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.