Thus the latest I heard of the place of my nativity was fitting and dreadful. I was mortally glad to ride away into the clear air and the invigorating silence. But on my heart there still lay heavy the twice-repeated prediction of my father and of the Lady Ysolinde, that I should yet return and hold the Red Axe in his place.
But I resolved rather to die in the honest front of battle. Nevertheless, had I known the future, I would have seen that they and not I were right.
I was indeed fated to return and stand ready to execute doom, with the Red Axe in my hand and my father lying dead near by.
THE PRIME OF THE MORNING
Now so strange a thing is woman that, so soon as we were started down the High Street of the city of Thorn, the Little Playmate dried her eyes, turned towards me in her saddle, and straightway began to take me to task as though I had been to blame.
“I have left,” said she, “the only home I ever knew, and the only man that ever truly loved me, to accompany a young man that cares not for me, and a woman whom I have seen but once, to a far land and an unkindly folk.”
“It is not fair,” I said, “to say that I love you not. For, as God sees me, I have ever loved you—loved you best and loved you only, little Helenchen! And though you are angered with me now, I know not why—still till now you have never doubted it.”
“I doubt it sorely enough now, I know,” she said, bitterly; “yet, indeed, I care not whether you or any love me at all.”
And this saying I was greatly sorry for. It seemed a sad wayfaring from our old Red Tower and out of my native city of Thorn.
“Helene, little one,” said I, “believe me, I love none in the whole world but my father and you. Trust me, for I am to keep you safe with my life in the far land to which we go. Do not let us quarrel, littlest. There are only the two of us here that remember the old man my father and the little room to which you came as a babe, all in white.”
So presently she was somewhat pacified, and reached me a hand from the back of her beast, on pretence of leaning over to avoid a swinging sign in one of the narrow streets near by the White Gate, where we were to meet the Lady Ysolinde.
“And yet more, Little Playmate,” said I, keeping her hand when I had it; “do not begin by distrusting the noble lady with whom we are to travel. For she means well to us both, and in the strange country to which we go we may be wholly in her power.”
“You are sure that you do not love that woman, then?” said Helene, without looking at me. For, indeed, in many things she was but a child, and ever spoke more freely than other maids—perhaps with being brought up in the Red Tower in the company of my father, who on all occasions spoke his mind just as it came to him.
“Nay,” said I, “believe me, little love, I do not love her at all.”