Then he thanked Harek for his songs, and went, the Saxons bowing as he passed down the long table with Odda.
“That is a wise man and a holy,” said Thord.
“Ay, truly,” answered the thane who had told me about him. “I mind when he and Alfred the king were the haughtiest and most overbearing of princes. But when Neot found out that his pride and wrath and strength were getting the mastery in his heart, he thrust himself down there to overcome them. So he grows more saintlike every day, and has wrought a wondrous change in the king himself. He is the only man to whom Alfred will listen in reproof.”
“That is likely,” I said, not knowing aught of the holy bishops who were the king’s counsellors; “kings brook little of that sort. But why does he wear yon strange dress?”
“He has taken vows on him, and is a hermit,” the thane said; but I did not know what he meant at the time.
It was some Saxon way, I supposed, and cared not to ask more.
So it came to pass that I met one of the two most wonderful men in England, and I was to see the other on the morrow. Yet I had no thought that I should care to stay in the land, for it seemed certain from what Odda told me that peace would be made, and peace was not my business nor that of my men.
So in a way I was sorry that the war was at an end, seeing that we came for fighting and should have none.
Then came a thought to me that made me laugh at myself. I was glad, after all, that we were not going sword foremost into Exeter town, because of the Lady Thora, who was there. I suppose it would not have been reasonable had I not had that much thought for the brave maiden whom I had helped out of danger once.
Chapter VI. Alfred the King.
Odda the ealdorman and I rode gaily into the king’s camp in the bright August morning, with Harek and Kolgrim and Thord beside us, and after us fifty of my men in their best array; which was saying much, for Einar the jarl was generous, and we had spoiled Halfdan, the king’s son, moreover. So there was a shouting when we came to the camp, and men ran together to stare at the vikings and their king.
In the midst of the camp, which was strong enough, and looked out on the old city, flew a banner whereon was a golden dragon—the banner of Wessex. And it stood before a great pavilion, which was the court for the time, and where we should find the king waiting for us. There were several other tents joined to this great one, so that into them the king might retire; and there was a wide space, round which walked spearmen as sentries, between it and any other tent.
Some Devon thanes met us, and our men dismounted at the same time as we. Then Odda led us four to the door of the pavilion, and we were ushered in with much ceremony.
Inside the great tent was like a round hall, carpeted, and tapestry-hung in a way I had never seen before. There were many richly-dressed nobles present, and most of these were grouped round a high place over against the door, where I saw at once that the king sat on a throne in all state.