“You are late, my sons,” he said, “and I perceive you have brought us a visitor. He is welcome.”
“Father,” said Elfric, in a voice somewhat expressive of awe, “it is Prince Edwy!”
The thane had in his earlier days been at court, and had known the murdered Edmund, the royal father of his guest, intimately. It was not without emotion, therefore, that he welcomed the son to his home, and saluted him with that manly yet reverential homage their relative positions required of him.
“Welcome, thrice welcome, my prince,” he said, “to these humble halls.” He added, with some emotion, “I could think the royal Edmund stood before me, as I knew him while yet myself a youth.”
The domestics, who had assembled, gazed upon their visitor with country curiosity, yet were not wanting in rude but expressive courtesy; and soon he was conducted to the best chamber the house afforded, where change of raiment and every comfort within the reach of his host was provided, while the cooks were charged to make sumptuous additions to the approaching supper.
CHAPTER II. THE HOUSE OF AESCENDUNE.
The earlier fortunes of the house of Aescendune must here obtrude themselves upon the notice of the reader, in order that he may more easily comprehend the subsequent pages of our veritable history.
Sebbald, the remote ancestor of the family, was amongst the earliest Saxon conquerors of Mercia. He fell in battle with the Britons, or Welshmen as our ancestors called them, leaving sons valiant as their sire, to whom were given the fertile lands lying between the river Avon and the mighty midland forests, to which they gave the name “Aescendune.”
They had held their own for three hundred years with varying fortunes; once or twice home and hearth were desolated by the fierce tide of Danish invasion, but the wars subsided, and the old family resumed its position, amidst the joy of their dependants and serfs, to whom they were endeared by a thousand memories of past benefits.
But a generation only had passed since the shadow of a great woe fell on the family of Aescendune.
Offa, who was then the thane, had two sons, Oswald the elder, and Ella the younger, with whom our readers are already acquainted.
The elder possessed few of the family virtues save brute courage. He was ever rebellious, even in boyhood, and arrived at man’s estate in the midst of unsettled times of war and tumult. Weary of the restraints of home, he joined a band of Danish marauders, and shared their victories, enriching himself with the spoils of his own countrymen. Thus he remained an outlaw, for his father disowned him in consequence of his crime, until, fighting against his own people in the great battle of Brunanburgh, [iv] where Athelstane so gloriously conquered the allied Danes, Scots, and Welsh, he was taken prisoner.
The victor king sat in judgment upon the recreant, surrounded by his chief nobility and vassal kings. The guilt of the prisoner was evident, nay undenied, and the respect in which his sire was held alone delayed the doom of a cruel death from being pronounced upon him.