Now I had heard little or nothing of how that last match turned out; I only knew that when I was taken from home we were full of rejoicing over it. So I heard now for the first time that over all the land of Wessex were whispers of ill done by our new queen—of men who crossed her in aught dying suddenly, or going home to linger awhile and come to a painful end. I heard that she bore rule rather than the king, and that her sway was heavy, and so on in many counts against her. The tales were the same as those I had heard often of late about her mother, Quendritha, and with all my heart I hoped that the Princess Etheldrida was not as those two. I had heard naught but good of her, at all events, and I will say now that all I had heard was true. There could be no sweeter maiden in all the land than she. I heard the same good words of her only brother, Ecgfrith, and I suppose that those two bore more likeness to their mighty father than to the queen.
All this half-stifled talk of untold ill from Quendritha lay heavy on my mind; and it came to me that Sighard was a true man, and that to him I might tell the tale Thrond told me. I must share that secret with some one who might, if he deemed it wise, warn King Ethelbert in such sort that he should beware of her, now and hereafter. So after a little while I said:
“Thane, I have heard that Quendritha came ashore—”
“Ay,” he said sharply, looking round him. “But that is a tale which is best let alone. It is true enough. My wife’s folk took her in at Lincoln.”
“Is it known whence she came?” I went on, paying no heed to a warning sign he made; for we were far from the camp yet, and the king was a hundred yards ahead of us.
“Let be, Wilfrid; hold your peace on that. There are men who have asked that question in all simplicity, and they have gone.”
“Why, is there aught amiss in coming ashore as she did?”
“Hold your peace, I tell you. On my word, it is as well, though, that you have had it out with me here in the meadows. Listen: there is no harm in the drifting hither. What sent her adrift?”
“I have sailed for a month with Danes,” I said. “I have met with a man who once set a girl adrift.”
As I said that I looked him meaningly in the face, and he grew pale.
“So,” he said slowly, “you have heard that tale also. There was a Danish chapman who came to our haven at Mundesley, where I live, and told it there to me. That was a year after the boat was found. I bade him be silent, but there was no need. When he heard that the girl had become what she is, he fled the land. And, mind you, he could not be certain, nor can I.”
“Nor could the man who told me. But my Dane is the nephew of that man.”
Sighard grasped my arm.
“Speak to him, and bid him hold his tongue if he has heard the tale, else he and you are dead men. Get to him at once.”