Then I knew for myself that among all the wild life of Athelney and the troubles of the king the thought of Thora had been pleasant to me; but now I was confused, having the matter brought home to me suddenly, and, as it were, before I was ready to shape all my thoughts towards her. So all that I could say was foolish enough.
“I am a poor sort of fairy prince, lady.”
“Ay,” she said; “I am as good a fairy godmother, maybe. And perhaps I should have said nothing—at this time. But, Ranald, the maiden weeps for your danger, for, at the very least, she owes you much.”
Then I said, humbly as I felt:
“That is more honour to me than I deserve.”
“That is for her to say,” answered the fair lady, turning to where Osmund had been.
But he was now in the doorway, looking out again to the hills. So she was silent, and I thought of somewhat.
“There is none in this land or in any other—of whom I think as I do of Thora,” I said; “but my mind has been full of warfare and trouble with the king. Now, if I may, I will ask for somewhat that I may wear for her sake in the fight, and so she will know that I think of her.”
“Now that is well said,” answered Etheldreda. “But you must ask it for yourself.”
Thereat I thought for a moment, and at last I said that I would not do so.
“If I might, I would ask you to gain this favour for me,” I said; “for I think that a parting would be very hard, as things have come about.”
“You are a wiser man than I thought you, Ranald,” she said; and so she went from me, and I stayed by the fire, thinking thoughts that were sweet and yet troublous, for beyond tomorrow’s fight I could not see.
Then the lady came back, and with her she brought a little glove, worn and shapely from the hand that it belonged to.
“She bids me give this to her king and warrior,” Etheldreda said. “I did but tell her that you asked a token that she minded you.”
“It was well,” I answered. “What said she?”
“Nought at once. But her sadness went, and her face changed—ay, but she is beyond any of us in beauty when her eyes light up in that way—and she fetched this, and then said ’Say, if you think that he will care to know it, that this is the glove wherein I rode to Wareham.’
“Do you care to know it, Ranald?”
“Ay, with all my heart,” I said.
And so I put it very carefully under the broad, golden-studded baldric of Sigurd’s sword. And it would not stay there, and Etheldreda laughed at me, and took a little golden brooch like a cross that she wore, and pinned it through glove and baldric, making all safe.
“There,” she said, “is a token from me also, though it was unasked. Bear yourself well, Ranald, for our eyes are on you. If Hubba comes indeed, we women folk will be in the fort.”
Then I said, being at a loss for words enough: