“I can hardly feel that I need such protection, my royal master,” replied Ella; “I dwell among my own people, and am perhaps safer when quite unprotected.”
“In that case, may I press my own poor claims?” replied the king. “In case of the worst, I should have Aescendune to fall back upon, a retreat secured by chosen men behind me, where one might halt and turn to bay; again, Redwald’s sudden illness necessitates my leaving him to your hospitality.”
Thus pressed on every side, Ella felt he could but yield to a request which the speaker had not only the power but the right, as his feudal superior, to enforce; for Ella was not prepared to throw off his allegiance, as most of his neighbours had done, and to make common cause with Edgar. Again, the conversation of the previous night had given him more confidence in Edwy, and more hope of seeing Elfric again, like the returning prodigal, than he had previously had.
Edwy saw this, and continued:
“And it is but a few days hence, ere I propose to return with Elfric— whom I could indeed put in command of such forces as are necessary to secure you against our mutual foes, when I return southward. Redwald and his troops will hold the place in trust for Elfric, till he arrives.”
The last lingering feeling of reluctance was now forcibly banished, and Ella consented to receive Redwald as his guest, with a picked troop of fifty men.
“They shall be the best behaved warriors you have ever seen, my own hus-carles—men who go to mass every morning, and shrift every week,” added the deceitful prince; “at least,” he added, as he saw the look of incredulity Ella could not suppress, “some of them do, I can’t say how many.”
In the course of an hour from this conversation, the royal party took its departure, reduced to half its numbers.
Edwy left amidst the regret of all, so amiable had been his manners, so winning his ways.
“I take a son’s liberty,” said he, as he saluted the venerable cheek of the lady Edith; “but I will bring your other son back with me in a few days.”
The road leading over the hill and through the forest had swallowed up the retreating force, when Ella personally superintended the distribution of quarters to the guard of Redwald, many of whom afterwards volunteered to follow him to the harvest field, and displayed uncommon alacrity in carrying the wheat safely to its granaries, saying the rebels should never have the reaping thereof.
There was, however, a kind of gloom over the whole party through that day. The thought that deadly strife impended close at hand weighed upon the spirits of Ella, but they brightened again at the renewed hope of meeting his prodigal, and he now hoped repentant, son in peace.
Meanwhile, very different scenes were on the point of being enacted only twice ten miles from the spot.