"And I say we could have taken them!" Ecgwine is steering close to the wind here, and he doesn't realise. "They were there for the killing. Me and Leofric had already routed two lots of them!"
Leofric doesn't respond, other than with a weary wave of his good arm, holding the inevitable mead cup. He's got good reason, this time - one of the swines got him deep in the shoulder with a spear point, and he's not the only one of us drinking to dull the pain. We left several proud warriors on the field, and we're here at Wulfhere the Red's steading licking our wounds. Wulfhere is Leofric's cousin, Odin save us, and seems to have almost as prodigious a capacity for mead as our own drunkard.
Aelfric has kept patience with Ecgwine so far - more than I would have. He fixes the brat with those piercing blue eyes of his. "We weren't there to kill the foreigners, remember." He's big on remembering the plan, is Aelfric. One of the reasons we're still alive, and why I follow him, even Leofric does when he's sober enough to think straight, and why Ecgfrith trusts us with his son.
"No. We were there to raid the farm, like you keep saying." The young man tosses his head, sneers a little. "But my men didn't run..." Ecgwine's on his feet, in front of Aelfric and me. The Thegn is still sat, picking at the remains of a fowl. Me, I'm leaning against a roof-post, waiting to see what unfolds.
Aelfric tosses aside the carcass of the bird. He knows some of our Gedriht broke away from the fight... hell, I know, I was caught up with them and so was he. And it rankles, and he certainly doesn't need this little prick reminding him of the fact. I straighten, but Aelfric gives me a brief, almost imperceptible glance and a tiny shake of the head, so I settle back against the post. "No. Your men didn't run. But they didn't find any loot, either."
"You didn't give us a chance, damnit! You pulled us out almost as soon as we'd got into the farmhouse."
"Lucky for the lass that was all the pulling out you had to do," growls Theobald. Theobald's a grizzled veteran of more raids than Leofric, and he's in Ecgwine's warband largely to keep the young idiot out of trouble. Apparently while his band were starting to turn the farmhouse over for gold and treasure, Ecgwine was much more interested in the farmer's daughter.
"So I should have left you to wait for the Britons?" Aelfric's tone has gone quiet, mild. I recognise the danger signs. Ecgwine still doesn't.
"A handful of men and a runt. We'd have taken them. I'm not a coward."
It goes very, very quiet.
This time, when I push off the post, Aelfric looks away. just sighs. Two paces, my fist makes contact with the brat's jaw, and he's looking up at me from the straw...
"That's right. Get Godric to do your dirty work. My father..."
Aelfric rises up to his full height and shoulders me aside, as Ecgwine starts to bluster and try to stand, and pushes him back down with a booted foot to the chest. "Your father sent you with me to learn how to be a man." A little extra pressure from Aelfric's boot quells whatever Ecgwine had been about to say. "Godric is my champion. You gave me insult." A pause. "You are still alive because you are your father's son, and because I believe you can be taught." He lifts his foot. "Call me coward again, and that will not save you."
And with that, he turns his back on Ecgwine, and walks away. The lad struggles upright, sees the look on my face and gets the message. He tries to shrug off the heavy, paternal hand Theobald places on his shoulder, but the veteran's having none of it, and escorts him off into the shadows where, I note, the lad is handed a large cup of mead.
Aelfric looks back to me, arches an eyebrow as if to ask, "Did I do the right thing?" I have to remind myself the Thegn is still not that old, for all he has a head wise beyond years atop those broad shoulders. And so I just nod towards where Theobald and Ecgwine are sat. "He'll be fine."
"Godric? Was I ever that big an idiot?"
I'm not going to answer that anywhere where the rest of the lads can hear, that's for sure.