CHAPTER XV. HOW WILFRID’S SEARCH WAS REWARDED.
For ten minutes after the last voice was to be heard we waited, and then, leaving two pools of water where we had lain, we crept back to the open and sought Hilda. I feared to find her chilled with the passage of the river; but, in some way which is beyond me, she had made to herself, as it were, dry clothing of the cloak she had given to Erling. What she had taken off had been carefully wrung out, and lay near her in a bundle. She laughed a little when I told her that I had been troubling about her wetness.
“What, with three dry cloaks ready for me?” she said. “I have fared worse on many a wet ride.”
Then we crossed the little meadow swiftly, and entered the scattered trees of the riverside forest. After that we had no more fear of Gymbert and his men, and went easily. In that time I heard what had happened in the palace, and how this strange meeting had come about.
“Offa the king has shut himself up, and will see no man,” Hilda said. “Nor will he go near the queen or suffer her to see him. He has had guards set at the doors of the bower that she may not go from it, so that she is a prisoner in her own apartments with her ladies. The poor princess is ill, and has none but bitter words for the queen; for all know by whose contrivance this has been done. I heard that all our thanes had fled.”
There she would have ended; but I had to hear more of herself, and it was not easy for her to tell me. Only when Erling fell behind us somewhat, out of thought for her, would she speak of what she had gone through, after I had told her that her father was surely safe, and maybe not far off.
“The queen turned on me when she was left a prisoner. I do not know why, but I think my father had offended her in some way. I know that he speaks too hastily at times when he is angry. First she told me that he had slain our king, and seeing that I would not believe it by any means, said that you had done the deed—that she had hired you to do it. Thereat I was more angry yet, for the saying was plainly false, and had no excuse. And because I was so angry I think she knew that I—that I did think more of you than I would have her know. After that I had no peace. I tried to send the arrowhead to you by the little page who was left with the queen, and I do not know if you had it. He told me that you were yet in the palace.”
“Ay, I did, and therefore I am here,” I said.
“I was sorry afterward, for I did not know what you could do. The page was not suffered to come back, I think, for I have not seen him again. This morning the queen told me that you had fled, after slaying a man of her household. So she went on tormenting me, until I could forbear no longer, and told her to mind that my mother had befriended her at her first coming to this land, and it was ill done to treat her daughter thus.