So passed the day, and then were our wounded to be seen; but at last I might sit quietly in the house on the green and speak all that I would with Ailwin, and we had much to say. I know not if I longed or feared now to speak of Hertha, but I would do so. Yet first I asked Ailwin how he himself had fared when the Danes came; for I had thought that he would have been slain.
“Aye, my son, that I should have surely been,” he said, “but I found a hiding place until their fury was past, and the host swept on, leaving but a few among us. Some of these were wounded men, and you mind that I am skilled in leechcraft. So I dressed myself in a freeman’s garb and tended them, winning their respect at least, if not gratitude. So I have been the leech ever since, for the church was burnt, and many a priest was slain, and these Danes are but half Christian if they are not open pagans; and I might not don my frock, else would there have been no one left to christen and say mass and marry for our poor folk in quiet places.”
Then I said:
“Where did you find a hiding place, father?”
“It was shown me by one who made me promise—aye and take oath, moreover, as if my word were not enough—that I would tell no man where it is. For such a place once known to any but those who use it is safe no longer.”
“Was it Gunnhild who helped you thus?” I said, for I remembered now my last words to him, that he should seek her.
“I may say that it was Gunnhild. There she and Hertha and I were safe till the worst was over,” he answered, and looked in my face.
Then I must say what was in my mind all the while, and I asked him plainly:
“Where is Hertha now, father? Is she yet well and safe?”
“Both well and safe with Gunnhild,” he said.
“Where is she—can I seek her?”
The old man looked at me meaningly for a minute, and I grew hot under his kindly gaze.
“What remember you of Hertha, my son?” he said gently.
“All, father,” I answered; “but does she remember aught?”
“She remembers—she has never forgotten,” he said.
And I had forgotten for so long. I think the old priest, who was so used to deal with men, saw what was written in my face, for he smiled a little and said:
“Women have time to think, but a warrior of today has had none. What think you of your meeting with Hertha?”
Then I said, being sure that Ailwin understood the puzzle that was in my mind:
“Father, I know not what to think. We are bound—but now it is likely that we should not know one another if we met; in truth, I think I fear to meet her.”
“Is there any other maiden?” he asked, still smiling.
“Once I thought there was—and not so long ago either,” I said honestly, “but I remembered in time. Now I will say truly that there is not.”
I had no longing for Penhurst now.