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Chapter 12 FOUR YEARS OF PEACE

  • Seven weeks afterwards Guthorn, accompanied by thirty of his noblest warriors, entered Alfred's camp, which was pitched at Aller, a place not far fro_thelney. An altar was erected and a solemn service performed, and Guthorn an_is companions were all baptized, Alfred himself becoming sponsor for Guthorn, whose name was changed to Athelstan. The Danes remained for twelve days in th_axon camp. For the first eight they wore, in accordance with the custom o_he times, the chrismal, a white linen cloth put on the head when the rite o_aptism was performed; on the eighth day the solemn ceremony known as th_hrism, the loosing or removal of the cloths, took place at Wedmore. This wa_erformed by the Ealdorman Ethelnoth.
  • During these twelve days many conferences were held between Alfred an_thelstan as to the future of the two kingdoms. While the Danes were still i_he camp a witenagemot or Saxon parliament was held at Wedmore. At thi_thelstan and many of the nobles and inhabitants of East Anglia were present, and the boundary of the two kingdoms was settled. It was to commence at th_outh of the Thames, to run along the river Lea to its source, and at Bedfor_urn to the right along the Ouse as far as Watling Street. According to thi_rrangement a considerable portion of the kingdom of Mercia fell to Alfred'_hare.
  • The treaty comprehended various rules for the conduct of commerce, and court_ere instituted for the trial of disputes and crimes. The Danes did not a_nce leave Mercia, but for a considerable time lay in camp at Cirencester; bu_ll who refused to become Christians were ordered to depart beyond the seas, and the Danes gradually withdrew within their boundary.
  • Guthorn's conversion, although no doubt brought about at the moment by hi_dmiration of the clemency of Alfred, had probably been for some tim_rojected by him. Mingling as his people did in East Anglia with the Christia_axons there, he must have had opportunities for learning the nature of thei_enets, and of contrasting its mild and beneficent teaching with the savag_orship of the pagan gods. By far the greater proportion of his peopl_ollowed their king's example; but the wilder spirits quitted the country, an_nder their renowned leader Hasting sailed to harry the shores of France. Th_eparture of the more turbulent portion of his followers rendered it more eas_or the Danish king to carry his plans into effect.
  • After the holding of the witan Edmund and Egbert at once left the army wit_heir followers, and for some months the young ealdorman devoted himself t_he work of restoring the shattered homes of his people, aiding them wit_oans from the plunder he had gained on the seas, Alfred having at once repai_im the sums which he had lent at Athelney. As so many of his followers ha_lso brought home money after their voyage, the work of rebuilding an_estoration went on rapidly, and in a few months the marks left of the ravage_y the Danes had been well-nigh effaced.
  • Flocks and herds again grazed in the pastures, herds of swine roamed in th_oods, the fields were cultivated, and the houses rebuilt. In no part o_essex was prosperity so speedily re-established as in the district roun_herborne governed by Edmund. The Dragon was thoroughly overhauled an_epaired, for none could say how soon fresh fleets of the Northmen might mak_heir appearance upon the southern shores of England. It was not long, indeed, before the Northmen reappeared, a great fleet sailing up the Thames at th_eginning of the winter. It ascended as high as Fulham, where a great camp wa_ormed. Seeing that the Saxons and East Anglians would unite against them di_hey advance further, the Danes remained quietly in their encampment durin_he winter, and in the spring again took ship and sailed for France.
  • For the next two years England enjoyed comparative quiet, the Danes turnin_heir attention to France and Holland, sailing up the Maas, Scheldt, Somme, and Seine. Spreading from these rivers they carried fire and sword over _reat extent of country. The Franks resisted bravely, and in two pitche_attles defeated their invaders with great loss. The struggle going on acros_he Channel was watched with great interest by the Saxons, who at first hope_o see the Danes completely crushed by the Franks.
  • The ease, however, with which the Northmen moved from point to point in thei_hips gave them such immense advantage that their defeats at Hasle an_aucourt in no way checked their depredations. Appearing suddenly off th_oast, or penetrating into the interior by a river, their hordes would land, ravage the country, slay all who opposed them, and carry off the women an_hildren captives, and would then take to their ships again before the leader_f the Franks could assemble an army.
  • Alfred spent this time of repose in restoring as far as possible the loss an_amage which his kingdom had suffered. Many wise laws were passed, churche_ere rebuilt, and order restored; great numbers of the monks and wealthie_eople who had fled to France in the days of the Danish supremacy now returne_o England, which was for the time freer from danger than the land in whic_hey had sought refuge; and many Franks from the districts exposed to th_anish ravages came over and settled in England.
  • Gradually the greater part of England acknowledged the rule of Alfred. Th_ingdom of Kent was again united to that of Wessex; while Mercia, whic_xtended across the centre of England from Anglia to Wales, was governed fo_lfred by Ethelred the Ealdorman, who was the head of the powerful family o_he Hwiccas, and had received the hand of Alfred's daughter Ethelfleda. H_uled Mercia according to its own laws and customs, which differed materiall_rom those of the West Saxons, and which prevented a more perfect union of th_wo kingdoms until William the Conqueror welded the whole country into _ingle whole. But Ethelred acknowledged the supremacy of Alfred, consulted hi_pon all occasions of importance, and issued all his edicts and orders in th_ing's name. He was ably assisted by Werfrith, the Bishop of Worcester. Th_nergy and activity of these leaders enabled Mercia to keep abreast of Wesse_n the onward progress which Alfred laboured so indefatigably to promote.
  • Edmund, when not occupied with the affairs of his earldom, spent much of hi_ime with the king, who saw in him a spirit of intelligence and activity whic_esembled his own. Edmund was, however, of a less studious disposition tha_is royal master; and though he so far improved his education as to be able t_ead and write well, Alfred could not persuade him to undertake the study o_atin, being, as he said, well content to master some of the learning of tha_eople by means of the king's translations.
  • At the end of another two years of peace Edmund was again called upon to tak_p arms. Although the Danes attempted no fresh invasion some of their ship_ung around the English coast, capturing vessels, interfering with trade, an_ommitting other acts of piracy.
  • Great complaints were made by the inhabitants of the seaports to Alfred. Th_ing at once begged Edmund to fit out the Dragon, and collecting a few othe_maller ships he took his place on Edmund's ship and sailed in search of th_anes. After some search they came upon the four large ships of the Northme_hich had been a scourge to the coast.
  • The Saxons at once engaged them, and a desperate fight took place. The Drago_as laid alongside the largest of the Danish vessels; and the king, wit_dmund and Egbert by his side, leapt on to the deck of the Danish vessel, followed by the crew of the Dragon. The Danish ship was crowded with men wh_ought desperately, but the discipline even more than the courage of Edmund'_rew secured for them the victory. For a time each fought for himself; an_lthough inspired by the presence of the king they were able to gain n_dvantage, being much out-numbered by the Northmen.
  • Edmund, seeing this, sounded on his horn the signal with which in battle h_rdered the men to form their wedge. The signal was instantly obeyed. Th_axons were all fighting with boarding-pikes against the Northmen's swords an_xes, for they had become used to these weapons and preferred them to an_ther.
  • The instant Edmund's horn was heard, each man desisted from fighting an_ushed to their leader, around whom they instantly formed in their accustome_rder. The Danes, astonished at the sudden cessation of the battle, an_nderstanding nothing of the meaning of the signal or of the swift movement o_he Saxons, for a minute lowered their weapons in surprise.
  • Before they again rushed forward the formation was complete, and in a clos_ody with levelled spears the Saxons advanced, Egbert as usual leading th_ay, with Edmund and the king in the centre.
  • In vain the Danes strove to resist the onset; in spite of their superio_umbers they were driven back step by step until crowded in a close mass a_ne end.
  • Still the Saxon line of spears pressed on. Many of the Danes leapt into th_ea, others were pushed over or run through, and in a few minutes not _orthman remained alive in the captured vessel.
  • In the meantime the battle was raging in other parts. Two of the small vessel_ere engaged with one of the Danes at close quarters, while the other ship_ung around the remaining Danish vessels and kept up volleys of arrows an_avelins upon them.
  • The Dragon at once went to the assistance of the two Saxon ships, whose crew_ere almost overpowered by the Northmen. Laying the ship alongside, Edmun_oarded the Danes. The Northmen rushed back from the decks of the Saxon shi_o defend their own vessel; and the Saxons, regaining courage, at once rallie_nd followed them. The combat was short but desperate. Attacked on thre_ides, the Danes were speedily overcome and were slaughtered to a man.
  • An attack was next made upon the two remaining vessels. These resisted fo_ome time, but they were overwhelmed by the missiles from the Saxon flotilla; and the greater portion of their crews being killed or wounded, thei_ommanders prayed for mercy, which was granted them by Alfred; and with th_our captured vessels the fleet returned to England.
  • On reaching port Alfred begged Edmund to continue for a while with the Dragon, to cruise along the coasts and to stop the depredations of the Danes; and fo_ome weeks the Dragon kept the seas. She met with considerable success, capturing many Danish galleys. Some of these contained rich spoil, which ha_een gathered in France, for cruising in the seas off Dover Edmund intercepte_any of the Danish vessels on their homeward way from raids up the Seine, Garonne, and other French rivers.
  • One day in the excitement of a long pursuit of a Danish galley, which finall_ucceeded in making her escape, Edmund had paid less attention than usual t_he weather, and, on giving up the chase as hopeless, perceived that the sk_ad become greatly overcast, while the wind was rising rapidly.
  • "We are in for a storm from the north, Egbert," he said, "and we must make fo_he mouth of the Thames for shelter."
  • The sails were lowered, and the Dragon's head turned west. Before two hour_ad passed the sea had risen so greatly that it was no longer possible to row.
  • "What had we best do?" Edmund asked the chief of the sailors. "Think you tha_e can make Dover and shelter under the cliffs there?"
  • "I fear that we cannot do so," the sailor replied, "for there are terribl_ands and shallows off the Kentish coast between the mouth of the Thames an_over, and the wind blows so strongly that we can do nought but run befor_t."
  • "Then let us do so," Edmund replied; "anything is better than being tossed a_he mercy of the waves."
  • A sail was hoisted, and the Dragon flew along before the wind. The stor_ncreased in fury, and for some hours the vessel ran before it. She was but _hort distance from the French coast, and as the wind veered round more to th_est her danger became great.
  • "I fear we shall be cast ashore," Edmund said to the sailor.
  • "Fortunately," the man answered, "we are but a mile or two from the mouth o_he Seine, and there we can run in and take shelter."
  • It was an anxious time until they reached the mouth of the river, for the_ere continually drifting nearer and nearer to the coast. However, the_leared the point in safety, and, turning her head, ran up the river and soo_nchored under the walls of Havre. As she came to an anchor armed men wer_een crowding the walls.
  • "They take us for Danes," Egbert said. "We had best hoist the Dragon, and the_ill then know that we are a Saxon ship."
  • Soon after the flag was hoisted the gates of the town were seen to open, an_n officer and some men issued out. These launched a boat and rowed out to th_hip. The officer mounted to the deck. He was evidently in considerable fear, but as he saw the Saxons standing about unarmed he was reassured. "Is thi_eally a Saxon ship," he asked, "as its flag testifies?"
  • "It is so," Edmund replied; "it is my vessel, and I am an ealdorman of Kin_lfred. We have been chasing the Danish pirates, but this storm having arisen, we were blown down the French coast and forced to seek shelter here."
  • "The governor bids you welcome," the officer said, "and bade me invite you t_and."
  • "That will I gladly; the more so since my ship has suffered some damage in th_ale, her bulwarks having been partly shattered; and it will need a stay of _ew days here to repair her for sea. Will you tell the governor that in _hort time I will land with my kinsman Egbert and accept his hospitality?"
  • An hour later Edmund and Egbert landed and were at once conducted to th_overnor, who welcomed them cordially.
  • They found there many whom they had known at the court of King Alfred. Th_ealthier men, the bishops and thanes, had for the most part journeyed t_aris or to other towns in the interior to escape the dreaded Northmen; bu_here were many detained at Havre from want of funds to journey farther.
  • "It is a sad pity," the governor said as they talked over the troubled stat_f Western Europe, "that your English king and our Frankish monarch did no_ake common cause against these sea robbers. They are the enemies of mankind.
  • Not only do they ravage all our coasts, but they have entered th_editerranean, and have plundered and ravaged the coasts of Provence an_taly, laying towns under ransom, burning and destroying."
  • "I would that I could meet some of their ships on their way back from Italy,"
  • Edmund said. "I warrant that we should obtain a rare booty, with gems of ar_uch as would delight King Alfred, but are thrown away on these barbarians; but I agree with you that 'tis shameful that the coasts of all Europe shoul_e overrun with these pirates."
  • "Yes," the governor replied, "if every country in Christendom would unit_gainst their common foe, and send a quota of ships and men, we would driv_he Black Raven from the seas, and might even land on the Danish shores an_ive them a taste of the suffering they have inflicted elsewhere. As it is, all seem paralysed. Local efforts are made to resist them; but their number_re too great to be thus withstood. I wonder that the pope does not cal_hristendom to arms against these pagan robbers, who not only destroy town_nd villages, but level to the ground the holy shrines, and slay the minister_f God on the altars."