Wulfhere's halls are a distinctly cheerier place tonight. Apart, that is, from our... for want of a better word, let's call him our guest. The sullen British noble is sat on the floor ignoring most of the jeers and the jibes thrown his way, but he's well aware that I, if no-one else, am keeping a close eye on him.
We were a few hundred paces from one of the watchtowers on the borders of the British lands, when Sithric, one of the young lads who'd wheedled his way along with us, came running back through a copse of trees, breathless. "There's a British lord and his band heading for the tower over that away..."
"Keep your voice down," hissed Aelfric. A horn blast from the watch tower suggested he was too late for that advice, but it didn't appear to faze him. "Leofric, Ecgwine - take your warbands and the boys and keep the tower busy. Godric, come with me and the hearthguard." Blue eyes glittered dangerously. "We're going to catch ourselves a noble."
Evidently the Young Wolf's words after last time's fiasco hit home. We faced off a bunch of the British levy who tried to head us off, led by their little man, and they clearly didn't fancy it. Just about that time, the band of warriors Sithric had spotted appeared past a small clump of trees... as if we needed an invitation. We knew we had them when their half-hearted charge petered out a few paces short...
"What are...*hic* we gonna do with him?" It's Leofric, who seems to have come out of the battle unwounded - his warband laid into their Tribune and chased him off, before having a run in with the little man.
"Kill him!" comes the suggestion from several folks. I'm watching the noble for a reaction, and to his credit, he doesn't so much as flinch.
Aelfric looks round, gauging the temper of his men. Lavinia's sat by Ecgwine again, murmurs something to him, which earns her an assessing look from the princeling and a nod, and he raises his voice. "Ransom him."
I don't think Aelfric saw that coming. Leastways, I know him well enough to catch the faint arch of his brows in surprise at the young man. "Ecgwine?" he prompts.
"Ransom him." Give the lad his due, once an idea's planted in his head, he can figure out the whys and wherefores. "Killing him would dishonour us, anger them, and put our lives at risk if they were to ever capture one of us." He actually grins. "And besides, we could use the money."
Wulfhere, our host, has been listening, propped against a roof-post; rumbles, "Aye, y'could that, 'specially the amount Leofric's been drinking that needs paid for." The latter makes a rude noise, to general amusement.
Aelfric nods, once, turns to the Briton. "On your feet, you. What's your name, and your Lord's?"
He's well aware I'm watching him, is the Briton, and gets to his feet just slow enough to suggest he's doing it because he wants to. "I am Geraint. My Lord's name is no business of yours, Saex."
A soft snort. "I would do your Lord the courtesy of addressing him by name when I barter for you, Geraint." Aelfric gives him an assessing look. "I am Aelfric, son of Aelfgar, and these are my warriors."
He stiffens, does the Briton. "Our Lord is the Tribune Andrusius." Grey eyes study Aelfric. "We have many men in Caer Lind Colun - you will not prevail, Saex, and I am not a thing to be bartered."
That earns him jeers, and a few suggestions about the bravery of some of those men, before Aelfric cuts them short with a single hand gesture. I can see that, for all his sullenness, Geraint is impressed at his command of what I'm sure the Briton thinks of as an unruly mob. "We will see, will we not." He glances across at me, nods, then turns back, "Ecgwine? Come speak with me a moment."
And so it is that a while later, Aelfric, me, Geraint and a group of our hearthguard are back at that watchtower. Whoever's in charge up there... from this distance it looks like the little man... is smart enough to stop one of their lads from feathering one of ours with an arrow. "What do you want, Saex?"
This is my job, and I step forward, and raise my voice. "I am Godric, champion of Aelfric son of Aelfgar. He wishes to speak with the Tribune Andrusius." The Latin name sits strangely on my tongue. "Who are you, stranger?"
"I am Decurio Maximus Minimus. Why should he negotiate with you barbarians?"
One of the Gedriht obligingly pushes Geraint forward, and I raise my voice again. "Aelfric has something he may want back."