About a month after Balfrith and Eldamir departed the University, at the end of the first week of the Gods’ Highway, his letter was delivered to duke Osric.
Captain Osbeorn ushered the courier into the main hall and, it being a quiet day, directly to the duke. “My lord, this courier has come from the University of the Arts, bearing a letter addressed to you.”
The duke, engrossed in his work, reviewing structural drawings for the planned fortress wall repairs, looked up at the captain with a frown. “What is so special about this particular letter, Osbeorn, that you would interrupt my work this morning? Can the courier not wait, or at least leave the letter here, for my later reading?”
Osbeorn bowed slightly, and said, “My apologies, my lord, but I thought this one might have some interest for you - it is from your youngest son.” He wouldn’t say Balfrith’s name, for though it was not specifically forbidden, he still knew that the topic could be a sore one.
Osric sat back, blew out a gusty sigh, and wiped a hand across his face. “My wayward boy has seen fit to grace me with a letter, has he? No doubt he wishes to taunt me, though it does seem odd that he would wait so many years. Well, hand it over.” He reached forth his hand, and the courier looked first at the captain, who nodded, then stepped forward and placed the folded letter into duke Osric’s waiting grasp.
Osric glanced at the courier, and said, “You may go - your job is done.” The courier, visibly relieved, bowed and backed away two steps, before turning to stride quickly from the hall. Osbeorn remained, waiting for his own dismissal, which did not come immediately.
Osric looked at the letter, carefully folded and sealed with the wax stamp of the University Provost. But the address was definitely written in Balfrith’s hand, the same sharp, quick letters Osric remembered from his writing lessons with the boy, many years ago. He’d always been impatient, even in his writing.
Breaking the seal, he slowly unfolded the pages, looking first at the cover letter, which was written by the Provost himself. It was only a short greeting, introducing the Provost and mentioning that Balfrith and an Elefdar companion, Eldamir, had visited for a few days to ask questions about a certain heirloom. Branulf, of course. The Provost apologized for not being able to help more, but he had given Balfrith what information and help he could, and sent him on his way.
Osric set the cover letter aside, and looked at the folded letter from his son. He unfolded it part way, then stopped and looked up at the captain. “You may leave, Osbeorn.” His servant bowed and left hastily.
Looking at the letter once again, Osric unfolded it. Then he stopped again, and set it down on his desk. Do I really wish to read his mocking words? If they are simply more of what he said to Aldfrid and Wilfrid when he visited, there will be nothing there that I wish to hear.
He sighed again, exhaling loudly, closing his eyes. Finally the duke shook his head, crumpled the letter into a ball, and tossed it into the hearth. No fire burned there, it being the height of summer, but it would eventually be lit, two or three months hence. And the letter, and his son, would be forgotten.
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