Nativity of St. Mary (Sept. 8).—
The Etheling went with Alfgar to Malmesbury a few days ago. We now hear that he has released Sigeferth’s widow, and that he has married her. We know not what to think of the step. It is a bold defiance of his father’s cruel policy. He knew the widow before she was the wife of Sigeferth, when Alfgar says he made honourable love to her. But it is a very sudden step.
Alas! the Divine vengeance has not slumbered long after the late cruel deed. Canute is in England again. Edmund brought his wife here, asking us to take care of her. She is a gentle lady, worn down with care. He has gone, in conjunction with Edric, to fight Canute. I dread this conjunction. Edmund would have gone alone, but his father insisted on joining Edric in the command, saying two heads were better than one.
Alfgar has come home, bringing messages from Edmund, with sad but not altogether unexpected news. Edric, who is steeped in stratagems and deceit, plotted against his life again and again, whereupon Edmund broke up the camp in indignation, and took a separate course with all the warriors who would follow his standard. Edric took the rest, went down to the seacoast, seduced the crews of forty ships, and then joined Canute with his whole forces. Alas! there seems no hope now.
There is war all over the land—civil war. It is not to be wondered at. But many Englishmen have given their allegiance to Canute, who now professes himself a Christian, saying they will not serve Ethelred any more. So Edmund and Canute are both, I fear, ravaging the land, for Edmund has threatened more than once to regard those people as foes who refuse to fight against the Danes. Men know not what to do.
We have received strange news. Ethelred is dying. He has summoned his son. The tidings reached Edmund here. He had only been with us a single day, and was about to depart again for the war, for Canute threatens to attack London. It is there Ethelred lies sick unto death. Edmund seemed more moved than I should have expected. He has departed in all haste, taking Alfgar with him.
CHAPTER XIX. THE ROYAL DEATHBED.
It was the evening of a stormy day in April when a band of five hundred men, well armed and equipped, were seen approaching the Moor Gate of London. Their leader rode in front, a stalwart warrior, whose eagle eye and dauntless brow told of one born to command. By his side rode a younger warrior, yet one who had nearly reached the prime of life, and who bore the traces of a life of warfare most legibly stamped upon him. There was this difference between them, that men would have recognised the elder at once as an Englishman, while the younger had all the outward physiognomy of a Dane.