The first day after the departure of the king from Aescendune passed rapidly away. The soldiers who had remained behind with Redwald were quiet and orderly in their demeanour, and even, in obedience to secret orders, attended the evensong at the minster church, as if moved thereto by devotion, although the curious spectator might easily discover the unaccustomed character of their service, by the difficulty with which they followed the prayers, and the uneasy impatience with which they listened to a lengthened exposition of a portion of the Anglo-Saxon version of the Gospels from Father Cuthbert.
The old thane and all his family were very anxious, it may be readily believed, for the earliest news from the field of battle, for battle every one agreed was impending; and, to gratify their natural curiosity. Redwald sent out quick and alert members of his troop, to act as messengers, and bear speedy news from the scene of action.
The night set in clear and bright, as we have already seen; and while poor Elfric was wandering about uneasily beneath that brilliant sky, the same stars looked down peacefully upon his home, where all slept sweetly under the fostering care, as they would have said, of their guardian angels.
The morn broke brightly, and with every promise of a fine harvest day. The labourers were speedily again in the fields; the cattle wandered under the herdsman’s care to their distant pastures; the subdued tinkling of the sheep bells met the ear, and the other subdued sounds which soothe the air on a summer’s day; and so the hours fled by, and no one would have dreamed that, not twenty miles away, man met man in the fierce and deadly struggle of war.
When the reapers assembled for their midday meal, they discussed the merits of the quarrel, and nearly all those who had been brought under the eye of “Edwy the Fair” were eager in pleading his cause, and trying to find some extenuation of his misdeeds in the matter of the illegal marriage, for such it was, from the mildest point of view; and scarcely a voice was raised on the opposite side, until Ella drew near the scene of conversation, and observed that “while God forbid they should judge the matter harshly, yet law was law, and right was right, and a beautiful face or winsome look could not change it.”
Strolling near the field, seemingly absorbed in thought, walked Redwald, and seeing the reapers, he came towards them.
“A picture of peaceful enjoyment,” he quietly said. “How often have I wished I could but lay down sword and lance to take more innocent weapons in hand, and to spend my declining days ’mid scenes like these.”
“Indeed!” said Ella. “It is generally thought that men whose trade is war love their calling.”
“Yes; sometimes the fierce din of battle seems a pastime fit for the gods, but the banquet is apt to cloy.”
“Have you followed your profession for many years?”