“He cares naught for reeve—or for archbishop either, for that matter,” he said. “He has half the outlaws on these marches at his beck and call, and one has to pay him for quiet. Nor dare any man complain, for he is the servant of Quendritha.”
So his advice also was that the sooner we were gone the better. I have somewhat of a suspicion that he half feared that his house should be burned over his head, like Witred’s. It seems that when the archbishop came back here from Sutton he excommunicated, with all solemnity, every man who had aught to do with that deed of which he had been told. Wherefore Gymbert, if he cared aught for the wrath of the Church, might be desperate, and would heed little whom he destroyed, so that he ended those he meant to harm.
Then I called Erling, and we planned all that we might for going, and after that we two went into the little church where lay Ethelbert the king. There was silence in it, and little light save for two tall tapers which burned at the head of the bier on which he lay, but I could see that all had been made ready against his showing to the people on the morrow. A priest sat on either side of the bier’s head, and one of them read softly, so that I had not heard him at first. So I stood and looked in the face which was so calm, and then knelt and prayed there for a little time.
When I rose I was aware for the first time that behind me knelt Erling, but he did not rise with me. He stayed as he was, and in the light of the tall tapers was somewhat which glistened on the rough cheeks of the viking. I knew that he had been mightily taken with the way of Ethelbert on our long ride with him; but he was silent, and said little at any time of what his thoughts were. I had not thought to see him so moved. Now he looked up at me as it were wistfully, and spoke to me, yet on his knees:
“Master, this poor king, who talked with me as we rode, bade me be a Christian man, that hereafter we might meet again. And you ken that I saw him, and how he spoke to me, that night when he was slain, so that from me you learned his death. Now I would do his bidding, and so be christened straightway, if so it may be.”
I did not know what to answer, for it was sudden.
Not that I was much surprised, for Erling had ever been most careful of all that might offend in his way when he came into a church with me, but that here in the dim church the question came so strangely and, as it were, fittingly. I held out my hand to him, and looked round to the priests, who had heard all. One of them was that elder man who went to seek the king’s body with us, and he rose up and came to us, and bade us into the little bare sacristy apart.
“My son,” he said to Erling, “it is a good and fitting wish; yet I would not have you do aught hastily. How long has this matter been in your mind?”
“I think that it indeed began long years ago, when my lord here kept his faith with Thorleif when he might have escaped. That made me think well of Christian men. He had not so much as taken oath.”