At the end of the first week, therefore, Alfred sent a message under flag of truce, and told the chiefs that he was willing to hear what they would say; and next day Guthrum asked that some chiefs might come and speak with him. But Alfred would not trust the Danes enough to send any of his nobles into the town, and bade Guthrum come out to the camp and say what he had to say. But he would not. Then one day, when Alfred held counsel as to what was best to be done to ensure lasting peace, I said that I thought Jarl Osmund might be of use, for he could go between the two camps in safety.
That seemed good to the king, and Heregar and I rode to find him, crossing the tidal ford at Combwich, where we heard from village folk who had returned that the Danish lord bided in Heregar’s house beyond the fort.
There I thought I should find Thora, and we went quickly. The place looked very deserted, and when we came to the courtyard gates it seemed more so, for the Maytime had sprinkled the gay-patterned paving of grey and white shore pebbles with blades of grass and weeds that sprang up between them everywhere for want of tendance.
Only the Lady Alswythe and a few of her servants were there now, for the Lady Etheldreda had taken Thora with her to Taunton when she left the hills. It had not been so safe here, though there was little plunder to bring the Danes to the place now. So I need not say that I was grievously disappointed, though in the dismantled hall sat Osmund, listlessly shaping a bow stave, and waiting for what turn of fortune should take him next.
Very glad, as one might think, were both the lady and the jarl for our coming, and we had to tell them all the tale of the working of Alfred’s plan, and of the great fight. And when that was heard, we told the jarl of Alfred’s wish to treat with Guthrum and the other chiefs through him.
That Osmund would gladly do; indeed, he said that, in hopes of being thus useful, he had stayed so near at hand.
So he and the thane talked long of the matter—for Alfred had sent messages—while I spoke with the lady, of Thora mostly.
It did not seem to me that I had any part in the king’s business with the Danes, and so presently I thought that I could do no better than ride to Taunton to see Thora, who I feared might be in trouble or doubt as to my safety.
So I rode there with Kolgrim. At that time the scald was laid up with a wound in the camp, and the king seemed to miss his presence, and to care for his welfare as if he were his brother; but, indeed, he made every man with whom he had to do feel as if his king were his best friend.
There is not much need for me to tell what manner of welcome I had at Taunton from Thora. As for Etheldreda, she would have me tell her everything, and I sat with those two, until night came and rest, talking of all the time past. But of the time to come Thora said nothing, and once or twice when Etheldreda left us and we were alone for a little while, so that I could try to plan out somewhat, she would but turn the talk again.