973. In this year, Edgar, ruler of the English, was consecrated king by a great assembly .... There was a great congregation of priests, and a goodly company of monks, and wise men gathered together. And among these wise men was one who had come out of the lands of the Welsh, unknown to any.
The town of Bath was alight with an air of festival that Whitsun. Buildings, pavilions and people alike were bedecked with bright cloths and ribbons, and bakers shouted their wares along the market street, selling hot sweet and savoury pastries to the visitors. All the nobility of England -- and not a few from the lands of the Welsh and even the far distant Scots -- had turned out for the consecration of the king.
Though Edgar had been crowned as a boy more than fifteen years previously, this ceremony was to be something special. Edgar had proved himself an able king while still a young man, bringing many reforms to the governance of the realm, and to the Church. In all his reign, no English town or monastery had suffered raids at the hands of the marauding Norsemen. Hence, he was called Edgar pacificus, or "the peaceable", and was respected far and wide.
On this Whitsun Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, would honour him, consecrating him king of all England -- the first king to be such in fact as well as in name. With him would be honoured Ælfthryth, his third wife and queen, mother to his young son Æthelred, though the queen was not so well-loved as the king.
Thousands had flocked to Bath following the proclamation many weeks before, wishing to see the sight for themselves. High lords and their ladies were there, as well as barefoot peasants, who had walked many days. Tonsured monks greeted one another, and merchants gathered to sell food and trinkets to the masses.
Unnoticed amongst the crowds walked a stranger. He was very old, judging by his head, bald and spotted as an egg, and the long, white beard which fell, plaited, nearly to his belt rope. Yet he walked straight and tall, barely leaning on the staff he carried, which was worn smooth with age. His brown eyes were clear and unclouded, and he still appeared to have most of his teeth -- a marvel in anyone over the age of five-and-thirty. In his rough-spun robes he might have been taken for a wandering monk, but no wooden cross hung about his neck.
Whether he was there for the king, or only by chance, none could say. Perhaps he was only there for the crowds, for he liked people -- especially children -- and he smiled often. Those who recalled him later would remember that he asked odd questions: Had they ever witnessed a miracle, or anything odd and inexplicable? Did they know of any unusual child or family? Who healed the sick, and were they any good at it?
He questioned the healers and herbwomen of Bath, and any he could find among its visitors. He watched the dancing as well, with an expression of approval. Maidens with flowered wreaths in their hair, courting couples casting longing looks, the children and the elderly and even a few monks took part.