I don't think I've ever seen Aelfric this angry before.
He came back from across the river with news of a village with a church to the Britons' Christ-god, ripe for the taking, and a new wolf-skin cloak. Some of Wulfhere's men who went with him have started calling him the Young Wolf, and, truth to tell, it fits.
We came on the village just as a bunch of the Britons - I swear, the same ones we fought before: I'd recognise that short warrior of theirs in the red cloak anywhere - were moving to head us off from the west. Aelfric, me and his dozen Gedriht, the hearthguard who are his sworn bodyguard, moved to head them off, backed up by Ecgwine, Theobald and his band, while Leofric took another dozen warriors and headed for the church.
"We should have taken them." Aelfric has waited till everyone's wounds are cleaned up and bound, Lavinia and a couple of the Saxon women working their way among the tattered survivors of our band. She moves to sit by Ecgwine now she's done, rests dark hair on his shoulder. If she's upset at the desecration of her god's church by Leofric, she's smart enough to keep it to herself. Bright girl.
His voice is deathly quiet."We should have taken them," he repeats, ice-blue eyes sweeping along the men facing him. There's a chorus of sullen assent, none of them really wanting to meet his gaze. They messed up. We messed up. I count myself as one of them, Thane's champion or not, and I'm very glad Aelfric has me stood by him right now, so I don't have to meet that look. "All you had to do... All you had to do was stand firm for long enough for Leofric to do his job. Are you not my hearthguard?" A snort. "Are you not warriors?" Louder. "Or are you women and cowards?"
The last time anyone used that last word in Wulfhere's hall, it was Ecgwine. Even he winces, this time, and Lavinia murmurs something to him which earns her a sharp shake of the head. Good. He's learning.
Aelfric stalks the width of the dais. "The Atheling... the princeling..." He means Ecgwine. "...is more warrior than you are." Fair play to the lad - his warriors did stand firm against twice their number, including that Tribune with the very quick blade, for long enough to delay the Britons from getting to Leofric. He bristles a little, does the princeling, at the implied slur, though, but Lavinia stretches up, hair brushing his cheek, and whispers something in his ear that earns her a surprised look, then a nod, and he's paying a lot of attention to Aelfric now. I make a mental note to have a word with the lass sometime.
Leofric gestures with a horn brimming with wine. "But we did... heh... loot the church. Can't... argue w' the plan."
"Barely, Leofric." The blue-eyed glare won't work on the Drunkard, and Aelfric is smart enough to realise, turns that ice-cold regard back on his Gedriht. "Barely," he repeats. Words cutting like the keen edge of a blade. "You shame me. You dishonour me, and everyone else here."
I think every man of us would prefer it if he shouted.
"I picked you, every man of you, because you were the best, the bravest. Today you ran from a fight." There's a moment there when I think he's lost them, before he unsheathes the broadsword at his waist, jams it hard, point down, into the dais at his feet, and leans on it, hands on the hilt. Offers them a chance at redemption. "Next time, there will be no running. Next time..." Those blue eyes scan the warriors before him, assessing, judging. "Next time there will be no cowardice. Next time there will be no dishonour." He straightens, tugging the blade loose, holds it up in an outstretched arm. "There will be a next time, and as Odin is my witness, we will prevail."