“And yet,” he said to Father Selred and myself as we rode beside him, “I am doing what I deem best for throne and realm, and I have no thought of guile or harm to any man. Nor can I see that I have to fear any from Offa, or that at his court can be danger to me.”
“Journey and reason therefor are alike good so far as man can see or plan,” said Selred the priest. “I would that every journey was undertaken as fully innocently. I cannot think that any tokens have been sent to warn you from it. Yet if there had been aught amiss in your plans, it is true that there have been tokens enough to scare any man from evil.”
“Maybe it all means naught but danger on the journey. Well, we knew there was always that in any ride. For the rest, we are in the hands of Him who orders all and can see beyond our ken. We will go on till the tokens, if tokens they be, are plain in their meaning.”
Father Selred approved, gravely. Then he muttered somewhat to himself, and laughed. It was Latin, but the king told me afterward what it meant. Some old Roman poet had made a song in which he said that a man who was just and straightforward in his purposes need not fear if the world fell, shattered in ruins, around him.
It was a good saying, and surely that was the way of Ethelbert of East Anglia. Maybe the one thing which did trouble him was his thought of the terror of his mother, and of her anxiety for him.
But it was a long while before the rest of us shook off the fear of what all this might betoken. Perhaps of all I had the most reason to think that ill was before the king, for Erling, though he said no more to me, was plainly full of bodings. And I have heard that other men dreamed dreams of terror and told them to one another. Only Ethelbert was always cheerful, singing as he rode and laughing with us, so that we ought to have been ashamed to be dull.
Save for what was in my mind, I cannot say that the miles went slowly. The days were bright and warm, and ever did I take more pleasure in the old home land. And always when Ethelbert had his counsellors round him I rode with Hilda and her father, and I think that I wished that journey might never end, after a while.
For I was going homeward to where mother and father waited me, in the first place. Then I had pleasant companions, and most of all this one of whom I have just spoken. I had a good horse under me, and a comrade in Erling who served me silently with that best of service that is given for love. I was high in honour with this wonderful young king, for the sake of Ecgbert first, I think, then of King Carl, and lastly because he did indeed seem to like my own company. I do not think that one could need more to add to pleasure.