Charles W. (Charles Watts) Whistler.

A prince of Cornwall : a story of Glastonbury and the West in the days of Ina of Wessex online

. (page 1 of 25)
Online LibraryCharles W. (Charles Watts) WhistlerA prince of Cornwall : a story of Glastonbury and the West in the days of Ina of Wessex → online text (page 1 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


RIKCE OF

CORNWALL




CHARUES -W WHISTLED



ILLUSTRATED



A PRINCE OF CORNWALL




"THERE CAME A NEW LIGHT INTO HIS EYES AS HE SAW ME."



Frontispiece.



see p. 277.




A STORY OF GLASTONBURY AND THE WEST
IN THE DAYS OF INA OF WESSEX



CHAS. W. WHISTLER, M.R.C.S.

AUTHOR OF "KING ALFRED'S VIKING" "A THANE OF WESSEX'
"HAVEI.OK THE DANE" ETC. ETC.



ILLUSTRATED BY LANCELOT SPEED




LONDON

FREDERICK WARNE & CO.

AND NEW YORK

1904

[All Rights Rtsewe<l\



DEDICATED
TO

ALBANY AND MARGIT
MAJOR



2138992



PREFACE



A FEW words of preface may save footnotes to a
story which deals with the half-forgotten days when
the power of a British prince had yet to be reckoned
with by the Wessex kings as they slowly and
steadily pushed their frontier westward.

The authority for the historical basis of the story
is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which gives A.D. 710
as the year of the defeat of Cerent, king of the
West Welsh, by Ina of Wessex and his kinsman
Nunna. This date is therefore approximately that
of the events of the tale.

With regard to the topography of the Wessex
frontier involved, although it practically explains
itself in the course of the story, it may be as well
to remind a reader that West Wales was the last
British kingdom south of the Severn Sea, the name
being, of course, given by Wessex men to distinguish
it from the Welsh principalities in what we now call
Wales, to their north. In the days of Ina it com-
prised Cornwall and the present Devon, and also the
half of Somerset westward of the north and south



6 PREFACE

line of the river Parrett and Quantock Hills. Practi-
cally this old British " Dyvnaint " represented the
ancient Roman province of Damnonia, shrinking as
it was under successive advances of the Saxons from
the boundary which it once had along the Mendips
and Selwood Forest. Ina's victory over Cerent set
the Dyvnaint frontier yet westward, to the line of
the present county of Somerset, which represents
the limit of his conquest, the new addition to the
territory of the clan of the Sumorsaetas long being
named as " Devon in Wessex " by the chroniclers
rather than as Somerset.

The terms " Devon " or " Dyvnaint," as they are
respectively used by Saxon or Briton in the course
of the story, will therefore be understood to imply
the ancient territory before its limitation by the
boundaries of the modern counties, which practically
took their rise from the wars of Ina.

With regard to names, I have not thought it
worth while to use the archaic, if more correct, forms
for those of well-known places. It seems unnecessary
to write, for instance, " Glaestin gaby rig " for Glaston-
bury, or " Penbroch " for Pembroke. I have treated
proper names in the same way, keeping, for example,
the more familiar latinised " Ina " rather than the
Saxon " Ine," as being more nearly the correct
pronunciation than might otherwise be used without
the hint given by a footnote.

The exact spot where Wessex and West Wales



PREFACE 7

met in the battle between Ina and Cerent is not
certain, though it is known to have been on the line
of the hills to the west of the Parrett, and possibly,
according to an identification deduced from the
Welsh " Llywarch Hen," in the neighbourhood of
Langport. Local tradition and legend place a battle
also at the ancient Roman fortress of Norton Fitz-
warren, which Ina certainly superseded by his own
stronghold at Taunton after the victory. As Nunna
is named as leader of the Saxons, together with the
king himself, it seems most likely that there were two
columns acting against the Welsh advance on the
north and south of the Tone River, and that there-
fore there were battles at each place. On the Black-
down Hills beyond Langport a barrow was known
until quite lately as " Noon's barrow," and it would
mark at least the line of flight of the Welsh ; and if
not the burial-place of the Saxon leader, who is
supposed to have fallen, must have been raised by
him over his comrades.

The line taken by the story will not be far wrong,
therefore, as in any case the Blackdown and Quan-
tock strongholds must have been taken by the
Saxons to guard against flank attacks, from which-
ever side of the Tone the British advance was
made.

The course of the story hangs to some extent on
the influence of the old feud between the British
and Saxon Churches, which dated from the days of



8 PREFACE

Augustine and his attempt to compel the adoption
of Western customs by the followers of the Church
which had its rise from the East. There is no
doubt that the death of the wise and peace-making
Aldhelm of Sherborne let the smouldering enmity
loose afresh, with the result of setting Gerent in
motion against his powerful neighbour. Ina's victory
was decisive, Gerent being the last king of the West
Welsh named in the chronicles, and we hear of little
further trouble from the West until A.D. 835, when
the Cornish joined with a new-come fleet of Danes
in an unsuccessful raid on Wessex.

Ina's new policy with the conquered Welsh is
historic and well known. Even in the will of King
Alfred, two hundred years later, some of the best
towns in west Somerset and Dorset are spoken of as
" Among the Welsh kin," and there is yet full evi-
dence, in both dialect and physique, of strongly
marked British descent among the population west of
the Parrett.

There is growing evidence that very early settle-
ments of Northmen, either Norse or Danish, or both,
contemporary with the well-known occupation of
towns, and even districts, on the opposite shores of
South Wales, existed on the northern coast of
Somerset and Devon. Both races are named by
the Welsh and Irish chroniclers in their accounts
of the expulsion of these settlers from Wales in
A.D. 795, and the name of the old west country



PREFACE 9

port of Watchet being claimed as of Norse origin,
I have not hesitated to place the Norsemen there.

Owen and Oswald, Howel and Thorgils, and those
others of their friends and foes beyond the few whose
names have already been mentioned as given in the
chronicles, are of course only historic in so far as
they may find their counterparts in the men of the
older records of our forefathers. If I have too early
or late introduced Govan the hermit, whose rock-hewn
cell yet remains near the old Danish landing-place on
the wild Pembrokeshire coast between Tenby and the
mouth of Milford Haven, perhaps I may be forgiven.
I have not been able to verify his date, but a saint
is of all time, and if Govan himself had passed
thence, one would surely have taken his place to
welcome a wanderer in the way and in the name of
the man who made the refuge.

CHAS. W. WHISTLER.

STOCKLAND, 1904.



CONTENTS



CHAPTER I

PAGE

HOW OWEN OF CORNWALL WANDERED TO SUSSEX,

AND WHY HE BIDED THERE . . -15

CHAPTER II

HOW ALDRED THE THANE KEPT HIS FAITH, AND

OWEN FLED WITH OSWALD . . . .36

CHAPTER III

HOW KING INA'S FEAST WAS MARRED, AND OF A

VOW, TAKEN BY OSWALD . . . -59

CHAPTER IV

HOW THE LADY ELFRIDA SPOKE WITH OSWALD, AND

OF THE MEETING WITH CERENT . 85

CHAPTER V

HOW OSWALD FELL INTO BAD HANDS, AND FARED

EVILLY, ON THE QUANTOCKS . . .104

CHAPTER VI

HOW OSWALD HAD AN UNEASY VOYAGE AND A PER-
ILOUS LANDING AT ITS END . . . 126
11



12 CONTENTS

CHAPTER VII

FAGF.

HOW OSWALD CROSSED THE DYFED CLIFFS, AND MET

WITH FRIENDS . . . . -153

CHAPTER VIII

HOW OSWALD LOST A HUNT, AND FOUND SOMEWHAT

STRANGE IN THE CAERAU WOODS . . -177

CHAPTER IX

WHY IT WAS NOT GOOD FOR OWEN TO SLEEP IN THE

MOONLIGHT ...... 203

CHAPTER X

HOW THE EASTDEAN MANORS AND SOMEWHAT MORE

PASSED FROM OSWALD TO ERPWALD . . 224

CHAPTER XI

HOW ERPWALD FELL FROM CHEDDAR CLIFFS ; AND

OF ANOTHER WARNING .... 247

CHAPTER XII

OF THE MESSAGE BROUGHT BY JAGO, AND A MEETING

IN DARTMOOR . . . . .272

CHAPTER XIII

HOW OSWALD AND HOWEL DARED THE SECRET OF

THE MENHIR, AND MET A WIZARD . . 294

CHAPTER XIV

HOW OSWALD FOUND WHAT HE SOUGHT, AND RODE

HOMEWARD WITH NONA THE PRINCESS . -321



CONTENTS 13

CHAPTER XV

PAGE

HOW ERPVVALD SAW HIS FIRST FIGHT ON HIS WED-
DING DAY ...... 342

CHAPTER XVI

OF MATTERS OF RANSOM, AND OF FORGIVENESS ASKED

AND GRANTED ..... 363

CHAPTER XVII

HOW OSWALD FOUND A HOME, AND OF THE LAST

PERIL OF OWEN THE PRINCE . . .383



A PRINCE OF CORNWALL



CHAPTER I

HOW OWEN OF CORNWALL WANDERED TO SUSSEX,
AND WHY HE BIDED THERE

THE title which stands at the head of this story
is not my own. It belongs to one whose name
must come very often into that which I have to tell,
for it is through him that I am what I may be, and
it is because of him that there is anything worth
telling, of my doings at all. Hereafter it will be
seen, as I think, that I could do no less than set
his name in the first place in some way, if indeed
the story must be mostly concerning myself. May-
be it will seem strange that I, a South Saxon of
the line of Ella, had aught at all to do with a West
Welshman a Cornishman, that is of the race and
line of Arthur, in the days when the yet unforgotten
hatred between our peoples was at its highest ; and
so it was in truth, at first Not so much so was
it after the beginning, however. It would be
stranger yet if I were not at the very outset to own
all that is due from me to him. Lonely was I



16 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

when he first came to me, and lonely together, in
a way, have he and I been for long years that for
me, at least, have had no unhappiness in them,
for we have been all to each other.

I have said that I was lonely when he first came
to me, and I must tell how that was. I suppose
that the most lonesome place in the world is the
wide sea, and after that a bare hilltop ; but next
to these in loneliness I would set the glades of a
beech forest in midwinter silence, when the snow
lies deep on the ground under boughs that are too
stiff to rustle in the wind, and the birds are dumb,
and the ice has stilled the brooks. Set a lost child
amid the bare grey tree trunks of such a winter
forest, in the dead silence of a great frost, with no
track near him but that which his own random
feet have made across the snow, and I think that
there can be nought lonelier than he to be thought
of: and in the depth of the forest there is peril to
the lonely.

I had no fear of the forest till that day when I
was lost therein, for the nearer glades round our
village had been my playground ever since I could
remember, and before I knew that fear therein
might be. That was not so long a time, however,
save that the years of a child are long years ; for
at this time, when I first learned the full wildness
of the woods of the great Andredsweald and knew
what loneliness was, I was only ten years old.
Since I could run alone my old nurse had tried
to fray me from wandering out of sight of those
who tended me, with tales of wolf and bear and
pixy, lest I should stray and be lost, but I had not



IN THE FOREST 17

heeded her much. Maybe I had proved so many
of her tales to be but pretence that, as I began to
think for myself, I deemed them all to be so.

But now I was lost in the forest, and what had
been a playground was become a vast and desolate
land for me, and all the things that I had ever
heard of what dangers lurked within it, came back
to my mind. I remembered that the grey wolf's
skin on which I slept had come hence, and I minded
the calf that the pack had slain close to the village
a year ago, and I thought of the girl who went
mazed and useless about the place, having lost her
wits through being pixy-led, as they said, long ago.
The warnings seemed to me to be true enough,
now that all the old landmarks were lost to me, and
all the tracks were buried under the crisp snow. I
did not know when I had left the road from the
village to the hilltop, or in which direction it lay.

It was very silent in the aisles of the great beech
trunks, for the herds were in shelter. There was
no sound of the swine-herds' horn, though the
evening was coming on, and but for the frost it was
time for their charges to be taken homeward, and
the woodmen's axes were idle. Even the scream
of some hawk high overhead had been welcome to
me, and the harsh cry of a jay that I scared was
like the voice of a friend.

It was the fault of none but myself that I was
lost. I had planned to go hunting alone in the
woods while the old nurse, whose care I was far
beyond, slept after her midday meal before the
fire. So, over my warm woollen clothing I had
donned the deerskin short cloak that was made



i8 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

like my father's own hunting gear, and I had taken
my bow and arrows, and the little seax l that a
thane's son may always wear, and had crept away
from the warm hall without a soul seeing me. I
had thought myself lucky in this, but by this time
I began to change my mind in all truth. Well
it was for me that there was no wind, so that I
was spared the worst of the cold.

I went up the hill to the north of the village
by the track which the timber sleds make, climbing
until I was on the crest, and there I began to
wander as the tracks of rabbit and squirrel led me
on. Sometimes I was set aside from the path by
deep drifts that had gathered in its hollows with
the wind of yesterday, and so I left it altogether
in time. Overhead the sky was bright and clear
as the low sun of the month after Yule, the wolf-
month, can make it. I wandered on for an hour
or two without meeting with anything at which to
loose an arrow, and my ardour began to cool
somewhat, so that I thought of turning homewards.
But then, what was to me a wondrous quarry crossed
my way as I stood for a moment on the edge of
a wide aisle of beech trees looking down it, and
wondering if I would not go even to its end and
so return. Then at once the wild longing for the
chase woke again in me, and I forgot cold and time
and place and aught else in it.

Across the glade came slowly and lightly over
the snow a great red hare, looking against the
white background bigger than any I had ever set

1 Seax the national weapon. A heavy blade between sword and
dagger, with curved back and straight edge, fitted for almost any use.



WOODLAND QUARRY 19

eyes on before. It paid no heed at all to me, even
when I raised my bow to set an arrow on the string
with fingers which trembled with eagerness and
haste. Now and again it stopped and seemed to
listen for somewhat, and then loped on again and
stopped, seeming hardly to know which way it
wished to go. Now it came toward me, and then
across, and yet again went from me, and all as
if I were not there.

It was thirty paces from me when I shot, and
I was a fair marksman, for a boy, at fifty paces.
However, the arrow skimmed just over its back,
and it crouched for a second as it heard the whistle
of the feathers, and then leapt aside and on again
in the same way. But now it crossed the glade
and passed behind some trees before I was ready
with a second arrow, and I ran forward to recover
the first, which was in the snow where it struck,
hoping thence to see the hare again.

When I turned with the arrow in my hand I
saw what made the hare pay no heed to me.
There was a more terrible enemy than even man
on its track. Sniffing at my footprints where they
had just crossed those of the hare was a stoat, long
and lithe and cruel. I knew it would not leave
its quarry until it had it fast by the throat, and
the hare knew it also by some instinct that is not
to be fathomed, for I suppose that no hare, save
by the merest chance, ever escaped that pursuer.
The creature seemed puzzled by my footprint, and
sat up, turning its sharp eyes right and left until
it spied me ; but when it did so it was not feared
of me, but took up the trail of the hare again. And



2O

by that time I was ready, and my hand was steady,
and the shaft sped and smote it fairly, and the
hare's one chance had come to it. I sprang
forward with the whoop of the Saxon hunter, and
took up and admired my prey, not heeding its
scent at all. It was in good condition, and I
would get Stuf, the house-carle, who was a sworn
ally of mine, to make me a pouch of it, I thought.
I mind that this was the third wild thing that I
had slain. One of the others was a squirrel who
stayed motionless on a bough to stare at me, in
summer time, and the second was a rabbit which
Stuf had shown me in its seat. This was quite
a different business, and I was proud of my skill
with some little reason. I should have some real
wild hunting to talk of over the fire to-night.

Then I must follow up the hare, of course, and
I thrust the long body of the stoat through my
girdle, so that its head hung one way and its tail
the other, and took up the trail of the hare where
my prey had left it. Now, I cannot tell how the
mazed creature learned that its worst foe was no
longer after it, but so it must have been, else it had
circled slowly in lessening rings until the stoat
had it, and presently it would have begun to scream
dolefully. But I only saw it once again, and then
it seemed to be listening at longer spaces. Yet
it took me a long way before it suddenly fled
altogether, as its footmarks told me. A forest-
bred lad learns those signs soon enough, if he
is about with the woodmen in snow time. Then
I turned to make my way home, following my own
track for a little way. That was crooked, and I



AT SUNSET 21

went to take a straighter path, and after that I
was fairly lost.

Yet I held on, hoping every minute to come
into some known glade or sight, some familiar
landmark, before the sun set. But I found nought
but new trees, and new views over unknown white
country all round me as I turned my steps hither
and thither as one mark after another drew me.
Then the sun set and the short day was over, and
the grey twilight of snow weather came after the
passing of the warm red glow from the west,
shadowless and still.

That was about the time when I was missed at
home, for my father came back from Chichester
town, and straightway asked for me. And when
I came not for calling, nor yet for the short notes
of the horn which my father had always used to
bring me to him, one ran here and another there,
seeking me in wonted places about the village,
until one minded that he had seen a boy, who must
have 'been myself, go up the hill track forestwards.

Then was fear enough for me, seeing that from
our village more than one child has wandered forth
thus and been seen no more, and I was the only son
of the long-widowed thane, and the last of the
ancient line that went back to Ella, and beyond
him even to Woden. So in half an hour there was
not a man left in the village, and all the woods and
hillsides rang with their calls to me, while in the
hall itself bided only the old nurse, who wept and
wailed by the hearth, and my father, whose tall
form came and went across the doorway, restless ;
for he waited here lest he should miss my coming



22 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

homeward. Up the steep street of the village the
wives stood in the doorways silent, and forgetting
their ailments for once in listening for the cries
that should tell that I was found. If they spoke
at all, they said that I should not be seen again, for
the cold had driven the wolves close to the villages.

But I was by this time far beyond the reach of
friendly voices, on the edge of the great hill that
falls sheer down through many a score feet of
hanging woods and thicket to the Lavington valley
far below, and there at last I knew for certain that
I was lost utterly, for this place or its like I had
never seen before. Then I stayed my feet,
bewildered, for the sun was gone, and I had
nothing to tell me in which direction I was heading,
for at that time the stars told me nought, though
there were enough out now to direct any man who
was used to the night. When I stood still I found
that I was growing deadly cold, and the weariness
that I had so far staved off began to creep over me,
so that I longed to sleep. And I suppose that I
should have done so, and thereby met my death
shortly, but for a thing that roused me in an
instant, and set the warm blood coursing through
me again.

There came a rustling in the undergrowth of the
hillside below me, and that was the most homely
sound that I had heard since the wild geese flew
over me seaward with swish and whistle of broad
wings and call that I knew well. The silence of
the great brown owls that circled swiftly over me
now and then was uncanny.

The rustling drew nearer, and then out into the



THE GREY BEAST 23

open place under the tall bare tree trunks where
I stood trotted a grey beast that was surely a
shepherd's dog, for he stayed and looked back
and whined a little as if his master must be waited
for. I thought that I could hear the cracking of
more branches once farther down the hill.

Then I called to the dog, knowing that he and
the shepherd would not be far apart, and at the call
the dog turned quickly toward me and leaped back
a yard, cowering a little with drooping tail. So I
called him again, and more loudly.

" Hither, lad ! Hither, good dog ! "

But the beast backed yet more from me, and I
saw the dull gleam of yellow teeth and heard him
snarl as he did so, and then he growled fiercely, so
that I thought him sorely ill-tempered. But I had
no fear of dogs, and I called him again cheerily, and
at that he sank on his haunches and set back his
head and howled and yelled as I had never heard
any dog give tongue before. And presently from
a long way off I heard the like howls, as if all the
dogs of some village answered him, and I thought
their tongue was strange also. Then came the
shout of a man, even as I expected, and there was
the noise of one who tears his way through briars
and brambles in haste ; but at that shout the dog
turned and fled like a grey shadow into the farther
thickets, and was gone.

" Who calls ? " one said loudly, and from the
hillside climbed hastily into the open a tall man,
bearded and strong, and with a pleasant-looking,
anxious face. He was dressed in leather like our
shepherds, and like them carried but quarter staff



24 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

and seax for weapons. I suppose that I was in
some shadow, for at first he did not see me.

" Surely I heard a child's voice," he said out loud,
" or was it some pixy playing with the grey beast
of the wood ? "

" Here I am," I cried, running to him ; " take me
home, shepherd, for I think that I am lost."

He caught me up in haste, looking round him
the while.

"Child," he said, "how came you here and to
what were you calling ? "

" I was calling your dog," I answered, " but he is
not friendly. Does he look for a beating? for he
ran away yonder when he heard you coming."

" Ay, sorely beaten will that dog be if he comes
near me just now," the man said grimly. " Never
mind him, but tell me how you came here, and
where you belong."

So I told him that I was Oswald, the son of
Aldred, the thane of Eastdean, thinking, of course,
that all men would know of us, and so I bade him
take me home quickly.

" I have been hunting," I said, showing him my
unsavoury prey, which by this time was frozen stiff
in my belt. " Then I followed the hare this was
after, and I cannot tell how far I have come."

All this while the man had me in his strong
arms, and he had looked at the track of the dog
in the snow, and now was walking swiftly from it,
through the beech trees, looking up at their branches
as if wondering at the way the great trunks shot up
smooth and bare from the snow at their roots before
they reached the first forking, fathoms skyward.



THE CALL OF THE PACK 25

" I am a stranger, Oswald, the thane's son," he
said. " I do not rightly know in which direction
your home may lie."

I know now that he was himself as lost as I,
but that he did not tell me, for my sake. It is an
easy thing for a stranger to go astray in the
Andredsweald. But I could not tell him more
than that I knew that I had left the sea always
behind me so long as I knew where it lay. So
he turned southwards at once when he heard that,
and went on swiftly. Then I heard the howl of
his dog again, and I laughed, for the other howls
that answered him were nearer.

" Listen, shepherd," I said. " Your dog is making
his comrades howl for him, and the beating that is
to come. Are you cold ? "

For he had shivered suddenly, and his pace
quickened. He had heard the howl of the single
wolf that has found its quarry, and calls the
answering pack to follow. But he did not tell



Online LibraryCharles W. (Charles Watts) WhistlerA prince of Cornwall : a story of Glastonbury and the West in the days of Ina of Wessex → online text (page 1 of 25)