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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and did it well. I could not see a soul near but
my captors, and it would have been little or no
good to shout. So I bore it as well as I might,
being helpless. Then, within arrow-shot of the
gate, one of the men blew a harsh horn, and we
waited for a moment until a man, armed with an
axe and sword, lounged through the stockade and
looked at us, and so made a gesture that bid us
enter, and went his way within. I hope that I may
never feel so helpless again as I did at the time
when I passed this man, who stared at me in silence,
unable to call to him for help.

Then we crossed the green without any one pay-
ing much heed to us, though I saw the women at
the doors pitying me, and so we came to the wharf,
alongside which a ship was lying. There were
several men at work on her decks, and it was plain
that she was to sail on this tide, for her red-and-
brown striped sail was ready for hoisting, and there
was nothing left alongside to be stowed. She was



not yet afloat however, though the tide was fast

Evan hailed one of the men, and he came ashore
to him. The bearers set down my litter and waited.

" Where is the shipmaster ? " Evan asked.

The man jerked his thumb over his shoulder, and
lifted his voice and shouted : " Ho Thorgils, here is
the Welsh chapman."

I saw the head of my friend rise from under the
gunwale amidships, and when he saw who was waiting
he also came ashore. Evan met him at the gangway.

" I thought you were not coming, master chap-
man," he said. " A little later and you had lost
your voyage. Tide waits for no man, and Thorgils
sails with the tide he waits. Therefore Thorgils
waits for no man."

Just for a moment a thought came to me that
Thorgils was in league with the outlaws, and that
was hard. But Evan's next words told me that in
this I was wrong. It would seem that the taking
of his ill-gotten goods across the channel had been
planned by Evan before he fell in with me, and
maybe that already made plan was the saving of
my life, by putting the thought of an easy way to
dispose of me to some profit into the outlaw's head.

" I had been here earlier," he said, " but for a
mischance to my friend here. I want to take him
with me, if you will suffer it."

He pointed to me as he spoke, and Thorgils
turned and looked at me idly. I was some twenty
yards from him as I lay, and I tried to cry out to
him as his eyes fell on me, but I could only fetch a
sort of groan, and I could not move at all.


" He seems pretty bad," said Thorgils, when he
heard me. " What is amiss with him ? I can have
no fevers or aught of that sort aboard, with the
young lady as passenger, moreover."

" There is nothing of that," Evan answered hastily.
" It is but the doing of a fall from his horse. The
beast rolled on him, and he has a broken thigh,
slipped shoulder, and broken jaw, so that it will be
long before he is fit for aught again, as I fear.
Now he wants to get back to his wife and children
at Lanphey, hard by Pembroke, and our leech said
that he would take no harm from the voyage. It
is calm enough, and not so cold but that we may
hap him up against it. If I may take him, I will
pay well for his passage."

Thorgils looked at me again for a moment.

" Well," he said, " if that is all, I do not mind. It
would be better if the after-cabin was empty, but
of course the princess has that. There is room for
him to be stowed comfortably enough under the
fore-deck with your bales, however, and it will be
warm there. Ay, we will take the poor soul home,
for his mind will be easier, and that will help his
healing. It is ill to be laid up in a strange land.
Get him on board as soon as you can, for there is
but an hour to wait for tide. I will ask no pay for
his passage, for he is but another bale of goods, as
it were, swaddled up in that wise, and I told you
that I would take all you liked to bring for what we
agreed on."

Evan thanked him, and Thorgils laughed, turning
away to go up the town, and saying that he would
be back anon. I groaned again as he passed me,


and he looked straight in my eyes, which were all
that he could see of me.

" Better on board than in that litter, poor fellow,"
he said kindly ; " it is a smooth sea, and we shall
see Tenby in no long time if this breeze holds."
He passed on with a nod and smile, and I could
almost have wept in my rage and despair. I could
not have thought of anything more cruel than this,
and there was a sour grin on Evan's face, as if he
knew what was passing in my mind.

Now they lifted me once more and carried me to
the ship, setting me down amidships while they got
the (bales of goods on board. She was a stout
trading vessel, built for burden more than speed, but
she seemed light in the water, as though she had
little cargo for this voyage. She had raised decks
fore and aft, and there were low doors in the bulk-
heads below them that seemed to lead to some sort
of cabins. Under the forward of these decks the
outlaws began to stow their bales, the man who had
called 'Thorgils ashore directing them.

I lay just at the gangway, and a little on one
side so as not to block it, and I watched all that
went on, helplessly. There was no one near me, or I
think that I should have made some desperate effort
to call a Norseman to my help. Maybe Evan
thought me safer here than nearer the place where
all were busy, as yet, but presently I heard voices
on the wharf as if some new-comers were drawing
near, and Evan heard them also, and left his cargo
to hasten to my side. I saw that he looked anxious,
and a little hope of some fresh chance of escape
stirred in me, though, as they had carried me on


board feet foremost, I could not see who came.
When they were close at hand their voices told me
that one at least was a lady, and that she and her
companions were Welsh. I supposed that this was
the princess of whom I had heard Thorgils speak
just now. I should know in a moment, for the first
footsteps were on the long gang-plank and patter-
ing across it, while Evan began to smile and bow

Then there came past my litter, stepping daintily
across the planks, a most fair and noble lady, tall
and black haired and graceful, wrapped against the
sea air in the rare beaver skins of the Teifi River,
and wonderful stuffs that the traders from the
east bring to Marazion, such as we Saxons seldom
see but as priceless booty, paid for with lives of
men in war with West Wales in days not long
gone by.

She half turned as she saw me, and it gave me
a little pang, as it were, to see her draw her dress
aside that it might by no means touch me, no doubt
with the same fear of fever that had been in the
mind of my friend at the first. But then she stayed
and looked at me and at Evan, who was yet cringing
in some Welsh way of respect as she passed. Her
companions stopped on the gang-plank, and they
were silent

" Why is this sick man on the ship," she said to
my captor, with some little touch of haughtiness.
" And why is he swathed thus ? What is wrong
with him ? " Evan bowed again, and at once began
his tale as he had told it to Thorgils. But he did
not say that I came from near Pembroke at all.



Now he named some other place whose name began
with "Llan -" as my home.

" The good shipmaster has suffered me to take
him home, Lady, subject to your consent," he ended.
" I pray you let it be so."

Now the eyes of the princess had grown soft as
she heard the tale, and when Evan ended it there
was pity in her voice as she answered

" Surely he may come, and if there is no fitting
place for him he shall even have the cabin to him-
self. I can be well content in these warm things of
mine on deck in this calm air, and he must have all

" Nay, Lady, but there is the fore-cabin, where he
will be well bestowed," Evan said hastily, beckoning
at the same time to his comrades that they might
take me from this too unsafe place at once.

He kept himself between me and her as much as
he could all this time, and I made no sign. It
seemed to me that I could not, even in my trouble,
bring' more pain to this soft-eyed princess by raising
the groan which was all that I could compass.
What good would it do ? I could tell her nothing,
and she could not dream of the true reason that
made me try to cry out. Maybe she would listen
through all the long hours to come to hear if the
poor wretch she felt for was yet in that dire pain
that made him moan so terribly.

" Is he well bandaged ? " she said, then. " It is ill
if broken bones are not closely set and splinted, and
the ship will plunge and rock presently." Evan
assured her with many words that all was well done,
and yet she lingered.


" I must see him well and softly bestowed in his
place," she said, half laughing, and turning to some
who stood yet beyond my range of sight. " Else I
shall have no peace at all till we come to land

Evan turned to me at that saying, to hide his
face. He was growing ashy pale, and the sweat was
breaking out on his forehead. And that made me
glad to see, for he was being punished. Even yet the
princess might wish to see that my swathings were
comfortable, and if I once had my mouth freed for a
moment all was lost to him. He signed to his
comrades to lift me carefully, and then put a bold
face on the matter, and thanked the princess for her

" Lady, I may be glad to beg a warm wrap or
two from your store," he said. "If it pleases you,
we will shew you where he is to lie."

So they went forward, I on my litter first, and
the lady and her people following. Evan knew well
enough that little fault could be found with the
warm place that was ready for me among the bales
under the deck, and he was eager to get me out of
sight before Thorgils returned. They had made a
place ready with some of the softer bales for me to
lie on, and there they lifted me from the litter, very
carefully indeed, that they might not have to re-
arrange any of my bonds. Then the princess looked
in through the low doorway and seemed content.

" It is as well as one can expect on board a ship,
I suppose," she said, with a little sigh. " But I will
send him somewhat to cover him well."

And then she bade me farewell, bidding me be


patient for the little while of the voyage, and also
adding that presently, when she was at home, she
would ask Govan the hermit to pray for me ; and so
went her way, with the two maidens who were with
her, and followed by a couple of well-armed warriors,
all of whom I could see now for the first time.
Then Evan drew his hand over his forehead and
cursed. As for the other Welshmen, they looked at
one another, saying nothing, but I could see that
they also had been fairly terrified. One of the men
of the princess came with a warm blanket to cover
me, and he stayed to see it put over me. It was
as well that he did so, for Evan had no time to see
that my arm was yet loose, unless he had forgotten
that it ever had been so. Then they all went out,
shutting the door after them, and I was left to my
thoughts, which were not happy. I began to blame
myself as a fool for not trying to let the princess
see that all was not right. But still I could not
lose hope, for Thorgils might yet wish to see me,
or the princess might send her men to look in on
me. There were more chances now than a little
while ago, as I thought.

I began to think over all that were possible, pre-
sently, and I tried to get the gag from my mouth.
I could not reach it with my free hand, however, my
elbows being too tightly fastened back even after all
the shaking of the journey. Then I thrust that free
hand and forearm well among the bandages across
my chest, so that either of my captors who thought
of it might think that the other had bound it, for I
dared not try to loosen myself more yet. There
would be time for that when we were fairly at sea.


After that I lay still, and so spied the bale in which
my sword had been put, and that gave me some sort
of hope by its nearness to me, though indeed it did
not seem likely that I should ever get it.

I heard Thorgils come on board before very long,
and I could hear also the voice of the princess as
she talked to him, though with the length of the
vessel between us, and the wash of the ripples along-
side in my ears, I did not make out if they spoke
of me. Evan spoke with them also, and it is likely
that they did so.

Presently I could tell by the sway of the ship
that she was afloat, and the men began to bustle
about the deck overhead, while Thorgils shouted
some orders now and then. Soon the sides of the
ship grated along the wharf as she was hauled out,
and then the shore warps were hove on board with
a thud above me. I felt the lift of a little wave and
heard the rattle of the halliards as the sail was
hoisted and the ship heeled a little, and then began
the cheerful wash and bubble of the wave at her bows
as she went to sea. The men hailed friends on
shore with last jests and farewells, and then fell to
clearing up the shore litter from the decks. Then
Evan came and looked at me. Through the door
I could see the hills and the harbour beyond the
high stern, and on that Thorgils was steering, with
his eyes on the vane at the masthead. His men
were coiling down ropes, and Evan's two men were
sitting under the weather gunwale aft, talking with
the guards of the princess. She was in the after-
cabin, I suppose, out of the way of the wind, with
her maidens. I could not see her.


" Art all well, friend ? " said Evan, loudly enough
for the nearest Norseman to hear. " Well, that is
good." Then he sunk his voice to a whisper, and
said : " That gag bides in your mouth, let me tell
you. I will risk no more calling to the shipmaster."

He cast his eyes over me and grunted, and went
out, leaving the low door open so that he could see
me at any time. It was plain that he thought his
men had fastened my arm.

Now I tried to get rid of the gag again, and
I will say that the outlaw knew how to manage that
business. It filled my mouth, and the bandage
round the jaw held it firmly. In no way could I
get it out, or so much as loosen it enough to speak.
And then I was worn out, and the little heave of
the ship lulled me, and I forgot my troubles in
sleep that came suddenly.

I was waked by the clapping to of the cabin
door and the thunder of the wind in the great
square sail as the ship went on the other tack.
We had a fair breeze from the south-west over our
quarter as the tide set up channel, but now it had
turned and Thorgils was wearing ship. The new
list of the deck flung the door to, and none noticed
it, for it was dark now except for the light of the
rising moon, and I suppose that the other noises
of the ship prevented Evan hearing that the door
had closed. I felt rested with the short sleep,
and now seemed the time to try to get free if
ever. I got my left, hand out of the bandages
where I had hidden it, and began to claw at my
chin to try to free it from the swathings that kept
my mouth closed, but I could hardly get at them,


so tightly were my elbows lashed behind my back,
and it became plain that I must get them loose
first if I could. It was easy to get the bandages
loose, but the knotted cord was a different matter,
for the men who tied it knew something of the
work, and the cord was not a new one and would
not stretch.

Then I heard two of the Norseman talking close
to the cabin bulkhead.

" This is as good a passage as we shall ever
make in the old keel," one said ; " but we shall not
fetch Tenby on this tide. Will Thorgils put in
elsewhere, I wonder ? "

" We could make the old landing-place in an
hour," was the answer, " and we had better wait
for tide there than box about in the open channel
in this cold. There is snow coming, I think."

I heard the man flap his arms across his chest,
and the other said

" Where do these merchants want to get ashore ?
I expect that Thorgils will do as they think best.
He is pretty good-natured."

They went away, and it seemed that I might
have an hour before me. I was sure that if he
had a chance Evan would land as soon as he could,
and at some other place than at the Danes' town
if possible, so that he might get me away without
questions that might be hard to answer.

So I strained at the cords which bound my
elbows with all my might, but I only hurt myself
as the lashings drew tighter. I twisted from side
to side as I did this, and presently hit my elbow
hard against some metal fitting of the ship that


seemed very sharp. Just at first I did not heed
this, but by and by, when I had fairly tired myself
with struggling, I minded it again, and so turned on
my side and set my free hand to work to find
out what it was. There was a stout post which
came from beneath and through the rough flooring
of the cabin on which I lay, and went upward
to the deck. I daresay it was to make the cable
fast to, but I could not see that, nor did it matter
to me what it might be for. But what I had felt
was a heavy angle-iron that was bolted by one arm
to the post and by the other to a thick beam that
crossed the ship from side to side, so as to bind
the two together. It had a sharp edge on the
part which crossed the floor, and it seemed to me
as if it had been set there on purpose, for if I
could manage to reach it rightly I might chafe
through the cords at my back. Of course, there
was the chance of Evan coming in and seeing what
I was at, but I could keep my covering on me,
maybe, and if Thorgils came, so much the better.
He would see that something was amiss.

It was no easy task to get myself in such wise
that the cord was fairly on the edge of the iron,
but I did it at last, and, moreover, I got the thick
blanket that was over me to cover me afresh.
Then I started to try to chafe the cord through,
and of course I could only move a little at a time,
and I could not be sure that I was always rubbing
it on the same place. And the great post was
sorely in my way, over my shoulder more or less,
so that I must needs hurt myself now and then
against it. But as this seemed my one chance


I would not give up until I must. Every now and
then I stayed my sawing and had a great tug
at the cords, in hopes that they would give way,
but at last I knew I must saw them through almost
to the last strand. It would have been easy if
I could keep at work on the same spot, but that
was impossible, for I could not see behind me, and
the post kept shifting me as I struck it.

I wondered now that I had seen nothing of Evan
for so long. Maybe if I had not been so busy
the wonder would have passed, for I should have
been sea- sick as he was. There was some sea
over on this coast, and quite enough to upset a
landsman. However, I was content that he did not
come, without caring to know why.

Then I became aware that the movement of
the ship had changed in some way. There was less
of it, and the roll was longer. Soon I heard
Thorgils calling to his men, and then the creak
of the blocks and the thud of folds of canvas on
deck told me that the sail was lowered. After
that the long oars rattled as they were run out, and
their even roll and click in the rowlocks seemed to
say that they were making up to some anchorage
or wharf. The end of the voyage was at hand,
and I worked harder than ever at my bonds. I
began to fear that the cords would never chafe
through enough for me to snap them, and my
heart fell terribly.

Now there was a shout from Thorgils, and
his men stopped rowing. I heard another shout
from on shore, as it seemed, and the sound of
breakers on rocks was not so very distant as we


slipped into smooth water. The men trampled
across the deck over my head and cast the mooring
ropes ashore, and then the ship scraped along a
landing stage of some sort and came to rest. I
worked wildly at the rope.

Judging from the voices I heard, there seemed
to be a number of people on shore, and soon I
heard steps coming along the deck towards the
cabin door. Hastily I straightened myself, and got
a fold of my blanket over my free forearm just as
it opened, and Evan peered in. Past his shoulder
I could see that it was bright moonlight, and I had
a glimpse of tall snow-covered cliffs that towered
over us.

" How goes it, friend ? " he cried in a loud voice.
" Hast slept well ? We are in your own land,
and will be ashore soon."

That was for others to hear. Then he stood
aside to let a little more light into the cabin, and
it seemed that he had no suspicions that all was
not -as he would have it. He came inside and felt
me carelessly enough.

" Well," he said. " You are warm in here, and no
mistake. If I mistake not, you have been trying
to wriggle out of these bonds."

He set his hand under some of the lashings and
pulled them without uncovering me much, though
it would not have mattered if he had done so, as it
was very dark in here. As I knew only too well,
they were fast as ever, and he said

" Well, we can tie a knot fairly. Presently we
will loosen you a bit in the morning maybe."

He went and closed the door, and I fell to


work again. He would leave me now for a

There was a long talk from ship to shore before
the gang-plank was run out, and presently Thorgils
spoke to Evan, seemingly close to the cabin door

" Here's a bit of luck for your princess," he said.
" Her father is up in the camp yonder, with his
guards behind him. Maybe there is trouble with
the Tenby Danefolk, or going to be some. It is
as well that we put in here. Now he bids us take
the lady up to him and bide to feast with him.
Will you come with me ? "

" I stay by my goods," answered Evan, with a
laugh. " If there is a levy in the camp there will
be men who will need watching among them."

" Why, then, we six Norsemen can go, and leave
you to tend the ship."

" That will be all right," said Evan, somewhat
gladly, as I thought ; " so long as we are here you
need have no fear. Every one knows that a chap-
man will fight for his goods if need be. But a Welsh-
man will not meddle with a Welshman's goods."

" So long as he is there to mind them," laughed
Thorgils. " Then we can go. I do not know how
soon we can be back, though."

" That is no matter. We are used to keeping

M Ay. How is that hurt friend of yours after
the voyage ? "

" Well as one could expect," answered Evan.
" He says he has slept almost all the way. He is
comfortable where he is."

They went aft, and soon I heard the princess


speaking with them. Then the well-known click
and clash of armed men marching in order came
to me, as the chief sent a guard for his daughter.
It was terrible to hear the voices of honest men so
close to me and to be helpless, and I worked at
the rope feverishly.

I heard the princess and her party leave the
ship, and almost as the last footstep left the deck
one strand of the cord went. I worked harder
yet, with a great hope on me.

" Presently the Norsemen will be full of Howel's
mead," I heard Evan say to one of his men.
" Then we will get ashore and leave swiftly. I think
we need not stay to pay Thorgils for the voyage."

" Let us tell some of the shore men to bide here
to help us," said the other, " we have the Saxon
to carry."

" That is a good thought."

They clattered over the plank ashore, and another
strand of the rope went at that time. I thought
it was but one of another turn of the line, however.
Five minutes more of painful sawing and straining
and I felt another strand give way. That made
three, and now one of the two turns of line that
held my arms could have but one strand left, and
that ought to be no more than I could break by
force. Then I wrestled with it with little care if
my struggles as I bent and strove made noise that
might call attention to me, for it was my last
chance. The lines bruised and cut me sorely, even
through my mail, but I heeded that no more than
I did the hardness of the timbers against which I
rolled ; and at last it did snap, with a suddenness


that let my elbow fly against the iron that had been
my saving, almost forcing a cry from me.

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 8 of 25)