When I would go back to Bures, Emma the queen sent for me, hearing that I would speak with her ere I went, and she received me most kindly, coming down from her high place to greet me.
“Redwald,” she said, laughing a little, “I was a sore burden to you when we fled hence.”
“My queen,” I answered, “the danger was the burden. It weighed on all of us.”
“That is a court speech,” she said; “but we taught you court ways, and I will not blame it. Nevertheless, though you will not tell me so plainly, I know that I made things worse for you by my foolishness. Forgive the abbess, if the queen may expect nought but smooth words.”
“I do not know how I can answer you, Queen Emma,” said I at that, “but it is true that for you I would go through the same again.”
“Then I am forgiven,” she said. “Now tell me what became of the brave maiden who withstood the Danes with you, and also my sharp tongue—trouble sharpened it, Redwald, and I have repented my hard words to her.”
“She is with friends at Penhurst, near to Earl Wulfnoth’s castle of Pevensea. And she feared that you would hate her.”
“I would that I could reward her rather,” the queen said. “Have you seen her of late?”
“Not since just before last midsummer,” I answered; and I suppose my face showed some feeling that the queen noted.
“Redwald,” she said, “if you would wed this maiden it is I who would give her a portion that should be worthy of her and of you. Can it be so?”
“My queen,” I said with a great hope in my heart, “if that is your will, I think that it must be so. But in honesty I will tell you that an old betrothal that was when I was a child seems to stand in the way. But neither I nor the child to whom I was betrothed have seen one another since the coming of Swein’s host. And I know not where she is.”
“Ah! you would have it broken, and I wonder not. That can surely be.”
Then all at once came over me one thought of how Hertha had perhaps, after all, longed and waited and prayed for my coming. I remembered words that Ailwin had spoken that seemed to say that this might be so; and thus on the very threshold of freedom I shrank back lest I should wrong the child I had loved by breaking my troth so solemnly plighted; and I knew not what to say, while the queen looked at me wondering.
Then she smiled and said:
“Maybe you cannot love the maiden. Wait awhile, and let me hear of you again. One may not, in kindness, force these matters. But I will trust you to tell me if she is to wed any other than you—for her portion shall be ready for her. The riches of England and Denmark and Norway are mine.”
There spoke Emma of Normandy again, and her proud look came back. The maidens on the dais were smiling at one another, for the queen was turned away from them.
“Let it be thus, my queen,” I said, after I had thanked her.