Read Chapter XXVIII. When Love Meets Love of The Ward of King Canute, free online book, by Ottilie A. Liljencrantz, on ReadCentral.com.

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

Ha’vama’l.

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 rafters.

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 him!

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 lightness.

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.