The clapping started to die down as King Offa glanced at one of the products of that love. King Angeltheow, his second-born son was standing, as if to encourage his father to say something.
King Offa looked at his remaining son fondly. Cynethryth had borne three sons and five daughters. Of his daughters, only one had died so far, and then only due to the calculated accidents associated with childbirth. Like his father, King Offa had been luckier with the girls. The first son, young Waermund, had died during childhood, the result of a fire accidentally started in his father's great hall by someone, probably a drunken warrior. The third son, Freawine, had been appointed governor of the Myringas lands upon his majority. The position opened after Eadgils's son Eomenric died of a childhood disease. Freawine died after a hunting mishap from an infected wound received from the tusks of a wild boar. King Offa had never shown favorites among his children, but Freawine had been the youngest before Cynethryth stopped producing children.
Offa glanced at his Saxon adversaries. "Give up the Myringas lands," he thought. "Not so long as I live. But the world, it is changing. My son will deal with you."
King Offa raised his hand. The cheering died down after a minute, as the crowd hesitated between showing honor to the old king and curiosity as to what he had to say.
King Offa looked at his bard. "I thank you, Eldred, for doing me so well in your song. For a full forty years, your father, and then yourself have sung this song before me on mid-summer day, giving honor to me, your king. Each year it gets better. I thank you."
Eldred nodded and bowed. "It is my duty, my priviledge, my pleasure, Lord King."
Offa nodded, then glanced towards the crowd. "Today is the end of an era. I have grown old and tired in the service of my people. It is time for this glorius duty to be shifted onto younger shoulders." Offa paused for a moment. "Accordingly, as I have planned, today is the ascention to sole rulership of my son, King Angeltheow."
Offa unbuckled his swordbelt and handed the scabbarded Skrep to his son, as Angeltheow arose from his lesser throne to King Offa's right. The old man and the younger man exchanged places, Angeltheow standing in front of King Offa's higher throne. Neither one sat down. Angeltheow strapped on the swordbelt, then drew Skrep, putting the point down with the pommel up. The younger man placed his right hand over the round pommel. King Offa put his hand atop his son's.
"Will you preserve and protect your people, both Angle and Jute, defending them from their enemies, be they strangers from afar or evildoers bred from our own?" King Offa asked aloud for the benefit of their audience.
"Yes, as best I can," Angeltheow answered.
"Will you impartially render justice, without regard for the power of the strong or the complaints of the weak? Will you hear both sides of a case, not pre-judging it because you know one of the participants? Will you show mercy when it is due? Will you temper your anger, always aware of your power to do both evil and good in an instant and therefore keep a rein on your power?"
"To all these things, yes I will."
"Will you freely give aid and support to the widows and orphans among our people, making sure that they receive their proper inheritance? And observe the law of hospitality for the stranger of good intent?"
"I so shall."
"To accomplish all these things, will you sacrifice, if necessary, your fortune, your life, your honor?"
"Yes, I will."
"Having gained the approval of the Council of Ealdormen, I hereby render to you, my Son, sole rulership of my kingdom."
Offa took off the silver circlet atop his head and placed it on Angeltheow's head. Offa knelt before his son, taking off his kingly ring and handing it to Angeltheow. Offa's right hand gripped Skrep about the blade as Angeltheow slipped his father's ring onto the third finger of his right hand. Offa leaned forward and kissed the royal ring on his son's hand atop Skrep's pommel.
Offa arose to his feet and faced the audience. "This is your King. You will obey his commands."
Not a sound came from the crowd. More than a few tears dripped from the eyes of some of the older Angles and Jutes, both women and warriors alike.
Offa stepped down from the throne dais and through the field of honor. He sat down next to Angeltheow's wife, on the rightmost bench. Young Eomaer began to struggle in his mother's arms.
"Let any man who disputes my right to rule the Anglican Confederation speak now, for he will not have another chance to legitimately disagree." Angeltheow let his hand slide down from Skrep's pommel onto the grip.
No one spoke.
Angeltheow sheathed the sword. "Then let all celebrate the beginning of my reign. Feast and drink without stint, countryman and guest alike. This is my first command."
King Angeltheow stepped down from the throne dais to speak with his father. That was the signal for all to get up and converse with his neighbor. Knots of men congregated together by nationality, but eventually the Saxons intermingled.
The King's servants brought out food and drink. They served their guests according to rank: King Angeltheow first, then Offa, King Wihtgils, Saxon Prince Brond, the various chieftains next, then on down according to each free man's status. Women and children were served separately and off to the side. The humbler orders ate their food with their families. The kings, chieftains, and richer carls ate and drank together at their tables, guardedly talking politics and policies now that all the great men of the respective tribes, Angle, Saxon, and Jute were gathered together in one place by choice or decree.
Chief Gida talked about how the Saxons had certainly learned their lesson some forty-five years ago. Everyone knew that he was laying the keel and greasing the skids for a proposal that the Myringas territories be given back to the Saxon Overking's dominion eventually. King Angeltheow glanced coolly at the speaker.
Offa looked about. He saw Queen Aelfwine and her children gathered together, eating their food, picnic style, under a tree. Aelfwine was conversing with one of his daughters, here with her husband for the day. Coming to a decision, Offa summoned a page. Chief Gida stopped speaking, and the rest of the table looked at Offa.
"Lord King, I beg your permission to leave," Offa said to his son. "I wish to visit some family members and see the young faces of our people. Besides, Son, you know what my opinion in this matter is," he said, nodding at Chief Gida.
King Angeltheow smiled, a small one that lifted the left corner of his mouth. "Your duties are light, as well they should be. Go where you will, King Offa. I will call you if the need arises." He turned his attention back to Chief Gida. "You were saying . . . ."
The young page that King Offa had summoned carried his plate and cup over to where Aelfwine and her family were listening to Hengist boast of his exploits on the play field that morning. Horsa was reminding everyone that those things didn't begin to match what King Offa had done in his time, when it became clear that the subject of speech was slowly approaching. Queen Aelfwine hushed her children and was about to get to her feet when King Offa asked for her to be "as you were, Queen Aelfwine. May I sit down next to you and your children?"
"Yes, please do, King Offa," Aelfwine said. "We are honored to have you visit us."
"I finally have the leisure to do so, kinswoman Aelfwine," Offa said as he sat on the grass across from Aelfwine. "I look forward to meeting these young warriors," he said as he glanced at Hengist and Horsa.
Offa's page placed his plate and drinking cup on the ground, then stepped back a pace or so, politely awaiting Offa's word of command. Offa handed the page his empty cup and gestured for the young man to fill it. The page went off to do his duty.
"How are you doing today, my young war-ponies?" Offa asked, making a pun on the names of Hengist and Horsa. "Have you had fun?"
Both children stared at the old king.
"Say something, Hengist. You have been talking whenever you have had a chance before," Aelfwine said.
"Yes, Lord King," Hengist gulped. "Yes, I had fun."
"That is good," Offa said. "From where I sat a little while ago, it looked to me like you had taken on my whole army and had prevailed. Please continue your story."
"He just thinks he has, Lord King," Horsa interrupted. "He is my brother and he does a lot, but he brags overmuch and he stretches the truth something fierce."
Offa smiled. "Until he becomes king and has a bard to sing his praises, young Stallion will have to bray them aloud himself. No one else will do it for you, young Horse. So please continue, young Hengist."
"I defeated everyone my age first and then I fought to a standstill several others who were older and bigger," Hengist said to both his younger brother and the old king. Warming to his subject, Hengist said, "It isn't bragging if you did it. It's not bragging at all."
Stepping away from the plates and drawing his wooden sword, Hengist swung it about. "I whipped a bunch of bigger kids and was a commanding officer of ten when we played Angles and Saxons. And we only lost because we were outnumbered by the Angles."
Glancing at King Offa, Hengist suddenly thought a minute and put the wooden sword in his belt. "No offense meant, King Offa. We are the visitors and so we have to take the place of the Saxons. Everyone wants to be the Angles."
"No offense taken, young Hengist," King Offa said.
"What is it like to be king?" Hengist asked. "I am the oldest son and I will be king someday. A king can do anything he wants to do, can't he, Lord King?"
A shadow fell across the grass. King Offa glanced to the side and saw that Wihtgils had gotten away from the meeting. Wihtgils shrugged his shoulders, raised his eyebrows, and smiled a small smile. The question had been asked of Offa and it was up to him to answer it.
King Offa faced his questioner. He thought for a moment. Then he spoke.
"Being a good king is a lot like being a good husband and father. Privileges come as a reward of carrying out awesome responsibilities. If those responsibilities are done well, the people don't begrudge their king those small privileges that accrue. When you become king, if you are to be a good one, your point of view will change and your worry will be how to rule your people, and less a concern about your prerogatives. That is why no child rules except through a regent and that regent is partially chosen by the Council of Ealdormen. Rulership is such a responsibility, entailing as it does the power of life and death, not only for the individual, but for the whole tribe as well, that a good king finds out that he often can't do what he wants and a poor king will by the force of events find that he won't be allowed to rule at all. Do you understand what I am saying, Young Hengist?"
"No, I don't. You used too many big words," Hengist said.
"Then I will explain it simply. A king can't do whatever he wants unless what he wants is right."
"But the king is always right!" Hengist argued. "Else he wouldn't be king."
"But if he is wrong too many times, then he will no longer be king." King Offa raised his hand as if to signal the end of the argument with the five-year-old. "Take my word for it, as someone who has been king. I have always had to be careful about what I wanted and patient in the gaining of it."
The aged king put his hand back on his lap and softly repeated to himself, "Yes, I've always had to be careful about what I wanted and patient in the gaining of it."