“What does it matter?” he said; “it is naught but the old name for a palace officer. It is near enough. Trouble not about it; for if we have taken it to mean a warrior noble—well, I will not say that you have not deserved it, else Carl had never sent you with us.”
One may guess that at supper that night I tried to see the Lady Hilda. But among all the bright array of ladies at that feast I could not spy her. And perhaps that is not to be wondered at, for long ere we came up all the baggage had been lost. By this time her court dress was being worn by swart women of the flint folk, far on the wild heaths. I dare say they fought over it.
Early on the next morning Ethelbert the king sent for me, to ask me concerning this affair with the flintknappers. Very pleasant he was, too, and the first thing he did was to laugh at himself for taking me for a Frank.
“I ought to have seen that you were a Saxon,” he said; “and if I had had the courtesy to speak with you, I should have learned it at once. I had a good friend once in that atheling of yours, who is lost to us.”
His face clouded as he said that, and but that there were a dozen courtiers present, I should have told him that Ecgbert was found again for him, then and there; however, that would wait, and I passed it over. Then he asked me of myself, and what I would do when the state affair was ended; and I told him that I had no greater wish than to find my way home at once.
“That is a long ride,” he said. “I think we can assist you. It is in my mind to ride westward myself in a week or so to see Offa, on a matter of business. That will take us far on your way, if you care to ride with me.”
Now I wondered what this business might be, for the honest face of the young king flushed somewhat as he spoke thereof; and one or two of the courtiers behind his chair smiled at one another meaningly. That was not for me to ask, but whatever it might be, I was glad of the kindly offer. I thanked him, and then we spoke of the flint folk, and I told him all I knew.
Then, of course, we must talk of the court of King Carl, and of all that I had seen and done beyond the sea, and the time went fast. I had my breakfast with the king there in his private chamber, for he wanted to hear of laws and the like, of which, to tell the truth, I could let him know little.
“Best ask the old paladin who is the head of the embassy, King Ethelbert,” I said presently. “I can tell you how Carl manages the sword; but of the way he wields the sceptre, I cannot. Mayhap I shall mislead you.”
“No,” he answered; “I would hear how his way seems to a plain Englishman as myself. My chancellor shall talk with the paladin.”
Then at last he started up, and cried:
“Why, I have forgotten somewhat. I promised to take you to my mother’s bower to be thanked by the Lady Hilda. Come with me at once.”