A few hours’ riding from Warwick brought them at the close of the day in sight of Beranbyrig (Banbury), where three centuries earlier a bloody battle had been fought, [vi] wherein success—almost for the last time —visited the British arms, and saved the Celtic race from expulsion for twenty years.
The spot was very interesting to Elfric, for here his ancestor Sebbald had fought by the side of the invading king, Cynric, the son of Cerdic, and had fallen “gloriously” on the field.
“Look,” said Anlaf, the guide, “at that sloping ground which rises to the northwest. There the Welsh (Britons) stood, formed in nine strong battalions. In that hollow they placed their archers, and here their javelin men and cavalry were arranged after the old Roman fashion. Our Englishmen were all in one battalion, and charged them fiercely, when they were thrown into confusion by the cunning tricks of the Welsh, who made up in craft what they wanted in manly courage.
“Look at this brook which flows to the river, it was running with blood that evening, and our men lay piled in huge heaps where they tried to scale the hill which you see yonder.”
“And did the Welsh gain the day so easily?” said Elfric, sorrowfully.
“I don’t wonder; they were fighting for their lives, and even a rat will fight if you get him into a corner; besides, they had all their best men here.”
“Do you know where Sebbald fell?” said Elfric, referring to his own ancestor.
“Just under this hillock, close by King Cynric, who fought like a lion to save the body, but was unable to do so. The Welsh were then gaining the day. Still, even his foes respected his valour, and gave your forefather a fair and honourable burial.”
Leaving the battlefield, they entered the Saxon town, which was defended on one side by the Cherwell, on the other by a mound and palisade, with an outer ditch supplied by the river. Here they found hospitable entertainment, and left on the morrow for the town of Kirtlington.
They left Beranbyrig early, and reached the village of Sutthun (King’s Sutton), where they perceived a great multitude of people collected around a well at the outskirts of the village.
“What are these people doing?” asked Elfric.
“Oh, do you not know?” replied Anlaf. “This is St. Rumbald’s well,” and he crossed himself piously.
“Who was St. Rumbald?” asked Elfric innocently.
“Oh, he was son of the king of Northumbria, and of his queen, the daughter of the old king Penda of Mercia, and the strange thing is that he is a saint although he only lived three days.”
“How could that be?”
“Why it was a miracle, you see. On the day after his birth he was taken to Braceleam (Brackley), where he was baptized, and after his baptism he actually preached an eloquent sermon to the people. They brought him back to Sutthun next day, where he died, having first blessed this well, so that many precious gifts of healing are shown thereat. His relics were removed first to Braceleam, then to Buccingaham (Buckingham), where his shrine is venerated by the faithful. But come, you must drink of the holy water.”