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 his party.

" Jago's wife will give your daughter all hospitality
in his house," Cerent said, turning again to Dunwal.
" Have I your word as to keeping within bounds
during my pleasure ? "

" Ay, you have it," answered Dunwal curtly.

Then I slipped out of the door quietly, and went
to that room where Owen and I waited on our
first coming here, and I sent a steward to tell him
of my arrival. There is no need for me to tell how
he greeted me, or how I met him.

Then when those greetings were over I heard
all that had been going on, and my loss had made
turmoil enough. My men had brought back the
news, having missed me very shortly, but it was
long before they found traces of me. The first
thing that they saw was my hawk, as I expected,
and after that the bodies of the slain. As I was
not with them, they judged that I had escaped in
some way, but they lost the track of the feet in the
woodlands, and so rode back to Owen in all haste.
Then was a great gathering of men for the hunting
of the outlaws, for it would take a small army
to search the wild hills and woodlands of the
Quantocks to any effect. The whole countryside
turned out gladly, and the Watchet Norsemen
helped also.

In the end, on the next day they penned the
outlaws into some combe, and took most of them,
and then all was told by them, so far as they knew


it. Cerent laid hands on four of the men who had
sworn the oath Evan told me of, that evening after
some leading outlaw had given their names, but
Tregoz had escaped.

He had been one of the most active in the
matter of the hunt, to all seeming, and had ridden
out with Owen and Jago and the rest. Then he
took advantage of some turn in the hills, when men
began to scatter, and was no more seen. Presently
it was plain enough why this was, when those who
were taken were made to speak. Yet it seemed
that he was not so far off, for already an attack had
been made on Owen as he rode beyond the village,
though it was no very dangerous one. Now it was
to be hoped that the danger from him was past, for
his brother had been taken the moment he rode
into the gate, and he would suffer if more harm
was done.

Then I asked if our king had been told of all
this, and I learnt that he had heard at once, and
had written back to Owen to say that he would pay
any ransom that might be asked for me if I yet
lived, as was hoped. The outlaws had told of
Evan's plan, but it was not known if I had been
taken out of the country yet.

"All is well that ends well," Owen said; "but
I asked Ina not to say aught of the matter yet for
a while. There is one at least in Glastonbury who
might be sorely terrified for you."

He laughed at my red face, for I knew that
he meant Elfrida. It was in my mind, however,
that I wished she had heard, for then, perhaps, she
would have been sorry that she had not been


kinder to me unless, indeed, she was glad that
I was out of the way, in all truth.

Then there was my own long tale to be told, and
of course I told Owen all. It was good to hear
him say that he himself could have done nought
but free Evan.

Thereafter we sought Thorgils, who was happy in
the guard-room, and had seemingly been telling my
tale there, for the men stared at me somewhat. I
do not suppose that it lost in the telling.

Owen thanked him for his help, and took him
to see Cerent; which saved me words, for the
Norseman must needs tell how Evan had brought
me on board his ship, and so we even let him say
all that there was to be said.

After that Gerent loaded him with presents, and
so let him go well pleased.

I went out to his horse with him, and saw him
start. His last word as he parted from me was that
if I needed a good axeman at my back at any time
I was to send for him, and so he went seaward,
singing to himself, with the men who had brought
Dunwal hither behind him.

After that there was more to say of Howel and
his court. It seemed that Gerent and Owen liked
him well, and I wondered that Owen had not
sought him when the trouble fell on him. I think
he would not go to Dyfed as a disgraced man, for I
know he could not clear himself at the time.

Now at supper, presently, there was Dunwal,
looking anxious, as I thought, but trying not to
shew it. His daughter Mara was there also, and
as it happened she sat next to me. I suppose the


seneschal set her there as we had crossed from
Dyfed together, unless she had asked it, or gone to
that seat without asking. She was very pleasant,
talking of the troubles of the voyage, and so went
on to speak sadly enough of the greater trouble that
had waited her.

" I am glad the king has kept us, however," she
said. " I can be content with the court rather than
with our wild Dartmoor, as you may guess. But
all these things are too hard for me, and how any
man can plot against so wonderful looking a prince
as Owen passes me. I cannot but think that there
is some mistake, and that my uncle has no hand in
the affair. That will be proved ere long, I do believe."

I answered that indeed I hoped that it would
prove so, and then asked for Morfed, the priest who
had crossed with us, as I did not see him among the
other clergy at the table. She told me that he had
left them, on foot, at the gate of Watchet, making his
way westward, as she believed. He had only joined
their party for easier travelling in Dyfed. Then she
must needs ask me questions about Thorgils' song,
and specially of Elfrida. I had no mind to tell her
much, but it is hard to refuse to answer a lady who
speaks in all friendly wise and pleasantly, so that I
had to tell her much the same that I told Nona the
princess, and began to wonder if every lady who had
the chance would be as curious to know all about
what story there was. And that was a true fore-
boding of mine, for so it was, until I grew used to
it. But all this minded me of Nona and her warn-
ing, and I was half sorry that the priest had not
come here to be taken care of with Dunwal.


After that night we saw little of these two. Mara
went to the house of Jago, and Dunwal kept to
himself about the palace boundaries within the old
ramparts, and seemed to shun notice. As for me,
word went to Ina that all was well, and he sent a
letter back to say that it would please him to know
that I was with Owen for a time yet. So I bided
with him, and for a time all went well, for we heard
nought of Tregoz in any way, while another of his
friends was taken and imprisoned in some western
fortress of Cerent's. Nor were there any more attacks
made on Owen, so that after a little while we went
about, hunting and hawking, in all freedom, for
danger seemed to have passed with the taking of
Dunwal as hostage.

Then one day a guard from the gate brought me
a folded paper, on which my name was written in a
fair hand, saying that it had been left for me by a
swineherd from the hill, who said that it was from
some mass priest whom I knew. The guard had
let the man go away, deeming that, of course, there
was no need to keep him. Nor had they asked who
the priest might be, as it was said that I knew him.
I took the letter idly and went to my stables with it
in my hand, and opened and read it as I walked.

" To Oswald, son of Owen. It is not good to
sleep in the moonlight"

That was all it said, and there was no name at
the end of it. I thought it foolish enough, for
every one knows that the cold white light of the moon
is held to be harmful for sleepers in the open air.
But I was not in the way of sleeping out in this
early season with its cold, though, of course, it was


always possible that one might be belated on the
hills and have to make a night in the heather of it
when hunting on Exmoor or the Brendons. There
was not much moon left now, either.

So I showed the note to Owen presently, and he
puzzled over it, seeing that it could not have been
sent for nothing. At last we both thought that
whoever wrote it, or had it written, knew that some
attack would be made on us with the next moon,
when it would be likely that we might be riding
homeward by its light with no care against foes.
That might well be called " sleeping in the moon-
light" as things were, and at all events we were
warned in time. The trouble to me was that it
seemed to say that danger was not all past.
However, when there was no moon at all I forgot
the letter for the time, no more trouble cropping up,
and but for a chance word I think that it had not
come into my mind again until we were out in the
moonlight at some time. As we sat at table one
evening when the moon was almost at the full again,
some one spoke of moonstruck men, and that minded
me, and set me thinking. He said that once he
himself had had a sore pain in the face by reason
of the moonlight falling on it when he was asleep,
and another told somewhat the same, until the talk
drifted away to other things and they forgot it.
But now I remembered how that at our first coming
here I had waked in the early hours and seen a
patch of moonlight from a high southern window on
the outer wall of the palace passing across Owen's
breast as he slept. Then I was on the floor across
the door, but now I slept in the same place that


Owen had that night, while he was on the couch
across the room and under the window. It was
possible, therefore, that the light did fall on my face,
but I was pretty sure that if so it would have waked
me. At all events, if the letter had aught to do with
that, it was a cumbrous way of letting me know that
my bed was in a bad place for quiet sleep. The
only thing that seemed likely thus was that the good
priest who wrote had left the palace before he had
remembered to tell me how he had fared in that
room once, and so sent back word. There were
many priests backward and forward here, as at
Glastonbury with Ina. Then it seemed plain that
this was the meaning of the whole thing, and so I
would hang a cloak over the window by and by.

And, of course, having settled the question in my
own mind, I forgot to do that, and was like to have
paid dearly for forgetting.

Two nights afterward, when the moon was at the
full, I woke from sleep suddenly with the surety that
I heard my name called softly. I was wide awake
in a moment, and found the room bright with moon-
light that did indeed lie in a broad square right
across my chest on the furs that covered me. I
glanced across to Owen, but he was asleep, as there
was full light enough to see, and then I wondered
why I seemed to have heard that call. In a few
moments I knew that, and also that the voice 1
heard was the one that had come to me in sore
danger before.

Idly and almost sleeping again I watched the
light, to see if indeed it was going to cross my face,
and then a sudden shadow flitted across it, and with


a hiss and flick of feathers a long arrow fled through
the window and stuck in the plaster of the wall not
an inch above my chest, furrowing the fur of the
white bearskin over me, so close was it.

In a moment I was on the floor, with a call to
Owen, and it was well that I had the sense to swing
myself clear from the light and leap from the head
of the bed, for even as my feet touched the floor a
second arrow came and struck fairly in the very
place where I had been, and stood quivering in the

Then was a yell from outside, and before Owen
could stay me I looked through the window, reck-
lessly enough maybe, but with a feeling that no
more arrows would come now that the archer was
disturbed. It needed more than a careless aim to
shoot so well into that narrow slit. Across the
window I could see the black line of the earthworks
against the light some fifty paces from the wall of
the palace, with no building between them on this
side at all ; and on the rampart struggled two figures,
wrestling fiercely in silence. One was a man whose
armour sparkled and gleamed under the moon, and
the other seemed to be unarmed, unless, indeed, that
was a broad knife he had in his hand. Then Owen
pulled me aside.

" The sentry has him," he said, after a hurried
glance. " Let us out into the light, for there may be
more on hand yet."

Now I hurried on my arms, but another look
showed me nothing but the bare top of the rampart.
No sign of the men remained. I could hear voices
and the sounds of men running in the quiet, and


I thought these came from the guard, who were
hurrying up from the gate.

" The men have rolled into the ditch," I said.
" I can see nothing now." Then we ran out, bidding
the captain of the guard to stand to arms as we
passed through the great door of the palace, and so
we went round to the place whence the arrows had
come. A score of men from the gate were already
clustered there on the earthworks, talking fast as
Welshmen will, but heedful to challenge us as we
came. I saw that they had somewhat on the ground
in the midst of them.

" Here is a strange affair, my Prince," one of them
said, as he held out his hand to help Owen up the

The group stood aside for us to look on what
they had found, and that was a man, fully armed in
the Welsh way of Gerent's guards, but slain by the
well-aimed blow of a strong seax that was yet left
where it had been driven home above the corselet.
There, was a war bow and two more arrows lying at
the foot of the rampart, as if they had been wrested
from the hand of the archer and flung there. The
men had not seen these, but I looked for them at
once when I saw that there was no bow on the slain

" Who is this ? " Owen said gravely, and without
looking closely as yet.

" It is Tregoz of the Dart, whom the king seeks,"
one or two of the men said at once.

I had known that it must be he in my own mind
before the name was spoken. There fell a silence
on the rest as the name was told, and all looked at


my foster-father. There was plainly some fault in
the watching of the rampart that had let the traitor
find his way here at all.

" Which of you was it who slew him ? " asked

" None of us, Lord. We cannot tell who it may
have been. Even the sentry who keeps this beat is

" Doubtless it was he who slew him, and is
himself wounded in the fosse. Look for him

There they hunted, but the man was not to be
found. Nor was it his weapon that had ended
Tregoz. Then Owen said in a voice that had grown
very stern : " Who was the sentry who should have
been here ? "

The men looked at one another, and the chief of
them answered at last that the man was from
Dartmoor, one of such a name. And then one
looked more closely at the arms Tregoz wore,
and cried out that they were the very arms of
the missing sentry, or so like them that one must
wait for daylight to say for certain that they were
not they.

It was plain enough then. In such arms Tregoz
could well walk through the village itself unnoticed,
as one of the palace guards would be, and so when
the time came he would climb from some hiding in
the fosse and take the place of his countryman on
the rampart, and the watchful captain would see but
a sentry there and deem that all was well.

Yet this did not tell us who was the one who had
wrestled with and slain him, and Owen told what


had been done, while I went and brought the bow
and arrows from the foot of the rampart, in hopes
that they might tell us by mark or make if more
than Tregoz and the sentry were in this business.
Then I looked at my window, and, though narrow,
it was as fair a mark in the moonlight as one would
need. Without letting my shadow fall on the
sleeper, it was possible to see my couch and the
white furs on it, though it would be needful to raise
the arm across the moonlight in the act of shooting.
It was all well planned, but it needed a first-rate

"It was surely Tregoz who shot," one of the men
said. " The sentry who was here was a bungler
with a bow. None whom we know but Tregoz
could have made sure of that mark, bright as the
night is. Well it was, Lord, that you were not
sleeping in your wonted place."

Owen glanced at me to warn me to say nothing,
and bade the men take the body to the guard-room.
They were already cursing the sentry who had
brought shame on their ranks by leaguing himself
with a traitor, and it was plain that there was no
need to bid them lay hands on him if they could.
That was a matter that concerned their own honour.

So we left the guarding of the place in their
hands, and they doubled the watches from that time
forward. Then we went and spoke with the captain
of the guard, who yet kept his post at the doors, as
none had called him.

" Maybe I am to blame," he said, when he heard
all. " I should not have left a Dartmoor man from
the country whence Tregoz came to keep watch


there. I knew that he was thence, and thought no

" There is no blame to you," Owen said. " It is
not possible to look for such treachery among our
own men."

Then we went into our room to show the captain
what had been done. And thence the two arrows
had already been taken. The hole in the plaster
where the first struck was yet there, and the slit
made by the second in the tough hide of the bear
was to be seen when I turned over the fur, but who
had taken them we could not tell. Only, it was
plain that here in the palace some one was in the
plot and had taken away what might be proof of
who the archer had been, not knowing, as I suppose,
that the attempt had failed so utterly. For an
arrow will often prove a good witness, as men will
use only some special pattern that they are sure of,
and will often mark them that they may claim them
and their own game in the woodlands if they are
found in some stricken beast that has got away for
a time. It was more than likely that Tregoz would
have been careful to use only such arrows as he
knew well in a matter needing such close shooting
as this. Indeed, we afterwards found men who knew
the two shafts from the rampart as those of the
Cornishman, without doubt.

This I did not like at all, for the going of these
arrows brought the danger to our very door, as it
were. Nor did the captain, for he himself kept
watch over us for the rest of that night, and after-
wards there was always a sentry in the passage that
led to our room.


We were silent as we lay down again, and sleep
was long in coming. I puzzled over all this, for
beside the taking of the arrows there was the
question of who the slayer of Tregoz might be, and
who had written the letter that should have warned

In all truth, it was not good to sleep in the
moonlight !

Somewhat of the same kind Owen was thinking,
for of a sudden he said to me : " Those arrows were
meant for me, Oswald. Did you note what the
man said about my not sleeping in my wonted
place ? "

" Ay, but I did not know that you had slept on
this side. Since I came back, at least, you have
not done so."

Owen smiled. " No, I have not," he said ; " but in
the old days that was always my place, and you
will mind that there I slept on the night we first
were here together. That was of old habit, and I
only shifted to this side when you came back,
because I knew that you would like the first light
to wake you. Every sentry who crosses the window
on the rampart can see in here if it is light within,
but he could not tell that we had changed places, for
the face of the sleeper is hidden."

Then he laughed a little, and added : " In the old
days when I was in charge of the palace this face
of the ramparts was always the best watched,
because the men knew that if I waked and did not
see the shadow of the sentry pass and repass as
often as it should, he was certain to hear of it in
the morning. Tregoz would know that old jest. I


suppose Dunwal may have had some hand in taking
the arrows hence."

" It is likely enough," I answered. " He will
have to pay for his brother's deed to-morrow, in all
likelihood, also. But who wrote the letter, and who
slew Tregoz?"

Owen thought for a little while.

" Mara, Dunwal's daughter, is the most likely
person to have written," he said. " It would be like
a woman to do so, and she seems at least no enemy.
Maybe the man was the sentry, after all, and fled
because he had given up his arms, and so was sharer
in the deed that he repented of. Or he may have
been some friend of ours, or foe of the Cornishman,
who would not wait for the rough handling of the
guard when they found him there where he should
not be. No doubt we shall hear of him soon or

But we did not. There was no trace of him, or of
the writer of the letter. One may imagine the fury
of Cerent when he heard all this in the morning,
but even his wrath could not make Dunwal speak
of aught that he might know. But for the pleading
of Owen, the old king would have hung him then
and there, and all that my foster-father could gain
for him was his life. Into the terrible old Roman
dungeon, pit-like, with only a round hole in the
stone covering of it through which a prisoner was
lowered, he was thrown, and there he bided all the
time I was at Norton.

By all right the lands of these two fell again into
the hands of the king, and he would give them to


" Take them/' he said, when Owen would not do
so at first : " they owe you amends. If you do not
want them yourself, wait until you sit in my seat,
and then give them to Oswald, that he may have
good reason for leaving Ina for you."

So Owen held them for me, as it were, and was
content. Some day they might be mine, if not in
the days of Ina, whom we loved.

But Cerent either forgot or cared not to think of
Mara, Dunwal's daughter, and she bided in the best
house in the town, with Jago's wife, none hindering
her in anything. There was no more sign of trouble
now that Tregoz and his brother were out of the



I BIDED at Norton with Owen until the Lenten-tide
drew near, and then I must needs go back to my
place with Ina. Maybe I should have gone before
this, seeing that all was safe now, but our king had
been on progress about the country, to Chippenham,
and so to Reading and thence to London, and but
half his guard was with him, so that I was not
needed. Now he was back at Glastonbury, and
I must join him there and go back to royal
Winchester with him for the Easter feast. Owen
and I also had been far westward at one time or
another, in this space, though there is little worth
telling beyond that we went even to the lands of
Tregoz that had passed to him, and so took posses-
sion of them. I could not see that any of the folk
on those lands, whether free or thrall, seemed other
than glad that Owen was their lord now. It was
said that Tregoz was little loved. We left a new
steward in the great half-stone and half-timber
house, with house-carles enough to see that none
harmed either him or the place, and so came back
to Norton.



Now, one may say that all this time, seeing that
Glastonbury was but so short a distance from
Norton, I was a laggard lover not to have ridden
over to see Elfrida, and maybe it would be of little
use for me to deny it. However, I would have it
remembered that there was always fear for Owen in
my mind if I was apart from him at the first, and
then there was this westward journey, and the
hunting in new places, and many other things, so
that the time slipped by all too quickly. Also,
when it is easy to go to a place one is apt to say
that to-morrow will do, and, as every one knows,
to-morrow never comes. Nor had we said much of
that damsel ; if Owen had not altogether forgotten
my oath, he never spoke of it, nor did I care to
remind him. Nevertheless, whenever we spoke of
Howel and his daughter, Owen's god-child, I minded
that the princess had bidden me see how Elfrida
greeted me when I came back, and it was in my
mind that she would be no less glad to see me after
a long absence.

That I should find out very shortly, but the
thought troubled me little. I will say that the
parting from Owen was all that was of consequence
to me, for it was hard enough. I could not tell
when we should meet again, for I must go east and
he west now, and presently all Devon, and maybe
Cornwall, would lie between us, even when our court

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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 13 of 25)