When the holy office was over, I accompanied my brother part of the way home, for I wanted to communicate my suspicions, and to learn whether he shared them.
It was a dark and gloomy eventide: the sun, which had only made its appearance at intervals during the day, was fast sinking behind a heavy bank of clouds which filled the western horizon; and the wind, which was freshening to a gale, seemed to bear the storm onward in its track, while it tore the few surviving leaves rudely from the trees, and whirled them in mazy windings.
“Elfwyn,” said I, “what do you suppose was the true object of the sheriff in bidding folks keep indoors tonight?”
“I cannot divine, unless he has some deed of blood on hand which he wishes to have undisturbed, all to himself and his underlings.”
“Siric spoke mysteriously.”
“Yes; if there is aught going on amiss, he has a hand in it.”
Here I communicated my fears respecting Alfgar, whom I had invited, with my brother’s permission, to sup at the hall.
“Could you not keep the poor fellow with you all night? I fear his father is in some danger, as well he may be, acting as wickedly as he did this very morn.”
“I will try to persuade him to stay, he is along with Bertric and Ethelgiva; they are only a few steps behind. Cuthbert, I have ordered every one of my theows and ceorls to be obedient to your warning if they wish to preserve their allegiance to Aescendune, or to escape chastisement, and I think none of them are likely to be abroad tonight.”
“Can you not find out what the sheriff has told them? I saw him speaking to one or two.”
“I will try. You must be my guest tonight, or at least for a few hours.”
“Nay, I must return to compline; I may be wanted tonight, and ought to be at my post,” said I.
We arrived at the old home, dear familiar place! stronger and better built than most such houses, because, being burnt down in my father’s younger days, it had been rebuilt in a more substantial manner, and was capable of sustaining a formidable attack successfully.
We crossed the drawbridge, and entered the courtyard under the gateway; before us was the door of the great hall, merrily illumined by its blazing fire.
There, then, was the supper table bountifully spread, and the theows and ceorls awaiting the arrival of their lord. We entered, Elfwyn and I, and soon after Bertric, Ethelgiva, and Alfgar followed.
A loud horn was blown upon the battlements. Stragglers made their entrance good; the drawbridge was drawn up, the doors closed, and I blessed the meat.
CHAPTER III. THE NIGHT OF ST. BRICE.
Monday, November 14th, 1002.—
I hardly know how to write the events of last night, my pen almost refuses to begin. I feel thoroughly sickened by the very remembrance of the bloodshed and treachery which have disgraced Christian England, and which will assuredly bring down God’s judgment upon us.