While the council yet deliberated, Offa appeared amongst them, and, like a second Brutus, took his place amongst his peers. Disclaiming all personal interest in the matter, he sternly proposed that the claims of justice should be satisfied.
Yet they hesitated to shed Oswald’s blood: the alternative they adopted was perhaps not more merciful—although a common doom in those times. They selected a crazy worm-eaten boat, and sent the criminal to sea, without sail, oar, or rudder, with a loaf of bread and cruse of water, the wind blowing freshly from off the land.
Oswald was never heard of again; but after his supposed death, information was brought to his father that the outlaw had been married to a Danish woman, and had left a son—an orphan—for the mother died in childbirth.
Offa resolved to seek the boy, and to adopt him, as if in reparation for the past. The effort he had made had cost him a bitter pang, and the father’s heart was well-nigh broken. For a time the inquiries were unsuccessful. It was discovered that the mother was dead, that she had died before the tragedy, but not a word could be learned respecting the boy, and many had begun to doubt his existence, when, after years had elapsed, one of the executioners of the cruel doom deposed on his deathbed that a boy of some ten summers had appeared on the beach, had called the victim “father,” and had so persistently entreated to share his doom, that they had allowed him to do so, but had concealed the fact, rightly fearing blame, if not punishment. The priest who had attended his dying bed, and heard his last confession, bore the tidings to Offa at the penitent’s desire.
The old thane never seemed to lift up his head again: the sacrifice his sense of duty had exacted from him had been too great for a heart naturally full of domestic affection, and he sank and died after a few months in the arms of his younger and beloved son Ella.
The foundation of the neighbouring priory and church of St. Wilfred had been the consolation of his later years, but the work was only half completed at his death. It was carried on with equal zeal by Ella, now the Thane of Aescendune.
He married Edith, the daughter of a rich thane of Wessex, and the marriage proved a most happy one.
Sincerely religious, after the fashion of their day, they honoured God with their substance, enriched the church of St. Wilfred, where the dust of the aged Offa awaited the resurrection of the just, and continued the labour of building the priory. Day after day they were constant in their attendance at mass and evensong, and strove to live as foster parents to their dependants and serfs.
The chief man in his hundred, Ella acted as reeve or magistrate, holding his court for the administration of justice each month, and giving such just judgment as became one who had the fear of God before him. No appeal was ever made from him to the ealdorman (earl) or scirgerefa (sheriff) and the wisdom and mercy of his rule were universally renowned.