But one seat was vacant near the king’s throne, and every now and then Edwy seemed to cast a wistful eye upon it, as if he would fain see its ordinary occupant there.
The gleemen rose and sang, the harpers harped, but something was wanting; they brought tears to the eyes of the fair queen by their plaintive songs of hapless lovers, which had superseded alike the war songs of Athelstane and the monkish odes of Edred.
“Where is Elfric? He promised to be back by our wedding day; why does he delay, my Edwy?” asked Elgiva.
“It is little less than treason to the queen of youth and beauty to be thus absent, my Elgiva, but remember he has been unwell, and Redwald told me that for prudential reasons they delayed his return to court.”
“And your brother Edgar—”
“Is somewhere in Mercia: the churlish boy has declined our invitation to honour our feast with his presence. We do not want his serious face at the board. I am sure he would preach on the duty of fasting.”
“He has but seldom been our visitor.”
“No; he is afraid, perhaps, to trust his cold heart within the magic of my Elgiva’s sunshine, lest the ice should be melted.”
These had been asides, while all the company were listening to the gleeman; but now Edwy threw himself heart and soul into the current conversation, and all went merry as a marriage peal, until the ceremoniarius—for Edwy loved formality in some things—threw open the folding doors and announced the captain of the hus-carles, and Elfric of Aescendune.
The whole company rose to receive them, and Elfric in particular received a warm welcome; but it was at once seen that there was a marked constraint upon him: his eye was restless and uneasy, and he seemed like one carrying a load at his breast.
In truth, since that fatal night when, as he believed, he had witnessed the death of his brother, he had striven in vain to drown care and to banish remorse: the thought of his aged father deprived of both his sons —the one by death, the other by desertion—would force its way unbidden to his mind. Still, he had determined to throw aside reserve in honour of the occasion, and he made heroic efforts to appear happy and gay.
Redwald was at his ease, as usual in all company, and seemed to cause prodigious laughter as he told his adventures to the younger folk at the bottom of the board. Dark and malign as his demeanour usually was, yet he could affect a light and airy character at times.
“Redwald, my trusty champion,” said Edwy, “this is the first campaign thou hast ever returned from unsuccessful. Tell us, how did Dunstan outwit you?”
“By the aid of the devil, my liege.”
“Doubtless; but we had all hoped for a different result, and that thou wouldst either have left the traitor no eyes in his head, or no head on his shoulders.
“Said I not rightly, my Elgiva?”