“That I can manage for you. I have men of my own in this palace, and they shall take any message. Erling can be hidden in the town easily.”
So said Witred, and with that he would wait no more. We heard men coming up the hall, and though it was most likely but the thanes who should relieve those who had watched during the night, there was no more delay. Sighard shook hands with me as if he would set all that he wanted to say into that grasp, and then they passed down the passage once more and were gone.
For a while I waited, fearing lest I should hear the sounds of a fight at the far end, but no noise came. But just as I was about to set the trapdoor back in its place I heard footsteps, and stayed. They came from whence my friends had gone.
It was Erling. He came into the pit, set his hands on the edge of the floor, and swung himself up sailorwise.
“I did but go to see that they got away safely,” he said. “You may need a man at your back, master, before this day is out.”
“Erling,” I cried, “I will not suffer this. I think I am safe enough.”
“Well, mayhap so am I. If Quendritha slays me, it is as much as to say that my tale is true. Say no more, master, for on my word our case is about the same; and if I must die, I had as soon do it in good company, and for reason, as be hunted like a rat through the hovels of yon townlet.”
Selred smiled and shook his head at Erling when we went back to him, but I could see that he thought no less of the Dane for standing by me. Nor did I, as may be supposed, but I had rather his safety was somewhat more off my mind than it was likely to be here. As he had returned for care of me, it would seem that we were each pretty anxious about the other; but there was no use in showing it.
Now the thanes who had the morning watch to keep came in, fresh and gay, with words of good morrow, and stayed suddenly and stared at us, for we three strangers had the council chamber to ourselves.
“Where are Witred and his fellows?” one asked me.
I thought the best thing was to tell them the truth, and I told all the tale of the night’s doings in as few words as I could, and at the end said that offence having been given to Quendritha, it had seemed safest for those of whom he spoke to get out of her way for a while. Whereat the thanes made no denial, but seemed to agree that it was the best way for all concerned.
“This thing will be known all over the place in an hour or so,” one said. “What will you yourself do?”
“I stay here to search for the body of the Anglian king, and for aught else I may do to help the chaplain here, and the ladies of the Thetford party.”
Then Selred went into the inner chamber and gathered to him the little crown of the king, and one or two more things which were of value because of him who had worn them, and said that he would bestow them in the church until they might be taken back to his mother in Norfolk. I took his arms, and the sword we had found in the pit, for Sighard had brought that up from thence. And so we three went down the hall, none paying much heed to us, and into the church.