“But the Romans were idolatrous, too.”
“Yet their religion was milder than the one it superseded. Jupiter required no human sacrifices; and even otherwise, God has said that the wicked man is often His sword to avenge Him of His adversaries.”
“Oswy looks as if he had a tale to tell.”
“Speak out, Oswy, and let us all hear,” said the good father.
“Well, then,” said Oswy, “these were not once stones at all, but living men—a king, five knights, and sixty soldiers—who came to take Long Compton, the town down there, in the valley; but it so happened that a great enchanter dwelt there, and being out that morning he saw them coming, muttered his spells, and while the king—that stone yonder— was in front looking down on his prey, the five knights all whispering together, and the sixty soldiers behind in a circle, they were all suddenly changed into stone.”
They all laughed heartily at this, and leaving the Rholdrwyg Stones, turned aside to the hospitable hall where they ought to have spent the previous night. So delighted was the Thane of Rholdrwyg or Rollrich to receive his guests that he detained them almost by force all that day, and it was only on the morrow that he permitted them to continue their journey.
They joined the Foss Way again after a few miles at Stow on the Wold; the road was so good that they succeeded in reaching Cirencester, the ancient Corinium, that night, a distance of nearly thirty miles. Here they found a considerable population, for the town had been one of great importance, and was still one of the chief cities of southern Mercia, full of the remains of her departed Roman greatness, with shattered column and shapely arch yet diversifying the thatched hovels of the Mercians.
Two more days brought them to Bath, but the old Roman city had been utterly destroyed, and long subsequently the English town had been founded upon its site, so that there seemed no identity between Bath and Aqua Solis, such as prevailed between Cirencester and Corinium.
One day’s journey from Bath brought them at eventide within an easy day of Glastonbury, so that they paused in their journey for the last time at a well-known hostelry, chiefly occupied by pilgrims bound for Glastonbury, for the morrow was a high festival, or rather the commencement of one, and Dunstan was expected to conduct the ceremonies in person.
So crowded was the hostelry that Alfred and his revered tutor could only obtain a small chamber for their private accommodation, while their servants were forced to content themselves with such share of the straw of the outbuildings as they could obtain, in company with many others.
It was still early when they stopped at the inn, for one of their horses, which they had purchased by the way, had broken down so completely that they could not well proceed, and they were about to enter a dark and dangerous forest, full of ravenous bears and wolves, which had already cast its shade upon their path.