“Where am I? What have I been doing?” he exclaimed.
“You are safe, my dear son, and in the hands of friends,” replied Dunstan, “although you have had a narrow, narrow escape; we are secure for the present from our foes.”
They consulted together in low tones as to their future movements, and the abbot inquired particularly of the guide concerning the fords and bridges.
“There is a ford only a mile or two away, but I expect they will find they cannot cross it.”
“Is there no place of refuge near? He is unable to sit his horse.”
“There is a cottage close by, kept by a cowherd, who is a good and true man.”
“Then lead us to it at once,” replied Dunstan.
Alfred had by this time recognised his position, and he implored Dunstan not to endanger his own safety for his sake; but the abbot paid no attention. They reached the cottage just as the day was dawning, and the east was bright with rosy light. It was such a place as the great king, after whom Alfred was named, had found refuge in when pressed by the Danes. It was poor, but neat and clean beyond the usual degree; and when the wants of their early visitors were known, and Dunstan was recognised, the utmost zeal was displayed in his cause.
All that could be done for Alfred was done at once, but he was manifestly too shaken and bruised to be able to travel; and, giving him his fatherly blessing, Dunstan was compelled by the guide to hurry on, leaving him in the care of Oswy.
They had not, however, great fear of their pursuers, for their own horses were comparatively fresh after the rest in the ruined city, and those of their foes would be necessarily fatigued, after the rapid ride along the Foss Way, and their exertions to pass the stream.
So it was not with great uneasiness, well mounted as they were, that, gaining the road, they beheld their pursuers in the distance, who, on their part, beholding their intended victims afar off, hastened to spur their horses on.
It was useless: the pursued had the advantage, and after the gallop of a mile or two, it became evident they were in no especial danger, although it must be remembered that a false step or slip, or any accident, would have been fatal.
“I should not mind racing them down the Foss to the Sea Town,” [xxv] said the guide; “but if the abbot has no objection, I should prefer leaving them to pursue the road, while we take a cross-country route, which I have often travelled; it is a very good one.”