“Thereat she turned deathly white, and she shook with rage, as it seemed. At that time she said no word to me, but turned and left me, and I was glad. Presently one of her ladies, who pitied me, told me that Gymbert had done the deed, as all men knew by this time, and that I was to be brave, for all this must have an end. And that end came as the sun set. I was with the princess, and Quendritha came in. First she spoke soothingly to Etheldrida, who turned from the sight of her, being too sick at heart to answer her; then she spoke to me, looking at me evilly, so that I feared what was coming.
“‘You minded me that your mother was one of our subjects,’ she said, in that terrible, cold voice of hers. ’Now I will see you wedded safely, to one who is a friend of ours.
“‘No,’ she said sharply, for I was going to speak, ’you have no choice. Whom I choose you shall wed. The man I have in my mind for you is our good thane Gymbert.’
“I suppose that she sought an opportunity against me, and she had her will. I do not rightly know what I said. The end of it was that out of the palace I was to go, and she bade me seek you, Wilfrid. It is in my mind that she meant it in insult, or that she deems you far away, careless of what befalls me. And I think, too, that after me she meant to send Gymbert.”
Then she set both hands on my arm, and leaned on it, shaking. I knew that she was weeping with the thought of what had been, and I did not know what to say rightly. Only I was sure that the secret of the queen’s coming was at the bottom of this, as Quendritha must have feared that Hilda knew it all, either from me or her father.
“Your father would not have fled had he not known that Selred and I were to stay and look after you,” I said, lamely enough. “Have you not seen the good chaplain?”
She had not, and it seemed most likely that in some way he had been prevented from leaving the palace. Afterwards I knew that Offa had had all going out of the place stopped, hoping to take some man who knew more of the secret of Ethelbert’s end, if not Gymbert himself. Hilda had been thrust out by a private postern hastily, and doubtless Gymbert had been told where to seek her long before. I believe it was no affair of the spur of the moment, but wrought in revenge on Sighard and myself.
Now what more I said to Hilda at this time is no matter, but at the end of the words I made shift to put together she knew that I could wish no more than to guard her with my life, and for all my life, and naught more was needed to be said between us. What we might do next remained to be seen, but the first thing now was to get to the archbishop, with whom we should be in safety no doubt. Even Quendritha would not dare to take Hilda from his charge.
I had forgotten my fear of the old walls when we came to the ruined villa. Maybe I thought thereof when I and Erling went in and found the horses all safe and ready to take to the road again; for in one corner of the wall among the grass shone a glow worm, and it startled me, whereat Erling chuckled, and I remembered.