In an inner chamber of the palace, and remote from intrusion, sat the king and his chosen advisers. It was early in the year 958, a spring day when the sun shone brightly and all things spoke of the coming summer— the songs of the birds, the opening buds, the blossoming orchards.
But peace was banished from those who sat in that council chamber. Edwy was strangely disturbed, his face was flushed, and he bore evidence of the most violent agitation.
“It must come to that at last, my king,” exclaimed Cynewulf, “or Wessex will follow the example of Mercia.”
“Better lose my crown then and become a subject, with a subject’s liberty to love.”
“A subject could never marry within the prohibited degree,” said a grey-headed counsellor.
“We have messengers from all parts of Wessex, from Kent, from Essex, from Sussex, and they all unite in their demand that you should submit to the Church, and put away (forgive me for repeating their words) your concubine.”
“Concubine!” said Edwy, and his cheek flushed, “she is my wife and your queen.”
“Pardon me, my liege, I did not make the word my own.”
“You should not have dared to repeat it.”
“If I dare, my lord, it is for your sake, and for our country, which is dear to us all. Not an Englishman will acknowledge that your connection is lawful; from Exeter to Canterbury the cry is the same—’Let him renounce Elgiva, and we will obey him; but we will not serve a king who does not obey the voice of the Church or the laws of the land.’”
“Laws of the land! The king is above the laws.”
“Nay, my lord, he is bound to set the first example of obedience, chief in that as in all things; an example to his people. Remember, my lord, your coronation oath taken at Kingston three years ago.”
Edwy flushed. “Is this a subject’s language?”
“It is the language of one who loves his king too well to flatter him.”
At this moment an usher of the court knocked at the door, and obtaining permission to enter, stated that Archbishop Odo had arrived, and demanded admission to the council.
“I will not see him,” said the king.
“My liege,” exclaimed Athelwold, the old grey-headed counsellor we have mentioned, “permit one who loves you, as he loved your revered father, to entreat you to cease from this hopeless resistance. If you refuse to see him you are no longer a king.”
“Then I will gladly abdicate.”
“And become the scorn of Dunstan, and receive a retiring pension from Edgar, and put your hand between his, kneeling humbly and saying ’I am your man.’”
“No, no. Anything rather than that. Death first.”
“All this may be averted with timely submission. Elgiva herself would not counsel you to sacrifice all for her.”
“O Athelwold. my father, the only one of my father’s counsellors who has been faithful to his firstborn, what can I do? She is dearer to me than life.”