The sun arose in a bright and cloudless sky on the following morning, and his first beams aroused every sleeper in the hall of Aescendune from his couch of straw, for softer material was seldom or never used for repose. Even the chamber in which the prince slept could not be called luxurious: the bed was in a box-like recess; its coverlets, worked richly by the fair hands of the ladies, who had little other occupation, covered a mattress which even modern schoolboys would call rough and uncomfortable.
The wind played with the tapestry which represented the history of Joseph and his brethren, as it found its way in through crevices in the ill-built walls. There were two or three stools over which the thane’s care for his guest had caused coverlets to be thrown; a round table of rough construction stood like a tripod on three legs, upon which stood the unwonted luxury of ewer and basin, for most people had to perform their ablutions at the nearest convenient well or spring.
Leaving this chamber in good time, Prince Edwy acompanied his new friends to the priory church, where they heard mass before the sun was high in the heavens, after which they returned to the hall to take a light breakfast before they sought the attractions of the chase in the forest. Full of life they mounted their horses, and galloped in the wild exuberance of animal spirits with their dogs through the leafy arches of the forest, startling the red deer, the wolf, or the wild boar. Soon they roused a mighty individual of the latter tribe, who turned to bay, when the boys dismounted and finished the affair with their boar spears, not without some personal danger, and the loss of a couple of dogs.
Onward again they swept, past leafy glades of beech trees, where the swineherd drove his half-tame charges, or where the woodcutters plied their toil, and loaded their rude carts or hand barrows with fuel for the kitchen of the hall; past rookeries, where the birds made the air lively by their noise; over brook, through the half-dry marsh, until they came upon an old wolf; whom they followed and slew for want of better game, not without a desperate struggle, in which Elfric, ever the foremost, got a much worse scratch than on the preceding day.
But how enjoyable the sport was, how sweet to breathe the bright pure air of that May day; how grand to outstrip the wind over the yielding turf, and at last to carry home the trophies of their prowess; the scalp of the wolf, the tusks of the boar, leaving the serfs to bring in the succulent flesh of the latter, while the hawks and crows fed upon the former.
And then with what appetite they sat down to their “noon meat,” taken, however, at the late hour of three, after which they wandered down to the river and angled for the trout which abounded in the clear stream.
The youthful reader will not wonder that such attractions sufficed to detain Edwy several days, during which he was continually hunting in the adjacent forests, always attended by Elfric, and sometimes by Alfred. To the elder brother he seemed to have conceived a real liking, and expressed great reluctance to part with him.