He was all alone in the darkness. There was no one to share his feelings. He was cut off from the world. No chink of light; no sound; no feelings; nothingness. It was not fair; if he was dead he should be somewhere. Even in hell he would have demons for company. He made an effort to move but could not. He was floating in blackness. What had he done to deserve such a fate? He tried to remember something, anything, but he could not. Surely it would end soon; he could not be left like this for ever, could he? The thought made him shudder mentally, his body would no longer respond. Panic came to him like an old friend and he wanted to scream, but he could not. Then he was calm again. He let the sensation wash over him. It was all he had, panic and calm. That was the total of his existence... Was that something..? Was it his imagination..? No, something was happening. A tiny speck of light floated in front of him. Slowly, it grew to take on the form of a beautiful woman. Yes! The woman! There was something about her. If only he could remember. She gave him a sad smile. A tear of liquid gold ran down her cheek. He tried to speak but he could not form the words. She stretched out her arm and pointed to something. He could not make it out, it was just a blur. For what seemed like an eternity, he waited for the object to come into focus. It was a small golden hawk.
He turned the hawk pendant slowly in his fingers. It had become his habit, whenever he was thinking, to fondle the small piece of gold that hung round his neck. He made his decision and looked into the craggy face of King Edwin’s thegn.
“Well, Lord Lilla. Your king’s invitation has come at a bad time for me.” He reached across and took his wife’s hand. “My lady is about to have our first child. I would dearly love to be here, to greet him when he arrives.”
“I understand.” Lilla smiled at the young woman. “I have children myself.”
“No, you misunderstand me. I have decided to attend King Edwin’s wedding. I feel that it is my duty to do so.” He turned to his wife. “I am sorry my love.” The young woman squeezed his hand and smiled at him.
“It is the right thing to do. Your child and I will be here to greet you on your return.” He leaned across and kissed her on the cheek. Cynwise had turned out to be a good wife. He had been full of misgivings when they had wed, two winters ago. She was a giggling girl, not much older than his sister Edith was now. King Edwin had arranged the match. He did not have much say in the matter; she was of the royal line of Bernicia and had been under King Edwin’s protection. After the wedding, she had become a different person. He had been pleasantly surprised by her dedication to her duties. She soon took over the running of the hall and tended to his every need. Her education had been broadly based and he found her a good companion. His feelings for her had grown over time and, now that she sat next to him radiating the glow of impending motherhood, he positively doted on her. He would have liked to have stayed with her but King Edwin was getting married and duty called for him to be there.
“If you would wait for me to prepare, Lord Lilla. You and your men could ride with me.”
“Certainly! The wedding is to be held at King Raedwald’s court.”
“Yes, of course. It is an important match. Edwin is to marry King Eadbald’s sister you say?”
“Yes. Her name is Ethelberga.”
“What is she like?”
“She is a rare beauty; a shy, well educated girl. Her mother was from across the sea and she has the demeanour of a foreign princess. In fact, that has been the main stumbling block to the match.”
“She follows the ways of the Christ-men. The black robes argued against the marriage, until Paulinus interceded on King Edwin’s behalf.” Penda fought to keep his alarm from showing on his face.
“Oh, I see,” he said calmly. “Well, give me a little time to get ready and we’ll ride to Rendlesham together.” He darted a glance at Emys, who sat nearby. Lilla returned to sit with his men on the benches. Penda called for more beer and signalled Emys to come close to him.
“Did you hear that?” he whispered.
“Yes. It is disturbing.”
“What is Paulinus up to now, I wonder?”
“I don’t know. Something devious I think.”
“I wish Brother Ambrose was here. He should know about this turn of events.”
“I expect that he knows already. Anyway, he will be at the wedding. He’ll soon find out.”