I will say now that she was none the worse for the wetting and the rest of last night’s doings, but that I saw her come fresh and bright to the breakfast in the little hall of the reeve’s house. There she would bide till she could go with the archbishop homewards in some way, most likely from nunnery to nunnery across the land, as ladies will often travel, with parties of the holy women—that is, if Sighard was not to be found. In my own mind I thought that he would not be far off, most likely with Witred, the Mercian thane who had arranged the flight.
Presently, therefore, we rode away from Fernlea toward Sutton, there being but one priest with the archbishop, and six of the townsmen, besides Erling and myself. It was no state visit, but the going of one who would speak with an erring friend in private. Sorely downcast was the good man, for he loved Offa well, and this terrible wrong lay heavily on his heart.
Halfway or so to Sutton we passed the place where trees were thick, and I saw a man lurking among them as if he was watching the road. Wherefore I watched him, and presently saw that he was coming to us, as if half afraid. Somehow the walk and figure of this man seemed known to me, though his face was strange, and I thought that he made for myself. Soon I knew that this was indeed the case; for finding that there were none whom he need fear in the party, the man came boldly from the trees, and, cap in hand, stood by the wayside waiting me.
“Well, friend, what is it?” I asked, as he walked alongside my horse.
He answered in Welsh, and then I knew that he was the guide we had been given last night.
“Jefan ap Huwal the prince sends greeting to the thane on the pied horse, and bids him and the lady come to him if there is need for help. He has heard that the thane serves the Frankish king who hates Saxons beyond the seas, and thinks that mayhap he has foes here in Mercia.”
“Thank your prince from me,” I answered, after a moment’s thought, in which it came to me that no offer of friendship was to be scorned, “and tell him that if need is I will not forget. Tell him also that, thanks to him, the lady is safe and well, and that I have no fear at present.”
“That, said Jefan, is what a thane would answer,” said the man. “Whereon I was to tell you that yonder evil queen was to be feared the most when she seemed to be the least dangerous. He wits well that she is shut up.”
Then it seemed plain that the Welsh prince had spies pretty nearly inside the palace; which is not at all unlikely. However, I said nothing of that, and thanked the man again, looking to see him leave me. The archbishop had ridden on with the rest, for I went slowly, to talk to the Welshman. Still the man did not go, and he had more to say.
“Also I was to tell you that he had a chief of your folk in his hands. But that he deems that he belongs to East Anglia, he would have set him in chains. He is hurt, and is in our camp, free, save for his promise not to escape. His name is Sighard.”