Pleasant and quiet chambers these were; for the noise of the hall could not reach them and their windows were set to the westward, looking out toward the Welsh hills beyond the Wye, which showed above the rampart and stockading.
So with much ceremony, which was wearisome to Ethelbert—and need not be set down, for it would weary any one, and was of no use—we reached those chambers, and there, being ready for the feast myself, I helped to array the king, and so passed with the royal party to the high place when the time came.
“Come back presently with me when the meal is over,” the king said; “I have somewhat to ask you.”
Then I found my way to the place which had been given me last night, and so had Hilda for neighbour again, to my much content; for the order of sitting had been little changed, save down the hall below the salt, where some fifty more men from the forest had been made room for. It was a great feast and merry, and it seemed the more so to me after the rough camp life across the sea, or the rare state banquets which I had seen in Carl’s court. There was none of our hearty fellowship there, and there was more feeling of difference between men of high and low rank, which made a feast go stiffly to an English mind.
Presently I saw Gymbert across the hall, and I thought he looked uneasy. As he had fairly spoiled his name as a good huntsman, I was not surprised, nor did it trouble me. I missed him toward the end of the feast; but no doubt he had his duties about the place as when I spoke to him last night, and that was nothing to wonder at. I did not see him go.
It was a long feast. We began by daylight, and ended in the red blaze of torches set in sconces all down the hall, and in the whiter shine of great wax tapers which armed housecarls held behind us on the high place. I had never seen such waste of wax before; but Offa was magnificent in all he did, in a rougher way than that of Carl.
When the time of eating was ended and the toasts were to go round, the queen came with a wonderful golden cup which even the Frankish treasury could not match, and standing beside Ethelbert filled it with the red wine and pledged him. Very beautiful did she look as she held the cup to the young king, and her words were soft and full of kindness. She seemed well-nigh as young as the stately and pale Etheldrida, her daughter.
After that she and the other ladies left the hall after the custom, and we sat on telling tales and listening to the gleemen and harpers, and taking each our turn in singing. The East Anglian thanes had a way of singing together which was new to me and pleased me well. The hall grew hot and full of the smoke from the pine-knot torches before the kings rose up to go. By that time, too, the foresters seemed to be singing against one another, and the noise grew great with their mirth.
I rose and followed Ethelbert as I had been bidden, and passed into the council chamber, where Offa and his guest parted for the night, each going his own way. I thought Offa seemed heavy and moody, but in every wise friendly. Tired he was, methought, for it had been a long day.