So we told him all that we knew, and he asked many questions, until darkness fell.
“Why are you here, lord king?” asked Heregar; “my hall is safe.”
“Your hall and countryside are safe yet because I am not there,” Alfred answered, fixing his bright eyes on the thane. “The Danes are hunting for me, and were I in any known place, thither would they come. Therefore I said that now I choose to bide hidden. Moreover, in this quiet and loneliness there comes to me a plan that I think will work out well; for this afternoon, as I slept, I was bidden to look for a sign that out of hopelessness should come help and victory.”
Just then the dogs rose up and whined at the door, as if friends came; and there were cheerful voices outside. The door opened, and in stumbled Ethered, bearing a heavy basket of great fish, which he cast on the floor—lean green and golden pike, and red-finned roach, in a glittering, flapping heap.
“Here is supper!” he cried joyfully, “and more than supper, for each of us is thus laden. Fish enough for an army could we have taken had we not held our hands. I could not have thought it possible.”
Whereat Alfred rose up and stared, crossing himself.
“Deo gratias,” he said under his breath, and then said aloud, “Lo, this is the sign of which I spoke even now—that my fishers should return laden with spoil, even for an army, although frost and snow have prevented them from taking fish for many days, and today was less likelihood of their doing so than ever.”
“Ranald knew well how this would cheer you, King Alfred,” said Ethered, thinking that I had spoken cf this as a proof that all was not lost, in some way.
“Ranald said nought; but the sign came from above, thus,” the king said gravely. “In my dream the holy Saint Cuthberht stood by my side, and reproved me sharply for my downheartedness and despair, and for my doubt of help against the heathen; and when he knew that I was sorry, he foretold to me that all would yet be well, and that I should obtain the kingdom once more with even greater honour than I have had—with many more wondrous promises. And then he gave me this sign, as I have told you and, behold, it has come, and my heart is full of thankfulness. Now I know that all will be well with England.”
Then said Denewulf, who it was plain took no mean place with the king and thanes:
“Say how this miracle was wrought, I pray you, for it is surely such.”
“Hither came King Ranald and his two friends and bade us make holes in the ice and fish through them. So we did, and this is what came thereof,” said Ethered.
“Therefore King Ranald and his coming are by the hand of God,” said Denewulf. “Therein lies the miracle.”
Then I was feared, for all were silent in wonder at the coming to pass of the sign; and it seemed to me that I was most truly under a power stronger than that of the old gods, who never wrought the like of this.