One could not wish for a more pleasant companion than Alfred, and the miles went easily. We had both hawks and hounds with us, for there was game in plenty, and the king said that with the ending of the war, and the beginning of new hopes for his fleet, he would cast care aside for a little. So he was joyous and free in speech, and at times he would sing in lightness of heart, and would bid Harek sing also, so that it was pleasant to hear them. Ever does Harek say that no man sings better than Alfred of England.
In late afternoon we came to the wild fringe of Dartmoor, and here the king had a guest house in a little village which he was wont to use on these journeys to see Neot. We should rest there, and so cross the wastes in full daylight. So he went in, maybe fearing his sickness, which was indeed a sore burden to him, though he was wont to make light of it; but Ethelnoth asked me if we should not spend the hours of evening light in coursing a bustard or two, for many were about the moorland close at hand. They would be welcome at the king’s table, he said; and I, fresh from the sea and camp, asked for nothing better than a good gallop over the wide-stretching hillsides.
So we took fresh horses from those that were led for us, and rode away. We took hawks—the king had given me a good one when we started, for a Saxon noble ever rides with hawk on wrist—and two leash of greyhounds.
I was for putting my arms aside, but the ealdorman said it was better not to do so, by reason of the moor folk, who were wild enough to fall on a small party at times. It was of little moment, however; for we rode in the lighter buff jerkins instead of heavy mail, and were not going far.
Ethelnoth took two men with him, and my two comrades were with me—Kolgrim leading the hounds in leash beside his horse. We went across the first hillside, and from its top looked northward and westward as far as one could see over the strange grey wastes of the moorland.
Then from the heather almost under our feet rose a great bustard that ran down wind with outstretched wings before us, seeking the lonelier country. Kolgrim whooped, and slipped the leash, and the hounds sprang after it, and we followed cheering. It was good to feel the rush of hillside air in our faces, and the spring and stretch of the horses under us, and to see the long-reached hounds straining after the great bird that might well be able to escape them.
I suppose that Ethelnoth started a second bird. I did not look behind me to see what any man was doing, but followed the chase round the spur of a granite-topped hillside, and forgot him. For when the bustard took wing for a heavy flight, and lit and ran again, and again flew with wings that failed each time more and more, while the strong legs were the stronger for the short rest, and when the good hounds were straining after it, one could not expect me to care for aught but that.