The prince's arrival back in his father's villa didn't went unnoticed. Many people came to greet their prince and his son. Father Prudentius immediately went to pray and rest in the priory and the two princes entered the king's villa. Aethelwulf smiled to his son. Alfred seemed relieved to finally come back home. His father suspected he was tired and exhausted by all his journey. He resented his father for making him go through such suffering.
But apparently, the boy still had some energy left to go play with his brother, Aethelred and Kwenthrith's son, Magnus. He ran with them to their bedchambers chasing one another with wooden swords. Aethelwulf smiled to himself, happy to see his children getting along so well.
His father was sitting on the great table, Judith on his right and the king Aelle on the other side. He saw Kwenthrith nowhere. He wondered where she went. She couldn't be in Mercia. Her son was here and she never would have abandoned him. Something was wrong.
Ecbert stood up and showed the chair facing him with his hand.
"My son!" he theatrically greeted the prince, "I am pleased to see that you are well, as well as prince Alfred. I was afraid you might have fell on some northmen along the way."
"I am happy to be home father. I missed you. I brought some gifts for you. I also missed my wife, as strange as it can be." Aethelwulf politely replied looking at Judith with insistance. "As for the northmen, we crossed none's path but one."
"One? Well, this must be an amusing tale!" Aelle joked. "What can a wolf do without its pack? Surely he was lost! These pagans never leave their kind!" the king spat.
"Tell us, Aethelwulf. How did you crossed his path?" Ecbert asked his son.
Aethelwulf smiled and then, began his tale. "I decided to pass by Paris on our way home, to greet the king of the Franks, grandson of Charlemagne, in your behalf." Ecbert smiled at this. He was thankful to his son, though, he doubted Charlemagne's grandson was as great as his grandfather. "I spoke with his daughter, the one who married a northman. She was very much like her great-grandfather, though I never met him. She explained how clever her father's decision was to marry her to a pagan. She kept saying how good her husband was with her and how well he protected Paris and the realm. There, the duke is considered as a hero and a savior."
"Ha! A pagan! Hero of Frankia!" Aelle mocked. Ecbert signed him to be quiet with his hand. Aelle shot him a dark stare and gulped his wine. He didn't appreciate his recent authority. He was his equal after all, even if his kingdom was larger than Northumbria. Judith seemed to be captivated by what her husband said. Perhaps she just needed stories to be told to her to be interested in a man.
"She explained that there was no one more suited to defeat Ragnar Lothbrok than her husband. She told me that no one wanted to defeat Ragnar more than her husband."
"So this is why he fought then. Because he hated Ragnar Lothbrok. What a selfish reason! Though I understand why a man would hate that northman, I still doubt he is a good man, this pagan." Aelle said.
"I met him. He is wiser than you think. He desires to keep his alliance with the king and I suspect he truly loves his wife." Aethelwulf said glancing at Judith. She shot him a cold stare. "She expects his child."
"You met him? Did he harm you in any way?" Ecbert asked.
"No. We talked, instead."
"A northman would be clever enough to learn another language than his own?" Aelle said.
"Ragnar Lothbrok did, king Aelle. I suppose that answers your question." Ecbert coldly said. Aelle shot him a dark stare again. He really didn't like his tone.
"He did learn another language. His grace is wise, as I told you before. He proved he cared about his wife. He also proved he cared about Paris and Frankia. The king has an absolute faith in him. He repelled the northmen on his own, according to his soldiers. Many talk about him in good terms."
"A pagan? Protecting christian folks? What a tale!" Aelle exclaimed.
"Indeed." Ecbert said. "Tell me, who might that man be?" Ecbert asked.
"I think you know him well, king Aelle." Aethelwulf casually said. "After all, it was you who baptised him."
"You mean..." Aelle began.
Ecbert stayed silent, shocked by that news. Judith didn't react. As long as it didn't concern Athelstan, she didn't care. Suddenly, Aelle bursted out of laughters.
"My godson! My godson married a daughter of Charlemagne! Ha! Suck it Ecbert!"
Jealousy slowly invaded Ecbert's heart. All his life he wished to marry one of Charlemagne's relative and he succeeded by marrying one of his niece, and now, now he learnt that a pagan, a beast, married his direct descendant! Ragnar Lothbrok's brother what's more! Clearly, those two brother had the gift on getting on his nerves.
"I knew there was a reason for him to survive that battle." Aelle kept laughing. "I am much prouder now that I know what he became. A duke! Thank God!"
"Clearly, we underestimated him." Ecbert coldly said.
"The king of Frankia did not. Perhaps he is more observant than you." Aethelwulf said daring.
Judith shot him a death stare. Aelle slammed the table with the palm of his hand out of joy. The noise added to the hubbub of the children playing in the other room. Ecbert simply chuckled without any joy and began to play with his fork.
"Perhaps I was wrong about him then. Perhaps he truly is worthy of Charlemagne's legacy." Ecbert stated. "I guess time will tell if his decision was wise."
"Time will tell. But I am sure this was a clever move." Aethelwulf added. "Now tell me, where is Kwenthrith?"
As promised, here is the bonus of this oneshot. Maybe Aelle's reaction is crack but I don't care. If anything, he would be happy to know that he succeeded against Ecbert. I hope their dynamic was well written. Thank you for your reviews. Each of them makes my heart warmer.
Also, sorry to have ended this story with a cliffhanger. If anyone wants to imagine what will come next, feel free to do so and write it if you feel you have enough energy. Isuppose Aethelwulf will adopt Magnus now that his mother is dead.
Anyway, I hope you liked it. Leave a review if you feel like it.