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The Ward of King Canute by Ottilie A Liljencrantz

Part 4 out of 5

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To his friend
A man should be a friend,
And gifts with gifts requite.

A moment, it was to Randalin, Frode's daughter, as if the heavens had let fall
a star at her feet. Then her wonder changed to exultation, as she realized
that it was not chance but because of her bidding that the man she loved stood
before her. Only because she had asked it, he had come through pitfalls and
death-traps, and now faced, alone, the gathered might of his foes. Glorying in
his deed, she stood shining sun-like upon him until the red cloaks of the
advancing warriors came between like scarlet clouds.

"Who are you? .... What is your errand? .... How came you here?" she heard
them demand. And, after a pause, in disbelieving chorus, "Rothgar Lodbroksson!
.... Does that sound likely? .... Where is he, then?" "You are trying to lie
out of something--" "You are an English spy! Seize him! Bind him!"

The scarlet cloaks drew together into a swaying mass; a dozen blades glittered
in the sun. With a gasp, she came out of her trance to catch at the royal

"Lord King, you promised to give him safety!" The seriousness which had
darkened Canute's face at the intrusion vanished off it as breath-mist off a
mirror. "Is it only your Englishman?" he asked, between a laugh and a frown.

She grudged the time the words took. "Yes, yes! Pray be as quick as you can!"

He did not seem bitten by her haste, but he took a step forward, clanging his
gold-bound scabbard against the stone well-curbing to make himself heard.
"Unhand the Lord of Ivarsdale, my chiefs," he ordered. As they sent him
incredulous glances over their shoulders, he further explained his will by a
gesture; and they fell away, murmuring, the swords gliding like bright
serpents back to their holes. Then he made another sign, this time to the
stranger. "We will accept your greeting now, Englishman, even though you have
been hindered in the giving of it," he said politely.

Standing there, watching the young noble advance, it seemed to Randalin that
there was not room between her heart-beats for her breathing. How soon would
he look up and know her? How would his face change when he did? His color now
was a match for the warriors' cloaks, and there was none of his usual ease in
his manner when at last he bowed before the King. Presently it occurred to her
to suspect that he had already recognized her,--perhaps from the doorway,--and
in her rush of relief at the idea of the shock being over, she found even an
impulse of playfulness. Borrowing one of Elfgiva's graces, she swept back her
rustling draperies in a ceremonious courtesy before him.

Again he bent in his bow of stiff embarrassment; but he did not meet her
glance even then, returning his gaze, soldier-like, to the King. Suppose he
were going to treat her with the haughtiness she had seen him show Hildelitha
or the old monk when they had displeased him! At the mere thought of it, she
shrank and dropped her eyes to the coral chain that she was twining between
her fingers.

The awkwardness of the pause seemed to afford Canute a kind of mischievous
amusement, for all the courtesy in which he veiled it. His voice was almost
too cheerful as he addressed the Etheling. "Now as always it can be told about
my men that they stretch out their hands to greet strangers," he said, "but I
ask you not to judge all Danish hospitality from this reception, Lord of
Ivarsdale. Since Frode's daughter has told me who you are, I take it for
granted that they were wrong, and that you came here with no worse intention
than to obey her invitation."

His glance sharpened a little as he pronounced those last words, and the
girl's hands clasped each other more tightly as she perceived the snare in the
phrase. If the Etheling should answer unheedingly or obscurely, so that it
should not be made quite clear to the King--

But it appeared that the Etheling was equally anxious that Canute should not
believe him the lover of Frode's daughter. His reply was distinct to
bluntness: "Part of your guess is as wrong as part of it is right, King of the
Danes. Certainly I came here with no thought of evil toward you, but neither
had I any thought soever of the Lady Randalin, of whose existence I was
ignorant. I answered the call of Fridtjof Frodesson, to whom I owe and I pay
all the service which lies in my power,--as it is likely you know."

Did his voice soften as he recalled his debt? Randalin ventured to steal a
glance at his face,--then her own clouded with puzzlement. No haughtiness was
in it, but a kind of impatient pain, and now he winced under the smart and
stirred restlessly in his place. The lightness of the King's voice grated on
her ear.

"Then I think you must have got surprised, if this is true, which seems

The Etheling answered almost impatiently, "If your mind feels doubt of it,
Lord Canute, you have but to ask your foster-brother, who conducted me

A while longer, Canute's keen eyes weighed him; then their sky was cleared of
the last cloud. The best expression of which his brilliant face was capable
was on it as he turned and held out his hand to the girl beside him.

"Shall we pledge our friendship anew, Frode's daughter?" was all he said; but
she knew from his look that he had taken her under his shield for all time to
come; and it was something to know, now when her world seemed falling about
her. For an instant, as she yielded her trembling fingers to his palm, her
groping spirit turned and clung to him, craving his sympathy.

It seemed that he divined the appeal, for with the hand that pressed hers he
drew her forward a step. "Is it not your wish to speak to the Lord of
Ivarsdale yourself and thank him for keeping his troth with Fridtjof?" he said
kindly; and without waiting for an answer, moved away and joined a group of
those who had been his companions before the interruption.

At last she stood face to face with the man she loved, face to face, and
alone. And still he neither spoke to her nor looked at her! So strange and
terrible was it all that it gave her resolution to speak and end it. Her
Viking blood could not color her cheeks, but her Viking courage found her a
whisper in which to offer her plea for the "sun-browned boy-bred wench."

"Lord, it is difficult to know whether or not to expect your friendship,
for--for I have heard what your mind feels toward most matters--and you see
now what I have done--"

Did he wince again? She paused in astonishment. It could not be that he was
surprised,--was it displeasure? Her words came a little more swiftly, a tremor
of passionate pleading thrilling through them.

"You need not think that I did it willingly, lord. Very roughly has fortune
handled me. The reason I first came into camp-life was that I trusted someone
too much, knowing no more of the world than my father's house. And after the
bonds were laid on me, it was not easy to rule matters. The helplessness of a
woman is before the eyes of all people--"

His words broke through hers: "No more, I beseech you!" His voice was broken
and unsteady as she had never known it. "Who am I that I should blame you? Do
not think me so--so despisable! If unknowingly I have done you any wrong when
I owe you--" He paused and she guessed that it had swept over him afresh how
much he did owe her. Perhaps also how much he had promised to pay?

"There will be no recompense that you can ask at my hands which I shall not be
glad to give," he had said; and she had checked him, bidding him wait to see
if he would have more than pity. If he should have no more! She dared not look
at him but she felt that he opened his lips to speak, then turned away,
stifling a groan. It seemed to her that her breath ceased while she waited,
and her hands tightened on the coral chain so that suddenly it burst and
scattered the beads like rosy symbols of her hopes. If he should have no more!

At last he turned and came a step nearer her, courtly and noble as he had
always been. "I owe to you everything I have, even life itself," he said, "and
I offer them all in payment of the debt. May I ask the King to give you to me
for my wife?"

In its infinite gentleness, his voice was almost tender. For as long as the
space between one breath and the next, her spirit leaped up and stretched out
its arms to its joy; but she stayed it on the threshold of utterance to look
fearfully into his face, whose every shade was open to her as the day. Looking
into his eyes, she knew that it was no more than pity. He guessed that she
loved him and he pitied her; but he could not forgive her unmaidenliness, he
could not love her.

Slowly and quite easily she felt her heart die in her breast, leaving only the
shell, the husk, of what had been Randalin, Frode's daughter. Her first
thought Was a vague wonder that after it she could breathe and move as if she
were still alive. Her next, a piteous desire to escape from him while she had
this strength, before the end should really come. Clutching the broken chain,
she drew herself up bravely, her words coming in uneven breathfuls. "I want
not that recompense, lord. I want--nothing you have to give. Little shall you
think of the debt,--or think that in helping you, I repaid you for your
hospitality, your--"

Her voice broke as the memory of that time passed over her like bitter waters,
and she was obliged to stand silent before him, steadying her lip with her
teeth, until the waters had fallen. She had a faint consciousness that he was
speaking to her, but she did not understand what he said, she did not care.
Her only wish was for words that should send him away so that she might be
free to sink down beside the old well and press her burning face against its
smooth coldness and finish dying there.

"It was the King who sent for you, that he might know whether I had spoken the
truth concerning my disguise--" she said when at last her voice returned.
"Now, by coming, you have helped me against his anger,--let that settle all
debt between us. I thank you much and--and I bid you farewell." Again
Elfgiva's schooling came to her mind and she swayed before him in a courtesy.
She even bent her lips into a little smile so that he should not be sorry for
her and stay to tell her so. She did not know that her cheeks were as white as
her kerchief, that her eyes were dark wells of unshed tears. She knew only
that at last he was bowing, he was turning, in a moment more he would be
gone -

But just short of that point he stopped, and all motion around her appeared to
stop, as a noise down the corridor blotted out every sound in the garden,--the
noise of a great body of people rousing the echoes with jubilant shouting.

"The King! The King!" could be heard again and again, and after it a burst of
deafening cheers that drowned the rest.

Elfgiva dropped the gilded quoits to wring her hands. "Is it the English, my
lord?" she implored of Eric of Norway. "Is it the English attacking us? Shall
we be killed?"

"Think you that Danes cheer like that when they are expecting death?" the
Norseman reassured her with a hearty laugh. "It is good news,--great news
since the whole mob has thought it safe to bring it. Hark! Can you hear what
it is that they add after the King's name?"

Listening, everyone stood motionless as the babel came nearer with a swiftness
which spoke much for the speed of the shouters. Only Randalin's little red
shoe began to tap the earth impatiently. What did it matter what they said?

"Hail to Canute of Denmark!" "Hail to the King of the Danes and--" Again
cheers drowned the rest.

The pages, who had sped at the first alarm like a covey of gay birds, came
panting back, tumbling over one another in their efforts to impart the news.

"A messenger!" "A messenger from Oxford--" "From Edric--" "Edmund is--"
"--Edmund--" "A messenger!" one cancelled another in the wild excitement.

Elfgiva caught the nearest and shook him until his teeth chattered; and in the
lull, the swelling shout reached them for the first time unbroken: "Honor to
the King! Hail to the King of the Danes and the Angles!"

From the Lord of Ivarsdale came a cry, sharp as though a heart-string had
snapped in its utterance, the tie that for generations had bound those of his
blood to the house of Cerdic.


The mob of soldiers and servants that burst through the doorway answered his
question with exultant shouts: "Edmund is dead! Edmund is dead! Long live
Canute the King! King of the Danes and the Angles!"

Unbidden, memory raised before Randalin a picture of the English camp-fire in
the glade, with the English King standing in its light and the hooded figure
bending from the shadow behind him, its white taloned hand resting on his
sleeve. An instant she shivered at it; then again her foot stirred with
unendurable restlessness. If he was dead, he was dead, and there was no more
to be said. Was the Etheling always going to stand as though he were turned to
stone? Would he never

Ah, at last he was moving! As if the news had only just reached home to him,
she saw him draw himself together sharply and stride toward the door; and she
watched feverishly to see if anyone would think to stop him. One group he
passed--and another--and another--now he was on the threshold. Her pulses
leaped as she recognized Rothgar, in the throng pouring into the garden with
the messenger, but quieted again when she saw that the two passed shoulder to
shoulder without a look, without a thought, for each other. Now he was out of

She let her suspended breath go from her in a long sigh. "It is good that
everyone is too excited to notice what I do," she said to herself. And even as
she said it she realized that her limbs were shaking under her, that she was
sick unto faintness. "I am going to finish dying now, and I welcome it," she
murmured. Staggering to a little bench under one of the old oaks, she sank
down upon it and leaned her head against the tree trunk and waited.

Chapter XXIII

A Blood-stained Crown

He is happy
Who in himself possesses
Fame and wit while living;
For bad counsels
Have oft been received
From another's breast.

"Tata!" That was the pet name which Elfgiva had given to her Danish attendant
because it signified lively one." "Tata! I have looked everywhere for you!"
The pat of light feet, a swish of silken skirts, and Dearwyn had thrown
herself upon the bench under the oak tree, her little dimpled face radiant.
"What are you doing here in this corner where you can see nothing? How! Are
you not overcome with delight? Only think that Elfgiva will be a queen and we
shall all go to London!" As the only adequate means of expression, she threw
her arms around her friend in a rapturous embrace.

Something in the touch of her soft body, the caress of her satin hands, was
indefinably comforting. Randalin's arms closed about her and pressed her
close, while the little gentlewoman chided her gayly.

"What is the matter with you that you are so silent as to your tongue, when
you must needs be shouting in your heart? You are as bad as the King, who
stands looking from one to another and speaks not a word. Does your coldness
arise from dignity? Then let me lose all the state I have and be held for a
farmer's lass, for I am going to stand up here where I can see everything."
Disengaging herself gently, she climbed upon the bench as she chattered. "The
messenger had a leather bag around his neck which I think likely contains
Edmund's crown and--Ah, Tata, look l look! Thorkel is holding it up!"

As cries of savage rejoicing mingled with the uproar, Randalin found herself
dragged up, whether she would or no, until she stood beside her companion,
gazing over the heads of the shouting throng.

Yes, it was Edmund's crown. Again, a picture of the English camp-fire rose
before her, and she shivered as she recognized the graceful pearled points she
had last seen upon the Ironside's stately head. Now Thorkel was setting them
above the Danish circlet on Canute's shining locks, while the shouts merged
into a roar of acclamation. Like blowing flowers, the women bent before him,
and the naked swords of his nobles made a glittering arch above him.

"But why does he look so strange?" Randalin said suddenly.

And Dearwyn laid a finger on her lip. "Hush! At last he is going to speak."

For now it was plain that Canute's attention was given neither to the nobles
nor to the fluttering women. He was bending toward the messenger, holding him
with his glance. "Tell more news, messenger," he was saying sternly. "Tell
about the cause of my royal brother's death."

The messenger seemed to lose what little breath his ride on the shoulders of
the crowd had left him. "My errand extends no further," he panted. "It is
likely that the Earl will send you more news--I am but the first--" His breath
gave out in an inarticulate gasp, and he began to back away.

But the King moved after him. "Stop--" he commanded,--"or it may be that I
will cause you to remain quiet for the rest of time. You must know what
separated his life from his body. Tell it."

Stammering with terror, the man fell upon his knees. "Dispenser of treasures,
how should I know? The babblings of the ignorant durst not be repeated. Many
say that the Ironside was worn sick with fighting."

"You lie!" Canute roared down upon him. "You know they say that Edric murdered

At that, the poor fool seemed to cast to the winds his last shred of sense.
"They do say that the Earl poisoned him," he blubbered. "But none say that you
bade him to do it. No one dares to say that."

"How could they say that?" Randalin cried in amazement, while the King drew
back as though the grovelling figure at his feet were a dog that had bitten

"I bid him do it?" he repeated. All at once his face was so terrible that the
man began to crawl backward, screaming, even before Canute's hand had reached
his hilt.

Before the blade could be drawn, Rothgar had stepped in front of his royal
foster-brother with a savage sweep of his handless arm. "Do not waste your
point on the churl, King," he said in his bull's voice. "If you want to play
this game further, deal with me, for I also believe that you bade the Gainer
murder Edmund."

As though paralyzed by his amazement, Canute's arm dropped by his side. "You
also believe it?"

Little Dearwyn hid her face on the Danish girl's breast. "Oh, Randalin, would
he do such a deed?" she gasped. "The while that he seemed so kind and gentle
with us! Would he do such horrid wickedness?"

"No!" Randalin cried passionately. "No!"

But even as she cried it, Thorkel the Tall dared to lean forward and give the
royal shoulder a rallying slap. "Amleth himself never played a game better,"
he said; "but is it worth while to continue at it when no Englishmen are
watching?" And his words seemed to open a door against which the others were

"King Canute, I willingly admit myself the block-head you called me." Ulf Jarl
hastened to declare in his good-natured roar. "When I saw you take your point
away from Edmund's breast, that day, my heart got afraid that you were obliged
to do it to save yourself. Even after I heard how you had made a bargain to
inherit after each other, I never suspected what kind of a plan was in your

And Eric of Norway smote his thigh with the half resentful laugh of a man who
has been told the answer to a riddle which he has given up. "I will confess
that your wit surpasses mine in matters of cunning. I did suspect that you
might think it unfeasible to kill him before the face of his army, but I had
no idea that it would be possible to get the land from him both according to
law and without further fighting or loss of men. On a lucky day is the King
born who has a mind like this!"

One after another, all the nobles echoed the sentiment; until even the mob of
soldiers found courage to voice their minds.

"His wit is made out of Sleipnir's heels!" "Skroppa herself could not be
foreknowing about him!" "I am as glad now as I was disappointed when I saw him
take his blade off the Ironside--" "When I saw that, I thought I would turn
English--" "They will try now to turn Danish." "You speak well, for he will
get great fame on account of his wisdom." So they filled the air with
marvelling admiration.

Standing in silent listening, Canute's gaze travelled from face to face until
it came to the spot where Elfgiva fluttered among her women, holding her
exquisite head as if it already wore a crown. An odd gleam flickered over his
eyes, and he made a step toward her. "You!" he said. "What do you believe?"

Pealing her silvery laughter, she turned toward him, her eyes peeping at him
like bright birds from under the eaves of her hood. "Lord, I believe that I am
afraid of you!" she coquetted. "When I bethink me that all the time I have
been chiding you for being unambitious for glory, you have had this in your
mind! I shall never presume to compass your moods again. Yes. Oh, yes! I shall
see daggers in your smile and poison in your lightest word." Laughing, she
stooped and kissed his hand with the first semblance of respect which she had
ever shown him.

In the Danish girl's embrace, Dearwyn shivered and nestled closer. "Randalin,
you hear her? She thinks he did it."

"She is a foolish woman," Randalin said impatiently, "and if she do not take
care, she will feel it for speaking so. See how his fingers tap his belt for
all that his face is so still."

His face was curiously still as he regarded the beautiful Elfgiva, -- and
stilly curious, as though he were examining some familiar object in a new
light. "You believe then that I had him murdered?" he asked. "And you find
pleasure in believing it?"

"Now it is not murder!" she protested. "When a king kills--in war--"

"But this is not war," he said slowly. Lifting one of the jewelled braids from
her shoulder, he played with it as he studied her. "This is not war, for I had
reconciled myself to him. I had plighted faith with Edmund Ethelredsson and
vowed to avenge his death like a brother."

Her white forehead drew itself into a puzzled frown. "But you were not so
foolish as to swear it on the holy ring were you?" When he did not answer, she
raised her shoulders lightly. "What should I know about such matters? Have you
not told me, many times and oft, that it behooves a woman to shun meddling
with great affairs?"

He gave a short laugh, "And when were you ever before content to follow that
advice?" Letting the braid slip from his fingers, he stood looking her up and
down, his lips curling with scorn. "Yet this was not needful to show me that
the elves felt they had done their full day's work when they had made you a
body," he said. And whether he did not see her bridling displeasure, or
whether he saw and no longer cared to appease it, the result was the same.

Randalin spoke abruptly to her companion. "Dearwyn, I can tell you something.
Elfgiva will never get the queenship over England."

"What moves you to say that?" the little English girl asked her, startled.

But Randalin's attention had gone back to the King, who had turned where the
son of Lodbrok waited regarding him over sternly-folded arms.

Brother," he was saying gravely, "your opinion is powerful with me, so I will
openly tell you that you are wrong in your belief. I was satisfied with the
crown of an under-king, satisfied to pass the time as I had been doing. Never
have I so much as hinted to yonder peace-nithing a word of harm against Edmund

From Thorkel the Tall came one of his rare laughs,--a sound like the grating
of a rusty hinge,--and Rothgar unfolded his arms to fling them out in angry

"This is useful to learn!" he sneered. "Do you think I could not guess that
you had no need to put your desire into words after you had shown Edric by
your actions that your mind and his are one, after you had admitted by your
bond with him that you hold the same curious belief about honor?"

This time it was Randalin who clutched the English girl. "Oh!" she gasped.

For Canute's eyes were less like eyes than holes through which light was
pouring, while his fingers opened and shut as though he had forgotten his
sword and would leap upon the scoffer with bare hands. Thorkel left off
laughing to grasp the Jotun's arm and try to drag him backwards.

"Do you want to drive it from his mind that he has loved you? Go hide yourself
in Fenrir's mouth!"

But the King did not spring upon his foster-brother. Even as they looked, the
fire went out in his eyes, spark by spark, until they were lustreless as
ashes, and at last he put up his hand and wiped great drops from his forehead.
"Never had you the keenness to father that judgment," he said in a strangely
dull voice. "It must be that a god spoke through your mouth." Leaving them, he
moved forward to the well and stood gazing into it, his fingers mechanically
raking together and crushing the dead leaves that had fluttered down upon the

Dearwyn's pretty lips began to quiver with approaching tears. "Randalin, I am
miserably terrified. The air feels as though awful things were about to

"It seems that the world has begun to fall to pieces everywhere," Randalin
said wearily. The momentary forgetfulness which the happenings around her had
created was beginning to give way before the weight in her breast. She drew
herself up listlessly. "Is it of any use to remain up here, Dearwyn?"

But Dearwyn's grasp had tightened. "See! the King is beginning to speak."

Whom he was addressing was not quite clear even though he had turned back to
the group of nobles, for his eyes still gazed into space, but his words
sounded distinctly: "Heavy is it to lose faith in others, but heavier still to
lose faith in one's self... I know that no word of mine urged Edric to this
deed, but what my eyes may have said, or some trick of my voice or my face, is
not so sure... It may be that I wanted this thing to happen without knowing
it. When I see what it has brought me, I cannot understand how I could help
wanting it... It is true that I do not always know for certain what I have at
heart." His eyes came back from space to rest musingly on Elfgiva. "When I
began this feasting-time, I thought I had grasped heaven with my hands, but
now--" he spread out his fingers and released the little bunch of dead leaves
that he had been rolling against his palm--"now I let not this go from me more
easily... You see that a man is not sure even of his own mind."

Again his head was sinking on his breast, when he raised it with a fierceness
that startled them. "One thing only I am sure of, and that is that I have done
forever with craft. Hereafter, if a man is a hindrance to me, Rothgar's axe
shall send him to Hel while it is broad daylight and all his friends are
looking. Such is my luck with craft as though I had grasped a viper by the
tail, in the belief that I had seized its snout... I have been finely
treated... Not only have I been betrayed by all of you who have thought such
thoughts of me, but now some troll has got into me and turned me false to
myself so that I cannot give you punishment for your treason! Certainly the
gods must think this crown of great value since, before they give it to me,
they take from me all that I have thought my happiness, and rob me of my honor
as well!"

He dashed his fist against the tree beside him and did not seem to feel it
when his hand was bleeding. "Here I take oath that they shall cause their gift
to prove its value! It shall be meat and drink to me, and honor and life
itself. Many happenings shall spring from this gift, for I will put my whole
strength into the holding of it; Odin himself shall not wrest it from me! I
will be such a king that there will not be many to equal me; such a king that
they will wish they had given me happiness and left me a man."

Whirling, he flung out his bleeding hand toward Elfgiva, and his mouth was
distorted with its bitterness. "Hear that, you who were so mad to have your
lord the King of England that you could not spend a thought on the love of
Canute of Denmark! You have got your wish,--go back now to your
Northamptonshire castle and think whether or not you are gladdened by it."

"Go back!" Elfgiva fell from her height of injured dignity with a piercing
scream. "What is it you say, King? Now by the splendor of heaven, you depart
not for London without me! Be it known to you that I am going to be your

At first he looked at her in genuine astonishment; after that he laughed,
neither angrily nor bitterly, but with the quietness of utter contempt. "I
will have the London goldsmiths send you a crown if you wish," he said. "That
is all you understand about being a queen."

She tried to protest, to cajole, to threaten. She tried to do so many things
at once that she accomplished none of them. Her speech became less and less
intelligible until tears and hysterical laughter reduced it to mere mouthings,
while her tiny hands beat the air with fingers bent hook-like.

But the young King did not look at her again. He had rejoined his nobles and
was leading them toward the door, giving rapid orders as he walked. "Do you,
Rothgar, see to it that the horses are saddled. Kinsman Ulf, it is my will
that you join us some while later, when you have seen these women returned in
safety. You, my chiefs, get you ready to ride to Oxford as quick as is
possible." His voice was lost in the trampling as they stepped from the turf
upon the flagging of the gallery.

When the echoing tread was gone at last from the cloister, the garden seemed
strangely silent in spite of the hurrying servants,--silent and empty. In the
stillness, it came slowly to Randalin that life was not so simple as she had
supposed; that she was not going to die of her grief but to live with
it,--live with this dead emptiness in her breast. The years seemed to stretch
before her like the snow wastes of the North,--white, white, white, without a
break of living green.

Chapter XXIV

On The Road to London

Hotter than fire
Love for five days burns
Between false friends;
But is quenched
When the sixth day comes,
And friendship is all impaired.

From Edgeware, where the Watling Street left the Middlesex Forest to cross the
barren heath known as Tyburn Lane, the great road was crowded with travellers.
A small portion of them--messengers, soldiers, and hunting parties--were
riding northward, but the great mass was facing the City whither they were
pressing to warm themselves in the glow of the Coronation. On foot, on
horseback, in wagons and on crutches, they were as motley a throng as had ever
trod the Roman stones; and the respectable element among them was by no means
large enough to leaven the lump. Sometimes a group of merchants was to be
seen, conducting loaded wagons; sometimes, a thane's pompous thane, ensheathed
in his retinue; while occasionally, as they neared the New Gate, the crowd was
swelled by squads of the lesser Cheapside dealers making the daily pilgrimage
from their country dwellings to their stalls in the City. But these were as
scattered islands in the stream of half drunken seamen, masterless thralls,
wolf-eyed beggars, paupers, vagabonds and criminals, who were pushing toward
London in hopes of pleasure or gain or for want of another goal.

Amid such a rabble, and as out of place as a swarm of butterflies in frost-
silvered air, a band of high-born women was to be seen approaching the City
this early December morning. Gorgeously attired pages, hardly more warlike
than the women, made a blooming hedge around them, while a sufficiently strong
guard of men-at-arms protected them from actual harm, but from impudent
comment and ribald jest there was no defence. Their hoods were pulled down as
before a storm, their mantles drawn up above their chins; and all but two of
them appeared to be trying to shrink into their gilded saddles.

The two who rode at their head, however, looked to be of a different mettle.
Indeed, in the quality of her courage, each appeared to differ from the other,
though muffling folds blotted out anything like individuality. The shorter of
the two, while she rode with gracefully drooping head, had left her face
practically uncovered, seemingly unconscious of the half slighting, half
pitying admiration elicited by its pathetic beauty. The other, who showed no
more than the tip of her nose, held her head bravely erect, while, even
through her wrappings, the straightness of her back breathed haughtiness.

Yet it was not to the pensive fair one that a timid companion appealed for
comfort, when a temporary damming of the stream pressed those who led, back
upon those who followed. She stretched out an en-treating hand toward the girl
with the haughtily carried head.

"Randalin! What will he do--the King--when he finds that we have fooled Ulf
Jarl, and come hither against his command?"

The Danish girl laughed recklessly. "Little do I care, Candida, to tell it
truthfully. Nothing can be worse than sitting in that Abbey. Here at least
there is a chance that something may happen to help us to forget that we are

Candida shook the cloak she had grasped. "But you expect that he will be
angry! You told Elfgiva not to undertake the journey because of it. And you
were able to say the soothest about his temper."

"I was obliged to tell her that to be honest," Randalin answered, and again
there was a little wildness in her laugh, "but I should have gone stone-mad if
she had not come." Yet, as her horse commenced to bear her forward once more,
she consented to speak more encouragingly across the widening space. "If his
humor is right, it may be that nothing disagreeable will happen. She is very
fair to look at,--it may be that his mind will change at the sight of her.
Think that you will sleep in the Palace to-night."

Catching this last phrase, as her Valkyria came abreast of her, Elfgiva spoke
pettishly: "You see fit to sing a different tune from what you did when you
tried to hinder me from this undertaking. I should have brighter hopes if I
had not given ear to your advice to send a messenger ahead. If I could have
come upon him before he had time to work himself into a hostile temper--"

Her attention wandered as a couple of tipsy soldiers elbowed themselves
between the guards only to catch a nearer glimpse of her face, after which
they allowed themselves to be thrust back, shouting drunken toasts to her

"Is it your wish that I help you to lower your hood, lady?" the Danish girl
made offer.

Elfgiva's half smile deepened into a laugh. "Not so, not so!" she said. "What!
Have you seen so much of war and battle axes that you have forgotten the ways
that are pleasing to men? Yet methinks you must needs have taken notice that,
always before he goes into battle, a soldier tests the sharpness of his
weapon. It is to that end that I endure the gaze of these serfs,--to test the
power of my face."

"It would not be unadvisable for you to whet your wits as well," Frode's
daughter muttered scornfully, and somewhat rashly, since Elfgiva's wits had
been sharp enough to guess the significance of her hand-maiden's interview
with the young English noble, and the knowledge had given her a weapon which
she was skilful in using.

"Has the sharpness of your mind brought you so much success then, my sweet?"
she inquired with her faultless smile; and had the satisfaction of seeing her
rebel shrink into silence like a child before a rod.

The crowding of the highway became more noticeable as they neared the point
where the Watling Street swerved from its old course, toward the ford and the
little Isle of Thorns, to bend eastward toward the New Gate. Some obstruction
at the forking of the roads impeded their progress almost to a walk. After a
brief experience of it, Elfgiva spoke impatiently to the nearest soldier.

"Why does it become more crowded when two paths open before us? Why does it
not happen that some of these cattle turn down the old way?"

The man shook his head. "I do not think there is much likelihood of that,
lady; since the Bridge was built, no one has wanted to use the ford; and there
is little else to take that way for, unless you are going to service in the
West Minster or to the Monastery."

"Wanted!" the Lady of Northampton repeated in the extremity of scorn. "Bid
them turn into that road at once. They stand some chance of their faces
getting clean if they take the ford,--if they also get drowned matters very
little. Tell them, seek what they may seek, to take that way instantly, or the
King shall punish them for interfering with their betters."

The man pushed up his leather cap to scratch his head. He was not unacquainted
with her custom of sweeping the Northamptonshire serfs off any road she wished
to possess, but that struck him as being somewhat easier than dispersing a
Coronation mob at the gates of London; and yet to defy her--that was harder
than either of them! It was an interposition of his good angel that at this
moment provided a diversion.

Randalin broke from her silence with an exclamation: "Thorkel! Yonder!"

Less than fifty paces ahead of them, the grizzled head of the King's foster-
father rose steeple-like above the crowd, while the mighty shoulders of the
King's foster-brother made a bulwark beside it, and the gilded helms of the
King's guard formed a palisade around them. The obstacle in the way was
nothing less than a royal detachment drawn up in waiting beside the road.

Elfgiva's frown relaxed; for the first time in many days she let the liquid
music of her laughter trickle forth. "Be blithesome in your minds, maidens!"
she called gayly over her shoulder. "Friends are at hand to take charge of

Taking into consideration what they had expected, the attention was so
flattering that at first they scarcely dared believe it; but its truth was
proved the moment Thorkel turned his head and saw them coming. At his command,
the line of gilded helms quickly drew out across the road in a barrier which
once more dammed the human stream to overflowing. A break in the middle
allowed the party from Gloucester to filter through; then the opening closed
behind them; the line bent at either end, and they moved as between walls,
guarded against any further jostling or rude contact. Elfgiva sparkled with
delight and greeted the Tall One with more affability than she had ever before
deigned his gruffness.

"Since my royal lord came not himself to meet us," she said graciously,--and
pushing her hood entirely back so that he might get the full benefit of her
face, "he has well honored us in his messengers, than whom no persons could be
more welcome. I pray you, tell me without delay how it stands with his health
and his fortunes."

Turning from a muttered word to the soldier at his side, Thorkel answered her
with his usual curtness. "He thrives well, but his time is full of great
matters. To-day he is with the English Witan. Yesterday they chose him to be
their king. To-morrow he is to be crowned."

"To-morrow? And he would have let me remain in ignorance!" The Lady of
Northampton was unable to repress a start of anger, though she turned it as
soon as possible into a plaintive sigh. "Let me be thankful that my arrival is
not too late. I cannot tell you how we have been beset with hardships!"
Whereupon, she instantly began telling him, giving free rein to eyes and lips
and all the graceful tricks of her hands. It did not disturb her in the least
that he rode beside her in silence, when she had observed that from under the
bristling thatch of his brows his gaze never left her face.

So complete was her preoccupation that she dis-regarded another thing,--the
highway along which they were travelling. It was Randalin who first awoke to a
consciousness that the noise of the rabble had become very faint behind them,
that no sounds at all broke the stillness ahead of them, that the uneven
weed-grown path they were treading was very different from the smooth hardness
of the Watling Street. Fens on either side of them, a low hill to the
front--was this the way to London? For the first time, she spoke to the son of
Lodbrok, who had silently taken his place at her side.

"This is not the Watling Street! Yet we have not turned-- Where are we?"
Rothgar gnawed at his heavy moustache as though the answer were difficult to
frame; and before he had time to evolve it, Elfgiva, who had caught the
exclamation, had broken off her prattle.

"That is true! The crowd has disappeared--the stones are overlaid with
weeds--" In her bewilderment, she reined in her horse and would have stopped
to look about her, if Thorkel's hand upon her bridle had not compelled her to
remain in motion.

"You are still on the Watling Street," he said harshly. "It is only that this
is the old bed of it that has not been used much since the Bridge was built.
Besides the ford, it leads also to Saint Peter's Monastery on Thorney--"

Stung with fear, she tried to snatch the lines from him. "I am not going to a
monastery! I am going to the Palace."

As a cliff stands against the fretting of waves, his grasp stood against hers;
and his voice was as immovable as his hand. "Certainly you are going to a
palace, you did not let me carry out my meaning. Adjoining the Monastery there
is a dwelling-place which was once a house for travellers, that King Edgar
himself has slept in--"

"It is a prison you are taking me to!" Her voice rose in a shriek. "It is a
prison! You are mocking me I will scream for help!"

His smile mocked her openly then. "By all means,"--he assented,--" and see how
much it will profit you."

She realized then that walls were for shutting people in as well as for
shutting people out, and she could have screamed for very temper. Yet she made
one more attempt before giving way. Abandoning her struggle for the lines, she
let her little gloved hands alight like fluttering birds upon his mailed arm,
and summoned all the eloquence of her beauty into her heavenly eyes.

"No, sooner would I trust to you," she murmured. "You could not mistreat me
so! I beseech it of you, take me to the Palace where the King is."

On what she based her belief that he was incapable of thwarting her is not
quite clear, for he had never taken the trouble to hide the fact that he
considered her a nuisance, and her civil marriage with the King a piece of
youthful folly on Canute's part. Sinister satisfaction was in his tone when he
answered her.

"The Palace where the King is," he said, "is the Palace for a Queen."

At first, it seemed that she would either scratch out his eyes or throw
herself from her saddle. But in the end she did neither, for a sense of her
helplessness turned her faint. To one who has always ruled undisputed, there
is something benumbing in the first collision with the pitiless hand of Force.
"If I had the good luck to see a bee caught in a brier, I should wish your
death," she threatened. But she said it under her breath; and after that, rode
with drooping head and eyes that saw nothing of the scene before her.

When the road had left the fens, it climbed a low hill, beyond which it
entered a wood. A brook was the further boundary of the wood, and across its
brawling brown water a rude stone bridge continued their path, and linked the
bank with the little Isle of Thorns. Nature must have had a prison in mind
when she constructed this island, Elfgiva thought with a shiver. A low sandy
hillock rising amid three streams or water, the high tide would have cut it
off completely but for the friendly arm which the Watling Street extended to
it from the Tot Hill, while a thicket of brambles and briers edged it like a
natural prison wall. Nor had man forgotten such defences, she found when they
had passed a gap in the thorny hedge; a fence of stone rose sheer before them
and extended on either hand as far as eye could reach. In the fence was a
great gate of black oak, which a black-robed Benedictine presently opened to
their summons.

Now for the first time, Thorkel took his hand from her rein. "I will go no
farther," he said. "You are expected, and one of the monks will be your guide.
It lies only across the court and through one more door." His lips curled in
their cruel smile as he motioned her forward. "Go in and take possession. It
is not sure how soon the King will get time to come to you. His mood has not
been very playful lately. Rothgar's sword has scarcely had time to go to bed
in its sheath--"

"The King is occupied with great matters," Rothgar's heavy voice bore down the
old man's thinner tones. "It is not only that he has to be crowned and make
laws. He has many Englishmen to dispose of, and much land to divide up among
his following."

While Elfgiva's glance passed him uncomprehendingly, Randalin lifted startled
eyes. When she saw that he was looking directly at her, she knew that it was
no chance shaft, but an arrow aimed at her heart. The time had come that he
had looked forward to, when Canute should get the kingship over the English,
and Ivarsdale should come back to the race that had built it. And it was all
fair, quite fair, quite within the rules of the game at which she herself had
played. She had not a word to offer as she lowered her eyes and let her horse
follow the others as it would. There was satisfaction on the lips of each of
the King's deputies as they rode cityward that day.

Chapter XXV

The King's Wife

Long is and indirect the way
To a bad friend's,
Though by the road he dwell.

The fact that King Edgar had slept under its uneven on some visit to Dunstan's
monkish colony, was scarcely sufficient to make a palace of the rambling
rookery which a wall separated from the West Minster. It was an irregular
one-storied building,--or, rather, group of buildings connected by covered
passages,--and every kind of material had been used in its construction,--
brick and stone and wood,--while some of the smaller offices were even
straw-thatched and wattled.

"It is the waste-place of ruins," Elfgiva said on the day of their arrival,
when the monk who guided them proudly identified the brick portions as
fragments of the old Roman Temple to Apollo, the wooden door-posts as beams
from the Saxon Seberht's refectory, and the stone walls as contributions from
Dunstan's chapel, which the Danes of the year one thousand and twelve had
reduced to a crumbling pile.

To-day, a fortnight later, Randalin repeated the comment with a despondent
addition: "It is the waste-place of ruins, and ruins have come to dwell in it.
I can believe that it is no lie about the Fates to call them women, when they
put like with like in so housewifely a manner."

She was alone in one of the bare mouldering rooms, leaning against the
deep-set small-paned window which had become her accustomed post. It offered
no pleasanter outlook than the snow-powdered thicket beyond the wall and a
glimpse of the Thames, spreading silently over the surrounding marshes; but
from it her fancy's eye could follow the mighty stream around its eastern bend
to the point where the City walls began, and Saint Paul's shingled steeple
reared itself in lofty pride. The Palace stood in the shade of that steeple,--
the real Palace, where the King sat deciding over the fate of his new
subjects, taking their lands from them, when he did not take their lives, and
banishing them across the sea to live and die in beggary. Her fingers tapped
the glass in desperation as she realized her helplessness even to get news of
his judgments.

"The King will never come to this rubbish heap," she told herself
despairingly. "Here we are buried no less than if we lay in a mound. It is not
likely that we shall get news by an easier way than by going to him."

Straining her eyes out over the mist-robed river, she tried for the thousandth
time to think of some bait alluring enough to tempt Elfgiva to that point of
daring. Hope the Lady of Northampton had every morning when she awoke and
looked in her mirror, and Wrath lay down with her every night, but the
rashness which had prompted her first attempt, Thorkel must have taken away
with him, a trophy tied to his saddle-bow. She made big plans and she talked
big words,--but always she put off their fulfilment until the morrow.

"At this gait, he could be dead and in his grave without my knowing it!"
Randalin cried in despair, and her voice made it quite clear that "he" no
longer meant the King. Since there was no one to see it, she even allowed her
head to fall forward on her arms, and let the ache in her throat ease itself
in a little sob. "Now it is open to me that I was foolish to let what happened
in the garden, that day, cause so much sadness in my heart," she sighed. "It
should have been a great joy to me that he was still safe and happy... and I
should have found some hope in it, also, for as long as he is in England there
would always be the chance that I might see him again... And perhaps, after a
long while, when he had quite forgotten how I looked as Fridtjof... if I
should be able to learn many graceful woman's ways from Elfgiva... and if he
should come upon me when I had on a very beautiful kirtle... so long as he
likes my hair..."

But even as the smile budded on her lips, she plucked it from them, trembling.
"How dare I think of such things, when already they may have driven him across
the sea! It would be quite enough if I could know that the same land is to
hold us both, if I could have the hope of seeing him again to make it seem
worth while for me to go on living. Oh, I did not dream how much I leaned on
that, until it was taken from me!" In the utter loneliness of her despair, she
crushed her face against her arm, pressing back the burning tears, and her
heart rose in a prayer to the Englishman's God, since her own no longer
answered her: "Oh, Thou God, if Thou art kind and helpful as he says, it is
easy for Thee to let him remain here where I can sometimes see him! Leave me
this one hope, and I also will believe in Thee." With her face hidden, she
stood there praying it until it rang so strong through her soul that it seemed
to her the Power could not but hear. And after He had heard, it would be so
simple,--if He was as helpful as Sebert said.

There was new resolution in her movements when at last she left the window and
went toward Elfgiva's bower. "I will try once more to entice her to the
Palace, so that I can get tidings," she determined. "Perhaps it will be easier
if at first I suggest no more than a ride, and after that allure her by
degrees. I wonder what kind of humor she is in."

It was not necessary to go far to obtain a hint as to that. Even as she
entered the passage, she heard from the bower-chamber the crash of a chair
overturned, the scramble of scurrying feet, and then screams and the thud of

"Now it is heard that she is not sulking among her cushions," Randalin
observed. "When her temper is up she is little afraid of doing things which
she else would not dare do."

According to that her expectations should have mounted high, as she drew aside
the door curtain, for the Lady of Northampton was far from sulking. Partially
disrobed, as she had sprung up from before her mirror, she was holding the
luckless Dearwyn with one hand while with the other she administered pitiless
punishment from a long club-like candle which she had snatched from its
holder. Between her entreaties for mercy, the little maid was shrieking with
pain; now, at sight of Randalin, she redoubled her struggles so that the belt
by which her mistress grasped her burst and left her free to dart forward and
fling herself behind the Danish girl.

"Help me, help me!" she gasped; as Elfgiva swooped upon both of them, her
streaming hair taking on a resemblance to bristling fur, her eyes showing more
of opal's fire than of heaven's blue.

"Come not betwixt, or I will treat you in a like manner," the mistress panted.
"Do you understand the evil she has wrought? She has broken the wing off my
gold fly, besides tearing the hair half out of my head. It is not to be borne

But the Valkyria's fear of Elfgiva's tongue did not extend to Elfgiva's hands.
Catching the dimpled wrists, she held them off with perfect coolness, as she
said soothingly, "Now you tire yourself much, lady; and you will tire yourself
more if you consent to the entertainment I came hither to propose." She
laughed, a little excitedly, as a thought struck her. "It may even be that you
will not blame her for this, but rather take it as a sign that my advice is

To say "sign" to Elfgiva was something like saying "cream" to a cat. Gradually
she ceased trying to free her hands, to gaze at her captor. "What do you mean
by that? Or have you any meaning except only trying for an excuse to get this
hussy off from punishment?"

"No, in truth, for I thought of it before I knew that trouble had happened to
her," Randalin answered; and now she knew that it was safe to release the
wrists. "I will show you. I was thinking how it might cause amusement to us to
ride into the City and see what the goldsmiths have in their booths. And then
I came in here and found you in need of goldsmiths' mending! Does not that
look like a sign that my thought is good?"

Elfgiva threw aside the candle to come close and lay her hands upon the girl's
breast. "Good for what?" she demanded. "Do you think it likely that I might
fall in with the King somewhere in the City?"

This was going a bit faster than Randalin had planned, and her breath came
quickly, but she took the risk and admitted it. "I did hope that it might
happen that we would see the King," she said, "and--what is more important to
us--that the King might see you."

Slowly, the King's wife went back to her seat before the mirror, and sat there
fingering and turning the jewelled rouge-pots in a deep study.

"Deliver me your opinion of this, Teboen?" she said, at last, to the big
raw-boned British woman who was her nurse and also the female majordomo of her

Teboen was enough mistress of the magic art to give anything like an omen its
due weight,--and perhaps she was also human enough to be weary of a
fortnight's imprisonment with a porcupine. After becoming deliberation, she
replied that she thought rather favorably of the plan, that certainly it could
do no harm, since a visit to the booths had never been forbidden to them,
while it would be almost as sure to do good if the King could be reminded of
how beautiful a woman he was neglecting.

Elfgiva's laughter was like returning sunshine. "How! You say so? Then will we
make ready without delay! Leonorine, come hither and finish clothing
me,--Dearwyn would shake too much. Lay aside your whimpering, child; the
scourging is forgiven you. Tata, I could find it in my mind to scold you for
not thinking of this before. You must mouth the order for the horses, though,"
she added as an afterthought. "I should expect it would be told me that I am a
prisoner, whereat I should weep for rage."

Another flash of daring lighted Randalin's eyes, though her mouth remained
quiet. "A good way to keep them from thinking you a prisoner, lady, is to act
like a free woman," she said. "I shall tell them that you are going to the
Palace to see your husband." Sowing her seed, she left it to take root, and
went away to convince the head of the grooms.

As she had foretold, he was too uncertain regarding their position to dare
contest their order, little as he liked it. In something less than an hour,
the five women, fur-wrapped and flanked by pages and soldiers, were riding
across the little stone bridge and up the wooded slope of the Tot Hill. In
something more than an hour after that, they were passing under the deep arch
of the New Gate into the great City itself.

"Do you purpose to visit the Palace first, noble one?" the leader of the
guards inquired with a respectful if uneasy salute.

The seed had rooted so far that Elfgiva did not disclaim the intention; but
she hesitated a long time, pulling nervously at the embroidered top of her
riding glove. "In what direction lie the goldsmiths?" she asked at last.

"Straight ahead, lady. Nothing very pleasant is at the beginning; neither the
shambles which lie across the way, nor the wax chandler's which is opposite;
but when you get beyond Saint Martin's to the Commons, you will find--"

The lady's nose wrinkled disdainfully. "Which way lies the Palace?"

"Down the lane on your left, noble one. You can see where the wall of the
King's garden makes one side of Paternoster Row. You can reach the Cheapside
along the road also," he added, "if you do not turn in your way until you come
where the Churchyard joins the Folk --"

"Turn then to the left."

They obeyed her, but their gay chatter died on their lips. If the road bore
none of the repulsiveness of the shambles, it was still little more cheerful
than the graveyard. On their right, an ice-stiffened marsh reached to the
great City wall, while a remnant of the primeval beech forest lay along their
left, leafless, wind-lashed and groaning. Ahead, behind its walls and above
its gardens of clustering fruit-trees, rose the towers and gilded spires of
the King's Palace.

As they neared the arched gateway, red with the cloaks of the royal guards, it
seemed to Randalin that an icy hand had closed about her heart. The blood was
ebbing from Elfgiva's face, and it could be seen that she was forced to keep
moistening her lips with her tongue. Nearer--now they were in front of the
entrance-- All at once, the lady thrust a spur into her horse as he was
slackening his pace in obedience to her tightened rein.

"To the goldsmiths' first," she ordered. "On our way back--" Her words were
lost on the frosty wind.

The master of the first booth in the row of wretched little stalls was humped
with steaming breath over a brazier of glowing coals. He leaped to greet such
splendid ladies with a profusion of salaams and a mouthful of pretty speeches
that brought some of the color back to Elfgiva's cheeks.

"Do not have me in contempt, Tata," she admonished with a laugh of some
unsteadiness. "It is not certain that I am going to belie you to the guards,
or that I have lost faith in your sign. Let me sharpen my weapon for some
space among these precious things, and it may be that I shall go hence panting
for the field."

"Ah, gracious lady, you must needs buy my whole stock," the merchant cried
with ingratiating smiles, "for I can never endure to sell to another what I
have once seen near your face."

Elfgiva laughed beautifully then, and the Danish girl took a fresh grip upon
her patience. Certainly the jewelled bugs, the golden snakes, the strands of
amber and jet and pearl, seemed to act as tonics upon the Northampton lady. If
she had not traded away, at the first two stalls, every ornament in her
possession, she would have investigated each booth in the square. She came out
in bubbling spirits to the waiting horses and the half-frozen guards.

"This Cheapside is a very fairy garden," she prattled, lingering with her foot
in the hand of the kneeling groom. "Everything in beds and rows as they were
herbs,--milk down this lane, soap down that, jewels, fabrics--" She turned
with a sudden inspiration. "Maidens, would not this be a merry thought? To
find out where the fabrics are kept and try some cloth of gold against these

As the servile murmur answered, Randalin's brow darkened. Cloth of gold and
pearls,--when a wolf was tearing at her heart! She spoke desperately, "I wish
that the way to the fabrics might lie past the King's House, lady."

The King's wife sent her a glance, half resentful, half questioning. "Why do
you say that?"

"Because if Canute could see you as you look now, with your cheeks a-flower
and that ermine, like snow, upon your hair, there is nothing in the world he
could refuse you."

Elfgiva's mouth curved bewitchingly. "You speak as though you had jewels to
sell. What fine manners they have, these London merchants! Tell me, Candida,
Leonorine, does she speak the truth? On your crosses, has not the cold
reddened my nose? Or pinched the bloom off my lips?"

If the murmur that answered lacked any heartiness, their mistress did not
perceive it, for every man within earshot swelled it with reassurance,--
thinking perhaps of the hot spiced wine in the King's cups.

After a moment of hesitation, she flew up to her saddle like a bird. "Do you
all think so?" she laughed. "Certainly I never felt in lustier spirits. I
declare that I will try it. Hasten, before the roses wilt in my cheeks.
Forward! To the Palace!"

Chapter XXVI

In The Judgment Hall

Strong is the bar
That must be raised
To admit all.

While he kept a firm hold upon the spear which he had dropped like a gilded
bar across the door, the English sentinel repeated for the tenth time his
respectful denial: "I will take it upon me to admit you to the gallery, noble
lady; but you were the Queen herself, I dare not let you in to the lower part.
There be none but men with the King, and it is not fitting--"

"And is the son of a Saxon serf to decide where it is fitting for me to go?"
the Lady of Northampton demanded, facing him in a tempest of angry beauty.
"Whatsoever you shall do by my direction, dog, will in all respects be
available to your credit. Let me through to my husband, or I can tell you that
you will find your wariness terribly misplaced!"

The guard discreetly held his tongue,--but he likewise held his position.
Elfgiva's bosom was beginning to heave in hysterical menace when a second
soldier, lounging against the wall behind the first, ventured a soothing word.

"For your own safety, noble one, ask it not. The King is listening to a
quarrel between an Englishman and a Dane; and by reason of it, there are many
in the room whose tempers may--"

Randalin, who alone of all the maidens had remained undauntedly at her
mistress' elbow, caught that elbow in a vice-like grip. "Take the gallery,
then, lady!" she urged in a piercing whisper. "The gallery, as quick as you

As an angry cat wounds whoever is nearest, Elfgiva scratched her in the same
undertone. "Stupid! Do you imagine that the only Englishman who has part in
the world is the one you showed yourself a fool for? Do you not understand
that if I let them assign me to some dark gallery, Canute will not be able to
see me?"

It did not appear that the girl so much as felt the claws. Her eyes had a look
of strained listening as they gazed past the sentinel and across the ante-room
to the great curtained doorway. "He will succeed better in seeing you through
a dim light than through a stone wall," she returned.

Biting her lips, the fair Tyrant of Northampton measured the man through her
lashes. He might have been of the same material as his spear for all the sign
he showed of yielding. She could not understand such defiance, and, like
mysteries in general, it awed even while it angered her. Affecting to draw
herself up in disdain, she really gave back a step. "Perhaps it would be wise
to put off our visit until a day that there is a man at the door instead of a

Randalin's arm was an iron barrier behind her. "Now I do not know where you
think the power to do that will come from!" she hissed in her ear. "Do you not
see that if you go back to your grooms and let them know that you have not got
enough honor with the King to gain an entrance, they will never dare do your
bidding again? Do you not see that you must do one of two things, or now win,
or now lose?"

Apparently Elfgiva saw. After a moment's bridling, she whirled back with an
angry flounce of her draperies. "The gallery, then, dog! I shall reach my
lord's ear from that, which will be an unlucky thing for you."

Saluting in silence, the guard drew back to let her pass, at the same time
signing to a row of men-at-arms standing motionless as pillars against the
stone wall of the ante-room. With a rattle and clank they came to life, and
the little band of five kirtles, surrounded and led, was marched to a low
side-door which gave in upon a short flight of stone steps, white-frosted now
with the dampness and their distance from the fire. At the head of the flight,
another door gave entrance to a narrow passage that probably reached the
length of the hall below, though it seemed to the shivering women to extend
the length of the Palace itself. A third door, ending this corridor, admitted
them to the gallery that ran across the upper end of the hall.

As she passed the threshold Elfgiva exclaimed in vexation, for the light of
the log fire, whose rudely carved chimney-piece broke the long side-wall,
succumbed at the balcony's lower edge to the shadows of the raftered ceiling,
and all above was wrapped in soft twilight. "He cannot tell me from a
monster," she fumed, letting herself sink into a faded tapestry chair,
standing forgotten amid a pile of mouldering cushions.

The three English girls, pressing timidly to her side, answered with
indistinct murmurs which she could interpret to suit her pleasure. The Danish
girl made her no reply whatever. Half kneeling, half sitting upon the
cushions, her head was already bent over the gallery's edge, and the scene
below had claimed her eye and ear to the exclusion of all else.

Whatever its shortcomings as a show-case, the balcony was excellently adapted
both for spectators and for eavesdroppers, its distance from the floor being
little more than twice a man's height, while the fire which doled its light so
stingily, lavished a glory of brightness on the spot where the King's massive
chair stood beside the chimney-piece. After one petulant glance, even
Elfgiva's pique gave way to a curiosity that gradually drew her forward to the
very edge of her seat and held her there, the three maids crouching at her

Encircled by a martial throng, so massed and indistinct that they made a
background like embroidered tapestry, three figures were the centre of
attention,--the figure of the young King in his raised chair, and the forms of
the Dane and the Angle who fronted each other before his footstool. Shielded
from the heat by his palm, Canute's face was in the shadow, and the giant
shape of the son of Lodbrok was a blot against the flames, but the glare lay
strong on Sebert of Ivarsdale, revealing a picture that caused one spectator
to catch her breath in a sob. Equally aloof from English thane and Danish
noble, the Etheling in the palace of his native king stood a stranger and
alone, while his swordless sheath showed him to be also a prisoner. He bore
himself proudly, one of his blood could scarcely have done otherwise, but his
fine face was white with misery, and despair darkened his eyes as they stared
unseeingly before him.

As well as though he had put his thoughts into words, the girl who loved him
knew that his mind was back in the peaceful manor between the hills,
foreseeing its desecration by barbarian hands, foretasting the ruin of those
who looked to him for protection. From the twilight of the balcony, she
stretched out her arms to him in a passion of yearning pity, and all of
selfishness that had been in her grief faded from it utterly, as her heart
sent forth a second prayer.

"Oh, Thou God, forget what I asked for myself! Think only of helping him, of
comforting him, and I will love Thee as though Thou hadst done it to me. Help
him! Help him!"

Answering a question from the King, Rothgar began to speak, his heavy voice
seeming to fill all the space from floor to ceiling: "By all the laws of war,
King Canute, the Odal of Ivarsdale should come to me. The first son of Lodbrok
took the land before ever this Angle's kin had seen it. He built the tower
that stands on it, and the name it bears to this day is the name of his
giving. Under Guthrum, a weak-kneed son of his lost it to the English Alfred,
and we fell out of our fortunes with the tipping of the scales, and Angles
have sat since then in the seat of Lodbrok's sons. But now the scales have
risen again. Under Canute, Ivarsdale, with all other English property, comes
back to Danish hands. By all the laws of war, my kinsman's inheritance should
be my share of the spoil."

Ending roundly, he drew himself up in an attitude of bold assurance. Wherever
a group of scarlet cloaks made a bright patch upon the human arras, there was
a flutter of approval. Even the braver of the English nobles, who for
race-pride alone might have supported Sebert in a valid claim, saw nothing to
do now but to draw away, with a silent interchange of shrugs and headshakes,
and leave him to his doom.

In the shadow of his hand, Canute nodded slowly. "By all the laws of war," he
affirmed, "your kinsman's inheritance should be your share of the spoil."

Again an approving murmur rose from Danish throats; and Rothgar was opening
his lips to voice a grateful answer, when a gesture of the royal hand checked

"Recollect, however, that just now I am not only a war-chief, but also a
law-man. I think it right, therefore, to hear what the Englishman has to say
for his side. Sebert Oswaldsson, speak in your defence."

Not even a draft appeared to stir the human tapestry about them. Sebert
started like a man awakened from sleep, when he realized that every eye was
hanging upon him. Swiftly, his glance passed around the circle, from the
averted faces of his countrymen to the foreign master on the throne, then
bitterly he bent his head to his fate.

"I have nothing to say. Your justice may most rightly be meted out."

"Nothing to say?" The King's measured voice sounded sharply through the hush.
For the first time, he lowered his hand and bent forward where the fire-glow
could touch him.

As she caught sight of his face Elfgiva shrank and clutched at her women. "Ah,
Saints, I am thankful now that it is dark!" she murmured.

Sebert sustained the look with proud steadiness. "Nothing that would be of use
to me," he said; "and I do not choose to pleasure you by setting up a weak
plea for you to knock down again. The right which gave Britain to the Saxons
has given England to the Danes, and it is not by words that such a right can
be disputed. If your messengers had not taken me by surprise--" He paused,
with an odd curl to his lips that could hardly be called a smile; but Canute
gave him grim command to finish, and he obeyed with rising color. "If your
messengers had not come upon me as I was riding on the Watling Street and
brought me here, a prisoner, I would have argued the matter with arrows, and
you would needs have battered down the defence of stone walls to convince me."

Mutters of mingled admiration and censure buzzed around; and one English
noble, more daring and also more friendly than the others, drew near and spoke
a word of friendly warning in Sebert's ear. Through it all, Canute sat
motionless, studying the Etheling with his bright colorless eyes.

At last he said unexpectedly, "If you would not obey my summons until my men
had dealt with you by force, it cannot be said that you have much respect for
my authority. Do you not then acknowledge me as King of the English?"

Rothgar betrayed impatience at this branching aside. Sebert himself showed

He said hesitatingly, "I--I cannot deny that. You have the same right that
Cerdic had over the Britons. Nay, you have more, for you are the formal choice
of the Witan. I cannot rightly deny that you are King of the Angles."

"If you acknowledge me to be that," Canute said, "I do not see why you have
not an argument for your defence."

While all stared at him, he rose slowly and stood before them, a dazzling
figure as the light caught the steel of his ring-mail and turned his polished
helm to a fiery dome.

"Sebert Oswaldsson," he said slowly, "I did not feel much love toward you the
first time I saw you, and it is hard for me not to hate you now, when I see
what you are going to be the cause of. If your case had come before Canute the
man, you would have received the answer you expect. But it is your luck that
Canute the man is dead, and you stand before Canute the King. Hear then my
answer: By all the laws of war, the land belongs to Ivar's son; and had he
regained it while war ruled, I had not taken it from him, though the Witan
itself commanded me. But instead of regaining it, he lost it." He stretched a
forbidding hand toward Rothgar, feeling without seeing his angry impulse. "By
what means matters not; battles have turned on a smaller thing, and the
loyalty of those we have protected is a lawful weapon to defend ourselves
with. The kinsman of Ivar a second time lost his inheritance, and the
opportunity passed--forever. For now it is time to remember that this is not
war, but peace; and in times of peace it is not allowed to take a man's land
from him unless he has broken the law or offended honor, which no one can say
this Englishman has done. What concerns war-time is a thing by itself; as
ruler over laws and land-rights, I cannot give one man's lands to another,
though the one be a man I care little for, and the other is my foster-brother.
Go back therefore, unhindered, Lord of Ivarsdale, and live in peace
henceforth. I do not think it probable that I shall ever call you to my
friendship, but when the time comes that there is need of a brave and honest
man to serve the English people in serving me, I shall send for you. Beware
you that you do not neglect the summons of one whom you have acknowledged to
be your rightful King! Orvar, I want you to restore to him his weapon and see
him on his way in safety. Your life shall answer for any harm that comes to

With one hand, he struck down the murmur that was rising; with the other he
made an urgent gesture of haste, which Orvar seemed to understand. Even while
he was returning to the Lord of Ivarsdale his sword, he seized him by the arm
and hurried him down the room, the Etheling walking like a man in a dream.

From the dusk of the rafters, the girl who loved him stretched out her hands
to him in tender fare-well, but there was no more of anguish in the gesture.
Gazing after him, the tears rose slowly to her eyes and rolled slowly down her
cheeks, but on her mouth was a little smile whose wondering joy mounted to

No need was there for her to hide either tear or smile, for no one of the
women about her was so much as conscious of her existence. The murmur below
was growing, despite the King's restraining hand; and now, crashing through it
in hideous discord, came a burst of jeering laughter from the Jotun. What
words he also spoke they could not catch, but they heard the Danish cries sink
and die, aghast, and they saw a score of English thanes spring upon him and
drag him backwards. Above the noise of their scuffling, the King's voice
sounded stern and cold.

"While I act as law-man in my judgment hall, I will hear no disputing of my
judgments. Whoso comes to me in my private chamber, as friend to friend, may
tell his mind; but now I speak as King, and what I have spoken shall stand."

Struggling with those who would have forced him from the room, Rothgar had no
breath to retort with, but the words did not go unsaid because of that.
Wherever scarlet cloaks made a bright patch, the human arras swayed and shook
violently, and then fell apart into groups of angry men whose voices rose in
resentful chorus:

"Such judgment by a Danish King is unexampled!" "King, are we all to expect
this treatment?... This is the third time you have ruled against your own
men--" "Sven you punished for the murder of an Englishman--" "Because you
forced Gorm to pay his debt to an Englishman, he has lost all the property he
owns." "Now, as before, we want to know what this means." "You are our chief,
whose kingship we have held up with our lives--" "What are these English to
you?"... "They are the thralls your sword has laid-under, while we are of your
own blood--" "It is the strong will of us warriors to know what you mean--"
"Yes, tell it plainly!"... "We speak as we have a right." Snarling more and
more openly, they surged forward, closing around the dais in a fiery mass.

In the cushions of the balcony, Leonorine hid her face with a cry; "They will
murder him!" And Elfgiva rose slowly from her chair, her eyes dark with horror
yet unable to tear themselves from the scene below. The mail-clad King no
longer looked to her like a man of flesh and blood but like a figure of iron
and steel, that the firelight was wrapping in unendurable brightness. His
sword was no more brilliantly hard than his face, and his eyes were glittering
points. The ring of steel was in his voice as he answered:

"You speak as you have a right,--but you speak as men who have swines'
memories. Was it your support or your courage that won me the English crown?
It may be that if I had waited until pyre and fire you would have done so, but
it happened that before that time the English Witan gave it to me as a gift,
in return for my pledge to rule them justly. My meaning in this judgment, and
the others you dislike, is that I am going to keep that pledge. You are my
men, and as my men you have supported me, and as my men I have rewarded you,--
no chief was ever more open-handed with property toward his following,--but if
you think that on that account I will endure from you trouble and lawlessness,
you would better part from me and get into your boats and go back to my other
kingdom. For I tell you now, openly and without deceit, that here henceforth
there is to be but one rule for Angle and Dane alike; and I shall be as much
their King as yours; and they shall share equally in my justice. You may like
it or not, but that is what will take place."

How they liked it was suggested by a bursting roar, and the scuffling of many
feet as the English leaped forward to protect their new King and the Danes
whirled to meet them, but the women in the gallery did not wait to see the
outcome. In a frenzy of terror, Elfgiva dragged up the kneeling maids and
herded them through the door.

"Go,--before they get into the ante-room!" she gasped. "Do you not see that he
is no longer human? We should be pleading with iron. Go! Before they tear down
the walls!"

Chapter XXVII


To a good friend's
The paths lie direct,
Though he be far away.

So Sebert of Ivarsdale went to his tower unhindered; and the rest of the
winter nights, while the winds of the Wolf Month howled about the palisades,
he listened undisturbed to his harper; and the rest of the winter days he trod
in peace the homely routine of his lordship,--in peace and in absent-eyed

"The old ways are clean fallen out of England, and it becomes a man to
consider diligently how he will order his future," he told Hildelitha and the
old cniht when they inquired the reason for his abstraction. Perhaps it was
the future that was engrossing his mind, but sometimes it came to him dimly as
a strange thing how so small a matter as a slip of a girl in a page's dress
could loom so large that there was no corner of manor or tower but recalled
some trick of her tossing curls, some echo of her ringing laughter. The
platform whereon they had walked in the moonlight, facing death together, he
shunned as he would have shunned a grave; and the postern where they had
parted was haunted ground. Did he tramp across the snow-crusted fields, memory
clothed them again in nodding grain, and between the golden walls a figure in
elfin green flitted like a will o' the wisp. Did he outsit the maids and men
around his hearth and watch the dying fire with no other companions than his
sleeping dogs, fancy placed a scar-let-cloaked figure on the cushion at his
feet and raised at his knee a face of sweetest friendliness, whose flower-blue
eyes brightened or gloomed in response to his lightest mood... Once more he
heard the harp-notes that told of the wood-nymph's sorrow;... once more he
heard his laughing denunciation;... again there looked back at him the wounded
eyes... Whenever this vision rose before him, he stirred in his chair and
turned his face from the light.

"May heaven grant that she is not remembering it!" he would murmur. And for a
while he would see her as he had left her in the garden, holding herself so
bravely erect in her shining robes, her white cheeks mocking at her smiling
lips. A great well of pity would spring in his breast, drowning his heart with
its pent-up gushing, and the waters would rise, rise, until they had touched
his eyes. But always before they brimmed over, another change would come.
Slowly, the rigid figure before him would relax into an attitude of idle
grace, the white cheeks would regain their color, the eyes their brightness,
and--presto! she stood before him as he had seen her from the passage, a
high-born maid among her kind, favored by the King, guarded by her lover. When
he reached this point, he always rose with an abruptness that swept his goblet
to the floor and awakened the sleeping dogs.

"Fool!" he would spurn himself. "Mad puffed-up fool! Keep in mind that she has
her consolers, while you have only your wound. If she could stake her all upon
the son of Lodbrok and then give him up at the turn of the wheel, is it in any
way likely that she is dead with tears for you? What? It may easily be that
she has had a new love for every month that has passed."

As the winter wore on, he grew restless in his solitude, restless and sullen
as the waters of the little stream in their prison of ice. He told himself
that when the spring came he would feel more settled; but when on one of his
morning rides he came upon the first crocus, lifting its golden cup toward the
sun, it only gave to his pointless restlessness a poisoned barb. Involuntarily
his first thought was, "It would look like a spark of fire in the dusk of her
hair." When he realized what he had said, he planted the great fore-foot of
his horse squarely on the innocent thing and crushed it back into the earth;
but it had done its work, for after that he knew that neither the promise of
the springtime nor the fullness of the harvest would bring him any pleasure,
since his eyes must see them alone.

"The next time they sing the 'Romance of King Offa,' before me, I will not
hold back my sympathy," he scorned himself, "for at last I understand how it
is possible for an elf to lure a man's reason off its seat and leave him a
dreaming dolt."

Like a new lease of life it came to him when the last of the April days
brought the long-delayed summons to the King. The old cniht, who considered
that a command to military service could be justified only by imminent
national destruction, was deeply incensed when he learned that the call was to
no more than an officership in the new body of Royal Guards, but the young
lord checked him with even a touch of impatience.

"What a throng of many words, my friend Morcard, have you spoken! Did you
learn naught from the palisade that gave way because churls paid me their
service when and how they would?" he demanded. "Now let me inform you that I
have got that lesson by heart, and hereafter no king shall have that trouble
about me. At sunrise, I ride back with the messenger." And he maintained this
view so firmly that his face was rather stern as he spent the night settling
matters of ploughing and planting and pasturage with the indignant old

But the next morning, after he had set forth and found how every mile
lengthening behind him lightened the burden of his depression, a kind of joy
rose phoenix-like out of the gray ashes of duty.

"If I had continued there, I should have become feeble in mind," he said.
"Now, since I have got out of that tomb that she haunts, it may be that I can
follow my art more lustily." And suddenly his sternness melted into a great
warmth, toward the strapping soldier riding beside him, toward the pannier-
laden venders swinging along in their tireless dog-trot, even toward the
beggar that hobbled out of the ditch to waylay him. "To live out in the world,
where you are pulled into others' lives whether you will or no, is the best
thing to teach people to forget," he said. "Solitude has comfort only for
those who have no sorrows, for Solitude is the mother of remembrance."

He got genuine enjoyment out of the hour that he was obliged to sit in the
ante-room, waiting to be admitted to the King. On one side of him, a group was
discussing a Danish rebellion that seemed to be somewhere in progress; on the
other, men were speculating on the chances of a Norman invasion,--news of
keenest interest was flying thick as bees in June; and the coming and going of
the red-cloaked warriors, the occasional passing of some great noble through
the throng, stimulated him like wine.

"Praise to the Saint who has brought me into a life where there are no women!"
he told himself. "Yes! Oh, yes! Here once more I shall rule my thoughts like a
man." When a page finally came to summon him, he followed with buoyant step
and so gallant a bearing that more than one turned to look at him as he

"Yonder goes the new Marshal," he heard one say to another, and gave the words
a fleeting wonder.

The bare stone hall into which the boy ushered him was the same room in which
he had had his last audience, and now as then the King sat in the great carved
chair by the chimney-piece, but other things were so changed that inside the
threshold the Etheling checked his swinging stride to gaze incredulously. No
soldiers were to be seen but the sentinels that had been placed beside the
doorways, stiff as their gilded pikes, and they counted strictly in the class
with the ebony footstools and other furnishings. The knots of men, scattered
here and there in buzzing discussion, were all dark-robed merchants and
white-bearded judges, while around the table under the window a dozen
shaven-headed monks were working busily with writing tools. The King himself
was no longer armored, but weapon-less and clad in velvet. Stopping
uncertainly, Sebert took from his head the helmet which he had worn, soldier
fashion, into the presence of his chief, and into his salutation crept some of
the awe that he had felt for Edmund's kingship, before he knew how weak a man
held up the crown.

Certainly Edmund had never received a greeting with more of formal dignity
than the young Dane did now, while Edmund could never have spoken what
followed with this grim directness which sent every word home like an arrow to
its mark.

"Lord of Ivarsdale, before I speak further I think it wise that we should make
plain our minds to each other. Some say that you are apt to be a hard man to
deal with because you bend to obedience only when the command is to your
liking. I want to know if this is true of you?"

Half in surprise, half in embarrassment, the Etheling colored high, and his
words were some time coming; but when at last they reached his lips, they were
as frank as Canute's own. "Lord King," he made answer, "that some truth is in
what you have heard cannot be gainsaid; for a king's thane I shall never be,
to crouch at a frown and caper according to his pleasure. What service I pay
to you, I pay as an odal-man to the State for which you stand. Yet I will say
this,--that I think men will find me less unruly than formerly, for, as I have
accepted you for my chief, so am I willing to render you obedience in any
manner soever you think right to demand it. This I am ready to swear to."

Canute's fist struck his chair-arm lightly. "Nothing more to my mind has
occurred for a long time, and I welcome it! Better will both of us succeed if
we declare openly that friendship between us must always be rather shallow. I
love not men of your nature, neither is it possible for me to forget what you
have cost me. Hatred would come much easier to me,--and I will not deny that
you will feel it if ever you give me fair cause for anger." For an instant an
edge of his Viking savagery made itself felt through his voice; then faded as
quickly into cold courtesy. "As to this which I now offer you, however, I
think few are proud enough to find fault about it, for I have called you
hither to be a Marshal of the kingdom and to have the rule over my Guards. Men
from many lands will be among them, and it is a great necessity that I have at
their head a man I can trust, while it is also pleasing to the English that
that man be an Englishman. Concerning the laws which I shall make to govern
them, Eric Jarl will tell you later."

"Marshal!" That then was what the mutter in the ante-room had meant. Sebert
would not have been young and a soldier if he had not felt keen delight tingle
through every nerve. Indeed, his pleasure was so great that he dared say
little in acknowledgment, lest it betray him into too great cordiality toward
this stern young ruler who, though in reality a year younger than he, seemed
to have become many years his senior. He said shortly, "If I betray your
trust, King Canute, let me have no favor! Is it your intention to have me make
ready now against this incursion of the Normans, of which men are--"

He did not finish his question, for the King raised his hand impatiently.

"It is not likely that swords will have any part in that matter, Lord Marshal.
There is another task in store for you than to fight Normans,--and it may be
that you will think it beneath your rank, for instead of the State, it
concerns me and my life, which someone has tried to take. Yet I expect you
will see that my death would be little gainful to England." A second curt
gesture cut short Sebert's rather embarrassed protest. "Here are no fine words
needed. Listen to the manner in which the deed was committed. Shortly before
the end of the winter, it happened that Ulf Jarl saw the cook's scullion pour
something into a broth that was intended for me to eat. Suspecting evil, he
forced the fellow instead to swallow it, and the result was that, that night,
the boy died."

The Etheling exclaimed in horror: "My lord! know you whence he got it?"

"You prove a good guesser to know that it was not his crime," the King said
dryly. "A little while ago, I found out that he got it from the British woman
who is nurse to Elfgiva of Northampton." To this, the new Marshal volunteered
no answer whatever, but drew his breath in sharply as though he found himself
in deep water; and the King spoke on. "I did not suspect the Lady of
Northampton of having evil designs toward me, because--because she is more
prosperous in every respect while I am alive; and now that belief is proved
true, for I am told for certain that, the day before the British woman gave
the boy the liquid, a Danishman gave the British woman an herb to make a drink
of." He paused, and his voice became slower and much harder, as though he were
curbing his feelings with iron. "Since you have heard the Norman rumor," he
said, "it is likely that you have heard also of the discontent among the
Danes, who dislike my judgments; but in case you have not, I will tell you
that an abundance of them have betaken themselves to a place in the Middlesex
forest where they live outlaws,--and their leader is Rothgar Lodbroksson."

To motion back a man who was approaching him with a paper, he turned away for
a moment; and Sebert was glad of the excuse to avoid meeting his glance. Not
until now had he understood what the judgment in his favor had cost the judge,
and his heart was suddenly athrob with many emotions. "In no way is it strange
that I am hateful to him," he murmured. "But by Saint Mary, _he_ is of the
sort that is worth enduring from!"

He inclined his head in devoted attention as the King turned back, lowering
his tone to exclude all but the man before him. "Even less than I believe it
of Elfgiva of Northampton, do I believe it of Rothgar Lodbroksson, that he
would seek my life. But often that happens which one least expects, and it is
time that I use forethought for myself. Now I know of no man in the world who
is better able to help my case than you."

"I!" the Etheling ejaculated. Suddenly it occurred to him to suspect that his
new-sworn vow of obedience was about to be put genuinely to the test, and he
drew himself up stiffly, facing the King. But Canute was tracing idle patterns
on the carving of his chair-arm.

"Listen, Lord of Ivarsdale," he said quietly. "It is unadvisable for me to
stir up further rebellion among the Danes by accusing them of things which it
is not certain they have done, and even though I seized upon these women it
would not help; while I cannot let the matter continue, since one thing after
another, worse and worse, would be caused by it. The only man who can end it,
while keeping quiet, is the one who has the friendship of the only woman among
them to whose honor I would risk my life. I mean Randalin, Frode's daughter."

Whether or not he heard Sebert's exclamation, he spoke on as though it had not
been uttered. "One thing is, that she knows nothing of a plot; for did she so,
she would have warned me had it compelled her to swim the Thames to reach me.
But she must be able to tell many tidings that we wish to know, with regard to
the use they make of their jewels, and the Danes who visit them, and such
matters, which might be got from her without letting her suspect that she is
telling news. Now you are the one person who might do this without making any
fuss, and it is my will therefore that you go to her as soon as you can. Your
excuse shall be that the Abbot has in his keeping some law-parchments which I
have the wish to see, but while you are there, I want you to renew your
friendship with her and find out these things for me. By obeying me in this,
you will give the State help where it is most needed and hard to get." When
that was out, he raised his head and met the Etheling's eyes squarely, and it
was plain to each of them that the moment had come which must, once and
forever, decide their future relations.

It was a long time that the Lord of Ivarsdale stood there, the pride of his
rank, and the prejudice of his blood, struggling with his new convictions, his
new loyalty. But at last he took his eyes from the King's to bow before him in
noble submission.

"This is not the way of fighting that I am used to, King Canute," he said,
"and I will not deny that I had rather you had set me any other task; but
neither can I deny that, since you find you have need of my wits rather than
of my sword, it is with my wits that it behooves me to serve you. Tell me
clearly what is your command, and neither haughtiness nor self-will shall
hinder me from fulfilling it."

Chapter XXVIII

When Love Meets Love

Rejoiced at evil
Be thou never,
But let good give thee pleasure.

Before the time of the Confessor, the West Minster was little more than the
Monastery chapel, in which the presence of the parish folk, if not forbidden,
was still in no way encouraged. To-day, when the Lord of Ivarsdale came
unnoticed into the dim light while the last strains of the vesper service were
rising, there were no more than a score of worshippers scattered through the
north aisle,--a handful of women, wives of the Abbot's military tenants, a
trader bound for the land beyond the ford, a couple of yeomen and a hollow-
eyed pilgrim, drifting with the current of his unsteady mind. After a
searching glance around him, the Etheling took up his station in the shelter
of a pillar.

"Little danger--or hope--is there than I can miss her," he told himself, "if
she is indeed here, as the page said. Yet of all the unlikely places to seek
her!" he smiled faintly as the figure in elfin green flitted through his mind.
As well look for a wood-nymph at confession--unless indeed, Elfgiva had taken
her there against her will-- But that was scarcely likely, he remembered
immediately afterwards, since an English-woman who had entered into a civil
marriage with a Dane would be little apt to frequent an English church.
"Doubtless she makes of it a meeting place with her newest lover," he
concluded. And the anger the thought gave him, and a sense of the helplessness
of his own position, was so great that he could not remain quiet under it but
was tortured into moving restlessly to and fro in the shadow.

Tender as the gloaming of a summer day was the shade in the great nave, with
the ever-burning candles to remind one of the eternal stars. Now their
quivering light called into life, for one brief moment, the golden dove that
hung above the altar; now it touched with dazzling brightness the precious
service on the holy table itself; again it was veiled by drifting incense as
by heaven's clouds. From the throats of the hidden choir, the last note
swelled rich and full, to roll out over the pillared aisles in a wave of
vibrant sound and pass away in a sigh of ineffable sweetness under the

As he bowed his head in the holy hush that followed, the hush of souls before
a wordless bene-diction, some of Sebert's bitterness gave way to a great
compassion. What were we all, when all was told, but wrong-doers and mourners?
Why should one hold anger against another? In pity for himself and the whole
world, his heart ached within him, as a rustling of gowns and a shuffling of
feet told that the worshippers had risen from their knees and were coming
toward him. He raised his bowed head sadly, fearfully.

First came the merchant, tugging at his long beard as he advanced,--though
whether his meditations were the leavings of the mood that had held him or a
reaching forward into the busy future, none could tell. Him, Sebert's eye
dismissed with a listless glance. Behind the trader came the yeomen, one of
them yawning and stretching noisily, the other energetically pulling up his
belt as one tightens the loosened girth on a horse that has had an interval of
rest. The young noble's glance leaped them completely in its haste to reach
those who followed,--the knot of women, fluttering and rustling and preening
like a flock of birds. But the bird he sought was not of their number. He
stared blindly at the pilgrim as the wanderer shuffled past, muttering and
beating his breast. Only one figure followed the penitent, and if that should
not be she! Even though he felt that it could not be--even though he hoped it
was not--hoping and fearing, dreading and longing, his eyes advanced to meet
the last of the worshippers.

Only one figure, but all at once it was as though the whole world were before

Coming slowly toward him out of the soft twilight, with eyes downcast and
hands folded nun-like before her, the daughter of Frode did not look out of
place amid blue wreaths of incense and starry altar tapers. Even her robes
were in keeping, gold-weighted as they were, for hood and gown and
fur-bordered mantle were of the deepest heliotrope, that color which bears the
majesty of sorrow while yet it holds within it the rose-tint of gladness.
Beneath its tender shadow the dusk of her hair became deeper, and her face,
robbed by winter of its brownness, took on the delicacy of a cameo. Ah, what a
face it was now, since pain had deepened its sweetness and patience had
purified its ardor! The radiance of a newly-wakened soul was like a halo
around it.

Standing there gazing at her, a wonderful change came over the Lord of
Ivarsdale. Neither then nor ever after could he understand how it happened,
but, all at once, the barrier that circumstances had raised against her fell
like the city walls before the trumpet blast, until not one stone was left
standing upon another. Without knowing how or why,--looking at her, he
believed in her; and his manner, which a moment before had been constrained
and hesitating, became easeful with perfect confidence. Without knowing how or
why he knew it, he knew that she had never squandered her love on the Jotun,
neither had she come here to meet any Dane of the host. He knew her for his
dream-love, sweet and true and fine; and he stepped out of the shadow and
knelt before her, raising the hem of her cloak to his lips.

"Most gentle lady, will you give a beggar alms?" he said with tender

The sound of his voice was like a stone cast into still water. The rapt peace
of her look was broken into an eddy of conflicting emotions. Amazement was
there and a swift joy, which gave way almost before it could be named to
something approaching dread, and that in turn yielded place to wide-eyed
wonder. With her hands clasped tightly over her breast, she stood looking down
at him.

"My lord?" she faltered.

As one who spreads out his store, he held out his palms toward her. "Randalin,
I have sought you to add to the payment of my debt the one thing that in my
blindness I held back,--I have come to add my true love to the rest I lay
before you."

As a flower toward the sun, she seemed to sway toward him, then drew back, her
sweet mouth trembling softly. "I--I want not your pity," she said brokenly.
Still kneeling before her, he possessed himself of her hands and drew them
down to his lips.

"Is it thus, on his knee, that one offers pity?" he said. Holding the hands
fast, he rose and stood before her. "Heart beloved of my heart, you were
merciless to read the truth before. Look again, and take care that you read me
as fairly now."

Despite his gentleness, there was a strength in his exaltation which would not
be resisted. Turning shrinkingly, she looked into his eyes.

In the gray-blue depths of her own he saw the shimmer of a dawning light, as
when the evening star first breaks through a June sky, and gradually the
star-splendor spread over her face, until it touched her parted lips.

"You--love me--" she breathed, but her voice no longer made it a question.

Still gazing into his eyes, she let him draw her closer and closer, till he
had gathered her to his breast.

Chapter XXIX

The Ring of The Coiled Snake

He is happy
Who for himself obtains
Fame and kind words;
Less sure is that
Which a man must have
In another's breast.

The murmur of the rain that was falling gently on the roses of the Abbey
garden stole in through the open windows of Elfgiva's bower and blended softly
with the music of Candida's lyre. Poring over the dingy scrolls spread out on
the table before her, the Lady of Northampton yawned until she was moved to
throw herself back among her cushions with a gesture of graceful surrender.

"It seems that the Saints are going to take pity on me and shorten one of
these endless days with a nap. Nurse, have a care for these scrolls. And if it
happen that the King's Marshal comes-- Randalin! Where is Randalin?"

Beyond Leonorine's embroidery frame and the stool where Candida bent over her
lyre, the length of the room away, a figure in iris-blue turned from the
window by which it stood.

"Here, lady. What is your need?"

To place the speaker Elfgiva raised her head slightly, laughing as she let it
sink back. "Watching for him already, and the sun but little past noon? For
shame, moppet! Come here."

"So please you, I was watching the rain on the roses," Randalin excused
herself with a blush as she came forward.

A merry chorus mocked her: "Is it to watch the roses that you have put on the
gown which matches your eyes, you sly one?"... "And the lilies in your hair,
sweet? Is it to shelter them from the rain that you wear them?"... "Fie, Tata!
Can you not fib yet without changing color?"

But Elfgiva raised an impatient hand. "Peace, chatterers!" she commanded; and
drawing the girl to her, she spoke low and earnestly in her ear.

Randalin looked up in surprise. "You will not see him, lady? Not though he
bring news of the doings in the Palace?"

"Heaven's mercy!" Elfgiva shrugged with a touch of scorn. "What abundance of
news he has found to bring since the day he fell in with you at even-song!"
Then she consented to smile faintly as she settled her head among the
cushions. "I would rather sleep, child. Comfort him as best you can,--only not
so well that you forget that which I enjoined you. If he fail us, I cannot
tell what we shall do,--now that the second scullion has been so foolish as to
get himself killed in some way. Where bear you the ring?"

The girl touched the spot where the gold chain that encircled her neck crept
into the breast of her gown. The lady shook her head.

"Never would you think of it again. Take it out and wear it on your finger."

As she obeyed, Randalin laughed a little, for the ring was a man's ring, a
massive spiral whose two ends were finished with serpents' heads, and her
thickest finger was but a loose fit in its girth. But Elfgiva, when she had
seen it on, closed her eyes with an air of satisfaction.

"To keep from losing it, will keep it in your mind," she said. "Now leave me.
Candida, -- more softly! And see to it that you do not stop the moment my eyes
are closing. Leonorine, why are you industrious in singing only when it is not
required of you?... That is better... Let no one wake me."

They drew silence around her like a curtain through whose silken web the
blended voices of rain and lyre and singer crept in soothing melody. To escape
its ensnaring folds, Randalin stole back to the distant window beneath which
Dearwyn sat on a little bench, weaving clover blossoms into a chain.

The little gentlewoman looked up with her soft pretty smile. "How mysterious
you are, you two!" she whispered, as she swept the mass of rosy bloom to the
floor to make room for her friend. "What with Teboen always seething
ill-smelling herbs and-- Tata, I pray you to tell who has gifted you with such
a monster?"

Waving the ring where the light might catch the serpents' eyes, Randalin
pursed her lips with so much mystery that her friend was tempted to catch the
hand and hold it prisoner while she examined the ornament. After one look,
however, she let it fall with an expression of awe upon her dimpled face.

"The ring Canute gave Elfgiva--that he won from the giant Rothgar? Heaven
forbid that I should press upon her secrets! My ears tingle yet from the cuff
I got only for looking at yonder dirty scroll. Yet how long is it since you
were taken into their councils, Tata? Yesterday you were no better able than I
to say how things were with her."

"How long?" Randalin repeated dreamily. Her gaze had gone back again to the
rain, falling so softly that every pool in the sodden paths seemed to be full
of lazily winking eyes. "Oh, there are many good chances that he will be here
soon now. He is seldom later than the third hour after noon."

After a bewildered gasp, Dearwyn stifled a burst of laughter in her garlands.
"Oh, Tata, come to earth!" she admonished. "Come to earth!" And scooping up a
handful of the fragrant bloom, she pelted the dreamer with rosy balls.

Shaking them from robe and clustering hair, Randalin turned back, smiling. But
her lips sobered almost to wistfulness as she sank down upon the seat beside
her friend. "It seems that I must do that against my will," she said.
"Dearwyn, do you get afraid when you are happy? Sometimes, when I stand here
watching for him and think how different all has happened from what I
supposed, I am so happy,"--she paused, and it was as though the sun had caught
the iris flowers in her eyes, until a cloud came between and the blue petals
purpled darkly--"so happy that it causes fear to me, lest it be no more than a
dream or in some way not true."

Her cheek, as she ended, was softly pale, but Dearwyn brushed it pink with
sweeps of the long-stemmed blossom in her hand.

"Sweet, it is the waxing of the moon. I pray you be blithe in your spirits.
Small wonder your lover bears himself as gravely as a stone man on a tomb if
you talk such--"

"Dearwyn, the same thought has overtaken us both!" Randalin broke in
anxiously, and now she was all awake and staying the other's busy fingers to
ensure her attention. "Not a few times it has seemed to me that he looks weary
of heart, as though some struggle were sapping his strength. He swears it is
not so, yet I think the rebellion of his pride against king-serving--"

"If you want to know my belief, it is that he carries trouble in his breast
about you," Dearwyn interrupted.

"About me?" So much hurt surprise was in Randalin's manner that the little
maid begged forgiveness with caresses of the swaying clover.

"Be not vexed, honey, but in truth he is overcome by the oddest look
whensoever he watches you without your seeing,--as though he were not sure of
you, in some way, and yet-- Oh, I cannot explain it! Only tell me this,--does
he not ask you, many times and oft, if you love him, or if others love you, or
such like?"

In the midst of shaking her head, Randalin paused and her mouth became as
round as her eyes. "Foolishly do I recall it! As if he would! And yet--
Dearwyn, he has asked me four times if any Danes visit us here. Would you
think that he could be--"

"Jealous?" Dearwyn dropped her flowers to clap her hands softly. "Tata, I have
guessed his distemper rightly. Let no one say that I am not a witch for
cleverness! Ah, you can have the best fun that ever any maid could have! If
you could but make him believe something about that Danishman that Teboen saw
last winter!"

"Last winter?" Randalin repeated. "Oh! I had altogether forgotten him. It
seems that it has not been truthfully spoken when--"

The little Angle smothered the rest in her rapturous embrace. "The ring,
Tata,-- that would be the cream of all! Let him think that Rothgar gave it to
you, that he is your lover! I would give many kirtles to see his face."
"Rothgar?" Randalin's voice was light with scorn. "As likely would! be to
think him love-struck for the serving-wench who sparkled her eyes at him, as
he to think that Rothgar Lodbroksson could count for aught with me! Yet I say
nothing against the fun it would be. It may be that if he take notice of the
thing and question me--just to see how he would look--" She broke off
discreetly, but the one elf which the Abbot had not exorcised crept out and
danced in the dimple of her cheek.

Dearwyn shook her floral rod with an assumption of severity. "I trust he will
be sorely disquieted," she said. "He deserves no otherwise for his behavior
last winter. Are you so soft of heart, Tata, that you are never going to
reckon with him for that?"

The dimple-elf took wing and all the mischief in the girl's eyes seemed to go
with him. "Those days are buried," she said. "Let the earth grow green above
them." And suddenly she leaned forward and hid her face on the other's
shoulder. "Bring them not before me, Dearwyn, my friend, until I am a little
surer of my happiness. It is so new yet, Dearwyn, so new! And it came to me so

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