“Here is a deep matter to be talked of, King Alfred,” I said. “It does not do to speak lightly and carelessly of such things. Nor am I more than your guest as yet, willing to hear what you would have me know. When winter has gone, and you know if I shall be any good to you, then will be question if I enter your service altogether, and by that time I shall know enough. Maybe I shall see Neot again; he and I began to speak of these things.”
Then Sigehelm said:
“I think this is right, and Neot can tell you more in a few words than I in many. Yet whatever you ask me I will try to tell you.”
“I want to speak with Neot,” answered the king, “and we will ride together and seek him when peace is made. I have many things to say to him and ask him. We will go as soon as it is safe.”
So ended my talk with King Alfred at that time, and I was well content therewith. So also were my men, for it was certain that every one of them would find some place of command, were it but over a watch, when Alfred’s new sea levies were to be trained.
Many noble Saxons I met in the week before peace was made with the Danes in Exeter, for all the best were gathered there. Most of all I liked Ethered, the young ealdorman of Mercia, and Ethelnoth, the Somerset ealdorman, and Heregar, the king’s standard bearer, an older warrior, who had seen every battle south of Thames since the long ago day when Eahlstan the bishop taught his flock how to fight for their land against the heathen.
These were very friendly with me, and I should see more of them if I were indeed to ward the Wessex coasts, and for that reason they made the more of me.
Now I saw no more of Osmund the jarl, for Odda knew that the lesser folk would mistrust me if I had any doings with the Danes. Maybe I was sorry not to see the Lady Thora; but if I had seen her, I do not know what I should have said to her, having had no experience of ladies’ ways at any time, which would have made me seem foolish perhaps.
Chapter VII. The Pixies’ Dance.
I do not know that there is anything more pleasant after long weeks at sea than to have a good horse under one, and to be riding in the fresh winds of early autumn over new country that is beautiful in sunlight. So when at last every Danish chief had made submission, and the whole host had marched back to what they held as their own land in Mercia, going to Gloucester, as was said, with Odda and Ethered the ealdormen hanging on their rear with a great levy, I rode with King Alfred to find Neot his cousin gaily enough. Thord stayed with the ships, but the scald and Kolgrim were with me, and the king mounted us well. Ethelnoth of Somerset came also, and some forty men of the king’s household; and all went armed, for the country we had to cross was of the wildest, though we went by the great road that runs from west to east of England, made even before the Romans came. But it crossed the edge of Dartmoor, the most desolate place in all the land, where outlaws and masterless men found fastnesses whence none could drive them.