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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deck which the women of the town had wrought
for the shelter of the princess whom they loved.
It seemed like a good speeding to Nona and
to me.

And so it was at the end of a fortnight thereafter.
It would be long to tell of the morrow's wedding,
and then of days at Pembroke before we sailed,
passed all too quickly for me. But at last we stood
with Owen on the deck of the good ship while all
the shore buzzed with folk, Welsh and Danish alike,
who watched us pass from Dyfed to the Devon
coast, cheering and waving with mighty good-will,
And only Howel seemed lonely as he sat on his
white horse, still and yet smiling, with his men
round him, where the cliff looks over the inner
harbour, to see the last for many days of the
daughter he had trusted to my keeping.

We cleared the harbour, and then where she had
been lying under the island flew toward us under
thirty oars the best long-ship that Eric owned, for
it was his word that as the Danes had seen me into
Pembroke by land, so they would see Nona from
the shore with a king's following by sea, and that
was well done indeed. The old chief himself was
steering in full arms, and all the rowers were in


their mail and helms, flashing and sparkling
wondrously in the sun as they swung in time
to the rowing-song as they came. And all down
the gangway amidships between the rowers stood
the armed men who should take their places when
their turn came, full sixty warriors, well armed and
mail-clad as if they had need to guard us across
the sea.

I suppose that there is no more wonderful sight
than such a ship as this, fresh from her winter
quarters, and with her full crew of three men to an
oar in all array for war, and Owen and I gazed at
her in all delight. As for my princess, she had
more thought for the kindliness of the chief in thus
troubling himself and his men, I think, for she
could not know the pleasure it gave each man of
the Danes to feel his arms on him and the good
ship swinging under him again after long months

" There is another ship in the offing," I said to
Thorgils presently, when we, with the Dane just
astern of us, were some five miles from land and had
ceased to look back to Tenby. Nona had gone
into the cabin away from the wind, which came a
little chill from the east on the open sea, and maybe
also that she felt the chill of parting from her
father more than she would have us know.

" Ay," he said, looking at the far vessel under
his hand, " I do not make out what she is but
if she is a trader well, our Danes are likely to get
some reward for their trouble. They will not have
come out for nothing."

I laughed, for any trader in the Severn sea knew


that he must be ready to pay more than harbour
dues if he had the ill luck to meet with the Danes.
They would make him pay for freedom, but would
not harm him unless he was foolish enough to

So we held on, and the strange sail, which was
seemingly beating up channel against the wind,
put about and headed for us somewhat sooner than
Thorgils expected.

" She is making mighty short boards," he said.
" She should surely have headed over to the coast
yet awhile. Would have fetched a bit of a breeze off
the land there, maybe."

Thorgils watched this vessel curiously, for there
were things about her which seemed to puzzle him.
The men, too, were beginning to talk of her and
watch her. And presently I saw that our consort,
the Dane, had slackened her speed, so that there
was a mile of water between us astern.

" Oh ay," said Thorgils, as I spoke of this,
" they mean to pick her up when we have passed
her. They can overhaul her as they like."

Now we drew near to the strange ship, and it
seemed to Owen and me, as we stood side by side
on the after-deck beside Thorgils at the helm, that
we saw here and there among the men on her
deck the sparkle of arms as she lifted and swayed
to the waves. She was a long black ship, not like
the Dane at all, and her sail was three cornered
on a long tapering yard, quite unlike ours, which
was square. Thorgils said that she was a trader
from the far south, a foreigner, even from so far
as Spain, though why she was here he could not


tell. Mostly such never came round the Land's

" She wants to speak with us," he said presently.
" I suppose she has lost herself in strange waters."

The vessel was right across our bows now, some
half-mile away, and her tall sail was flapping in the
wind as she hove to. Thorgils put the helm down
so as to pass to windward of her, and as he did so
the sail of the stranger filled again, and she headed
as if waiting to sail with us for a while. Now we
could see that many of her crew, which did not seem
large, were armed, and I thought little of that, seeing
that there were Danes about. But Thorgils waxed
silent, and sent a man to the masthead suddenly, for
some reason which was not plain to me.

No sooner was the man there than he shouted
somewhat in broad Norse sea-language, which made
our skipper start and knit his brows.

" How many ? " he asked.

" Like to herrings in a barrel. More than I can
tell," the masthead man answered.

Then Thorgils turned to us.

" This is more than I can fully fathom," he said,
leaning on the helm a little, so that the ship edged
up a trifle closer to the wind steadily. " She has her
weather gunwale packed with men, who are hiding
under it armed men. On my word, it is well that
Eric is with us."

Owen and I looked at one another. If I had
been alone, or with him only, I think I should have
rejoiced in this seeming chance of a fight at sea, but
with Nona and her maidens on board there was a
sort of terror for me in what all this might mean.


No honest vessel hid her men thus, and waited for
the coming of two strangers.

" Get your arms on, prince and comrade," said
Thorgils. " It is in my mind that these are
desperate folk of sorts. We are pranked up with
that dragon like any long-ship, and here is Eric
astern of us, and yet there is some look of fighting
in the hiding of these men. Will they face two of
us, or what is it ? "

" We may not fight with the lady on board,
Thorgils," Owen said under his breath. " If so be
we can get away from them we must. Yet it will
be the first time that Oswald and I have thought of

" There is no merit in staying for a fight if there
is need why one should be out of it," Thorgils said.
" See, she is going to try to get to windward of us,
and now will be a bit of a sailing match."

Then he called one of the men, and he came aft
and took a pole with a round red board on its top
from where it hung along the gunwale, and, standing
on the stern rail with his arm round the high stern-
post, waved it slowly. He was signalling to Eric as
Thorgils bade him.

The ship forged up into the wind closer and
closer, and the spray flew over her bows as she met
the sea. But the strange vessel was no less
weatherly, and kept pace with us, and now Eric was
bearing down on us more or less, sailing a little more
free than we, though he also had to luff somewhat to
keep near us, taking a long slant across our course as
we sailed now.

I sent Evan for our arms, for the men were arm-


ing silently. They were in the chests in the fore-
cabin where I had once been bound, and Nona
knew nought of possible trouble on hand. To keep
her from it altogether I went to the low door of her
rude shelter before I put on my mail, and looked in,
telling her to keep the cabin closed against the spray
that was flying, and had a bright smile for my
thought. Then I went back to the deck and armed,
and all the while the two ships reached to windward,
but even in that little time I saw that the stranger
had gained on us. The man was at work signalling
to Eric again.

" We shall know if he means fighting in no long
time," said Thorgils to me. " If he does I think that
he is going to be surprised."


" Well, unless every man on board is clean witless
they must deem us both harmless. Maybe they
have heard of a wedding party that is to cross and
are waiting for us. Otherwise it seems impossible
that they will face us and the Dane as well."

Now Eric was back on his old tack, and passing
astern of us. I saw the glint of his oar blades, which
had been run out from their ports ready to take the
water if need was presently. And then we knew
that his help would be wanted. Suddenly the
strange ship's head flew up into the wind and she
was round on the other tack, paying off wonderfully
quickly ; and as she did so, from under her gunwale,
where they could be hidden no longer, rose the
armed men, seeming to crowd her deck in a moment.
She was full of them from stem to stern, and our
men shouted. She had won well to windward of us.


But Thorgils had known what was coming, and
had kept his quick eye on the helmsman of the
stranger. Even as her helm went down for the luff
his went up and the men sprang to the sheets, and
we were tearing across her bows even as her sail
filled on the new tack, and heading away lift by lift
toward Eric. And Eric hove to to meet us, and his
sail fell and his oars flashed out and took the water,
and he made for us like the sea-dragon his ship

" Down with you men under cover ! " roared
Thorgils. " Arrows, comrade ! Down with you ! "

The strange ship was only a bowshot from us, if
a long one yet, but she was overhauling us apace.
I saw her men forward bending their bows, and the
Norsemen of our crew came aft with my men under
the break of the deck on which we stood, where they
were in cover. Evan ran to me with his shield up.

"Evan," I cried, "shield Thorgils." And I set
myself before Owen with my own shield raised to
cover him, and he laughed at me grimly.

He set his own alongside mine, and we three
stood covering Thorgils. The Norseman's face was
set and watchful, but his blue eyes danced under
the knit brows, and I do believe that he was enjoying
the sport.

Ay, and so would I but for her who was so close
to me. It was the first time I had known aught
but joy in battle, and what all my strange new
thoughts were I cannot say. I would not pass
through that time again for worlds.

Then the first arrow fled from the enemy toward
us, falling short by a yard or two, and at that there


came one who looked like a chief, and stood on the
high bows and hailed us in Welsh.

At sight of him Evan cried out, and Owen

" Daffyd of Carnbre, Morfed's kinsman," Owen
said to me quietly. " This is the last of the crew
who followed Morgan."

" Likewise the last of Daffyd," Thorgils growled
grimly. Look ! "

But I could not. Now the arrow storm swept on
us, and all the air seemed dark with shafts which
dimpled the sea like a hailstorm, and clanged on our
shields and smote the decks with a sharp click from
end to end of the vessel. Even at that time I saw
that some of the arrows were British, but more of
some outland make with cruelly barbed heads. One
or two went near my helm, and I had several in my
shield, but none of us were hurt.

I had to watch them for the sake of Thorgils,
who was un mailed, and I could not look where he
pointed ahead of us.

Then of a sudden the arrows ceased to rain on
us, and there went a cry as of terror from the decks
of our enemy. The wild war-song of the Tenby
Danes rose ahead of us, and I turned and looked.
Eric was close on us, and his men had risen from
under the gunwales, where they too had been hiding
until the foe was in their grasp, and now the dragon
was on her prey, and that prey knew it. And yet
Evan had need to shield me as I turned, for the
chief whom they called Daffyd was urging his men
to shoot, and himself snatched a bow and loosed an
arrow at us harmlessly.


p. 401.


It was wonderful. Under the sweep of the thirty
long oars the dragon ship tore past us, hurling the
white foam from her sharp bows, while the thunder
of war-song and breaking wave and rolling oars filled
my ears and set our men leaping and cheering as
they saw her. Eric was on the high forecastle, and
he waved his broad axe at us gleefully, and all along
the decks the fighting men stood above the armed
rowers ; one shielding the toiler, and one with bent
bow ready, steady as oaks on the reeling deck, and
cheering us also with lifted weapons.

The foe saw, and her oars ran out too late. The
dragon met her, and thus, checking her speed as she
passed her, swept her crowded deck with arrows at
half-range ; and yet the foe held on after us, for the
men of Daffyd and of Morgan were bent on ending
Owen if they themselves must die. The arrows
were about us again, and Eric must turn and be
back to our help. It seemed that the foe would be
on us before that help could come.

I did not know the handiness of the long-ship
under oars. She was about even as I looked again
from the foe to her. And her sail was hoisted, and
under that and oars alike she was back on the foe ;
and then the men of Daffyd forgot him and us in
the greater business of caring for themselves, and
left him raving on the fore-deck, to seek shelter while
they might.

Then I suppose the helmsman was shot, for the ship
luffed helplessly, and in a moment the stem of the
viking was crashing on her quarter, and the grap-
pling irons were fast to her. Thorgils laughed and
luffed at once.


" Somewhat to sing of," he said cheerfully, as he
hove to to watch the fight. That it was in all
truth. We were but a bowshot off, and could see it
all. We heard the ships grinding together, and we
heard the shout of the Danes and the outland yells
of the Welsh, and we saw the vikings swarming on
board while the axes flashed and the war-song rose

" Eric has a mind to pay them for nigh spoiling
a wedding voyage," quoth our Norseman.

It was no long fight, for I suppose that there are
men of no race who can stand before the Northmen
at sea, at least since we have forgotten the old ship-
craft of our forefathers. From stem to stern Eric
led his men, sweeping all before him, some foemen
even leaping overboard out of the way of the terrible
axes, and so meeting another death. I think that
the Welsh chief Daffyd was the last to fall before
old Eric himself. And then was a great cheer from
the two ships, and after it silence.

Then Eric hailed us, and Thorgils ran out his
oars, and we went alongside the Danish ship. And
at that time Nona came from the cabin, and called
me, looking wonderingly at the arrows that littered
the deck at her feet.

" Oswald, what is it all ? Do the good Danes
leave us ? "

Then she saw my mail, and paled a little.

" Fighting ! and I not with you ? " she cried. " Is
any one hurt ? "

But I went to her side and told her how things
had gone, asking her to bide in the shelter yet, for
we had things to see that were not for her. And


so she went back again and closed the door, being
assured that the danger had passed.

We went on board the Danish ship, for there was
not enough sea to prevent our lying gunwale to
gunwale for a moment. Both Owen and I would
find out if possible how all this came about. There
was a row of captives on the deck of the enemy
waiting question, and I looked down on them from
beside Eric. Swarthy men and black haired they
were, speaking no tongue which we knew, and one
of them was black as his hair. I had never seen
a black man before, and he seemed uncanny. The
Danes were staring at him also, and he was grinning
at them with white teeth through thick lips in all
unconcern. Many of these men had chains on their
legs, and this black among them.

" Chained to the oar benches they were, poor
thralls," Eric said. "We could not bide that, so
we cut them free. Then they fell on their lords
and rent them."

Owen shuddered. He had seen the southern galleys
before, and knew why no man was left alive of the
foreigners who had fought. Our kin do not slay
the wounded. But there were some Britons left
among the captives, and one of them cried to Owen
by name for mercy.

We had that man on board the Dane and
questioned him, and learnt all. He had no reason
to hide aught when he was promised safety.

Daffyd had heard that we were to cross from
Tenby, having had all the doings of Owen spied
upon since the winter. Then he learned that when
I came over Owen was to return, and therefore he


had my doings watched also. He hired this foreign
ship in Marazion, where she put in for trade just as
he was wondering how to compass our end on the
journey, promising her fierce crew gold of his own
and all plunder there might be, if they would help
him to an easy revenge. So they came into the
Severn sea, and lay for a fortnight or more under
Lundy Island, watching for us as a cat watches for
a mouse, and getting news now and then from
Welsh fishers from Milford Haven. It was from
them that Daffyd learned of my wedding, and so
it came to pass that neither he nor the strangers
thought for a moment that our two ships held aught
but passengers and much plunder, with a princess to
hold to ransom, moreover, for the taking. They took
no account of the few house-carles we might have
with us, and even I knew nought of the crossing of
the armed Danish ship with us, which was planned
so that it came as a pleasant surprise to us all.
Thorgils was right, and it had been a terrible one
for them.

So the plunder fell to Eric, and it was worth
having. There was the ship and arms and captives,
and the gold of Daffyd, and that of the traders,
moreover, with some strange and precious woven
goods from southern looms, silken and woollen,
which yet remained in the hold, wondrous to
look on.

Now, in halting words enough I went to thank
Eric and his men for that which he had done for
me and mine, which indeed was more than I knew
how to put into words.

" Hold on, comrade," he said, staying me. " I


will tell you somewhat Good friends enough we
are with Howel nowadays, but it was not always
so. It was the doing of your fair princess that
things came not to blows between us at one time,
for we held that he was unreasonable in some matter
of scatt l to be paid. She settled that matter for us
with wise words, and we hold that to her we owe
it that we are in Tenby to-day. Howel could
starve us out any time he chose. And that the
prince will own to you if you ask him, being an
honest man, if hasty. We shall miss Nona the
princess sorely good luck to her."

Then he must needs have all the bales of rich
goods set on board our ship, as a wedding present
to Nona, and so set a crew on board the prize,
and she left us, heading homewards to Tenby. We
went back to our own ship at once after this was
done, but Eric would see us safely to Watchet
before he was satisfied, and so we took up the quiet
passage again, little harmed enough. Eric had a
few wounded men, but we had not suffered from
the arrows.

Presently the stars came out, and Nona and I
sat with Owen under the awning in the quiet of
the calm sea, while the men rowed under the shadow
of the sail that held a little wind enough to help
them homeward, and we went over all the things
that the day had brought us. And Owen said

" Now you may be at rest concerning me, Oswald,

for there is not one left to lift a hand against me

of whom I need think twice. Daffyd was the last

of the crew to which Morgan and Tregoz and

1 Tribute due to an over-lord by the settlers.


Dunwal belonged, for Gerent has the rest in ward
safely ; and there they will bide, if I know aught
of him, until I have to beg him to set them free
beyond the shores of Cornwall."

I will say now that this was true, for thence-
forward no man lifted hand or voice against my
foster-father. The war and its hopeless ending
quieted the men whom Morfed had led, and there
was peace, in which men turned to Owen as the
one who could keep it, and had given wise counsel
which was once disregarded.

So it came to pass that I took home Nona with
me, and set her as princess in the hall at Taunton
amid the rejoicing of all the Welsh folk who were
under me; for, as Ethelburga the queen had said,
they knew that they had a friend in her. And here
we have bided ever since, and are happy in home
and friends and work, for all seems to have gone
well with us. And as to those good friends of ours,
there may yet be a little to tell before I set the pen

Owen passed to Exeter at the time we came
home, for he would see his uncle before he went
to speak with Ina. But presently he was back
with us at Taunton, bearing with him a wondrous
present for the bride from Gerent, and good and
friendly words for me which promised well for the
peace of the border, at least while he lived. And
seeing that he lives yet, with Owen at his right
hand, that has been a long time. Now Owen
comes and goes, and none think it strange that
he is most friendly with Ina, for men have learnt


that in the peace of the two realms is happi-

Presently Jago came back to Norton, for I needed
some British adviser at hand, for Evan, faithful and
well trusted as he is as our honest steward, and able
to tell me of the needs of the people, knows nought
of the greater laws and ways, and Herewald minded
me of him. They had ever been good friends, and
I could fully trust him. So he rebuilt his house at
Norton, where the land lay waste round the old
Roman walls which our Saxons hate, and there he
is now, helping me mightily with his knowledge of
the Welsh customs, which I do not wish to interfere
with more than needful.

For, in the wisdom of Ina, we did not follow the
old plan of driving out and enslaving all the Welsh
folk in this new won land, as had been the rule in
the days of the first coming of our forefathers when
Saxons were few. Those manors whose owners had
fallen or would not bide under the new rule, Ina
gave to thanes of his own, and the men of Somerset
and Dorset took what land they would where the
freeman had left them, but all others he left under
new and even-handed laws in peace.

So I had to content the men of both races as
well as I could, and men say that I wrought well.
At least, I have had no murmuring, and I may deem
that they are right.

As one may suppose, there is no more welcome
guest in our hall than Thorgils, and at times he
brings Eric or some other Tenby Dane with him
if a ship happens to cross hither. Once a year
also he brings Howel, and there is feasting in our


hall, Saxon and Norseman, Briton of the west and
Briton from over sea together in all good fellow-

One evening it came to pass that Thorgils sat
in our hall, which was bright with the strange stuffs
that came from the ship of Daffyd, and we talked
of the old ship a little, after he had sung to us.
And then I said idly : " She must be getting old,
comrade. When am I to give you that new craft
we once spoke of?"

Whereon he looked at Nona suddenly, and said :
" I mind that old promise. But now there is a ship
of another sort that will be a better present. I will
ask for that."

" What is it ? "

" Build us a church at Watchet, and set there a
priest who shall teach us the way of the Christian.
We have seen you forego a blood feud and do well
to the innocent man whom our faith would have
bidden you slay, and it is good. We know you for
a brave warrior, and your faith has not taken the
might from your heart as we were told it must.
Only let the priest be a Saxon."

Then he added, as if thinking aloud

" Ay, Odin and Thor and the rest of the Asir
are far off from us here. Our old faith falls from
us, and we are ready for the new. Let it be soon."

There I think that the hand of Nona wrought,
for the Norse folk fairly worshipped her. So it
was not long before that good friend of mine, the
Abbot of Glastonbury, found me the right man,
and one day thereafter Nona and I stood sponsors
for Thorgils and one or two more whom we knew


well, at the font in the new church which the gold
of Mordred built instead of the ship, and soon all
the little town was Christian in more than name.

There is happiness at Eastdean, and we meet
with Erpwald and Elfrida at the house of her father
now and then, and they have been here also. But

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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 24 of 25)