When all was ready, Alfred put himself at the head of the forces which had collected at the Egbert Stone, or, as it is quaintly spelled in some of the old accounts, Ecgbyrth-stan. There is a place called Brixstan in that vicinity now, which may possibly be the same name modified and abridged by the lapse of time. Alfred moved forward toward Guthrum’s camp. He went only a part of the way the first day, intending to finish the march by getting into the immediate vicinity of the enemy on the morrow. He succeeded in accomplishing this object, and encamped the next night at a place called AEcglea, on an eminence from which he could reconnoiter, from a great distance, the position of the army.
That night, as he was sleeping in his tent, he had a remarkable dream. He dreamed that his relative, St. Neot, who has been already mentioned as the chaplain or priest who reproved him so severely for his sins in the early part of his reign, appeared to him. The apparition bid him not fear the immense army of pagans whom he was going to encounter on the morrow. God, he said, had accepted his penitence, and was now about to take him under his special protection. The calamities which had befallen him were sent in judgment to punish the pride and arrogance which he had manifested in the early part of his reign; but his faults had been expiated by the sufferings he had endured, and by the penitence and the piety which they had been the means of awakening in his heart; and now he might go forward into the battle without fear, as God was about to give him the victory over all his enemies.
The king related his dream the next morning to his army. The enthusiasm and ardor which the chieftains and the men had felt before were very much increased by this assurance of success. They broke up their encampment, therefore, and commenced the march, which was to bring them, before many hours, into the presence of the enemy, with great alacrity and eager expectations of success.
[Footnote 1: Spelled sometimes Godrun, Gutrum, Gythram, and in various other ways.]
[Footnote 2: Some think that this place is the modern Leigh; others, that it was Highley; either of which names might have been deduced from AEcglea.]
THE VICTORY OVER THE DANES.
Encouraged by his dream, and animated by the number and the elation of his followers, Alfred led his army onward toward the part of the country where the camp of the enemy lay. He intended to surprise them; and, although Guthrum had heard vague rumors that some great Saxon movement was in train, he viewed the sudden appearance of this large and well-organized army with amazement.