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   Chapter 26 No.26

Wulnoth the Wanderer By Herbert Escott-Inman Characters: 12311

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Of the Wedding of Wulnoth and Edgiva

Now, on the evening of that day whereon Guthred was crowned at Oswin's Dune, Wulnoth stood alone in the gathering shadows, pondering on all that had taken place, and it was as peace time in his heart.

He was happy, very happy, and first of all because now he knew the happiness which comes from the story of the thorn-wreathed cross; and then because he saw his friend and brother, Guthred, now no longer a poor thrall, but a king, and the friend of Alfred the Bretwalda. That was a good thing in the eyes of Wulnoth, and right glad was he that he had fulfilled his word and had never turned aside from seeking for Guthred.

And he was happy because his Princess was happy in her brother's joy. It had been good for him to watch her face and see the light play upon it, as the sunlight plays upon the meadows and the lakes when, in the morning, it first rises above the hills and peeps down into the sleepy valleys at their feet.

And yet there was another cause for joy, and it was a deep, deep cause, as a deep well wherein is cool clear water, and around which cluster the nodding ferns. For now he thought that his tasks were over, and he might truly whisper his love-song into the ears of Edgiva, knowing that though she was a king's daughter, and the sister of a king, she would listen to his tale more gladly than she would heed the words of the greatest and mightiest in the land.

So he stood thinking his own thoughts, and the shadows grew and the moon rose, and then an owl hooted in the woods, and his mind went back to the days when, with brave Wahrmund, he had stood in the woods of East Anglia and had heard the sign which first called Alfred to his side.

But after the owl, there came the sound of another song-the song of a tiny night-singer telling his love tale to his little mate, and the song flowed like a stream of melody, like the purling of the brooklet in the moonlight, like the voice of the wavelets on the shelly sands, like the whispering of the night wind to the bending trees.

It got into the heart of Wulnoth, and he stood listening, a smile on his face, and he thought how much better this was than the song of the sword or the hiss of the flames as they burst through the roof, and he said softly-

"Sing, sing, little bird-sing to thy shy mate whom thou lovest; but though I may not sing as sweetly, thy song is no gladder than is mine when I think of my Princess. O night-singer, would that I could learn thy song and so sing to my love-to my Edgiva!"

Then a little voice spoke in his ear, and a little hand stole around his neck, and the voice said softly-

"But, perchance, thy Edgiva might better love to hear thy words in thine own voice than in the sweetest tones of the night-singer, Wulnoth."

And he turned and beheld his Princess, and he took her in his arms, and she made no struggle, but yielded gladly as a tired bird nestles in its nest; and she turned her face towards his own and called him Wulnoth, and love, and hero, and true one; and it was happy peace time for them both.

"All the world seems beautiful, dear love," he said to her. "It is like the land of the fairies to my eyes, such is the happiness that comes from love that has found its answer and its mate."

"Dearest," she said, "perchance also it is because of a greater happiness which comes to us from Him Whom we serve. We have found the meaning of Wyborga's sign now, sweetheart, though it seemed so strange to us when we were children away there in Lethra."

And so they two stood, and their hearts were too full for speech, yet in their very silence they seemed to talk and tell each other of their love, which had grown and grown all through the long years of their waiting.

And while they stood thus, from the shadows came the sound of a harp and the voice of a singer, and thus the unseen sang-

Sweet is the peace time,

Sweet is the moonlight,

Sweet is the love-song

Of the night-singer.

He to his loved one

Sings in the shadow,

Calling her to him

Waiting there lonely.

Sweet is the bird-song

Heard in the moonlight.

Sweet is the peace time,

When the wind whispers,

Telling its love-tale

To the leaves trembling;

Softly and sweetly

Breathing its story,

While in their love-joy,

Are the leaves sighing.

Sweet is the wind-song

Heard in the moonlight.

But of all peace times,

Love-time is sweetest;

And of all earth-songs,

Love-song is dearest:

Such song as Wulnoth

Tells to Edgiva-

They amongst lovers

Of all most faithful.

Sweet be their love-song,

Told in the moonlight.

Hard was the waiting,

Sore was the battle;

Weary the heart grew

Waiting and longing.

Now comes the joy-time,

Lovéd and loving;

Hearts shall united be,

Never to sunder.

Glad be their love-song,

Told in the moonlight.

Then did the song cease, and to them came Alfred the King, and he smiled and said-

"You, my Wulnoth, and you, sweet Edgiva-you who have been so faithful to me in the days of my trial-am I unkind that I thus come and spoil your song with my poor music? If that is so, forgive me, for I came that I might seek to repay in part all that you have done for me."

"Alfred is ever welcome," said Edgiva, and so said Wulnoth; but the King laughed and said-

"Now, nay. Not even Alfred is welcome when he comes to stop such sweet tales as yours. But this is the matter of it, dear friends. There should be something done this night without which the joy of this day will be incomplete, and wot ye what that something is?"

Now at that Edgiva grew rosy red and turned her face away, for in great joy and in great desire, sometimes the shame thought comes, as if 't were wrong to be glad at that which the heart most longs for.

But Wulnoth looked down at the dear one by his side, and he turned the little face towards his own love-filled eyes, and he spake and said-

"My Princess, of old I was thy watcher, and who should be so good a watcher as thy husband? Now, dear heart, thou hast heard the words of the King, and thou dost know all the w

ords that my heart would speak; but how is it with thee, my Princess? Wilt thou give me this my great reward, as the King has said, for surely never could be better time than now?"

"Dost want debts paid so quickly, Wulnoth?" she asked. And he answered gravely-

"Nay, not if the paying is heavy to thee, my Princess. Nor indeed do I want a debt paid at all. All that I have done I give thee freely, and all that I crave from thee I crave as a free gift."

"Why, dear heart," the Princess said softly, "I must not jest with thee, for thou, who art so great and so strong, dost take all things seriously. Canst doubt, dearest, that I give freely that which thou dost covet, and give gladly because in the giving I get my greatest joy? I think I have loved thee, Wulnoth, ever since I can remember. I loved thee when thou didst slay the bear, and when thou didst tread the birds' road for me, and when thou didst refuse to tarry in the forest and make thy love a forest queen, and I loved thee most when thou wast too honest to pretend to a faith which thou didst not feel, in order that thou mightest win thy desire easily. I love thee, my Wulnoth, and what can I say more save this-let it be as the King commands."

"Now by my troth!" cried the King right merrily, "would we had all our subjects as willing and docile. But forgive me, Edgiva, well named the Beautiful, nor think it too much kindness that I show; for, by my kingdom, if we keep thee unmated much longer, now that we have peace time and men have leisure to think, we shall have all the land quarrelling about thee, and Wulnoth will either have to kill or be killed."

With such merry words did Alfred speak, seeking to put them at peace; and then together did they all enter the hall where, amidst the thanes and holdas, the King sat feasting and listening to the gleemen. And to them did Guthred say-

"Greeting, fair sister, and greeting, Wulnoth, friend and brother. We have missed you from the feast; and doubtless ye have had better things to think of than our poor company." And Wulnoth answered with a smile-

"Much better things, O King." Whereat all there laughed.

"Now I see that Wulnoth will never be found when he is needed," cried one holda. "What say ye, comrades? How shall we prevent this trouble?"

"Marry, cure him in the only way he can be cured," answered another with a grim twinkle in his eye. "Let the lovers mate, and ever after Wulnoth will be found ready to go on the King's business. 'T is the best cure I wot of, and it did not fail in my case, and that was bad enough."

Then did the warriors laugh again until the hall rang; for they knew that the old soldier had married a shrew, who gave him no peace until she did him the kindness to die.

But King Alfred rose, and then all grew silent; and he said-

"Friends, holdas, and thanes, and you, royal Guthred, jest and merriment are good in their place, and this is their place; and yet there is that which is solemn. For true love, faithfully kept through long years, is a solemn thing, and a holy thing, and that whereon we may ask the blessing of the Lord; and such love hath been that of Wulnoth my friend, and of Edgiva the Beautiful. And now methinks that that which has been done this day will not be complete unless there is another deed done." And at this all the soldiers rose and held their drinking horns aloft, and cried, "Waes heal to Wulnoth the Wanderer, and to Edgiva the Beautiful."

"Nay, not the Wanderer now," cried the King, "for I make Wulnoth Lord of Cantua, and of the marches which border East Anglia and Guthrun's realm; and to him I give overship of my ports, and charge of my long ships, and him I make one of the chiefest thanes of the south, and appoint him the keeper of the King's banner during all his life."

"Skoal! Skoal! Wulnoth, warden of the marches," they cried. "Skoal to thee and to the fair one who shall be thy bride! Skoal, and joy time to you both!"

Then did Guthred rise and take Wulnoth's hand, and he said-

"Little have I to say adding to the words of the King, Wulnoth, friend and brother. Only this: never had man more faithful friend than I have had in thee, and never did man more deserve his reward than thou dost deserve thine. This thing was told in the long ago, and now it is, and who shall say it nay? Therefore do I kiss my sister, and give her to thee, and may joy time and peace time be for you both."

And then did the Bishop come, and Wulnoth and Edgiva the Beautiful stood before him; and never had the Beautiful looked sweeter and fairer than now, though from girlhood to womanhood she had grown waiting, and sometimes knowing wandering and want when from the Danes she had been forced to hide. And there before all men did they stand, and the two kings stood by, and the Bishop joined their hands, and Alfred himself gave a ring from his own finger, set with precious stones, wherewith the lovers plighted their solemn troth the one to the other.

And thus did Wulnoth gain his reward, and Edgiva the Beautiful became his wife, and the joy came to them, even as Wyborga the Wise had said that it would come.

And that very night did they go and kiss Wyborga; and she smiled and folded her hands, and said-

"I did but tarry for this, my children. Now all my task is done, and I go to my Lord; and may He guide you all the way and bring you to Himself at the end."

So said Wyborga the Wise, and she turned on her couch to sleep; and when they came to waken her in the morning, lo, she lay in the majesty of death; and the old wrinkled face seemed to have grown younger, and the silver locks lay smooth on either cheek, and her face was as the dignified face of majesty, yet gentle and gracious as a holy saint.

And they wept for Wyborga, those three who had most cause to think of her; but Alfred the Bretwalda said softly-

"Weep not for her, for she has looked in the face of her Lord, and behold, she has life, and youth, and immortality forever."

Now, this is how Wulnoth and Edgiva were united, and this is how the Wise Wyborga went to her Lord when her work was accomplished.

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