“Redwald,” as Edwy named him, was tall and dark, with many of the characteristics of the Danish race about him. His nose was slightly aquiline, his eyes hid beneath bushy eyebrows, while his massive jaw denoted energy of character—energy which one instinctively felt was quite as likely to be exerted for evil as for good.
He was captain of the hus-carles, and had but recently entered the royal service. Few knew his lineage. He spoke the Anglo-Saxon tongue with great fluency, and bore testimonials certifying his valour and faithfulness from the court of Normandy, where the Northmen under Rollo had some half-century earlier founded a flourishing state, then ruled over by the noble Duke “Richard the Fearless.”
Edwy seemed to be on intimate terms with this soldier of fortune; in fact, with all his proud anticipation of his future greatness, he was never haughty to his inferiors, perhaps we should say seldom, for we shall hereafter note exceptions to this rule. It would be a great mistake to suppose that the pomp and ceremony of our Norman kings was shared by their English predecessors: the manners and customs of the court of Edred were simplicity itself.
After a few moments of private conversation with Redwald, the boys returned to their chamber to prepare for dinner.
“You noted that man,” said Edwy; “well, I don’t know how I should live without him.”
Elfric’s looks expressed surprise.
“You will find out by and by; you have little idea how strictly we are kept here, and how much one is indebted to one’s servants for the gift of liberty, especially in Lent and on fast days, when one does not get half enough to eat, and must sometimes escape the gloom and starvation of the palace.”
“What else do you call it, when you get nothing but fish, fish, fish, and bread and water to help it down. My uncle is awfully religious. I can hardly stand it sometimes. He would like to spend half the day in chapel, but, happily for all the rest of us, the affairs of state are too urgent for that, so we do get a little breathing time, or else I should have to twist my mouth all of one side singing dolorous chants and tunes which are worse than a Danish war whoop, for he likes, he says, to hear the service hearty.”
“But it helps you on with your Latin.”
“Not much of that, for I sing anything that comes into my head; the singing men make such a noise, they can hear no one else, and I fancy they don’t know what a word of the Latin prayers means.”
“But isn’t it irreverent—too irreverent, I mean. Father Cuthbert made me afraid to mock God, he told such stories about judgment.”
“All fudge and nonsense—oh, I beg your pardon, it is all very godly and pious, and really I expect to be greatly edified by your piety in chapel. Pray, when shall you be canonised?”
Elfric could not bear ridicule, and blushed for the second time that morning. Just then the bell rang for dinner, or rather was struck with a mallet by the master of the ceremonies.