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."