Redwald had, as we shall see, deep designs of his own to serve also, but they had been locked for years in his own breast, and no servant could seem more trusty and faithful than he did, or act with more energy in his master’s cause.
The forces of Edwy, as we have related, left St. Alban’s on the second morning, and travelled, horse and foot, very rapidly all that day.
Crossing the Icknield Street at Dunstable, where the remains of a huge temple, once sacred to Diana, were visible, they entered Mercia, and soon reached Towcester, a town which had been walled round by King Athelstane; here they found no force prepared to receive them, and the town opened its gates at once.
They tarried here for a day, while they sent scouts and spies in all directions, many of whom never returned. The troops were quartered freely upon the inhabitants, who were evidently very hostile; and, in return, the soldiers of Edwy insulted the women and bullied the men. Every hour some quarrel arose, and generally ended in bloodshed; the citizens being commonly the victims.
Late at night messengers arrived at the royal quarters, bringing information that Edgar was at Alcester, the ancient Alauna, beyond the Avon, and that Osric, the great Earl of Mercia, was with him collecting troops.
A council was held at once, and it was decided to leave the Watling Street and to march for the Avon by cross-country routes. They rested that night amidst the ruins of the ancient Brinavae, and here another council was held, to deliberate on their future movements, and it was decided to march westward at once, for tidings came that Edgar’s forces were rapidly increasing, and prudence suggested prompt measures. Edwy was becoming very anxious.
The route for the next day was then made out and, with beating heart, Elfric learned that they purposed crossing the river not far from Aescendune.
“Elfric, my friend,” said Edwy, “there will be a chance for you to visit Aescendune, and to obtain the old man’s forgiveness.”
He said this with a slight sneer.
“I cannot go there; I would die first.”
Edwy started at the tone of deep feeling with which the words were said; he knew nothing of the rencontre of Elfric with his brother.
“Still I think that I must spend this coming night there, and I will try and act the Christian for the occasion: perhaps I may do you a good turn, while I renew my acquaintance with your people.”
In his very heart Elfric wished that Edwy might never arrive there, yet he knew not what to say.
“Well,” said the prince, observing his hesitation, “you may go on with Cynewulf and the main body of the army, which will cross the Avon higher up, and I will make excuse that your duties detain you. I must go—I have special reasons, I wish at least to secure the fidelity of the few —and Redwald will accompany me; we join the army on the morrow, without losing any time by the move.”