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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and this seemed as if he would own his fault without
excuse. I minded that Nona the princess and her
father, ay, and Thorgils, had said that they thought
well of Evan the merchant up till this time.

" Supposing I let you go. What then ! " I said.

" First of all, I would tell you somewhat for which
you will thank me, Thane."

" Tell me that first," I said, not altogether believ-
ing that he had anything which could be worth my
hearing, but with a full mind now to let him go.
Plainly, he had some sort of faith in me, or in
the worth of what he had to say, for he began

" Thane, when we took you, it was Owen of
Cornwall for whom we waited. We were not
minding you at all until we saw that we might
hurt him through you."

" That I suppose. I know that you laid wait for
Owen the prince."

" Ay, for you know the Welsh and heard all that
we said. But listen, Thane, this is it. Eight of the
friends of Morgan had sworn the death of Owen that
morning, and it was the leader of them who set
us on. He was not there, for he waited on another

" Were you one of the eight ? "

" That I am not," he said. " I and my men were
but hired, as Morgan was wont to hire us now and
then. When we took you methought that it was
well for me, for through you I might be inlawed
again, even as I told you."


" Who was this leader ? " I asked, heeding this last
speech not at all.

" Tregoz of the Dart, men call him, for he holds
lands thereon. Also there are these of the great men
of Cornwall and Dyvnaint."

He called over the names of the other seven, and
I repeated them that I should not forget. The only
one that I had heard before was that of Tregoz.
The outlaws had spoken of him, and now I re-
membered him as one of those who had seemed
loudest in welcome to Owen when he came to
Norton. So I told Evan, and he nodded.

" I heard him boast of the same," he said, and
I believed him for the way in which he said it.

" How do they think to slay Owen, and where-
fore?" I asked, and my blood ran cold at the
thought "of the treachery that was round him.
Doubtless this Tregoz was back at court.

" In any way that they may compass, and if in
such a way as to stir up war with Ina of Wessex
so much the better, as they say. It is revenge for
the death of Morgan, and hatred of the Saxon,

" Is there any more that I should know ? "

" None, Thane. But I have broken no oath in
telling you this, as you might think. We outlaws
were not bound, for there seemed no need."

It was strange that he should care to tell me this,
being what he was. Once more I minded words of
Thorgils that the knave would beguile Loki him-
self with fair words. Yet there was somewhat very
strange in all the looks and words of the man at
this time. But I would not talk longer with him,


and I cut his bonds and freed him. He tried to
rise and stretch his cramped limbs, groaning with
the pain of them as he did so. And that grew on
him so that of a sudden he swooned and fell all his
length at my feet, and then I found myself kneeling
and chafing the hands of this one who had bound
me, so that he should come round the sooner. At
last he opened his eyes, and I fetched the horn of
strong mead that Howel had bidden his folk hang
on my saddle bow when we rode out, and that
brought him to himself again. He sat up on the
snow and thanked me humbly.

" Now, what will you do ? " I said. " Let me tell
you that Thorgils is after you, and that Howel has
set a price on your head, or was going to do so.
And it is better that you cross the sea no more, for
if ever any one of the men of Cerent or Ina catch
you your life will be forfeit."

" I will get me to North Wales or Mercia, Thane,
and there will I live honestly, and that I will swear.
Only, I will pray you not to tell Howel that I am

" I am like to tell no man," I answered grimly.
" For I should but be called a soft-hearted fool for
my pains."

" Yet shall you be glad that you freed me. Bid
Owen the prince look to the door before ever he
opens it. Bid him wear his mail day and night,
and never ride unguarded. Let him have one whom
he trusts to sleep across his doorway, until Tregoz
and his men are all accounted for."

" Well, then," I said, " farewell as well as you
shall deserve hereafter. You best know if you have


one safe place left to you in England or in

" I was not all so bad until the law hounded me
forth from men," he said. " I have yet places where
I am held as an honest man."

Now I had enough of him, and I would not ask
him more of himself, yet I will say that my heart
softened somewhat toward him, for I knew that here
also he had been well thought of. Almost did I
forget how he had treated me, for now that seemed
a grudge against Tregoz. Maybe that was all
foolishness on my part, but I am not ashamed
thereof to-day, as I was then.

" Stay, have you any weapon ? " I said, as I was
turning away. " There are many ills that may befall
an unarmed man in a wild country."

" There was a seax here," he said, rising stiffly.
" They left it on the ground, that I might see help
out of my reach, as it were. Ay, here it is."

He took it up, and I knew that after all he had
felt somewhat as he had made me feel when I saw
help close to me and might not have it. I pitied
him, for I knew well what his torture had been.
Ay, and I will tell this, that men may know how
this terror burnt into me. Many a time have I let
a trapped rat go, because I would not see the agony
of dumb helplessness in anything. It frays me.
There is no wonder that I set Evan free.

I said no more, but left him staring after me with
the seax in his hand, and rode on my way, thinking
most of all of the peril that was about Owen, and
longing to be back with him that I might guard
him. It seemed likely now that Cerent could take


all these men whose names I had heard \vithout the
least trouble, for they could not deem that their
plans were known. Ina would surely let me bide
with my foster-father till danger to him was past.

So I came into the road that runs along the top
of the Ridgeway, and then I knew where I was. I
could see the great ness of Tenby far before me
across the hills, and presently at a turn in the road
I saw Howel and Eric and his men ahead of me.
They had taken the stag, and knew that I should
make my way back, and so troubled not at all for

There Howel and I parted from the Danes, they
going back to Tenby, while we returned slowly to
Pembroke. And when we came to the palace yard
we found a little train of horses and men there, as
though some new guests had come in lately.

" I know who these will be," said Howel. " You
will have company in your homeward crossing.
Here is Dunwal of Devon, and his daughter, who
have been on pilgrimage to St. Davids, for Christmas-
tide. They knew that Nona returned at this time,
and have come hither on the chance of a passage
home in the ship which brought her. In good time
they are, after all."

Presently I met these folk, and very courteous
they were. Dunwal was a tall, very dark, man, who
chose to hold that he was beholden to myself for
the passage home, when he heard why I was sailing
so soon. And his daughter was like him in many
ways, being perhaps the very darkest damsel I have
ever seen, though she was handsome withal. With
them was a priest of the old Western Church,


a Cornishman, with his outlandish tonsure. He
was somewhat advanced in years, and strangely wild
looking at times, though silent He seemed to be
Dunwal's chaplain, or else was a friend who had
made the pilgrimage with him. His name was
Morfed, they told me.

I do not think that I should have noted him
much, but that when he heard my Saxon name he
scowled heavily, and drew away from me ; and
presently, when it came to pass that Howel told
Dunwal the news I had brought, I saw his eyes fixed
on me in no friendly way as he listened. Nor did
he join with his friends in the words of gladness for
Owen's return, though indeed I had some thought
that theirs might have been warmer. It was almost
as if something was held back by the Devon man
and his daughter, though why I should think so I
could not tell. At all events, their way of receiv-
ing the news was not like that of Howel and

By and by, when we came to sit down at table
in the largest room of the palace, bright with fair
linen, and silver and gold and glass vessels before
us, and soft and warm under foot with rugs on the
tiled floor which hardly needed them, as I thought,
there was a guest I was pleased to see. Thorgils
had ridden from Tenby at the bidding of the
princess, as it seemed, and his first words to me were
of assurance that all went well for our sailing. The
good ship would be ready for the tide of the morrow
night. Pleased enough also he was with the chance
of new passengers, as may be supposed.

I do not think that I have ever sat at a feast


whereat so few were present at the high table, and
there were no house-carles at all. Truly, the room
was not large enough for what we deem that a king's
board should be, but we seemed almost in private.
There were not more than thirty guests altogether,
but it was pleasant for all that. The princess was
on the right of her father, and Mara, the daughter
of Dunwal, on his left, but I sat next to Nona, and
Dunwal to me again. On the other side of the
prince were some of his own nobles, and across the
room sat Thorgils next to the Cornish priest, among
Welshmen of some lower rank. They seemed an
ill-assorted pair, but Thorgils was plainly trying to
be friendly with every one in reach of him, and soon
I forgot him in the pleasantness of all that went on
at our table.

However, by and by Howel said to Nona
suddenly, in a low voice

" Look yonder at the Norseman. He must be
talking heathenry to yon priest, for the good man
seems well-nigh wild. What can we do ? "

Truly, the face of Morfed was black as thunder,
while that of the Norseman was shining with delight
in some long-winded story he was telling. The
white-robed servants were clearing the tables at this
moment, and the prince's bard, a fine old harper
with golden collar and chain, was tuning his little
gilded harp as if the time for song had come.

" Make him sing," said Nona. " I bade him here
to-night that he might do so. He has some
wondrous tale to tell us."

Howel beckoned to the harper, and signed to
him, and the old man rose at once and went to


Thorgils. It was not the first time that he had
sung here, it was plain. Then I noted that the
priest was scowling fiercely at myself, and I
wondered idly why. I supposed, so far as I troubled
to think thereof, that he was one of those who hated
the very name of Saxon.

Now Thorgils took the harp without demur,
smiling at the bard in thanks, and so came forward
into the space round which the tables were set,
while a silence fell on the company.

" If my song goeth not smoothly in the British
tongue, Prince, forgive me. I can but do my best.
Truly, I have even now asked my neighbour, Father
Morfed, if it is fairly rendered, but I have not had
his answer yet."

He ran his hand over the already tuned strings,
and lifted his voice and began. It was not the first
time that he had handled a British harp, by any
means, but if he played well he sang better. I do
not think that one need want to hear a finer voice
than his ; and though he had seen fit to doubt his
powers, his Welsh was as good as mine, and maybe,
by reason of constant use, far more easy.

And next moment I knew that he was going to
sing nothing more or less than of King Ina's Yule
feast, and what happened thereat. He had promised
to tell the princess the story, and this was her
doing, of course. I could not stop him, and there
I must sit and listen to as highly coloured a tale
as a poet could make of it. Once he saw that I
was growing red, and he grinned gently at me across
the harp, and worked up the struggle still more
terribly. And all the while Morfed the priest


glowered at me, until at length he rose and left the

I was glad enough when Thorgils ended that song,
but Nona must ask him for yet another, and that
pleased him, of course, and he began once more. This
time he sang, to my great confusion, of the drinking
of the bowl, and of my vow, and I wished that I
was anywhere but in Pembroke, or that I could reach
the three-legged stool on which he was perched from
under him. I never knew a man easy while the
gleemen sang his deeds, save Ina, who was used
to it, and never listened ; and I knew not where to
look, though maybe more than half the folk present
did not understand that I was the hero of the
song. Nevertheless, I had to put up with it, till he
ended with a verse or two of praise of our host and
of the princess who loved the songs of the bard, and
so took his applause with a happy smile and went
and sat down, while Nona bade her maidens bear
a golden cup and wine to him.

Then the princess turned to me with a quiet
smile that had some mischief in it.

" This last is more than I had thought to hear,
Thane," she said ; " you told us nought of yourself
and the lady Elfrida when we rode from the hermit's."
And so she must ask me many questions, under
cover of some chant which the old bard began, and
she drew my tale from me easily enough, and maybe
learnt more than I thought I told her, for before
long she said

" Then it seems that, after all, you are not so sure
that the lady is pleased with you for your vow ? "

And in all honesty I was forced to own that I


was not. I suppose I showed pretty plainly that
I thought myself aggrieved in the matter, for the
princess smiled at me.

" Wait till you see how she meets you when you
return, Thane. No need to despair till then."

It came into my mind to say that I did not much
care how I was met, but I forbore. Maybe it was not
true. And then the princess and the three or four
other ladies who were present rose and left the table,
and thereafter we spoke of nought but sport and
war, and I need not tell of all that. But when I
went to my chamber presently, and the two pages
were about to leave me to myself, some three
hours or so after the princess left the board, one
of them lingered for a moment behind the other,
and so handed me a folded and sealed paper.

" I pray you read this, Thane," he said, and was

It was written in a fair hand, that did not seem
as that of any inky-fingered lay-brother, but as I
read, the few words that were written I knew whose
it was, for none but Nona would have written it.

" Have a care, Thane. I have spoken with Mara,
and I fear trouble. Dunwal her father is, with
Tregoz his brother, at the right hand of the men
who follow Morgan. Morfed the priest is a hater
of all that may make for peace with the Saxon.
He is well-nigh distraught with hatred of your kin."

Then there were a few words crossed out, and
that was all. And to tell the truth, it was quite
enough. But as I came to think over the matter,
it seemed to me that until Dunwal knew that it
was his brother who had tried to get rid of me I


need not fear him. As for the priest, his hatred
would hardly lead him to harm the son of Owen.

So I slept none the less easily, but from my
heart I thanked the princess for the warning. It
should not be my fault if Dunvval had much power
for harm when once I met GerenL



IT needs not that I should tell of the farewell of
the next day. I went from Pembroke with many
messages for Owen, and a promise that if I might
ever come over with him I would do so. The
princess was busy with the lady who was to cross
with Thorgils, and I did not find one chance of
telling her that I thanked her for her warning, but
I found the page who gave me the letter, and bade
him tell his mistress when we had gone that she
had . taught me to look in the face of a fellow-
passenger, which would be token enough that I

Dunwal and his daughter had some few men and
pack-horses with them, and one Cornish maiden who
attended Mara, so that we were quite a little train
as we rode from Pembroke toward Tenby in the
late afternoon, with a score of Howel's guards to
care for us in all honour. Part of the way, too,
Howel rode, and when we came to the hill above
the Caerau woods, and looked down on the winding
waters again, he said to me

" I have forgotten to tell you that my men took



Evan. By this time he has met his deserts. I
have done full justice on him."

" Thanks, Prince," I said with a shudder, as I
minded what I had saved the man from. " Did
your men question him ? "

Howel smote his thigh. " Overhaste again ! " he
cried in vexation. " That should have been done ;
but I bade them do justice on him straightway
if they laid hands on him. They did it."

I said no more, nor did the prince. It was in
my mind that he was blaming himself for somewhat
more than carelessness. So presently he must turn
and leave us, and we bade him farewell with all
thanks for hospitality, and he bade me not forget
Pembroke, and went his way.

Then I found Dunwal pleasant enough as a
companion, and so also was Mara, and the few
miles passed quickly, until we rode through the
gates of the strong stockade which bars the way
to the Danes' town across the narrow neck of the
long sea-beaten tongue of cliff they have chosen to
set their place on. The sea is on either side, and
at the end is an island that they hold as their last
refuge if need is, while their ships are safe under
one lee or the other from any wind that blows.
Far down below us at the cliff's foot, as we rode
through the town, where the houses had been set
anywise, like those at Watchet, and were like them
timber built, we could see to our left a little wharf,
and beside it the ship that waited us. And the
wind was fair, and the winter weather soft as one
might wish it for the crossing.

Now, so soon as Thorgils had seen the baggage


of the Cornish folk safely bestowed I had time for
a word with him, taking him apart and walking up
the steep hill-path from the haven for a little way,
as if to go to the town. And so I told him who
this man was, and what possible danger might be.
He heard with a long whistle of dismay

"'Tis nigh as bad as crossing with Evan," he
said " but one is warned. Let them have the
after-cabin, and do you take the forward one; it
will be safer. Leave me to see to him when we
get to Watchet, for it is in my mind that Cerent
will want him. Moreover, so long as he thinks that
you fear him not he will be careless, and I will
watch him. He will want to learn more before he
meddles with you. As for the priest, I will tend him."

So we were content to leave the matter. Presently,
when we were at sea, I do not think that Dunwal
or Morfed had spirit left to care for aught. I know
that I had not. I need not speak of that voyage,
save to say that it was speedy, and fair to the mind
of Thorgils, at least.

At last I slept, nor did I wake till we had been
alongside the wharf at Watchet for two hours, being
worn out. Then I found that Dunwal and his party
had gone already, and I wondered, with a mind to
be angry, whereat Thorgils laughed.

" I have even sent them on to Norton with a
few of our men to help him, and they will see that
he goes there and nowhere else. You will find him
waiting. I did not want him to fall on you on the

" What is the news ? " I asked. " Have you
heard aught?"


" The best, I think. Cerent is hunting Tregoz,
and Owen has swept up every outlaw from the
Quantocks. Our folk helped him. Some of them
told all they knew when they were taken."

" Then," I said gladly, " Owen knows that I am

" Not so certainly," Thorgils said. " None of our
folk can say that you crossed with me, and as this
is the only ship afloat at this time of the year there
is doubt as to where you are. It will be good
for Owen to see you again. What a tale you have
for him ! On my word, I envy you the telling."

" Well, then, ride with me to Norton straightway,
and you shall tell all and save me words. Owen
shall thank you also for your care for me."

" What, for letting you sit on my deck while the
wind blew ? Nay, but there are no thanks needed
between us. You and I have seen a strange voyage
together, and it has ended well. Maybe you and
I will see more sport yet side by side, for I think
that we are good comrades. Let us be going, then,
for it was in my mind that I could not rest until
I had seen you safe to your journey's end."

Then I found that he had his own horses ready
for us, and two more men, well armed and mounted
also, were waiting with them on the green where I
had been set down in the litter. So in a very short
time Thorgils had told his men all that he would
have done about the ship, and we were riding fast
along the road to Norton, while the thawing snow
told of the going of the frost at last

I had been gone but these few days, but each
of them seemed like a month to look back upon


as I rode under the shadow of the hills that I had
last seen as a hopeless captive. It grew warm and
soft as the midday sun shone on us, and the road
was muddy underfoot with the chill water that had
filled all the brooks again, but I hardly noticed
the change, so eager was I to be back. Glad enough
I was when we saw the village and the mighty
earthworks above it, and yet more glad when the
guards at the gate told us that Owen was even now
in the palace. I left Thorgils and his men to the
care of the guard for the time, while I went straight-
way to the entrance doors and asked for speech with

" It is the word of the king that you shall have
free admittance into the palace and to himself at
any time, Thane," the captain of the guards said.

So I passed into the great chamber of the palace
that was used as audience-hall for all comers, and
also as the court of justice.

The place was full of people, and those mostly
nobles, so that I had to stand in the doorway for
a moment to see what was going on. It was
plainly somewhat out of the common, for there were
guards along one end of the room. It seemed as if
there were a trial.

Gerent sat in the great chair which one might
call his throne at the upper end of the room, and
beside him was Owen. I thought that my foster-
father seemed pale and troubled in that first glance,
but I had every reason to know why this was so.
Before these two stood a man, with his back to
me therefore, and for the moment I did not recognise
him. On either side of this man were guards, and


it was plainly he who was in trouble, if any one.
Cerent was speaking to him.

" Well," he said, " hither you have come as a
guest, and as a guest you shall be treated. But
you must know that here within the walls of the
place you shall abide. If you will give your word
to do that I shall not have to keep you so

" This is not what I had looked for from you,
King Gerent," the man said.

I knew the voice at once, for it was that of
Dunwal, my fellow-passenger. So the treachery of
his brother must be known, and he was to be held
here as a hostage, as one might say. Cerent's next
words told me that it was so.

" If there is any fault to be found, it is in the
ways of your brother. Blame him that I must
needs have surety for his behaviour. It cannot be
suffered that he should go on plotting evil against
us, unchecked in some way."

Dunwal shrugged his shoulders, as if to say that
all this was no concern of his.

" Shall you hold my daughter as well ? " he said.
" I trust that your caution will not make you go so
far as that."

Cerent's eyes flashed at the tone and words,
but he answered very coldly

" She will bide here also, and in all honour."

Then he beckoned to a noble who stood near him,
and spoke to him for a moment. It chanced that
this was one of the very few whom I knew here.
His name was Jago, and I had often seen him at
Glastonbury, for he was a friend of our ealdorman,


Elfrida's father, holding somewhat the same post in
Norton as my friend in our town. Owen liked him
well also, and he was certainly no friend to Morgan

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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 12 of 25)