“Yes. When I asked you, ‘What is this Christianity?’ you had not much time given you to answer me then, but your deliberate choice of a bitter death, in preference to abandoning it, showed me there was somewhat deeper in it than I had imagined. Alfgar, there are seeds lightly sown which bear fruit hereafter, and your words were of such a character—so that I, your future monarch, owe you already a debt of gratitude, and I had come hither to fulfil it when you saved me the task by appealing to the ordeal. I for one had full faith in the justice of God. But had you not so appealed, I should have stepped in between Edric and his victim.”
“You did not then, my lord, believe in my guilt?”
“Not for one moment. The lad who defied my unhappy father in the frantic fury of his power—the warrior I had seen fighting by the side of his king—the faithful attendant of many years?—Nay, it was monstrous; who could believe it?”
“Many, alas! found it possible to believe it, my lord. But who has been the murderer? You will not permit your brother’s blood to fall on the earth unavenged.”
“Wait. Be patient. God, in whom you trust, will direct the bolt in His own time. Edmund’s blood will not be unavenged. And now, farewell! Remember, if you have lost one royal friend, you have found another.”
And Alfgar left the presence.
The next day the whole party from Aescendune returned home. Oxenford was too full of bitter memories now. One grief of Alfgar was this—he had not been able to stand by Edmund’s grave.
Ten years ago, this very day, God in His mercy delivered us from the raging Danes at Cliffton, on Tamesis, and now He hath delivered us again out of the hands of the raging lion, even of Edric Streorn, and we are all spared to keep our Christmas in peace in the woods of Aescendune.
It is probably the last I shall keep in this place, for the hall and priory are fast rising from their ruins, and we shall soon return to our old home, from which we have been banished ten years and more. It will be sweet to be there once more, serving the Lord in peace, with none daring to make us afraid.
Here we are, all of us who are near and dear by the ties of blood, in this woodland Zoar, which hath indeed been a Zoar in the late troublous years, utterly untouched, which again we regard as a proof that Anlaf does not live, for he could have found us out had his revenge led him to do so when Sweyn was in Mercia. Neither has he appeared to claim his own estate, which he might easily regain now a Dane is king.
Alfgar and Ethelgiva are now speedily to be united. Theirs is to be the first marriage solemnised in the new minster church by my unworthy hands. To see them now, one would think they had forgotten all the past peril. The old people do not mean to abandon their woodland abode; they love it all too well, and call it the Happy Valley. But they say that a good road, now the times are safer, shall be made to the old site, where we are again rearing hall and priory.