Now we came to the great hall, and the grooms thronged round us to take the horses; and seeing that there was a lady, one told the steward, and he bustled out to help her. But there I was at hand, and lifted the maiden from the horse and set her on her feet, having to support her for a moment, for she was weary and stiff. So she stumbled a little and laughed at herself, and thanked me, and was glad of my arm to help her toward the great door of the hall.
Werbode and Erling went off with the horses to the stables, and some of the housecarls took charge of the wounded man. I heard him groan heavily as they took him from the horse.
Then the thane gave his name to the steward, and that was the first time I had learned it.
“Sighard, thane of Mundesley, and his daughter, the Lady Hilda.”
They were led into the hall; and I went my way, or was going, for I had only passed down the steps, when some one called me.
“Paladin, one moment!”
I turned, for the Frankish title could be meant for no one but myself, and there was the old thane at the door.
“I did but take my daughter into the house, and I have yet to thank you and your comrades for your help. Believe me, I know how great it has been; but one is confused at these times. I think we shall meet again?”
“Doubtless,” I said. “But it was chance which brought us to you, as we wandered.”
“For which chance I have need to be thankful. It is not every one, however, who can make use of a chance as you did. If you had stood and stared for a moment instead of spurring your horse, I should have had a flint spear among my ribs. They ache at the thought thereof even now. Tell me your names at least.”
“Wilfrid, son of the thane of Frome, in Somerset,” I said. “I have served with King Carl for some years, and am here with his messages on my way home. My comrade is Werbode of old Saxony, one of the messengers also. The third of us is my man, a Dane.”
Sighard laughed, as if highly amused. “That explains it all. I have been puzzling all the way hither at the divers ways in which you three spoke. Your Dane’s tongue is almost good Anglian, and yet not quite. Werbode’s Saxon is quaint, but good enough, as it should be; but broad Wessex from the mouth of a seeming Frank was too much. Not the best master in the world could compass it for you. Now I am right glad that you are of England. When she has got over her fright and is rested, the girl shall thank you also.”
He shook hands with me heartily and left me, following his daughter. Presently I saw him as we sat at table, and he lifted his cup to me; but though he was on the high place, where of course we were set, I was too far off to speak to him.
Now I cannot say that I had much right to that title of paladin he had given me, unless it was as a messenger from the palace of King Carl. Thane I was in Wessex, now that I had come of age, by right of lands that came to me from my mother’s side; but our folk got hold of the Frankish title, and used it for any one of us, so that I had to accept it. I did tell the old noble who led us that it was not by my wish that so they called me; but he stroked his beard and laughed at me.