So the land was divided; Edmund was to be head king and to have Wessex, Sussex, Kent, East Anglia, and Essex, with the city of London; while Canute had Northumbria and Mercia.
Canute professed himself a Christian, and swore to govern his people according to the old English laws, and to preserve their temporal and spiritual privileges, a promise which, upon the whole, he well observed.
And so England entered upon a peace of fifty years, only broken by an event yet in the womb of time, the Norman Conquest.
“Come, Alfgar,” said Edmund, one day soon after these events, “let us go to Aescendune and fix thy wedding day; Elfwyn need fear no longer that the sword will be the portion of his grandchildren.”
Peace! sweet, sweet peace! oh how joyful it was to be once more in the deep woods of Aescendune, to hear the sweet song of the birds, and to fear no evil! Sweet, ineffably sweet were those days to Alfgar and Ethelgiva!
So the day was at length appointed; it was to be the feast of St. Andrew, and to take place at Oxenford, which had been assigned to Edmund’s dominions; for he insisted that it should be celebrated with all the pomp the presence of a king could lend.
It was now the season of the falling leaf and there were only a few weeks longer to wait.
CHAPTER XXII. SMOOTHER THAN OIL.
It was the latter end of November, and St. Andrew’s day drew near, when a small but select party of friends met together in an old mansion hard by St. Frideswide’s Cathedral, at Oxenford, to enjoy the evening banquet.
First and foremost was the king of Southern England, the valiant Ironside, and his attendant and friend Alfgar; Elfwyn and Father Cuthbert from Aescendune, with the Lady Hilda and Ethelgiva; Herstan, his wife Bertha, and son Hermann, from Clifton, with his sisters; and Ethelm, the new bishop of Dorchester, the successor of the martyred Ednoth.
These, our old acquaintances, had all been gathered together in view of the approaching union of Alfgar with Ethelgiva, which was to be solemnised on St. Andrew’s day, in the presence of the king. They were a happy party; all the woes of the past seemed forgotten in the happy present, or were only remembered in the spirit of the well-known line:
“Haec olim meminisse juvabit.”
The more substantial viands were removed, generous wines from warmer climes were introduced, but there was no need of a harper or of minstrels, save Edmund himself, or of legends and tales to those whose lives had passed amidst scenes of excitement. They were such as make history for future generations.
“How the wind howls without tonight!” observed Edmund; “it makes one value the blessing of a quiet home and a cheerful fireside. How often, Alfgar, have you and I lain on such nights under the shelter of a canvas tent, or even of a bush.”