I know this, that had he scoffed at the Asir, I had listened to Neot not at all. But when we came to his place, I was ready, and more than ready, to hear what he had to tell me.
Chapter VIII. The Black Twelfth-Night.
When we came to the little out of the way village among the Cornish hills near which Neot, the king’s cousin, had his dwelling, I thought it strange that any one should be willing to give up the stirring life at court for such a place as this. Here was only one fair-sized house in the place, and that was built not long before by the king for his own use when he came here, which was often. And Neot’s own dwelling was but a little stone-walled and turf-roofed hut, apart from all others, on the hillside, and he dwelt there with one companion—another holy man, named Guerir, a Welshman by birth—content with the simple food that the villagers could give him, and spending his days in prayer and thought for the king and people and land that he loved.
But presently, as I came to know more of Neot, it seemed good that some should live thus in quiet while war and unrest were over the country, else had all learning and deeper thought passed away. It is certain from all that I have heard, from the king himself and from others, that without Neot’s steady counsel and gathered wisdom Alfred had remained haughty and proud, well-nigh hated by his people, as he had been when first he came to the throne.
At one time he would drive away any who came to him with plaints or tales of wrong and trouble; but Neot spoke to him in such wise that he framed his ways differently. And now I used to wonder to see him stay and listen patiently to some rambling words of trifling want, told by a wayside thrall, to which it seemed below his rank to hearken, and next I would know that it was thus he made his people love him as no other king has been loved maybe. There was no man who could not win hearing from him now.
It is said of him that when Neot showed him the faults in his ways, he asked that some sickness, one that might not make him useless or loathsome to his people, might be sent him to mind him against his pride, and that so he had at first one manner of pain, and now this which I had seen. It may be so, for I know well that so he made it good for him, and he bore it most patiently. Moreover, I have never heard that it troubled him in the times of direst need, though the fear of it was with him always.
Now what Alfred and Neot spoke of at this time I cannot say, except that it was certainly some plan for the good of the land. I and my comrades hunted and hawked day by day until the evening came, and then would sup plainly with the king, and then sit at Neot’s door in the warm evening, and talk together till the stars came out.
Many things we spoke of, and Neot told me what I would. I cannot write down those talks, though I mind every word of them. But there was never any talk of the runes I had offered.