Charles W. (Charles Watts) Whistler.

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

. (page 23 of 25)
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 23 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to have news thence, and not troubling about
Mordred who was waiting release, at all. So he
had seen Owen, who was well as might be, he said.
" With two holes in one thigh, and his left arm
almost growing again like a crab's claw. I do not
think that he was in the least surprised to hear of
the war, nor indeed of its end. All he wanted to
know was of you, as it seemed, at least from me. So
it was also with Howel and the princess. It was
good to see their faces when I told them of the fight
at the camp, and how you won glory there. Never-
theless, I was half afraid that I made the fighting a
bit too fierce over Erpwald, for the princess turned
pale enough in hearing how you were knocked over.
You ken that I am apt to make the most of things
when I am telling a story. My father was just the
same, and maybe my grandfather before that, for saga-
telling runs in the family."

I laughed at him, but in my mind I thought of the
day when I saw Elfrida pale as she heard of Erpwald's
danger at Cheddar, and I wondered.

Then I turned to Owen's letter, and it was long



NEWS FROM PEMBROKE 377

and somewhat sad, as may be supposed, for this war
had a foreshadowing of long parting between him
and me. But he said that he had known it must
come, having full knowledge, before Morfed the priest
took him, how the war party were getting beyond
control. Wherefore he saw that he and I had been
saved much sadness by his absence, and it remained
to be seen how we should fare when he returned. At
least, we should meet soon in Dyfed, for he mended
apace.

I need not tell all of that letter, for it was mostly
between us twain. But in it were words for Ina
concerning peace, such as an ambassador from the
British might well speak, and they helped greatly
toward settlement by and by. And so the letter
ended with greetings from Howel and Nona, and
many words concerning their kindness to him.

But when I spoke to Thorgils of crossing soon to
bring Owen back he shook his head.

" I suppose he has even made the best of things in
the letter, but if he can bear arms again by Yule it
will be a wonder," he said. " Yet he is well for so
sorely wounded a man."

Then he promised that it should not be so long
before I heard news from Owen again, for he had yet
to make several voyages before the winter. And he
kept his promise well, for I think that he made one
more than he would have done, for my sake solely,
though he will not own it, lest the long winter should
seem lonesome to me.

For I will say at once that Owen did not come
back by Yule. All that went on in the Cornish
court I do not know, but it seemed that Cerent



378 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

thought it well that he should not return until the
last hope of victory over Wessex had passed from
among his people ; and it may be that he did not
wish it to be thought that Owen had any hand in
bringing about the peace which he must needs make.
He would see to that, and take all the blame thereof
himself, caring nothing for any man, if blame there
should be from those who set the war on foot. So
although I waited to hear from time to time as
Thorgils came and went, getting also word from him
when some Danish ship crossed to Watchet, nought
was said of Owen's return. And I was not sorry, for
as things went I could not have gone to Dyfed to
meet him.

There was the new land we had won to be tended,
and for a time the planning for that was heavy
enough. All men know now how it ended in the
building of the mighty fortress of Taunton at the
southern end of the Quantock hills, to bar the pas-
sage from West to East for all time. There is
no mightier stronghold in all England than this, at
least of those built by Saxon hands, and there has
been none made like it since Hengist came to this
land. It stands some two miles from where the
Romans set Norton, for they had the same need to
curb the wild British as have we, and the place
they chose for their ways of warfare needed little
amending for ours.

While that was building, Ina dwelt in the house
of some great British lord at the place we call South
Petherton, not far off from the fortress. As the
place pleased him, presently he had a palace built
there for himself, which, as it turned out, Ethelburga



THE WISDOM OF INA 379

the queen never liked at all. However, that came
about in after years. All day long now he was at
Taunton, taking pride in overseeing all, so that there
is no wonder that the place is strong. As for me,
I was with Herewald the ealdorman on the new
boundary line with the levies and the king's own
following, guarding against any new attack, and
trying to win the Welsh to friendship. That was
mostly my work, as I knew the tongue, and they
knew me as Owen's foster-son. We had some little
trouble with them for a time, but soon, as they came
to know the justice of the king, and that he did not
mean to drive them from the land, they became
content, and indeed there were many who welcomed
a strong hand over them. Presently there would be
Saxon lords over the manors as Ina found men to
hold them, but there would be no change beyond that.
Freeman should be freeman, and thrall thrall, as
before, each in his old holding undisturbed, with equal
laws for Saxon and Briton alike.

Now, one day when I came to the house of the
king at Petherton on some affairs I needed his word
concerning, presently there came a message to me
that Ethelburga the queen would speak with me, and,
somewhat wondering, I was taken to her bower, and
found her waiting for me.

" Oswald," she said, after a few words of greeting,
" there is one who wronged you once, and has come
to ask for your forgiveness. What answer shall I
give ? "

" Lady," I said, " I can remember none who need
forgiveness from me now. Those who wrought ill
against Owen have it already, or are gone. I have



380 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

no foes, so far as I know, myself, and truly no wrongs
unforgiven."

" Nay, but there is this one."

" Why then, my Queen, that one must needs be
forgiven, seeing that I know not of wrong to me."

I laughed a little, thinking of some fault of a
servant, or of a man of the guard, of which she had
heard. But she went to a settle hard by and swept
aside a kerchief which lay on it as if by chance, and
under it were two war arrows. And I knew them at
once for those which had been shot into our window
at Norton and had vanished.

Now I will say that the sight of these brought
back at once some of the old feeling against those
who, like Tregoz, had sought Owen's life and mine,
and my face must needs show it.

" Ay," the queen said, seeing that, " these are
indeed a token that forgiveness is needed."

Then I remembered that there was but one who
could come here with these arrows, though how she
had them I could not do more than guess. It
could be none other than Mara, the daughter of
Dunwal.

Then suddenly, from among the ladies at the end
of the room, one who was dressed in black rose up
and came toward me, and she was none other than
Mara herself, thin and pale indeed, and with the
pride gone from her dark face. Her voice was very
low as she spoke to me, and her bright black eyes
were dim with tears.

" I do not ask you to forgive my uncle, or indeed
my father for what they planned and well-nigh
wrought is past forgiveness," she said, " Forget



FORGIVE AND FORGET 381

those things if it be possible, but forgive my part
in them."

" I have done that long ago, lady," I said in all
truth. I knew that she must have been made use of
by the men in some ways, but I did not think at all
that she had wished ill as they wished it, since I
knew that Morfed had trained the Welsh girl to the
deed at Glastonbury.

" Ay," she said sadly. " But forgetfulness is not
forgiveness. You do not know how I carried mes-
sages between my father and uncle, when one was
in bondage and the other in hiding, so that their
plans were laid through me. I am guilty with them.
Therefore I would hear you say at least that you will
try to forgive before I pass from the world into the
cloister where I may pray for them, and for you also,
if I may."

Then I said, with a great pity on me for this lady
whom I had known so proud and careless

" Lady, I do forgive with all my heart. I do not
think that you could have stood aloof from your
father, and I do not think that you are so much to
blame in all the trouble as you would seem to make
me believe. In all truth I do forgive."

She looked searchingly at me while I spoke, and
what she saw in my face was enough to tell her that
she had all she needed, and with one word of thanks
she went back to the ladies, and one of them took her
from the room.

" She goes into my new nunnery at Glastonbury
to-morrow, Oswald," the queen said, " and now she
will rest content. It was a good chance that brought
you here to-day, my Thane, for she had begged me to



382 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

send for you, and that I could hardly do, seeing that
one knows not where to find you from day to day. I
could tell her truly that I knew I could win your
forgiveness : but that would not have been enough
for her, I think."

So Mara passed into the nunnery, and unless she
has been one of the veiled sisters whom one sees in
their places at the time of mass, I do not know that
I have ever set eyes on her again. I do not think
that it was the saddest end for her.



CHAPTER XVII

HOW OSWALD FOUND A HOME, AND OF THE
LAST PERIL OF OWEN THE PRINCE

ALL that winter, and through the spring, men toiled
at the great fortress, but Ina went back presently to
Glastonbury, or to others of his houses, after his
wont, now and then riding even from far to us to
see how all went. And I was fully busy in the new
province, for we made a roll of those who owned land
there, that all might be known to the king, and that
matter was set in my hand for those reasons which
had made me useful already in quieting the country.
Moreover, the years at Malmesbury had made me
able to write well, and now I was glad that I had
learnt, though indeed it went sorely against the
grain with me to do so at the time. Truly, I had
to go on this errand of the king's with sword in one
hand and pen in the other, but I daresay I did
better, and fared less roughly, than would one who
could not speak to the British freemen in their own
tongue. At least, if a man was sullen when I came
to him, he was, as a rule, pretty friendly when I left,
for he knew that no harm was meant him, and that
to be on this roll meant that on his lands he was
to bide in peace. And I may not forget that Evan
25



384 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

helped me greatly in the matter, for he knew almost
all of the best freemen.

When the walls were strong, in the midst of the
new fortress they built a good house for Ina, and
we thought that he meant to live here at times, for
he had it fully furnished, even to the rushes on the
floor, after Easter. By that time I had leisure to
spend the holy season with the court at Glastonbury,
for there was peace everywhere. And there I had
a visit from Thorgils, who brought good news from
across the sea. He had made his first voyage of
the year, and had seen Owen, who was himself
again, if yet weak.

He had not written to me, but sent word by the
Norseman that he did but wait for me to come for
him, if I might. If not he would come alone ; but
it seemed to him that we should have to part when
we reached this side of the channel, for he must go
to Cerent at once.

Next day Ina and the queen must needs pass to
Taunton to see the place, for he said that when I
might go for Owen depended on its readiness. So
we rode with but a small train, meaning, after seeing
the fortress, to go on to Petherton for the night,
which was quite a usual plan with the king nowa-
days, since all this building was on hand.

So we went round all the walls, and saw the
new bridge across the Tone River, and then went
into the hall that stood, as I have said, within the
walls of the fortress itself. There all was ready for
the king, even to a fire on the hearth in the middle
of the great hall, which was fully as large as that at
Glastonbury itself. I had not seen this house of



A KING'S REQUEST 385

late, and now the king would have me go all over
it and tell him what I thought thereof.

Indeed, there was nought to say of it but good,
for it would be hard to find one better planned in
all Wessex, as I think, whether in the house itself,
or about the buildings that were set along its walls
without for the thralls and workshops, or in the stables
and other outhouses, It was indeed such a house
as any thane would be proud to hold as his home.

Presently, therefore, after seeing all, the king and
queen and I stood by the hearth in the hall again,
and Ina asked me my thoughts of it. And I told
him even as I have written, that all was well done
and completely.

" Why, then," he said, " let me come and stay
here now and then."

I laughed at that.

" I have heard, my King, of house-carles who led
their masters, but that is not our way. Where the
king goes the household follows, in Wessex."

He laughed also, for a moment.

" Long may it be so," he said. " Nevertheless, I
think that I shall have to be as a guest here now
and then."

Then Ethelburga smiled at my puzzled face, and
spoke in her turn.

" Why, Oswald, it seems to me that you are the
only man in all Wessex who does not know who
is to live here."

" It is always said that the king himself will
make it one of his palaces, lady," I answered.

Then Ina set his hand on my shoulder, and made
no more secret of what he meant.



386 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

" I want you to bide here, my Thane, and hold
this unquiet land for me. There is not one who
can better rule it from this fortress for me than
yourself; and the house and all that is in it is yours,
if you will."

Then for a moment came over me that same
feeling of loneliness that had kept me from taking
Eastdean again, and with it there was the thought
that I was not able to take so great a charge
on me.

" How can I do this, my King ? " I said, not
knowing how to put into words all that I felt. " I
am not strong enough for such a post."

" Nay," he said gravely. " It is said of me that
I do not do things hastily, and it is a true word
enough, seeing that I know that I often lose a
chance by over-caution, maybe. Answer me a ques-
tion or two fairly, and I think you will see that I
may ask you to bide here."

Then he minded me that I alone of all his
athelings knew this Welsh tongue as if born thereto,
and also that men knew me as the son of Owen
the prince, so that the Welsh would hardly hold me
as a stranger. That I had found out in these last
months while I had been numbering the freemen
and their holdings ; and as I went about that busi-
ness I had seen every one that was of any account,
so that already I knew all the land I had to rule
better than any other. That task, however, had
been set me, as I know now, in preparation for this
post.

I had no answer to make against all this con-
cerning myself, for it was true enough, but I did



THE EALDORMAN OF TAUNTON 387

not speak at once. It did not follow that I could
rule as I should, even with all this to help me, and
I knew it.

" What, is more needed ? " Ina said. " Well, I at
least have had a letter from Owen by the hand of
Thorgils yesterday. See what is written in it."

He set the writing in my hand, and turned away
while I read it. It was meant for my sight as well
as his, for he had written to Owen concerning this
post for me. And after I had read it all I could
say no more, for Owen told how he would help
me in all ways possible, and also that he knew
how Cerent himself would be more content in
knowing that no stranger was to be over the land
he had lost.

So I gave the letter back to the king's hand, and
said plainly

" I think that I may not hold back from what
you ask me, my King, after all that Owen says.
Nevertheless I "

" But I am certain that you will do well," said
Ina. " Now I shall miss my captain about the
court, but I need him here. So you must even
stay. There is Owen on the west to help you keep
the peace in one way, and Herewald on the east
to help you with the levies if need be. Fear not,
therefore. It is in my mind that you will have
an easier time here than any other I could have
bethought me of, if I had tried."

Then, as in duty bound, I knelt and kissed the
hand of the king in token of homage, and he smiled
at me contented.

* You will be the first ealdorman of Devon,



3 88 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

Oswald, when the Witan meets," he said ; for it
needed the word of the council of the thanes to
give me the rank that was fitting.

Then when I rose up and stood somewhat mazed
with the suddenness of it all, Ethelburga the queen,
who had stood by smiling at me now and then,
said : " This is your hall, Oswald, remember. But
it needs one thing yet. You were wrong when you
said it was complete."

I looked round and saw nothing wanting, from
the hangings on the wall to the pile of skins on
the high place seats.

" There are the pegs for the arms of the house-
carles," I said, " but no arms thereon yet. That
will soon be mended. And I have to set up a head
or two of game, to make all homely, maybe ? "

" More than that, Oswald," she said, laughing.
" Strange how dense a man can be! It is a mistress
who is needed. Else the women of Devon will have
no friend at court."

I laughed, a little foolishly, perhaps, not having
any answer at all, and Ina smiled and went out
into the court by himself, saying that he would not
meddle with such matters. So I was left to the
queen by the hearth.

" Jesting apart, Oswald," she said, " I had hoped
that vow of yours would have led to somewhat,
and whose fault it was that nought came of it I
do not know. However, no harm seems to have
been done, and that may pass, though indeed Elfrida
was a favourite of mine. But see to it that next
time you are no laggard. Now, when are you going
to Dyfed ? "



THE QUEEN'S QUESTIONS 389

Then I suppose my face told some tale against
me, for the queen laughed softly.

" Soon, Oswald ? M

I could not pretend to misunderstand her then,
but when it was put to me so plainly it did not
seem to me all so certain that my suit would
fare better than my vow. I had no fear once that
the last would not have been welcome, and was
mistaken enough. Now, perhaps because I was
in real earnest, I did doubt altogether.

" What, do you fear that there is no favour for
you, my Thane?" Ethelburga said, with a smile
lingering round the corners of her mouth.

" I do not see how there can be," I answered.
" I am not worthy. It is one thing for the princess
to be friendly with me, and another for her to suffer
me to look so high."

I spoke plainly to the queen, as I was ever wont
since I was a child in her train and she the kindly
lady to whose hand I looked for all things, and
from whom all my earlier happinesses had come.
She was ever the same, and I know well that her
name will be remembered as one of our best
hereafter. It was almost therefore as mother to
son that she spoke to me, rather than as mistress
to servant.

" But you had no doubts at all concerning
Elfrida."

" That was foolishness, my Queen, and I see it
now. This is different altogether."

" I know it, and it was my fault in a way.
Still, you were then but the landless house-carle
captain, and yet you dared to look up to the



390 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

daughter of the ealdorman. Now you are the
Thane of Taunton, and to be the first ealdorman
of Saxon Devon, with house and riches at your
back, moreover. And she of whom you think is
but the daughter of a Welsh princelet."

" Nay, my Queen, but she is Nona."

" Go your ways, Oswald," the queen said, laughing
" of a surety you are in earnest this time. Nay,
but I will jest no more, and will wish you all speed
to Pembroke. If there is no welcome, and more,
for you there, I am mistaken, for you deserve all
you wish."

So we spoke no more, but joined the king.
Presently, when I came to think of what the queen
had said of my changed rank and all that, I saw
that she was right, and it heartened me somewhat.
Not that I thought it would make any difference
to Nona, but that it surely must to Howel, which
was a great matter after all.

In a week Ina gathered the Witan of Somerset
here to Taunton, first that the last stone of the
fortress should be laid with all solemnity and due
rites, even as the foundation had been laid with the
blessing of Holy Church on it, and then that he
might take counsel for the holding of the new land.
Then in full Witan I did homage and took the
oaths that were fitting, and so the king girt my
sword on me afresh as I sat at the foot of his
throne as the first ealdorman of Devon ; and the
Witan confirmed his choice, also making sure to
me all dues that should come to the man who held
the rank. They seemed well satisfied with the
king's choice of me, and that was a good thing,



WELCOME TO DYFED 391

for I will say that I had somewhat feared jealousy
here and there. I do not think that their approval
was due to any special merit of my own at all,
but it was plain that I stood in a half-way place,
as it were, between the two courts in a way that
was in itself enough to make the choice good policy.

After that Ina bade me go to Dyfed, while he
was yet in the west, and would set all things in train
for me, choosing my house-carles, and setting such
men as I could work well with in places of trust in
the land. There was much for the king to do yet.

" Therefore take what time you will, Oswald,"
he said kindly. " You will be busy enough when
you come back, and I can trust you not to overstay
your time. If Owen can come to speak with me
bring him, but that is doubtful yet."

One may suppose that I did not delay then.
I sent Evan to Thorgils, and asked him to give
me a passage over, and so had a fortnight to wait
for him, as he was on his way from some voyage
westward at the time. Then a fair summer sailing
and a welcome from the Danefolk at Tenby, where
we put in rather than make for the long tidal waters
of Milford Haven against a south-west breeze.

There the Danes must needs set themselves in
array in all holiday gear that I might ride to
Pembroke as a prince's foster-son, with a better
following than Evan and my half-dozen house-carles,
and I rode with fifty men after me, so that the guard
at the palace gates might have thought that Ina
himself had come to see Owen, and there was bustle
of welcome enough.

And so there were wonderful greetings for me,



3Q2 A PRINCE OF CORNWALL

from Owen first, and afterward from Howel and
from Nona, and I will not say much of them. If
one knows what it is to see a father whom one
had left weak and ill, strong and well and fully
himself again ; if one has met a good friend after
absence; if one knows what it may be to see again
the one who is dearest in thought, there is no need
for me to try and tell the greeting, and if not, I
could not make it understood. Let it be therefore.
It was all that I looked for, and I was more than
content. And yet, for all that, it was a long week
before I dared to tell Nona that which I would,
and how I did so is another thing that I cannot
set down. Maybe all that I need say is that I
need not have feared, and that the new hall at
Taunton waited for its mistress from that hour
forward.

And so at length I knew that I must be away,
and I rode to Tenby to see Thorgils, and found
him in the haven, begrimed and happy, with men
and boys round him at work on the ship everywhere,
painting and scraping in such wise that I hardly
knew her. From stem to stern she was bright
green instead of her sea-stained rusty black, and a
broad gilt band ran along her side below the oar
ports. A great red and gold dragon from one of
the warships of the Danes reared its crest on the
stem head, while its tail curved in red and gold over
the sternpost, and even the mast was painted in
red and white bands, and had a new gilt dog-vane
at its head.

" Here is finery, comrade," I said. " What is the
meaning thereof? "



FROM DYFED TO DEVON 393

" Well, if you know not, no man knows. I have
a new coat for to-morrow's wedding, and it is only
fit that the ship that takes home the bride should
have one also. Wherefore the old craft will be
somewhat to sing about by the time I have done
with her."

Then he showed me a new red-striped sail that
Eric had given him, and an awning for the after-


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 23 25

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 23 of 25)