But Ailwin was not with the men, though he had been foremost in working and planning with them. Nor had any of them seen him that day.
So I waited for a little while and watched the work, wondering if I should live now to do all that I would in making new the place. And then as I walked to look across the bridge I passed a heap of earth that the men had thrown out for the place of a post, and I saw somewhat glittering in it, and stooped and took it up.
It was a silver penny, and when I rubbed the earth from it, I knew that it was one of Eadmund’s, mint new and fresh as on the day when he stood in his robes and crown, even where I stood in the place of the old porch, while the people shouted and scrambled and fought in glee for the largess he threw among them. Doubtless this had been so thrown and had been trodden under foot and lost.
Now it came into my hands even when my thoughts were most troubled, and to me it seemed as a sign that I should surely return to the place that the saint had loved. I was greatly cheered thereat, for as I waited for Olaf to return I saw as it were the long hope of home and peace dashed from me, and the pain of the coming war grew plainer than I had known it in Ethelred’s court. The old love of home had waked in me as I wandered in the places of my boyhood, and for the first time I learned the aching of the hearts of those who had known more of home than I, and would lose it.
But I was young, and it needed but a little thing to turn my thoughts, so this token as I say helped me to banish them. What might not Eadmund the Saint, who slew Swein to save his shrine from heathen hands, be able to do for me?
I would tell Ailwin presently, and ask him what vow I should make in return for this remembrance.
But Ailwin came not, and I grew impatient, and went to the cottage where he dwelt as the leech, at the head of the little street towards our hall. Maybe he would be there.
The door was open, and the little black cat that had been the leech’s in the old days, and would not leave its house, sat in the sun on the step. I went inside and called, but there was no man. And then a footstep came from the road and in at the wicket, and a strange priest, younger than Ailwin, and frocked and cowled came in.
He saluted me gravely, and I bowed to him, and then he asked me where Redwald the thane might be found.
“I am he, father,” I said.
“Then I have a message to you from Ailwin, your priest, whose place I am sent to take for a time.”
“This is his house, father,” I answered. “Let us come in and hear what he would tell me.”
So we sat down inside the one room on the bench across the wall, and I wondered what I should hear.
“I will give my message first,” the priest said, “and afterwards you shall tell me Ailwin’s ways with your people, and I will try to be as himself with them.”