“We shall not fail, my king,” said Heregar. “Devon will gather to you across the Quantocks also.”
“Ay,” he said; “and you will need them with you.”
Then said I:
“Hubba is in Wales, and is likely to come here when he hears that his fellows are gathering against us. Then will Devon be needed at Combwich in Parret mouth, or at Watchet.”
“That will be Devon’s work,” the king said. “If Hubba comes before your ships are ready to meet him, he must at least be driven to land elsewhere, or our stronghold is taken behind us.”
Now I was so sure that Hubba would come, that this seemed to me to be the weakest part of the king’s plan. But Alfred thought little of it.
“My stronghold seems to be on Quantock side; it is rather beyond Selwood, in the hearts of my brave thanes and freemen. Fear not, cousin. Hubba will come, and you and Heregar will meet him; and whether you win or not, my plan holds.”
Then I knew that the king saw far beyond what was plain to me, and I was very confident in him. And I am sure that I was the only man who had the least doubt from the beginning.
Now, after all was planned, Heregar and I rode back to his place, and sent word everywhere that the king was safe, though he commanded us to tell no man where he lay as yet. None but thanes were to be in the island with him; and from that time the name we knew it by began, as one by one the athelings crossed the fen paths thereto, and were lost, as it were, in the hiding place.
Then we wrought there at felling timber and hewing, until we had bridged the river and made a causeway through the peat to Stanmoor hill, and then began to make a triple line of earthworks around its summit. No carelessly-built fort was this, for the king said: “If the nobles build badly, there will be excuse for every churl to do the like hereafter. Therefore this must needs be the most handsomely-wrought fort in all Wessex.”
There came to us at this fort many faithful workmen, sent from the towns and countryside, until we had a camp there. But every night, after working with us and cheering all with his voice and example, Alfred went back to Athelney with us; and none would seek to disturb him there, so that for long none quite knew, among the lesser folk, where he bided. Presently the queen and athelings came there to him, and were safe.
That time in the fens was not altogether unpleasant, though the life was hard. Ever was Alfred most cheerful, singing and laughing as we wrought, and a word of praise from him was worth more than gold to every man. And then there were the hunting, the fishing, and the snaring of wild fowl, that were always on hand to supply our wants, though now we had plenty of food from the Quantock side. I know this, that many a man who was in Athelney with Alfred was the better therefor all the days of his after life. Men say that there is a steadfast look in the faces of the Athelney thanes, by which they can be well known by those who note the ways of men.