CHAPTER VII. HOW ETHELBERT’S JOURNEY BEGAN WITH PORTENTS.
Seeing that Carl the Great was at this time, and I suppose always will be, the model of what a king should be, Ethelbert had many things to ask me of him, and out of the hours which he spent in questioning me it came to pass that he took pleasure in my company at other times as well, treating me as a close comrade. That sort of thing is apt to be perilous in time, for it makes jealousies about a court if there is favour for one more than for another of the courtiers; but as I was no more than a passing stranger, who had not the least intention of biding here, I escaped that. Nor do I think that any one was jealous of me, for the honour which Carl had set on me for the sake of Ecgbert hung about me, as it were, and I suppose that half the court thought that I had to take some message on to Offa from my late lord.
Moreover, for good and wise reasons of his own, Ethelbert had no close companions of his own age, and maybe longed for such, finding in myself one to whom he could speak his mind of his own affairs without any thought of favour or policy rising up to cloud my answers to him, as his guest.
So in a few days I told him of Ecgbert, and gave him those messages of which I have spoken, being sure that with him they were safe. And I was glad that I did so, for his joy on hearing of his friend was good to see. As for the rest of the hopes of our atheling, he may have had his own thoughts, but he said plainly that the day when Wessex would need him might come, and that if it did none would more willingly welcome him home again.
“But,” he said, “I think that best of all Ecgbert would wish to come home in peace at once, and set all ambition aside. Presently, if we are careful, I may be able to speak to Offa of him again. Nay, but have no fear; I understand how matters are with Bertric, and will risk naught. I think we may find that Offa, who is friendly with King Carl, knows more of Ecgbert than you might guess.”
So that matter dropped, and I had done my errand. But for the sake of Ecgbert I was all the more welcome to the king, for I had to tell him of the wars and the deeds of his friend. I do not think that any will wonder that thus I saw more of the king than otherwise might have been my lot.
Now there was another of whom I saw much at this time before we started to ride westward, and that, of course, was the Lady Hilda. She, I found, was going to Fernlea, rather that she might be one of the ladies who should attend the bride whom it was hoped that the king would bring home, than as going to remain with Quendritha, and I must say that I was glad thereof. With her and her father I rode many a mile hawking, and both of them seemed to hold me as an old friend by reason of that lucky chance which brought about our first meeting; and the only fault I had to find with the journey we looked for was that in Offa’s court would end my friendship with them.