Now, seeing that we had started with our minds full of portents, it is not by any means wonderful that we found more on the road. For a time, if a horse did but cast a shoe, the thane it belonged to shook his head and wished that naught ill might come of the little delay. And once, when we stumbled into a fog among the river country of the midlands, where one would expect to meet with it, there was nigh a panic in the company, so that the thanes crowded round Ethelbert and begged him to return. Whereon he laughed at them gaily.
“Thanes, thanes!” he cried, “one can no more see to return than to go forward! I might take it as a warning not to go back, just as well. Did none of you ever see a fog before? Had it fallen on you while hunting, you would have done naught but grumble and wait its lifting.”
But they were terrified, as it seemed, beyond reason; and, indeed, it was as thick as any Friesland fog I have ever seen, and it grew blacker for an hour or so, while we had perforce to wait under dripping trees till we could see to go on. Even a horse will lose his way home in such a fog as that.
And at last they begged the king to pray that it might clear from off us, and so he knelt and did so. It was strange to hear his clear voice rising from the midst of half-seen men and steaming horses, praying for the light. And then the fog lifted as suddenly as it had come, and the sun shone out.
“See,” he said, “our fears are like this mist, and cloud our senses. Surely the fears shall pass likewise from the heart of him who prays. So read I the token, if token it be.”
All that day thereafter we rode in brightest sunshine, and men were fairly ashamed to say more of ill-luck and the like. And so also in lovely weather we went for the fourteen days of our journey, until we came to the place where we should cross the Severn at Worcester, and but a day’s long ride was before us.
After that time of the mist Ethelbert noticed Erling, and would call him and speak long with him of the ways of his home, as I thought.
At Worcester we waited while a message went from the town to Offa, and next day there came to meet us some score of the best thanes of the Welsh borderland, who should be our guides to the end of the journey. Hard warriors and scarred with tokens of the long wars they were, but pleasant and straightforward in their ways, as warriors should be. Only I did not altogether like the smooth way of the man who was their leader. His name was Gymbert, and he was of mixed Welsh and English blood, as I was told, and he was also high in honour with Offa, and with Quendritha herself; which in itself spoke well for him, but nevertheless in some way I cared not for him.
They feasted us that night in Worcester, and early next morning we rode out westward again on the last stage of our journey, the king leading us with this thane at his side, followed by the rest of the Mercians and his own thanes. So I, not altogether unwillingly, rode with Hilda in the rear of the party, feeling somewhat downcast to think that this was the last time I was at all likely to be her companion.