* * *
Duke Osric returned home to his family’s manor keep four days after Balfrith’s brief visit. It was early in the afternoon, and the journey had been easy, so that he was in a good mood as they rode through the gates to the manor keep.
In the yard, his eldest son, Aldfrid, stood with Osbeorn, the captain of his guard, awaiting his arrival. As he dismounted, Aldfrid said, “Welcome home, my lord. It is good to see you again, though we did not expect you to return so early. As I recall, you had expected to be gone most of the summer.”
Osric nodded. “Aye, and so I had thought it would be. But I was forced to change my plans. I will tell you more later, at supper. For now, I would have a bath and change of clothes, and then you can bring me up to date on happenings here at home.”
Aldfrid bowed, saying, “As you will, lord.”
“Aldfrid, my son, you need not play the servant at all times with me. I trust you have fulfilled your duties while I was away. Now that I am home, I wish to be with my family for a while, before I take on the mantle of lord of the manor once again.”
Aldfrid smiled then, and said, “Thank you, father. I did grow rather tired of playing the part, myself. I do have some interesting news for you, which I think you would want to hear straightaway. Balfrith returned home, just a few days ago. He has left already, so you need not worry about having to deal with him. I sent him on his way, with no doubts as to our feelings about him.”
Osric paused in mid-step, then continued walking, his son keeping stride with him. He muttered under his breath, but loud enough for Aldfrid to hear, “No doubts, eh? Would that I were so confident about my own feelings in this matter. Anger, aye, but mixed with doubt….” He shook his head, looked at his son, and asked, “Did he say anything?”
Aldfrid shrugged. “Nothing of importance. He actually believed he could come here demanding forgiveness of any debt that he might have owed you. And he intended to keep the sword. He concocted some lunatic story that he would be able to remove the curse - him! As if better men in our family had not tried, and failed, before this.”
Osric, growing angry at his wayward son’s arrogance, asked, “And that was all he said?”
“Aside from his weak words of apology? He spoke of leaving a letter for you, but I never saw it, and he may have changed his mind. I could not stomach any further converse with him, and dismissed him before my anger got the better of me.”
Osric nodded, satisfied. Nothing else need be said.
They parted ways a moment later, Osric climbing the stairs to his private chambers. He looked briefly through the papers waiting for him on his desk, but saw nothing from Balfrith. Shrugging, he called for a bath and began undressing, leaving thoughts of his son behind with his travel-stained clothes.