They had cut a path round this copse, and through it here and there, and we walked slowly round the outer edge on the soft grass, with the song of the birds and the cooing of the wood doves pleasant to listen to in the last evening sunlight. And then we met the Lady Hilda walking, idly as we walked, by herself, and her face grew bright as she saw us.
“Two are company, my daughter,” said Father Selred, with his eyes dancing with his jest. “I doubt not that you are carrying out the rest of the proverb. I will also retire and meditate awhile.”
“No, Father—” began Hilda.
But he smiled, and swung his rosary, and so walked away from us, while I laughed at him. Then Hilda smiled also, and with that made the best of it, and walked with me to and fro under the trees. The king and the princess were here, she told me, for a little time, and she was in attendance.
Presently she told me also of the goodness of Etheldrida, saying that she thought the king and the land alike happy in this match. She had much to say of her; and it seemed that the wedding was to be in three days’ time, here in the palace chapel. But presently she spoke of Quendritha, and as she did so her face clouded.
“I am afraid of her,” she said at last. “She is terrible to me, and why I cannot tell. She is naught but kind to me. All the ladies fear her but one or two who are her close friends.”
“Well, you will soon be away from her,” I said.
“I do not know,” she answered, glancing round her. “She has said that she would fain keep me here. What she says she means, mostly.”
“Then,” said I boldly, “I shall have to come and take you away myself.”
Whereon she laughed a little, but did not seem displeased at the thought.
“Stay,” I said. “You have that arrowhead I gave you?”
“An I have not lost it. I will search.”
“Send it me if you need my help,” I said; “then naught shall hinder me from coming to you.”
“Spoken paladin-wise,” she answered, laughing at me. “Mayhap that bit of flint shall chase you round Wessex in vain, and meanwhile the ogre will have devoured me.”
But she set her white hand on my arm for a moment, as if in thanks. Then she started and looked at me in the face wonderingly. She felt the steel.
“Wilfrid,” she whispered, “why do you wear mail under your tunic?”
I told her plainly; otherwise it would have surely seemed that it was a niddering sort of habit of mine, and unworthy of a warrior in a king’s friendly hall. And there was no laughter in her fair face as she heard, but fear for me. Like Erling, she seemed to see peril around us.
“Listen,” she said. “The princess dreams that she is to be wedded, and that even before the altar her bridal robes grow black and the flowers of her wreath fall withered, while the strown blooms under her feet turn to ashes on her path.”