All this she tells the king truly; and then he must know how she came to lose her own shore. And at that she weeps, but is ready. In the long hours she has conned every tale that may be made, and it is on her lips.
She is the orphan daughter of a Danish jarl, she says, and her father has been slain. She has been set adrift by the chief who has taken her lands, for her folk had but power to ask that grace for her. He would have slain her, but that they watched him. Doubtless he had poisoned their minds against her, or they would not have suffered thus far of ill to her even. Otherwise she cannot believe so ill of them. It is all terrible to her.
And so, with many tears, she accounts for her want of oars, and provides against the day when some chapman from beyond seas shall know her and tell the tale of her shame. At the end she weeps, and begs for kindness to an outcast pitifully.
There is no reason why men should not believe the tale, and told with those wondrous tear-dimmed eyes on them, they doubt not a word of it. It is no new thing that a usurper should make away with the heiress, and doubtless they think her beauty saved her from a worse fate.
So in all honour the maiden is taken to Lincoln, and presently given into the care of one of the great ladies of the court.
But as they ride homeward with the weary maiden in the midst of the company, Offa the king is silent beyond his wont, so that the thane who rode yonder with him asks if aught is amiss.
“Naught,” answers Offa. “But if it is true that men say that none but a heaven-sent bride will content me, maybe this is the one of whom they spoke.”
Now, if it was longing for power and place which had tempted this maiden to ill in the old home, here she sees her way to more than her wildest dream plain before her; and she bends her mind to please, and therein prospers. For when wit and beauty go hand in hand that is no hard matter. So in no long time it comes to pass that she has gained all she would, and is queen of all the Mercian land, from the Wash to the Thames, and from Thames to Trent, and from Severn to the Lindsey shore; for Offa has wedded her, and all who see her rejoice in his choice, holding her as a heaven-sent queen indeed, so sweetly and lowly and kindly she bears herself. Nor for many a long year can she think of aught which would bring her more power, so that even she deems that the lust of it is dead within her. Only for many a year she somewhat fears the coming of every stranger from beyond the sea lest she may be known, until it is certain that none would believe a tale against their queen.
Yet when that time comes there are old counsellors of the Witan who will say among themselves that they deem Quendritha the queen the leader and planner of all that may go to the making great the kingdom of the Mercians; and there are one or two who think within themselves that, were she thwarted in aught she had set her mind on, she might have few scruples as to how she gained her ends. But no man dare put that thought into words.