I thought, indeed, that there was need to do so, though Erling was in nowise talkative. For if, as was pretty certain, the tale of the coming of Quendritha went round the groups of men at the camp fires, he might say that he had heard of one set adrift from his own land.
So instead of going in at once with the king to the pavilion, I ran down to the lines where the horses were picketed, and found Erling on his way to the supper, which was spread under some trees for our servants. I took him aside and walked out into the open with him.
“Erling,” I said, “do you mind that tale which Thrond tells concerning a damsel set afloat?”
“Ay, more than mind it—I saw it done! She went from our village. I was a well-grown lad of fourteen then. Now I know what you would say. It is the word of Thrond that this Quendritha, whom men fear so, is she. He says so, since you spoke to him.”
“Have you breathed a word thereof to any one?” I asked, with a sort of cold fear coming on me.
I had no mind to die of poison.
“Not likely; here of all places. I mind what that maiden was in the old days. From all accounts she has but held herself back somewhat here. But had you had aught to do with her, I should have warned you, master.”
I set my hand on his shoulder.
“I know you would. Now you will see the queen tomorrow. Tell me, then, if this is indeed she.”
“Ay, I shall know her well enough. What I fear is that she may know me!”
Grim as his voice was, that made me laugh.
“Seeing that you were but a lad when she last set eyes on you—and now you are ten years older than myself, bearded and scarred moreover—I do not fear that for you in the least.”
“Nor will she have need to scan me,” he said. “Of course I need not fear it.”
Then I asked him if he had more of the second sight.
“Naught fresh, master. Only that look on the face of the young king deepens, and ever there is the red line round his neck. I fear for him.”
So did I, but of that we spoke no more. I tried all I knew to fathom that fear of mine, and the most I could do was to make it seem more and more needless and foolish. And presently, when we sat at the table, and I saw the king speaking with the Mercians, and noted their admiring looks at him, and their eagerness to listen to him, I thought that Sighard was right, and that I was frayed with shadows of my own making. I knew enough of men by this time to see that here was no thought of ill toward Ethelbert.
CHAPTER IX. HOW QUENDRITHA THE QUEEN WOVE HER PLOTS.
Great was the welcome which Ethelbert of East Anglia had from Offa of Mercia when we reached the great stronghold of Sutton Walls on the next morning, riding there in all state and due array in our best holiday gear, with those Mercian thanes who had met us as escort before and after us. The morning was bright and clear, and I thought I had never seen so fair a procession as this with which the king went to meet his bride.