But not another word did she say, though her lips seemed to form somewhat, and in her eyes was written most terrible hate and anger. She took her gaze from Erling, for he did not shrink from it, and let it rest for a moment on Sighard with a meaning which made him pale as he thought of Hilda, who was yet in her hands, and so went from the room suddenly, and the door was closed after her from within.
Then said Witred the Mercian earnestly, “Friends, an you value your lives, get you hence while yet that passage is open. I am going with those who do go, for we who have seen and heard all this will not be suffered to live to tell it.”
“It seems to me that Erling’s tale is not new to some folk here,” I said.
“It is an old tale with us, but we did not believe it. It had been well-nigh forgotten, for it was nowise safe to do so much as whisper it.
“But, thanes, did you mark the face of the king?”
“It was terrible,” said Selred, shuddering: “it was as the face of the lost.”
And then out in the courtyard the horns blew the morning call cheerily, and the hall buzzed in a moment with the rousing of the men who slept along its walls, and there reached us the sound of jest and laughter and shouts as they waked the heavy sleepers.
“Thanes,” said Witred, quite coolly, “if we want to see another day dawn we had best be going.
“Brother, I rede you go to the horse watering yourself, and take your best steed under you; and I pray you bring mine also.
“Paladin, that gay steed of yours will be with the rest—and yours also, thane.
“Erling, you shall in nowise go stablewards, but come with us.”
The thane who had to see to the stables leaped up, and without more than a nod to his comrade and us went his way down the hall in haste.
“There are two or three things I don’t want to leave behind,” said Witred, “but I shall have to forego them. A man need not stop to gather property when Quendritha is at his heels. Come; why are you waiting? I tell you that we shall find the far end of that passage closed in one way or another if we haste not.”
“My daughter!” said Sighard, groaning; “she is in the queen’s bower.”
“So also is Etheldrida the princess,” said Witred. “She is of her court, as one may say, and will be safe. No harm can come to her.”
“I fear for her,” said Sighard, still hesitating.
“This woman, who has slain the bridegroom of her own daughter, will stick at little. I have offended her, and I know it.”
Then Selred said gently, “I am going to stay, and I can do more than even yourself. Today the archbishop comes, and I will tell him of Hilda. Go, for I am sure that Witred speaks no less than the truth, else he would not fly thus. For her sake you must go, and I will bring her home. Have no fear.”
“I am thought to be Carl’s man,” I said, “and one may suppose that I am safe. I will stay with Selred, and see what happens. It is in my mind to search for the body of the king, and surely none will hinder that. Erling must go into hiding, but in some way he must let me know where he is.”