Our Little Saxon Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

"My King"

The monastery at Crowland had been rebuilt, so far as it had been possible for the monks to restore it, and its treasures had been returned.

Once more the candles burned upon its altars, (and psalms and anthems were chanted. The usual routine of monastery life was again established, though with sadly diminished ranks.

The boys resumed the study of lessons and tried faithfully to keep their minds upon translations and texts, but it was difficult for both.

"I tell you, Turgar," Heribert said one day, "I am no student, and there is no use in trying to make me one. I would far rather handle a spear than a paint brush, and even during prayers my mind is off with the soldiers."

"It is hard to settle down to life in the abbey after having that experience with the Danes," responded Turgar. "I have always said I was too active to lead the life of a monk. If I were older I would not remain here another day. But what can two boys do?"

"Well, sometimes they can do quite a bit, when they get a chance," replied Heribert significantly.

"Yes, that is true," assented Turgar. "But for myself, I have concluded to stay and learn all that I can in the abbey until I am old enough to serve the Prince. I hope our country may not always have the Danes to fight, and in times of peace the knowledge we gain here will be good to have."

"I suppose you are right," answered Heribert, "and I shall try not to waste my time while I must stay."

But neither boy dreamed how soon his quiet life at the abbey was to come to an end.

A few days later there was great commotion in the abbey, caused by the arrival of a solitary soldier. He proved to be a young chief of the Saxon army, bearing news of a recent battle. He was dressed in shining armor of gilded scales from which the rays of the western sun were reflected in countless flashes of light. His sheathed sword hung by his side. On his arms were many bracelets of gold, and a golden torque was about his neck. So splendid a figure the boys had never seen. Even Prince Alfred was not so splendidly equipped when he rode to the hermitage of Gyrth.

The monks gathered quickly about the newly arrived warrior, for they felt sure that he must be the bearer of important news.

He did not wait to be questioned. Raising his shining helmet, he said, "I have come from battle. Ethelred, the King, is sorely wounded."

The faces of the monks grew pale; then their cheeks flushed, and their eyes flashed. "Where are the Danes?" demanded Friar Joly.

"They have fled to their fortified stronghold by the river. But the victory is with the Saxons, and only a remnant of the Danes escaped."

"Praise God for that!" exclaimed the monks earnestly and reverently.

Then, briefly, the young chief told of the events of the battle: how Ethelred had held solemn services in his tent before he led his division of the army into battle : how the young Prince Alfred had stood in the thickest of the fight, encouraging and strengthening the men of his division: of how, together, the Saxons had overcome the heathen horde and driven them back with great slaughter. It was a mighty victory for the Saxons—but Ethelred, their King, was badly wounded.

After the soldier had ridden away to bear his message to other places, his news remained the one topic of conversation at the abbey, and there was great rejoicing at the overthrow of the Danes.

A few days later, as Turgar was engaged Upon his lessons with Friar Joly, he suddenly asked, "Do you think the Danes will dare make another attack? Are they not fully conquered now?"

Friar Joly shook his head. "The Danes are like swarms of troublesome insects," he said. "When one swarm is crushed, another comes from the north to take its place."

Turgar had seldom seen the jovial friar so downcast, and he resumed his translation with a feeling of impending trouble.

He was struggling with a Latin phrase, when the friar said, "Turgar, listen. Something impels me to tell you what is in my heart. I have thought much about these matters, and prayed much. I believe that some day Alfred will be made King of the Saxons. He is young now, but, young as he is, he is the greatest man amongst us. He is a thinker. He is not ruled by passion. If he becomes ruler in fact, he will have a terrible task before him, but I believe that in the end he will conquer the Danes, and bring peace to this sorely afflicted land. It will be a great victory, and he will be a great King.

"I do not know why I tell you this," Friar Joly added, as he looked down into Turgar's shining eyes.

"Perhaps," answered Turgar softly, "it is because I love the Prince so well."

A few weeks later another messenger arrived at the monastery. He, too, was a soldier, but not dressed in such wonderful armor. But as he rode into the court, Turgar, who was crossing it, looked up, and then gave a great cry of joy. "Withgar!"

Truly it was Withgar, his brother, come to Crowland to bring news of great importance. Turgar ran to him, and Withgar sprang from his horse and folded the boy in a strong embrace. He told him news of home, of Wulstan, of Gyneth, and even of Wulf his dog. Then, as the monks crowded about, he addressed the whole company.

"I have sad news to unfold," he said, "for Ethelred, the King, is dead." There was a hush over all the band, as Withgar gave some details of the King's illness, resulting from the wound he had received in the battle with the Danes.

"A successor has been chosen," Withgar continued, and all waited in breathless silence as he added, "Prince Alfred will succeed him."

"And not his eldest son!" exclaimed the prior.

"No," said Withgar, "the times are too filled with peril for a young and untried ruler to be placed in power. Alfred has for many years been ruler in all but name. Now he is to be ruler in fact. It was the wish of his father, King Ethelwolf, that Albert, his youngest son, should succeed Ethelred, his oldest son, and when he was little more than a babe the Pope declared Albert would yet be King."

They found it hard to bid good-bye to the monks.


Turgar's eyes sought those of Friar Joly, as he whispered to himself, "My Prince! And now he is a King!"

When the voices, raised in comment and in exclamation, had somewhat subsided, Withgar spoke again. "I have yet another message to deliver," he said, "and one that I count it a joy to be able to bring in person. I come directly from the court of King Alfred, and I am commissioned to return there with two youths whose names are Turgar and Heribert.

The two boys could scarcely believe their ears. What could it mean?

"The new King had need of pages," continued Withgar, while his eyes rested upon Turgar's flushed face, "and, first of all, he has named these two."

A murmur of approval went up from the company of monks. Turgar felt such a surging joy that at first he could not speak. At last he exclaimed, "But how did he happen to choose us?"

"Such things do not happen, Turgar," said Friar Joly, whose face was wreathed in smiles over the happiness of his favorite pupil.

"King Alfred told me a story," said Withgar, "of the work you two boys did the night the monastery was burned. He called it 'man's work,' and he said that you were the sort of boys he wanted to have about him, and to have trained for his service."

"Heribert! can you believe it?" cried Turgar, grasping his friend's arm.

"It seems altogether too good to be true," answered Heribert with shining eyes.

But when, at Withgar's bidding, they went to prepare themselves for the journey to the court, they found it hard to bid good-bye to the monks who had been their friends for so many months, and with whom they shared so many sad and tender memories. It was especially hard to take leave of Friar Joly, but, as they rode away, his was the last face that they saw, and his the last voice that they heard, calling, "God be with you, my boys. I know you will be faithful pages to Alfred the King."