Charles W. (Charles Watts) Whistler.

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

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But I said that, however pleasant this would be, it
seemed plain that I must get back to Owen with
all speed, to warn him of this trouble that was
somewhat more than brewing. It could not be
thought that I would send word and yet never
move to his side to help.

" If I might say what comes into my mind,"


said the fair princess, " it seems almost better that
none but Owen and yourself know that the plot
is found out, while you guard against it. The
traitors will be less careful if they deem that nought
is known. Thorgils is somewhat talkative, you

" That is right," said Howel. " I have a good
counsellor here, Thane, as you see. However,
Thorgils will not sail to-day, for he has just put in,
and I know that he was complaining of some sort
of damage done, as the gale set a bit of a sea into
the cove, and he had some ado to keep clear of
the rocks for a time. We will even ride to
Pembroke, and I will send for Thorgils that he
may speak with you." And then he added grimly :
" Moreover, I will send men on the track of Evan,
the chapman, forthwith."

So we called out the guards from the camp, where
there were lines of huts with a greater building in
the midst as if it were often used thus, and so
rode across the rolling land northwards till we came
to Pembroke. Aad there Howel of Dyfed dwelt
in state in such a palace as that of Gerent, for here
again the hand of the Saxon had never come,
and the buildings bore the stamp of Imperial

So once again I was lodged within stone walls,
and with a roof above me that I could touch with
my hand, and I need not say how I fared in all
princely wise as the son of Owen. I suppose there
could be no more frank and friendly host than
Howel of Dyfed.

Tired I was that night also, and I slept well.



But once I woke with a fear for Oweti on me, for
I had dreamed that I saw some man creeping and
spying along the wide ramparts of Norton strong-
hold. And it seemed that the man had a bow
in his hand.



I THOUGHT Pembroke a very pleasant place when
I came to see it in the fair winter's morning. The
gale had passed, but it had brought a thaw with
it, and there was a softness in the air again, and
the light covering of snow had gone when I first
looked abroad. There had been no such heavy
fall here as we had in Wessex beyond the sea.
Maybe pleasant companionship had something to
do with my thought of the place, for none can deny
that a good deal does depend on who is with one.
And, seeing that after the morning meal her father
was busy with his counsellors for a time, Nona the
princess would shew me all that was to be seen
while we waited the coming of Thorgils. Whoever
chose the place for the building of this palace
stronghold chose well, for it is set on a rocky
tongue of land that divides the waters of an inland
branch of the winding Milford Haven, so that
nought but an easily defended ridge of hill gives
access to the fortress. All the tongue itself has
sheer rock faces to the water, and none might hope
to scale them. They and the wall across the one



way from the mainland, as one may call it, make
Howel's home sure, and since the coming of the
Danes into the land he had strengthened what had
fallen somewhat into decay in the long years of
peace that had passed. We had never reached
Dyfed, either from land or sea. So I saw hawks
and hounds, stables and guard-rooms and all else,
and at last we walked on the terraced edge of
the cliffs in the southern sun, and there a man
came and said that Thorgils the Norseman had

" Oh," said Nona with a little laugh, " he knows
not that you are here ! Let us see his face when
he meets you ! "

" The prince is busy," said the servant. "Is
it your will that the stranger should be brought
here ? "

" Yes, bring him. Tell him that I would speak
with him, but say nought of any other."

The man bowed and went his way, and the
princess turned to me with a new look of amuse-
ment on her face.

" Pull that cloak round you, Thane, and pay
no heed to him when he comes ; we may have

They had given me a long Welsh cloak of crimson,
fur bordered, and a cap to wear with it instead of
my helm. And of course I had not on my mail,
though Ina's sword was at my side, and Gerent's
bracelet on my arm, setting off a strange medley
of black-and-blue bruises and red chafed places
from the cords, moreover. So I laughed, and did
as she bade me, even as I saw Thorgils brought


round the palace toward us from the courtyard
where they had taken charge of his horse. There
were two other men with him, tall, wiry looking
warriors, and all three were well armed, but in a
fashion which was neither Welsh nor Saxon, but more
like the latter than the former.

" Danes from Tenby," said Nona ; " I know them
both, and like them. See what wondrous mail they
have, and look at the sword-hilt of the elder man.
That is Eric, the chief, and I think he comes to
speak with my father."

The two Danes hung back as they saw that
Howel was not present, but Thorgils unhelmed and
came forward quickly, with the courtly bow he
knew how to make when he chose, as he saluted
the princess. Then he turned slightly to me with
his stiff salute, and as I nodded to him I saw him
start and look keenly at me. Then he looked away
again, and tried to seem unheeding, but it was of
no use ; his eyes carne back to me.

"You seem to have met our friend before,
Shipmaster," said Nona, whose eyes were dancing.

" I cannot have done so, Princess," he answered.
" But on my word, I never saw so strange a likeness
to one I do know."

" I trust that is a compliment to my friend," she

" Saving the presence of the one who is like the
man I know, I may say for certain that it is nought
else to him."

I turned away somewhat smartly, for I wanted
to laugh, and this was getting personal. The
princess was not unwilling, I think, that it should


be more so. " Now you have offended the present,
and I shall have to say that the absent need not
be so."

" Nor the present either, Princess. See here,
Lord, the man you are so wondrous like in face did
the bravest deed I have seen for many a day.
Moreover, he saved the life of a king thereby.
Shall I tell thereof? "

Now this was a new tale to Nona, for, as may be
supposed, I had not said that it was myself who
handled Morgan so roughly, as I told the tale
of his end. It would have seemed like boasting
myself somewhat, as I thought, so I did but say
that he was dragged away from the king in time.
Nor had I spoken of Elfrida. The tale was told
hurriedly, and when it was done there had been
no thought but of Owen. It was greater news
here that he lived than that Ina had narrowly

So she glanced round at me in some surprise,
and then turned again to Thorgils.

" Some time you shall, for I love your songs. Not
now, for we have not time."

" Thanks, Lady. It will be a good song, and is
shaping well in my mind. There is a brave lady
therein also."

" Well, you have not told us who the brave man

" Did I not know that Oswald, son of Owen the
Cornish prince, was by this time in Glastonbury, I
should have said he was here, so great is the likeness.
It is a marvel. Now, Lord, you will forgive me, no


" Ay, freely," I said, turning round sharply.
" That is, if your friend has a sword as good as this,"
and I shewed him the gemmed hilt of Ina's gift
from beneath the folds of my great cloak.

He stared at it, and then at my face again, and I
took off my cap to him with a bow. " It is strange
that a shipmaster knows not his own passenger,"
I said.

But he was dumb for a moment, and his mouth
opened. Nona laughed at him and clapped her
hands with glee, and I must laugh also.

" By Baldur," he gasped, " if it is not Oswald, in
the flesh ! What witchcraft brought you here ? To
my certain knowledge there is no ship but mine
afloat now in the Severn Sea."

" Why, then, I crossed with you, friend," I said.

" That you did not " he began, but stopped

" Thorgils, Thorgils the sick man ! " cried Nona.

" Oh ! " said Thorgils, " can you have been Evan's
charge ? "

" Ay. Mind you that it was your own word
that there might be danger from the friends of
Morgan ? "

Then I told him all, and he heard with growls
and head-shakings, which but for the presence of the
lady might have been hard sayings concerning my
captors. But when I ended he said

" If ever I catch the said Evan there will be a
reckoning. All the worse it will be for him that for
these five years past I have known him, and deemed
him a decent and trustworthy man, for a Welsh
trader. I have fetched him back and forth with his


goods twice or thrice a year for all that time, and
now I suppose he has made me a carrier of stolen
wares ! Plague on him. I mind me now that
betimes I have thought he dealt in cast-off garments
somewhat, but that was not my affair. Now one
knows how that was."

" I liked the man well, also," said the princess,
with a sigh. " He has come here every year, and
betimes as he shewed me his goods not those you
spoke of, Thorgils it has seemed to me that he
was downcast, and as one who had sorrow in his
heart. Maybe he had, for his ill doings. He
deserves to be punished, but yet I would ask that
that if you lay hands on him you will be

" He shewed little mercy to Oswald the thane,"
growled Thorgils. " However, Princess, I think that
you may be easy. He will not risk aught, and we
shall see him no more. But the knave would
beguile Loki. Never a word did I hear of any
trouble, but he came and spoke to me as I sat with
your men yonder, and paid me his passage money,
and said he had asked for a guard for the ship as
he wanted to be away with the sick man. Also he
said he would borrow the boat for his easier passage
ashore. I supposed she was smashed in the gale, as
she came not back, and Howel paid me for her when
I grumbled."

" I wonder he went near you," I said.

" Therein was craft. If he had not paid passage
I would have let every shipmaster beware of him,
and he would have fared ill. He thought you done
for, no doubt, and so fell back on certainty, as one


may say. It is a marvel you escaped the great rifts
in yon cliffs in the storm. Now he will hear that
you are none the worse, and he will be sorry he
paid me."

Thorgils laughed grimly, but Nona sighed at the
downfall of the man she had liked. As for myself,
it mattered little what became of him, so far as I
was concerned. Howel's men were hunting him as
I knew, and I only hoped they might catch him, for
then we might learn more of the plotting that was on
hand from him. He would tell all to save his skin,
no doubt.

But now I told Thorgils how I needed to
be back in Norton with all speed, and it sent
a sort of chill through me to see him shake his

" There is need, truly," he said, " and all that may
be done I will do. But yester-morn we found that
we had sprung a plank or two just above the water-
line, as we were in a bad berth for shelter. I made
shift 'to get the ship to Tenby, but on one tack she
leaks like a basket, and she must be repaired. It
will take all to-day, and maybe to-morrow ; but it
shall be done, if we have to work double tides, or to
make a cobbler's job of it in haste. I must be off
therefore to see to it. But I hope, if wind will serve
us we may sail for home to-morrow night. Tide
serves about midnight, and waits for no man. You
had better be with us betimes."

He saw that I seemed downcast, and added
thoughtfully enough : " It is in my mind that you
need have little care yet. Gerent will not let Owen
out of his sight for some time, as I think, and danger


begins when he is abroad alone, and carelessly.
Maybe not till he is at Exeter."

Then he beckoned to the two Danes who were
waiting him, and made them known to me after they
had saluted the princess. Eric the chief was a fine
old warrior, iron grey and strong, and the other was
his son, who bade fair to be like his father in time.
He was a sturdy young man, and wore his arms well.
They shook hands with me frankly, and from their
words it was plain that Thorgils had told my story
at Tenby already.

" This is the sick man I told you of," he said now.
" He turns out to be a Thane of Glastonbury, and
Evan had a hand in some plot of the friends of
Morgan. Took him by craft and brought him here
for ransom, doubtless. I had not thought that man
such a knave, and shall distrust my judgment of
men sorely in future."

Then Nona asked them what they would with the
prince, and Eric told her.

" The deer are in the valleys, Lady, and we came
to tell the prince that we have harboured the great
stag of twelve points in the woods beyond Caerau.
Will it please him to join our hunt ? "

" Doubtless," she said. " Now there is no time
to be lost, for the day is high already."

" None the worse, Princess," said Eric. " The
last snow is passing hourly."

So we went round to the front of the palace
toward the gates, and there waited half a dozen more
men and horses by a gathering of men on foot with
a pack of great hounds, the like of which I had
never seen. They were the Danish hounds, which



had come hither with their masters, and were big and
strong enough for any quarry, even were it the bear
that yet lurked in the Welsh mountain wilds.

Then Howel came, and would have me mounted
well, and in less than half an hour we were riding east-
ward along the ancient way they call the Ridgeway,
which crowns the long hill between the sea and the
valleys where lie the windings of Milford Haven. And
so we went till we could see Tenby itself far off on
its rocky ness, and at that point left Thorgils to go
his way, while we turned northward into the inland
valleys, and sought the deep combe where they had
harboured the stag.

The snow lay here and there yet, but it was
almost gone, and the going was somewhat heavy,
but overhead the sky was soft and grey, and the
wind was pleasant if chill. North and west it was,
and that would be fair for our crossing, if only it
would hold, as Thorgils deemed that it surely

Now it was good to hear the horn and the cheer
of the hunters as they drew the deep cover for the
deer, and the half-dozen couple of hounds that were
held back in leash while the rest were at their work
strained and whimpered to be with them. And at
last the great stag broke from the cover, in no haste,
but in a sort of disdain of those who had disturbed
him, and after him came a few scurrying hinds who
huddled to him for safely. They trotted to another
cover, and after them streamed the hounds, and
then the great stag was driven alone from his
hiding, and so the pack was laid on and we were


He headed for the far waters of the haven I had
seen glittering from the hilltop, even as Howel told
me was likely, and the pace was fast at the first.
So I settled myself to the work and rode as one
should ride on another man's horse, and a good one,
moreover, carefully enough. But these hills were
easier than ours, for heather was none, and the loose
stones that trouble us on Mendips and Quantocks
were not to be seen. It was fair grass land mostly.
So I let my horse go, and in a little while had for-
gotten aught but the sheer joy of the pace, and the
cry of the great hounds, and the full delight of such
a run as one dreams of. Whereby I have little more
to tell thereof.

For a country may seem to be open enough as
one looks down on it from a height, but as one
crosses it the difference in what has seemed easy
riding is soon plain. Long swells of rolling ground
rise as it were from nothing, and deep valleys that
had been unseen cross the path, and the clustered
trees are found to be deep woods as they are neared.
Then the man who knows the country has the
advantage, and it is as well to follow him. But I
was well mounted, and the pace was good where the
gale had thinned the snow, and it came about that
before I had time to think what Howel and Eric and
the Danes who were on horseback were doing I rode
down one side of a little cover, past which the deer
had gone with the hounds close on him, while the
rest went on the other. I heard one shout, but it
did not come into my mind that it was to me, for I
thought that they needs must follow, and did not
look round. Then I had to turn off yet more to the


right as the best way seemed to take me, and mean-
while they were off to the left.

So when I was clear of the thicket and could see
across the open again I had lost them. Unless I
could hear the hounds I had nothing to guide me,
and I drew rein and listened for them. As I heard
nothing I rode on until I had a stretch of open
country before me, but there I could see no more.
Afterwards I learned that the deer had turned and
made for the hill again, but it did not seem likely
that he would do so with the waters of the haven so
close at hand as I could see them. It was more
likely that he would head straight for them, and so
I spurred on once more in that direction. It was
certainly the best thing that I could do, and I had
not far to go before a mile of the open water was
before me. But there was nought on its banks but
a row of patient herons, fishing or sleeping, and the
sight of them told me that no man had passed this
way for many a long hour. I waited in that place
for a , few moments, to see if the deer made for the
refuge of the water from some cover that as yet hid
him from me, but he did not come. It was plain to
me then that the hunt had doubled back and that I
was fairly thrown out, and I went no farther. By
this time Eric might be miles away, and I knew
nothing of the lie of the land, save that along the
crest of the Ridgeway ran the road from Tenby to
Pembroke, and that once on that road I could make
my way back in no long time. That, as it seemed
to me, was the best thing that I could do, and I
headed my horse at once for the hill, going slowly,
for it was no great distance, and it was heavy going


in the places where the snow had gathered in drifts.
I thought that maybe I should cross the track of
the horses and hounds, or hear Eric's horn before I
had gone far, but I reached the foot of the hill
without doing either. Then I came to a place
where the land began to draw upward more sharply,
thickly timbered, with scattered rocks among the
roots of the trees. Fox and badger and wild cat
had their hiding-places here, for I could trace them
on all sides, and then I saw the track of a wolf, and
that minded me, as that track in snow ever must, of
Owen and the day when he came to my help at
Eastdean. That is the clearest memory I have
of my childhood. Then I thought that I heard
the horn, and stopped to listen, nor was it long
before what I had heard came to my ears again.
It was not the sound of the horn, however,
but somewhat strange to me, and for a while I
wondered what forest bird or beast had a note
like that.

For the third time I heard it, and now it was
plainly like the half-stifled cry of some one in pain
among the trees to the right of me, and not far
distant either. So I rode toward the place whence
the cry seemed to come, and as I went I called.
At that the voice rose more often, with some sound
of entreaty in its tone, and it seemed to be trying
to form words. I hastened then, crossing more wolf
tracks on the way, and then I struck the trail of
many men and a few horses ; but these were not
Eric's, for the hoof-marks were rather those of ponies
than of his tall steeds. I followed that track, for it
seemed to lead toward the weary voice that I heard,


and so I came to a circle of great oaks with a
clear space of many paces wide between them, and
there I found what I was seeking. It was piteous

A man was tied to the greatest of the trees, with
knees to chin, and bound ankles, whlie round his knees
his hands were clasped and fastened so that a stout
stake was thrust through, under his knees and over
his elbows, trussing him helplessly. The cords that
bound him to the tree were round his body in such
wise that he could by no means fall on his side and
so work himself free from the stake, and round his
mouth was a ragged cloth tied, but not closely
enough to prevent him from calling out as I heard
him. I think that he must have gnawed it from
closer binding than I saw now. Across the snow
behind him the paws of some daring wolf had left
marks as if the beast had sniffed at his very back
not so long since, and surely but for the chance of
my coming that way nought but his bones had been
left in that place by the pack before morning came

It was a strange cry that this man gave when he
saw me, for in no way could I take it for a cry of
joy for rescue. I could rather think that he had
raised the same when the wolf came near him.
And when I dismounted and led my horse after me
toward him he seemed to try to shrink from me,
as if I also meant him harm. I thought that
the poor soul had surely gone distracted with the
fear of the forest beasts on him, so that he no
longer knew friend from foe, and I wondered how
long he had been bound here in this lonely place.


I had seen no house or trace of men between here
and Tenby.

I hitched the bridle rein over a low bough, and
leaving my horse went toward him to set him loose,
wondering who had left him here. And as I drew
my seax and went to cut the lashings he writhed
afresh and cried piteously for mercy in what sounded
like bad Saxon from behind the cloth across his face,
as though he deemed that I came to slay him. I
did not notice the strangeness of his using my own
tongue here in the heart of a Welsh land at the
time, but thought he took me for one of those who
had bound him.

" Fear not," I said, speaking in Welsh to comfort
him. And if anything, that seemed to terrify him
yet more.

" Mercy, good Thane mercy ! " he mumbled from
his half-stifled lips.

Then it seemed to me that it was strange that he
knew what I was, and before I cut the bonds I took
the cloth from his face, and lo ! the man was Evan
the outlaw, my enemy !

That told me why he feared me in good truth, for
he had need to do so, and I stood back and looked
at him with the bright weapon still in my hand, and
he cried and begged for mercy unceasingly. It
seemed but right that he should be bound helplessly
as he had bound me, yet he had not the bitterness
of seeing a friend look on him without knowing him
as had I. It was a foe whom he saw, and that a
righteous one.

Then I was minded to turn away and leave him
where he was, until the foe from the forest looked


p. 190.


on him for the last time, for it was all that he
deserved, and I set my seax back in my belt and
turned away to my horse with a great loathing of
the man in my mind ; and seeing that, he begged for
mercy again most pitiably.

That is a hard thing to hear unmoved, and I
stayed and looked at him again. My first wrath
was leaving me as I saw the fulness of the end of
his plans, and I do not think that it is in me to
be utterly revengeful.

" What mercy can you hope from me ! " I said

" None, Thane, none. But let me go hence with
you. Better the rope than these wild beasts. Or
slay me now, and swiftly."

" Who, of all your friends, tied you here ? " I asked

" Howel's men," he answered. " They took my
goods at the ford of Caerau yonder, and so brought
me here and left me. That was early this

" I marvel that you bided in reach of any who
might speak with me," I said.

" My comrades left me, for fear of that same. I
must hire ponies to get the goods away. I thought
you had died on the wild sea that night."

" It seems to me that this is but justice on you.
The goods you have lost were stolen from honest
men. And it were just if I left you bound as you
bound me."

Then the man said slowly : " Ay, it is justice.
But will you treat me even as I treated you,
Thane ? "



I looked at him in some wonder. The man's face
had grown calm, though it was yet grey and drawn,

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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 11 of 25)