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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secrets of the strange rites of those who had reared
it. Only where its foot had been planted was a pit
to shew that somewhat had been there, and that was
slowly filling with the black bog which had under-
mined the stone at last. The old prophecy had
come to pass, and there was indeed an end.

But I saw for a moment into that pit before it
was filled, and in it was laid open as it were a great
stone chest, where the base of the menhir had been
to cover it, and in that were skulls and bones of
men, and among them the dull gleam of ancient
gold and flint.

The wild tumult of the water died away, and the
ripples came, and then the pool was glassy as before,
but there was no sign of movement in it, and now it
was clear no longer. And still Howel and I stared
silently at that place whence the great stone had
passed like a dream.

" Nona saw it troubled," Howel said at last.

But I answered what was in my mind, with a sort
of despair

" He never told me where Owen lies."

" But I think we have found him, or nearly," Howel
answered. " Come with me. This is no place for us
to bide in. Did you hear those voices ? "

I had heard the echoes from the rocks after the
great crash, and they were strange and wild enough,
but I heard nothing more.


" I heard one shout some time since," I said,
rising up from where I still sat as Howel had left me.

" Nay, but the wailing when the stone fell," he
said. " Wailing from all around. Wailing as of the
lost. Come hence, Oswald."

I do not know if the man of the more ancient
race heard more than I, mingled with those wild
echoes, but I know that Howel the prince feared
little. Now he was afraid, even in the bright
sunlight, and owned it.

But the first shock had passed from me, and I
looked for our horses. They had gone. I think
that the fall of the menhir scared them, for they
were yet tied where Evan left them, just before that.

" Howel, the horses have broken loose and gone,"
I cried.

" Let them be," he said ; " they will but go to the
men down the valley, and will be caught there.
Come, we must get hence."

He fairly dragged me with him towards the glen,
and , it was not until we were out of the circle of
cliffs round the pool and picking our way among the
boulders of the water-course, that he spoke again.

" That is better," he said, " one can breathe here.
I do riot care if I never set eyes on that place again,
and indeed I hope we need not. Now we have to
find Owen as quickly as we may."

" What of the two men ? "

" One turned on us, and we slew him perforce.
The other Evan has tied up safely, though it took
us all our time to catch him. I left Evan trying to
make him speak."

I wondered in what way he was trying, but the


path grew steeper and steeper, and the plash of
water falling among the stones made it hard to hear.
We went on and on, ever upward, until the walls of
the narrow glen widened, and at last we were on a
barren hillside, across which the little stream found
its way in a belt of green grass and fern and bog
from farther heights yet, and there I looked for
Evan. The path reappeared here again, and it went
slanting across the hill and over its shoulder, hardly
more than a sheep track as it was. And here lay
the body of the slain man.

" Over the hill-crest," Howel said, noting my look
around. " The man ran across this track. Did you
hear what Morfed said to them ? "

" No, I heard him call, of course, but his tongue
is unknown to me."

" It was the ancient British, I think. I heard a
word or two here and there, but few of those we use
yet. I heard more that are written in our oldest
writings, and few enough of them. But what he
said to his men was plain enough, happily. He bade
them kill the captive to amend the wrong done. I
do not know what the wrong was."

I knew then that Owen had had a narrow escape,
and but for the fleetness of foot of Evan he would
surely have been slain. I told Howel of what had
passed while he was absent, and so we came to
the hilltop, and I saw a little below me the white
robes of the captive, and Evan sitting by him, rest-
ing on his spear. He rose up as we came to him.

" Has he spoken, Evan ? " I said.

" Ay, Master," he answered, with a grin that
minded me of other days with him. " He says he


will take us to the place where Owen lies, if we will
promise to spare his life."

" We will promise that," I answered. " We will let
him go his own way after we have seen all that we

" Let me rise, then," the man said quietly. " I will
shew you all."

" Do not untie his hands, Evan, but let him walk,"
I said. " He is not to be trusted, if he is like his

It was the elder of the two whom we had before
us, and he seemed downcast and harmless enough as
we let him rise, though he was unhurt. He had run
on while the younger turned to stay the pursuers,
but Evan had caught him. He led us along the
path, which I suppose his own feet and those of
Morfed had worn, unless it was old as the menhir
itself, and on the way he said suddenly

" Let me ask one thing of you. Has the menhir
fallen ? "

" Ay, with the cross graven on it," I answered ;
and my words checked a laugh that was on Evan's

" I knew it. I heard the crash," the man said.
" That is an end therefore."

But Howel told the whole story as he had seen
it take place, from the time when Morfed flew
at me, to the time when the waters were still
again ; and as he heard, the man clenched his hands
and bowed his head and went on quickly, as if
that would prevent his hearing. After that he said

Then the path took us round the shoulder of a


hill, and before us was a rocky platform on the sun-
ward slope which went steeply down to another
brook far below us. Far and wide from that plat-
form one could see over the heads of three streams,
and across three hill-peaks that were right before us,
and at the back of the level place was a great
cromlech made of one vast flat stone reared on three
others that were set in a triangle to uphold it.
Seven good feet from the ground its top was, and
each of the three supporting stones was some twelve
feet long, so that it was like a house for space
within, and the two foremost stones were apart as a
doorway. And again beyond the cromlech was a
hut, shaped like a beehive of straw, built of many
stones most wonderfully, both walls and roof.
There were things about this hut that seemed to
tell that it was in use, and even as our footsteps
rang on the rocky platform, out of its low doorway
crept an ancient woman and stared at us wildly.

" What is this ? " she screamed. " How should
these unhallowed ones come hither ? "

" Silence, mother," our captive said. " All is
done, and these men come to take away the prince."

Then she saw that he was bound with Evan's
belt, and at that she screamed again, and a wild look
came into her face, and with a bound that was
wonderful in one so old and bent she fled to the
cromlech, and climbed up the rearward stone in
some way, perching herself on the flat top, whence
she glared at us.

" We will not harm you, mother," I said, seeing
her terror.

And even as I spoke, from within the stone


walls of the cromlech came the voice that I longed
to hear again, weak, indeed, but yet that of Owen
" Oswald, Oswald ! "

Then I paid no more heed to the hag, but ran
into the dark place, and there indeed was my foster-
father, swathed in bandages, and lying white and
helpless on a rough couch, but yet with a bright
smile and greeting for me, and I went on my knees
at his side and answered him.

I will not say more of that meeting. Outside
the old woman cursed and reviled Howel and Evan
and the captive in turns unceasingly ; but I heeded
her no more than one heeds a starling chattering on
the roof in the early morning. I had all that I
sought, and aught else was as nothing to me.

After a little while Howel's face came into the
doorway, and Owen called him in. I saw the look
of the prince change as he marked the many
swathings that told of Owen's sore hurts.

" Nay, but trouble not," Owen said, seeing this.
" I am cut about a bit, for certain, but not so badly
that I may not be about again soon. The old
lady overhead has a shrewd tongue, but she is a
marvellous good leech. I have not fared so badly
here, and I knew Oswald would not rest until he
found me."

" Now we must take you hence," I said. " Our
men wait, and we can no doubt get them here."

He smiled, being tired with the joy of seeing us
and the speaking, and I went out to Evan. The
old woman still sat on the cromlech, and when she
saw me her voice rose afresh with more hard words,
which I would not notice.


" Evan," I said, " how shall we take the prince
hence ? "

" The litter they brought him on stands behind
the hut yonder," he answered ; " for this man tells
me so. Also he says that we are not half a mile
from our men, and that we can see one from just
above here."

So I sent him to bring them, telling him how the
horses were gone, so that we had no need to go
back into the valley. To tell the truth, I was as
much relieved in my mind that we need not do so
as it was plain that he was. Then when he was
gone I went back to Owen, and he asked me if we
had seen Morfed. I did not tell him more than
that we had done so, but that he was not here, one
of his two men having guided us, for the tale we
must tell him by and by might be better untold
as yet.

"It does not matter," he said. " I cannot under-
stand the man. At one time I think that he was at
the bottom of all the trouble, and at another that he
rescued me from the men who fell on the house.
I have seen little of him here until yesterday and
to-day. There is a man whom he calls ' the Bard,'
who has tended me well enough with the old dame,
and another whom he names ' the Ovate,' whom I
have seen now and then a younger man. I have
set eyes on none but these four since the men of the
burning left me to them in the hills."

We asked him how all that went, and he told
us what he could remember. He had waked from
some sort of a swoon while he was being carried in
the midst of many men, and again had come to


himself when his litter had been set down. At that
time there was seemingly a quarrel between Morfed
and his two followers and these men, and it ended
by the many departing and leaving him to the
priest. That was, as I knew, when the hillmen
would not come into the lost valley.

" They set my sword beside me," he said.
" Presently in the dark I saw the gleam of a pool,
and I made shift to throw it into the water, so that
no outlaw or Morgan's man should boast that he
wore it. Ina gave it me. One of the men saw me
throw it, and was for staying, but the other said he
had heard the splash and that it was gone. Morfed
was not near at the time, having gone on. I heard
him singing somewhere beyond the water."

" I have found it, father," I said. " It was on the
edge of the pool, in long grass, and it helped us
somewhat, for we knew you were near. Now say if
it is well to move you yet. We can bide here with
the men if not."

He. laughed a little.

" I think so, but that is a question for the leech.
Ask the dame. Maybe she will answer if you speak
her fair."

Howel went to do that, saying that maybe she
would listen to a Briton, for most of her wrath was
concerning my Saxon arms. So presently I heard
her shrill voice growing calmer as Howel coaxed her,
and then there was a sound as if she climbed from
her perch, and Howel came back to us.

" We may take you, she says. Hither come the
men in all haste also, and we may get away from
this place at once. These hills are uncanny on


Midsummer Eve, and I am glad that we have long
daylight before us."

Then said Owen

" Oswald, I have not withal, but I would fain
reward the bard and the old woman for their care
of me. I think that even at Glastonbury there are
none who would have healed these hurts of mine
more easily than she."

I had my own thoughts about the bard, but I
said that I would see to this, and went to him.
The men were close at hand, and I saw that they
led our horses with them.

" Bard," I said, " Owen the prince speaks well
of you. Is it true that you would have slain him
had you not been stayed on your way ? "

" I do not know, Lord," he answered. " When I
was with Morfed, needs must I do his bidding, even
against my will. Yet, away from him, I think that
I should not have harmed the prince. I am a
Christian man, for all that you have seen."

" There was somewhat strangely heathenish in
what I did see," I said. " But I suppose that is all
done with ? "

" I might go across the sea to the British lands
in the north or in the south and learn to attain to
druidship," he said. "But I will not. What I
know shall die with me. He who was the next to
me above, even Morfed, is gone, and he who was
next below is gone also. Druid and Ovate both.
I am the only one of the old line left, and I will be
the last. Call me Bard no longer, I pray you."

" Well," I said, for there was that in the face of
the man which told me that he was in earnest, " I


will believe you, and the more that Owen trusts
you." I let loose his hands then, and he stretched
his cramped arms and thanked me. I minded well
what that feeling was like.

" What would Morfed have done with the
prince?" I asked.

" I do not know. I have heard him plan many
things. I think that if he had won him to his
thoughts concerning the men of Canterbury he
would have taken him home. If not, I only know
this, that he would never have been seen in this
fand again. There was a thought of carrying him
even across the sea to the Britons in the south in
Gaul. But of all things Morfed hoped that he
would die here."

So I supposed, but I said no more, for Evan and
the men reined up close to us. There was joy
enough among them all as Owen was slowly and
carefully laid on the rough litter. And we left
those two staring after us, silent. But I suppose
that. the terror of that strange place will still lie on
all the country-side, and I hold that since the day
when the wizards of old time reared the menhir on
that which it covered, with cruel rites and terrible
words that have bided in the minds of men as a
terror will bide, no man but such as Morfed has
dared to pry into that valley lest the ancient curse
should fall on them the curse of the Druid who
would hide his secrets. It may be, therefore, that it
will not be known by the folk that the menhir has
fallen, even yet, for we who did know it told them
nought thereof.

As for that falling, it is the saying of Howel that



it was wrought by the might of the holy sign, and
maybe he is not so far wrong in a way. For if the
slow creeping of the bog had at last undermined the
base of the tall stone so that it needed but little to
disturb its balance, no wind could reach it in that
cliff-walled place even in the wildest gale, and it is
likely that no hand but mine had touched it for
long ages. I began, and the rush and blow of
Morfed ended, the work of overthrow, with the sign
of might complete. And Evan holds that but for
the graving thereof he at least were by this time a
dead man.

It was late evening when we came to the village,
with no harm to Owen at all beyond tiredness, which
a good sleep would amend ; and after that there is
little that I need tell of Howel's going to Exeter
with the good news, and of his bringing back to
us a litter more fitted for the carrying of the hurt
prince, and then the welcome that was for us from

When we were back with him, Owen passed into
the loving hands of Nona the princess, and I do not
think that he had any cause to regret his older
leech of the beehive hut, skilful as she was, for we
who loved him saw him gain strength daily.

Now I found means to send a letter to Ina, by
the tin-traders who were on the way to London,
telling him that all was well, and begging him to
suffer me to bide with my foster-father for a time
yet, as I knew indeed that I might, for my new
place in the household had few duties save at times
of ceremony, and in war, when I must lead the men
of the household as the bearer of the king's own


banner. And as the days went on it grew plain
to me that there was somewhat amiss about the
court here.

There was no dislike of myself, as I may truly say,
among the men of West Wales whom I met with,
but there was a coldness now and then which I
could not altogether fathom, and that specially
among the priests. It seemed that while Gerent
had forgotten that I was aught but the son of Owen,
who had brought him back, no one else forgot that
I was a Saxon, and that there was more in the re-
membrance than should be in these #mes of peace.
I could not think that this was due to my share in
the death of Morgan either, for it was plain that
not one of his friends was about the court.

At last I spoke of this to Howel, and found that
he also had seen somewhat of the kind.

" I know it," he said. " If I am not very much
mistaken, and I ought to know the signs of coming
trouble by this time, there is somewhat brewing in
the way of fresh enmity with your folk. It comes
from the priests."

" There are more of the way of thinking of
Morfed, therefore," I answered.

" And if that is so there may be more danger for
Owen. It is well known that he is for peace, and
that Gerent will listen to him in all things."

We talked of that for some time, not being at all
easy yet concerning the matter, after seeing how
far some were willing to go toward removing one
who was in their way. I could not stay here long,
nor could Howel, and it was certain that Gerent
could not well guard Owen up to this time. And


at last Howel spoke the best counsel yet, after many
plans turned over between us.

" We will even take him to Dyfed, and nurse him
to strength in Pembroke. Then if aught is in the
wind it will break out at once, lest he should return
and spoil all. Gerent will either have to bow to the
storm and fight, or else he will get the upper hand
and quiet things again. If he can do that last, at
least till Owen is back, all will be well. Owen will
take things in hand then, and will be master."

That was indeed a way out of the trouble, and
therein Nona helped us with Owen, so that at last he
consented. I will say that he knew little or nothing
of possible trouble here, and we told him nothing,
for, in the first place, we had no certainty thereof,
and in the next, he was not strong enough to do
anything against it if we had.

When we came to ask Gerent if Howel might
take him to Dyfed, we found no difficulty at all,
which surprised me not a little. I think that the
king knew that it was well for him to be across the
channel in all quiet.

So it came to pass that in a few days all was
ready for our going to Watchet to find Thorgils or
some other shipmaster who would take us over.
We could wait at Norton until the time of sailing
came, if we might not cross at once, and thence I
should go back to Ina.

One may guess without any telling of mine what
the parting with Owen was for Gerent. As for
myself, I was somewhat sorry to bid the old king
farewell, for I liked him, and he was ever most kind
to me. But I was not sorry to leave his court, by


any means, for those reasons of which I have spoken,
and of them most of all for fear of more plotting
against Owen.

Now I will say that the ride to Watchet, slow
and careful for his sake who must yet travel in the
litter, and in fair summer weather, is one that I love
to look back on. As may be supposed, by this
time I and the princess were very good friends, and
it is likely that I rode beside her for most of the
way. We had many things to talk of.

One thing I have not set down yet is, that it
had been easy, after what he had done for us, to win
full pardon for Evan from Gerent. Now he rode
with me, well armed and stalwart, as my servant,
and one could hardly want a more likely looking
one. And Nona had some good words and friendly
to say to him, which made him hold his head higher
yet after a time.

Presently, since I was on my way back to
Glastonbury and onwards, we must needs speak of
Elfrida, and I told her how I had fared when I
came back from Dyfed. She laughed at me, and
I laughed at myself also ; for now I knew at last
that the old fancy had in all truth passed from my

So we came to Norton, and then sought Thorgils,
and after that it was a week before he was ready.
I mind the wonder on the face of the Norseman
when he saw Evan at my heels on the day when
his ship came home and I met him on the wharf;
but he was glad to see him there.

" Faith," he said, " it has been a trouble to me
that a man whom I was wont to trust had turned


out so ill. It shook my own belief in my better
judgment. I did think I knew a man when I saw
him, until then. So I was not far wrong after all.
Now I will make a new song of his deeds, and I do
not think it will be a bad one."

Then it came to pass that one day, when the wind
blew fair for Tenby, I saw the ship draw away from
me as her broad sail rilled, while on the deck was
Owen in a great chair, and from his side Nona
waved to me, and Howel shouted that I must come
over ere long and fetch Owen home. Thorgils was
steering, and he lifted his arm and cried his parting
words, and so I turned away, feeling lonely as a
man may feel for a little while. And presently I
looked again toward the ship, and I think that the
last I saw of her was the flutter of Nona's kerchief
in the soft wind, and I vowed that nought should
hinder me from Dyfed when the time came.

Thereafter I rode to Glastonbury, and told
Herewald what I thought of the trouble that was
surely brewing in the west ; and he said that he also
had some reason to think that along his borders
men were getting more unruly, as if none tried to
hinder them from giving cause of offence to us.

" Well, if they will but keep quiet until this
wedding is over it will be a comfort," he said. " I
should be more at ease if once Elfrida was safely in

Then I learned that the wedding was to be in a
month's time or so, and already there were prepara-
tions in hand for it. With all my heart I hoped
also that nought might mar it.

Then I passed on to the king at Winchester, and


glad was he to hear that we had indeed found
Owen. But as he listened to what I thought was
coming on us from the west, he said

" It is even what Owen and I foresaw with the
death of Aldhelm. This is a matter that not even
Owen could have prevented, for it comes of the
jealousy of the priests. We will go to Glastonbury
and watch, and maybe we shall be in time for the
wedding. But I will not be the one to break the
peace. If war there must be, it must come from

And so he mused for a while, and then said
" Well, so it will be. And not before West
Wales has tried her failing force for the last time
will there be a lasting peace."



So we went to Glastonbury in a little time, and
now it was as if Yuletide had come again in high
summer, so full was the little town with guests who
came to the wedding. Erpwald had come soon
after us, with a train of Sussex thanes, who were his
neighbours and would see him through the business,
and take him and his bride home again. Well
loved were the ealdorman and his fair daughter,
and this was the first wedding in the new church, of
which all the land was proud.

Only Ina was somewhat uneasy, though he would
not shew it. For on all the Wessex border from
Severn Sea to the Channel there was unrest. It
seemed that the hand of Gerent had altogether
slackened on his people, so that they did what they
listed, and it was even worse than it had been in
the days of Morgan and his brother, for at least
they were answerable for what the men of Dyvnaint
wrought of harm. There was none to take their
place here, while the old king bided in Exeter or in
Cornwall, and never came to Norton at all now.
So there was pillage and raiding across the Parrett,



and at last Ina had sent messages to Cerent
concerning it.

A fortnight ago that was, and now the messengers

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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 20 of 25)