And now they removed the festive board from the hall, while kneeling serfs offered basin and towel to the thane and his guest to wash their hands. Wine began to circulate freely in goblets of wood inlaid with gold or silver; the clinking of cups, the drinking of healths and pledges opened the revel, cupbearers poured out the wine. The glee-wood (harp) was introduced, while pipes, flutes, and soft horns accompanied its strains. So they sang—
Here Athelstane king,
Of earls the lord,
To warriors the ring-giver
Had won in the strife,
By edge of the sword,
And Ella—who had stood by his father’s side in that dread field where Danes, Scots, and Welshmen fled before the English sword—listened with enthusiasm, till he thought of his brother Oswald, when tears, unobserved, rolled down his cheeks.
Not so with the boys. They had no secret sorrow to hide, and they listened like those whose young blood boils at the thought of mighty deeds, and longed to imitate them. And when the gleeman finished his lengthy flight of music and poesy, they applauded him till the roof rang again.
Song followed song, legend legend, the revelry grew louder, while the lady Edith, with her daughter, retired to their bower, where they employed their needles on delicate embroidery. A representation in bright colours of the consecration of the church of St. Wilfred occupied the hands of the little Edgitha, while her mother wove sacred pictures to serve as hangings for the sanctuary of the priory church.
But soon the tolling of the bell announced that it was the compline hour, nine o’clock, and that hour was never allowed to pass unobserved at Aescendune, but formed the termination of the labour or the feast, after which it was customary for the whole household to retire, as well they might who rose with the early dawn.
Neither was it passed by on this occasion, although the boys looked very disappointed, for they would fain have listened to song or legend till midnight, if not later.
“Come, my children,” said the thane; “we must rise early, so let us all commit ourselves to the keeping of God and His holy angels, and seek our pillows.”
So the whole party repaired to the chapel, where the chaplain said the compline office or night song, after which Ella saluted his royal guest with reverent affection, and bestowed his paternal benediction upon his children. Then the whole party separated for the night.
The household was speedily buried in sleep, save the solitary sentinel who paced around the building. Not that danger was apprehended from any source, but precaution had become habitual in those days of turmoil. Occasionally the howl of the wolf was heard from the woods, and the sleepers half awoke, then dreamt of the chase as the night flew by.