“Nay, Siward, I may have my way this once. I am soldier enough to know I may not leave an enemy behind me on my march.”
“But a small detachment might accomplish the work.”
“Then I will go with it myself; my heart is in it. But, Alfred, you look very ill; you cannot proceed tonight. When did you sleep last?”
“Three nights ago.”
“Then it would be madness to proceed; you must sleep, and at early dawn you shall precede us on my own charger—which has been led all the way —if your own is too wearied, and with an attendant or two in case of danger from man or beast. Nay, it must be so.”
Alfred, who could scarcely stand for very fatigue, was forced to yield, and that night he slept soundly in the camp of Edgar. At the first dawn they aroused him from sleep, and he found a splendid warhorse awaiting him—a gift, they told him, from Edgar. Two attendants, well mounted, awaited him in company with Oswy. He would willingly have dispensed with their company; but he was told that the king, anxious for his safety, had insisted upon their attending him, and that they were answerable for his safe return to Aescendune, the country being considered dangerous for travellers in its present disturbed state.
So he yielded; and before the king had arisen he left the camp, after a hasty meal, and rode as rapidly as the roads would permit towards his desolated home.
CHAPTER XXIII. LOVE STRONG AS DEATH.
Meanwhile Father Swithin had gone alone and unprotected, save by his sacred character, into the very jaws of the lion; or rather, would have gone, had he been suffered to do so; for when he approached the hall he found the drawbridge up, and the whole place guarded as in a state of siege.
He advanced, nothing daunted, in front of the yawning gap where the bridge should have been, and cried aloud—“What ho! porter; I demand speech of my lord Redwald.”
“You may demand speech—swine may demand pearls—but I don’t think you will get it. Deliver me your message.”
“Tell your lord, rude churl, that I, Father Swithin, of the holy Order of St. Benedict, have come, in the name of the rightful owners of this house, and in the power of the Church, to demand that he deliver up Elfric of Aescendune to the safe keeping of his friends.”
“I will send your message; but keep a civil tongue in your mouth, Sir Monk, and don’t begin muttering any of your accursed Latin, or I will see whether the Benedictine frock is proof against an arrow.”
In a short time Redwald appeared on the roof, above the gateway.
“What dost thou require, Sir Monk?” said he; “thy words sound strange in my ears.”
“I am come, false traitor,” said Father Swithin, waxing wroth, “to demand the person of Elfric of Aescendune, whom thou detainest contrary to God’s law and the king’s.”