“Master,” said Erling as we stayed, “did you see a man staring at us from out of a stable across the road as we started?”
“Ay. But I did not heed him; he was only one of the thralls.”
“So he looked; but if that was not Gymbert, I am sorely blind today. Moreover, I looked back as we passed the gate, as if one of the guard spoke to me. The man was hastening toward our lodging. And he walked like Gymbert. Many a man can disguise his face; but, after all, his back and gait betray him.”
Now if this was indeed Gymbert whom Erling had seen, it was plain that he waited about the palace precincts for speech with his mistress, or for some fresh orders, and I did not by any means like it. However, when I came to turn the matter over in my mind, I thought that after all, whether inside the palace garth or out, he would not be far from the call of Quendritha, so that maybe it did not so much matter. At all events, what I would do would be to bide as near to the place as I might without being known, and be content to hear from Selred that at least naught was wrong.
Troubled enough I was in my mind at this time in all truth. For it lay heavily on me that I had promised the poor queen away in Thetford that I would watch her loved son and if need be die with him, and I had lost him and yet lived. I know now that I had no real need to blame myself in this; but the thing was so terrible, and had been wrought as it were but at arm’s length from me, that for the time I did so bitterly, framing to myself all sorts of ways in which a little care might have prevented all. As if one can ever guard against such treachery!
And then there was the fear for Hilda, none the less troublous that I knew not what her need might be. One could believe aught of cruelty from Quendritha.
Only these two things remained to me—one, in some measure to redeem my word to the mother of the king by finding his body; and the other, to stay here and watch as well as I might for chance of helping this one who had suddenly grown to be the best part of my life, as it seemed to me. And these things I told Erling, for he was my comrade, and together we had been in danger, and so were even yet. Rough he was, but with that roughness which is somehow full of kindness. And I was glad I had told him, for he understood, and straightway planned for me.
Most of all the difficulty in this planning lay in the outrageous colour of my good steed. Once we thought of tarring him; but a tarred horse would be nearly as plain to be noticed as a skew-bald. I think it says much for the steed that neither of us thought for a moment of parting with him. In the end we said that we would even take our chance, for if we were sought it would not be near the palace.
So we bent ourselves to plan the search for where the body of the king might be hidden, and that was to unravel a tangled skein indeed. All we knew was that the cart which had borne him from the end of the hidden passage had gone northward along a riverside track. Beyond that, we guessed that it might not have gone far, whether for fear of meeting folk in the dawning, or because the slayers would not be willing to cumber their flight for any distance with it. Moreover, Gymbert was in the palace, as Erling was certain.