“There is Werbode,” I said.
“Let him wait,” said Ethelbert. “It is the thane on the great pied horse whom she will thank.”
I wondered whether it was the steed or myself she remembered best, which was not courteous of me. Ethelbert laughed and told me so, adding that he thought after all that the horse would be noticed first. He was the first thing which had caught his own eye when we rode into the palace yard on our coming, certainly, so I had to stand another jest or two about him.
We came to the bower, across a fair garden where the May flowers were gay and sweet, and the king knocked at the door. It was a handsome, low-built little hall which stood at right angles to the great one, so that it had a door opening on the high place where we sat at table. Its windows on this garden side were wide and high, and this morning the heavy shutters were flung back from each, and the curtains were drawn aside, for it faced south to the warm sun. There were bright faces of the queen-mother’s ladies at one or two as they sat in the deep window seats working or spinning, and anywise laughing with one another; whereon I grew bashful, for of ladies’ talk and presence I have a sort of fear, being more used to camp than court, as I have said.
However, we went in, and there we stood on a floor strewn with sweet sedge in a fair hall, tapestry hung, full of sunlight, and of ladies also. There was a high place here at one end, and on it sat the mother of the king, not in any state, but working at a little loom, whose beams were all carven and made beautiful for her royal hands. There were two ladies helping her, and they rose as the king entered, as did all the others, and there was a sudden silence.
I should have been happier if only they had paid no heed to us, and with all my heart I wished myself elsewhere. Nor did I dare look round for the Lady Hilda, and so kept my eyes fixed more or less on the ground, or else trying to seem unconcerned, looking foolish, no doubt, in that effort. It came to me that one of my shoes was muddy, and that I could not remember having combed my hair this morning.
Then the queen rose and came to meet her son with a smile and morning greeting, setting her hands on his shoulder and kissing him, and so turned to me as if to ask Ethelbert to say who I was. And when she heard, I knelt and kissed the hand she held to me; and my shyness went, for I was no longer at a loss for somewhat to think of besides myself. I suppose the king or queen made some sign at this time, for the ladies rustled back to their seats, and their pleasant talk began again as if we were not present, only so low that it was like the murmur of the bees outside as we came past the hives.
Now the queen asked me just a question or two of my journey—if the crossing had been rough, and so on, and then said smiling:
“But you have had another journey since then, and that handsome horse of yours bore a double burden, they tell me. Here is the Lady Hilda, who would thank you for somewhat you did for her.”