“What can you mean, Redwald?” exclaimed both the youths.
“Heard you not the passing bell last night? Edred sleeps with his fathers; he died at Frome on St. Clement’s day.”
For a moment they were both silent.
“And Edwy, the great grandson of Alfred, is king of England.”
At first the young prince was deeply shocked at the sudden news of the death of his uncle, to whom, in spite of appearances, he was somewhat attached. He turned pale, and was again silent for some minutes; at last, he gulped down a cup of water, and asked—“But how did Dunstan know?”
“Why, it is a strange tale. Three days ago, at the very hour the king must have died, he says that he saw a bright light, and beheld a vision of angels, who said, ‘Edred hath died in the Lord,’ but he treated it as a dream, and last night a messenger came with the news of the sudden illness of the king, bidding Dunstan hasten to his side. He left everything, and started immediately, but in a few miles met another messenger, bearing the news of the death. He has gone on, but sent the messenger forward to the Bishop of London, who caused the great bell to be tolled.
“We must all die some day,” said Edwy, musingly; “but it is very very sudden.”
“And I trust he has obtained a better kingdom,” added Redwald; “he must, you know, if the monks tell the truth, so why should we weep for him?”
“At least,” said Edwy, looking up, “Elfric need not go home now.”
“No, certainly not, but he had better disappear from court for a time. The lady Ethelgiva might afford him hospitality, or he might stay at the royal palace at Kingston. I will tell the messenger to keep out of the way, and Dunstan may suppose that his orders have been obeyed to the letter.”
“Why should we trouble what he may think or say?”
“Because the Witan has not yet met, and until it has gone through the form, the mere form, of recognising your title, you are not actually king. Dunstan has some influence. Suppose he should use it for Edgar?”
“Edgar, the pale-faced little priestling!”
“All the better for that in Dunstan’s eyes. Nay, be advised, my king; keep all things quiet until the coronation is over, then let Dunstan know who you are and who he is.”
“Indeed I will. He shall have cause to rue his insolent behaviour the other night.”
“Bide your time, my liege; and now the great officers of state require your presence below.”
A few days later a sorrowful procession entered the old city of Winchester, the capital of Wessex, and once a favourite residence of Edred, now to be his last earthly resting place. Much had the citizens loved him; and as the long train defiled into the open space around the old minster—old, even then—the vast assemblage, grouped beneath the trees around the sacred precincts, lifted up their voices and joined in the funeral hymn, while many wept tears of genuine sorrow. It was awe inspiring, that burst of tuneful wailing, as the monks entered the sacred pile, and it made men’s hearts thrill with the sense of the unseen world into which their king had entered, and where, as they believed, their supplications might yet follow him.