It was strange to see the gay bustle of the place going on with all manner of preparations for the wedding that should never be, and yet to say naught to stay it all. That was not our business.
Selred found the sacristan in the church, for it was the hour of matins, and between them they set what we had brought in the ambry which was built in the chancel wall. I do not know if Selred told the man why they were to be kept there. Then came Offa’s two chaplains, and the bell rang for the service; and it was good to kneel and take part therein, while outside the quiet church the noise of the great palace went on unceasingly, as the noise of a waking camp. Beside me knelt Erling the heathen, quiet and attentive.
Somewhere about the midst of the service it seemed to grow very still all about us of a sudden. Then there were the sounds of many men running past the door, and a dull murmur as of voices of a crowd. The news of the deed of the night had been set going, and it was passing from man to man; and each went to the hall to learn more, for presently none were sure which king had been slain, and then many thought that it was Offa. Before the service was ended he had to show himself, and at the sight of him a great roar of joy went up, and men were at ease once more—concerning him at least.
When the little service was over I went to the church door and looked out on the courtyard; and the whole place swarmed with folk, for work had been stayed by the news, and none knew what was to be done next. If one could judge from the looks of those who spoke to one another, there were some strange tales afloat already. Some recognized me, and doffed their caps; but it was plain that they had no thought that I had been so nearly concerned in the matter, and I was the easier, therefore. And while we watched them Selred came to us.
“Now I am going to try to see our poor ladies,” he said. “We must learn what they will do, for if they will go homeward, we are the only men who can ride with them. I know that you would fain go home, but I will ask you to help me in this. Indeed, it is a work of charity.”
“Of course I will, father,” I answered; “I am at your service and theirs, till you need me no longer. My folk do not so much as know that I am likely to be in England, let alone on my way to them.”
“Why, then, your homecoming will be none the less joyful for you, good friend. But I pray you have a care of yourselves, both of you, awhile.”
Now we went back through the church, and so passed into our lodging by the door which was between the two parts of the building of which I have spoken already. The priest had somewhat to take with him, book or beads or the like, and I would fain rest awhile after that night of terrible unrest.
“Go to breakfast in the hall,” said Selred, “and there I will come to you.”
It was somewhat dark in the outer room, and darker yet in the little chambers. Selred had to grope awhile before he found what he wanted; then Erling opened the outer door for him, and he went his way, and I would have the door left open after him for more light.