluded men from the participation of the
Eucharist and the prayers of the faithful, but did not necessarily expel
them from the Church. The greater excommunication was far more dreadful
in its operation. It was not lawful to pray, speak, or eat, with the
excommunicate (Canons of Ecgbright). No meat might be given into their
hands even in charity, although it might be laid before them on the
ground. Those who sheltered them incurred a heavy "were gild," and
endangered the loss of their estates; and finally, in case of obstinacy,
outlawry and banishment followed.

--King Canute's Laws Ecclesiastical.

xxxii Disappearance of Elgiva.

The writer has already in the preface stated his reasons for rejecting
the usual sad story about the fate of the hapless Elgiva. The other
story, that she was seized by Archbishop Odo, branded on the face, and
sent to Ireland, as Mr. Freeman observes, rests on no good authority;
all that is certainly known is that she disappeared.

At the time commonly assigued to these events, Dunstan was still in
Flanders; yet he is generally credited with the atrocities by modern
writers, even as if he had been proved guilty after a formal trial. His
return probably took place about the time occupied by the action of the
last chapter, when the partition of the kingdom had already occurred.

xxxiii The last Anointing.

The priest shall also have oil hallowed, separately, for children, and
for sick men; and solemnly anoint the sick in their beds. Some sick men
are full of vain fears, so as not to consent to the being anointed. Now
we will tell you how God's Apostle Jacob hath instructed us in this
point; he thus speaks to the faithful: "If any of you be afflicted, let
him pray for himself with an even mind, and praise his Lord. If any be
sick among you, let him fetch the mass priests of the congregation, and
let them sing over him, and pray for him, and anoint him with oil in the
Name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall heal the sick; and the
Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins they shall be forgiven
him. Confess your sins among yourselves, pray for yourselves among
yourselves, that ye be healed." Thus spake Jacob the Apostle concerning
the unction of the sick. But the sick man, before his anointing, shall
with inward heart confess his sins to the priest, if he hath any for
which he hath not made satisfaction, according to what the Apostle
before taught: and he must not be anointed, unless he request it, and
make his confession. If he were before sinful and careless, let him then
confess, and repent, and do alms before his death, that he may not be
adjudged to hell, but obtain the Divine mercy.

Such is Johnson's version of the 32d canon of Elfric, in which he has
preserved closely Elfric's translation, or rather paraphrase, of the
passage in St. James. The name James was not then in use, the Latin
Jacobus was rendered Jacob.--Johnson's English Canons, A.D. 957, 32.





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