The tale now presented to the indulgence of the public is the second of a series of tales, each complete in itself, which, as stated in the preface to the first of the series, have been told to the senior boys of a large school, in order to secure their interest in historical characters, and to illustrate great epochs in human affairs by the aid of fiction.
Yet the Author has distinctly felt that fiction must always, in such cases, be subordinate to truth, and that it is only legitimately used as a vehicle of instruction when it fills up the gaps in the outline, without contradicting them in any respect, or interfering with their due order and sequence.
Therefore he has attempted in every instance to consult such original authorities as lay within his reach, and has done his best to present an honest picture of the times.
The period selected on the present occasion is full of the deepest interest. The English and the Danish invaders of their soil were struggling desperately for the possession of England—a struggle aggravated by religious bitterness, and by the sanguinary nature of the Danish creed.
The reign of Ethelred the Unready, from his accession, after the murder of his innocent brother, until the scene depicted in the nineteenth chapter of the tale, was a tragedy ever deepening. Its details will seem dark enough as read herein, but how utterly dark they were can only be appreciated by those who study the contemporary annals. Many facts therein given have been rejected by the Author as too harrowing in their nature; and he has preferred to render the contemplation of woe and suffering less painful, by a display of those virtues of patience, resignation, and brave submission to the Divine will, which affliction never fails to bring out in the fold of Christ, whose promise stands ever fast, that the strength of His people shall be equal to their needs.
With the death of the unhappy king, and the accession of his brave but unfortunate son, the whole character of the history changes. Englishmen are henceforth at least a match for their oppressors, and the result of the long contest is the conversion of their foes to Christianity, their king setting the example, and the union of the two races—not the submission of one to the other. The Danish element had been received into the English nation to join in moulding the future national character—to add its own special virtues to the typical Englishman of the future.
One more rude shock had yet to be sustained before the alloy of foreign blood was complete—the Norman Conquest. This is the subject of the Third Story of Aescendune, which has yet to be written.