Part 2 out of 7
"Do not think that I am going to let you off the cup, though. Now
you shall pledge me, and if you have any vow to make which is
fitting for a thane, make it and let us all hear it. But you have
also the lady to think of in your words."
Then there was a little rustle at the door which was on the high
place, and the queen returned with some of her ladies, hearing that
all was seemly again, and she stood smiling at these last words.
But Elfrida was not with her, and I was glad, else I had been more
mazed yet. So I plucked up heart and took the cup from the hand of
the king, trying to collect my thoughts into some sort of fitting
"Drinc hael Cyning," I said, while my voice shook. "Here do I vow
before all the Saints and before this company--that I will do my
best to prove myself worthy of this honour that has been set on
"Why, Oswald," said the queen, "that is no sort of vow such as you
should make, for we know that already, and you have proved it now
if never before. And you have forgotten Elfrida."
Now, I thought to myself that the last thing that I was ever likely
to do was to forget that maiden, and with that a thought came into
my head, and as the queen was smiling at me, and every one was
waiting, I grew desperate, and must needs out with it.
"Now, I cannot do better than this," I said, finding my courage all
of a sudden. "Here do I add to my vow that so long as my life shall
last I will not again forget the Lady Elfrida. Nor will I be
content until I am held worthy by her to--to guard her all the rest
of my days."
With that I drained the cup, and while the thanes laughed and
cheered all round me, and Ina smiled as if well pleased enough, the
queen set her hand on my arm, smiling also, and said:
"That was well said, my thane, but for one turn of the words. Why
did you not tell us plainly that you mean to win her? We all know
what you mean."
Then I went to my place, and I glanced at Herewald, to see how he
would take all this. Somewhat seemed to have amused him mightily,
and his eyes brimmed with a jest as he looked at me. Presently,
when men forgot me in listening to the vow Ina made, that he would
add somewhat to the new Church in thankfulness for this escape, the
ealdorman came near me and whispered:
"You are a cautious youth, Oswald, for I never heard a man turn a
hint from a lady better in my life. Nevertheless, if you are not
careful, Ethelburga will wed you to Elfrida for all your craft."
He laughed again, and said no more. But I was looking at Owen, who
seemed to have some thoughts of his own that were troubling him
sorely. He smiled and nodded, indeed, when he caught my eye, but
then he grew grave again directly, and afterwards his horn stood
before him on the table untasted, and his look seemed far away,
though round him men sang and all was merry.
However, as one may suppose, the merriment was not what it should
have been, and none wondered much when Ina rose and left the table
with a few pleasant parting words. He was never one to bide long at
a feast, and he knew, maybe, that the house-carles and younger men
would be more at ease when his presence was no longer felt by them.
With him went Owen and the ealdorman, and Nunna, at some sign of
his, and after they went I had to stand no little banter concerning
my vow, as may be supposed.
I was not sorry when a page came and bade me join the king in his
own chamber, though it was all good-natured and in no sort of
unkindness. I will not say that I did not enjoy it either. So I
went as I was bidden, and found that some sort of council was being
held, and that those four were looking grave over it. I supposed
they had some errand for me at first, but in no long time I knew
that what was on hand was nought more or less than the beginning of
parting between Owen and me.
I will make little of all that was said, though it was a long
matter, and heavy in the telling, and maybe tangled here and there
to me as I listened. I think that Ina understood that trouble fell
on me as I heard all, for he looked kindly on me from his great
chair, while Nunna sat on the table and was silent, stroking his
beard, as if thinking. But Owen drew me to the settle by him, and
bade me hearken while the king told me the tale I had to learn.
Then I heard how Owen, my foster father, was indeed a prince of the
old Cornish line that came from Arthur, and how his cousins, Morgan
and Dewi, had plotted to oust him from his place at the right hand
of Gerent the king, and had succeeded only too well, so that he had
had to fly. It matters not what their lies concerning him had been,
nor do I think that Owen knew all that had been said against him,
but Gerent had banished him, and so he had wandered to Mercia, and
thence after a year or two to Sussex, having heard of the Irish
monks of the old Western Church at Bosham. So he had met with me,
and thus he and I had come to Ina's court together.
And as I heard all, I knew that it had been for my sake that he was
content to serve as a simple forester at Eastdean, for Ina told me
that across the Severn among the other princes of the old Welsh
lands he would have been more than welcome. I could say nothing,
but I set my hand on his and left it there, and he smiled at me,
and grasped it.
"And now," said Ina, "your hand has in some sort avenged the old
wrong, for you have brought about the end of Morgan, who was Owen's
foe. But this is a matter we need to hear more concerning. Do you
bring us that stranger that he may tell us what he knows."
I went to the hall again, and found him easily enough, for all men
were looking at him. He was in the midst of the hall, juggling in
marvellous wise with a heavy woodman's axe, which he played with as
if it were a straw for lightness. Even as I entered from the door
on the high place he was whirling it for a mighty stroke which
seemed meant to cleave a horn cup which he had set on a stool
before him, and I wondered. But he stayed the stroke as suddenly as
if his great arms had been turned to steel, so that the axe edge
rested on the rim of the vessel without so much as notching it, and
at that all the onlookers cheered him.
"Now it may be known," said he, smiling broadly, "why men call me
Thorgils the axeman."
Then he threw the unhandy weapon into the air whirling, and caught
it as it came to hand again, so that it balanced on his palm, and
so he held it as I went to him, and told him the king would speak
Whereon he threw the axe at the doorpost, so that it stuck there,
and laughed at the new shout of applause, and so turned down his
sleeves and bade me lead him where I would.
He made a stiff, outlandish salute as he stood before Ina, and the
king returned it.
"I have sent for you now, friend, rather than wait for morning," he
said, "for it seems to me that we have business that must be seen
to with the first light. Will you tell us what you know of this man
who has been slain? I think you are no Welshman of Cornwall."
"I am Thorgils the Norseman of Watchet, king," he answered.
"Thorgils the axeman, men call me, by reason, of some skill with
that weapon which your folk seem to hold in no repute, which is a
pity. Shipmaster am I by trade, and I am here to seek for cargo,
that I may make one more voyage this winter with the more profit,
having to cross to Dyfed, beyond the narrow sea, though it is late
in the year."
"I thought you might be a Dane from Tenby."
"The Welsh folk know the difference between us by this time,"
Thorgils said, with a little laugh. "They call them 'black heathen'
and us 'white heathen,' though I don't know that they love us
better than they do them. By grace of Gerent the king, to be
politic, or by grace of axe play, to speak the truth, we have a
little port of our own here on this side the water, at the end of
the Quantocks, where we seek to bide peaceably with all men as
"Ay! I have heard of your town," said Ina. "Now, can tell us how
Morgan and his brother came to be in company with outlaws?"
"He fell out with Gerent over us, to begin with. I went with our
chiefs to Exeter when we first came seeking a home, to promise
tribute if we were left in peace in the place we had chosen. Gerent
was willing enough, but Morgan, who claims some sort of right over
the Devon end of the kingdom, was against our biding at all, and
there were words. However, Gerent and we had our way, and so we
thought to hear no more of the matter. But the next thing was that
Morgan gathered a force and tried to turn us out on his own
account, and had the worst of the affair. That angered Gerent, for
he lost some good men outside our stockades. And then other things
cropped up between them. I have heard that the old king found out
old lies told by Morgan concerning Owen the prince, whom men hope
to see again, but I know little of that. Anyway, Morgan and his
brother fled, and this is the end thereof. We heard too that he
plotted to take the throne, and it is likely."
"Thanks, friend," Ina said. "That is a plain tale, and all we need
to know. But what say men of Owen, whom you spoke of? Is it known
that he lives?"
"Oh ay. They say that you know more of him than any one. Men have
seen him here at Glastonbury. Moreover, Gerent came to Norton, just
across the Quantocks, yesterday, and it is thought that he wants to
send a message to you asking after him. There will be joy in West
Wales if he goes back to the right hand of the king, for one would
think that he was a fairy prince by the way he is spoken of."
Thereat Ina smiled at Owen, and Thorgils saw it, and knew what was
meant in a moment. He turned to Owen with a quick look, and said
"True enough, Prince, but I did not know that I spoke of a
listener. On my word, if you do go back, you will have hard work to
live up to what is expected of you. Maybe what is more to the point
is this, that Morgan has more friends than enough, and it is likely
that they will stick at little to avenge him.
"Howbeit," he added with a quaint smile, "it shall not be said that
Thorgils missed a chance. Prince, if you do go back to Gerent you
will be his right hand, as they say. Therefore I will ask you at
once to have us Norsemen in favour, so far as we need any. Somewhat
is due to the bearer of tidings, by all custom."
Ina laughed, and even Owen smiled at the ready Norseman, but
Herewald the ealdorman and I wondered at him, for he spoke as to
equals, with no sort of fear of the king on him, which was not
altogether the way of men who stood before Ina.
Then said Owen quietly:
"Friend, I think there is a favour I may ask you, rather. I have
bided away from my uncle, King Gerent, because I would not return
to him unasked, being somewhat proud, maybe. But now it seems to
King Ina and myself that needs must I go to him to take the news of
this death of Morgan myself. It is a matter that might easily turn
to a cause of war between Wessex and West Wales, for if the man
tried to slay our king in his own court, it may also be told that
here was slain a prince of Dyvnaint. There is full need that the
truth should reach the king before rumour makes the matter over
great. You have seen all, and are known to the Welsh court as a
friend. Come with me, therefore, tomorrow and tell the tale."
"That I will, Prince," Thorgils said. "You will be welcome; but as
I warn you, there will be need for care."
"You know somewhat of the ways of the Welsh court," said Ina.
"Needs must, Lord King. I am a shipmaster, and every trader I carry
across the sea, sometimes to South Wales, and sometimes to Bristol,
and betimes so far as to Ireland, tells me all he has learned. It
were churlish not to listen, and then we need warning against such
attacks as that of Morgan. Moreover, one likes somewhat to talk
"That is plain enough," said Nunna, laughing.
"Maybe I do talk too much," answered the Norseman. "It is a failing
in my family. But my sister is worse than I."
Then the king laughed again, and so dismissed the shipman, and
presently Owen bade me make all preparation for riding to Norton on
the morrow early. Ina would have us take a strong guard, and I
should bring them back, either with or without Owen, as things
But little sleep had I that night, for I knew too well that from
henceforth my life and that of my foster father must lie apart, and
how far sundered we might be I could not tell. There was no love of
the Saxon in West Wales, nor of the Welshman in Wessex.
CHAPTER IV. HOW THE LADY ELFRIDA SPOKE WITH OSWALD, AND OF THE MEETING WITH
Gerent, the king of the West Welsh, as we called him, ruled over
all the land of Devon and Cornwall, from the fens of the Tone and
Parrett Rivers to the Land's End. Only those wide fens, across
which he could not go, had kept our great King Kenwalch from
pushing Wessex yet westward, and along their line had been our
frontier since his days until, not long before Ina came to the
throne, Kentwine crossed them to the north and cleared the
marauding Welsh of the Quantock hills and forests from the river to
the sea, setting honest Saxon franklins here and there in the
new-won land, to keep it for him. It was out of those deep wooded
hills that Morgan had come on the raid that ended so badly for his
brother and himself, for the wasted country was yet a sort of
no-man's land, where outlaws found easy harbourage, coming mostly
from the Welsh side. It would not need much to set the tide of war
moving westward again, now that our men knew the fenland as well as
ever the British learned the secrets of the paths.
Now that the time seemed to have come for him to leave Ina, Owen
feared most of all that the long peace would end, for that would
mean the rending of old friendships and certain parting from me.
How much longer the peace would last was very doubtful, and men
said that it was only the wisdom of Aldhelm that had kept it so
well, and now he was dead. It was not so long since that a west
Welshman would not so much as eat with a Saxon, so great was the
hatred they had for us, though that had worn off more or less.
Maybe it would have passed altogether but that there were the
differences between the ways of the two Churches which were always
cropping up and making things bitter again, and those were the
troubles that Aldhelm, whom Gerent honoured, had most tried to
smooth away with some sort of success. Yet it was well known that
many of the Welsh priests and people were sorely against peace with
the men who followed the way of Austin of Canterbury.
As for me, I almost wondered that Ina seemed so ready to part with
Owen, but presently I saw that if Gerent owned him again, my foster
father would be a link between the two kingdoms, which would make
for peace in every way. But for all that, in my own heart was a
sort of half hope that in spite of what the Norseman had heard,
Owen would not be welcomed back to the west, else I should lose him
altogether. There was no intercourse between our courts, now that
Aldhelm was gone.
But in the morning, when I came to say some of this to Owen, he
smiled at me, and said:
"Wait, Oswald. Time enough for trouble when it comes. Maybe you and
I will be back here this evening, and if not, I hope that my
staying with my uncle will mean peace between our lands. Let it be
so till we have seen what may be our fortune at Norton."
So I tried to let the trouble pass, and indeed at the morning meal
I had my new rank to think of, for my comrades would not forget it,
nor would they let me do so. The first man to greet me as thane was
Thorgils the Norseman, too, and he went with me to see to choosing
men and horses for our journey, and I was glad of his gossip, for
it kept me from thinking overmuch of the heavier things that had
kept me waking.
He would guide us across the hills to Norton, where Gerent was; for
though we knew somewhat of the Quantocks, beyond them we did not
go. The palace where the king lay was an ancient Roman stronghold,
and had belonged to Morgan, who was dead; and though Thorgils had
heard that Gerent was there to seek Owen, it was more likely that
he had come to see that the outlawed brothers did not gather any
force against him in their own place. It was many a year since he
had been so near our border.
Presently Thorgils would go down the town to the inn where he had
bestowed his horse, and I went with him, having an hour left before
we started, rather than face any more banter concerning my
thanedom. It was almost in my mind to go to the ealdorman's house
to ask after Elfrida, but I forbore, being shy, I suppose, and so
left the Norseman to join us presently, and went back to the king's
hall by a short cut from the village, whereby I had a meeting which
was unlooked for altogether.
That way was a sort of stolen short cut across the king's orchard,
which some of us used at times in coming from village to hall, for
it lay between the two on the south side of the hall where the
ground sloped sunwards. And as I leapt over the fence I was aware
of a lady who was gathering some of the ruddy crab apples from the
ground under their bare tree, for the hot ale of the wassail bowl,
doubtless, for we leave them out to mellow with the frost thus. She
did not heed me as I came over the soft snow, and when she did at
last look up I saw that she was Elfrida. Just for a moment I wished
that I had gone round by the road, but there was no escape for me
now, for she had seen me. So I unbonneted and went to meet her.
There was a little flush on her face when she saw me, but it was
not altogether one of pleasure, for when I wished her good morrow,
all that I had in return was a cold little bow and the few words
that needs must be spoken in answer. Whereat I felt somewhat
foolish; but it did not seem to me that I had done aught to deserve
quite so much coldness, not being a stranger by any means. So I
would even try to find the way to a better understanding, and I
thought that maybe the sight of me had brought back some of the
terror of last night.
"Now, I hope that the rough doings of the feast have not been
troublous to you, Lady Elfrida," I said, trying with as good a
grace as I could not to see her cold looks.
I saw that she did indeed shrink a little from them as I spoke,
even in the passing thought.
But she answered:
"Such things are best forgotten as soon as may be. I do not wish to
hear more of them."
"Nevertheless," I answered, "there are some who will not forget
them, and I fear that you must needs be ready to hear of your part
in them pretty often."
"Ay," she said somewhat bitterly, "I suppose that I am the talk of
the whole place now."
"If so, there would be many who would be glad to be spoken of as
you must needs be. There is nought but praise for you."
Then she turned on me, and the trouble was plain enough in a
"But for yourself, Thane, there would have been nought that I could
not have put up with. But little thought for me was there when you
made me the jest of your idle comrades over that foolish cup of the
That was a new way of looking at the matter, in all truth. I
supposed that a vow of fealty to any lady would have been taken by
her as somewhat on which to pride herself maybe, from whomsoever it
came. Which seemed to be foolishness in this fresh light. Still, it
came to me that her anger was not altogether fair, for I was the
one who had to stand the jesting, and not one of my honest comrades
so much as mentioned her name lightly in any wise.
"That was no jest of mine, Elfrida," I said gravely enough. "If
there is any jest at all that will come from my oath, it will be
that I have been foolish enough to vow fealty to one who despises
me. The last thing that I would do is anything that might hurt you.
And my vow stands fast, whether you scorn me or not, for if it was
made in a moment, it is not as if I had not had long years to think
on in which we have been good friends enough."
"Ay," she said, turning from me and reaching some apples that yet
hung on a sheltered bough, "I have heard the terms of that vow from
my father, more than once. You can keep it without trouble."
"Have I your leave to try to keep it?"
"You have had full leave to be a good friend of ours all these
years, as you say, and I do not see that the vow binds you to more.
No one thinks that you are likely to forget last night, or any one
who took part in that cruel business. And if a friend will not help
to guard a lady--well, he would be just nidring, no more or less."
Then she took up her basket, which was pretty full and no burden
for a lady, for she had picked fast and heedlessly as she spoke to
me, and so turned away.
"Nay, but surely you know that there was more than that meant," I
"No need to have haled my name into the matter at all," she said.
And then, seeing that my eyes went to the basket, she smiled a
little, and held it to me with both hands.
"Well, if you meant some new sort of service, you can begin by
carrying this for me. I am going to the queen's bower."
I took it without a word, and we went silently together to the door
that led to the queen's end of the hall. There she stayed for a
moment with her hand on the latch.
But she had only a question to ask me:
"Do you go with your father to the Welsh king's court, as it is
said that he will go shortly?"
"We start together in an hour's time or thereabout," I answered,
"Well then, take this to mind you of your vow," she said, and threw
a little bronze brooch, gilt and set with bright enamel, into the
basket, and so fled into the house, leaving me on the doorstep with
I set them down there, and had a mind to leave the brooch also.
However, on second thoughts I took it, and went my way in a puzzled
state of mind. It certainly seemed that Elfrida was desperately
angry with me for reasons which were not easy to fathom, and yet
she had given me this--that is, if to have a thing thrown at one is
to have it given. But I was not going to quarrel with the manner of
a gift from Elfrida, and so I went on with it in my hand, and as I
turned the corner into a fresh path I also ran into the abbot of
the new minster, who was on his way to speak with Owen before he
set out. He had been a great friend of Bishop Aldhelm's, and I had
known him well since the old days of Malmesbury.
"So Oswald," he cried, "I have been looking for you, that I might
wish you all good in your thaneship. Why, some of us are proud of
you. And I, having known you since you were a child, feel as if I
had some sort of a share in your honours. But what is amiss? One
would look to see you the gayest of the gay, and it seems as if the
world had gone awry with you."
Now, the abbot was just the friend to whom I could tell my present
trouble without fear of being mocked, for he was wont to stand to
us boys of the court as the good friend who would help us out of a
scrape if he could, and make us feel ashamed thereof in private
afterward, in all kindliness. So I told him what was on my mind,
for he was at the feast last night.
"It is all that vow of mine," I said. "I have just met Elfrida, and
she is angry with me for naming her at all."
"Unfair," said the abbot. "You could not have helped it, seeing
that you were bidden to do so."
I had forgotten that, and it was possible that Elfrida did not know
it. So I said that I did not look for quite the scorn I had met
with, at all events. Whereon the abbot stayed in his walk and asked
more, trying to look grave as he heard me, and soon he had all the
"So you carried the basket like any thrall, and had my Yuletide
gift to her in payment," he said, 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
"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 life.
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
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 steps.
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
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
forefathers. 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 steely 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
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 honoured.
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
"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 area.
By daylight I knew afterwards that it was uncared 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 guardroom
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
Owen raised him kindly, and set his finger on his lip.
"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
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 king.
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 it.
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 Gerent 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
"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 wroth, 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
"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
"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
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 another:
"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.
CHAPTER V. HOW OSWALD FELL INTO BAD HANDS, AND FARED EVILLY, ON THE
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 together, 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
"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
"For fear of his friends?" asked Owen thoughtfully.
"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
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
tomorrow 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 again."
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 homecoming 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 salt.
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 henceforth 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 wrapt 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."
He laughed, and said that it was his place in the old days, and
there was a sigh at the back of the laugh as he thought of those
times, and then we forgot the whole thing. Yet though it seems a
little matter in the telling, in no long time I was to mind that
waking in a strange way enough, and then I remembered.
We must part presently, as I found, at least for a little while.
There was no question but that Owen would stay at the court here,
and so Gerent had ready for me a letter which I should carry back
to Ina at once. He spoke very kindly to me at that time, giving me
a great golden bracelet from his own arm, that I might remember to
come back to bide for a time with him ere long. And then we broke
our fast, and my men were ready, and I parted from my foster father
in the bright morning light that made the white walls of the old
palace seem more wonderful to me than ever.
"Farewell, then, for a while," he said to me; "come back as soon as
Ina will spare you. There will be peace between him and Gerent now,
as I think."
Then came a man in haste from out of the gateway where we stood
yet, and he bore a last gift from Gerent to me. It was a beautiful
wide-winged falcon from the cliffs of Tintagel in the far west,
hooded and with the golden jesses that a king's bird may wear on
"It is the word of the king," said the falconer, "that a thane
should ride with hawk on wrist if he bears a peaceful message.
Moreover, there will be full time on the homeward way for a flight
or two. Well trained she is, Master, and there is no better passage
hawk between here and Land's End."
That was a gift such as any man might be proud of, and I asked Owen
to thank the king for me. And so we parted with little sorrow after
all, for it was quite likely that I should be back here in a day or
two for yet a little while longer with him.
So I and my men were blithe as we rode in the still frosty air
across the Quantocks by the way we had come, and by and by, when we
gained the wilder crests, I began to look about me for some chance
of proving the good hawk that sat waiting my will on my wrist.
Soon I saw that the rattle and noise of men and horses spoiled a
good chance or two for me, for the black game fled to cover, and
once a roe sprang from its resting in the bushes by the side of the
track and was gone before I could unhood the bird.
"Ho, Wulf!" I cried to one of the men who was wont to act as
forester when Ina hunted, "let us ride aside for a space, and then
we will see what sort of training a Welshman can give a hawk."
So we put spurs to our horses and went on until they were a mile
behind us, and then we were on a ridge of hill whence a long wooded
combe sank northward to the dense forest land at the foot of the
hills, and there we rode slowly, questing for what might give us a
fair flight. Bustard there were on these hills, and herons also,
for below me I could see the bare branches of the tree tops on
which the broad-winged birds light at nesting time, twigless and
skeleton-like. For a while we saw nothing, however, and so rode
wide of the track, across the heather, until we found the woodland
before us, and had to make our way back to the road, which passed
through it. But before we came in sight of the road, from almost
under my feet, a hare bolted from a clump of long grass, and made
for the coverts. I cast off the hawk and shouted, but we were too
near the underwood, and it seemed that the hare would win to cover
in time to save herself.
Yet in a moment the hare was back again out of the cover, and
running along its edge in the open as though she had met with
somewhat that she feared even more than the winged terror which she
had so nearly baffled. And that was strange, for it is hard to get
a hare to stir from her seat if there is a hawk overhead, so that
sometimes men have even picked up the timid beast from her place.
"There is a fox in the underwood, and she has seen him," I cried,
and then forgot all about the strangeness of the matter in watching
the stoop of the ready hawk, who waited only for one more chance.
Not far did the hare win this time. The hawk swooped and took her
close to the edge of the wood, and I rode quickly to take the bird
again and give her her share of the quarry. And then, while my eyes
were fixed on her, and I was just about to dismount, I was aware of
something like a streak of light that flew from the underwood
toward me, and suddenly my horse reared wildly, and fell back on
me, pinning me to the ground.
At the same moment I heard Wulf roaring somewhat, and then he was
between me and the cover, and I saw him, through the dazedness of
my eyes with the fall, dismount and unsling his shield from his
back, with his eyes ever on the wood. Then an arrow struck the
ground close to me, and I heard another smite Wulf's shield with
the clap that no warrior can mistake. At that his steed took fright
and left us.
"Get my horn and wind it," I said, struggling to get free from the
horse. It was no mean bowman who had sent that first arrow, for the
poor beast never moved after it fell, and had spent its last
strength in rearing.
"That is crushed flat, Master," Wulf said between his teeth, and he
tried to lift the weight that was on me.
Then the arrows came thickly again, and he crouched over me with
the shield, behind the horse. It was lucky that I was almost
covered by it as I lay, for it was between me and the wood. I
writhed and struggled and at last I was free again, and Wulf helped
me to get my own shield from my back as I rose, and then we stood
back to back and looked for our foes.
"Morgan's people, I suppose," I said. "We should not have left the
men, for I knew that he was leagued with Quantock outlaws."
"A nidring set, too," said Wulf savagely. "Can't they show
As if the men had heard him, they came from the cover even as he
spoke. There were more than I could count after a few moments, for
they poured out in twos and threes from all along the edge of the
wood, and came cautiously toward us, in such wise as to surround
us. Wild looking men they were, with never a helm or mail shirt
among them, but they were all well armed enough with bow and spear
and seax, and more than one had swords.
Then I looked round to see if I could see my men coming, and my
heart sank. We were hidden from the road by the crest of the hill,
and I knew that the flight of the hawk had led us some way from it.
We could not be less than a full mile from them at the rate we had
ridden, and I did not think it likely that they had hurried after
us, for they would not spoil sport.
Now the men were round us in a ring that was closing quickly, and
Wulf and I had our swords out and were back to back facing them.
Not a word had been said on either side, and I was not going to
begin to talk to outlaws. If they had anything to say they might
say it. But they had not, and I knew that they would make a rush on
One who seemed to be the leader whistled sharply, and the rush came
with a wild howl and flight of ill-aimed spears that were of no
harm. The circle was too close for a fair throw at us, lest the
weapon should go too far. I had time to catch one as it passed me,
and send it back with the Wessex war shout, and there was one man
less against us.
I think that I cut down one or two after that, and then I felt Wulf
reel and prop himself against me. Then I had a score of men
crowding on me, and they clogged my sword arm and gripped my shield
and tore it aside, and then from behind or at the side one smote me
on the head with a club or a stone hammer, and I went down. I heard
one cry that I was not to be slain, as I fell.
Then Wulf stood over me for a little while and fought all that
crowd, until he was on his knees at my side, and my senses were
coming back to me. Then he fell over me, and the men threw
themselves on me and pinioned me and thrust something into my mouth
and then bound me.
I knew that Wulf was slain at that time, and that he had given his
life for me. That was what he would have wished to do, but in my
heart there grew a wild rage with these men and with myself for my
carelessness that had led us into their hands.
Now they dragged me into the cover, and thither also they brought
Wulf and the fallen men, and for a little while all sat silent, and
soon I knew what they were waiting for. I heard the voices of my
men and the very click and rattle of their arms as they trotted
slowly through the wood along the road, and I tried to shout to
them, but the gag would not let me. So their sounds died away
beyond the hill, and after them crept some of the foe, to see that
they did not halt or turn back, as one may suppose. I thought how
that they had at least three miles to ride before they could come
to any place whence they could see that I and Wulf were not before
them, and then, when they missed us, how were they to begin to seek
I suppose that my wits were sharpened with my danger, for I saw one
thing that might help them even while I was thinking this. My hawk
had gorged herself with her prey when the fight had turned aside
from her, and so she was sitting sleepily and contented on the high
bough of one of the trees that stood at the wood's edge. And she
still had her jesses on, so that my men would know her if they
caught sight of her by any chance.
Now the men who had me, being sure that all fear was past, began to
talk of what was to be done next, and they spoke in Welsh, plainly
thinking that I could not understand them. There were three or four
who seemed to take the lead under the one who had given the signal
for attack, and the rest gathered round them.
At first they were for killing me offhand as it seemed, but the
leader would not hear of that.
"Search him first, and let us see who he is," he said. "We may have
caught the wrong man, after all."
So they came to me and searched my pouch and thrust their grimy
hands into the front of my byrnie, and there they found the king's
letter, which they seized with a shout of delight. Then they took
my arms, wondering at the sword with its wondrous hilt. Only my
ring mail byrnie they could not take from me, as they feared to
untie my arms.
"Not much would I give for your life if this warrior got loose,"
said one of them to that one who had the letter. "See how he glares
And true enough that was, moreover. I should surely have gone
berserk, like the men Thorgils told me of as we rode yesterday, had
I been able to get free for a moment.
They took my belongings to the leaders, and they asked for some one
who could read the letter, and there was none, even as I had
expected, so that I was glad.
"It does not matter much," the leader said; "doubtless it has a
deal of talk in it which would mean nought to us. We will have it
read the next time one of us goes to the church," and with that he
grinned, and the others laughed as at a good jest. "Let me look at
the sword he wore."
He looked and his eyes grew wide, and then he whistled a little to
himself. The others asked him what was amiss.
"If we have got Owen's son, we have taken Ina's own sword as well,"
he said. "Many a time have I seen the king wear it before the law
got the best of me. It is not to be mistaken. Now, if we are not
careful we have a hornets' nest on us in good truth. Ina does not
give swords like this to men he cares nought for, and there will be
hue and cry enough after him, and that from Saxon and Welsh alike."
"Kill him and have done. That is what we meant to do when we laid
up for him."
So said many growling voices, and I certainly thought that the end
was very near.
"Ay, and have ourselves hung in a row that will reach from here to
the bridge," the leader said coolly. "Mind you this, that with the
Welsh up against us we cannot get to Exmoor, and with the Saxons
out also we cannot win to the Mendips, as we have done before now."
"There is the fen."
"And all the fenmen Owen's own men. Little safety is there in
"But he slew Morgan, as they say."
"Worse luck for Morgan therefore. What is that to you and me, when
one comes to think of it?"
Now I began to understand the matter more or less. It seemed to me
that these were Morgan's outlaws, and that somehow they had heard
all the story. No doubt that was easy enough, for it would be all
over Norton before the night was very old after our coming. And
these outlaws have friends everywhere. So they had laid up for me,
and now the leader was frightened, as it would seem, or else he had
some other plan in his head. It did not seem that he had wished me
to be slain, from the first, if it could be helped. Maybe the
others had forced him to waylay me. A leader of outlaws has little
hold on his men.
"Let him swear to say nought of us, and let him go then," one of
the other leaders said in a surly way.
Then the chief got up and laughed at them all.
"There are six of us slain and a dozen with wounds, and we will
make him pay for that and for Morgan as well before we have done
with him. Now we must not bide here, or we shall have his men back
on us, seeking him. Let us get away, and I will think of somewhat
as we go. There is profit to be made out of this business, if I am
Then they brought my man's horse, which they had caught, and set me
on it, making my feet fast under the girth. The men who had fallen
they hid in the bushes, and it troubled me more than aught to think
that Wulf should lie among them. My horse they dragged into a
hollow, and piled snow over him. Then they went swiftly down the
hillside into the deep combe, leaving only the trampled and
reddened snow to tell that there had been a fight.
I had a hope for a little while that the track they left would be
enough for my men to follow if they hit on it, but there was little
snow lying in the sheltered woodlands, and there the track was
lost. And these men scattered presently in all directions, so that
trace of them was none. Only the leader and some dozen men stayed
So they took me for many a long mile, always going seaward, until
we were in a deep valley that bent round among the hills until its
head was lost in their folds, and there was some sort of a camp of
these outlaws sheltered from any wind that ever blew, and with a
clear brook close at hand. All round on the hillsides was the
forest, but there was one landmark that I knew.
High over the valley's head rose a great hill, and on that was an
ancient camp. It was what they call the "Dinas," the refuge camp of
the Quantock side, which one can see from Glastonbury and all the
Here they took me from the horse and bound my feet afresh, and took
the gag from my mouth and set me against a tree, and so waited
until the band had gathered once more, lighting a great fire
meanwhile. Glad enough was I of its warmth, for it is cold work
riding bound through the frost.
When that was done the leader bade some of those with him fetch the
goods to this place, and catch some ponies ready against the
journey. I could not tell what this might mean, but I thought that
they had no intention of biding here, and I was sorry in a dull
way. It had yet been a hope that they might be tracked by my men
from the place of the fight.
After these men had gone hillward into the forest, others kept
coming in from one way or another until almost all seemed to have
One by one as these gathered, they came and looked at me, and
laughed, making rough jests at me, which I heeded not at all, if
they made my blood boil now and then. Once, indeed, their leader
shouted roughly to them to forbear, when some evil words came with
a hoarse gust of laughter to his ears, and they said under their
breath, chuckling as at a new jest:
"Evan has a mind to tell Tregoz that he treated the Saxon well,"
and so left me. It seemed to me that I had heard that name at
When the best part of the band had gathered again they lit another
fire fifty yards from me, and round it they talked and wrangled for
a good half hour. It was plain that they were speaking about me and
my fate, but I could hear little of what they said.
The leader took not much part in the talk at first, but let the
rest have their say. And when they had talked themselves out, as it
were, he told them his plans. I could not hear them, but the rest
listened attentively enough, and at the end of his speech seemed to
agree, for they laughed and shouted and made not much comment.
Then the leaders got up and came and looked at me.
"Tell him what we are going to do with him, Evan," one said to the
So Evan spoke in the worst Saxon I had ever heard, and I thought
that it fitted his face well.
"No good glaring in that wise," he said; "if you are quiet no harm
will come to you. We are going to hold you as a hostage until your
Saxon master or your British father pay ransom for you, and inlaw
us again. That last is a notion of my own, for I am by way of being
an honest man. The rest do not care for anything but the money we
shall get for you from one side or the other, or maybe from both.
By and by, when we have you in a safe place, you shall write a
letter for us to use, and I will have you speak well of me in it,
so that it shall be plain that you owe your life to me, and then I
shall be safe. That is a matter between you and me, however. None
of these knaves ken a word of Saxon."
I suppose that I showed pretty plainly what I thought of this sort
of treachery to his comrades, for one of the others laughed at me,
"Speak him fair, Evan, speak him fair, else we shall have trouble
"I am just threatening him now," the villain said in Welsh--"after
that is time to give him a chance to behave himself," and then he
went on to me in Saxon: "Now, if you will give your word to keep
quiet and go with me as a friend I will trust you, but if
not--well, we must take you as we can. How do you prefer to go?"
He waited for an answer, but I gave him none. I would not even seem
to treat with them.
"Don't say that I did not give you a chance," he said; "but if you
will go as a captive, that is your own fault."
And as I said nothing he turned away, and said to the rest:
"We shall have to bind him. He will not go quietly."
"How shall we get him on board as a captive?" one asked.
"That would be foolishness," Evan said; "the next thing would be
that every one would know who the captive that was taken out of
Watchet was. I have a better plan than that. We will tie him up
like a sorely wounded man, and so get him shipped carefully and
quietly with no questions asked."
"Well, then, there is no time to lose. We must be at the harbour in
four hours' time at the latest. Tide will serve shortly after
that," one of the others said. "What about the sword?--shall we
sell it to the Norsemen?"
"What! and so tell all the countryside what we have been doing?--it
is too well known a weapon. No, put it into one of the bales of
goods, and I can sell it safely to some prince on the other side.
No man dare wear it on this, but they will not know it there, or
will not care if they do. Now get a litter made, and bring me some
It seemed to me to be plain that they would try to get me across
the channel into Wales, or maybe Ireland, and my heart sank. But
after all, Owen would gladly pay ransom for me, and that was the
one hope I had. And then I wondered what vessel they had ready, and
all of a sudden I minded that Thorgils had spoken of a winter
voyage that he was going to take on this tide, and my heart leapt.
It was likely that these men were going to sail with him, so I
might have a chance of swift rescue.
Now Evan went to work on me with the help of one of his men, who
seemed to know something of leech craft.
"This," said Evan, "is a poor friend of mine who has met with a bad
fall from his horse. His thigh is broken and his shoulder is out.
Also his jaw is broken, because the horse kicked him as he lay. For
the same reason he is stunned, and cannot move much. It is a bad
case altogether," and he grinned with glee at his own pleasantry.
Then they fitted a long splint to my right leg from hip to ankle,
so that I was helpless as a babe in its swaddlings, and made fast
the other leg to that. They did not do more than loosen the cords
that bound me just enough to suffer them to pass the bandages round
until the splint was on, and the other men stood in a ring and
gibed at me all the time. After that they bandaged my right arm
across my chest as if for a slipped shoulder, but under the
bandages were cords that pinioned my elbows to one another across
my back, so that I could only move my left forearm. Evan said that
he would tie that also if need was, but it might pass now. I could
not reach my mouth with this free hand, if I did try to take out a
Next they bandaged my head and chin carefully, so that only my eyes
were to be seen. I suppose that I might be thankful that they left
my mouth uncovered more or less. And Evan said that he would gag me
by and by.
"No need to discomfort him more than this now," he added. "Maybe he
will be ready to promise silence when he has gone some time in this
By this time some had caught half a dozen hill ponies, and on them
they loaded several bales of goods, which I thought looked like
those of some robbed chapman, and I have reason to think that they
were such. They opened one of these, and in it they stowed my sword
and helm and the great gold ring that Gerent gave me. There was
some argument about this, but the leader said that it was better to
sell it for silver coin which they could use anywhere.
Now Evan and two others dressed themselves afresh, and washed in
the brook. One would have taken them for decent traders when that
was done, for they were soberly clad in good blue cloth jerkins,
with clean white hose, and red garterings not too new. Good cloaks
they had also, and short seaxes in their belts. Only Evan had a
short Welsh sword, and the peace strings of that were tied round
the hilt. I wondered where the bodies of the honest men they had
taken these things from were hidden in the wild hills.
Half a dozen of the best clad of the other men took boar spears,
and so they were ready for a start, for all the world like the
chapmen they pretended to be. They put me into the litter they had
ready then, and four of the men were told off to bear me,
grumbling. It was only a length of sacking made fast to two stout
poles, and when they had hoisted me to their shoulders a blanket
was thrown over me, and a roll of cloth from one of the bales set
under my head, so that I might seem to be in comfort at least.
Then the band set out, and we went across the hills seaward and to
the west until we saw Watchet below us. There was a road somewhere
close at hand, as I gathered, for we stopped, and some of the
rabble crept onward to the crest of the hill and spied to see if it
was clear. It was so, and here all the band left us, and only Evan
and the other two seeming merchants went on with their followers,
who bore me and led the laden ponies. The road had no travellers on
it, as far as I could see, nor did we meet with a soul until we
were close into the little town that the Norsemen had made for
themselves at the mouth of a small river that runs between hills to
Maybe there were two score houses in the place, wooden like ours,
but with strange carvings on the gable ends. And for fear, no
doubt, of the British, they had set a strong stockade all round the
place in a half circle from the stream to the harbour. There were
several long sheds for their ships at the edge of the water, and a
row of boats were lying on a sort of green round which the houses
stood with their ends and backs and fronts giving on it, as each
man had chosen to set his place.
CHAPTER VI. HOW OSWALD HAD AN UNEASY VOYAGE AND A PERILOUS LANDING AT ITS
I thought that Evan had forgotten to gag me, but before we went to
the gate of the stockade he came 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
Then we crossed the green without any one paying 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 rising.
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 chapman," 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
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
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
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 bulkheads 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 newcomers 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 gangplank and pattering across it, while Evan began to smile
and bow profoundly.
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 gangplank, and they
"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
"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 himself. I can be well content in
these warm things of mine on deck in this calm air, and he must
have all shelter."
"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
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
Evan assured her with many words that all was well done, and yet
"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 kindness.
"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
rearrange 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
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
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, presently, 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
alongside 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
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 southwest 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
"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
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
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 seasick 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
"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 while.
There was a long talk from ship to shore before the gangplank 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
"Why, then, we six Norsemen can go, and leave you to tend the
"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 chapman will fight for his goods if need be. But a Welshman 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 watch."
"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.
I was yet bound to my splints, but with my arms free it was but the
work of a few seconds to cast off the last of my bonds, and within
five minutes after the strand had parted I was on my feet, and
rubbing and stretching my bruised and cramped limbs into life
again. Then I felt in the darkness for the bale that held my gear,
and found it and tore it open.
How good it was to gird the sword on me again, and to feel the cold
rim of the good helm round my hot forehead! I was myself again, and
as I slipped Gerent's gold ring on my arm I thought that it was
almost worth the bondage to know what pleasure can be in the
winning of freedom. I forgot that I was troubled with thirst and
hunger, having touched nothing since I broke my fast with Owen;
though, indeed, there was little matter in that, for I had done
well at that meal with the long ride before me, and one ought to be
able to go for a day and a night without food if need be, as a
Still, I was not yet out of the trouble. Thorgils had gone to some
place that I knew nothing of, and I had yet to learn if there was
any hope from Evan's shore going, which might make things easier or
might not. I could hear no one moving about the ship, so I pushed
the door open for an inch or two, and looked out into the
moonlight, with my drawn sword ready in my hand.
We were in a strange place. The ship's bows were landward, so that
as I looked aft I could see that we lay just inside the mouth of a
little cove, whose guarding cliffs towered on either side of the
water for not less than ten-score feet above the fringe of
breakers, falling sheer to the water with hardly so much as a
jutting rock at their feet. There was no sign of house or man at
the hilltop, so that it was plain that we were not at Tenby.
Then I was able to see that we were alongside a sort of landing
place that was partly natural and partly hewn and smoothed from the
living rock into a sort of wharf at the foot of the cliff. From
this landing place a steep road, hewn with untold labour at some
ancient day, slanted sharply upward and toward the head of the cove
along the face of the rocks, which were somewhat less steep on this
side than across the water. I could not see the top of this road,
but no doubt it was that along which Thorgils and the princess had
gone, and no doubt also Evan thought to carry me up it before long.
I had a hope that my friend would return too soon for that, but it
was a slender one. It was plain that he had gone too far for me to
call to him. Yet could I win clear of the ship I might find or
fight my way up after him, and that seemed easy with only these
three Welshmen against me, and they expecting no attack.