“My remote ancestor fought by the side of Cynric in the victories which led to the foundation of Mercia.”
“Ah! many a sad yet glorious tale and legend for the gleeman’s harp, doubtless, adorns your annals.”
“Not many; we have our traditions.”
“For instance, is there one connected with the foundation of the priory hard by?”
“It is of recent date, my father built it.”
“Strange, for generally these old places are reared up by repentant sinners, mourning over the sins they have committed, or the day of grace they have cast away; is there no tale attached to your foundation?”
“Alas! there is; but it is one whose stain is all too recent, one we cannot recount, or suffer gleeman’s harp to set to music, lest we harrow the yet bleeding wound.”
Redwald could not ask more; the answer was too plain and distinct, and so he was forced to repress his curiosity.
The conversation then became desultory and, finally, when the gleemen began the well known piece de resistance, the battle of Brunanburgh, Edwy yawned and Redwald looked sleepy, while the old thane actually slept in his huge armchair, and was awakened only by the cessation of the music and singing.
Even in the presence of royalty itself Ella did not suffer the company to disperse before the chaplain had said the customary compline service, after which the guard was doubled at the door, and soon the whole household was buried in sweet and peaceful sleep.
Yet, although they knew it not, they nourished the deadliest foe of their race in the bosom of the family. There was one at least who could not sleep that night who now paced his narrow chamber, now looked forth at the meadows, woods, and hills, sleeping in the summer twilight; now, unchecked, burst into the wildest excitement, and paced his chamber as a wild beast might pace the floor of his cage; now calmed down into a sarcastic smile.
“Yes!” he said in soliloquy, “and here I am at last; here in the halls which should have been his and mine, and shall be mine yet; here! and they know it not; here! and the reward of years of patient endurance is at hand; here! yes, here, in the halls of Aescendune—dreamed of, sighed after, prayed for at the shrine of such gods as promise vengeance; here, by Woden and Thor; here by Satan’s help, if there be a Satan!—here! here! here!”
Early in the morning the whole household was astir, and the breakfast alone preceded the preparations for the departure of Edwy and his retinue. Redwald did not appear, and they became uneasy at his prolonged absence, until, sending to his room, they found him suffering from sudden, but severe illness; which, as the leech shortly decided, would absolutely prevent his travelling that day.
It was evident that Edwy was annoyed by this, but it was not until after a long conference with Redwald that he took Ella aside, and pointing out to him the exposed position of the hall, besought his permission to leave a garrison of fifty men under the command of this trusty officer, which would ensure their safety, in case of any sudden attack on the part of Edgar’s troops.