The beacon fires burnt all round us, and in every farmstead was terror and hustle as the poor folk trembled to think what they could mean, and some came now and then and asked my mother what they should do.
“Bide in your homes till you must needs take to the woods,” she said; and that was wise counsel, and many were glad thereafter that they took it, for the Danes passed them by.
Now I remember all that happened on our journey to London along the great Roman road that runs from Colchester thither, but there is little to tell thereof, for it was safe and we hardly hurried after the first day. We rested at the house of a thane who was well known to us on the first evening, and there my mother heard from Edred all that had befallen. And she bore the heavy tidings well, for she had already given up any hope that my father still lived. Yet as I look back I know that she was never the same after that day.
So we came in safety to London, and to the court of Ethelred our king, and there we were most kindly received, for my father was well known to the king, and the queen loved my mother for the sake of old days. They gave us lodging near the great house where the court was held, and on the third day after we came, we were bidden to the king’s presence.
Then it was that I looked on Ethelred for the first time, and I had thought that a king should have been more kingly than he. For there was no command in his face, and he moved quickly and with little meaning in what he did, being restless in his way. But he put his hand on my shoulder very kindly, and looked in my face and said:
“One may know that this is the son of Siric, my friend. He is like what the good thane was in the old days. What shall I do for him, lady?”
Now, my mother would have answered, but I was not afraid of this handsome, careless-looking man, and I had my own wishes in the matter. So I spoke for myself.
“Make me a warrior, lord king. I would fain fight the Danes, and already I can use sword and spear, and can ride.”
Then my mother spoke hastily and almost weeping, being broken down with all her trouble and the long journey.
“I would have him serve Holy Church rather, in some monastery. Already he can read and write, my king, for I have had him taught in hopes that this might be.”
Thereat the king shook his head, and walked away to the window for a minute. Then he came back quickly and said, not looking at my mother:
“Holy Church will be best served by warriors who will use carnal arms against Swein’s heathen just now. The boy is right—I would that there were more who had his spirit. We need and shall need those who love fighting.”
Then he said to me:
“Siric your father had a wondrous sword that I used to envy him; you shall learn to use it.”
“Lord king,” I answered, “I must learn to win it back from the Danes, who have it now.”