After that was joyous feasting, and the loosing of the chrism bands at Alfred’s royal town of Wedmore, whither we went in bright procession through the long summer day. Four days we bided there, till we knew that the great Danish host was on its march homewards, and then Guthrum and his comrades must join it. But before he went he accepted from Alfred the gifts that an under-king should take from his overlord, and they were most splendid. All men knew by those tokens given and taken that Alfred was king indeed, and that Guthrum did but hold place by his sufferance. Those two parted in wondrous friendship with the new bond of the faith woven round them, and the host passed from Wessex and was gone.
Yet, as ever, many a long year must pass by before the track of the Danes should be blotted out from the fair land they had laid waste. Everywhere was work to hand on burnt hall and homestead, ruined church, and wasted monastery. There was nought that men grieved over more than the burning of King Ine’s church at Glastonbury, for that had been the pride of all the land. Once, after the Chippenham flight, the monks had dared to go out in sad procession to meet the fierce raiders at the long dike that bars the way to Avalon, and for that time they had won safety for the place—maybe by the loss of their treasures given as ransom, or, as some say, by the power of fearless and unarmed men; for there were men in the Danish host whose minds were noble, and might well be touched thereby. But Hubba’s men could not be withheld after they had lost their mighty leader, and the place must feel their fury of revenge.
Now after the host was gone we went back to Taunton, and there Alfred called together his Witan, that he might set all things in order with their help; and at that time, before the levies were dismissed, he bade me seek out such men as would take to the ships as his paid seamen. Therein I had no hard task, for from the ruined coast towns came seafarers, homeless and lonely, asking nought better than to find a place in the king’s fleet, and first of all were the Parret-mouth men and my fisher of Wareham. Presently, with one consent, the Witan made me leader of the king’s Wessex sea levies, offering me the rank and fee of an English ealdorman, with power to demand help in the king’s name from all sea-coast sheriffs and port reeves in whatever was needed for the ships, being answerable to the throne only for what I should do. And that I accepted willingly for love of Alfred, who was my friend, and for the sake of comradeship with those valiant men who had fought beside me when Hubba fell, and at Edington.
Then must I set myself to my new charge, having nought to do with all the inland work that was before the king; and when the next day’s business was over, I went to tell him of this wish of mine, and of some other matters that were on my mind whereof one may easily guess.