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The old man flinched as at an arrow. “Why do you hurt me still?” he said in Saxon. “It was on some bones of some Saints that I promised I would give my England to the Great Duke.” He turns on us all crying, shrilly: “Thanes, he had caught me at Rouen—a lifetime ago. If I had not promised, I should have lain there all my life. What else could I have done? I have lain in a strait prison all my life none the less.


This is from “The Tree of Justice”, the last tale in Rewards and Fairies.

Over thirty years after William the Conqueror had defeated Harold and his Saxons at Hastings in 1066, William’s son Henry is on the English throne. There is still bad blood between Normans and Saxons, and conflict between the Norman barons. King Henry, on his way to war in Normandy, turns aside to hunt in the Sussex forests. A beater, an old witless man, calls out in Saxon during the hunt.

When he is brought to the King he proves to be Harold, who had survived the battle, and trodden the roads of England as a pilgrim ever since. He and his Saxons had been doughty fighters, who had very nearly driven back the Normans at Hastings. He dies on the breast of Hugh, the Saxon knight, with the awed respect of King Henry and his men.