Then of a sudden I minded somewhat, and clear before me stood a test by which I might know certainly if it were good that I should leave the Asir and follow the way of the white Christ.
“King Alfred,” I said, “I have heard the bishop tell, in the great church here, of a king who slew the guiltless at Christmastide. There was nought too hard for any to say of that man. Moreover, I have heard strange and sweet words of peace at this time, of forgiveness of enemies and of letting go of vengeance. Are these things nought, or are they indeed those by which you guide yourselves, as Neot says?”
He was silent, gazing fixedly on me; and all the Witan were speechless, listening.
“These men are enemies maybe, but they at least have done nought. Shall you avenge yourself on them for the wrongdoing of others?”
Then the king’s face changed, and he looked past me, and in his eyes grew and shone a wondrous light, and slowly he lifted up his hand, and cried, in a great voice that seemed full of joy:
“Hear this, O ye Danes and foes of the Cross. For the love of Christ, and in His name, I bid you go in peace!”
And then, as they stared at him in wonder and awe at his look and words, Alfred said to me:
“Unbind them, my brother, and let them go—nay, see them safely to some strong house; for the poor folk may slay them in their blind anger, even as would I have done.”
Then no man hindered me—for it seemed as if a great fear, as of the might of the holy name, had fallen on all—and I went and cut the bonds of the captives. And as I did so, Osmund said in a low voice to me:
“First daughter and then father. We owe our lives to you.”
“Nay,” I answered, “but to the Christians’ faith.”
Then I hurried them out before news of what was on hand could get among the townsfolk, and we went quickly to my lodgings; for that was a strong house enough, and could be barred in such wise that even if any tried to attack the place in the flight that would begin directly, it would take too long to break the doors down to be safe with the host at hand.
Then came Heregar, armed and mounted, with a single man behind him, and he called for me.
“Ride out with me, King Ranald, for we must count these Danes, and see that we are not overrating their number. After that we will join the king, who goes to Glastonbury.”
So I bade farewell to Osmund and to Thora, who said nought, but looked very wistfully, as if she would say words of thanks but could not; and at that I went quickly, for it seemed hard to leave her, in some way that was not clear to me, amid all the turmoil of the place.
But when we were on the road, Heregar said to me:
“It is in my mind that Osmund, your friend, will fare ill among these Danes. They will hear how he rode back, and will hold that by his means the king escaped.”