“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.