“Come with me, or my father will disgrace himself.”
It was Canute.
He led Alfgar forth into the courtyard.
“Thou dost not seem to fear death,” said the boy prince.
“It would be welcome now.”
“So some of our people sometimes say, but the motive is different; tell me what is the secret of this Christianity?”
Just then Sidroc and Anlaf came out from the hall and saw the two together. Sidroc seemed annoyed, and led the young prince away, while Anlaf seized the opportunity to whisper to his son:
“My son, I can do no more for thee; I see thou wilt persist in thine obstinacy. I release thee from thy promise given to me; escape if thou canst, or die in the attempt; but bring not my grey hairs to contempt on the morrow.”
At this moment, Sidroc having seen Canute to the royal quarters, returned.
“Sidroc,” said Anlaf, “I cannot any longer be the jailor of my unhappy and rebellious son. Let him be confined till the morrow. I shall ask leave of absence from Sweyn, and now I deliver Alfgar to your care.”
“I accept the charge,” said Sidroc; “follow me, Alfgar, son of Anlaf.”
Alfgar followed passively. He could not help looking as if to take leave of his father; but Anlaf stood as mute and passionless as a statue. Sidroc reached a party of the guard, and bade them confine the prisoner in the dungeon beneath the ruined eastern tower.
“Listen to my last words, thou recreant boy; Sweyn will send for thee early in the morning before the assembled host; it will be the day of St. Brice; and even were he not now mad with rage, there would be no mercy for a Christian on that day. Thou must yield, or die by the severest torture, compared with which the death of thy late companion under the archers’ shafts was merciful. Be warned!”
It was a low dungeon, built of that brick which we still recognise as of Roman manufacture, in the foundations of what had been the eastern tower of the ancient fortification. The old pile had been badly preserved by the Saxon conquerors, but it had been built of that solid architecture which seems almost to defy the assaults of time, and which in some cases, after fifteen centuries, preserves all its characteristics, and promises yet to preserve them, when our frailer erections lie crumbled in the dust.
The roof was semicircular, and composed of minute bricks, seeming to form one solid mass; the floor of tiling, arranged in patterns, which could still be obscurely traced by the light of the lamp left by the charity of Sidroc to the prisoner; for the dungeon was of bad reputation; lights had been seen there at unearthly hours, when the outer door was fast and no inmate existed.
There were two long narrow windows at the end, unbarred, for they were too small for the human body to pass through them; they looked upon the valley and, river beneath, for although the dungeon was below the level of the courtyard, it was above that of the neighbourhood.