“Yes. Didst thou not know that he escaped on St. Brice’s night, baffling his would-be assassins, and yet lives? He thought thee dead, and only sought vengeance, when he heard from the captured prisoner of Elfwyn’s band that thou wert yet alive, and he is come to seek thee.”
For a few minutes Alfgar sat like one stunned by the intelligence. Joy and fear were strangely mingled together; well did he remember Sidroc’s frequent visits to his father’s English home, and that the warrior had more than once taken him in his infancy upon his knee and sung to him war songs, telling him that he too must be a warrior some day.
He was roused from his reverie by the voice of Sidroc.
“Who is your companion?”
“Bertric, the son of Elfwyn of Aescendune; oh! you will see that no wrong is done to him, will you not? his people saved my life.”
“That they might make you a Christian, knowing that your father would sooner you had expired in the flames which consumed his house.
“No,” he added sternly; “he is doomed, he and his alike.”
Alfgar uttered a piteous cry, and appealed so earnestly that one might have thought he would have moved a heart of stone, yet all in vain.
“Does the eagle mourn over the death of the dove, or heed what pangs the kid may suffer which writhes beneath its talons? If you are of the race of warrior kings, act like one.”
While this was going on the warriors had been selecting some light and sharp arrows and stringing their bows.
“You have but one target, not two,” cried Sidroc, “and scant time wherein to use it.”
“Then you shall have two, for I will die with him,” cried Alfgar, comprehending at once that the death by which Saint Edmund of East Anglia, and many a martyr since, had glorified God, was destined for his companion, his brother.
He snatched at a weapon, and rushed to the tree to which the victim was bound, as if he would save him or perish in the attempt, but a grasp like iron was thrown around him, and he struggled in vain.
“Bind him, but do him no harm,” said Sidroc, “and detain him where he may see all, and strengthen his nerves for future occasions.”
Against the tree leaned Bertric, pale, yet strangely composed; the bitterness of death seemed to be past, so composed were his youthful features. The lips moved in earnest, fervent prayer. Once he glanced with a look of affection, almost of pity, upon Alfgar, and when the latter made the vain attempt to deliver him, he cried, “Do not grieve for me, dear Alfgar, you cannot save me; you have done your best; pray for me, that is all you can do.”
His patient courage, so unexpected in one so young, touched his captors, as nothing else would have touched them, and Sidroc approached him.