“The paladin has most likely stolen as many head in a day as you may find in a year. And I ken somewhat of the trade myself: I was driving his countryside when I first met him. But we have both done it with the high hand, and I think that yours is like to be the best sport. You are first-rate drovers!”
That pleased the raiders, and there was pleasant talk enough of old days as we went on. Presently the moon came out, and we went quicker. It shone on the white faces of the great Hereford oxen and kine, and showed us the keen dogs herding them skilfully as men.
So at last the black hill of Dynedor, crested with its works, rose before us, and from it shone a score of watch fires.
“See, Hilda,” I said, “yonder is your father, and all will be well.”
She answered me cheerfully, with a little shake of the reins, as if she longed to hurry on; and I told her that now I must keep her back, as she had kept me just now.
“Each to their own way,” she said, sighing somewhat: “the man to his weapon, and the woman to the sickbed that comes thereafter. See what one evil deed has let loose on this land. It is terrible to me. And how long it seems since we came to Fernlea in the bright sunshine, deeming that all was to go well!”
“Yet all is not so much amiss,” said I, seeing that the fears of the day had hold of her.
And so I told her of Erling’s christening, and of what we saw in the church; for of this I had had no time to tell her before, save when Erling himself had been with us.
Then in very gladness, for she liked my comrade, she lost her gloomy thoughts, and would tell him softly of her pleasure. And so we climbed the steep of the hill, and were met at the gate by Jefan himself, with a frank welcome.
There were rough huts across the camp, set more or less at random, and among them burned the fires which we had seen. There would be about fifty men at most in the place, now that all had returned; but the prince told me presently that he had had more when first the alarm had been raised that Offa was summoning his thanes to him for some unknown reason; whereby I gathered that here he had waited for us.
“Lady,” he said, as he helped Hilda from her horse, “your father is but weak. I think that he began to mend when I told him that doubtless you would be here tonight. I hope your ride has been easy and without alarm.”
“Hardly,” said the chief who had rescued us. “It was a hard ride for a matter of ten minutes, and we were frightened sorely. The lady is the bravest I have ever met, for she screamed not once; and the thanes are no bad judges of cattle raiding.”
“Why, you have met with men after your own heart, Kynan,” laughed Jefan. “More of that tale by-and-by.
“Well, lady, you are safe, and that is the best. Now you shall see your father.
“See to our guests, brother.”
Jefan took Hilda’s hand and led her to the best of the huts, and, with a word to one within, entered. In a moment he was out again, with a smile on his face in the firelight. I knew from that how Sighard had met his daughter.