“Balfrith! Attend!” He felt the hard smack of the thin wooden rod on the backs of his hands, before the words penetrated his consciousness. Their combined force snapped him out of his reverie.
Balfrith rubbed his throbbing hands together, glaring at his father’s retreating form, as he walked around the table to resume his stance at its head. From there, he was trying to explain to his sons the tactics of siege defense. Unfortunately for Balfrith, trying was the operative word, for his mind was not on today’s lesson. In fact, he had to admit, his mind was often away on other streams of thought, when it was his father doing the teaching.
Balfrith’s oldest brother, Aldfrid, glared hard at him from the other side of the long table. Wilfrid was watching him as well, though his stare seemed more contrived to gain the approval of the elder rather than bring a rebuke to the younger.
The three youths all shared some similarities with their father, and it was clear to most casual observers that they were brothers. In Balfrith’s case, he had the early height of his male relatives, already almost six feet tall at only fifteen summers of age. His hair was a medium brown color, lighter than his father’s but with the same natural straightness, combed and parted in the middle as was common with Nûmidëan men. He also shared the sharp cheekbones and strong jawline of his father, though in his youth he still appeared gawky, almost gaunt, as his upward growth outpaced his body’s ability to put on corresponding weight. On the other hand, his narrow nose and hazel eyes were received from his mother - or so he’d been told.
Their father, duke Osric Aethelred, began again, talking about some old battle or other, and Balfrith’s mind immediately turned elsewhere - to Elves, and ancient forests with towering trees, and he wondered what it would be like to live among them. His tutor, Leofred, had once told him about an ancient tradition among the noble families of Nûmidëa, one no longer practiced, in which they had traded sons with the Elvish lords of Illithëon. Of course they didn’t call themselves “Elves” - that was just the Mannish word - they called themselves Elefdar, a word meaning something like “firstborn sons” according to Leofred. Balfrith wondered about that, too: firstborn from whom? Leofred had said he didn’t know that particular detail, but Balfrith hoped to find out some day.
Meanwhile, his father droned on.