I had no thought that Offa seemed otherwise than as we met him yesterday, and I suppose that all thought, or perhaps all remembrance, of what he and his queen had talked of last night had gone from him. Gay and friendly he was, and we heard him jesting lightly with Ethelbert as they led us. With them went Gymbert, smooth and pleasant as ever; and he nodded to me as his eye lit on me, and smiled without trace of aught but friendliness. I looked for nothing else, indeed; but seeing what he and Quendritha had so nearly asked me to do that day, it may be a marvel that he hid his thoughts so well.
Presently I had reason to wonder at somewhat which happened to me, and that would have been no matter for wonder at all if I had but known that the queen was doubtful how much I had gathered from that talk of mine with her servant. Of course I had not suspected anything, but a plotter will always go in fear that a chance word will undo all.
Now we rode with bow and quiver on shoulder, and boar spear in hand, as we had been bidden. All of our party, save the ladies, from East Anglia were present, and about the same number of Mercian thanes. Besides these there were swarms of foresters, and the thralls who drove the game. Hounds in any number were with us, in leash, mostly boar hounds. And as for myself, I rode the skew-bald, whom I had called “Arrowhead,” in jest, after that little matter of the flint folk. It was the Lady Hilda who chose the name, and I had had the flint head Erling gave me set in silver for her in Thetford, as a charm, for they are always held lucky.
I suppose I might have sold that horse a dozen times, and that for double what I gave for him, by this time. There was not an Anglian who rode with us but wanted him, for he seemed tireless, and here already was a horse dealer from the south who was plaguing Erling for him. All of which, of course, made me the less willing to part with him, even had I not found him the best steed I ever knew, after a fortnight’s steady use of him.
When we came to the narrowing part of the valley where the great drive up to the nets was to begin, I was set by the head forester off to the right of the line, being bidden to shoot any large game which broke back, save only the boar. Most of them would go forward, it was thought, and those which went back would be set up by the hounds again at the end of the drive, men being in line also behind us to harbour them. I cannot say that I have so much liking for this sort of sport as for the wilder hunting in the open, with as much chance for the quarry as for the man; but sport enough of a sort there was. The bright little Lugg river lay on our left, and for a mile on that side on which we were the woods and hills were full of men, who drew together in a lessening curve as we rode slowly onward. It was good to hear the shouts and the baying of the hounds in the clear May morning.