And yet, as I have said, Uldra was not the fairest maiden that I had seen. Men are apt to think that the fairest must ever be the best, and a man learns that it is not so only by degrees, maybe. And when I looked on Uldra’s face it began to seem to me the best that could be, and ever to me it would seem that I knew it well. For some look of hers that should be new to me was not new—I had expected it in some way, and should have wondered not to see it cross her face. And so in gesture and in word also. So that she seemed already well known to me, and why this was I could not say, and at times it troubled me as puzzling things will. But, all the same, I loved to find myself so puzzled.
Thus, by the time we came over the great spur of the Downs that ends in Beachy Head, and looked over all Pevensea level to the Penhurst woods and hills beyond, I and Uldra were very good friends, and Relf was pleased that it should be so, and rode between us in high content.
It was midday when we passed the last hill of the Downs where the mighty giant lies like a shadow on the grass by Wilmington; then we saw the gray castle where Wulfnoth bided, away to our right; and then along the steep ridge inland and down to Boreham, where I must tell the maiden of the great sea wave, and how Olaf saved me. And so we came to Penhurst in its valley among the trees, and the ride was over.
Now there is no need to say what welcome was at that house, whether for its lord, or for the warrior who had been nursed back to life there, or for the new-come homeless maiden. Relf was not wrong when he told her that she should be as a daughter in the house.
Some of the men had ridden on, so that the homecoming feast should be spread for us, and there was the lady at the courtyard gates, and with her Sexberga, and a tall, handsome young thane, whom I knew for Eldred of Dallington; and there was Father Anselm, and Spray the smith, and many more whose faces I was glad to see again.
And among all those faces were nought but welcoming looks—save from one only. I did not note this, being taken up with watching how they greeted Uldra, for that seemed to me to be the only thing that I cared about. If I had any thought of Sexberga now, it was as if she had been my sister, and I hoped that she would be pleased with the maiden who was thus brought to her unlooked for. I need have troubled nought about that, however, for she and her mother were alike in many things, and if I was sure of the one, so might I have been of the other in all that had to do with kindness.
But if I had looked beyond Sexberga to where her young thane stood I should have met with a black scowl enough, though I could not have told why this should be his greeting for me. I had but seen him once before, and that was at Earl Wulfnoth’s feast to Olaf when we first came.
That was an evening to be remembered as most pleasant when, after the feast, we sat and spoke of all that had happened since I left Penhurst. I told them all the tale of warfare, and of Olaf’s deeds, and of the winning back of my sword, and how that helped our meeting with Egil.