Part 5 out of 5
suddenly that sometimes it almost seems as if it might depart as suddenly from
me." A while they nestled together without speaking, the little maid's cheek
resting lovingly on her friend's dark hair.
It was a page thrusting aside the arras that broke the spell. Opening his
mouth to make a flourishing announcement, the words were checked on his tongue
by four white hands motioning stern commands for silence.
"It is the King's Marshal," he framed with protesting lips. But even that
failed to gain him admittance.
Rising, flushed and smiling, the girl with the blue lilies in her hair tiptoed
toward him. "I have orders to receive the Marshal," she whispered. "Where is
"He is in the Old Room," the page answered rather resentfully, but resigned
himself as he remembered that, however this curtailed his importance, it left
open a prompter return to his game of leap-frog along the passage.
In all probability his nimble departure saved him from a scolding for, as she
tripped after him down the corridor, a little frown was forming between
Randalin's brows. "I think it is not well-mannered of the fellow to say 'the
King's Marshal' as though my lord were Canute's thane," she was reflecting,
"and I shall put an end to it. Whatever others say, one never needs to tell me
that Sebert is not suffering in his service."
With this thought in her mind, she raised the moth-eaten tapestry and stood
looking at him with a face full of generous indignation. Except for the
noble's embroidered belt and gold-hilted sword, his dress now differed in no
way from that of the hundreds and hundreds of red-cloaked guards who were
spread over the country like sparks after a conflagration. As he turned at the
end of the beat he was pacing and came slowly toward her, she could see that
in its gravity his face was as soldier-like as his clothes. Always she found
it so when she came upon him unawares; and always, when she spoke to him-- She
held her breath as his eyes rose to her, and let it go with a little sigh of
happiness as she saw gloom drop from him like a mask at the sight of her.
"Randalin!" he cried joyously, and made a step toward her, then stopped to
laugh in gay wonder. "Now no poet would call you 'a weaver of peace' as you
stand there, for you look rather like an elf of battle. What is it, my raven?"
Her lips smiled back at him, but a mist was over her eyes. "It is your King
that I am angry with, lord. He is not worthy that a man like you should serve
Moving toward her again, he held himself a little straighter. "I serve not the
King, dear heart," he said gently, "but the State of England, in whose service
the highest is none too good to bend."
She yielded him her hands but not her point. "That does not change the fact
that it is his overbearingness which makes your path as though you trod on
nettles,--for certainly I know it is so, though you will not say it!"
Neither would he admit it now, but laughed lightly as he drew her to him. "Now
may he not give me thorns who gives me also the sweetest rose in his king-dom?
I tell you he is the kingliest king ever I had to deal with, and the chief I
would soonest trust England to. Be no Danish rebel, shield-maiden, or as the
King's officer I will mulct your lips for every word of treason."
She showed no rebellion against his authority, at all events; and her hands
remained in his clasp until of his own accord he opened his fingers with an
exclamation. "Do you wear bracelets for rings, my fair, or what? _What_!" From
the monstrous bauble in his palm, he raised his eyes to hers, and if she had
seen their look she might have answered differently. But her gaze was still on
the ring; and as she felt him start, that impish dimple peeped out of her
"Is it not a handsome thing?" she said. "It looks to be a ring to belong to a
The dimple deepened as she heard his tone. For all its absurdity, there must
be some truth in Dearwyn's witch-skill. She was obliged to droop her lashes
very low to hide the mischief in her eyes. "It is not his now," she murmured.
"It has been given me--to keep me in mind of something." But after that her
amusement grew too strong to be repressed, and she looked up at him with
over-brimming laughter. "There will soon be too much of this! Sweetheart mine,
are you in truth so easy to plague?"
Laughing she looked up at him, but, even as his face was clearing, something
in it struck her so strangely that her laughter died and she bent toward him
in sudden gravity. "Lord! It is not possible for you to believe that I could
love Rothgar!" Her manner of uttering that one word made it speak more scorn
than volumes might have done.
For a while he only looked at her, that strange radiance growing in his face;
but suddenly he caught her to him and kissed her so passionately that he hurt
her, and his voice was as passionate as his caress. "No," he told her over and
over. "Would I have offered you my love had I believed that? No! No!"
Satisfied, she made no more resistance but clung to him with her arms as she
had clung to him with her heart since the first hour he came into her life.
Only, when at last he released her, she took the ring from her finger and
thrust it into his hand with a little gesture of distaste. "I shall be
thankful if I do not have to see it again. It is Elfgiva's, that Canute gave
her after he had won it from Rothgar in some wager. It is her wish that you
bring it to the King again by slipping it into his broth or his wine where he
will come upon it after he has finished feeding and is therefore amiable--"
She stopped to laugh merrily in his face. "See how the very naming of the King
turns you grave again! When one gets a Marshalship, one becomes more and more
stark." Grown mischievous again in her happiness, she mocked him with
But it was only very faintly that he smiled at her fooling, as he held the
spiral against the light and shook it beside his ear. "Is there no more to the
message," he said slowly. "Am I to know nothing of her object? Or why I am
chosen of all others?"
"Easy is it to tell that," she laughed. "You were not chosen without a reason,
and that is because no one else is to be had, since the scullion who formerly
served her has gotten himself killed in some way and the man who stepped into
his shoes, out of some spite, has refused Teboen's gold. And as for her
object-- I wonder at you, lord of my heart! What kind of a lover are you that
you cannot guess that?" Feigning to flout him, she drew away; then feigning to
relent, turned back and laughed it into his ear. "It is a love-token! To hold
him to the fair promises he made at its giving, and to remind him of her, and
to win her a crown, and to do so many strange wonders that no tongue can
number them! Are you not ashamed to have failed on so easy a riddle?"
To her surprise, his gravity deepened almost to horror. "Love-token!" he
repeated; and suddenly he laid his hands on her shoulders and forced her
gently to give him eye for eye. "Randalin, if I comply with you in this
matter, will you answer me a question? Answer with such care as though your
life--nay, as though _my_ life depended on it?"
"Willingly; more than one," she consented; but forgot to wait for it as a
memory, wakened by his words, stirred in her. "Now it is time for me to
remember that there is one thing I have not been altogether truthful about,
through forgetting,--about the Danes we have seen. I recall now that last
winter Teboen often saw one when she was gathering herbs in the wood. She
spoke with him of the magic things she brews to make Elfgiva sleep, and he
gave her herbs which she thought so useful that she has been fretful because
she has not seen him since--"
Unconsciously, the young soldier's hands tightened on her shoulders until she
winced. "You know with certainty that she has never seen him since?" he
demanded,--" that Danes had naught to do with the last token Elfgiva sent
through the scullion? You can swear to it?"
"Certainly, if they speak the truth, I know it," she answered wonderingly.
"How should Danes--why, Sebert, what ails you?"
For he had let go her shoulders as abruptly as he had seized them, and walked
away to the window that looked out upon the rain-washed garden. After a
moment's hesitation, she stole after him. "Sebert, my love, what is it?
Trouble is in your mind, there is little use to deny it. Dearwyn says it
concerns me, but I know that it is no less than the King. Dear one, it seems
strange that you cannot disclose your mind to me as well as to--Fridtjof."
It was the first time, in their brief meetings together, that she had spoken
that name, and his smile answered. Even while his lips admitted a trouble, his
manner put it aside. "You are right that it concerns the King, my elf.
Sometimes the work he assigns me is neither easy nor pleasant to accomplish.
Yet without any blame to him, most warlike maiden, for--"
But she would not be prevented from saying stern things of her royal guardian,
so at last he let her finish the subject, and stood pressing her hands upon
his breast, his eyes resting dreamily on her face.
When she had finished, he said slowly, "Sweeting, because my mind is laboring
under so many burdens that my wits are even duller than they are wont, will
you not have the patience to answer one question that is not clear to me? Do
you think it troublesome to tell me why it was that you said, that day in the
garden--Now shake off that look, dearest; never will we speak of it again if
it is not to your wish! Tell me what you meant by saying that you came into
Canute's camp because you had too much faith in Rothgar, if you despise
him--since you despise him so?"
Her eyes met his wonderingly. "By no means could I have said that, lord. When
I left home, I knew not that Rothgar lived. The one in whom I had too much
faith was the King. Because I was young and little experienced, I thought him
a god; and when I came to his camp and found him a man, I thought only to
escape from him. That was why I wore those clothes, Sebert--not because I
liked so wild a life. That is clear to you, is it not?"
He did not appear to hear her last words at all. He was repeating over and
over, "The King, the King!" Suddenly he said, "Then I got that right, that it
was he who summoned me to Gloucester to make sure that you had kept your
secret from me also?--that he was angry with you for deceiving him?"
"Yes," she said. But as he opened his lips to put another question, she laid
her finger-tip beseechingly upon them, "Sebert, my love, I beg of you let us
talk no more of those days. Sometime, when we have a long time to be together,
I will tell you everything that I have had in my breast and you shall show me
everything that you have had in yours, but--but let us wait, sweetheart, until
our happiness seems more real than our sorrow. Even yet I do not like the
thought of the 'sun-browned boy-bred wench.'" She laughed a little unsteadily
at the sudden crimsoning of his face. "And I am still ashamed-- and ashamed of
being ashamed--that I showed you so plainly what my heart held for you...
Elfgiva's tongue has stabbed me sore... Beloved, can you not be content, for
now, with knowing that I have loved no man before you and shall love none
Bending, he kissed her lips with the utmost tenderness. "I am well content,"
he said. And after that they spoke only of the future, when the first period
of his Marshalship should be over and he should be free to take his bride back
to the fields and woods of Ivarsdale, and the gray old Tower on the hill.
When The King Takes a Queen
Moderately wise Should each one be,
But never over-wise;
For a wise man's heart
Is seldom glad
If he is all-wise who owns it.
Out under the garden's spreading fruit trees, the little gentlewomen of
Elfgiva's household were amusing themselves with the flock of peacocks that
were the Abbey's pets. In a shifting dazzling mass of color--blended blue and
green and golden fire--all but one of the brilliant birds were pressing around
Candida, who scattered largess from a quaint bronze vase, while the one whose
vanity was greater even than its appetite was furnishing sport for Dearwyn as
she strutted after him in merry mimicry, lifting her satin-shod feet mincingly
and trailing her rosy robes far behind her on the grass. The old cellarer, to
whose care the birds fell except during those hours when the brethren were
free for such indulgences, watched the scene in grinning delight; and
Leonorine laughed gaily at them over the armful of tiny bobbing lap-dogs,
whose valiant charges she was engaged in restraining. The only person who
seemed out of tune with the chiming mirth was the Lady Elfgiva herself. Among
the blooming bushes she was moving listlessly and yet restlessly, and each
rose she plucked was speedily pulled to pieces in her nervous fingers. A
particularly furious outburst from the dogs, followed by peals of ringing
laughter, brought her foot down in a stamp of utter exasperation.
"Will you not observe my feelings, if you have none of your own?" she
demanded. "Leonorine, take those wretched dogs out of my hearing. Dearwyn, lay
aside your nonsense and go ask Gurth if he has heard anything yet of Teboen."
She stamped again, angrily, as her eye went from one to another of the
merry-makers. "I suppose it would gladden all of you to feel safe from her
hand, but I will plainly tell you that if harm has happened to her, you will
find a lair-bear pleasanter company than I shall be."
The dull red that mottled her face and neck was a danger signal whose warning
her attendants had learned to heed, and they scattered precipitately. Only the
old cellarer, herding his gorgeous flock with waving arms, ventured to address
"Is it the British woman you are enquiring after, lady? The woman who comes to
the lane-gate, of a morning, to get new milk for your drinklng?"
Elfgiva turned quickly. "Yes,--Teboen my nurse. Have you seen her?" "I saw her
between cockcrowing and dawn, noble one, when I let down the bars for the
cattle to come in to the milking. The herd-boy who drives them said something
to her,--it seemed to me that he named a Danish name and said that person was
waiting in the wood to speak with her,--whereat she set down her pitcher and
went up the lane. I have not seen her since."
The lady's little white hands beat the air like a frightened child's. "Three
candles have burned out since then; it is certain that evil has befallen her.
Never since I was born has she left me for so long. I--" She paused to gaze
eagerly toward a figure that at this moment appeared in the low arch of the
door-way. "Tata! do you bring me news of her?"
Though she shook her head, Randalin's manner was full of suppressed excitement
as she advanced. "Not of her, lady, yet tidings, great tidings! The King has
"His Marshal again? I will not see him."
"Nay, the Marshal but accompanies the messenger. In truth, lady, it is my
belief that the token has accomplished its mission. The message is brought by
Thorkel Jarl, as this has not been done before."
"Earl Thorkel?" Elfgiva cried. "By the Saints, it can be nothing less than the
token!" She dropped down upon the rustic seat that stood under the green
canopy of the old apple tree and sat there a long time, staring at the grass,
her cheeks paling and flushing by turns. Presently, she drew a deep breath of
relief. "I was foolish to fret myself over Teboen. Since she is clever enough
to bring this to pass, she is clever enough to take care of herself. Without
doubt it was the Danish wizard, and he informed her of some new herb, and she
has gone to fetch it."
After a while, an enchanting smile touched her lips. "Surely, a rose garden is
a fitting place to receive the ambassadors of a lover," she said, and
straightened herself on her rustic throne, sweeping her draperies into more
graceful folds. "Bring them to me here, ladybird. Candida, fetch hither the
lace veil from my bower, and call the other maids as you go, and all the pages
you can find. Since Teboen is not by, I want all of you behind me. I cannot
help it that the Tall One always gives me the feeling of a lamb before a
Even had the likeness never occurred to her before, it would not have been
strange if she had thought of it to-day as, followed by the Marshal and
preceded by their fair usher, the old warrior came across the grass to the
little court under the apple tree. The keenness of the hooded eyes that looked
out at her from his grizzled locks, the gleam of the white teeth between his
bearded lips as he greeted her, was unmistakably wolfish. She relapsed into a
kind of lamb-like tremor as she invited them to be seated and commanded the
attendance of her cup-bearer. When she caught sight of the misery of
discomfort in Sebert's frank face, she lost her voice entirely and waited in
utter silence while they drank their wine.
Yet Thorkel's manner was unwontedly genial when at last he broached his
errand. "You lack the eagerness that is to be expected, lady," he said as he
gave his mouth a last polish with the delicate napkin. "How comes it that you
have not guessed I bring you a message from the King?"
She answered doubtfully that the King had not behaved to her so that his
messages were apt to be anticipated with much pleasure.
"But it has never occurred that I brought you this kind of news before," he
tempted her. "Will it not interest you to hear that at last the Palace is
ready for a Queen?"
That startled her a little out of her wariness, crying the last two words
after him with an eagerness of inflection that was as pathetic as though her
heart were concerned.
His lips gave out a flash as he nodded. "A Queen. Canute is going to give the
Angles a 'gift of the elves.'"
For an instant, she was betrayed into believing him, and bent forward, her
flushing face transfigured with delight. She was starting to speak when the
Etheling rose abruptly from his seat.
"Lord Thorkel," he said angrily, "this cat-play would bring you little thanks
from your King, nor will I longer endure it. I pray you to explain without
delay that the name of 'Elfgiva' is borne also by Emma of Normandy."
Then the old man snarled as a wolf does whose bone has been seized. "Lord of
Ivarsdale, you act in the thoughtless way of youth. I was bringing the matter
But the young man accomplished his purpose in spite of the elder. He did not
address the King's wife--indeed, he refrained even from looking at her--but he
spoke swiftly to the dark-haired girl who stood beside the seat. "Randalin, I
beg you to tell your lady that Elfgiva Emma, who is Ethelred's widow and the
Lady of Normandy, arrives at Dover to-morrow to be made Queen of the English."
As all expected, the Lady of Northampton started up shrieking defiance,
screaming that it should not be so, that the King was her husband and the
soldiers would support her if the monks would not, that he was hers, hers,-
and more to that effect, until the plunging words ran into each other and
tears and laughter blotted out the last semblance of speech. That she would
end by swooning or attacking them with her hands those who knew her best felt
sure, and maids and pages crept out of her reach as hunters stand off from a
wounded boar. But at the point where her voice gave out and she whirled to do
one or perhaps both of these, her eyes fell on the house-door, and her
expression changed from rage to amazement and from amazement to horror.
Catching Randalin's arm in fear, not anger, she began to gasp over and over
the name of Teboen the nurse.
Those whose glance had not followed hers, thought her mad and shrank farther;
but the eyes of those who saw what she did reflected her look. In the doorway
the British woman was standing, wagging her head in time to a silly quavering
song that she was singing with lips so distorted as to be almost
unrecognizable. Her once florid face was ashen gray, and now as she quitted
the door post and came toward them she reeled in her \walk, stumbling over
stones and groping blindly with her huge bony hands. But still she kept on
singing, with twisted lips that strove to simper, and once she tried to sway
her ungainly body into an uncouth dancing-step that brought her floundering to
"A devil has possession of her," Elfgiva shrieked. "Take her out of my sight,
or I shall go mad! Take her away--take her away!" Shrieking in wildest terror
she fled before her, and for a moment the garden seemed given over to a
grotesque game of blind-man's buff as women and boys scattered with renewed
screaming at each approach of the ghastly face. It did not stop until the two
soldiers who had been made keepers of the wretched creature came running out
of the house and led her away.
Then it was Thorkel's sardonic voice that brought the Lady of Northampton back
to herself. "Now, is this how you take the sight of your own handiwork? Or is
it because you regret that the King is not in this plight? One mouthful and no
more has she had of the blood of the coiled snake."
Stopping where she was, Elfgiva gazed at him, and with a dawning comprehension
came back her interrupted fury. "The coiled snake," she repeated slowly; and
after that, in a rush of words, "Then it was you who enticed her away and
mistreated her? But what does it concern _you_ that I sent a snake? Where saw
you it? How knew you it had blood?" Without waiting for an answer, she turned
upon the Marshal, her lids contracted into narrow slits behind which her eyes
raged like prisoned animals. "It is you who are to blame for this! You who
miscarried my message. You have betrayed me, and I tell you--" Hysterical
tears broke her voice, but she pieced it together with her temper and went on
telling him all the bitter things she could think of, while he stood before
her in the grim silence of one who has long foreseen the disagreeable aspects
of his undertaking and made up his mind to endurance.
When she stopped for breath, he said steadily, "I declare with truth that you
cannot dislike what I have done much more than I, Lady of Northampton. I hope
it will be an excuse with you, as it is a comfort to me, that instead of
fetching you into trouble--"
Thorkel took the words from his lips, and no longer with sinister deliberation
but with a ferocity that showed itself in the gathering swiftness of his
speech. "Trouble--yes! By the Hammer of Thor, I think you deserve to have
trouble! Had any of your witches' brew done harm to the King, I can tell you
that you would not have lived much longer. What! Are the plans of men to be
upset by your baby face, and a king-dom lost because a little fool chooses to
play with poison as a child with fire?"
"Poison?" she screamed. She had been facing him with whitening lips, and now
the little breath that she had left went from her in a sharp cry. "Not poison;
love-philtres! To win him back! Love-philtres,--can you not hear?"
"Love-philtres!" The old warrior's voice made the words bite with contempt.
"Did the mouthful she swallowed have that effect upon your woman? Or do you
think you planted love in the breasts of the dead scullions? Had you seen
their writhings I think you would have called it by another name."
He was standing over her now, and she was cowering before him, her shaking
hands rising as though to ward off his eyes. "I meant no harm," she was
wailing with stiff lips. "The scroll said not a word that it was hurtful. Do
not kill me. I meant no--" The word ended in an inarticulate sound and she
It was Randalin who caught and eased her down upon the rustic chair, and
Randalin who turned upon the Tall One. "Saw I never a meaner man!" she cried.
"Certainly I think Loke was less wolf-minded than you. You know very well that
if Teboen had thought it would become a cause of harm to her, she would have
refused to swallow it. I will go to the King myself and tell him how
despisable you are." She stamped her foot at the united ministry of the
Kingdom as she turned her back upon its representatives to speak reassuringly
to her mistress.
Her lover did not blame her that her flashing eyes seemed to include him among
the objects of their wrath. He said fiercely to the Jarl, "For God's sake,
tell her that no one suspects her of seeking his life, and give her his true
message, or I will go and hang myself for loathing."
"Tell her yourself!" the old Dane snapped. "It is seen that you are as
rabbit-hearted as the boy who makes her such an offer. Were I in his place, I
would have them all drowned for a litter of wauling kittens." He looked very
much indeed like a wolf in a sheepfold as he stamped to and fro, grinding his
spurred heels into the patches of clover and growling in his beard.
The young soldier had been known to ride into battle with a happier face, but
the sudden gritting of his teeth implied that he would do anything to get the
matter over with; and having braved the outburst of hysterics that redoubled
at his approach, he managed to slip a soothing word into the lull.
"Lady, the King sends you none but good greetings. It would make you feel
better if you would listen to them."
"Then he-- he does not blame me for this?" Elfgiva quavered at last.
"He does not blame you," the Marshal hastened to reassure her. "And in token
thereof he sends you your heart's desire."
Plainly, the elves had endowed their "gift" with a wit to match her soul. Her
beautiful eyes were simple as an injured child's as she raised them to his.
can that be, lord, when Emma of Normandy is to get the crown of England? A
woman ten years older than he, to put the best face on it! Who can expect me
to bear with this insult?" Her scorn went so far toward reviving her that for
the first time she drew herself away from the support of her women, and even
made one of them a sign to rearrange the locks she had disturbed.
Lest it revive her beyond the point of docility, Sebert spoke the rest of his
message in some haste. "It is true, noble one, that for state reasons the King
has consented to this union with Emma of Normandy, who will bring him the
friendship of Duke Richard besides causing pleasure to the English. But the
crown of Denmark is also at his disposal, lady, and this he purposes to bestow
upon your son Sven, for whom he has much love. And it is his will and pleasure
that you accompany the boy across the sea and, together with the earls of his
guardianship, hold the power for him until his hands shall be big enough to
grasp it alone. For this he gives you the name of 'queen' and all the honor
you shall desire." He paused, more at the wonder of watching her face than
because he had finished.
It was as though a rainbow had been set in her showery eyes. "He purposes
this?" she murmured; and rose out of her seat in a kind of ecstasy,--then
caught at its back, glooming with doubt. "I cannot believe it,--it is too
beautiful. Swear that you are not mocking me."
"I swear it," he said gravely, but his lips curled a little as he watched her
delight bring back her color, her smiles, her every fairy charm.
Throwing her arms about Dearwyn, who chanced to be nearest, she kissed her
repeatedly. "Think, mouse,--a queen! a queen! It was not for naught that I
dreamed an eagle flew over my head. Ah, how I shall cherish the dear little
one who has brought me this!" With her pleasure overflowing as of old in
rippling laughter, she turned to greet the King's foster-father who came
stalking toward her. "Now your ill humor no longer appears strange to me,
noble wolf, than which no better proof could be had that I have come into good
fortune! I pray you tell me when I am to leave, and who goes with me, and
every word of the plan, for I could eat them like sweets."
"Ulf Jarl will feed your ears later," Thorkel said gruffly. "Your safety on
the road is the charge of this battle-sapling." He jerked his head toward the
young Marshal. "You will leave for Northampton this afternoon, to get the
boy--and to get rid of you before the Lady of Normandy arrives."
The shaft fell pointless as she turned her sparkling face toward her women.
"You hear that, my lambs? This afternoon,--not one more night in this prison!
You cannot apply yourselves too soon to the packing, Candida, Leonorine. And I
must see if Teboen's wits have come back to her. If she should not be restored
to them, that would be one bee in the honey. Randalin, learn what disposal is
to be made of you, and that, quickly. Nobles, if I am not yet enough queen to
dismiss you, still am I queen enough to depart without your leave. I desire
you will thank your King as is becoming; and tell him that I am right glad he
was not poisoned,--and I trust he will not wish he had been, after he has seen
his ancient bride." Chiming the sweet bells of her laughter, she glided away
among her excited attendants, the silver mockery reaching them after she had
vanished into the house.
Randalin awoke to a sense of bewilderment. "It is true that I do not know
where to go, now that this place is upset."
The question was repeated in her lover's attitude; but Thorkel Jarl answered
it, coming between them and drawing her aside.
"I will remedy that," he said. "My men are to fetch you to the Palace so soon
as ever your lady has left. The King has a use for you." The rest he spoke
into her ear, but its effect was to blanch her cheeks and cause her hands to
clasp each other in terror as she started back.
"I cannot!" she cried. "I cannot." "You must," he said harshly. "Or you will
do little credit to the blood that is in you. Do you no longer think your
father and brother of any importance?"
"They are pitiless to demand it of me," she murmured, and buried her face in
Anger leaped from the young noble's eyes as, in his turn, he came between her
and the Jarl. He said forcefully, "No one shall ask anything of you that you
do not want, nor shall any king compel you. Yet I think I have a right to know
what his will is with you."
"You have not," the Dane contradicted. "Do you think the King's purposes are
to be opened to the sight of every Angle who becomes his man? Nor have you
ally right soever over her who is the King's ward. End this talk, maiden, and
give me your promise to be obedient."
She gave it in a cry of despair, "I must--I know I must!" then sought to make
peace with her lover by laying caressing hands on his breast. "And he is
right, love, that I ought not to tell any one. It is another one of those
things that you must trust."
But for once the Etheling's will did not bend to her coaxing; his mouth was
doggedly set as he looked down upon her. "I trust no man I do not know," he
answered, "and I do not know Canute the man,--nor do I greatly like what I
have heard of him, or this plan of sending me from the City at this time. You
have no cause to reproach me with lack of faith in you, Randalin, for when
every happening--even your own words--made it appear as if it were love for
Rothgar Lodbroksson which brought you into the camp, I looked into your eyes
and believed them against all else." In the intensity of the living present he
forgot the dead past--until he saw its ghosts troop like gray shadows across
"Love for Rothgar Lodbroksson?" she repeated, drawing back. "Then you did
believe that I could love Rothgar?" Her voice rose sharply. "You believed that
I followed him!"
Too late he saw what he had done. "I said that I did not believe it," he cried
hastily. "What I thought at first in my bewilderment,--that could not be
called belief." Now it was the present that he had forgotten in the past, as
he strove desperately to recapture the phantoms and thrust them back into
But she did not seem to hear his explanation as she stood there gazing at him,
her mind leaping lightning-like from point to point. "It was that which made
you behave so strangely in the garden," she said, and she spoke each phrase
with a kind of breathless finality. "You thought that I--I was like those--
those other women in the camp." As he tried to take her hand she drew farther
away, and stood looking at him out of eyes that were like purple shadows in
her white face. It was with a little movement of anger that she came to
herself at last. "And what are you thinking of me now? Do you clare to dream
that the King--" Turning, she confronted the old warrior fiercely. "Thorkel
Jarl, I ask you to tell the Lord of Ivarsdale as quick as you can what the
King wants with me."
"That I will not do," the Jarl said quickly. "You know no prudence, maiden.
The Lord of Ivarsdale is also English; a mishap might occur if--"
She flung the words at him; "I care not if it lose Canute his crown! If you
will not risk it, I will tell him that the King settles to-night with Edric of
Mercia and his men, and that it is to witness the punishment of my kinsmen's
murderer that he has sent for me. As for my camp-life, ask Rothgar himself, or
Elfgiva, or the King--or any soldier of the host! Of them all, you alone have
thought such thoughts of me." She flung up her hands against him in a kind of
heart-broken rage. "You! To whose high-mindedness I trusted everything I
have!" Hiding her face, she ran from them, sobbing, into the house.
The Twilight of The Gods
Circumspect and reserved
Every man should be,
And wary in trusting friends;
Of the words
That a man says to another
He often pays the penalty.
Waking to tapestried walls and jewelled lanterns and a strange splendor of
furnishings, Randalin experienced a moment of wild bewilderment. What had
happened to the low-ceiled dormitory with its bare wall-spaces splotched with
dampness? What had become of the row of white beds, with Dearwyn's rosy face
on the next pillow? And she herself--why was she lying on the outside of the
covers, with all her clothes on, a cramped aching heap? Rising on her elbow,
she gazed wonderingly at the frowzy woman stretched near her on a pallet. It
was not until the woman turned over, puffing out her fat cheeks in a long
breath, that the girl on the bed recognized her and knew what room this was
and remembered what had happened to separate to-day from all the yesterdays of
her life. Falling down upon the pillows, she lay with her face hidden among
them, living over with the swift sharpness of a renewed brain the scenes of
the previous night.
As she had seen it from the gallery where the King's soldiers had hidden her,
she saw again the great stone hail, enshrining a feasting-table around which a
throng of nobles in their gorgeous dresses and their jewels and their diadems
made a glittering halo. At the farther end, the King sat in his shining gilded
chair. Just below her, was Edric of Mercia with Norman Leofwinesson beside
him. She could not see their faces for their backs were toward her, but now
and again the Gainer's velvet voice rose blandly, and each time she was seized
with shuddering. How was it possible that he did not feel disaster in the air?
To her it seemed that the very torch-flames hissed warnings above the
merriment, while the occasional pauses were so heavy with doom that their
weight was well-nigh unendurable; at each, she was forced to fight down a mad
impulse to scream and scatter the hush.
Then the light from the taper which a page was holding behind Norman of
Baddeby fell upon the gemmed collar that was his principal ornament, and the
sight wrought a subtle change in her mood. The collar had been her father's;
she could not look at it without seeing again his ruddy old face with its grim
mouth and faded kindly eyes. Beside this vision rose another,--the vision of
this beloved face dead in the moonlight, with Fridtjof's near it, his brave
smile frozen on his young lips. From that moment, softness and shrinking died
out in her bearing as out of her heart, and her blood was turned to fire
within her,--the liquid fire of the North. Hour after hour, she sat in rigid
waiting while the endless line of servants ran to and fro with their silver
dishes and the merriment grew and spread and the clinking came faster and
louder and the voices grew thicker and wilder.
When the wave of good-will and fellowship had reached its height, like one who
would ride in upon its crest the Gainer rose to his feet and began speaking to
the King. His manner was less smoothly deferential than when addressing
Edmund, she noticed, affecting more the air of bluff frankness which one might
who wished to disarm any suspicion of flattering; but she could not hear what
he said because of the noise around him. The first words she heard distinctly
were Canute's, as he paused with upraised goblet to look at the Mercian. Like
an arrow his voice cleft the uproar, so that here and there men checked the
speech on their lips to look at him, and their neighbors, observing them,
paused also, until the lull extended from corner to corner.
"Strangely do you ask," he said. "Why should I give you more than Edmund gave
She had no difficulty in hearing Edric this time. Aggressively honest, his
words rang out with startling sharpness: "Because it was for you that I went
against Edmund, and from faithfulness to you that I afterwards destroyed him."
Out of the stillness that followed, a voice cried, "Are you mad?" and there
was the grating of chairs thrust hastily back. But, after a great wrench, her
heart stood still within her as through the madness she perceived the purpose.
As well as Edric of Mercia she knew that the young Viking's vulnerable point
was his longing for his own self-esteem, a craving so unreckoning in its
fervor that--should he have the guilty consciousness the traitor counted on--
rather than endure his own reproach for cowardice he would be equal to the
wild brazenness of flinging the avowal in the teeth of his assembled court.
Her pulses began to pound in a furious dance as the same flash of intuition
showed her the rock upon which the Gainer's audacious steering was going to
For no skulking guilt was in the face of the new King of England as he met the
startled glances, but instead a kind of savage joy that widened his nostrils
and drew his lips away from his teeth in a terrible smile.
"Now much do I thank whatever god has moved you to open speech," he said, "for
with every fibre of my body have I long wanted to requite you for that
faithfulness. Knowing that you were coming to-night to ask it, I have the
reward ready. Never was recompense given with a better will." Leaping to his
feet, he hurled the goblet in his hand against the opposite wall so that it
was shattered on the stone behind the embroidered hangings. At the signal the
tapestry was lifted, and in the light stood Eric of Norway, leaning on a
mighty battle-axe. To him the King cried in a loud voice, all the irony gone
from it, leaving it awful as the voice of Thor at Ragnarok. "Do your work
where all can see you, Eric Jarl, that no man shall accuse me of being afraid
to bear my deeds. And let Norman Leofwinesson die with his lord for the
slaying of Frode of Avalcomb."
A roar of hideous sound--a confusion of overturned lights, of screeching
servants, of writhing struggling bodies--above it all, the vision of that
glittering axe poised in the air--then flashing downward,--Randalin's
recollections blurred, ran together, and faded out in broken snatches.
She recalled a brief space of something like sleep-walking as the soldiers led
her through branching corridors to this room, and fetched for her attendant
the only woman available, a wench they had taken from trencher-washing in the
royal kitchen. She remembered irritably rejecting the woman's clumsy services
and sending her to sleep on her pallet, while she herself walked to and fro
with her surging thoughts until sheer physical exhaustion forced her to throw
herself upon the bed. After that she remembered--nothing.
"I am glad that I did not disgrace my kin by screaming or fainting," she
reflected now, as she raised herself stiffly. "I am glad I did that much
credit to my name." She flushed as her hand, touching the pillow, found it
wet, and for an instant the bearing of her head was less erect. "I do not
remember what I dreamed," she murmured, "but full well I know that it was not
because Norman Leofwinesson is slain that I shed tears in my sleep." For a
while she drooped there, her eyes on the open window, outside of which a robin
was singing blithely among the cherries. But all at once she seized the pillow
with a kind of fierceness, and turned it over and piled the others on top of
it, crying under her breath, "How dared he! How dared he! I will shed no tears
for him while I am awake. I will remember only that I am my father's daughter
and the Lady of Avalcomb."
Proudly as became an odal-woman, she followed the page when he came at last to
call her to the royal presence. The great stone hall in which the King awaited
the arrival of his Norman bride was the same room in which he had feasted the
night before, but tables and dishes now were gone, gold-weighted tapestries
hung once more over the door by which Eric of Norway had made his entrance,
and a rich-hued rug from an Eastern loom lay over the spot where she had seen
the axe rise and fall. Crossing the threshold, the commonplaceness of it all
clashed so discordantly with the scene in her memory that for an instant she
grew faint and clung to the curtains between which she was passing. That death
should leave so little trace, that the spot which one night was occupied by a
headsman, the next, should hold a bride, made her fancy reel with horror even
while she pulled herself together sternly.
"This is life as in truth it is," she said. "It is well that I understand at
last how terrible everything really is, and how little anything matters."
Forcing herself to tread the rug with steady step, she came where the King
stood by an open window. He was as changed as the room, though in honor of his
bride he wore again state robes of silk and cloth-of-gold, for the fire of the
Northern lights was gone out of his face, leaving it dull and lustreless. In
the garden below, a minstrel was making hay in the sun of the royal glance by
a rapid improvising of flattering verses which he was shouting lustily to his
twanging harp, but now the King's hand rose curtly.
"Your imagination has no small power, friend, yet save some virtues in case
you should want to sing to me again," he advised as he tossed down a coin and
His ward courtesied deeply before him. "For your justice, King Canute, I give
you thanks drawn from the bottom of my heart," she said.
"I welcome you to your own, Lady of Avalcomb," he answered as he returned her
salutation. Leaning against the window frame he stood a long while looking at
her in silence,--so long that she was startled when at last he spoke. "Yet for
the good of the realm, I must lay on your odal one burden, Frode's daughter."
"What is that, King?"
"It is that before the year is out you take a husband who shall be able to
defend your land in time of need."
Her white cheeks went very red before him and then grew very pale again, while
her breast rose and fell convulsively. But she clasped her hands over it as
though to still its protest and, suddenly, she flung up her head in a kind of
trembling defiance. "What does it matter? King, I know what a Danish woman
owes her race. Choose you the man and this shall, like other things, be as you
It was evident that her answer took him by surprise, for he bent from the wall
to observe her. "I choose!" he repeated. "Have you then no choice?"
She tried to say "No"; she tried desperately to say it; but already her
courage was crumbling under her. All at once she took her hands from her
breast to hold them out pleadingly, and her voice was broken: "Lord, let me go
back to Avalcomb--now--to-day!"
"Wherefore to-day?" he asked. "I had thought you would remain here for a while
and get honor from Queen Emma." A moment he looked away from her, out of the
window at the drifting clouds. "I can tell you, Frode's daughter, that while
she is noble in her birth, she is still nobler in her mind," he said gravely.
"Little would there be in her service for you to take ill. I think it possible
that she might be highly helpful to you. There is that about her which makes
the good in one come out and bask like a snake in the sun, while the evil
slinks away shadow-like--"
She interrupted him with a cry that was half a sob. "Lord King, I cannot bear
it to see more people that are strange to me! Since I left my father's house I
have felt the starkness of strangers, and now--now I can endure it no longer.
My heart within me is as though it were bruised black and blue. Let me go back
where all know me,--where none will hold me off at arm's length to challenge
me with his eyes, but all love me and place faith in me because they know me.
Lord, give me leave to go home,--I pray it of you! Beseech it of you!"
Entreating, she would have fallen at his feet if he had not caught her hands
and stayed her.
He did not release them immediately but tightened his grasp as his eyes, grown
suddenly keen, searched her face. His voice dropped low. "Randalin, it is very
unlikely that Elfgiva's scratches have brought you to this. Do you stand in
need of reminding that any man who has angered you has angered me? That my
sword lies under your hand?"
Her face seemed to have become glass before him, through which he looked into
the innermost chambers of her mind. Terror-stricken, she snatched her hands
away to cover it. "No, no!" she cried wildly. "I am angry with no one. I have
found fault with no one. Draw no sword for me--only let me go!"
Again he turned from her and stood looking out at the clouds; but when at last
he spoke, his voice was the gentlest she had ever heard it. "You are wise in
this, as in other things, Frode's daughter," he said, "and you shall certainly
have your way. I take it that I am your guardian to protect you from harm, not
to force you into things you do not want. Soldiers I can trust shall go with
you, in case there be danger from Norman's people, and for women--"
She spoke up eagerly, "There is an old nun at Saint Mildred's, King, who loves
me. I think she would come to me until others could be found."
"Go then," he granted. "Thorkel shall see to it that men and horses are ready
when you are." He held out his hand, but when she took it in both of hers and
would have saluted it reverently, he would not let her but instead raised her
fingers to his lips. An odd note was in his voice. "Heavy is it for my tongue
to say farewell to you, Frode's daughter," he said, "for your friendship has
surpassed most other things in pleasantness to me."
Frank liking mingled with gratitude and reverence as she looked up at him. "I
have got great kindness and favor from you, King Canute; I pray that you will
be very happy with your Queen."
A moment he pressed his lips to her hand; then gently set it free. "I give you
thanks," he returned, "but happiness is for me to wish you. The best you can
ask for me is that sometime I shall become what you believed me to be the day
you came to me at Scoerstan."
She tried to tell him that she believed him that now,--but something in her
forbade the untruth. She could do no more than leave him, with a mute gesture
Perhaps her gaze was not quite clear as she crossed the room, for she did not
see that the door-curtains were moving until she was close upon them, when
they were thrust apart to admit the form of Rothgar Lodbroksson. Stifling a
gasp, she shrank behind a tall chair.
He did not see her, however, for his eyes were fastened upon the King, who had
turned back to the window. He had cast aside the splendor of the royal guards,
wearing over his steel shirt a kirtle of blue that made his florid face seem
redder and gave to his fiery hair a hotter glow. Two sentinels carrying
shining pikes had followed him in, uncertainly, and now one plucked at his
arm. But the Jotun shook him off to stride forward, clanking his heels with
intentional noisiness upon the stone floor.
At the clatter the King looked around, and the tone in which he spoke his
friend's name had in it more of passion than all the lover's phrases he had
ever paid Elfgiva's ears. At the same time, he made a sharp sign to the two
sentinels. "Get back to your posts," he said.
Hesitating they saluted and unwilling they wheeled, while one spoke bluntly
over his shoulder. "It would be better to let us stay, King, if you please.
You are weaponless."
"Go," Canute repeated. In a moment the doors beyond the curtain had closed
behind them, and the two men were alone save for the girl hiding forgotten in
the shadow of the chair.
Rothgar laughed jarringly. "Whatever has been told about you, you have not yet
been accounted a coward. But I do not see how you know I shall not kill you. I
have dreamed of it not a few times."
Something like a veil seemed to fall over the King's face; from behind it he
spoke slowly as he moved away to the dais upon which his throne-chair stood,
and mounted the steps. "The same dream has come to me, but never has it
occurred to me to seek you out to tell you of it."
"No such purpose had I," the Jotun said with a touch of surliness. Pulling a
bag from under his belt, he shook out of it upon the floor a mane of matted
yellow hair. "If you want to know my errand, it is to bring you this.
Yesterday it came to my ears that one of my men was suspected of having tried
to give you poison through your wife's British thrall. I got them before me
and questioned them, and the Scar-Cheek boasted of having done it. This is his
hair. If you remember anything about the fellow, you understand that he was
not alive when I took it from him."
The King looked immovably at the yellow mass. "You have behaved in a
chieftain-like way and I thank you for it," he said. "But I would have liked
it better if you had come to me about the judgment that raised this wall
Rothgar's throat gave out a savage sound. "Tempt me not! I am no sluggish
But Canute spoke on: "What I expected that day was that you would come to me,
as friend comes to friend, and with my loose property I would redeem from you
every stick and stone which my kingship had forced me to hold back. Not more
than they have called me coward, have men ever called me stingy--"
"And when have men called me greedy?" the Jotun bellowed. "Your thoughts have
got a bad habit of lying about me if they say that it was greed for land which
made me take your judgment angrily. Except for the honor of my stock, what
want I with land while I have a ship to bear me? I tell you, now as
heretofore, that it was your treachery which unsheathed a sword between us."
"Rothgar my brother,--" the veil was rent from the King's face and he had
stepped from the dais and seized the other by the shoulders as though he would
wrestle bodily with him,--" by the Holy Ring, I swear that I have never
betrayed you! If you grudge not the land to the Englishman, you have no cause
to grudge him anything under Ymer's skull. Can a man change his blood?--for so
much a part of me is my friendship for you. Time never was when it was not
there, and it would be as possible to fill my veins with Thames water as to
put an Englishman into your place. Can you not understand--"
But Rothgar's hand had fallen upon the other's breast and pushed him backward
so that he was forced to catch at the chair-arm to save himself from falling.
"Never get afraid about that," he sneered. "Since we slept in one cradle, I
have been a thick-headed Thrym and your Loke's wit has fooled me into doing
your bidding and fighting your battles and giving you my toil and my limbs and
my faith, but wisdom has grown in me at last. You undertake too steep a climb
when you try to make me believe in your love while before my eyes you give to
the man I hate my lands and the woman you had promised me and my place above
your men--" His rage choked him so that he was obliged to break off and stand
drawing his sword from his sheath and slamming it back with a sharp sound. His
voice came back in a hoarse roar. "When I reckon up the debt against you, I
know that the only thing to wipe it out would be your life. Not taken by
poison nor underhandedly, but torn out of your deceitful body as we stand face
to face. If I could do that, it might be that my anger would be quenched."
Again he drew his blade half out,--and this time he did not shove it back. His
huge body seemed to draw itself together, crouching, as he leaned forward.
"Why do you stand there looking as though you thought you were Odin? Do you
think to blunt my weapon with your eyes? Why do you tempt me?"
The King had not moved away from the chair against which he had staggered, and
the prints of his nails were on its arm. He was as though he had hardened to
stone. "To show you that I am stronger than you, though I face you with bare
hands," he said. "To show you that you dare not kill me."
"Dare not!" Rothgar's laughter was a hideous thing as he cleared at a bound
the space between them. His sword was full-drawn now. "Shout for your guards!
It may be that they will get here in time."
But the King neither gave back nor raised his voice. "I will not," he said,
"nor will I lift hand against you. Never shall you have it to say that I
forgot you had endangered your life for mine. On your head it shall be to
break the blood-oath."
Now they were breast to breast. In her mind, the girl in the shadow flung open
the doors and shrieked to the sentinels and roused the Palace; in her body,
she stood spellbound, voiceless, breathless.
Still Rothgar did not strike. It was the King who spoke this time also. "Among
the sayings of men in Norway," he said coldly, "there is one they tell of a
traitor who carried a sword of death against his King, but lacked the boldness
to use it before the King's face. So he begged his lord to wrap a cloak around
his head that he might get the courage to ask a boon. When that had been done,
he stabbed. Do you want me to cover my eyes?"
With a hoarse cry, Rothgar flung his sword back to his sheath, recoiling,--
there was even a kind of fear in his manner: "A fool would I be, to set your
ghost free to follow me with that look on its face! Keep your life--and
instead I will torture every Angle I can get under my grip, for it is they who
have turned a great hero into a nithing--may they despise you as you have
despised your people for their sakes!" Invoking the curse with a sweep of his
handless arm, he strode from the room.
Randalin did not see when he passed her, for her eyes were on the King as he
stood looking after his foster-brother.
"Ah, God, what a terrible world hast Thou made!" she murmured, as she put up
her hands to ease the swelling agony in her throat. "No longer will I try to
live in it. I will go to the Sisters and remain with them always."
Through the doors opening before the Jotun there came in a sudden buzz of
laughing voices, while a breeze brought through the window a ringing of bells
and a clarioning of approaching horns. Upon the girl in the shadow and the
King on the dais, the sounds fell like the dissolving of a spell. She ran
swiftly to the little door behind the tapestry and let herself out unseen,
unheard. The King mounted the throne he had won and sat there in regal state,
facing the throng of splendid courtiers trooping in to give him their wedding
In Time's Morning
He wins who woos.
The hot glare of a July sun was on the stones of the Watling Street and July
winds were driving hosts of battling dust-clouds along the highway, but in the
herb garden of Saint Mildred's cool shadows lay over the dew-beaded grass and
all was restfulness and peace. The voice of the girl who was following Sister
Wynfreda from mint clump to parsley bed, from fennel to rue, was not much
louder than the droning of the bees in the lavender.
"If it be true as you say,--" she was speaking with the passionate bitterness
of wounded youth,--" if it be true that in his place anyone would have
believed what he believed, then is this a very hateful world and I want no
further part in it."
Over the fragrant leaves which she was touching as fondly as if they had been
children's faces, Sister Wynfreda gently shook her head. "Think not that it is
altogether through the world's evil-heartedness, dear child. Think rather that
it is because mankind is not always brave and shrinks from disappointment,
that it dares not believe in good until good is proved."
"I know that one dares not always believe in happiness," the girl conceded
slowly, "for when my happiness was like a green swelling wave, white fear
sprang from the crest of it and it fell--Sister, did that forebode my sorrow?"
Awhile, the nun's eyes widened and paled as eyes that see a vision, but at
last she bowed her head to trace a cross upon her breast. "Not so; it is God's
wisdom," she said, "else would the world be so beautiful that we would never
hunger after heaven."
Mechanically, Randalin's hands followed hers through the holy sign; then she
clasped them before her to wring them in impatient pain. "That is so long to
go hungry, Sister! I shall be past my appetite." Dropping down beside the
other, her slim young fingers began to imitate the gnarled old ones as they
weeded and straightened. "I wonder at it, Sister Wynfreda, that you do not
urge me to creep in with you. A year ago, you wanted it when I wanted it not;
but now when I am willing, you hold me off."
"Is it clear before your mind that you are willing, my daughter?" the nun
asked gently. As she drew herself to her feet with the aid of a bush, the
cramping of her feeble stiffened muscles contracted her face in momentary
pain, but her eyes were serene as the altar lamps. "It lies upon you to
remember, little sister, that those who would serve God around the altar must
not go thither only because the world has mistreated them and they would cast
it off to avenge the smart. She who puts on the yoke of Christ must needs do
so because it is the thing she would desire of all, were all precious things
spread out for her choosing. Can you look into my eyes and say that it would
be so with you?"
Where she knelt before her, the girl suddenly threw her arms around the woman
and hid her face in the faded robes. The frail hand stroked the dark hair
affectionately. "Think not that I would upbraid you with it, child as dear as
my own heart. When the Power that took you from me led you back again, and I
read what God's fingers had written on your face that before was like a
lineless parchment, I could not find it in my mind to wish you otherwise. I
felt only shame for the weakness of my faith, and joy past all telling."
Under the soothing hand, Randalin's sobs slowly ceased; when at last she
raised her wet eyes there was no longer rebellion in them but only youth's
measureless despair. "Sister, now as always, I want to do what you would have
me--but I am so full of grief! Must I go back to Avalcomb and begin all over
again? It seems to me that my life stretches before me no more alluringly than
yonder dusty road, that runs straight on, on, over vast spaces but always
The beauty that had been Sister Wynfreda's hovered now about her mouth as
fragrance around a dead rose. Her gaze was on a branch above them where a
little brown bird, calling plaintively, was slipping from her nest. Over the
wattled edge, two tiny brown heads were peeping like fuzzy beech-nut rinds. "I
wonder," she said, "what those little creatures up there will think when a few
months hence the blue sky becomes leaden, such that no one of them ever before
recollected it so dark, and the sun that is wont to creep to them through the
leaves has gone out like a candle before the winter winds? By reason of their
youth, I suppose they will judiciously conclude with themselves that there is
never going to be any blue sky again, that their lives will stretch before
them in a dark-hued stress of weather, empty of all save leafless trees and
frozen fields. My fledgeling, will they not be a little ashamed of their
short-sightedness when the spring has brought back the sun?"
The girl's lips parted before her quickening breath, and the old nun smiled at
her tenderly as she moved away with her hands full of the green symbols of
healing. "Settle not the whole day of your life at its morning, most dear
child, but live it hour by hour," she said. "If you would be of use now, go
gather the flowers for the Holy Table, and when themselves have drawn in
holiness from the spot, then shall you bring them to the sick woman over the
"Yes, Sister," the girl said submissively. But when she had crossed the
daisied grass and opened the wicket gate and came out into the fragrant lane,
something seemed to divide her mind with the roses, for though she sent one
glance toward the hedge, she sent another to the spot beyond--where the lane
gave out upon the great Street to the City--and after she had walked a little
way toward the flowers, she turned and walked a long way toward the road,
until she had come where her eyes could follow its white track far away over
"I wonder if I shall ever hunger for heaven as I hunger for the sight of him,"
she murmured as she gazed.
But whatever the valleys might hold, the hillsides showed her nothing;
sighing, she turned back. "It seems to me," she said, "that if we could have
little tastes of heaven as we went along, then would there still be enough
left and the road would seem much shorter." Sighing, she set to work upon the
roses, that had twined themselves in a kindly veil over the bushes.
Standing so, it happened that she did not see the horseman who was just
gaining the crest of the nearest hill between her and the City. The wind being
from her, she did not even hear the hoof-beats until the horse had turned from
the glare of the sun into the shadow of the fern-bordered lane. The first she
knew of it, she glanced over her shoulder and saw the red-cloaked figure
riding toward her along the grass-grown path.
As naturally as a flower opens its heart at the coming of the sun, she leaned
toward him, breathing his name; then in an impulse equally natural, as he
leaped from his saddle before her, she drew back and half averted her face,
flickering red and white like the blossoms she was clasping to her breast.
He stopped abruptly, a short stretch of grass still between them, wand it
soothed her bruised pride a little that there was no longer any confident ease
in his manner but only hesitation and uncertainty. His voice was greatly
troubled as he spoke: "Never can I forgive myself for having wounded you,
sweetheart, yet had I hoped that you might forgive me, because I knew not what
I did and because I have suffered so sorely for it."
"_You_ have suffered," she repeated with a little accent of bitterness.
"I beseech you by my love that you do not doubt it!" Hesitation gave way
before a warmth of reproach. "For a man to know that he has wounded what he
would have died to shield --that he has wronged where he would have given his
life to honor--that it may be he has lost what is body and soul to him,--what
else is that but suffering?"
It was only a very little that her face turned toward him, and he could not
see how her downcast eyes were taking fire from his voice. He stood looking at
her in despair, until something in the poise of her head taught him a new rune
among love's spells. Drawing softly near her, he spoke in noblest
conciliation: "Is it your pride that cannot pardon me, Lady of Avalcomb? Do I
seem to sue for grace too boldly because I forget to make my body match the
humbleness of my heart? Except in prayer or courtesy, we are not loose of
knee, we Angles, but I would stoop as low as I lowest might if that could make
you kinder, dear one." Baring his head, he knelt down at her feet,--and the
difference between this and the time when he had bent before her in the Abbey,
was the difference between tender jest and tenderest earnest. "Thus then do I
ask you to give me back your love," he said gently,--and would have said more
but that she turned, stirred to a kind of generous shame.
"It needs not that, lord! I know you did not mean it. And they have told me
that--that I have no right to be angry with you --" She broke off, as looking
into his face she saw something that startled her into forgetfulness of all
else. "Why are your cheeks so hollow?" she demanded. "And so gray--as though
you had lost blood? Lord, what has come near you?"
He could not conceal the sudden pleasure he got out of her alarm for him, even
while he answered as lightly as he could that it was no more than the fatigue
of his three days in the saddle; and a lack of food, perhaps, as he had been
somewhat pressed for time; and a lack of sleep because of--
But she was a warrior's daughter, and she would not be put off. Coming close
to him, she pulled aside the dusty cloak, hot as a live coal in the glare of
the day, and there--behold!--there were blood stains on the breast of his blue
kirtle. Forgetful of everything else, she flung her arms around him as though
to shield him. "Sebert, you are wounded! What is it?"
Nothing that troubled him very much, apparently, for his haggard face had
grown radiant with gladness. Yet he was enough afraid of the reaction to
answer her as gravely as possible: "It is Rothgar Lodbroksson, whom I met
coming from the City as I was journeying back from my errand in Northampton.
Little affection has ever passed between us, and this time something more than
usual seemed to have stirred him against me, for--"
"He tried to kill you!" The words were not a question but a breathless
assertion as she remembered the Jotun's last threat.
"He tried to kill me," the Marshal assented quietly. "And his blade did manage
to pierce my mail; he is a giant in strength as in other things. But it cut no
more than flesh; and after that, Fortune wheeled not toward him."
"You slew him!" Her lips were white as she gasped it, but he knew now that it
was no love for the Jotun that moved her, and he answered promptly to her
unspoken thought: "No, sweet,--for the King's sake, I spared him. Before this,
his men have taken him aboard his ship and England is rid of him."
Murmuring broken phrases of thanksgiving, she stood holding the cloak she had
grasped, but he dreaded too much the moment of her awakening to await its
coming inactive. Slipping his arms around her, he began to speak swiftly, the
moment her silence gave him an opening.
"Never did I blame Rothgar much for his enmity against me, and now I thank him
for this cut as for a gift, for through it I know that at least you have not
outlawed me from your love. Dear one, as you are not unkind to so slight a
thing as this wound in my flesh, so neither be without pity for the one that
is so much deeper, in my heart! As the scratch stayed your anger for a while,
so, in the gentleness of love, let this which is mortal stay it for all time."
With his arms around her, she could not shrink very far away,--nor was it seen
that she tried to,--but all at once her words came in uneven rushes: "How can
I hold anger against you when, with every breath, my lips sigh for your
kisses? Yet let no one wonder at it that I am frightened... You cannot
conceive what a lurking place for terrors the world looks to me! Never, I
think, shall I see men sitting together that I shall not suspect them of
having murder in their hearts. Never shall I see two friends clasp hands but
my mind will run forward to a time when they shall part in wrath and
loneliness. Nay, even of the sound of my own voice I am afraid, lest
whomsoever is hearing it--for all that he speak me fair--be twisting the words
in his mind into evils I have not dreamed of. Sebert, I do not reproach you
with it! I think it all the fault of my own blunders, -- and therein I find a
new terror. That one should suffer for wrong-doing is to be looked for, but if
one is to be dealt with so unsparingly only for making mistakes, who knows
where his position is or what to expect? Oh, my best friend, make me brave or
I am likely to die only through fearing to live! With my ignorance my boldness
went from me, until now my courage is lowly as a willow leaf. Love, make me
brave again!" Trusting, in her very declaration of distrust, she clung to him
to save her from herself.
It was in the briar-pricked fingers, which he was pressing against his cheek,
that he found his answer. Suddenly he spread them out in his palm before her,
laughing with joyful lightness. "Randalin, the thorns wounded your hands the
while that you stripped yonder hedge, but did you stop for that? If I can
prove to you that all these dark days you have been but plucking roses, can
you not bravely bear with the pricks?"
Putting her gently from him, he gathered up the spoils she had let fall,
picking from among them with great care the fairest of either kind, while she,
catching his mood, watched him April-faced. "This," he said gaily, "is the red
rose of my heart. Battle-fields lay between us and tower walls, and the way
was long and hard to find, yet can you deny, my elf, that you came in and
plucked it and wore it away in your hair,--to keep or to cast aside as pleased
Smiles and tears growing together, she caught the blossom from him and pressed
it to her lips. "I will wear it in my bosom," she answered, "for my breast has
been empty--since the day I saw you first."
Smiling, he held out the white rose, but his mood had deepened until now he
looked down upon her as he had looked down upon her in the moonlit forest.
"This, beloved, is the symbol of my faith," he said. "Your eyes took it from
me that day at even-song. I hold it the dearer of the two, for with it goes my
honor that is as stainless as its petals. It is worth more than life to
me,--is it not worth some pricks to you?"
She took it from him reverently, to lay it beside the other, and as her face
was too proud for fear so was it too tender for jesting. "I am more honored,"
she told him, "than Canute by his crown; and I will live as bravely to defend
But as he would have caught her to him, she leaned back suddenly to stretch a
hand toward a dark-robed figure standing under the moss-grown arch, and her
pride melted into a laugh of breathless happiness. "Sister Wynfreda, you were
very right," she called softly, "the world can be so beautiful that one has no
hunger for heaven."