Then the franklin who owned him asked me a long price for him, and I left Erling to settle that. Afterwards I knew that the man was a known breeder of these horses, and that men thought me lucky to get the steed. I think the Dane managed to bate somewhat of the price, but very little, for it was a matter of taking or leaving with the owner.
After that I bought a horse for Erling, or rather he chose one and I paid for it; but that was a small matter, for the last day of the fair brought prices down.
Then I had to put up with the jests of my friend Werbode concerning my new horse, and the older Franks thought his colour was a bit of vanity on my part. Werbode said that he was an unsafe beast to go chicken stealing on, for he would be too well known on a dark night; and the others said that they supposed that men would know that I had come home now. But that sort of jest one gets used to in camp life, and I cared not. I had a better steed than any one of them, whether here or across the sea, and presently, as we travelled toward Thetford, they knew it, and forgot to laugh at his skin.
So we left Norwich, and rode across the moorlands to find the king; and the gladness of homecoming grew on me every day, so that I longed for the state affair to be over, that I might turn my horse’s head south and west for my own home. And thus, in all gladness, and joying in every mile of the way, we came to Thetford, strong with its earthen ramparts above its still river, and were made most welcome at the hall of Ethelbert the king. There had gone messengers before us to tell of our coming, and the greeting was fitting for the men of Carl the Great.
Truly I saw the Franks smile at one another as we were led into the great hall, homely and pleasant, with its open timbered roof and central hearth, arms and antlers and heads of forest game on walls, and bright hangings round the high place at the upper end; for it was but a hut compared with the palaces of their own master. But when Ethelbert the king came from his chamber to greet us, they had no eyes for aught but him. Young and handsome and free of speech and look as he was, none could doubt that here was one who was worthy of his throne, for in every way he seemed a king indeed. He minded me of Ecgbert, and if he did that, it may be certain that I need add no more to my praise of him.
Now it happened that the day after we reached Thetford was a Sunday, and I need not tell what a pleasure it was to me to hear again the old English services that once I had thought so long, as a boy will. And on that day, for the first time, it came to me that my man, Erling the viking, was a stark heathen, Odin’s man. Truly he came to the church with me, and there he stood and stared at all that went on, quietly and reverently enough, but in such wise that I thought that he had somewhere seen the like before. So presently when we came forth from the church I asked him if he had no knowledge of the faith.