“Then the lad whom we made into a target is the only victim, while our kinsfolk’s blood, shed near here, cries for vengeance.”
“He died bravely.”
“Yes, that is a Christian’s kind of courage.”
“Well, perhaps some day they will learn to fight, and then—”
“Their songs tell them of an Alfred who defeated our best warriors.”
“That was long ago; if you go back far enough these English were sea kings before they were spoiled by becoming Christians.”
“Hush; I think I hear steps.”
“Who comes?” cried one of the guards, challenging a newcomer.
“I, Anlaf, your chief.”
And the father of Alfgar appeared on the scene.
Of average height, Anlaf possessed vast muscular powers; his sinews stood out like tight cords, and his frame, although robust, was yet such that there seemed no useless flesh about him. His hair was a deep grizzled red, as also his beard, and his eyes were of the same tinge, his nose somewhat aquiline, and his whole features, weatherworn as they were, were those of one born to command, while they lacked the sheer brutality of expression so conspicuous in some of his subordinates.
Ho addressed a few words to the guards, and they led him to Alfgar.
“Cut him loose,” he said.
They did so.
He looked mournfully yet sternly on the youth, who himself trembled all over with emotion.
“Alfgar,” he said, “do I indeed see my son?”
“You do, my father.”
“Follow me; nay, you are wounded—lean on my arm.”
Alfgar’s thigh had, it will be remembered, been pierced by an arrow, but the wound was not deep, and with his father’s assistance he could proceed. He knew where Anlaf led. At length they came upon a deserted clearing, and there he paused until Alfgar, who could scarcely keep up, stood by his side.
Before them the moonbeams fell upon a dark charred mass of ruins in the centre of the space.
“This is the spot where father and son should meet again,” said Anlaf and he embraced his son.
“Here, my son,” said the old warrior, as he pointed out the blackened ruins, “here stood our home, where now the screech owl haunts, and the wolf has its den. There, where the broken shaft yet remains, was the chamber in which thou first sawest the light, and wherein thy mother died there, where snake and toad have their home, was the great hall. Surely the moonbeams fall more peacefully on the spot now all has been avenged, and the halls of the murderers have fallen in their turn. But how didst thou escape?”
“The folk of Aescendune saved me, father.”
“But how; from the burning pile?”
“Nay. I had spent the previous day with them, and returned home only in time to find the place in flames. The enemy seized me, and would have slain me, but Elfwyn and his brother, Father Cuthbert, delivered me; and now thou hast slain their Bertric, and burnt both hall and priory.”