“Ay,” he said; “I have helped to burn a church or two in my time, and now I am sorry therefor. I have heard good words in this place, so that I think I know why you were ready to risk gold to free a captive. Let me go with you again.”
“I will find some good priest who shall tell you more and teach you,” said I.
But he shook his head.
“That is another matter,” he answered. “Let be for a time. I am content to go your way and see what it is; but no man, if he is worth aught, will leave the gods of his fathers offhand, not even for the faith which is good for you and for Carl the king, and this king here who has death written on his handsome face.”
“What mean you by that?” I asked, almost angrily. “On the face of Ethelbert?”
“Ay,” he answered. “Cannot you see it?”
“Seldom have I seen a stronger or more healthy man! This is sheer foolishness.”
“I do not speak of health,” he answered. “Eh, well, we of the old race have the second sight now and then. On my word, I wish I had it not. Pay no heed to me an you will; it is best not.”
Then he laughed, because I was almost angered with him, and said that maybe fasting with the slaver had made his mind full of forebodings.
“There was a boding in it at one time that the slaver was nigh his death, if so be that I got loose,” he said. “That ended in a whipping for him. But I would that this Ethelbert had not that thin red line round his neck. It sets strange thoughts in one’s head.”
I told him to hold his peace, and he did so. But somewhat that night made me look to see what he meant. The king had no line such as he spoke of on his sunburned throat, so far as I could see.
It must not be supposed that the gifts of Carl the Great were given, and his greetings spoken, offhand, as it were, by us. There must needs be a gathering of the Witan of the East Anglians, that all might be done with full honour both to Carl and his embassy. I must say that it somewhat irked me to be treated with much ceremony, as a Frank and paladin of the great king, instead of being hailed in all good fellowship as a thane of England, who was glad to get home again. However, there was no help for it till our errand was done; for it was out of his goodness that Carl had given me a place among his messengers, saying that they must have some one of their number who could act as interpreter, and I would not be ungrateful even in seeming.
So I had no chance yet of private speech with Ethelbert, when I might give the message from Ecgbert; which was indeed the main reason of my coming here instead of going straight home. That chance would best be sought when the state business was done; for since no man in all England rightly knew where Ecgbert was at this time, and he had no mind that many should, my business would wait well enough. So I bent myself to enjoy the feasting and the hunting parties the court made for us all; and pleasant it was, in all truth. And every day fresh companies of the great folk of the land came in, till the town was full of thanes and ladies and their trains, gathered to see and hear what had come from beyond the seas.