He fell back and walked after the cart, saying no more. Now and then I heard his stick tapping the stones of the way, and once one of our men helped him in a rough place, and he thanked him.
Now we came to a terribly bad place in the road, and there the cart seemed like to break down; and it was the worse for us that a cloud came over the moon at the time, and it was very dark. Whereby the blind man was of much help in the care for the cart, until the moon shone out again suddenly, when he was left behind us for a few minutes. Then we heard him calling.
“Two of you help the poor soul,” said the reeve, “else he will hardly get across that slough. He has fallen, I think.”
He named two of his own men, and they went back. After a while the blind man’s voice came again, and he seemed to be shouting joyfully. I thought it was by reason of the help that came to him.
“Thane,” said the eldest priest to me just at this time, “I pray you ride on and tell the archbishop that you have indeed found what we sought. It is but right that all should be ready against the time we get back. We are not more than a mile away from the gates, and you will have time. This is slow travelling, perforce.”
Erling and I rode on with the reeve, therefore, and I thought no more of the blind man, as one may suppose, until I heard what had happened.
When the two men went back to his help, he sat again by the side of the road, hiding his face in his hands on his knees. And he was trembling.
“Friends,” he said, “now I know why you go so sadly, welladay! For evil men have slain some one young and well favoured, as I learned even now, when I helped you yonder. Tell me what has befallen, I pray you, for I am afeard.”
“Why,” said one of the men, “we are honest folk, as our being with the good fathers may be surety. The trouble is ours to bear.”
But the blind man still kept his eyes hidden, and when the other man bade him rise and come on with them he did not move.
“I know not what ails me,” he said. “Even as I set my hand on him you bear yonder, there came as it were a great flash of light across my eyes, and needs must I fall away and hide them. I fear that, not you, friends. I pray you, tell me what has been wrought.”
“His foes have slain a bridegroom, most cruelly,” one of the men answered after a pause. “We do but bear him to Fernlea.”
“What bridegroom?” he asked, in a hushed voice.
And then the pity of the thing came to him, and he wept silently. Presently he raised his head, dashing away the tears as he did so.
“It is a many years since these eyes of mine have wept,” he said. “It seems to me that to weep for the woes of another is a wondrous thing.”
His eyes of a sudden opened widely in the moonlight, and he cried out and clutched at the man next him.
“Brothers! brothers!” he said; “what is this?”