“True enough,” he said, looking fearlessly at the angry group before him. “But it were better to follow this passage and see if we may not overtake those who have been here.
“Bide here, paladin and priest, and keep our way back clear with my comrade yonder, and let us go quickly. If they slay us—maybe that is no loss, but at least we have done what we should.”
Without another word Sighard leaped into that awesome pit, and Witred followed him. Then went our three thanes, and Selred and I stood alone in the room. I handed the torch down to the last man, and so saw that from the place where the chair was set a low stone-arched passage led westward into darkness. It was some work of the old Romans, no doubt, for no Saxon ever made such stonework—strong and heavy as rock itself.
The light flashed from somewhat on the wall also, as it seemed, drawing my eyes to it.
“Yonder is a spear set,” I said to the thane, as he took the light from me; “hand it to me.”
He took it from where it rested against the wall and gave it me, turning at once to follow our comrades. Then I knew the spear well enough, for I had seen it over close to me once before. It was Gymbert’s boar spear.
Slowly the footfalls of our comrades died away down the low passage, and then the last flicker of their torch passed from the stone walls of that terrible pit, leaving Selred and myself alone in the cold moonlight. Out through the doors toward the council chamber I saw the Mercian thane, who had been watching us in silence, sit down at the table and set his head in his hands wearily; and I heard Erling try the bars of the door to the guest hall, and finding it impossible to open, after a while pass into the council chamber, and set himself against the great door once more.
After that there fell a dead silence over all the place, and it was uncanny. It seemed impossible that all men should sleep in peace in the palace where such a deed had been wrought at our feet. I had rather the rush and yell of the Welsh over these ramparts they hated than this stillness of coldly-planned treachery.
Nor should I have been surprised if at any moment I had heard the tramp of men who came to fall on us and end what had been begun, or the cries and din of arms which should tell that they had fallen on the sleeping thanes of Anglia in the guest hall. Anything was possible after what had been wrought already, and indeed it was hardly likely that the king should be slain and the servants let go free.
I think that the stillness and waiting for unknown doings thus went near to terrifying me. I know that I started at every sound, if it were but the crackling of the little fire in the council chamber, or the low challenge of one sentry to his fellow as the word which told all well passed round the ramparts. Selred was on his knees, and I would not speak to disturb the prayers which we so sorely needed.