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

A Reward and a Victory

The band of well-armed men had reached the road which led to the ford, not far distant, when Oswyn turned to the boys.

"You must not go farther," he said. "You have no weapons, no armor, and the fight is likely to be a bitter one." Then, seeing the deep disappointment in their faces, he added: "You have done your part and done it well. When you are grown you will be among the bravest and truest of the King's men. Save yourselves for that." Then he rode away.

Instantly the words of his beloved prior came back to Turgar's mind. "Save yourself, if you can. The country has need of such as you." And though it was a great disappointment to see the men ride forward while they remained behind, the boys knew there was nothing for them to do but obey.

"Let us wait here," said Turgar. "I must learn how the battle goes. Oh, what would I not give to see the Danes when they discover that their ships are gone!"

"Our Saxons are bound to defeat them, if they are still at the ford. Then, I imagine, the Danes will retreat, thinking to get away on their ships. And the ships will be gone!" Turgar's eyes shone as he pictured this hoped-for outcome of the battle, and Heribert laughed aloud as he listened.

Then suddenly Turgar spoke again. "Heribert," he exclaimed, "I have an idea! The band of monks who left the abbey and took the treasure in their boat must still be with the hermit, Gyrth. Friar Joly is with them. Could we not tell them? They would join Oswyn's company. Could you find the hermitage?"

"I know it well," replied Heribert. "Come!"

Once more the boys ran through the woods, their hearts beating high with hope. Could they but send a band of men to reinforce Oswyn's forces they would not feel as though they were merely useless boys, left behind at the approach of danger. "Sometimes boys can help, if they are brave," Turgar said to himself, unconsciously repeating the words he had spoken to his mother after she had told him of the Pope's words regarding his Prince.

Heribert seemed instinctively to know his way, and it was not long before they came to the hermitage. It was so well concealed that Turgar had no thought of its being near until they came directly upon it. "It is no wonder the prior thought it a good place for concealment!" he exclaimed.

In a moment the boys were surrounded by the monks, their familiar friends and companions of the monastery. Hurriedly, but sorrowfully, they told of the destruction of the abbey, and of the death of the prior and of the faithful few who remained with him. Turgar, in a few brief words, recounted his capture and escape, told of Heribert's bold adventure in cutting adrift the Danish ships, and then of Oswyn's company, now on their way to the ford.

It was a breathless account, given in the barest outlines, for their main message was, "Hasten, and join Oswyn's men!"

"Stay with Gyrth and the treasure," commanded Joly, as the monks prepared to ride away. "Those of us who return," he added grimly, "will bring you news of the battle."

He stopped long enough to clasp Turgar's hand, and then Heribert's, and both boys offered a fervent prayer, as they saw him ride away, that he might once more be spared from the Danish sword.

The vast treasures of Crowland had been hastily buried and concealed by the monks as soon as they had reached the hermitage, so the boys felt that it would be easier to follow Friar Joly's command to remain behind than Oswyn's, for here there were vast treasures for them to guard!

And Gyrth, though a hermit, proved a most companionable man, for he was bound to admire these two boys who were proving themselves so fearless and efficient!

When the monks had gone he asked the boys for their story in detail, and when Turgar told of the cruel massacre in the monastery Gyrth covered his face with his hands. When he again looked up he said, "What a monstrous thing! But our good Prior Theodore has gone to his reward, and his faithful companions with him!"

Then he entertained the boys by telling them of the coming of the monks, and of the hasty burial of the treasure.

In the midst of his recital a step was heard outside the door. Instantly the three sprang to their feet, their hands upon the knives in their belts.

"Friends, I trust!" said a hearty voice, and a man stood in the doorway, his horse's bridle over his arm.

At sight of him Gyrth dropped upon his knee, and motioned to the boys to do the same, but Turgar needed no bidding, for he recognized in the unexpected visitor none other than "his Prince."

"I have ridden on in advance of my men," said Alfred, when he had bidden the three arise, "and by the merest chance I stumbled upon your well-hidden retreat."

Humbly Gyrth invited the Prince to enter, and hastily he set before him some of the food which had been carried from the monastery to the boat.

"You fare well," said the Prince, "and as I have ridden long and hard, your entertainment is most welcome."

"'Tis good fare, Your Honor, but dearly bought," replied Gyrth sadly.

"What mean you?" asked Alfred.

"'Tis from the Abbey of Crowland, Your Honor, which the Danes have just destroyed," answered Gyrth.

"Destroyed! Crowland!" exclaimed Alfred, rising, and involuntarily putting his hand upon his sword.

"Came you not that way?" inquired Gyrth. "It is a terrible tale, but the lads here can tell you of it better than I, Your Honor, for they were witnesses to the attack."

Alfred resumed his seat and looked earnestly at the boys. A puzzled expression came into his eyes as his gaze rested upon Turgar. Then it cleared and he exclaimed, "Are you not the son of Wulstan, and brother of Withgar!"

"Do you remember me, Your Honor?" cried Turgar, and there was a joyous ring to his voice.

"I ought to," answered the Prince, "when I caused you so bad a fall. But you have grown much since then! And were you in the abbey when it was attacked?" he asked. "Tell me all about it."

So, once more, Turgar told in detail all the horrors of the massacre and of the burning of the abbey. He told how the treasure was first carried away, and that it was brought to the hermitage of Gyrth where they now were. And then he described the striking down of the prior; the manner in which his own life had been spared by Count Sidroc; the accident at the ford; and his escape.

Through it all the Prince sat with bowed head and knitted brow, only glancing up now and then to study the face of the boy who told his story so simply and sadly, taking no credit to himself for anything.

"But Heribert found me," cried Turgar, "after he had cut adrift the ships belonging to the Danes. He must tell of that, himself!"

Then the Prince's eyes sought Heribert's face, and the boy, with flushed cheeks, but unflinching truth, told how he had run away from the abbey while Turgar had stayed, of his shame at having done so, and of all his later experiences up to the time of his finding Turgar. "Then together," he added, "we ran to the home of Oswyn and told him of the predicament the Danes were in at the ford, and Oswyn gathered a company of men and has even now gone to the ford to meet the Danes. Then Turgar suggested that we come here and tell the monks. And now they have gone to join Oswyn's forces."

When the story was finished Alfred stood up and looked at the two boys who were on their feet before him. "You are brave lads," he said. As he spoke he caught up his horse's bridle.

Then, for an instant, he stopped. "Before I go," he added, "I want to pro` e to you that I value your bravery and your help'"

With that the prince took from his own mantle a clasp which he fastened to the shoulder of Heribert's tunic, and from his arm he slipped a bracelet of gold and clasped it upon the arm of Turgar.

The next moment he sprang to his saddle, then turning, he said, "If you catch sight of my men anywhere about, direct them to the ford,

and tell them to ride with all speed."

The boys had at first been too overwhelmed with happiness for speech, and indeed the Prince had given them no time for it. But now, as he was about to dash away, there came a sound of shouting and the tramping of many feet.

"The Danes are overthrown! They have paid the price of their bloodthirsty deeds!"

It was the shout of the monks, as they returned to the hermitage of Gyrth.