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   Chapter 25 No.25

Wulnoth the Wanderer By Herbert Escott-Inman Characters: 14843

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The Crowning of Guthred

With haste and gladness did Wulnoth set out for the North once more, and all the world seemed filled with a love-song and a joy-song as he rode upon his way.

For the sun was shining at last for him, and for those whom he loved, and, better still, for all the land of England; and Alfred the King, who had labored so long and so patiently to weld the land into one strong people, would now have his reward also, in seeing the prosperity of his kingdom.

And Wulnoth reflected as he journeyed, for he was a man given to thinking when he was alone, that all this happiness had its fount in the truth concerning the Lord Jesus; and he remembered how Wyborga had said, in the long ago of his childhood, that the story of the thorn cross turned darkness to light, weakness to strength, and sorrow into joy; and lo, this was happening throughout the length and breadth of England.

And then he thought of the differences between the Danes and the Saxons; and yet these people were almost from the same stock and the same land, and both peoples had ever been lovers of the war game, and sea-lords and vikings at heart. And those differences all sprang from the same source-the Saxons had turned to the White Christ, and the Danes still worshipped the old cruel gods of the Northland.

Like the wind his good horse journeyed, and in good time he arrived at the Bishop's house, and told him of King Alfred's pleasure in the matter; and at that the Bishop smiled, and said that the way was a clear way now.

"But how will you make these people accept Guthred for their king?" asked Wulnoth. "If they be not willing, then it can only be done by the sword, and there is more war and desolation."

"God save us from that," said the Bishop. "Nay, friend, it is because the people are weary of war that I hope for success. They of Northumbria have long ago turned from their old gods, though in form they serve them still; and many have pondered about the Lord Christ, even as Guthred has done. Moreover, the tidings that Guthrun and they of the Danelagh have become Christians has not been without effect; and even the Danes are weary of the old, and are asking whether the new faith be not better.

"Now, the Danes will not accept one of Northumbria for leader, and the people of the land will not accept one of the Danes; so that there is like to be war again, which neither side really desires. But if Guthred, who is of the royal blood and ancient line, is put forward, he will satisfy the claims of both parties, and in him the two may unite into one. That is my hope. For, look you, these Danes know full well that presently other sea-lords will sweep down on the land-lords who know them not, and who may serve them as they have served others, and take from them that which they have won. They will therefore the more willingly unite with the Northumbrian people, and seek to present a strong front to any new foe who may come."

"Thy words may well be true words," answered Wulnoth; "and now that I have done my task, I go to speak with Guthred my friend."

"See you tell him nothing of this, good Wulnoth," said the Bishop in warning. "No word, that is, where others may hear it spoken. For a secret once whispered is as a message sounded by trumpet; and a woman's tongue is as the crier's voice, and spreads news even more swiftly. We must keep this business quiet, until we have the holdas and thanes upon our side."

"I will be most careful," answered Wulnoth; and with that he set out. But he went not to the house of Guthred's mistress, for he had no mind to listen to the tongue of a scolding jade, if it might be avoided. But he lurked in the woodlands; and so presently he saw Guthred come forth, and he hailed him, and together they went into the forest depths, and there did the Wanderer tell him of the King's wish, and the Bishop's work, and how the word of Wyborga would yet be found a true word, and Guthred would be king of a land vaster and more powerful than ever ancient Lethra had been.

And then did Bishop Eadred set himself to work, and he summoned by message all the holdas and thanes, and begged them to come to a council with himself, as he had weighty things to say to them.

And because he was a wise man, and learned, and just in his ways, the holdas and thanes came, even those who were at enmity; and for the time they proclaimed truce, and sat in the Bishop's house, and asked him whereof he had to speak.

And the Bishop stood and spoke of his dreams, and how he had met the man whom he had seen in his night visions; and how this man had also seen him in his visions; and the Bishop asked who but the blessed Saint Cuthbert, whose abbey of Lindisfarne was almost in ruins, should have been permitted by Heaven to put these dreams into their heads?

But the men of Northumbria cried that they would have no churl to be their king; but that one of the old royal House of Ella should be found; and the Danes laughed, and said that they cared not for the man's birth, so that he was a true man and one able to lead them.

But one aged holda rose and said-

"Suppose, instead of quarrelling, and drawing of swords, we see this man of whom the Bishop speaks. If we like him not, then can we say nay. It will be better than quarrelling as those who quarrel in the dark about they know not what."

"The man is by Heaven destined," the Bishop said. "Here is one who can tell you of him," and he pointed to Wulnoth.

So Wulnoth stood there, and he told them the story of Guthred, Prince of Lethra, and of the prophesying of Wyborga the Wise in the long ago, and of all that had happened since. And he showed how Guthred was of the royal blood of Lethra, and how Hardacnute himself was of the old race; and both Danes and Northumbrians cried aloud that if this was so, then Guthred the son of Hardacnute was he who should be their king.

"We will stand for him," they cried, "and we will war against all in the land who seek to reject him."

"Little need for war," said the Bishop. "Know, thanes and holdas, that now all England is united beneath the rule of Alfred the Bretwalda. Guthrun is now his liegeman, and Guthred will also call Alfred overlord. Thus all the land from the Picts' wall in the north, to the sea in the south, will be one land, and its peoples as one people; and the strong will stand for the weak, and each call his neighbor brother. And this is the law of the Lord Christ, who is Alfred's Lord, and Guthrun's Lord, and shall be Guthred's Lord also."

Then did all the warriors and leaders cry that the thing was good, and they demanded to be led to the place where Guthred was; and Wulnoth could not help smiling as he thought of what the old woman would say when all the land came to take her thrall and crown him king.

So to the house he led them, the great, grim viking lords and the best of the thanes; and behind them came many of their warriors, and they shouted with a mighty voice, and cried-

"Skoal! Skoal to thee, Guthred the Prince, who shalt be Guthred the King! Come forth to us, that we may see him who shall wear the crown and the royal bracelets."

And then did the old woman come running out, and she cried out, and bade them begone for a set of drunken rascals.

"Must you come with your folly to an honest woman's house, shouting for your king? Guthred! I have no Guthred here, and t

hat you wot right well; but if ye want a king, go round to the sty and get one there, or to the field wherein my ass feeds, and he will make ye a good ruler. Away with ye, rascals and worthless that ye are, or I will beat you with my besom stick."

Then did the vikings laugh again, and still they cried for Guthred to come forth; and at that did Guthred come, and Wulnoth cried so that all might hear-

"The man is here, holdas and thanes. This is my friend and my brother-this is Guthred, who is son of him who was King of Lethra."

"Skoal! Skoal to thee, Guthred son of Hardacnute!" they cried; and they seized him and lifted him onto their shoulders.

But then, with a yell and a cry of anger, the old woman threw herself amongst them, and she scratched and kicked, and grabbed hold of Guthred's leg, seeking to pull him away.

"Hola! help, there-help there, neighbors!" she cried. "Here be nameless and masterless men, and they be carrying off my thrall! Help, there."

"Silence, woman!" sternly said the Bishop. "Darest thou call these nobles by such shameful names as nameless and masterless? Silence, or thou shalt be ducked in the pond. As for this man, know that he is thy king; and ask his pardon if thou hast cause to fear his anger, for thy life is in his hand, from now, henceforth."

"What!" shrieked the old woman. "What is that? Gurth is not Gurth, but Guthred; and he is not my thrall, but the King! Oh, and I have had him whipped! Oh, and I have had him shut up! And now he will have me killed. Oh! mercy, good Gurth-I mean, good Guthred-no, I mean good King! Oh, mercy!"

But Guthred laughed, and it was the good laugh of the long ago; and he held out his hand, and lifted the woman up, saying to her-

"Have no fear, mistress. If I was whipped, doubtless I deserved it."

"You did, every bit and more!" cried the woman, anxious to justify herself. But then she remembered that she was speaking to the King, and she stammered-"No-I mean that you didn't deserve it. No, that won't do! If I say that you deserved it, that is wrong to say of the King, and if I say that you didn't deserve it, that is contradicting you, and that is wrong, so what is a poor body to do?"

"Say nothing about it," answered Guthred. But at that Wulnoth laughed.

"Come, come, Prince, do not set her so hard a task-her tongue is too long, and it wags so freely that she must talk." And at that the woman glared at her tormentor, and seemed inclined to show him that her nails were long also.

But Guthred said that he was this woman's thrall, and that if they wanted him for King they must purchase him from her, and he decreed that if he was worth crowning he was worth his weight in gold, and at that all the holdas laughed. And they set up a beam and weighed golden bracelets against him; and that was the price they paid for Guthred to make him their king.

And then did they take him away and strip from him his humble robes and array him in the garments of a great holda, as was his by right, and they gave him homage.

And then, messages having been sent south, Alfred the King set forth for the Northland, and with him came his Queen and Edgiva the Beautiful, and in a litter old Wyborga, who said that now her task was over and her word had come to pass, and therefore she would see Guthred crowned, and one more thing accomplished, ere she closed her eyes in death.

And with a great retinue into Northumbria came Alfred; and Guthred, and the thanes, and the holdas awaited his coming, and all cried "Skoal" to him; and Guthred came and knelt and kissed his hand, and did him homage as his overlord and Bretwalda.

And Alfred raised Guthred and embraced him, and called him his brother, and greeted thanes and holdas as his friends, and there was rejoicing in all the land.

But who shall speak of the meeting of Guthred with Edgiva his beautiful sister, after so many years of absence? Ah, it was good for the Prince to look upon her beauty and to hear her voice, and hard was it for him to remember that all the ills had passed away, and that he was as a king now and would soon be crowned.

And to old Wyborga did he go and kneel and ask her blessing. And Wyborga laid her hand upon his head and blessed him, and also Wulnoth and Edgiva; and she said gladly-

"Now the end is near, and I also am going to my crowning, and you, my children, have to tarry until it is the Lord's will to call you. My words have come true, and you three are united, now that you know the meaning of the thorn-crowned cross. Yea, and you, Wulnoth, you mighty man, have helped to plant it firmly in this land when it was in danger of being uprooted; and you have aided two kings to be crowned. Hard has been your fight, Wulnoth, and like a hero have you conquered; and ere I die your reward shall be sure."

And then did Wulnoth ask Wyborga of a thing which had long worried him.

"Where is he, good mother, with whom I wrestled so often?" he said, "and what is the meaning of his riddle?"

"Thou hast slain him at last, Wulnoth," she answered softly, "or I should say that thy dear Lord has slain him for thee. For indeed he was thyself-thy evil spirit, Wulnoth. The Wulnoth who desired the things of earth, and the pride of life, and the lust of the flesh. Wulnoth, though all may not know it, each one who serves the Lord must so fight with himself, and if he fights beneath the cross, he wins, but if he fights in his own strength he is vanquished; and if self is not conquered, then it is master forever, and leads the better will and desire in thraldom."

So did Wyborga say, and long did Wulnoth ponder, for the thing was as a strange, strange thing to him; yet he could see that always this being had sought to lead him from the way of duty into the way of desire, and he rejoiced that he had striven and overcome, as he had done.

Now, after this did the holdas and thanes, and all the people, come and take Guthred, and lead him away to the sacred stone-at least, now that they were departing from the old gods they looked upon it as sacred no longer-but because always their kings had been proclaimed there, they took Guthred also; and the stone is on a hill named Oswin's Dune.

And then they placed upon his arms the royal bracelets, and upon his head the golden circlet, and hailed him as King of Northumbria and overlord of every thane and holda there. And Guthred took off his crown and laid it before Alfred, and Alfred placed it again upon his head; and the two kings sat side by side and drank heal to each other, and Wulnoth stood beside his friend and brother Guthred, and Edgiva sat at his side.

Then from thence did Guthred go to Lindisfarne Abbey, and there was he baptized by the Bishop, and there did he profess his Lord, and vow to rebuild the Abbey and set it in order. And he gave broad lands to the Bishop to be held for the Church; and from that gift made by Guthred the King it comes that right down to this very day, the Bishop of Durham may, if he chooses, don his scarlet robes and seat himself beside the judges whenever they come to try criminals within what is called his palatinate-that is, the boundaries of those lands which were given to Bishop Eadred, in the days of his crowning by Guthred.

And this is how the people of Northumbria chose Guthred for their king, and the words spoken of old by Wyborga came true in the end.

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