Our Little Saxon Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles
The wedding of Prince Alfred to Elswitha had been heralded throughout the land. Wulstan, Gyneth, and their elder son, Withgar, had, as we know, been bidden to the castle of King Ethelred to witness the event, and to take part in the festival which would follow.
"Oh, I do wish I were as old as Withgar!" exclaimed Turgar vehemently, bringing his foot down upon the stone flagging of the floor as he spoke. He thought himself alone, but a hearty, laughing voice responded, "And why are you so eager to be of Withgar's age?"
"Oh, Father!" exclaimed Turgar, recognizing the voice, although he had not known of his father's return, "I want to witness the wedding of my Prince. I want to look upon him just once. I am sure if I could only see him it would help me to be true and brave always."
"Why!" exclaimed his father, "I did not know you were so fond of Prince Alfred. How do you happen to know so much about him?"
"Oh," said Turgar, "long ago I heard Withgar telling of a hunt in which he and the Prince took part. It ended in a battle with a party of Danes, and oh! the Prince was wonderful. Withgar said they came upon the Danes just as they were about to set fire to a farmhouse, and a woman and a young girl were shut inside the house. The Prince fought like a young lion, and he alone killed three of the Danes, and he set the woman and girl free. The others of the hunting party settled the rest of the Danes and put out the fire. Oh, it was glorious, the way Withgar told it, and the Prince has been my hero ever since!"
"That was truly a brave deed," said Wulstan. "But is that all that you know about the Prince?"
"Oh, no, indeed!" replied Turgar. "I have asked everybody questions about him since then, and I have heard ever so many stories. And in them all he is good and just, as well as brave and strong. Mother told me about his going to Rome when he was only five years old, and of how much the Pope liked him—and that he said he would some day be King."
Turgar was quite breathless when he finished. His father looked into his flushed face and smiled, but the smile was a very tender one. "And so Alfred is your Prince and your hero," he said. "Well, Turgar, you could not find a worthier model. I truly wish that you might see him, and I hope that some day you may."
Then Wulstan went in search of Gyneth, that they might complete their plans for an early start in the morning.
When the party left on the following day no one was quite so happy as Turgar himself, for it had been decided that he should accompany his father and mother as far as the castle, and then return with the escort of soldiers and servants, under the special care of Acca, and a stern young warrior named Algar.
In his heart Turgar hoped that he might by some chance see the Prince, but Gyneth assured him that this was altogether unlikely.
It was a gay procession that started out. They were mounted upon horses wearing rich trappings, while other horses were laden with costly wedding gifts.
For many weeks Gyneth and her maidens had been busily at work weaving and embroidering rich garments and furnishings, while the goldsmith had been equally busy fashioning curious jeweled clasps and bracelets and cups.
When, after several hours of riding, the party reached the castle, the gifts were taken from the packs and carried by the servants into one of the great rooms which had been set aside to receive them.
Then Wulstan and Gyneth bade Turgar good-bye, and gave special charge to Acca and Algar regarding him.
Turgar looked longingly back as he rode away, for although the journey had been full of interest, and the sight of the castle with all its bustling activities had aroused his enthusiasm, his dearest hope—cherished in spite of his mother's words—had not been realized, for he had not seen his Prince.
As they rode along, the men of the company, relieved of the restraint which they felt when in the presence of Wulstan and Withgar, began an eager discussion of the scenes at the castle. They joked and laughed, and even the horses seemed to feel the relaxation of their riders. Turgar rode between Acca and Algar where the width of the road would permit, and listened keenly to the conversation of the men.
The leader of the party was riding some little distance in advance. As he came to an abrupt turn in the road, an arrow shot swiftly across the way, so close to his horse's head that the animal gave a sudden plunge, wheeled about, unseating his rider by the quick and unexpected movement, and galloped madly back among the other horses.
In a moment all was confusion. The horses and many of the men became panic stricken. Of course the first thought of all was "the Danes!"
In an instant Algar's voice arose in stern command, but although there were soldiers in the company, there were untrained thralls as well, and these lost all control of their plunging horses as well as of themselves.
There was a moment of wild confusion. One of the frightened animals reared, struck the horse upon which Turgar was mounted with his hoofs, and, before Algar or Acca saw what had happened, Turgar was being borne down the road at breakneck speed. At the bend of the road the horse reared, then plunged, and Turgar was thrown in a crumpled heap in the dust.
Algar and Acca followed swiftly, but before they could reach him a strange rider dashed from the side of the road, slipped from his horse, and lifted Turgar's head upon his arm.
"I crave your pardon," he said, as Algar and Acca came up. "I saw a buck in yonder thicket, and sent an arrow after it, not knowing of your approach."
In an instant the two men were beside him in the road, while the men of the company, relieved from their fear of the Danes, were succeeding in quieting the horses, and getting themselves into more orderly array.
Algar's face was dark with rage at the conduct of his band, which had resulted in such an accident, and been witnessed by the man who now held Turgar's head upon his arm. For this stranger was no stranger to Algar, the soldier; and as the latter leaped from his horse beside him, he gravely saluted as he said: "Your Honor, Prince Alfred!"
But what of Turgar? Stunned by the fall, he lay for a moment wholly unconscious, but as Algar uttered these words it was as though a magic potion had been given him. His eyes opened, and he looked long and earnestly into the face bent above his own.
"Prince Alfred?" he repeated questioningly. "Yes, my boy," was the answer, "I am Prince Alfred."
A sudden flood of color came back into Turgar's face as he raised himself, saluted, and said, still half wonderingly, "My Prince; my hero!"
HE LOOKED LONG AND EARNESTLY INTO THE FACE BENT ABOVE HIS OWN.
At these words the eyes of the young prince shone with pleasure, and then he helped Turgar to his feet. Fortunately there were no bones broken, though it had been a bad throw, and in a few moments Turgar declared himself well able to mount and continue his journey.
Algar, muttering imprecations upon his own head for the accident, assisted him to mount, and then Prince Alfred offered Turgar his hand. He blamed himself heartily for the accident and ended by saying, "Some day, Turgar, I shall hope to see you again, and then I will try to make amends for this."
But Turgar, with shining eyes, replied, "I trust that I may some day be able to serve you, my Prince."
As they resumed their journey, Algar on one hand and Acca upon the other, Turgar quite forgot the fright and the hurt, for both were crowded out by the joy of having seen and spoken with "his Prince."