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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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 6 of 25)
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with his eyes twinkling ; " I will ask if she has lost
it presently, and you will be avenged."

He laughed again, and then said more gravely,
but with a smile not far off: " Go to, Oswald, don't
ask me to make the ways of a damsel plain to you,
for that was more than Solomon himself could
compass. But I think I know what is wrong. Her
father has been making a jest to her of the way you
worded your vow, laughing mightily after his manner,
and she is revenging herself on you. Never mind.


Wait till you come back from this journey, and then
see how things are with her. Now let us talk of
your errand, for it is important."

Then we went slowly together, and he told me
how that he had foreseen for a long time, that
Owen would return to his uncle and take his
right place again. Also he told me that Morgan
had a strong party on his side, and that we might
have trouble with them if Owen was taken into
favour again.

" As I hope he may be," he added with a sigh ;
" for I have seen the war-cloud drifting nearer every
year under the guidance of Morgan and his fellows."
Then we turned into the courtyard, and he went
to speak to Owen in the hall, turning with a last
smile to bid me hide the brooch, lest Elfrida should
hear some jesting about that next. So I pinned
it under my cloak, and then went and donned
my arms, and saw to all things for the journey,
both for Owen and myself; and so at last the
hour came when I led the men round to the
great door of the hall, and sent one to say that
all was ready.

Now the king came forth, and with him was Owen.
Ina wore his everyday dress, but my foster-father was
fully armed, and as those two stood there I thought
that I had never seen a more kingly looking pair,
silent and thoughtful both, and with lines of care
on their foreheads, and both in their prime of

Behind me I heard Thorgils say to Godred, the
chief house-carle : " If there were choice, I would take
the king that wears the war-gear. That is the only


dress that to my mind fits a man who shall lead

Now the king came and spoke with me, bidding
me be on my guard against any attack while we
were at Norton, telling me plainly also that he
deemed that there was danger to both of us at the
first, somewhat in the way in which the abbot had
already spoken to me. I daresay the words were
his, for he had been counselling Owen.

Then the queen came forth with her ladies, and
there was an honour for us, for she herself brought
the stirrup-cup to Owen, bidding him farewell, at the
same time that the king must needs send Elfrida
with another cup to me, saying that it was my due
for last night's omission. But there was no smile
as she set it in my hand, and she waited with
head turned away until I gave it back to her, as
if she looked at Owen rather than any one else.
Then it was only a short word of farewell that
she said to me, and yet it did seem that her eyes
were less grave than she would seem in face as
she turned back to the other ladies on the hall

Then Owen unhelmed and turned his horse to the
gates, and after him we went clattering down the street.
In a minute or two Thorgils came alongside me.

" So that was the lady of the vow, surely. Well,
you may be excused for making it, though indeed it
is rash to bind oneself nay, but it seems that this
is one of those matters whereon I must hold my
tongue ! "

For I had spurred my horse a little impatiently,
and he understood well enough. I did not altogether


care that this stranger should talk of my affairs
more particularly as they did not seem to be going
at all rightly. So he said no more of them, but
began to talk of himself gaily, while Owen rode alone
at our head, as he would sometimes if his thoughts
were busy.

Presently he reined up and came alongside us,
taking his part in our talk in all cheerfulness. And
from that time I had little thought but of the
pleasantness of the ride in the sharp winter air and
under the bright sun with him toward the new court
which I had often longed to see, with its strange
ways, in the ancient British-Roman palace that
he had so often told me of.

So we rode along the ancient and grass-grown
Roman road that lies on the Polden ridge, hardly
travelled save by a few chapmen, since the old town
they called Uxella was lost in the days of my fore-
fathers. The road had no ending now, as one may
say, for beyond the turning to the bridge across the
Parrett for which we were making it passed to
nought but fen and mere where once had been the
city. All the wide waters on either side of the hills
were hard frozen, and southward, across to where we
could see the blue hill of ancient Camelot, the ice
flashed black and steelly under the red low sun
of midwinter. Before us the Quantocks lay purple
and deepest brown where the woods hid the snow
that covered them. Over us, too, went the long
strings of wild geese, clanging in their flight in search
of open water, and it was the wolf-month again,
and even so had they fled on that day when Owen
found me in the snow.


And therewith we fell into talk of Eastdean, and
dimly enough I recalled it all. I knew that an Erpwald
held the place even yet, but I cared not. It was but
a pleasant memory by reason of the coming of Owen,
and I had no thought even to see the place again.
Only, as we talked it did seem to me that I would
that I knew that the grave of my father was

Then we left the old road, and crossed the ancient
Parrett bridge, where the Roman earthworks yet stood
frowning as if they would stay us. They were last
held against Kenwalch, and now we were in that no-
man's land which he had won and wasted. Then
we climbed the long slope of the Quantocks, whence
we might look back over the land we had left, to see
the Tor at Glastonbury shouldering higher and higher
above the lower Poldens, until the height was reached
and the swift descent toward Norton began. There
we could see all the wild Exmoor hills before us,
with the sea away to our right, and Thorgils shewed
us where lay, under the very headlands of the hills
we were crossing, the place where his folk had their
haven. He said that he could see the very smoke
from the hearths, but maybe that was only because
he knew where it ought to be, and we laughed at

So we came to the outskirts of Norton, and all
the way we had seen no man. The hills were
deserted, save by wild things, and of them there was
plenty. And now for the first time I saw men
living in houses built of stone from ground to roof,
and that was strange to me. We Saxons cannot
abide aught but good timber. Here none of us had


ever come, and still some of the houses built after
the Roman fashion remained, surrounded, it is true,
by mud hovels of yesterday, as one might say, but
yet very wonderful to me. Many a time I had
seen the ruined foundations of the like before, but
one does not care to go near them. The wastes
our forefathers made of the old towns they found
here, and had no use for, lie deserted, for they are
haunted by all things uncanny, as any one knows.
Maybe that is because the old Roman gods have
come back to their old places, now that the churches
are no longer standing.

Through the village we went, and then came to
the walls of the ancient stronghold, and they seemed
as if they were but lately raised, so strong were they
and high. The gates were in their places, and at
them was a guard, and through them, for they stood
open, I could see the white walls and flat roof of the
house, or rather palace, which was either that of
the Roman governor > of the place, or else had been
rebuilt or restored from time to time in exactly the
same wise, so that it stood fair and lordly and fit
for a king's dwelling even yet. Maybe the wattled
hovels of the thralls that clustered round it inside
the great earthworks were not what would have been
suffered in the days of those terrible men who made
the fortress, but I doubt not that they stood on the
foundations of the quarters of the soldiers who had
held it for Rome.

The guard turned out in orderly wise as we came
to the gates, and they wore the Roman helm and
corselet, and bore the heavy Roman spear and short
heavy sword. But that war-gear I had seen before


on the other Welsh border, and I had a scar, moreover,
that would tell that I had been within reach of one
weapon or the other. I knew their tongue too,
almost as well as my own, for Owen had taught it
me, saying that I might need it at some time. It
had already been of use to the king in the frontier
troubles, for I could interpret for him, but I think
that Owen had in his mind the coming of some
such day as this.

Now, Owen would have me speak to the guard
and tell them our errand, and I rode forward and
did so. The short day was almost over by this
time, and the captain who came to meet me did not
seem to notice my Saxon arms in the shadow of the
high rampart. Hearing that we bore a message for
the king, he sent a man to ask for directions, and
meanwhile we waited. I asked him if there was
any news, thinking it well to know for certain if
aught had been heard yet of the end of Morgan.
News of that sort flies fast.

" No news at all," he answered. " What did you
expect ? "

" I had heard of the death of a prince, and do not
know the rights thereof."

" Why, where have you been ? That is old news.
It was only Dewi, and he is no loss. The Saxon
sheriff hung him, even as the king said he would do
to him an he caught him, so maybe it is the same
in the end. I have not heard that any one is sorry
to lose him."

He laughed, and if it was plain that Morgan's
brother was not loved, it was also plain that nought
was known of the end of the other prince yet. We


were first with the tidings here, and that might be
as well.

Now a message came to bid us enter, and the
steward who brought it told us that we were to be
lodged in some great guest chamber, and that we
should speak with the king shortly.

The men bided outside the walls, the captain
leading them to a long row of timber built stables
which stood close at hand by the gate. Presently,
when the horses were bestowed, they would be
brought to the guest hall ; so Thorgils went with
them, while the steward led Owen and myself
through the gate, and to the palace, which stood
squarely in the midst of the fortress, with a space
between it and the other buildings which filled the

By daylight I knew afterwards that it was un-
cared for, and somewhat dilapidated without, but in
the falling dusk it looked all that it should. We
entered through a wide door, and passed a guard-room
where many men lounged, armed and unarmed, and
then were in a courtyard formed by the four sides
of the building, wonderfully paved, and with a frozen
fountain in its midst. There were windows all
round the walls which bounded this court, and the
light shone red from them, very cheerfully, and
already there was bustle of men who crossed and
passed through the palace making ready for our
reception. The steward led us to the northern
wing of the house across this court, and so took us
into an antechamber, as it seemed, warm and bright,
with hanging lamps, and with painted walls and
many patterned tiled floor, but for all its warmth


with no fire to be seen, which was strange enough
to me.

And so soon as the bright light shone on Owen
I saw the steward start and gaze at him fixedly,
and then as Owen smiled a little at him he fell on
his knees and cried softly some words of welcome,
with tears starting in his eyes

" Oh my Lord," he said, " is it indeed you ? This
is a good day. A thousand welcomes ! "

Owen raised him kindly, and set his finger on his

" It is well that you have been the first to know
me, friend," he said. " Now hold your peace for a
little while till we see what says my uncle. I must
have word with him at once, if it can be managed,
before others know me. It will be best."

" He waits you, Lord. It was his word that he
would see the Saxon alone."

Then he led us into another room like to that we
left, but larger, and with rich carpets on the tiled
floor, and there sat Gerent alone to wait us. I
thought him a wonderful looking old man, and most
kingly, as he rose and bowed in return when we
greeted him. His hair was white, and his long
beard even whiter, but his eyes were bright. Purple
and gold he wore, and those robes and the golden
circlet on his head shewed that he had put on the
kingly dress to meet with the messenger of a

Almost had Owen sprung toward him, but he
forbore, and when the king had taken his seat he
went slowly to him, holding out a letter which Ina
had written for him, saying nothing. And Gerent


took it without a word or so much as a glance at
the bearer from under his heavy brows, and opened

Owen stood back by me, and we watched the
face of the king as he read. We saw his brows
knit themselves fiercely at first, and then as he went
on they cleared until he seemed as calm as when he
first met us. But the flush that had come with the
frown had not faded when at last he looked keenly
at us. " Come nearer," he said in a harsh voice,
speaking in fair Saxon. " Know you what is
written herein?"

" I know it," Owen said.

" Here Ina says that this is borne by one whom
I know. Is it you or this young warrior ? "

Then Owen went forward and fell on one knee
before the king, and said in his own tongue the
tongue of Cornwall and of Devon

" I am that one of whom Ina has spoken. Yet
it is for Cerent to say whether he will own that he
knows me even yet."

I saw the king start as the voice of Owen came
to him in the familiar language, and he knitted his
brows as one who tries to recall somewhat forgotten,
and he looked searchingly in the face of the man
who knelt before him, scanning every feature. And
at last he said in a hushed voice, not like the harsh
tones of but now

" Can it be Owen ? Owen, the son of my sister.
They said that one like him served the Saxon, but
I did not believe it. That is no service for one of
our line."

" What shall an exile do but serve whom he may,


if the service be an honoured one ? Yet I will say
that I wandered long, seeing and learning, before
there came to me a reason that I should serve Ina.
To you I might not return."

But the king was silent, and I thought that he was
wrath, while Owen bided yet there on his knee
before him, waiting his word. And when that came
at last, it was not as I feared.

Slowly the king set forth his hand, and it shook
as he did so. He laid it on Owen's head, while the
letter that was on his knees fluttered unheeded to the
floor as he bent forward and spoke softly

" Owen, Owen," he said, " I have forgotten nought.
Forgive the old blindness, and come and take your
place again beside me."

And as Owen took the hand that would have
raised him and kissed it, the old king added in the
voice of one from whom tears are not so far

" I have wearied for you, Owen, my nephew.
Sorely did I wrong you in my haste in the old days,
and bitterly have I been punished. I pray you

Then Owen rose, and it seemed to me that on
the king the weight of years had fallen suddenly, so
that he had grown weak and needful of the strong
arm of the steadfast prince who stood before him,
and I took the arm of the steward and pulled him
unresisting through the doorway, so that what
greeting those two might have for one another
should be their own.

Then said the steward to me as we looked at one

" This is the best day for us all that has been


since the prince who has come back left us. There
will be joy through all Cornwall."

But I knew that what I dreaded had come to pass,
and that from henceforth the way of the prince of
Cornwall and of the house-carle captain of Ina's
court must lie apart, and I had no answer for him.



IT would be long for me to tell how presently
Owen called me in to speak with the king, and
how he owned me as his foster-son in such wise
that Gerent smiled on him, and spoke most kindly
to me as though I had indeed been a kinsman of
his own. And then, after we had spoken long to-
gether, Thorgils was sent for, and he told the tale
of the end of Morgan plainly and in few words, yet
in such skilful wise that as he spoke I could seem
to see once more our hall and myself and Elfrida
at the dais, even as though I were an onlooker.

" You are a skilful tale - teller," the king said
when he ended. " You are one of the Norsemen
from Watchet, as I am told."

" I am Thorgils the shipmaster, who came to
speak with you two years ago, when we first came
here. Men say that I am no bad sagaman."

" This is a good day for me," Gerent said, " and I
will reward you for your tale. Free shall the ship
of Thorgils be from toil or harbourage in all ports
of our land from henceforward. I will see that it
is known."



" That is a good gift, Lord King," said the
Norseman, and he thanked Gerent well and heartily,
and so went his way back to the guest chambers
with a glad heart.

Then Gerent said gravely

" I suppose that there are men who would call
all these things the work of chance or fate. But
it is fitting that vengeance on him who wronged
you should come from the hand of one whom you
have cared for. That has not come by chance ;
but I think it will be well that it is not known here
just at first whose was the hand that slew Morgan."

" For fear of his friends ? " asked Owen thought-

" Ay, for that reason. Overbearing and proud
was he, but for all that there are some who thought
him the more princely because he was so. And
there are few who know that he did indeed try to
end my life, for I would not spread abroad the
full shame of a prince of our line. Men have
thought that I would surely take him into favour
again, but that was not possible. Only, I would
that he had met a better ending."

The old king sighed, and was silent. Presently
Owen said that I must see to the men and horses,
and I rose up to leave the chamber, and then the
king said

" We shall see you again at the feast I am
making for you all. Then to-morrow you must take
back as kingly a letter to Ina as he wrote to me, and
so return to Owen for as long as your king will suffer
you to bide with us." So I went to the stables
first of all, and there was Thorgils bidding a Welsh


groom to get out his horse while he took off the
arms that had been lent him from our armoury,
for he was but half armed when he came.

" There is no need to do that," I said ; " for if
Ina arms a man, it is as a gift for service done, if
he is not too proud to take it. But are you not
biding for the feast?"

" First of all," he said, laughing, " none ever
knew a Norseman too proud to accept good arms
from a king. Thank Ina for me in all form. And
as to my going, seeing that tide waits for no man,
if I do not get home shortly I shall lose the tide
I want for a bit of a winter voyage I have on hand ;
wherefore I must go. Farewell, and good-luck to
you. This business has turned out well, after all,
and a great man you will be in this land before
long. Don't forget us Norsemen when that comes
about, and if ever you need a man at your back,
send for me. You might have a worse fence than
my axe, and I have a liking for you ; farewell

I laughed and shook hands with him, and he
swung himself into the saddle and rode away.
There was high feasting that night in the guest
hall of Norton, as may be supposed. I sat on the
left of the king, and Owen on his right, while all
the great men who could be summoned in the
time were present, and it was plain enough that
the home-coming of their lost prince was welcome
to every one in all the hall. Not one dark look
was there as I scanned the bright company, and
presently not one refused to join in the great shout
of welcome that rose when Owen pledged them all.


It was a good welcome, and the face of the old
king grew bright as he heard it.

Then the harpers sang ; I did not think their
ways here so pleasant as our own, where the harp
goes round the hall, and every man takes his turn
to sing, or if he has no turn for song, tells tale or
asks riddle that shall please the guests. Certainly,
these Welsh folk were readier to talk than we,
and maybe the meats were more dainty and the
wines finer than ours, and in truth the Welsh mead
was good and the Welsh ale mighty, but men
seemed to care little for the sport that should come
after the meal was over. Yet these harpers sang
well, and from them I learnt more about my foster-
father than he had ever cared to tell me, for they
sang of old deeds of his. Doubtless they made
the most of them, for it would seem from their
songs that he had fought with Cornish giants as an
everyday thing, and that he had been the bane of
more than one dragon. But one knows how to
sift the words of the gleeman's song, and they told
me at least that Owen had been a great champion
ere he left his home. Still, I missed the bright fire
on the hearth, and the ways of the court were too
stately for me here. Men seemed not to like the
cheerful noise of my honest house-carles, who jested
and laughed as they would have done in the hall
of Ina, who loved to see and hear that his men
were merry. We should have thought that there
was something wrong if there had not been plenty
of noise at the end of the long tables below the

Now, I will not say that there was not something


very pleasant in sitting here at the side of the king
as the most honoured guest next to my foster-father,
but there was a sadness at the back of it all in
the knowledge that it was likely that from hence-
forth our ways must needs go apart more or less,
and that I might see him only from time to time.
For I was Ina's man, and a Saxon, and it could
not be supposed that I should be welcome here. I
knew that I must go back to my place, and he
must bide in his that he had found again, and so
there was the sorrow of parting to spoil what might
else have made me a trifle over proud.

Gerent did not stay long at the feast, nor did
the ladies who were present, and Owen and I stayed
for but a little while after they had gone. Then
we were taken in all state to the room where we
should sleep, and so for the first time I was housed
within stone walls. There were a sort of wide
benches along the walls covered with skins and
bright rugs for us to sleep on, but after I had
helped Owen to his night gear I took the coverings
that were meant for me and set them across the
door on the floor and so slept. For I had a fear
of treachery and the friends of Morgan.

It was in my mind to talk for a while before
rest came, but Owen would not suffer me to do so,
saying that it was best to sleep on all the many
things that happened before we thought much of
what was to be done next. So I hapt myself
in my rugs on the strangely warm floor and
went to sleep at once, being, as may be supposed,
fairly tired out with the long day and its doings.
More than that little space of time it seemed


since we left Glastonbury, and even my meeting
with Elfrida was like a matter of long ago to me.
There was a bronze lamp burning with some scented
oil, hanging from the ceiling, which seemed so low
after our open roofs, and we had left it alight, as
I thought it better to have even its glimmer
than darkness, here in this strange house. And
presently I woke with a feeling that this lamp
had flared up in some way, shining across my eyes,
so that I sat up with a great start, grasping my
sword hastily. But the lamp burned quietly, and
all that woke me was the light of a square patch
of bright moonlight from a high window that was
creeping across the broad chest of Owen as he slept,
and had come within range of my eyelids, for my
face was turned to him. The room was bright
with it, and for a little I watched the quiet sleeper,
and then I too slept, and woke not again until Owen
roused me with the daylight from the same window
falling on his face.

" That is where I should have slept," I said, " for
it is my place to wake you, father."

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 6 of 25)