Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Alfgar the Dane or the Second Chronicle of Aescendune by A. D. Crake

Part 4 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download Alfgar the Dane or the Second Chronicle of Aescendune pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

had severed the chains and lowered the bridge in the momentary
confusion of its defenders, and the gate was yielding before their

He arrived; and that moment the gate fell. He stood in the breach
himself; one man against a dozen. He did all a hero could; but he was
already bleeding. Alfgar, ever faithful, fought like a lion by his
side. Herstan and his bravest warriors brought their aid, but all
seemed lost.

"Tell them to retreat to the river.

"Herstan, conduct the retreat; Alfgar and I can keep them out for five
minutes more."

"All is lost! all is lost!" the cry arose within.

"No; saved! saved!" cried Father Cuthbert from the roof. "What!
Englishmen, to the rescue! to the rescue!"

The Danes suddenly wavered, then turned in surprise and despair; for
from the darkness behind emerged the forms of hundreds of Englishmen,
who fell upon the Danes. The levies were out, and only just in time.

"One charge!" said Edmund; and, rushing forward, led the way into the
heart of the foe.

. . . . . .

The Danes who had attacked the house of Herstan were so far in advance
of their countrymen that they were forced to retreat instantly before
the superior force which came to the rescue of the besieged; and they
fell back, at first in some order, but shortly, owing to the darkness
and the pressure of their foes, in utter confusion.

But Edmund could pursue them no longer. His strength, having been so
lately an invalid, was utterly gone. He fell from sheer exhaustion,
and was borne back by Alfgar to the hall.

But there was no longer need for his protection. He had saved the
mansion and all its inmates, as they most readily owned. And now he
received all the loving care and attention he deserved.

Meanwhile the English continued the pursuit until a small remnant of
Danes repassed the river; only a small remnant of the party which, as
it will be easily guessed, instigated by Edric, had sallied forth to
besiege the place where Edmund had found refuge, who had so recently
provoked the bitter hostility of Sweyn.

The following day the whole army of the Danes retreated from the ruins
of Wallingford towards the south; and the next day encamped in the
village of Cholsey, which, with its priory, they utterly destroyed.
Then they continued their retreat along the slope of the downs, by
Aston, until they reached Cuckamsley hill, where they abode as a
daring boast; for it had been said that if they ever reached that spot
they should never see the sea again. Alas! the prediction was
unfulfilled {xii}.


In the Aescendune Woods, Easter Tide, 1007.--

Here I am at home, if I may call these woods home, once more, having
spent my Lent with my brethren in the monastery of Abingdon. We are a
very large party: Herstan and all his family are here, the Etheling
Edmund, and Alfgar.

We all travelled together from Abingdon. Passing through Oxen ford,
Kirtlington (where Bishop Sidesman of Crediton died at the Great
Council, whose body is buried in the abbey), Beranbyrig, and Warwick,
we reached the domains of Aescendune.

We passed through the desolated village where lie the blackened ruins
of priory and hall, not without a sigh, and entered the forest.
Although I had so recently travelled by that path (in September last),
yet I could hardly find my way, and had once or twice like to have
lost the party in quagmires. So much the better; for if we can hardly
escape such impediments, I do not think we need fear that the Danes
will find their way through the swamps and brakes.

But the woods were so fresh and delightful to men like ourselves, who
have but just escaped from the confinement of the town. Blessed,
thrice blessed, are they who dwell in the woods, God's first temples,
apart from strife and the turmoil of arms!

So spake I to my companions. The while the birds from each tree and
bush chanted their Maker's praise, and the sweet fresh green of
springtide enlivened the scene, as if to welcome us pilgrims to our

"And not less, father," said the Etheling, "need we be grateful for
yon fat buck, which I mean to send an arrow after. See, we have the
wind of him."

So speaking, while we all stood motionless, he crept near his victim,
and drawing an arrow to its head, while all we saw was the branching
horns of the stag, he let it fly. It whizzed through the air, and
drank the life blood of the poor beast, which bounded a few steps,
staggered, and fell, when in a moment Alfgar ended its struggles by
drawing his knife across its throat, while young Hermann, a true
hunter by instinct, clapped his hands with joy.

"We shall bring our dinner with us," quoth the boy.

At this point I found great difficulty. A brook coming down from the
hills had overflowed the land until a swamp or quagmire had been
formed, whereon huge trees rotted in slime, while creeping plants hid
the deformity of decay.

Our horses refused the path, and it took me a good hour's search, for
I was guide, to find a more secure one. At last I found the tracks
where others had gone before me, and we followed a winding path for a
full hour, until we arrived in a deep valley, where a brook made its
way between deep rocky banks, by the side of which lay our upward

"What a splendid place for defence!" said Edmund. "With a score or two
warriors, one might hold an entire army at bay here."

He pointed out to Alfgar and Hermann, who look upon him as a sort of
demigod, all the capabilities of the place.

"A few more steps, and we shall see our friends," said I; and we
advanced until, from the summit of the pass, we saw the valley wherein
they have found rest.

They had worked well during autumn and winter, and the land was well
cultivated; the brook ran through the midst of the vale, which was
bounded by low hills on either side, and clear from forest growth.

In the centre of the valley the brook divided, forming an island of
about an acre of ground, containing several dwellings. From the
central one, which possessed a chimney, smoke issued, and told of the
noon meat.

By this time our approach was discovered, and I saw my brother, with a
few serfs, advancing to meet us. It was a happy moment when we
embraced each other again. And then he saw Alfgar, and embraced him as
a son. They did not speak--their feelings were too deep for words. All
that had passed since they last met must have rushed into their minds.
Then Herstan, the Lady Bertha, Hermann, Ostryth, and Alfreda, all had
their turn.

"Pardon me, prince," said I, when I introduced Edmund; "pardon
brothers who scarcely expected to meet again. Elfwyn, let me introduce
the Etheling Edmund as your guest."

"The Etheling Edmund!" repeated Elfwyn, with great respect; "it is
indeed an honour which I receive."

"The less said of it the better," said Edmund. "I am come to be one of
you for a time, and am thankful to find a free-born Englishman to
welcome me to the woods. Never, by God's help, will I return to the
court so long as they pay tribute to the Danes."

"It is true, then," said Elfwyn--"we hear scant news here--that peace
has been bought?"

"Yes, bought for thirty-six thousand pounds, by Edric's advice. I
should like to know how much of the money he retains himself. He is
hand and glove with Sweyn. But I purpose deriving one benefit from the
peace, upon which the Danes do not reckon."

"And that?--"

"Is to train up an army of Englishmen who shall not be their inferiors
in warlike skill. In courage they are not their inferiors now. Perhaps
you will let me amuse myself by training your own retainers in their
spare moments?"

"Most willingly. I could desire nothing better," said my brother,
smiling inwardly at the enthusiasm of the young warrior.

The labourers had just returned from wood and field, and when Edmund
was recognised he was greeted with vociferous cheers, which made the
woods ring.

But I cannot describe the meeting of Alfgar with the mother and sister
of Bertric; they were alone a long time together after the noon meat,
and I saw afterwards their eyes were red with weeping; well, they were
not all tears of sorrow.

On the whole it has been a day of deep happiness, hallowed rather than
shadowed by the thought of Bertric, the circumstances of whose heroic
death were only now fully known to his parents and sister.

. . . . . .

The voluminous pages of Father Cuthbert's diary for the years of
bitter woe and misery which followed cannot be fully transcribed; they
would fill a volume themselves, and we must content ourselves with a
few extracts, which will probably interest our readers, and carry on
the thread of the history to the place where our narrative will again
flow free and uninterrupted.

Ascension Tide, 1007.--

Edmund, assisted by Alfgar, has begun his task of disciplining and
training all our able-bodied men. He says, and rightly, that he is
sure we shall very soon have the Danes back for more money, and that
there will be no peace till we can defend ourselves properly. It is
amusing to see with what zeal young Hermann takes lessons in arms from
Alfgar; that boy is born to be a soldier.

September 1007.--

We hear of an appointment which causes us much apprehension. The king
Ethelred has appointed Edric Streorn ealdorman of Mercia; we are in
his district, and fear it may bode evil to us all. Edmund is beside
himself with rage; he vows that if Edric appears in these woods he
will slay him as he would a wolf.

May 1008.--

Every three hundred and ten hides of land has been charged with the
cost of a ship, and every eight hides with the cost of breastplate and
helmet; we do trust to recover our supremacy at sea, and then the
Danes cannot return.

March 1009.--

Alas, we are grievously disappointed of our hope. The fleet is
miserably destroyed; Brihtric, Edric's brother, a man like-minded to
himself; accused Wulfnoth, the ealdorman of Sussex, of high treason;
the ealdorman, knowing that he had no chance of justice, seduced the
crews of twenty ships, and became a pirate, like unto the Danes
themselves. Brihtric pursued him with eighty ships, but being a bad
sailor, got aground in a storm, and Wulfnoth came and burned all which
the storm spared. The commanders and crews have forsaken the rest of
the fleet in disgust.

Whitsuntide, 1009.--

Poor Alfgar came to me in great trouble. He and Ethelgiva have been
accepted suitors so long that he thought it time to propose marriage.
She referred him, with her own full consent, to her father; and Elfwyn
says, not unwisely, that he cannot consent until the land is at peace;
that it is currently reported that Thurkill, a Danish earl, is at hand
with an immense fleet, and that to marry might both hamper a warrior's
hands and be the means of bringing up children for the sword. He fully
accepts Alfgar's suit, but postpones the day till peace seems
established, that is "sine die." It is very hard to make Alfgar
reconciled to this. I try to do so.

July 1009.--

Bad news. Thurkill's fleet has landed at Sandwich.

August 1009.--

Worse news. Another fleet of Danes, under Heming and Eglaf, has joined
the former fleet, and both together are ravaging Wessex as far
northward as Berkshire; we have sent all the men we can spare to join
the army, but the king, persuaded by Edric, will not give the Etheling
Edmund any command therein.

St. Martin's Mass,--

One of our men has returned from the army. He states that forces being
gathered from all parts of England, the Danes were waylaid, and must
have been beaten, but that Edric persuaded the king not to fight when
the victory was in his hands, and so they escaped.

St. Brice's Day, 1009.--

This ill-omened anniversary we sang dirge and mass for the souls of
those who were slain by treachery seven years ago. Our forces have
returned from the south. They say the Danes have gone into winter
quarters on the Thames, and that all the neighbourhood pays them

London has hitherto gallantly resisted their attacks.

Edric Streorn has married the king's daughter, Edmund's half-sister,
Elgitha. Is this a time to be "marrying and giving in marriage"?
Edmund is frantic about it.

February 1010.--

Woeful news. Herstan and all his family, who had returned in peace to
their dwelling, have come to us homeless and destitute. The Danes, as
in 1006, suddenly issued from their ships. They took their way upwards
through Chiltern, and so to Oxford, burning the city. Then they
returned all down the river, the infantry in boats, the cavalry on
horseback, burning on every side.

But, worst of all, Abingdon is destroyed; the holy house which has
been a house of prayer so many generations! Keeping in their course,
they burned Clifton; but the alarm was given in time, and the people
escaped. There was no chance of defence this time.

Then they attacked Dorchester, and burned part of the city, but
retired before all was consumed, hearing that a large force was
marching against them; so onward past the ruins of Wallingford, which
had not yet been rebuilt, destroying Bensington on their road. Thus
they went on to Staines, when, fearing the forces of London, they
returned through Kent to their ships.

Our brethren who took refuge in Abingdon have just arrived. We must
find them room here; they tell a piteous story.

Ascension Tide, 1010.--

A sorrowful Ascension Tide indeed! They have landed in East Anglia. A
battle has been fought and lost. Nearly all the English leaders slain.


We can hardly keep the festival, the people are so excited by the
news; all Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire (once more) are laid waste.
They are on the road to Bedford.

Edmund and Alfgar, with young Hermann, and all our fighting men, have
gone out on their own account against them.


The Danes elude all our troops. Edric persuades the king to go
eastward, and the Danes are westward. They go westward, and the Danes
are eastward. There is no chieftain. A witan is summoned; it will do
no good.


Northampton has fallen, cruelly fallen. The town is burned, and all
therein slain.

Edmund and Alfgar, with not more than half our men, have returned with
the news. Hermann is seriously wounded, but bears it bravely. He is
only sixteen now. There is mourning over all our fallen heroes; but
they have died so bravely. Edmund says they have slain far more than
twice their number of the marauders. Still his father will give him no
command. It is like private war so far as he is concerned; but many
fresh recruits have joined his standard, and will go out with him in

March 1011.--

The king and witan have again offered tribute to the Danes; it is
accepted. I do not think the peace will last long.

Michaelmas, 1011.--

Woe is me! the Danes have broken the peace; and Canterbury, the chief
seat of English Christendom, whence came to us the blessed Gospel, is
taken and burnt. Elfmar, the abbot of St. Augustine's--O false
shepherd! O wolf in sheep's clothing! betrayed it. The archbishop is
prisoner. God and the blessed saints preserve him!

Easter, 1012.--

Another saint is added to the calendar; the Archbishop Elphege has
suffered martyrdom. On Easter eve they told him he must find ransom or
die. But he not only firmly refused to give money, but forbade his
impoverished people to do so on his account. Then, on the following
Saturday, they led him to their hustings (or assembly), and shamefully
slaughtered him, casting upon him bones and the horns of oxen. And
then one smote him with an axe iron on the head, and with the blow he
sank down. His holy blood fell on the earth, and his soul he sent
forth to God's kingdom.

On the morrow they allowed the body to be taken to London, where the
bishops, Ednoth of Dorchester and Elfhelm of London, received it, with
all the townsmen, and buried the holy relics in St. Paul's minster,
where they say many miracles have already been wrought at his tomb.

Tribute has again been paid, and there is peace awhile. Thurkill, with
forty ships, sweareth to serve King Ethelred and defend the country if
he will feed and pay them.

Oh that the martyr's intercessions may be heard for his afflicted
country {xiii}.

August 1013.--

This fatal month our own neighbourhood, indeed nearly all Mercia, has
suffered the extreme horrors of war. Sweyn came along Watling Street,
perpetrating the most monstrous cruelties; in short, he and his
committed the worst evil that any army could do.

We found now how wisely we had decided not to rebuild Aescendune. Not
a hall, farm, or cottage, escaped fire and sword, save those hidden in
the forest like us. Edmund has lost many men in the course of the last
few months; and with the remainder he hid in our woods, ready to
protect us "to the last breath," as he said, "in his body." Alfgar and
Hermann, who have both been wounded (the latter for the second time),
are with him still. But the enemy never discovered our retreat. Praise
be to God for sparing this little Zoar! The saints are not unmindful
how we protested against the iniquity of St. Brice's day. But of one
thing we all feel sure; Anlaf cannot be alive, or revenge would lead
him here.

December 1013.--

Ethelred has fled to Normandy. He sent Queen Emma and her children
before him. Sweyn, the Dane, is now King of England. There seems no
resource but submission. We are told Edric Streorn is in high favour
in the Pagan court; and still is ealdorman of Mercia. Alas! what a

Candlemas, 1014.--

God has at length bared His arm: Sweyn is no more. The blasphemer and
parricide is gone to his dread account. On the eve of the festival he
filled up the measure of his damnation by daring to exact an enormous
tribute from the town where rests the uncorrupt body of the precious
martyr St. Edmund, which even the pagan Danes had hitherto feared to
do. He said that if it were not presently paid he would burn the town
and its people, level to the ground the church of the martyr, and
inflict various tortures on the clergy. Not content with this, he
disparaged the blessed martyr's merits, daring to say there was no
sanctity about him. But, thus setting no bounds to his frowardness,
Divine vengeance did not suffer the blasphemer to prolong his
miserable existence.

Towards evening of the day when he had held a "thingcourt" at
Gainsborough, where he had repeated all these threats amongst his
warriors, he, alone of the crowd, saw St. Edmund approaching him with
a dreadful aspect.

Struck with terror, he began to shout, "Help! comrades, help! St.
Edmund is at hand to slay me!"

While he spoke, the saint thrust his spear fiercely through him, and
he fell from his war horse. They bore him to a bed, whereon he
suffered excruciating agonies till twilight, when he died the third of
the nones of February. From such a death, good Lord, deliver us! The
bloodthirsty and deceitful man shall not live out half his days;
nevertheless, my trust shall be in thee, O Lord {xiv}!

Lent, 1014.--

Ethelred has returned, and is again king; he has promised to amend his
evil ways, and to be ruled by faithful and wise counsellors. All
England has rallied round the descendant of Edgar. Canute has fled.


Edmund has returned to court. His father has received him graciously.
Alfgar is with him. Elfwyn will not even yet consent to the marriage,
saying, "Wait a little while; we have not yet done with the Danes." I
fear he is right.

June 1015.--

Herstan is here, and has brought us sad news. A great council has just
been held at Oxford, whereat Edric Streorn, to the indignation of all
men, sat at the king's right hand. Would this had been all! He invited
Sigeferth and Morcar, two of the chief Thanes in the seven burghs, to
supper with him; and there, when he had made them heavy with wine, he
caused them to be cruelly murdered by hired ruffians. Instead of
punishing him, the king sanctioned the deed, took all their
possessions, and sent Sigeferth's widow to be kept prisoner at
Malmesbury. Alas! such deeds will call down God's vengeance upon us.

Nativity of St. Mary (Sept. 8).--

The Etheling went with Alfgar to Malmesbury a few days ago. We now
hear that he has released Sigeferth's widow, and that he has married
her. We know not what to think of the step. It is a bold defiance of
his father's cruel policy. He knew the widow before she was the wife
of Sigeferth, when Alfgar says he made honourable love to her. But it
is a very sudden step.

October 1015.--

Alas! the Divine vengeance has not slumbered long after the late cruel
deed. Canute is in England again. Edmund brought his wife here, asking
us to take care of her. She is a gentle lady, worn down with care. He
has gone, in conjunction with Edric, to fight Canute. I dread this
conjunction. Edmund would have gone alone, but his father insisted on
joining Edric in the command, saying two heads were better than one.

November 1015.--

Alfgar has come home, bringing messages from Edmund, with sad but not
altogether unexpected news. Edric, who is steeped in stratagems and
deceit, plotted against his life again and again, whereupon Edmund
broke up the camp in indignation, and took a separate course with all
the warriors who would follow his standard. Edric took the rest, went
down to the seacoast, seduced the crews of forty ships, and then
joined Canute with his whole forces. Alas! there seems no hope now.

Epiphany, 1016.--

There is war all over the land--civil war. It is not to be wondered
at. But many Englishmen have given their allegiance to Canute, who now
professes himself a Christian, saying they will not serve Ethelred any
more. So Edmund and Canute are both, I fear, ravaging the land, for
Edmund has threatened more than once to regard those people as foes
who refuse to fight against the Danes. Men know not what to do.

Eastertide, 1016.--

We have received strange news. Ethelred is dying. He has summoned his
son. The tidings reached Edmund here. He had only been with us a
single day, and was about to depart again for the war, for Canute
threatens to attack London. It is there Ethelred lies sick unto death.
Edmund seemed more moved than I should have expected. He has departed
in all haste, taking Alfgar with him.


It was the evening of a stormy day in April when a band of five
hundred men, well armed and equipped, were seen approaching the Moor
Gate of London. Their leader rode in front, a stalwart warrior, whose
eagle eye and dauntless brow told of one born to command. By his side
rode a younger warrior, yet one who had nearly reached the prime of
life, and who bore the traces of a life of warfare most legibly
stamped upon him. There was this difference between them, that men
would have recognised the elder at once as an Englishman, while the
younger had all the outward physiognomy of a Dane.

"Look, Alfgar, and see whether you can see the flag of Wessex floating
over the gates; your eyes are better than mine," said the elder to his

"I can barely see through the driving rain and darkening sky, but I
think I discern the royal banner."

"Then the city yet holds out, and Canute has not arrived. We are yet
in time."

"The messenger said that their ships could not ascend the river while
the west wind blew, and it is blowing hard enough tonight."

"Well, when they come they may find London a hard nut even for Canute
to crack. The citizens of London are true as steel."

"See, we are espied, and they man the gates."

"Doubtless they think Canute is approaching. Ride rapidly, we shall
soon undeceive them."

They rode within bow shot of the gates, which were closed, and there
they paused, for a score of bowmen held their shafts to their ears.
Edmund, for our readers have long recognised him, bade his forces
halt, and advanced alone, with Alfgar, holding up his hand in sign of

"What, ho! men of London," he cried, "do you not recognise Edmund the

A joyous cry of recognition burst forth, the gates were thrown open in
a minute, and as Edmund, followed by his train, rode in, cries of
welcome and exultation burst forth on all sides, while women and
children, sharing the general joy, kissed even the hem of his mantle.

Well they might, for their need was sore. Canute was near, his ships
had been seen entering the Thames, and his determination to take the
city, which had so often resisted the Danish arms, had been freely and
frankly expressed.

"Ah, well you know me, my countrymen, for a true Englishman!--one in
whose veins your blood flows, and who will be only too happy to fight
the Danish wolves at your head."

The cry, "Long live the Etheling Edmund!" had wakened the city, and
the narrow tortuous streets were becoming thronged by the crowd, so
that their farther progress threatened to be slow. Edmund perceived
this, and, turning to the captain of the guard, inquired anxiously:

"How fares the king, my father?"

"They say he is at death's door," was the reply.

"Then I may not tarry, good people. All thanks for your welcome, which
I hope I may live to repay, but just now my place is by my father's
side. I may not now delay till I come to him."

So the people made way without discontinuing their acclamations, and
Edmund and his train rode on till they reached the precincts of St.
Paul's cathedral church. Night was now coming on apace, amidst showers
of rain and hail, and gusts of wind, which caused the wooden spire to
rock visibly. Here and there faint lights twinkled through the open
doors, where people could be dimly seen on their knees.

"They pray for the king," whispered an officer of the guard who rode
by the side of the prince. "The bishop Elfhelm has gone forth with the

Edmund replied not, but hurried his pace as he gazed at the darkening
outlines of the rude structure, which stood within the outer walls,
yet remaining, of the temple of Diana, which in Roman times had
occupied the same spot.

They descended the hill towards the Fleet, but paused while yet within
the walls. The ancient palace without the gates had been long since
burned by the Danes in one of their various attempts to take the city,
and the court had occupied a large palace, if such it could be called,
once belonging to a powerful noble who had perished in one of the
sanguinary battles of the time.

The outer portal stood open, but sentinels of the hus-carles were
posted thereat, who at once came forward as Edmund paused at the gate.

He dismounted, saying, "Alfgar, follow me;" and commended his troops
to the hospitality of the citizens, bidding them to reassemble before
St. Paul's by eight of the morning.

And the troops broke up to receive such hospitality as the straitened
times permitted men to indulge in. The officers found a welcome in the
palace, amongst the royal guard. The citizens contended who should
entertain the rest.

Edmund passed through the great hall, where the general silence struck
him forcibly, telling of the extremity to which the monarch was
reduced, and entered an inner apartment, where several dignitaries
both of church and state were waiting. They welcomed him in grave
silence, and the chamberlain who was present spoke in a low voice:

"Your royal father has long pined for you, my prince; may I conduct
you to him at once?"

"Who is with him now?"

"Your royal brothers, the Ethelings Edward and Alfred, the Princess
Edgitha, and the Queen {xv}."

"Has not the bishop arrived?"

"He is in the chapel at this moment; the king declined to see him, he
will not believe he is dying; but the bishop waits in prayer."

"Lead me to his chamber," said Edmund.

Re-entering the great hall, the chamberlain and prince ascended the
broad staircase which conducted to the upper chambers, and passing
along a passage thickly strewn with rushes to deaden the sound, for
carpets were unknown, they came to a door at the end, where the
chamberlain paused and knocked.

Loud ravings, as of one in delirium, penetrated the passage from the
chamber, amidst which the chamberlain knocked again.

"There! there!" cried an agonised voice, "he knocks again; 'tis
Elfhelm of Shrewsbury, whom Edric slew; 'twasn't I, 'twas Edric, I
only shared the spoil; keep him out, I tell you, keep him out."

The door was not opened; probably those within feared to excite the
king; and the chamberlain whispered to Edmund:

"He is in delirium, his ravings are very painful."

"I hear," said Edmund; "how long has he been in this state?"

"Only a few hours, and he has constantly imagined that men, who are
long since dead, were about him; especially he calls upon Dunstan,
then upon St. Brice, then he calls for his son-in-law, Edric."

"Ah, Edric!"

"Yes; but Edric is with Canute, I hear."

"I wish he were with Satan, in his own place," said Edmund, fiercely,
forgetting all Christian charity at the hated name.

"It is devoutly to be wished; but he is quiet, we may enter now."

The king, exhausted by his own violent emotions, lay back upon the
bed, which occupied the centre of the room, surmounted by a wooden
canopy, richly carved, from which curtains depended on either side.

His face, which time and evil passions had deeply wrinkled, was of a
deadly paleness; his eyes were encircled by a livid tint, and stared
as if they would start from their orbits; his breathing was rapid and
interrupted, but at the moment when Edmund entered he was silent.
Standing on his left hand, wiping the perspiration from his brow, was
Emma, the queen, her face yet comely, and bearing trace of that beauty
which had once earned her the title of the "Pearl of Normandy." Her
evident solicitude and loving care was the one picture of the room
upon which the eye could rest with most contentment.

Alfred, her eldest son--for Edmund was the offspring of an early amour
of the king--was on the other side of the bed, a well-made youth,
combining in his features the haughty bearing of his Norman maternal
ancestors with the English traits of his father; but now his
expression was one of distress and anxiety, which was yet more deeply
shared by his younger brother, Edward, who even at this period
manifested that strong sense of religious obligation and that early
devotion which in later years caused him to be numbered amongst
canonised saints.

He knelt at the bedside, and his hand grasped the cold damp hand of
his sire, as if he would strengthen him by his sympathy.

"O father," he cried; "neglect not longer to make your peace with a
long-suffering God; even in this eleventh hour He will not reject the

He was interrupted by the entrance of Edmund, his half-brother, whom
he feared, because he could not understand so different a nature.

"Our father has long pined for you," he said, in a timid voice; "I
fear you are too late, and that he will hardly know you."

"I have ridden from Aescendune day and night since the news of his
danger was brought me.

"Father," he said, as he bent over the bed, "do you not know me?"

The dying man raised himself up and looked him full in the face, and a
look of recognition came slowly.

"Edmund!" he said, "I am so glad, you will protect me; take your
battle-axe, you are strong. Sigeferth and Morcar, whom Edric slew at
Oxford, have been here, and they said they would come back and drag me
with them to some judgment seat; now take thine axe, Edmund, my son,
and slay them when they enter; they want killing again."

A look of indescribable pain passed over the features of Edmund.

The door opened, and Edward left the room after a conference with the
physician, who sat in a corner of the room compounding drugs at a
small table; a few minutes passed in silence, when he returned and
held the door open for the bishop of London, who entered, bearing the
viaticum, as the last communion of the sick was then called, and
attended by an acolyte, who bore a lighted taper before him and
carried a bell.

The king rose up in his bed, glared fixedly at the prelate, and then
shrieked aloud:

"St. Brice! St. Brice! art thou come again? What dost thou glare at me
for? 'Twas not I who defiled thy festival with blood. It was Edric,
Edric! Why does he not come to answer for his own sin?"

"If he did, I would brain him," muttered Edmund.

"There! do not glare upon me. Hast thou brought me the blood of the
victims to drink? Ah! there is Gunhilda. What right hast thou to
complain if I slew thee, which I did not, at least not with my own
hands: thy brother Sweyn has slain thousands. I did not at least kill
my father; I have only disgraced his name, as you will say.

"O Edmund! Edmund! protect me."

"My son," said the bishop, in a deep calm voice, which seemed to still
the ravings of the king, "think of thy sins, repent, confess; the
Church hath power to loose in her Lord's name, Who came to save

"Yes, father, heed him," said Edward. "Father, you are dying, the
leech says; you have not a day to live. Waste not the precious hours."

The patient sank back upon his bed, and for a few minutes only the
sound of his breathing could be heard; the difficulty with which he
drew his breath seemed to increase each moment.

The bishop held the crucifix before his eyes.

"Gaze, my son," said he, "at the emblem of Him who died that thou
mightest live, and say, 'O my God, I put Thy most pitiful passion
between Thee and my sins!'"

"Yes, father, hearken," said Edward.

"I bethink me now that Gunhilda clung to the crucifix, and said she
was a Christian. But what of that? She was a Dane, and they did right
in dragging her from it and slaying her."

"My son, my son, you throw away your salvation!" cried the bishop.

"Father, show him the viaticum," said Emma.

"It is useless; without repentance and faith 'twould but increase--"
and the prelate paused. "Let us pray. It is all we can do."

And all present knelt round the bed, while the plaintive cry arose
from the lips of the prelate, and was echoed from all around:

"Kyrie eleeson: Christe eleeson: kyrie eleeson."

And so the litany for the dying rolled solemnly along, with its
intense burning words of supplication, its deep agony of prayer, its
loving earnestness of intercession. But upon the dying sinner's ears
it fell as an echo of the long, long past; of that day when the litany
arose before his coronation at Kingston, and the prophetic curse of

"Listen!" he said. "I hear the voice of Dunstan.

"Oh, why didst thou lay thy curse upon me? Did I murder my brother
Edward? Nay, 'twas my cruel mother, who murdered her own husband that
she might become queen. Her sins are visited upon me. Nay, recall thy
curse. Alas! it is uttered in thunders before the eternal judgment

"See, they come to drag me thither; they all come--Edward; the victims
whom I slew sixteen years agone in Cumbria; the slain on St. Brice's
day; Elfhelm of Shrewsbury and his sons, with their empty sockets, and
their eyes hanging down; Sigeferth, Morcar, and a thousand others.
See, Dunstan bids them all await me at the judgment seat. I will not
come; nay, they drag me.

"Edric, wilt thou not answer for me now? Accursed be thy name,

His frightful maledictions overpowered the supplications around his
bed; but they died away in silence--silence so long continued, that
suspicion soon became certainty.

Ethelred the Unready was dead.

"We must leave him to God's mercy," said the bishop, as he closed the
eyes, while the wife and children of the unhappy king sobbed around.
"He knoweth whereof we are made; He remembereth that we are but dust."

Yet he trembled as he spoke, and, kneeling down, completed with
faltering voice the office for the commendation of the departed soul.


So soon as the news of the death of Ethelred travelled abroad, the
bishops, abbots, ealdormen, and thanes of southern England, despairing
of the cause of the house of Cerdic, met together at Southampton, and
renouncing Ethelred and his descendants, elected Canute to be their
king, while he swore that both in things spiritual and temporal he
would maintain their liberties.

But the citizens of London were of nobler mould, and, disdaining
submission, chose Edmund to be their king. A council was at once held,
and it became apparent that the allegiance of the greater part of
Wessex depended upon Edmund's prompt appearance amongst them, while,
on the other hand, the rapid approach of Canute made his presence in
the city very essential to the safety of the inhabitants.

Up rose a noble thane, and spake his mind.

"Surely we can defend our own city until the valiant Edmund brings us
aid. We have kept off Canute before, and his father before him, and we
can do as much again. Meanwhile Edmund will soon have all Wessex at
his back, and Canute will find his match for once."

The words of the gallant speaker found their echo in many a breast,
and it was decided that Edmund should be advised to hurry into Wessex,
and leave London to defend itself.

A deputation from the council at once waited upon Edmund, and in the
name of the city, and, as they took the liberty of adding, of every
true man in England, they proferred him his father's crown. Like the
citizens of a certain modern capital, they constituted themselves the
representatives of the nation.

Edmund, who certainly did not lack confidence, and who could not help
knowing that he alone was able to cope with the Danes, took scant time
to consider their proposal.

"I accept the crown," he said; "a thorny one it is like to prove, but
I thank you for your love and trust."

In the course of a day or two Ethelred the Unready was buried by
Archbishop Lyfing in St. Paul's minster, with the assistance of the
cathedral body. Emma and her children, as also Edwy, the son of
Ethelred by his first wife, were the chief mourners, nay, the only
real ones. Most men felt as when a cloud passes away. The sad
procession passed through the streets, the people flocked into the
church, and in the presence of all the "wise men" of London, they
solemnly committed the frail tabernacle in which the living spirit had
sinned and suffered to the parent earth, where the rush and roar of a
mighty city should ever peal around it.

A few days later the archbishop was called upon to perform a very
different ceremony, the coronation of King Edmund, which also took
place in St. Paul's Cathedral, amidst tears of joy, and cries which
even the sanctity of the place could not wholly restrain, "God bless
King Edmund!" The solemn oath of fidelity was administered, and when
all was over, with mingled tears and acclamations, those who had met
to bury the late king greeted with joy his son and successor.

It yet remained to be seen whether the choice of the realm would
ratify this decisive step on the part of the citizens of London.

Emma, the queen dowager, was deeply mortified, even while she
confessed the heritage was hardly worth having. Still her boy Alfred
seemed slighted by the choice, and she left England at once, with
Alfred and Edward, for Normandy, while Elgitha departed secretly from
London to join her husband Edric, and tell him all that had been done.

Edmund delayed his journey into Wessex until he had duly provided for
the defence of the capital, and had personally examined all the
defences with a warrior's eye. At length the messengers who watched
the Danish fleet announced its arrival at Greenwich, and that bands of
warriors, numerous as locusts, were issuing thence, and advancing upon

Reluctant as Edmund was to leave the city, it was evident that if he
delayed another day he might indeed share the perils of the
inhabitants, but would probably lose Wessex, where his immediate
presence was all-important. Therefore he called Alfgar, and bade him
prepare at once for a journey to the west.

Their intended route led them, in the first instance, to Dorchester,
where a large force from Mercia, including most of the men whom Edmund
had so long disciplined himself, and who were under the temporary
charge of Hermann, were to meet him. However, it was late before their
final arrangements could be made, and the sun had already set when the
citizens accompanied them to the Ludgate, and bade them an earnest

They were both clad in light defensive armour, such as could be worn
on a rapid journey, and armed with sword and battle-axe. Their own
steeds, two of the finest horses England could produce, famous for
speed and bottom, awaited them at the gate. Edmund criticised their
condition with a jealous eye, and then expressed approval.

"Farewell, Englishmen of the loyal and true city! Until we meet in
happier times, farewell! You will know how to guard hearths and homes.
Till we return to aid you, farewell!"

And, striking spurs into his steed, he and Alfgar rode across the
Fleet river, and, ascending the rising ground, pursued their course
along the Strand.

"We shall have a moonlight ride," said the king. "Look, Alfgar, 'tis
nearly full."

"My Lord, do you see those dark spots on the river near Thorney Isle?"

"Ah! I see them, and recognise the cutthroats. They are the Danes, who
are bent on surrounding the city. Had I my five hundred, I would soon
give some account of that detachment."

"But now, my Lord, had we not better strike into the northern road at
once, before they see us? We are but two."

"No; I should like to see them a little closer, and then across the
heath for Windsor. They must have fleet steeds that catch us."

So they persevered until they had attained a rising ground from which
they perceived the whole force, nearly a thousand strong, of whom one
half had crossed the stream. But the figures of our two adventurers,
outlined on the hill, were too distinct to elude their observation,
and a dozen dark horsemen rode after them at full gallop.

"Now for a brisk ride," said Edmund; and the two dashed wildly onward,
clearing ditch or hedge until they attained the rising ground
afterwards known as Hounslow Heath, still followed by their pursuers.

Here Edmund paused and looked round. The speed at which they rode had
separated their pursuers, as he had expected, and one was far the

"Stand by, Alfgar," he said; "two to one is not fair. I thirst for the
blood of this accursed Dane."

Alfgar knew that he must not dispute the royal will, although he
thought the risk of delay very perilous, with a crowd of foes upon
their track. While he waited up came the Dane, powerfully mounted,
swinging his heavy battle-axe. He swooped upon Edmund, who caused his
horse to start aside, avoided the stroke, and then, guiding his horse
by his knees, and raising his axe in both hands, cleft his antagonist
to the chin before he could recover.

"Here come two more. Now, Alfgar, there is one apiece. The rest are a
mile behind them. You may take the one on the light grey, I will take
the rascal on the dark steed."

Another moment and they were both engaged. Alfgar foiled his
opponent's first stroke, and wounded him slightly in return. Now the
battle became desperate, attack succeeding attack, and parry, parry.
Meanwhile Edmund had again laid his foe prostrate in the dust, but did
not interfere; such was his chivalrous spirit in what he considered an
equal combat, although he cast anxious looks behind, where two or
three other riders were rapidly approaching.

At last victory inclined to Alfgar's side. Parrying a tremendous
stroke with his axe, he returned it with such vigour that the next
moment the Dane lay quivering in the dust.

"There appear to be only three or four more. I think we might engage
them. By the by, Alfgar, you missed one splendid chance through your
steed not answering your guidance to the moment. But I am tired of the
battle-axe, and shall use my sword for a change.

"Ah! there come half-a-dozen more round those firs. We must ride
forward and give up the sport."

Their enemies saw them and quickened their pace. They came to the spot
where their countrymen lay prostrate, and the cry of revenge they
raised, and the manner in which they urged their steeds forward,
showed how strongly the sight appealed to their feelings.

Onward flew pursuers and pursued--onward till Windsor's height, with
its castled hall, appeared in sight, and tempted them to seek
refreshment for man and beast. But they dared not linger on their
journey, and passed the town without entering.

They rode all night through a most desolate country, wasted by fire
and sword in all directions. Only in a few spots was there any
appearance of cultivation, for who would sow when they knew not who
should reap? Not one lonely country house, such as abounded in the
days of Edgar the Pacific, did they see standing, although they passed
the blackened ruins of many an abode, showing where once the joys of
home held sway. Here and there they came upon the relics of strife, in
the shape of bodies of men and horses left to rot, and in one spot,
where a ford had been defended, the rival nations had left their
fallen representatives by hundreds. It must have been months before,
yet no one had buried the bodies. Such people as still existed without
the fortified towns had betaken themselves to the woods, or the
recesses of the deep swamps and forests, as the people of Aescendune
had done.

As they drew near Dorchester, they found yet more sanguinary traces of
recent war, for the Thames had been the scene of constant warfare.
Bensington, half burned, had partially recovered, and had renewed her
fortifications; Wallingford, hard by, had never risen since the
frightful Christmas of 1006.

Dorchester now rose before them. They had accomplished fifty miles of
hard riding that night. They were seen, challenged, and recognised, by
a patrol without the gates, and the cry, "Long live King Edmund!"
echoed from all sides. A thousand gallant Mercians, the nucleus of an
army, each man fit to be a captain, awaited them there, and Edmund
felt his spirits revive within him, and his hope for England; and
Alfgar met Hermann with great gladness.

It was pitiful to see the blackened ruins of churches and palace,
which had not been rebuilt since the Danish raid of 1010, but the
commoner dwellings were rising with rapidity from their ashes, or had
already risen, for the shelter of the earthworks and other
fortifications was not to be despised, and prevented the place from
being utterly abandoned.

Yet it may be noted that Dorchester never fully recovered the events
of that dreadful year, and that its decay probably dates from the

Resting only a few hours, during which they were the guests of Ednoth,
the bishop, they departed with his fervent blessing and earnest
prayers for their success, and rode westward, attended by their whole

Every town they reached received them with enthusiasm. They were now
near the birthplace of the great Alfred, where the hearts of the
people were all thoroughly with their native princes; and men left all
their ordinary occupations to strike one blow for King Edmund and
England. Onward, and like a rolling snowball, they gathered as they
went, until they entered Wiltshire with ten thousand men, and,
crossing the country, reached the opposite border with all the brave
men of Wilts added to their numbers.

They were now approaching Dorsetshire, and saw before them a rising
ground, with a large stone set in a conspicuous position.

"What stone is that?" inquired Edmund of a thane, whose habitation was
hard by, and who had joined him with his whole household.

"It is called the county stone. It marks the place where three
counties meet--Somerset, Wilts, and Dorset; it is in the village of

At this moment a horseman was seen riding wildly after them from the
country in the rear.

"See that man; he brings news," said Edmund, and the whole party

"Alfgar," whispered Edmund to his confidential attendant, "there is
hot work coming; I have long since scented the foe behind."

The messenger arrived, bowed low to the king, and waited permission to
speak, while his panting breath betrayed his haste and his excitement.

"Well, your message?" said Edmund; "you have ridden fast to bring it."

"My lord, Canute, with an army of fifty thousand men, is following
behind with all his speed."

Edmund looked proudly around upon his host; it was almost equal in
number. Then he looked with a soldier's eye on the ground before him,
and saw that it was the very place where a stand could be made with
every advantage of ground.

"It is well," said Edmund; "we will wait for him here."

A loud cheer from those around him showed how he had succeeded in
imparting his own brave spirit to others. The trumpets commanded a
halt; and Alfgar and other riders bore the commands of the king to the
extremities of the host.

Each division took up rapidly the position assigned; for in this
domestic war men fought side by side with those they had known from
childhood, and were commanded immediately by their own hereditary

The broken nature of the ground protected them well from an attack on
either flank, and they strengthened this advantage by throwing up a
mound and digging a ditch, with the greatest rapidity.

While thus engaged, they saw the flashing of spear and shield in the
east, reflecting the setting sun, and speedily the whole country
seemed to glow with the sheen of weapons.

Edmund raised himself in the stirrups.

"Englishmen! brethren!" he cried, "you see your foe, the ruthless
destroyers of your land and kinsfolk; the pagan murderers of your
archbishop, the sainted Alphege. God will help them that help
themselves. It shall be ours to strike one glorious blow for liberty
and for just vengeance on this field. I vow to the God of battles I
will conquer or die."

He took off his helmet and looked solemnly to Heaven, as he called on
the Supreme Being to register his vow, and a deep murmur of sympathy
arose around, until it found loud utterance in the cry, "We will
conquer with our king or die," from a thousand voices, until the
glorious enthusiasm spread throughout the camp. Glorious when men
fight for hearth and altar.

Edmund looked proudly around.

"With such warriors," he said, "I need not fear Canute."

The trench and mound were completed, but the enemy did not advance. He
planted his black raven banner two miles off in the plain, arranged
his forces, and halted for the night.

"We must fight tomorrow at dawn of day," said Edmund. "Now, bid the
campfires be lighted; we have plenty of meat and bread, mead and wine;
bid each man eat and drink his fill. Men never fight well on empty
stomachs. Then return yourself to my side, and share my tent this
night; perhaps--perhaps--for the last time."

"If so, woe to England--woe!" said Alfgar. "But I have confidence that
her day of tribulation is passing from her. The blood of the martyred
saints cries aloud for vengeance on the Danes."


The watch was duly set; campfires were lighted, and joints of meat
suspended over them; barrels of wine and mead were broached, for all
the country around contributed with loving willingness to the support
of its defenders; and when hunger was appeased the patriotic song
arose from the various fires, and stirring legends of the glorious
days of old, when Danes and Norsemen fled before the English arms,
nerved the courage of the men for the morrow's stern conflict.

Around the fire kindled next the tent of Edmund sat the warrior
monarch himself, with all the chieftains, the ealdormen, and lesser
thanes who shared his fortunes.

The minstrels and gleemen were not wanting here, but none could touch
the harp more sweetly than Edmund himself; and, the banquet over, he
sang an ancient lay, which kindled the enthusiasm of all his hearers,
and nerved them to do or die, so that they longed for the morrow.

Before it was over the trumpet announced some event of importance, and
soon a messenger brought the tidings to Edmund that a large force was
advancing from the west.

All rose to look at them, not without anxiety; as yet they were far
distant, across a wild moor, but as they drew nearer, and their
standards could be more clearly discerned, it became gradually evident
that it was a reinforcement; and so it proved, for heralds, galloping
forward, announced the men of Dorsetshire.

They were most gladly received, for now the English forces were equal
in number to their adversaries, and every man felt the hope of victory
strong within him.

At length Edmund bade messengers go through the camp, and cause every
man to retire to rest, for they must all be stirring by dawn on the

He himself, with Alfgar, went through the host and then inspected the
watch. When he came to the outpost nearest the foe he found Hermann on
duty as officer of the watch, and spoke earnestly to him and his men.

"Be on your guard," he said, "as men who know that the welfare of
England depends upon them; if you see the least movement on the part
of the crafty Canute, rouse the camp at once; they are not unlikely to
attack us by night if they can surprise us, not otherwise."

Alfgar was standing on a low mound contemplating the opposite camp,
that of his own countrymen, attentively.

"Well, Alfgar, my son, do you see aught?" said Edmund approaching him.

"I fancied I saw some figures seek the hollow where the ditch passes
from us to them."

"We will wait and see whether aught comes of it," said the king; "how
do you like our prospects?"

"Well, my lord, I would sooner be with you at this moment than in any
other place in England."

"Even than in Aescendune?"

"Yes; just now."

"Alfgar, do you think your father yet lives?" said Edmund, as he again
gazed upon the Danish camp.

"I think not; I fear he is numbered amongst the dead; I have over and
over again inquired of Danish prisoners whether they knew aught of
him; they all said he had not been known in their ranks for years."

"The chances of a warrior's life are so many that he may not
improbably be gone, but remember you found another father at

"I shall never forget that, my lord."

Here Hermann interrupted them.

"My lord, would you look closely at that little clump of furze upon
the banks of the brook?"

"By St. Edmund, there they are! now to catch Danish wolves in a steel
trap; creep back within the mound."

The whole guard was speedily aroused.

"Shall we alarm the camp?" said Hermann.

"Not for the world, they want all the sleep they can get; this will
only be a reconnoitring party; did they find us asleep they would of
course cut our throats, and then bring their brethren to attack the
camp. As it is, I think we shall cut theirs instead."

"They have disappeared."

"Only to appear with more effect; they will be creeping like snakes
coming to be scotched; they won't find a man like Edric at the head of
the English army now--one who always chose the sleepiest and deafest
men for sentinels. Ah, well! he is openly with the enemy now; I only
hope he will come within swing of my battle-axe tomorrow.

"Ah! There they are."

"Where?" inquired two or three low voices eagerly.

"Creeping up the slope; now get your arrows to your ears; take the
opposite men when they arise."

A few moments, during which men could hear their own hearts beat, when
up rose the Danes from the grass like spectres, and rushed for the
mound. A storm of arrows met them, to which nearly half succumbed.

Swinging his axe, Edmund, followed, by the rest, jumped from the mound
to meet the survivors; numbers were nearly equal, the English now
slightly superior. Each man met his individual foe. Young Hermann's
sword broke against a Danish axe; he rushed in and got within the
swing of the weapon; both wrestled for the deadly steel, they fell,
rolled over and over on the grass; at length Hermann grasped his
opponent's throat like a vice with his mailed hand, and held till the
arms of his foe hung nerveless by the side and the face grew black,
when, disengaging his right hand, he found his dagger, and drove it to
the victim's heart.

"Well done!" said Edmund; "you are the last, Hermann; Alfgar has
finished some time; we have been watching you; this little beginning
promises luck tomorrow.

"You and I must retire now, Alfgar.

"Good night, Hermann; good night, my men; wipe your swords on the
grass; keep them bright."

The morning dawned bright and radiant; and with the first appearance
of the sun the horns of the English blew their shrill summons, and the
whole army awoke as a man. A hurried meal was partaken of, hurried of
necessity, for the Danes were already emerging from their camp, and
forming their lines in order of battle. They evidently meant, as
usual, to take the initiative; in fact, in the recent reign, had they
not done so, there would never have been any fighting at all.

Every one, both friend and foe, expected that Edmund would await the
onset in his entrenched camp. Great, therefore, was the surprise, when
he led his forces without the entrenchments, with the observation that
the breasts of Englishmen were their best bulwarks.

He knew his forces, that they had confidence in him; and he could not
have shown better his confidence in them, and his feeling that the
time had now at length come to assume the offensive.

Canute was doubtless somewhat surprised, yet he was learning to know

The English hero divided his army into three divisions: The right
wing, where he posted around his own person the chosen band whom he
had trained during the last few years of retirement; the left wing,
chiefly composed of the men of Wessex; the centre, the weakest and
newest recruits, whom he posted there with as deep a design as led
Hannibal to use the same strategy at Cannae.

The Danes advanced impetuously to the attack, led by Canute himself,
somewhat similarly divided, and Edmund at once advanced his forces to
meet them. One hundred yards apart, both armies paused, and glared
upon each other. There was no flinching. With teeth firmly set, lips
compressed, and the whole body thrown into the attitude of a tiger
about to spring, each warrior gazed upon the foe.

The Danes, clad in black armour, with their ponderous battle-axes, and
fierce visages, upon which no gentle ray of mercy had yet shone; the
English, their minds set upon avenging the outraged national honour,
the desolated homes, the slaughtered families: the Danes bent on
maintaining their cruel superiority; the English bent on reversing it
or dying: the Danes hitherto victorious on nearly every field; the
English turning upon their oppressors as men to whom the only thing
which could make life tolerable was victory.

Canute's voice was heard crying, "Now, warriors, behold the hounds ye
have so often chastised await your chastisement once more."

Edmund, on the other hand, "Victory, my men, or a warrior's grave! We
will not live to see England prostrate beneath the tyrant any longer."

Then came the rush: the crash of steel upon steel, the hideous melee,
where friend and foe seemed blent in one dense struggling mass; the
cries which pain sometimes extorted from the bravest; the shouts of
the excited combatants, until Edmund's centre gave way.

He had expected this, and desired nothing more. The Danes pressed on
deeply into the core of the hostile army, when they found their
progress stopped by some of the bravest warriors who formed the rear,
and at that moment the wings curved round upon them.

"Come, my men!" shouted Edmund; and with Alfgar by his side, followed
by the whole of the English cavalry, burst upon the rear of the Danes.
He and his cleft their way in--hewed it through living masses of
flesh; trampled writhing bodies under foot; their very horses seemed
to laugh at the spear and sword, until before him Edmund saw Canute
himself. He struggled violently to reach him; slew two or three living
impediments, and the two rivals faced each other for one moment; then
came Edmund's ponderous blow. Canute avoided it, but his horse fell
beneath it; the spine severed near the neck. He was dragged up
instantly by his armour bearer, who attended upon him, as Alfgar upon
Edmund, and before the attack could be renewed a living torrent
separated the combatants.

The victory was won; the Danes were in full flight.

O joy for England! the day of her captivity was turned; henceforward
she might hope. The foe, the invincible foe, was flying before an
English king and an English army.

For while on the one side Edmund had charged the foe on their left
flank, on the other side the men of Wessex had imitated his example,
and the foe yielded.

Still, terrible in defeat, more than half fought their way out of the
trap into which they had fallen, and retired upon their camp, closely
pursued, until the trump of Edmund recalled the pursuers, anxious lest
they should in turn fall into an ambuscade, for reinforcements were
awaiting the Danes behind.

. . . . . .

From this time the prospects of Edmund and England brightened. Day
after day fresh reinforcements came into his camp, until he followed
Canute, who had retreated into Wiltshire. There, a few days later, a
second battle was fought at Sceorstan {xvi}, wherein much bravery
was shown on both sides. On Monday the two armies fought all day
without any advantage on either side. On the Tuesday the English were
rapidly getting the better, when the traitor Edric, severing the head
of a fallen Englishman named Osmaer, held it up, shouting:

"Flee, English! flee, English! Edmund is dead."

They began to yield; and it was as much as Edmund himself could do, by
lifting his helmet, exposing his features, and shouting, "I live to
lead you to victory!" to restore the battle.

Canute retired upon London, followed closely by Edmund. Upon the road
messengers came from Edric imploring the forgiveness of his injured
brother-in-law, and offering to join him with all his forces. There
was long consultation over this in the English camp; but in spite of
Edmund's own feelings it was decided to receive Edric, since Canute's
fate would seem to be quite decided if England were united by the
union of those southern English who had fought under Canute with
Edric, and the men of Mercia and Wessex who had won the previous

So the two armies met together. The men of Hampshire, who had followed
the Dane, were welcomed as returning to their true allegiance by their
countrymen; and Edmund did violence to his feelings by receiving Edric
to his council board, if not to his friendship.

It was a joyous day when Edmund approached London, and thus fulfilled
the promise of his coronation. Canute, who had made another attempt on
the city, fled before him, but hovered around until two days later.
Edmund engaged him the third time at Brentford, and defeated him
again. Then Edmund retired into Wessex to raise more troops, and
during his absence the Danes took the offensive again, once more
besieging London in vain, while they harried all the neighbouring
districts until Edmund returned with a large army, drove them into
Kent, and gave them such a fearful defeat at Otford that they fled in
despair to the Isle of Sheppey, and all men said Edmund would have
destroyed them utterly, had not Edric persuaded him to stop the
pursuit at Aylesford.

The Danes soon emerged again, and, crossing the Thames, commenced
plundering Essex, when Edmund and Edric, with all the flower of the
Anglo-Saxon race, advanced to meet them once more. Nearly all the men
of note in England followed Edmund's banner, for, now that his
abilities were proved, there was a general enthusiasm in his favour.
So all the rank and title of the realm stood by him when he drew up
his army hard by the little river Crouch, near Assingdun, in Essex,
then called Assandun.

There, by his side, when the tents were pitched the evening before the
battle, stood many a brave ealdorman,--Godwin of Lindsey; Ulfketyl,
the hero of the East Angles; Ethelweard, the son of the pious
Ethelwine, whom men called the "Friend of God." And present at that
last banquet were Ednoth, the bishop of Dorchester, and other
ecclesiastics, who had come to pray for the host and to succour the
dying with ghostly aid. Well nigh all the great men of England were
here. But Edric supped in their midst. Their spirits were high that
night, and while Edmund drank to their success on the morrow, each man
responded with a fervour which augured confidence in that morrow's
issue--all save the wicked Edric, whose heart seemed far from his

The events of that fatal morrow are matter of history. The armies
joined battle. Victory seemed to favour Edmund. The Danes were already
giving way, when Edric turned and fled, with his whole division, whom
he had corrupted. After that all was disorder amongst the English; but
they continued fighting bravely until the moon arose, and they were
becoming surrounded on all sides, when, in sheer desperation, they at
last gave way.

Edmund would not yield until Alfgar seized the bridle of his horse,
and almost by violence caused him to turn his steed, bidding him live
for England, for he was its hope. It was growing dark rapidly, and the
darkness alone saved Edmund and the relics of the English army.

With a faithful few, including both Alfgar and Hermann, nearly all of
the party wounded, the English king rode sadly from the scene,
groaning bitterly in spirit.

"Why did I trust him again? Why did I trust him?" he kept muttering to

"You did not trust him. The council overruled you. I was present,"
said Alfgar.

"But I might have resisted."

And he persisted in his unavailing regret.

It was a sad sight to see the field of battle strewn for miles with
the dead and dying, while gangs of plunderers swarmed in all
directions. One sharp encounter with such a party served to warm
Edmund's blood, after which he was a little more cheerful.

But the saddest scene in the flight lay on a gentle eminence,
commanding a view of the field, whose deformities night mercifully
shrouded from view, although the murmurs of the wounded reached them
even there in one long subdued wailing moan.

There, on that little hill, lay bishops and abbots in their sacerdotal
apparel. Where they had met to pray, there they lay in death! With a
deep sigh Edmund recognised Ednoth, bishop of Dorchester, lying stark
and stiff in his bloody robes. A troop of Danish horsemen had
surrounded the hill and massacred them all. The assassins had even
hewn Ednoth's finger off for the episcopal ring.

Yet, even at this awful crisis, Edmund's lion heart did not wholly
fail him, as he left the field where lay all the flower of the
Anglo-Saxon race: the brave and faithful Ulfketyl, Earl Ethelweard,
Earl Godwin, Elfric the ealdorman, and well nigh all the great men of
England, all sleeping in death. He rode to the south till he reached
the vale of the Thames, which he pursued until he reached the
neighbourhood of Gloucester--Alfgar and Hermann still by his side. And
now it was seen how his merits were recognised, and how he had already
gained the love of his people, for, from the territory of the Hwiccas,
and all the extreme west of Mercia, men flocked to his standard until
he was at the head of an army almost as numerous as that he had lost
at Assingdun, only less perfectly disciplined and officered.

But Canute followed hard upon his heels, hoping to crush him while yet
weak in numbers, until he discovered, to his great mortification, his
rival's camp on the banks of the Severn, and saw that the forces were
again nearly equal.

Then even the Danish chieftains shuddered at the thought of another
battle. Five great battles had been fought, in three of which they had
been defeated. There was no Edric now with Edmund to play into their
hands, and they hesitated to engage a sixth time.

At this moment an embassy was seen approaching from Edmund's army.
Alfgar bore Edmund's personal defiance to Canute, offering to spare
the effusion of blood, and settle their differences by single combat.

Canute's brave and impetuous temper caught the suggestion at once.
Such appeals to the God of battles were common in the north, and he
accepted the challenge.

There is an island in the Severn, then called Oleneige, now called
Olney Island. The following day both armies gathered together on
opposite banks, and the two kings, clad in splendid armour, were
wafted thither. Alfgar, having landed his lord, retired with beating
heart to the English bank. Edmund and Canute were alone on the island.

The battle began; no words can describe the dread emotion with which
the two nations watched the event.

They continued a long time without any apparent advantage; at length,
King Edmund's fury adding strength to him, his blows were so thick and
weighty, that Canute, perceiving his own strength to diminish,
conceived a resolution to attempt ending the quarrel by a treaty.

But being crafty, and fearing lest his disadvantage should be apparent
to Edmund, he collected all his energies and rushed furiously upon
him, then withdrew himself aside, and desired Edmund to suspend the
conflict for a while.

"Generous prince," said he, "hitherto I have had a covetous desire of
your kingdom, but now I do yet more earnestly covet your friendship;
your father and my father have each reigned over the land, let us
divide the inheritance like brothers."

Edmund's generous spirit led him to accept the offer, and he threw his
battle-axe to the ground and extended his right hand, which Canute
eagerly grasped {xvii}.

So the land was divided; Edmund was to be head king and to have
Wessex, Sussex, Kent, East Anglia, and Essex, with the city of London;
while Canute had Northumbria and Mercia.

Canute professed himself a Christian, and swore to govern his people
according to the old English laws, and to preserve their temporal and
spiritual privileges, a promise which, upon the whole, he well

And so England entered upon a peace of fifty years, only broken by an
event yet in the womb of time, the Norman Conquest.

"Come, Alfgar," said Edmund, one day soon after these events, "let us
go to Aescendune and fix thy wedding day; Elfwyn need fear no longer
that the sword will be the portion of his grandchildren."

Peace! sweet, sweet peace! oh how joyful it was to be once more in the
deep woods of Aescendune, to hear the sweet song of the birds, and to
fear no evil! Sweet, ineffably sweet were those days to Alfgar and

So the day was at length appointed; it was to be the feast of St.
Andrew, and to take place at Oxenford, which had been assigned to
Edmund's dominions; for he insisted that it should be celebrated with
all the pomp the presence of a king could lend.

It was now the season of the falling leaf and there were only a few
weeks longer to wait.


It was the latter end of November, and St. Andrew's day drew near,
when a small but select party of friends met together in an old
mansion hard by St. Frideswide's Cathedral, at Oxenford, to enjoy the
evening banquet.

First and foremost was the king of Southern England, the valiant
Ironside, and his attendant and friend Alfgar; Elfwyn and Father
Cuthbert from Aescendune, with the Lady Hilda and Ethelgiva; Herstan,
his wife Bertha, and son Hermann, from Clifton, with his sisters; and
Ethelm, the new bishop of Dorchester, the successor of the martyred

These, our old acquaintances, had all been gathered together in view
of the approaching union of Alfgar with Ethelgiva, which was to be
solemnised on St. Andrew's day, in the presence of the king. They were
a happy party; all the woes of the past seemed forgotten in the happy
present, or were only remembered in the spirit of the well-known line:

"Haec olim meminisse juvabit."

The more substantial viands were removed, generous wines from warmer
climes were introduced, but there was no need of a harper or of
minstrels, save Edmund himself, or of legends and tales to those whose
lives had passed amidst scenes of excitement. They were such as make
history for future generations.

"How the wind howls without tonight!" observed Edmund; "it makes one
value the blessing of a quiet home and a cheerful fireside. How often,
Alfgar, have you and I lain on such nights under the shelter of a
canvas tent, or even of a bush."

"Often, indeed, my liege; but those days are gone, perhaps for ever."

"They had their joys, nevertheless. There is something in a life of
adventure which warms the blood and makes time pass swiftly; my
goodwife and I sometimes tire of each other's company, as I expect
Ethelgiva and you will in time."

"Never!" said Alfgar, so fervently that there was a general smile.

"Well, time will show; meanwhile, how is the new hall at Aescendune
getting on, Elfwyn?"

"It will be ready by next spring; then the young people must make it
their home. Our home in the woods has proved a shelter to us through
such troublous days that Hilda and I are loath to leave it. But,
meanwhile, they must live with us."

"And how about the priory?"

"It will be ready before the hall."

"That is well," observed the bishop, "and as it should be--God's
house first, and then man's."

"Well, Hermann," said Edmund, addressing his young friend, whose
career in arms he had closely watched since the attack upon the hall
at Clifton, "how do you like the prospect of a long peace?"

"A peaceful life has its delights," replied Hermann, "but war has also
its charms."

"Well, thou hast passed unscathed through five great battles, or at
least without any serious wound; but remember all are not so
fortunate, and many a poor cripple sighs over Penn, Sherston,
Brentford, Otford, or Assingdun."

"The excitement of war blinds one to the risk."

"So it should, or there would be no war at all. What does my father
the bishop think of the matter?"

"That wars are necessary evils, only justifiable when fighting, as
you, my lord, have done, for home and altar, but they are no true
children of the Prince of Peace who delight in bloodshed and strife."

Edmund pondered.

"And yet I fear I must plead guilty of delighting in a gallant charge.
It stirs the blood, till it flows like fire in the veins. The feeling
is glorious."

"Yet not one to be encouraged, save when it enables one to perform
necessary deeds of daring for some worthy object, such as holy
Scripture praises in the heroes of old."

The conversation now became general. Elfwyn and Herstan talked of the
old days of Dunstan; Alfgar and Hermann of the events of the recent
war; the good bishop and Father Cuthbert on ecclesiastical topics; the
ladies upon some question of dresses and embroidery for the
approaching festivity, which seemed to interest them deeply, when an
attendant entered, and approaching the king, whispered a message in
his ear.

"What! in this house? I will not have it. He knows how hateful his
very presence must be."

"Your sister, the Princess Elgitha?"

"Well, I will see her. No, I will not."

"It is too late, Edmund. You must see me," said a sweet voice, and a
lady, attired in mourning weeds, stood beside him. "It is but seven
months, Edmund, since we lost our father. Shall his children rend and
devour each other?"

"I do not want to rend and devour. I am no cannibal; but, Elgitha,
your wicked husband--"

"Stay, Edmund, do not slander the husband before his wife."

"This is a business! What am I to say? I cannot dissemble, and pretend
to love him, were he ten times my brother-in-law."

"Nor can I ask it," said a deep voice behind, and Edric stood before
Edmund, his eyes cast down, his hands meekly clasped. "Edmund, I have
often deeply injured you, and betrayed your confidence."

"You have indeed."

"But now I repent me of my wickedness. It burdens me so heavily that,
but for your sister, I would retire into a monastery, and there end my

"It would be the best thing you could do."

"It would indeed."

This conference had taken place at the end of the great hall, which
was a very spacious chamber, and the speakers were separated by a
screen from the company.

"Edmund," cried his sister, "I see what you will do. You will make me
a widow; for Edric cannot live if you refuse him forgiveness. Night
after night he tosses on his uneasy bed, and wishes that it were day.
Surely, Edmund, you have need of forgiveness yourself, yet you refuse
to forgive."

"You preach like a bishop, but--"

"Well, you have a real bishop here. Call him, and let him judge
between us."

Edmund mechanically obeyed, and he called Father Cuthbert also, in
whose judgment he had great faith.

"What am I to do?" he said. "My country's wounds, inflicted by this
man, yet bleed. Am I to give him the hand of friendship?"

"I do not deserve it," said Edric, meekly.

"My lord," said the bishop, gravely, "man may not refuse forgiveness
to his fellow worm; but, Edric, hast thou truly repented of thy sin
before God and his Church?"

"I have indeed. I have fasted in sackcloth and ashes, I have eaten the
bread of affliction."


"In my sad retreat, my castle in Mercia."

"But some public reparation is due. Art thou willing to accept such
penance as the Church, in consideration of thy perjuries, thy murders,
which man may not avenge, since treaties protect thee--but which God
will surely remember, if thou repent not--to accept such penance, I
say, as the Church shall impose?"

"I submit myself to your judgment, most reverend father."

"It shall be duly considered and delivered to thee; and in
consideration of that fact, I think, my lord, you cannot, as a
Christian man, refuse to be reconciled."

"O Edmund, my brother, be merciful!" said Elgitha.

"I yield," said Edmund, "but not tonight," he said, as Edric stretched
out his hand, reddened by many a dark deed of murder; "tomorrow,
before God's altar. I shall be at St. Frideswide's at the early mass."

And he returned to the company.

A cloud was evidently on his spirits that night, which did not wear
off the rest of the evening. The party separated at what would now be
called an early hour. The bishop and Father Cuthbert lodged at the
monastic house of Osney; Elfwyn, his wife and child, as also Herstan,
with his little party, were accommodated in the mansion.

The chamber occupied by the king was a long roomy place, containing a
single bedstead of carved wood, surmounted by the usual distinctive
canopy, from which tapestried hangings depended, and upon which
scriptural subjects were woven; the furniture of the room partook of
the usual meagreness of the times. The entrance was through a small
antechamber, wherein, on a humbler bedstead, Alfgar slept. Both rooms
were hung with tapestry, which concealed rough walls, such as a
builder would blush to own as his handiwork in these luxurious days.

Before retiring to rest, Edmund turned with much affection to his

"Alfgar, I have promised to forgive our enemy."

"Edric Streorn?"

Alfgar added no more.

"Couldst thou forgive him?"

"I would try."

"His hand is red with blood. Think of Sigeferth, of Morcar, of
Elfhelm, nay, of a hundred others; then think not how he has plotted
against my life, but how he made my own father hate and disown me;
while he, the pampered favourite, swayed all the councils and betrayed
the land. O Alfgar! couldst thou forgive him?"

"He plotted against my life and my honour, too," said Alfgar, "and
strove to deprive me of both; yet I am too happy now to harbour

"Well, I meet him at St. Frideswide's tomorrow, and we shall be
formally reconciled in the presence of the bishop and his clergy,
wherewith I trust he will be content, and not trouble me too often
with his presence."

"Where is he staying now?"

"I hardly know; but after the reconciliation I must admit him as my
guest, for my sister is with him, if he chooses to stay; but I hope
that will not be the case."

"His ill-omened presence would cast a gloom upon St. Andrew's day."

"It would indeed; it shall be avoided if possible. And now let us
commend ourselves to the Lord, who died that we might be forgiven.
'Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against

And they slept.

On the morrow before the altar of St. Frideswide, the king and Edric
had their places in the choir.

One very touching ceremony, handed down from early times, was still
observed in England--the "kiss of peace," occurring at some period
before the close of the canon of the mass, when all the members of the
cathedral chapter, or of the choir, as the case might be, solemnly
saluted each other.

And for this reason Edmund and Edric had been placed next each other.
So when this most solemn moment arrived, they looked each other full
in the face, and gave and received the sign of Christian brotherhood.

After this they both communicated.

When the holy rite was ended, Edmund invited Edric and Elgitha to
become his guests.

Edric knew the old palace well. He had occupied it one well-remembered
season, during which, in that very banqueting hall where we have
introduced our readers, Sigeferth and Morcar, the earls of the seven
burghs, were treacherously murdered at the banquet after Edric had
previously made them heavy with wine.

There was the usual gathering that evening. Did Edric remember the
place, and the bloody event which only he and one other present
connected with the spot?--for Edmund had been far away, and the matter
had been hushed up, as far as was possible, by all the power and
influence Ethelred could exert in his favourite's cause, or rather his
own, for he, the royal villain, shared the ill-gotten spoil.

If he did remember it, he took care not to show it that night. He was
as calm and self-possessed as a man could be--as a smiling sea under
the summer sky--smiling so that the heedless voyager knows not what
hideous trophies or past storms the smiling depths conceal.

So was it with this treacherous penitent.

His presence, however, somewhat chilled the conversation, and they
broke up early; the more so as it was a vigil, the vigil of St.
Andrew, and men strictly observed the law of the Church on such
subjects in those days.

When he bade Edmund goodnight, Edric said:

"You cannot tell how true a peace has found its home in my breast
since our reconciliation, which I feel I owe greatly to the
intercession of your patron St. Edmund, to whose tomb I made a
pilgrimage, where I besought this one grace--our reconciliation."

Edmund thought of the holy thorn; but Edric continued:

"And you will be glad to hear that the bishop has decided upon my
penance. It is to be a pilgrimage to the Holy Land."

"I am heartily glad to hear it," said Edmund, speaking the very truth,
although he did try to forgive as he hoped to be forgiven.

And they separated.

Meanwhile happiness and expectation were high in the breasts of the
happy lovers, Alfgar and Ethelgiva. The morrow was to unite them. The
ladies sat up nearly all night making the wedding robes complete, and
richly adorning them--Hilda, Bertha, and Ethelgiva, with many skilful

They had almost finished their task, and were about to separate, when
St. Frideswide's bell tolled the first hour of the morning (one

"We are very late," said the lady Hilda, as well she might, for our
ancestors generally retired early, as they rose early; and they bade
each other goodnight.

"Happy, happy Ethelgiva!" said the mother as she kissed her darling,
not without a maternal sigh, for she felt as if she were losing her
only child, who had for so many a year been the light of their
woodland home--her only child, who had filled not simply her own place
in their affections, but as far as she might the place of the loved

But the kiss was suspended. The whole party stood silent and
breathless; for a loud and bitter cry, as of one in extreme anguish,
broke upon the silence of the night.

Ethelgiva uttered but one word as she bounded towards the staircase,
for she knew the voice:



Alfgar never saw his beloved lord enter his chamber with a look of
greater weariness than he bore that night.

"It has been a hard fight, old friend," said the familiar king, "but
we have conquered; for my part, I would far sooner have stood out
against him, battle-axe in hand, than have met this struggle, could I
have foreseen it beforehand; but now I have given him the kiss of
peace, peace it must be; he has no more to dread from me."

"Nor you from him, I trust."

"I must trust so, or I should not feel I had really forgiven, and I
cannot give my hand where my heart is not; but yet it was such a
fight. 'Tis easy to stand in the deadly gap and keep the foe from a
beleaguered citadel: men praise the deed, and there is a feeling of
conscious pride which sustains one, but the truly great deeds are
those which no chronicler records. It requires more bravery to forgive
sometimes than to avenge."

"I can well believe that, my lord."

"Well, if my path has been beset with foes, so has it with friends.
Such love as yours, Alfgar, I say as yours has been!--well, few kings
share such affections."

"My lord, you first loved me; at least you saved me from a fearful

"And you have warded off death from me again and again in the
battlefield; nay, deny it not, nor say it was merely your duty, men do
not always do such duty."

"My lord, you praise me more than I can feel I deserve."

"Not more than I feel you deserve, and yet were not this your last
night as my companion, were not tomorrow's ceremony to separate us,
perhaps for ever, I do not think I should thus overwhelm your modesty.

"You blush like a girl," said he, laughingly.

He lingered some time, and seemed loath to undress. At last he said:

"Have you seen the messenger Canute sent me?"

"Yes; I entertained him at the buttery as you requested."

"Well, he came with a proposal from Canute that we should join in
building and endowing a church at Assingdun, where a priest may ever
say mass for the souls of our dead, whether English or Dane. Of course
I have accepted the offer, but Canute added another and more
mysterious message."

"And what was that?"

"'Beware,' he said, 'of Edric; his apparent desire of reconciliation
cannot be trusted;' and he added that Edric was like a certain person
who wanted to become a monk when he was sick."

"I fear he speaks the truth."

"But I cannot act upon his advice; it is too late now. I have striven
to do what I thought, and the bishop said, in his Master's name, was
my duty--well, I have my reward in the approbation of my conscience.
Goodnight, Alfgar, goodnight; I shall sleep soundly tonight; I hope
some day I may lay me down for my last long sleep as peacefully."

Alfgar followed his example, and, commending himself to God, slept.

About half-an-hour after midnight Alfgar awoke with a strange
impression upon his mind that some one was in the room. It was very
dark and stormy, and the wind, finding its way through crevices in the
ill-built house, would account for many noises, but there was
something stirring which was not the wind, and the impression was
strong on his waking senses that between him and the window, which was
opposite his bed, a figure had passed.

Not fully trusting impressions produced at such a moment, yet with a
heavy vague sense of evil weighing him down like a nightmare, Alfgar
lay and listened.

At length he heard a sound which might have been produced by falling
rain percolating through the roof, drop, drop upon the floor, but it
was strange, for there was no sound of rain outside at that moment.

At length a cold draught made him turn his head, and he dimly saw
Edmund's door open and disclose the window within the room, then shut
slowly again.

He could control his apprehensions no longer, and rose gently from his
bed, so as not to warn the foe, on the one hand, should one be
present, or if, as he strove to believe, all was fancy, not to awake
Edmund. No one was in his own little room, that he felt rather than
saw in a moment; but some one might be in Edmund's, and he passed
through the door, which he remembered, with a shudder, was shut firmly
when Edmund said "goodnight." At that instant he heard a low click, as
of a spring lock, but very faintly; hesitating no longer, he passed
into the monarch's room, and advanced to the bedside.

"My lord!" he gently whispered, but there was no answer; he spoke
again in vain.

Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest