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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followed them who bore him away, till he lost
them in a grey mist that rolled from the hills
and hid them in the darkness. Nor had he been
able to find trace of them again, though he had
hunted far and wide. And so he waited for, my
coming, being sure that I would not be long.
But he knew that they had gone toward what he
called the lost valley, if it was not likely that they
would dare so much as look into it.


" But," he said, " there was a priest with them,
seeming to lead them. Maybe he would dare."

Into my mind at once came the certainty that
this must be Morfed, but Evan knew nought of him.
He had no more to tell me of this.



So we two rode on together over the wild hills,
and talked of what chance there might be of finding
Owen on the morrow. He could not tell me if
his wounds were deep, for he was far off and
helpless, but he told me how he had fought, and
that was even as I had known he would.

Now the soft June darkness had fallen, and we
were not a mile from the first houses of the village.
Soon, if they were alert, we should meet the first
outpost of our men who guarded us, and mayhap it
were better that Evan came no farther to-night. Yet
I would know somewhat of himself and the way in
which he had helped me thus. So I stayed my
horse and dismounted for a few minutes.

" Tell me, Evan," I said, " how came you into
trouble at the first?"

" It is easy, Thane," he answered. " I was Evan
the chapman, and well known near and far in
Cornwall and Dyvnaint as an honest man, even as
I have seemed yet beyond the water. Two years
ago I slew the steward of this Tregoz in the open
market place of Isca, and there was indeed little



blame to me, for I did but protect my goods which
ke would have taken by force, and smote too hard.
Little order was there in that market if the king
was not there, and Morgan and his friends were in
the town. Men have taken heart again since the
coming back of Owen, for it was bad enough, as
you may suppose by what happened to me. So
I fled, and then Tregoz had me outlawed, with a
price on my head, so that, being well known, I had
to take to Exmoor and herd with others in the same
case. I knew that no weregild, as the Saxon calls
it, would be enough to save me from the Cornish-
man. There I was the one who could sell the
stolen goods across the water, being held in good
repute there, and I traded with the Norse strangers
who ferried me across. So it was that when
Owen came I was in Watchet, and there Tregoz
saw me and laid hands on me. Then he needed
men to carry out that which he would do, and
he had me forth and spoke to me, saying that
if I would manage the Quantock outlaws for him
he would forgive me and have me inlawed again.
I was to have been hanged that day, Thane, and
so you will see that I had no choice. Owen's
coming saved me then."

Evan was not the first man whom I had known
to be driven into evil ways by misfortune and
powerful enemies. I had little blame for him. A
man will do much to save his neck from the rope.
But this did not tell me how he knew the plans of
Tregoz after I set him free in Dyfed.

" Then you came back to the Cornishman after I
freed you ? " I asked.


" That I did not, Thane, for the best of reasons.
He would have hanged me at once if he were in
power, and I had not meant to let him set eyes
on me again in any case, for he was treacherous.
I came back round the head waters of the Severn,
through Wessex, where I was only a Weala, though,
indeed, that is almost the same as an outlaw there ;
and there, by reason of Cerent's seeking for me,
I changed my looks and watched for Tregoz, for I
found that he was yet about the place in hiding.
Thralls know and tell these things to men of their
own sort, though they seem to know nothing if you
ask them, Thane."

" Then you wrote the letters ? "

" I had them written by the old priest of
Combwich by the Parrett River, who will tell you
that he did so. I took them myself to the palaces
for you."

" And was it you who slew Tregoz ? "

" Ay, with that seax you gave me back at the
Caerau wolf's den. I heard that he had been
speaking with a sentry, and thereafter I followed
him and heard his plan. I saw him change arms
with the sentry, and presently I fell on him, but the
arrow had sped and I feared I was too late. I had to
cross the trench from the bushes where I was hidden."

" But the poisoning at Glastonbury ? How did
you know of that?

" Easy it was to know of, but less easy to prevent.
I lurked round Glastonbury until I saw the girl, and
knew that some fresh trouble was on hand for you.
I knew her, for I had seen to that at Norton, that I
might learn somewhat, if I could, while she attended


on the lady, the daughter of Dunwal. She met
her master there once or twice with messages,
and it was by following her that I found his hiding
in the hills. It was not hard for me to get her
to tell me all that she had to do, for I made her
think that I was in the plotting. Then she found
it harder than had been expected to serve you,
for she was kept about the lady. So she asked me,
and I told her to wait. I thought she would most
likely lose her chance altogether, and maybe but for
your staying at the gate that day she would have
done so."

" It was not the first time that we have had half
the household outside serving a hunting party," I said.

" And each time I have been there, Thane, lest
this should happen. The girl told me that such
times were her only chance, and I said she had
better wait for such a one again. I knew that in
the open I could in some way spill the horn, so
that she would be helpless and harmless afterward.
Therefore I bade her not to try to harm you
in the house, for my own reasons, but told her
that it were safer for herself to wait for some
stirrup-cup chance, as it were. That day I saw
that it had come, and I cut a thorn from the nearest
bush and was ready. I could not reach the girl
to stumble against her."

I minded that Thorgils had said that this Evan
could beguile Loki himself with fair words, and
I could well believe it. But he did not do things
by halves when he set himself a task, and I felt
that but for him I should certainly have been a
victim to Mara, or to whom ? "


" Who wrought this plot ? Was it Mara, the
Cornish lady ? "

" I do not think so," he answered, shaking his
head. " There is one thing that the girl would
never tell me. In no wise could I get the name
of the one who gave her the poison. I do not
know where she fled to, but it is likely that it
was to that one."

" Some day you shall know how grateful I am
for this, Evan," I said. " Now I must go. Only
one thing more. Where do you sleep ? "

" Wheresoever I may, that I may be near you,
Thane. Now meet me to-morrow at this place,
and we will go to the lost valley. After that let
me serve you for good and all if I may. I can
do many things for you, and you had my life in
your hand and gave it back to me ; though indeed
I know that it was hard for you to do so, seeing
that a thane is sorely wronged by being bound
by such as I."

" I can give you little, Evan ; but I can, as I
have said, find you a place in the court, whence
you may rise."

" Let me serve you, Master," he said earnestly.
" I have served myself for long enough, and it
has not turned out well. If I please you not, I
will go where you bid me, but in anywise let me


" As you will," I said. " I owe you well-nigh
aught you can ask, and this is little enough."

Then I shook hands with him and parted. It
was a strange meeting.

I went back to Howel with a mind that was full


of what I might find on the morrow, but with little
hope that there would be anything of sign that
Owen yet lived. Howel was growing anxious for
me as the darkness fell, and was glad to greet me,
and I suppose my face told him somewhat.

" Why," he said, as I stepped into the firelight
on the hearth of the little house, "what is this?
Have you heard news at last ? "

" I have found one who will take us to the lost
valley, but nothing more. I have heard nought
fresh, but that there was indeed a priest with the
men who took Owen away."

" Well, we guessed as much as that ; but I tell
you plainly, Oswald, that I fear what may be in
store for us in that place. Nona is not the girl to
fancy things, and I know that her dreams must
have been terrible to her. And then you also "

" I fear too," I said. " But I do not think that
anything will be worse than this long uncertainty.
Well, that is to be seen. Now I must tell you who
it is that is to guide us, and maybe you will say
that, it is a strange story enough. Have patience
until you hear all, however."

So I told him, beginning with the certainty that
I had had some friend at work for me, and then
telling him at last that I had found the man who
had indeed saved me from these two dangers, and
would also have saved Owen if he could.

" Why, how is it that he kept himself hidden all
the time ? "

" For good reason enough, in which you have
some share," I answered, laughing. " It is none
other than Evan the chapman."


" Evan ! How did he escape the Caerau wolves ?
I tell you that I had him tied up for them and
hard words from Nona did I get therefore when
she knew. I was ashamed of myself for the thing
afterwards, and on my word I am glad he got away.
But when I am wroth I wax hasty, and things go
hard with those who have angered me. But he
was a foe of yours."

" Laugh at me as you will," I said ; " I made him
my friend when I cut his bonds in your woods."

He stared at me in wonder, and I told him what
the hunting led to. And then I also told of what
had sent Evan among the outlaws, and how he
came to fall in with me.

" You are a better man than I, Oswald," he said
thoughtfully, when I ended. " I could not have let
him go. I am glad that you did it, and that for
other reasons than that the deed has turned out to
be of use."

Then he would hear more, and when it came to
the way in which Evan had beguiled the Welsh
servant he laughed.

" Surely he laid aside the squint when he made
up to her, else from your account he would not have
been welcome. But he could hardly have kept it
up, lest the wind should change and it should bide
with him, as the old women say. Well, I used to
like the man, and so did Nona, and it is good to
think that one was not so far wrong."

Now we thought that on the morrow we would
go with but half a dozen men to the valley, if that
would seem good to Evan. If he thought more
were needed it would be easy to call them to us


from the place where we were to meet him ; and so
we slept as well as the thought of that search would
let us, and it was a long night to me. I think it
was so for Howel also, for once in the night he
stirred and spoke my name softly, and rinding that
I waked he said : " I know why that girl of Mara's
would not tell who set her on you. It is not like
a maid to be sparing with her mistress' secrets,
and Morfed is at the back of it. It is his work,
and he laid a curse on the girl if she told who sent
her. About the only thing that would keep her

" Why would Morfed want to hurt me ? "

" Plain enough is that. If you were slain, Gerent
would hold Ina responsible for Owen's sake, and
Ina would blame Gerent, and there would be a
breach at the least in the peace that your bishop
has made."

Then we were silent, and presently sleep came
to me, until the first light crept into the house and
woke me.

In an hour we were riding across the hills with
Evan, for whom we had brought a horse, and there
were fifty men with us. We should leave them at
a place which Evan would show us, and so go on
with him without them. It was not so certain that
we might not run into the nest of the men who had
taken Owen, though this would surely not be in the
lost valley.

Many a long mile Evan led us into the hills north-
westward, and far beyond where I had yet been.
I cannot tell how far it was altogether, for the way
was winding, but I lost sight of all landmarks that


I knew, and ever the bare hills grew barer and yet
more wild, and I could understand that there were
places where even the shepherds never went. At
first we saw one or two of these watching us from
a distance, but soon we passed into utter loneliness,
and nought but the cries of the nesting curlew which
we startled, and the wail of the plover round our
heads, broke the solemn stillness of the grey rocks
on every side. Even our men grew silent, and the
ring of sword on stirrup seemed too loud to be
natural at last. We were all fully armed, of course.
Then we came to a place where the hills drew
together, and doubled fold on fold under a cloud
of hanging mist that hid their heads, and as we
rode, once Evan pointed silently to a rock, and I
looked and saw strange markings on it that had
surely some meaning in them, though I could not
tell what it was. And when I looked at him
in question I saw that his face was growing pale
and anxious, so that I thought we must be near
the place which we sought. So it was, for after
we had left that stone some two score fathoms
behind us, as we passed up a narrow valley, there
opened out yet another, wilder and more narrow
still, and at its mouth he would have us leave the
men and go on with him.

Now, we had seen no man, but when it came to
this, Howel said

" By all right of caution, we should have an
outpost or two on those ridges. If we are going
into this place it will not do to be trapped there."

So without question Evan pointed out places
whence men could watch well enough against any


possible comers, but he told me that \ve were close
to the place we would see, and a call from our
horns would bring help at once if it were needed.
Howel sent men by twos to the hilltops, and the
rest dismounted and waited where we stayed them,
while we three went on together up the valley. I
bade one of the men give Evan his spear, for he
had none. Grey and warm it was there, for the
clouds hung overhead, and no breeze could find
its way into the depths of this place, and it was
very silent, but it was not the lost valley itself.
And now Howel, who had not yet so much as
seemed to know Evan, rode alongside him for a
moment, and spoke kindly to him, telling him that
he was glad of all that I had told him, and at last
asking him to forget that which he had done to
him in the woods of Dyfed. And that was much
for the proud prince to ask, as I think, and I held
him the more highly therefor in my mind. And
Evan replied by asking Howel to forget rather that
he had ever deserved death at his hands.

" It , shall be seen that I am not ungrateful to
the Thane, my master, hereafter if I may live after
seeing this place," he said.

" Is it so deadly, then ? " asked Howel, speaking
low in the hush of the valley.

" It is said that those who see it must die at
least, of us who ken the curse on it. I do not think
that it will harm you or the thane to see it, for you
are not of this land at all. I have known men
see this valley by mischance, and they have died
shortly, crying out on the terror thereof. Yet none
has ever told what he saw therein."



Now it seemed to me that it was possible that
such men died of fear of what might be, as men who
think they are accursed, whether by witchcraft or
in other ways, will die, being killed by the trouble
on their minds, and so I said to Evan

" I will not take you into this place. Show us
the way, and I will go alone."

" No, Master," he said, in such wise that it was
plain that there was no turning him. " I am a
Christian man, and I will not let old heathen curses
hold me back, now that there is good reason why
I should stand in that place. I will not be afraid

" Is the curse so old ? " I asked.

" Old beyond memory," he said. " As old as
what is in that place."

" As the menhir, therefore."

" I do not know that there is a menhir, Thane.
How know you ? "

I reined up, and told him shortly. It was only
fair that I should do so. Then he said

" The prince is dead, and maybe that he lies
there will end the curse. Come, we will see."

A few paces more, and suddenly the hillside
seemed to open in a ragged cleft that made another
branching valley into the heart of the left-hand
hillside, so deep that it seemed rather to sink down-
ward from the mouth than to rise as a valley ever
will. In all truth, none would ever have found that
place unless he sought for it with a guide. I had
not guessed that we were so near its entrance. I
looked round the hills, but from here I could see
not one of our men on their watch-posts, though


one would have thought that where they stood it
would have been impossible to lose sight of all. We
were almost at the head of the wider valley along
which we had ridden.

Now I had thought to be the leader into the lost
valley when we came to it, but this Evan would not
suffer. There was not room for us to ride abreast
into its depths, for the narrow bottom of the cleft
in the hills was littered with fallen boulders from
the steeps that bordered it, and through these we
had to pick our way. There was no path, nor was
it possible to trace any mark of the foot of man or
horse that might have been there before us, and
the valley turned almost in a half-circle, so that we
could see no distance before us.

Now, I know that Evan had a hard struggle with
his fears, but nevertheless, without drawing rein he
led on, only turning to me with one word that told
me that we had found the place ; and as he turned
I saw that his face was ashy pale, and as he rode
on he crossed himself again and again, and his lips
moved in prayer.

Down the long curve of the valley we rode, and
it ever narrowed under rocky hills that grew at last
to cliffs, and I knew that this must be but the bed
of a raging torrent in the winter, for the stones that
rattled under the horse-hoofs were rounded, and here
and there were pools of clear water among them.
Any moment now might set us face to face with
what I longed to see.

And when I saw Evan, ten paces ahead of me,
straighten himself in the saddle as if he would
guard a blow from his face, and draw rein, I knew


that we were there, and I rode to his side and

Suddenly the valley had ended in the place which
I had seen in my vision a rugged circle of cliffs,
in whose only outlet, to all seeming, we stood.
And in the midst of that circle was the pool of still,
black water, and across that towered the tall menhir
from a green bank on which it stood facing me.
All round the pool was green grass, bright with the
treacherous greenness that tells of deep bog beneath
it, and then fair turf, and beyond the turf the rocky
scree from the cliffs again. The menhir was full
thrice a man's height.

It was even as I had seen it. I knew every rock
and patch of green, and the very outline of the edge
of the beetling crags that had been so plain to me
in the dream-light ere Owen called me. But I did
not heed these things at the first. My eyes went
to the place where Nona the princess had seen the
sword in the long grass on the hither side of the
pool's edge, but I could not see it now. Then I
must ride forward and search for it, and at that
time Howel was close to me, and together we rode
yet a little farther into the circle that the cliffs made,
and as we drew closer to the edge of the pool I
scanned every inch of the ground, seeking the sword
which it seemed impossible that I should not find.

" It has gone," said Howel in a hushed voice.

And at that moment I saw a sparkle among the
new grass at the very edge of the bog that sur-
rounded the pool, and I threw the reins to the
prince and sprang from my horse and went toward
it. The light was very dull here, though it was


nigh midday now, and indeed so high and over-
hanging were the cliffs that I do not think the sun
ever reached the surface of the pool, save at this
high midsummer, and then but as it passed athwart
the narrow entrance, which faced south. Then it
would send its rays across the pool full on the face
of the menhir, as it seemed.

So I could see nought again until I was close to
the spot whence the spark shone, and then I caught
it once more, and hastily I cleared aside the rank
grass with my spear butt, and lo ! even as she had
seen it in dreams the sword of Owen was there, and
it was the gleam from the gem in its hilt, which no
damp could dim, which had caught my eye. But
a little while longer and we should never have seen
even that, for the weapon was slowly sinking into
the bog in which its scabbard point had been set,
and even as I stepped forward a pace to reach it
the black ooze rose round my foot, and Evan, who
was behind me, caught my hand and pulled me
back from its edge. Then I turned with the sword
in my hand, and I saw that his face had found its
colour again, and that his fears had left him, for
he had looked on the valley of the mighty curse
and yet lived. His horse was at his side, and he
had sprung to help me, but I hardly heeded him,
for I had what I sought in my hand, and I held
it up to Hovvel without a word, and a sort of fresh
hope began to rise in my heart. Owen might not
be so far from us.

" How came it there ? " Howel said, wondering.

" Who can tell," I answered, turning over many
possibilities in my mind.


" One thing is certain," Evan said, " no man set
it in that place meaningly, for there he must have
known that it would be whelmed soon or late."

" Nor could it have been dropped there," I an-
swered. " None would go so near the edge of the
bog. It was surely thrown there. One thought to
hurl it into the pool. Yet if so he could have done
it, or would have tried again."

" Come, let us search the place," said Howel.

I hung the sword to my saddle-bow, while Evan
took the horses. The leather scabbard was black
with the bog water of the turf where it had been
set, but the blade within it was yet bright and keen.
Then I and the prince together walked slowly round
the edge of the black pool on the broad stretch of
grass between the bog around it and the loosely
piled stones of the cliffs' foot. Here and there even
this turf shook to our tread, as if it too were under-
mined with bog, and we went warily, therefore, wish-
ing that we had not left our spears by the horses.

" One would call such a place as this ' the devil's
cauldron ' in our land," said Howel. " I mislike it

Then he sprang back with a start, and clutched
my arm and pointed to the ground at his feet.
The skull of a man grinned up at us, half sunk in
the green turf, and the ends of ribs shewed how he
to whom it had belonged lay. There went a cold
chill through me as I looked ; but I saw that the
bones were old, very old. They had nought to do
with our trouble, and what had been to others about
the loss of him who had died here was long past
and forgotten, or amended. But for the sake of


what had been I was fain to unhelm for a moment
as we stepped past them.

So we went on silently until we were half-way
to the menhir, and then we saw that there was yet
another way into this place, for across the water a
jutting wall of rock had hidden a gorge that had
surely been cleft by water, for down it came a little
stream that seemed to sink into the turf so soon as
it reached it.

" That is what fills the pool," said I, " and it must
find its way hence underground like the stream at
Cheddar. The pool may be fathomless. I would
that I could look into its depths."

" What may not be in yonder gorge ? " said Howel.
" We must go and see."

So we came to the menhir's foot, and though the
bog came almost to it there was yet a little mound
of turf on which it stood, and I went to that to see
if thence I could peer deeper into the dark water,
but I could not.

" Come," Howel said, " it is midday, and I for
one would not be on these hills on Midsummer Eve.
Call me heathenish if you like, but this is an un-
lucky night whereon to walk in the haunts of the
good folk."

I had forgotten that so it was, and even now I

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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 18 of 25)