The great Abbey of Westminster was approaching its completion; an army o_asons and labourers swarmed like bees upon and around it, and althoug_iffering widely in its massive architecture, with round Saxon windows an_rches, from the edifice that was two or three generations later to be reare_n its place,—to serve as a still more fitting tomb for the ashes of its piou_ounder,—it was a stately abbey, rivalling the most famous of the Englis_anes of the period.
From his palace hard by King Edward had watched with the deepest interest th_rection of the minster that was the dearest object of his life. The King wa_urrounded by Normans, the people among whom he had lived until called fro_is retirement to ascend the throne of England, and whom he loved far bette_han those over whom he reigned. He himself still lived almost the life of _ecluse. He was sincerely anxious for the good of his people, but took smal_ains to ensure it, his life being largely passed in religious devotions, an_n watching over the rise of the abbey he had founded.
A town had risen around minster and palace, and here the workmen employe_ound their lodgings, while craftsmen of all descriptions administered to th_ants both of these and of the nobles of Edward's court.
From one of the side doors of the palace a page, some fifteen or sixteen year_f age, ran down the steps in haste. He was evidently a Saxon by his fair hai_nd fresh complexion, and any observer of the time would have seen that h_ust, therefore, be in the employment of Earl Harold, the great minister, wh_ad for many years virtually ruled England in the name of its king.
The young page was strongly and sturdily built. His garb was an English one, but with some admixture of Norman fashions. He wore tightly-fitting le_overings, a garment somewhat resembling a blouse of blue cloth girded in by _elt at the waist, and falling in folds to the knee. Over his shoulders hung _hort mantle of orange colour with a hood. On his head was a cap with a wid_rim that was turned up closely behind, and projected in a pointed shove_hape in front. In his belt was a small dagger. He wore shoes of light yello_eather fastened by bands over the insteps. As he ran down the steps of th_alace he came into sharp contact with another page who had just turned th_orner of the street.
"I crave your pardon, Walter Fitz-Urse," he said hurriedly, "but I was i_aste and saw you not."
The other lad was as clearly Norman as the speaker was Saxon. He was perhaps _ear the senior in point of age, and taller by half a head, but was o_lighter build. The expression of his face differed as widely from that of th_axon as did his swarthy complexion and dark hair, for while the latter fac_ore a frank and pleasant expression, that of the Norman was haughty an_rrogant.
"You did it on purpose," he said angrily, "and were we not under the shadow o_he palace I would chastise you as you deserve."
The smile died suddenly out from the Saxon's face. "Chastise me!" he repeated.
"You would find it somewhat difficult, Master Fitz-Urse. Do you think you ar_alking to a Norman serf? You will please to remember you are in England; bu_f you are not satisfied with my apology, I will ride with you a few mile_nto the country, and we will then try with equal arms where the chastisemen_s to fall."
The Norman put his hand to his dagger, but there was an ominous growl fro_ome men who had paused to listen to the quarrel.
"You are an insolent boor, Wulf of Steyning, and some day I will punish you a_ou deserve."
"Some day," the Saxon laughed, "we shall, I hope, see you and all your trib_ent across the Channel. There are few of us here who would not see your back_ith pleasure."
"What is this?" an imperious voice demanded; and turning round, Wulf sa_illiam, the Norman Bishop of London, who, followed by several monks an_ages, had pushed his way through the crowd. "Walter Fitz-Urse, what mean_his altercation?"
"The Saxon ran against me of set purpose, my lord," Walter Fitz-Urse said, i_ones of deep humility, "and because I complained he challenged me to rid_ith him into the country to fight, and then he said he hoped that some da_ll the Normans would be sent across the Channel."
"Is this so?" the prelate said sternly to Wulf; "did you thus insult not onl_y page, but all of us, his countrymen?"
"I ran against him by accident," Wulf said, looking up fearlessly in th_relate's face. "I apologized, though I know not that I was more in fault tha_e; but instead of taking my apology as one of gentle blood should do, h_poke like a churl, and threatened me with chastisement, and then I did sa_hat I hoped he and all other Normans in the land would some day be packe_cross the Channel."
"Your ears ought to be slit as an insolent varlet."
"I meant no insolence, my Lord Bishop; and as to the slitting of my ears, _ancy Earl Harold, my master, would have something to say on that score."
The prelate was about to reply, but glancing at the angry faces of the growin_rowd, he said coldly:
"I shall lay the matter before him. Come, Walter, enough of this. You are als_omewhat to blame for not having received more courteously the apologies o_his saucy page."
The crowd fell back with angry mutterings as he turned, and, followed b_alter Fitz-Urse and the ecclesiastics, made his way along the street to th_rincipal entrance of the palace. Without waiting to watch his departure, Wulf, the Saxon page, pushed his way through the crowd, and went off at ful_peed to carry the message with which he had been charged.
"Our king is a good king," a squarely-built man,—whose bare arms with th_notted muscles showing through the skin, and hands begrimed with charcoal, indicated that he was a smith,—remarked to a gossip as the little crowd brok_p, "but it is a grievous pity that he was brought up a Norman, still mor_hat he was not left in peace to pass his life as a monk as he desired. H_ills the land with his Normans; soon as an English bishop dies, straightway _orman is clapped into his place. All the offices at court are filled wit_hem, and it is seldom a word of honest English is spoken in the palace. Th_orman castles are rising over the land, and his favourites divide among the_he territory of every English earl or thane who incurs the king'_ispleasure. Were it not for Earl Harold, one might as well be under Norma_way altogether."
"Nay, nay, neighbour Ulred, matters are not so bad as that. I dare say the_ould have been as you say had it not been for Earl Godwin and his sons. Bu_t was a great check that Godwin gave them when he returned after hi_anishment, and the Norman bishops and nobles hurried across the seas in _anic. For years now the king has left all matters in the hands of Harold, an_s well content if only he can fast and pray like any monk, and give all hi_houghts and treasure to the building of yonder abbey."
"We want neither a monk nor a Norman over us," the smith said roughly, "stil_ess one who is both Norman and monk I would rather have a Dane, like Canute, who was a strong man and a firm one, than this king, who, I doubt not, is ful_f good intentions, and is a holy and pious monarch, but who is not stron_nough for a ruler. He leaves it to another to preserve England in peace, t_eep in order the great Earls of Mercia and the North, to hold the lan_gainst Harold of Norway, Sweyn, and others, and, above all, to watch th_ormans across the water. A monk is well enough in a convent, but truly 'ti_ad for a country to have a monk as its king."
"There have been some war-loving prelates, Ulred; men as ambitious as any o_he great earls, and more dangerous, because they have learning."
"Ay, there have been great prelates," the smith agreed. "Look at Lyfing o_orcester, to whom next only to Godwin the king owed his throne. He was a_nglishman first and a bishop afterwards, and was a proof, if needed, that _an can be a great churchman and a great patriot and statesman too. It was h_ather than Godwin who overcame the opposition of the Danish party, and go_he Witan at last to acquiesce in the choice of London and Wessex, and to giv_heir vote to Edward.
"Well was it he did so. For had he failed we should have had as great _truggle in England as when Alfred battled against the Danes. We of London an_he men of Wessex under the great Earl were bent upon being ruled by a princ_f our own blood. The last two Danish kings had shown us that anything i_etter than being governed by the Northmen. It was Lyfing who persuaded th_arl of Mercia to side with Wessex rather than with Northumbria, but sinc_yfing, what great Englishman have we had in the church? Every bishopric wa_ranted by Edward to Norman priests, until Godwin and his sons got the uppe_and after their exile. Since then most of them have been given to Germans. I_ould seem that the king was so set against Englishmen that only by bringin_n foreigners can Harold prevent all preferment going to Normans. But what i_he consequence? They say now that our church is governed from Rome, wherea_efore Edward's time we Englishmen did not think of taking our orders fro_taly.
"There will trouble come of it all, neighbour. Perhaps not so long as Edwar_eigns, but at his death. There is but one of the royal race surviving, an_e, like Edward, has lived all his life abroad. There can be no doubt what th_hoice of Englishmen will be. Harold has been our real ruler for years. He i_ise and politic as well as brave, and a great general. He is our own earl, and will assuredly be chosen. Then we shall have trouble with the Normans.
Already they bear themselves as if they were our masters, and they will no_ive up their hold without a struggle. Men say that William, their duke, make_o secret of his hope to become master of England, in which case God help u_ll. But that won't come as long as Harold lives and Englishmen can wiel_word and battle-axe. As for myself, I have patched many a Norman suit o_rmour, but, by St. Swithin, I shall have far more pleasure in marring than _ave ever had in mending them."
"Know you who were the boys who had that contention just now?"
"The Norman is a page of William, our Norman bishop; I know no more of hi_han that The other is Wulf, who is a ward and page of Earl Harold. His fathe_as thane of Steyning in South Sussex, one of Godwin's men, and at his deat_wo years ago Harold took the lad into his household, for he bore grea_ffection for Gyrth, who had accompanied him in his pilgrimage to Rome, an_ought by his side when he conquered the Welsh. It was there Gyrth got th_ound that at last brought about his death. Wulf has been to my smithy man_imes, sometimes about matters of repairs to arms, but more often, I think, t_ee my son Osgod. He had seen him once or twice in calling at the shop, whe_ne day Osgod, who is somewhat given to mischief, was playing at ball, an_rove it into the face of a son of one of the Norman lords at court. The bo_rew his dagger, and there would have been blood shed, but Wulf, who wa_assing at the time, and saw that the thing was a pure mishap and not th_esult of set intention, threw himself between them.
"There was a great fuss over it, for the boy took his tale to his father, wh_emanded that Osgod should be punished, and would doubtless have gained hi_nd had not Wulf spoken to Earl Harold, who intervened in the matter an_ersuaded the Norman to let it drop. Since then the boys have been grea_riends in their way. Osgod is a year older than the young thane, and ha_lready made up his mind to be his man when he grows up, and he has got me t_gree to it, though I would rather that he had stuck to my handicraft. Still, the prospect is not a bad one. Harold will be King of England, Wulf will be _owerful thane, and will doubtless some day hold high place at court, and a_e seems to have taken a real liking to Osgod, the boy may have good chances.
"Wulf will make a good fighting man one of these days. Harold sees that al_is pages are well instructed in arms, and the two boys often have a bout wit_lunted swords when Wulf comes to my smithy; and, by my faith, though I hav_aught Osgod myself, and he already uses his arms well, the young thane i_ully a match for him. You would hardly believe that the boy can read as wel_s a monk, but it is so. Earl Harold, you know, thinks a good deal o_ducation, and has founded a college at Waltham. He persuaded Wulf's father t_end him there, and, indeed, will take none as his pages unless they can read.
I see not what good reading can do to most men, but doubtless for one who i_t court and may hold some day a high post there, it is useful to be able t_ead deeds and grants of estates, instead of having to trust others'
"I wondered to see you press forward so suddenly into the crowd, neighbour, seeing that you are a busy man, but I understand now that you had an interes_n the affair."
"That had I. I was holding myself in readiness, if that Norman boy drew hi_agger, to give him such a blow across the wrist with my cudgel that it woul_e long before he handled a weapon again. I fear Wulf has got himself int_rouble. The bishop will doubtless complain to the king of the language use_y one of Harold's pages, and though the earl is well able to see that no har_omes to the lad, it is likely he will send him away to his estates for _ime. For he strives always to avoid quarrels and disputes, and though he wil_ot give way a jot in matters where it seems to him that the good of the real_s concerned, he will go much farther lengths than most men would do in th_ay of conciliation. Look how he has borne with Tostig and with the Earls o_ercia. He seems to have no animosity in his nature, but is ready to forgiv_ll injuries as soon as pardon is asked."
The smith was not far wrong in his opinion as to what was likely to happen. A_oon as Wulf returned to the palace he was told that the earl desired hi_resence, and he proceeded at once to the apartment where Harold transacte_ublic business. It was a hall of considerable size; the floor was strewe_ith rushes; three scribes sat at a table, and to them the earl dictated hi_eplies and decisions on the various matters brought before him. When he sa_ulf enter he rose from his seat, and, beckoning to him to follow, pushe_side the hangings across a door leading to an apartment behind and went in.
Wulf had no fear whatever of any severe consequence to himself from hi_uarrel with Walter Fitz-Urse, but he was ashamed that his thoughtlessnes_hould have given the slightest trouble to the earl, for, popular as he wa_mong all classes of men in southern England, Harold was an object of love a_ell as respect to his dependents, and indeed to all who came in close contac_ith him.
The earl was now forty-one years of age. He was very tall, and was considere_he strongest man in England. His face was singularly handsome, with a_xpression of mingled gentleness and firmness. His bearing was courteous t_ll. He united a frank and straightforward manner with a polished address rar_mong his rough countrymen. Harold had travelled more and farther than an_nglishman of his age. He had visited foreign courts and mingled with peopl_ore advanced in civilization than were those of England or Normandy, and wa_enturies ahead of the mass of his countrymen. He was an ardent advocate o_ducation, a strong supporter of the national church, an upholder of th_ights of all men, and although he occasionally gave way to bursts of passion, was of a singularly sweet and forgiving disposition.
King Edward was respected by his people because, coming after two utterl_orthless kings, he had an earnest desire for their good, although that desir_eldom led to any very active results. He was a member of their own roya_ouse. He was deeply religious. His life was pure and simple, and although al_is tastes and sympathies were with the land in which he had been brought up, Englishmen forgave him this because at least he was a Saxon, while hi_redecessors had been Danes. But while they respected Edward, for Harold, their real ruler, they felt a passionate admiration. He was a worth_epresentative of all that was best in the Saxon character. He possessed in a_minent degree the openness of nature, the frank liberality, the indomitabl_ravery, and the endurance of hardship that distinguished the race. He wa_arl of the West Saxons, and as such had special claims to their fealty.
London, it was true, did not lie in his earldom, but in that of his brothe_eofwyn, but Leofwyn and Harold were as one—true brothers in heart and i_isposition. The gentleness and courtesy of manner that, although natural, ha_een softened and increased by Harold's contact with foreigners, was not onl_ardoned but admired because he was England's champion against foreigners. H_ad fought, and victoriously, alike against the Norwegians, the Danes o_orthumbria, and the Welsh, and he struggled as sturdily, though peacefully, against Norman influence in England. Already the dread of Norman preponderanc_as present in the minds of Englishmen. It was no secret that in his earl_ays Edward had held out hopes, if he had not given an actual promise, t_illiam of Normandy that he should succeed him. Of late the king had bee_omewhat weaned from his Norman predilections, and had placed himsel_nreservedly in Harold's hands, giving to the latter all real power while h_onfined himself to the discharge of religious exercises, and to th_upervision of the building of his abbey, varied occasionally by huntin_xpeditions, for he still retained a passionate love of the chase; but me_new that the warlike Duke of Normandy would not be likely to forget th_romise, and that trouble might come to England from over the sea.
Harold, then, they not only regarded as their present ruler, but as thei_uture king, and as the national leader and champion. Edward had no children.
The royal house was extinct save for Edward the Atheling, who, like th_resent king, had lived all his life abroad, and could have no sympathy wit_nglishmen. There being, then, no one of the royal house available, who bu_arold, the head of the great house of Godwin, the earl of the West Saxons, the virtual ruler of England, could be chosen? The English kings, althoug_enerally selected from the royal house, ruled rather by the election of th_eople as declared by their representatives in the Witan than by thei_ereditary right. The prince next in succession by blood might, at the deat_f the sovereign, be called king, but he was not really a monarch unti_lected by the Witan and formally consecrated.
It had been nine months after he had been acclaimed to the throne by th_eople of London that King Edward had been elected king by the Witan, an_ormally enthroned. Thus, then, the fact that Harold did not belong to th_oyal family mattered but little in the eyes of Englishmen. To them belonge_he right of choosing their own monarch, and if they chose him, who was to sa_hem nay?
Wulf felt uncomfortable as he followed the stately figure into the inner room, but he faced the Earl as the door closed behind him with as fearless a look a_hat with which he had stood before the haughty prelate of London. A sligh_mile played upon Harold's face as he looked down upon the boy.
"You are a troublesome varlet, Wulf, and the Lord Bishop has been makin_erious complaint of you to the king. He says that you brawled with his page, Walter Fitz-Urse; that you used insolent words against his countrymen; an_hat you even withstood himself. What have you to say to this?"
"The brawling was on the part of the bishop's page and not of mine, my lord. _as running out to carry the message with which you charged me to Ernulf o_over when I ran against Fitz-Urse. That was not my fault, but a pur_ischance, nevertheless I expressed my regret in fitting terms. Instead o_ccepting them, he spoke insolently, talked of chastising me, and put his han_n the hilt of his dagger. Then, my lord, I grew angry too. Why should I, th_age of Earl Harold, submit to be thus contemptuously spoken to by this youn_orman, who is but the page of an upstart bishop, and whom, if your lordshi_ill give permission, I would right willingly fight, with swords or any othe_eapons. Doubtless, in my anger, I did not speak respectfully of Walter'_ountrymen, and for this I am sorry, since it has been the ground of complain_nd of trouble to you."
"In fact, Wulf, you spoke as a quarrelsome boy and not as the page of one wh_as the cares of this kingdom on his shoulders, and whose great desire is t_eep peace between all parties," the earl put in gravely.
For the first time Wulf hung his head:
"I was wrong, my lord."
"You were wrong, Wulf; it is not good always to say what we think; and you, a_y page, should bear in mind that here at court it behoves you to behave an_o speak not as a headstrong boy, but as one whose words may, rightly o_rongly, be considered as an echo of those you may have heard from me. And no_o the third charge, that you withstood the prelate; a matter that, in th_ing's eyes, is a very serious one."
"The bishop would give ear to nought I had to say. He listened to his ow_age's account and not to mine, and when I said in my defence that though _id use the words about the Normans, I did so merely as one boy quarrellin_ith the other, he said I ought to have my ears slit. Surely, my lord, a free- born thane is not to be spoken to even by a Norman bishop as if he were _orman serf. I only replied that before there was any slitting of ears you_ordship would have a say in the matter. So far, I admit, I did withstand th_ishop, and I see not how I could have made other reply."
"It would have been better to have held your peace altogether, Wulf."
"It would, my lord, but it would also surely have been better had the bisho_bstained from talking about slitting ears."
"That would have been better also, but two wrongs do not make a right. I wa_resent when the bishop made his complaint, and upon my inquiring more int_he matter, his version was somewhat similar to yours. I then pointed out t_im that if holy bishops lost their tempers and used threats that were beyon_heir power to carry into effect, they must not be too severe upon boys wh_orget the respect due to their office. Nevertheless, I admitted that you wer_rong, and I promised the king, who was perhaps more disturbed by thi_ncident than there was any occasion for, that I would take you to tas_eriously, and that to avoid any further brawl between you and young Fitz- Urse, you should for a time be sent away from court. I did this on th_greement that the bishop should, on his part, admonish Walter Fitz-Urs_gainst discourteous behaviour and unseemly brawling, and had I known that h_ad put his hand on his dagger, I would have gone further. Have you an_itnesses that he did so?"
"Yes, my lord; I saw the smith Ulred among those standing by, and doubtless h_ould see the action."
"That is well," Harold said. "I shall acquaint the bishop with the fact when _ell him that I have ordered you to leave for your estate at Steyning, an_hat if his page denies it, I have witnesses to prove the truth of you_ssertions. I think in that case he will be glad to drop the matter, for wer_ to mention the fact to the king, he, who has a horror of the drawing o_eapons, would order Walter Fitz-Urse to be sent back to Normandy. So you_xile is not likely to be of long duration. You understand, Wulf, that I a_ot seriously angered with you in this matter. You are but a boy, and on_annot expect that you will behave as a prudent man; but remember, lad, even _oy's words may do mischief, especially when placed as you are. There may com_ time when you shall show by deeds and not by words your feelings against th_ormans, but till then bear yourself prudently. We Saxons are over given t_asty words, and this is a fault. I myself, as all men know, have no love fo_he Normans, but no one has heard me speak against them. The king loves them, as is but natural, seeing that he was brought up amongst them, and I have no_ithstood his wishes in the matter, trying only that a certain amount o_referment in the land should be bestowed upon those who are its owners an_ot strangers to it and its tongue. You will ride this afternoon for Steyning, Wulf, but I hope it will not be long before you are back again. If I had m_wn way in the matter, I should think that sufficient had already been sai_nd done in so trifling a matter as a boys' quarrel; but as it has bee_rought before our king by a bishop, it is in the king's eyes a seriou_usiness, for assuredly he himself would have borne a reproof from William o_ondon more meekly than you did, and having therefore become a church matter, it is altogether beyond my power to interfere. At any rate, a short sojourn o_our estate will do you no harm; it is sometime since you were there, and i_s a good thing that the lord of the soil should be well known by those ove_hom he is placed."
Wulf bowed deeply and withdrew. The prospect of a visit for a few weeks o_ven months to Steyning was not a terrible one. It was some years since he ha_tayed there for any time. He had been two years at Waltham, and since hi_ather's death had been for the most part with Harold, and the thought of a_nrestricted life and of spending his time as he chose, hunting and hawking, and going about among his tenants, was by no means unpleasant. He was quit_atisfied that Harold was not seriously angered with him, and for anythin_lse he cared little.
As he understood that his duties as a page were at present at an end, h_hought he would first call upon Ulred the smith, to ask him if he had see_alter Fitz-Urse handle his dagger, and also to tell Osgod that he was goin_way for a time. He found the smith at work.
"Good morning, Master Wulf; though this is not the first time I have seen yo_oday, for I was at hand when you had that quarrel with the Norman page."
"Yes, I caught sight of your face, Ulred. It was about that I have come t_ou. The bishop has made complaint against me to the king, and Earl Harold ha_rdered me to go down to Steyning for a time. Of course I acted wrongly i_peaking as I did to the bishop, but so far as Walter Fitz-Urse is concerned _aintain that I did no wrong. I told my lord as much, and that the Norman pu_and upon his dagger. The earl said that if I could prove that it woul_enefit my case. I told him that I had seen you close by, but that I did no_now whether you saw the page do it."
"Assuredly I did," the smith replied, "and had my cudgel in readiness to ta_im on the wrist if he had drawn his dagger. I would testify the same befor_ing Edward himself."
"Thank you, Ulred, I will tell my lord so."
"I am sorry you are to be sent away from court. That is a bad job, Maste_ulf, and Osgod here will miss you greatly."
"That shall I," the lad said. "Could you not take me down with you, youn_aster? You could teach me there how to comport myself as your squire, so tha_hen the time comes that you need one, I should know my duties. Besides, yo_ould practise on me with sword and battle-axe."
"I could not do much in the way of teaching you, Osgod, seeing as yet I a_yself but a learner, but I should be glad, in truth, to have you with me, an_t would be good for me to keep up my practice in arms. I shall feel almos_ike a stranger there, and should like to have one I know with me. I could as_arl Harold to let me have a horse for you from his stables, where he has tw_r three score doing nothing."
"With your favour, sir, I would rather trust to my own feet. I am a stou_alker, and though I shall not be able to keep up with you, I think that eac_ight I can get to the hostelrie where you may put up; but, if not, it matter_ittle, I can make my way after you and join you there—that is, if my fathe_ill give me permission to go."
"You may as well go sooner as later," the smith said. "Since you have take_nto your head that you will be Master Wulf's man, I see not that it wil_enefit you remaining in the forge. You know enough now to mend a broken rive_nd to do such repairs to helm and armour as may be needed on an expedition; therefore, if the young thane is minded to take you I have naught to sa_gainst it."
"Then so shall it be," Wulf said, "I shall see my Lord Harold before I start, and will tell him that you are minded to be my man, and that I am minded so t_ake you. He will not object, I am sure, but it were best to ask him, since, when I return to court, I shall have you about me."
"When do you start, Master Wulf?"
"I am ordered to go to-day; therefore, as soon as I have seen the earl again _hall be off."
"Where will you sleep to-night?"
"I shall ride to Guildford this afternoon."
"Then you had better lay aside your hammer at once, Osgod," the smith said,
"and don fresh clothes, and make your best suit into a bundle and star_ithout delay; it is but ten o'clock, and you may be at Guildford befor_unset. 'Tis but thirty miles, and eight hours' walking will take you there.
If the young thane tells you that Lord Harold makes objection to his takin_ou, you can turn your face backward to-morrow and no harm will be done."
"I shall overtake you before you are half-way, Osgod, and can then take you u_ehind me on my horse; and now I will go back to the palace. I may have t_ait some time before I can see Earl Harold. From sunrise to sunset he has bu_ few moments to himself, and I shall have to watch my time to get a word wit_im."
It was not, indeed, until two o'clock in the afternoon that Wulf had a chanc_f speaking to the duke. Then, seeing that he was for the moment alone, h_ntered the room and stood with bowed head waiting for Harold to address him.
"So you have come to say good-bye, Wulf," the latter said kindly; "it is bes_o, boy. A time in the country will do you good, and there will be much fo_ou to do down there. I have ordered two of my men to be in readiness to moun_nd ride with you, for I would not that you should go unattended. One of the_ill bear a message from me and a letter under my hand to the steward, an_ill tell him that although you will, of course, remain as my ward until yo_ome of age, you are in all respects to be treated as if you were already m_worn man, and thane. It would be well if you could gather among your tenant_wenty stout men as house-carls. The steward is ordered to pay to you whateve_oneys you may require, and to account for them to me when he sends me in hi_heckers. These house-carls will, of course, be paid. There must be ampl_tore of armour at Steyning for them, for your father was followed by fort_ouse-carls when he went with me to the Welsh wars. One of the men who goe_ith you is a stout man-at-arms and is one of my own house-carls; he wil_emain with you and will instruct your men in arms and teach them to figh_houlder to shoulder. There may be bad times ere long, and it is upon traine_roops and not upon hasty levies that we must most depend. In time I trust yo_ill be able to place fifty such men in the field, but at present twenty wil_uffice. Have you aught to say to me before you go?"
"Yes, my lord; first, to thank you for your kindness, and to say that I wil_arry out your instructions; secondly, to tell you that Ulred the smith sa_alter Fitz-Urse handle his dagger, and was standing ready to knock it fro_is hand did he draw it. Lastly, that Ulred's son Osgod, who is a stout lad _ear older than myself, and for his age well accustomed to arms, desires to b_worn as my man and to serve me in hall and in field. I like him much and hav_lmost daily practised with him in arms, and I should be glad to have him wit_e if you see no objection."
"Not at all, Wulf; it is well that a man should have at his side one in who_e can altogether trust, be he of gentle blood or simple man-at-arms."
"Then I may take him down with me, my lord?"
"Yes, if it pleases you. Can he ride?"
"Not as yet, my lord, I will see that he is instructed down at Steyning. H_tarted to walk this morning, understanding that if you refused him permissio_o be my man he would at once return. We shall overtake him on the road."
"Bid one of your escort take him up behind," the earl said, "I like hi_pirit. See that he is fittingly apparelled. You shall hear from me ere long."
Half an hour later Wulf mounted, and with his two followers rode fro_estminster.