“I am loath to take him from his folk to share my misfortunes.”
“That is naught,” said Thorleif. “Pay a trader who is going to England to tell other chapmen to pass the word to his folk where he is. They will hear in a month or less.”
“Hearken to the chief, my prince,” I said. “That is easy, and it will be all I care for. If my father hears that I am with you, he will be well content.”
“More than content, Wilfrid,” said Ecgbert, smiling. “We of the line of Ina know your folk of old. Well, be it as you will, for, on my word, I am lonely; and I think, comrade, that if I had choice of one to stand by me, the choice would have fallen on you.
“There was little need, chief, for you to tell me that Wilfrid of Frome was steadfast. We are old friends.”
“Bide so, then. Friends are not easily made,” answered Thorleif, laughing. “Now tell me what you are thinking of doing. Maybe I can advise you, being an adventurer by choice, as it seems you must be by need. But first I will offer you both a share in our cruise, if you will turn viking and go the way of Hengist and Horsa, your forbears. Atheling and thane’s son you will be to us still, if you have to take an oar now and then.”
“Kindly spoken,” said Ecgbert; “but this I will tell you plainly. It had not come into my mind to think that Bertric needed to fear me until he showed that he did so. Had he left me to myself, I had been as good a subject of Wessex as Wilfrid here. But now it seems to me that maybe he has some good reason to think that the throne might be or should have been mine. Wherefore it is in my mind to seek the great King Carl, and learn what I can of his way of warfare, that presently, when the time comes, I may be the more ready to take that throne and hold it.”
“Why, then,” said Thorleif, watching the face of the atheling, “I will tell you this from out of my own knowledge of Wessex. If you learn what Carl can teach you, you will, if you can raise a thousand followers, walk through Wessex into Mercia, and thence home by East Anglia to London town, and there sit with three crowns on your head—the greatest king that has been in England yet. For your folk know no more of fighting, though they are brave enough, than a herd of cattle. But it will be many a long year before you know enough, and then you will need to be able to use your knowledge.”
“Can you tell me where to find Carl the king? It may be that I have years enough before me to learn much.”
“Those who want to learn do learn,” quoth Thorleif. “It is in my mind that, unless a Flemish arrow ends you, Wessex will have to choose between you and Bertric presently.”
Then he told us where he had last heard of the Frankish king, which was somewhere on the eastern Rhine border. And at last, being taken with the fearless way of the young atheling, said that if he would, he himself would see him as far on his way as the Rhine mouth. And in the end Ecgbert closed with the offer, and left the Frankish ship accordingly.