Part 3 out of 7
I looked for the two who were left if I slew Evan. One sat under
the weather gunwale, wrapped in a great cloak, and seemed to be
sleeping. The other was not far off on the landing place, watching
Evan, who was speaking with a dozen men at the foot of the
rock-hewn road. I suppose that the coming in of the ship had drawn
idlers from the camp I had heard of to see her, for they all had
arms of some sort.
This was bad, for it seemed certain that the whole crowd would join
with Evan in falling on me if he called on them. If I came forth
now I had full twenty yards to cover before I reached them from the
ship's side after I had settled with the men on watch. In that
space all would be ready for me, and they were too many for me to
cut through to the roadway. I thought too that I heard the voices
of more who came downward toward the ship, though I could not see
them whence I was.
Then it came into my mind that if there was any place where I could
hide myself on deck I would try to creep to it while none had their
eyes on the ship. Then Evan, as he went to the cabin to seek me,
would have to deal with me from the rear. But that I soon saw was
hopeless. The deck was clear of lumber big enough to shelter me,
and the moonlight was almost as bright as day on everything, and
all the clearer for the snow that covered all the land. So I began
to turn over many other plans in my mind, and at last it seemed
that the only thing was to wait in the cabin for the best chance
that offered. Most likely Evan would do even as he had said, and
try and get away at once, with all he could lay hands on. If so, I
thought it would be certain that in his hurry he would bring all
these men on board in order to get his goods, and maybe those
belonging to Thorgils also, out and away with all haste, and so I
could cut through them with a rush that must take them unawares,
and so win to the camp with none to hinder me. There might be
sentries who would stay me, but I should be within calling distance
of my friend. Moreover, a sentry would see that I was some sort of
a leader of men, and might help me. So I began to wish for Evan to
act, for my fingers itched to get one downward blow at him.
I had not long to wait. He finished his talk with the men, and they
all came to the ship, even as I had hoped. But only half of them
came on board, leaving the rest alongside on the rock so that they
might help the goods over the side. That was not all that I could
have wished, but I thought that I might get through them in the
surprise that was waiting for them. So I drew my sword, and for
want of shield wrapped the blanket from the floor round my left
arm, and stood by for the rush.
Evan walked in a leisurely way toward the door, talking to one of
the newcomers as he came. The rest straggled behind him.
"I wonder how my sick man fares now," he said, and set his hand to
Then he opened the door and I shouted and sprung forth, aiming a
blow at him as I came. But I was not clear of the low deck, and my
sword smote the beam overhead so that I missed him, and he threw
himself on the deck out of reach of a second blow, howling. I was
sorry, but I could not stop, for I had to win to the shore and to
the road yet.
The other men shrank from me, and I went through them easily, and
so reached the shoreward gunwale. There I was stayed, for Evan had
never ceased to cry to his fellows to stop me, and there was a row
of ready swords waiting for me. And there were more men coming down
the path, Welshmen as I could see by their arms, and by their white
tunics which glimmered in the moonlight. So that was closed to me,
and it seemed that here I must fight my last fight.
Then as I could not go over the side I went to the high stern and
leapt on it, half hoping that the men on shore might not be quick
enough to stay me from a leap thence, but they were there alongside
before me. Evan was up now, and cheering on the men on deck to
attack me, but not seeming to care to lead them. They gathered
together and came aft to me slowly, planning, as it would seem, how
best to attack me, for the steering deck on which I was raised me
four feet or so above them. The men on shore could not reach me at
all unless I got too near the gunwale, when some of them who had
spears might easily end me.
Something alongside the ship caught my eyes, and I glanced at it
with a thought that here might be fresh foes. But it was only the
little boat that belonged to the ship. The wind had caught her, and
was drifting her at the length of her painter as if she wanted to
cross the cove to its far side. Perhaps the men saw that my eyes
were not on them for that moment, for they made a rush from the
deck to climb the steering platform.
Then I had a good fight for a few minutes, until I swept them back
to their place. Two had won to the deck beside me, and there they
stayed. Now I had a hope that the men on shore would come round to
the ship and leave the way clear for me, but Evan called to them to
bide where they were. He had not faced me yet, and I bade him do
so, telling him that this was his affair, and that it was nidring
to risk other men's lives to save his own skin. But even that would
not bring him on me.
Now the men whom I had seen coming down from the cliffs' top had
hurried to see what all the shouting meant, and I saw that they
were well-armed warriors and mostly spearsmen. Evan cried to them
to come and help, and they ranged up alongside. He told them that I
was a Norseman who had gone berserk, and must needs be slain.
"That is easily managed," said the leader. "Get to your bows, men."
I saw half a dozen unslinging them, and I knew that without shield
I was done, and in that moment a thought came to me. I suppose that
danger sharpens one's wits, for I saw that in the little boat was
my last chance. I had not time to draw her to the side, and so I
cut her painter, which was fast to a cleat close to me, and as I
did so the first arrow missed my head.
Then I shouted and leapt from the high stern straight among the
crowd at Evan, felling one of his outlaw comrades as I lit on the
deck. But I could not reach him, and in a few seconds I should have
been surrounded. So I cleared a way to the seaward side and went
overboard, amid a howl from my foes. I thought that I should never
stop sinking, for I had forgotten my mail; but I came to the
surface close to the ship, and looked for the boat. She was
drifting gently away from me, and I knew that I should have all
that I could do to reach her before the bowmen got to work again
from the ship's deck. Some one threw an axe at me as I swam, which
was waste of a good weapon, and I hoped that it was not Thorgils'
best. Strange what thoughts come to a man when in a strait.
The water struck icy cold to me, and I felt that I could not stand
it long, but I gained on the boat with every stroke, though it was
hard work swimming in my mail and with a sword in my hand. I got
rid of the blanket that was hampering my left arm, and by that time
I was far enough from the ship for my foes to be puzzled by it. The
moonlight was bright on the water, but the little waves tossed it
so that it must have been hard for them to know which was I and
which the floating stuff. Certainly, the first arrows that were
shot when the bowmen got a chance at me from the ship or over her
were aimed at the blanket, for I heard them strike it. Then one
leapt from wave to wave past me.
I won to the boat just in time, for I could not have held on much
longer. The cold was numbing me, and if I stopped swimming I must
have sunk with the weight of mail. None of our old summer tricks of
floating and the like were of any use with that weight on me. The
arrows were coming thickly by that time, and I was glad to get to
the far side of the boat and rest my hand on the gunwale, while I
managed to sheathe my sword. The men could not see plainly where I
was, and the arrows pattered on the planks of the boat and hissed
into the water still, on the chance of hitting me. So I thought it
well to get out of range before I tried to get on board, and so
held the gunwale with one hand and paddled on with the other, until
the arrows began to fall short, and at last ceased. A Welshman's
bow has no long range, so that I had not far to go thus. But all
the while I feared most of all to hear the plash of oars that would
tell me that they had put off another boat in chase of me.
A little later and I should have been helpless, as I found when I
tried to get into the boat. The cold was terrible, and it had hold
of my limbs in spite of the swimming. It was hard work climbing
over the bows, as I must needs do unless I wanted to capsize the
light craft as I had overset a fisher's canoe more than once, by
boarding her over the side, as we sported in the Glastonbury meres
in high summer; but I managed it, and was all the better for the
struggle, which set the blood coursing in my veins again. Then I
got out the oars and began to pull away from the ship, with no care
for direction so long as I could get away from her.
The foe had no boat, for they were all clustered in the ship or
close to her on the rock, and there was a deal of noise going on
among them. When I was fairly out of their way, and I could no
longer make out their forms, I began to plan where I had best go,
and at first I thought of a little beach that I had seen on the far
side of the cove, thinking that I could get up what seemed a gorge
to the cliff's top, and so hide inland somewhere. But when I could
see right into the gorge, I found that it was steep and higher than
I thought. My foes would be able to meet me by the time I was at
There was no other place that I could see, for none could climb
from the foot of the cliffs elsewhere, since if he reached the
rocks he would have to stay where he leapt to them. So as there was
no help for it, I headed for the open sea. No doubt, I thought, I
should find some landing place along the coast before I had gone
far, and meanwhile I was getting a fair start of the enemy, who
would have to follow the windings of the cliffs if they cared to
come after me.
I pulled therefore for the eastern end of the cove, opposite to the
place where the ship lay, and so rounded the point and was out in
the open and tossing on the waves in a way that tried my rowing
sorely, for I am but a fresh-water boatman. Lucky it was for me
that there was little sea on, or I should have fared badly. Then I
pulled eastward, and against the tide also, but that was a thing
that I did not know.
The boat was wonderfully light and swift, and far less trouble to
send along than any other I had seen. There are no better
shipwrights than the Norsemen, and we Saxons have forgotten the
The terrible numbness passed off as I worked, but now the wind grew
cold, and the clouds were working up from the southwest quickly,
with wind overhead that was not felt here yet. I knew that I must
make some haven soon, or it was likely that I should be frozen on
the sea, but the great cliffs were like walls, and at their feet
was a fringe of angry foam everywhere. I could see no hope as yet.
Far away to the east of me a great headland seemed to bar my way,
but I did not think that I should ever reach it. And all the while
I looked to see the black forms of men on the cliffs in the
moonlight, but they did not come. That was good at least.
Then at last my heart leapt, for I saw, as a turn of the cliffs
opened out to me, another white beach with a cleft of the rocks
running up from it, and I thought it best to take the chance it
gave me, for I feared the blinding snow that would be here soon,
and I felt that the sea was rising. If my foes were after me they
would have been seen before now, as they came to the edge of the
cliffs to spy me out, and anyway I dreaded them less than the
growing cold. Moreover, I thought that Evan would hardly get many
men to follow him on a chase of what he had told them was a madman,
and a dangerous one at that. He had his goods to see to also.
So I ran the boat into the black mouth of the gorge, and beached
her well by good chance. I had little time to lose, but I tied her
painter to a rock at the highest fringe of tide wrack, in hopes
that she might be safe. It was so dark here that I did not think
that Evan would see her from above. And then I began to climb up
the rugged path that led out of the gorge to the hilltops.
There were bones everywhere in it. Bones and skulls of droves of
cattle on all the strand above the tide mark for many score yards.
Their ribs stuck out from the snow everywhere, and the sightless
eye sockets grinned at me as I stumbled over them. But I had no
time to wonder how they came there, for I must get to the summit
before Evan and his men reached it by their way along the cliff. I
ate handfuls of the snow and quenched my thirst that was growing on
me again, and my strength began to come back to me as I hurried
upward. I was a better man when at last I reached the top of the
gorge than when I came ashore.
CHAPTER VII. HOW OSWALD CROSSED THE DYFED CLIFFS, AND MET WITH FRIENDS.
Now I halted before I lifted my head above the skyline, and
listened with a fear on me lest I should hear the sound of running
feet, and I was the more careful because I knew that the snow which
lay white and deep on all the open land might deaden any sounds
thereof. But I heard nothing save the wail of the wind overhead as
it rose in gusts. I wondered if Thorgils would be able to bide in
this little cove, or must needs put out to seek some other haven.
There seemed to be a swell setting into it.
So I crept yet farther up the path, crouching behind a point of
rock, and thence I saw a dark line on the snow that seemed to
promise a road, and that must surely lead to some house or village.
I went forward to it with all caution, and with my head over my
shoulder, as they say, but I saw no man. This track led east and
west, and was well trodden by cattle, but there were few footprints
of men on it, so far as I could see. So I turned into it, going
ever away from the ship, and hurrying. I had a thought that I heard
shouts behind me, but there was more wind here on the heights than
I had felt on the sea, or it was rising, and it sung strangely
round the bare points of rock that jutted up everywhere. Maybe it
was but that.
Inland I could see no sign of house or hut where I might find food
at least, but the cloud wrack had drifted across the moon, and I
could not see far now. It was a desolate coast, all unlike our own.
Then I came to a place where the track crossed stony ground and was
lost in gathered snow. When I was across that I had lost the road
altogether, and had only the line of the cliffs to guide me to what
shelter I could not tell. And now a few flakes of snow fluttered
round me, and I held on hopelessly, thinking that surely I should
come to some place that would give me a lee of rock that I could
Then the snow swooped down on me heavily, with a whirl and rush of
wind from the sea, and I tried to hurry yet more from the chill.
Then I was sure that I heard voices calling after me, and I ran,
not rightly knowing where to go, but judging that the coastline
would lead me to some fishers' village in the end. There seemed no
hope from the land I had seen.
Again the voices came--nay, but there was one voice only, and it
called me by my name: "Oswald, Oswald!"
I stopped and listened, for I thought of Thorgils. But the voice
was silent, and again I pressed on in the blinding snow, and at
once it came, wailing:
It was behind me now and close at hand, and I turned with my hand
on my sword hilt. But there was nothing. Only the snow whirled
round me, and the wind sung in the rocks. I called softly, but
there was no answer, and I was called no more as I stood still.
I had turned to go on my way when it came this time, and now I
could have sworn that I knew the voice, though whose it was I could
"Who calls me," I cried, facing round.
Then a chill that was not of cold wind and snow fell on me, for
there was silence, and into my mind crept the knowledge of where I
had last heard that voice. It was long years ago--at Eastdean in
"Father!" I cried. "Father!"
There was no reply, and I stood there for what seemed a long time
waiting one. I called again and again in vain.
"It is weakness," I said to myself at last, and turned.
At once the voice was wailing, with some wild terror as it seemed,
at my very shoulder, with its cry of my name, and I must needs turn
once more sharply:
My foot struck a stone as I wheeled round, and it grated on others
and seemed to stop. But as I listened for the voice I heard a
crash, and yet another, and at last a far-off rumble that was below
my very feet, and I sprang with a cry away from the sound, for I
knew that I stood on the very brink of some gulf. And then the snow
ceased for a moment and the moon shone out from the break in the
clouds, and I saw that my last footprint whence the voice had made
me turn was on the edge of an awesome rift that cleft the level
surface on the downland, clean cut as by a sword stroke, right
athwart my path. Even in clear daylight I had hardly seen that gulf
until I was on its very brink, for I could almost have leapt it,
and nought marked its edge. And in its depths I heard the crash and
thunder of prisoned waves.
I do not know that I ever felt such terror as fell on me then. It
was the terror that comes of thinking what might have been, after
the danger is past, and that is the worst of all. I sank down on
the snow with my knees trembling, and I clutched at the grass that
I might not feel that I must even yet slip into that gulf that was
so close, though there was no slope of the ground toward it. Sheer
and sudden it gaped with sharp edges, as the mouth of some monster
that waited for prey.
There on the snow I believe that I should have bided to sleep the
sleep of the frozen, for I hardly dared to move. The snow whirled
round me again, but I did not heed it, and with a great roar the
wind rose and swept up the rift with a sound as of mighty harps,
but it did not rouse me. Only my father's voice came to me again
and called me, and I rose up shaking and followed it as it came
from time to time, until I was once more on the track that I had
There it left me, but the sadness that had been in its tones was
gone when it last came. And surely that was the touch of no
snowflake that lit on my hand for a moment and was gone.
Now I grew stronger, and the fear of the unseen was no longer on
me, and I battled onward with wind and snow for a long way. Thanks
to the wind, the track was kept clear of the snow, and I did not
lose it again until it led me to help that was unlooked for.
There came the sound of a bell to me, strange sounding indeed, but
a bell nevertheless, and I knew that somewhere close at hand was
surely some home of monks who would take me in with all kindness.
And presently the track led me nearer to the sound of the sea, and
at last bent sharply to the right and began to go downhill, while
the sound of the bell grew plainer above the roar of nearer
breakers yet. I felt that I was passing down such a gorge as that
up which I had come from the boat, but far narrower, for I had not
gone far before I could touch the rocky walls with either hand.
Then I came to steps, and they were steep, but below me still
sounded the bell, and the hoarse breakers were very near at hand. I
expected to see the lights of some little fishing village every
moment, but the wind that rushed up the narrow space between the
cliff walls and brought the salt spray with it almost blinded me.
Suddenly the stairway turned so sharply that I almost fell, and
then I found my way downward barred by what seemed a great
rough-faced rock that was right across the gorge, if one may call a
mere cleft in the cliffs so, and barred my way, while the strange
bell sounded from beyond it. But it was sheltered under this
barrier, and I felt along it to find out where I had to climb over,
thinking that the stairway must lead up its face. But there was no
stair, and as I groped my hand came on cut stone, and when I felt
it I knew that I had come to a doorway, for I found the woodwork,
but in no way could I find how it opened.
I kicked on it, therefore, and shouted, but it seemed that none
heard. The bell went on and then stopped, and I thought I heard
footsteps on the far side of the barrier. They came nearer, and
then were almost at the door, paused for a moment, and then the
door was opened and the red light from a fire flashed out on me,
showing the tall form of a man in monk's dress in its opening.
"Come in, my son," said a grave voice, speaking Welsh, that had no
wonder in it, though one could hardly have expected to see an armed
and gold-bedecked Saxon here in the storm.
I stumbled into what I had thought a rock, and found when my eyes
grew used to the light that I was in a house built of great stones,
uncemented but wonderfully fitted together, and warm and bright
with the driftwood fire, though I heard the spray rattle on the
roof of flat stones, and the wind howled strangely around the
walls. Both ends of this house were of the living rock of the sides
of the gorge, and at one end seemed to be a sort of cave with a
The man who had bidden me in stood yet at the open door looking out
on his staircase, but he did not bide there long. With a sigh he
turned and closed the door and came in, hardly looking at me, but
turning toward the cave I had just noticed. He was an old man, very
old indeed, with a long white beard and pale face lined with
countless wrinkles, and he stooped a little as he walked. But his
face was calm and kind, though he did not smile at me, and I felt
that here I was safe with one of no common sort.
"Come, my son," he said, "it is the hour of prime. Glad am I to
have one with me after many days."
He waited for no answer, and I followed him for the few steps that
led to the rock cavern; and there was a tiny oratory with its altar
and cross, and wax lights already burning.
The old man knelt in his place and I knelt with him, and as he
began the office straightway I knew how worn out I was, and of a
sudden the lights danced before me and I reeled and fell with a
clatter and clash of arms on the rocky floor. I seemed to know that
the old man turned and looked and rose up from his knees hastily,
and I tried to say that I was sorry that I had broken the peace of
this holy place; but he answered in his soft voice:
"Why, poor lad, I should have seen that you were spent ere this.
The fault is mine."
He raised me gently, and seemed to search me for some wound. And as
he did so I came more to myself, and begged him to go on with his
"First comes care of the afflicted, my son, and after that may be
prayer. In truth, to help the fainting is in itself a prayer, as I
think. Come to the fireside and tell me what is amiss."
"Fasting and fighting and freezing, father," I said, trying to
"Are you wounded?" he asked quickly.
"No, not at all."
"That is well. It is a brave heart that will jest in such a case as
yours, for you are ice from head to foot. Well, I had better hear
your story, if you will tell it me, in the daylight. Now get those
wet garments off you and put on this. I will get you food, and you
This was surely the last place where my foes would think of looking
for me, and the snow would hide every trace of my path. So I made
no delay, but took off my byrnie and garments. There was a pool on
the floor where I stood, for it was true enough that I had been ice
covered. Then I put on a rough warm brown frock with a cord round
the waist, so that I looked like a lay brother at Glastonbury, and
all the while I waxed more and more sleepy with the comfort of the
place. But I wiped my arms carefully while the old priest was busy
with a cauldron over the fire, and we were ready at the same time.
Then I had a meal of some sort of stew that seemed the best I ever
tasted, and a long draught of good mead, while the host looked on
in grave content. And then he spread a heap of dry seaweed in a
corner near the fire, and blessed me and bid me sleep. Nor did I
need a second bidding, and I do not think that I can have stirred
from the time that I lay down to the moment when I woke with a
feeling on me that it was late in the daylight.
So it was, and I looked round for my kind host, but he was not to
be seen. Outside the wind was still strong, but not what it had
been, for the gale was sinking suddenly as it rose, and into the
one little window the sun shone brightly enough now and then as the
clouds fled across it. There was a bright fire on the hearth, and
over it hung a cauldron, whence steam rose merrily, and it was
plain that my friend of last night was not far off, so I lay still
and waited his return.
Then my eyes fell on my clothes and arms as they hung from pegs in
the walls over against me, and it seemed as if the steel of mail
and helm and sword had been newly burnished. Then I saw also that a
rent in my tunic, made when my horse fell, had been carefully
mended, and that no speck of the dust and mire I had gathered on my
garments from collar to hose was left. All had been tended as
carefully as if I had been at home, and I saw Elfrida's little
brooch shining where I had pinned it.
That took me back to Glastonbury in a moment, but I had to count
before I could be sure that it was but a matter of hours since I
took that gift in the orchard, rather than of months. And I
wondered if Owen knew yet that I was lost, or if my men sought me
still. Then my mind went to Evan, the chapman outlaw, and I thought
that by this time he would have given me up, and would be far away
by now, beyond the reach of Thorgils and his wrath.
Now the seaward door opened, and a swirl of spray from the breakers
on the rocks came in with my host, who set a great armful of drift
wood on the floor, closed it, and so turned to me.
"Good morrow, my son," he said. "How fare you after rest?"
"Well as can be, father," I answered, sitting up. "Stiff I am, and
maybe somewhat black and blue, but that is all. I have no hurt. But
surely I have slept long?"
"A matter of ten hours, my son, and that without stirring. You
needed it sorely, so I let you be. Now it is time for food, but
first you shall have a bath, and that will do wonders with the
Thankful enough was I of the great tub of hot water he had ready
for me, and after it and a good meal I was a new man. My host said
nought till I had finished, and then it was I who broke the silence
"Father," I said, "I have much to thank you for. What may I call
"They name me Govan the Hermit, my son."
"I do not know how to say all I would, Father Govan," I went on,
"but I was in a sore strait last night, and but for your bell I
think I must have perished in the snow, or in some of the clefts of
"I rang the bell for you, my son, though I knew not why. It came on
me that one was listening for some sign of help in the storm."
"How could you know?" I asked in wonder.
Govan shook his head.
"I cannot tell. Men who bide alone as I bide have strange bodings
in their solitude. I have known the like come over me before, and
it has ever been a true warning."
Now it was my turn to be silent, for all this was beyond me. I had
heard of hermits before, but had never seen one. If all were like
this old man, too much has not been said of their holiness and
nearness to unseen things.
So for a little while we sat and looked into the fire, each on a
three-legged stool, opposite one another. Then at last he asked,
almost shyly, and as if he deemed himself overbold, how it was that
I had come to be on the cliffs. That meant in the end that he heard
all my story, of course, but my Welsh halted somewhat for want of
use, and it was troublesome to tell it. However, he heard me with
something more than patience, and when I ended he said:
"Now I know how it is that a Saxon speaks the tongue of Cornwall
here in Dyfed. You have had a noble fostering, Thane, for even here
we lamented for the loss of Owen the prince. We have seen him in
Pembroke in past years. You will be most welcome there with this
news, for Howel, our prince, loved him well. They are akin,
moreover. It will be well that you should go to him for help."
He rose up and went to the seaward door again, and I followed him
out. The sea was but just below us, for the tide was full, and the
breakers were yet thundering at the foot of the cliffs on either
hand. But I did not note that at first, for the thing which held my
eyes at once was a ship which was wallowing and plunging past us
eastward, under close reefed sail, and I knew her for the vessel in
which I had crossed. Thorgils had left the cove, and was making for
Tenby while he might. I should have to seek him there.
"How far is it to the Danes' town, Father Govan?" I asked. "Yonder
goes my friend's ship."
"Half a day's ride, my son, and with peril for you all the way. Our
poor folk would take you for a Dane in those arms, and you have no
horse. Needs must that you seek Howel, and he will give you a guard
Then he turned toward a great rock that lay on the beach, as if it
had fallen from the cliffs that towered above us.
"Here is the bell that you heard last night," he said.
He took a rounded stone that lay on the rock and struck it, and I
knew that the clear bell note that it gave out was indeed that
which had been my saving.
"Once I had a bell in the cote on the roof yonder," he said, "but
the Danes caught sight of it when they first passed this way, and
took it from me. Then as I sorrowed that the lonely shepherds and
fishers might no more hear its call, I seemed to see a vision of an
angel who bade me see what had been sent me instead. And when I
went out as the vision bade me, I could see nought but this rock
newly fallen, and was downcast. And so, from the cliff rolled a
little stone and smote it, and it rang, and I knew the gift. To my
hearing it has a sweeter voice than the bell made with hands."
Then he showed me his well, roofed in with flat stones because the
birds would wash in it, and so close to the sea salt that it seemed
altogether wonderful that the water was fresh and sweet. And then I
saw that the cell did indeed stretch from side to side of the
narrow cleft down which I had come, so that each end of the
building was of living rock.
"I built it with my own hands, my son," he said. "I cannot tell how
long ago that was, for time is nought to me, but it was many years.
Once I wore arms and had another name, but that also I care not to
Then there came footsteps from above us, and looking up I saw a man
in a rough fisher's dress coming in haste down the long flight of
rock-hewn steps that led from the cliff top down the cleft to the
door that I had found last night, and soon we heard him calling to
Govan left me, and went through the cell to speak with him, but was
back very shortly.
"Howel the prince is coming hither," he said. "The man you saw has
seen him on the way, and came to warn me to be at hand for him. It
is well for you, my son, as I am sure."
So we went together into the house, and I thought to arm myself,
but Govan smiled and asked me not to do so, saying that hither even
Howel would come without his weapons, in all likelihood.
I understood him, and did but see that my sword was in reach before
I sat down and waited for the coming of the Welsh prince, and I
thought that all I need ask him was for help to reach Tenby,
whither Thorgils must have gone. It was quite likely that Evan
might have raised the country against me in hopes of taking me
again. And maybe I would ask for justice on the said Evan. Also I
wanted to hear what had happened after my going.
It was not long that I had to wait. There came the tramp of horses
at the top of the gorge, and the sound of a voice or two, and then
the tread of an armed man came slowly down the stair, and Govan
went to meet him. I rose and waited for his entry.
Now there came in, following Govan, unhelmed as he had greeted the
holy man, a handsome, middle-aged warrior, black haired and eyed
and active looking. He wore the short heavy sword of the Roman
pattern, gold hilted and scabbarded, at his side, and the helm he
carried had a high plumed crest and hanging side pieces that seemed
like those pictured on the walls of Gerent's palace. He had no body
armour on, and his dress was plain enough, of white woollen stuff
with broad crimson borders, but round his neck was a wonderful
twisted collar of gold, and heavy golden bracelets rang as his arms
moved. I saw that his first glance went to me, and that his face
changed when he saw that I was not one of his own people, but a
foreigner, as he would hold me. I saw too that he noted my arms as
they hung on the wall behind me.
Govan saw it also, and made haste to tell him who I was.
"This is one who should be welcome to you, Prince, for the sake of
old days, for he has come by mischance from Dyvnaint, being foster
son of one of the princes of Gerent's court, though a Saxon by
birth. Nevertheless he speaks our tongue well. He will tell you all
that presently, and I think that he needs your help."
"I thought you one of our troublesome neighbours, the Danes," he
said, with a smile now in place of the look of doubt. "But if you
are from Dyvnaint there are many things that you can tell me. But I
have come here to see that all is well with Father Govan, for there
is talk of a mad Norseman who is roving the country, unless the
cold has ended him in the night. It is good to see that nought is
Now I stood apart, and Govan and his guest spoke together for a few
moments before my turn to tell Howel of my plight should come, and
almost the next thing that the prince said made me wonder that I
had not thought who he was at once. Of course, he was the father of
the kindly princess who had crossed the sea with Thorgils, and had
so nearly been the means of my earlier rescue.
"Nona, my daughter, is here at the cliff top, Father Govan," Howel
said. "She came home in the Norse ship last night, as we planned;
but tide failed for Tenby, and it chanced that the ship had to put
in at the old landing place. Now she wants to thank you for your
prayers for her, and also to beg them for some sick man about whom
she is troubling herself--some poor hurt knave of a trader who
crossed in the ship with her."
"I will go out and speak with her," Govan said, smiling. "It is
ever her way to think of the troubled."
"Tell her that I will not keep her long in the cold," Howel said.
"Bid her keep her horse walking, lest he take chill, if I may ask
as much, Father."
Govan threw his cowl over his head, and answered:
"I will tell her. Now, Prince, this friend of mine has come here in
a strange way, and I think he needs help that you can give him."
He passed out of the cliffward door and went his way up the long
stairway. Then Howel asked me how he could help me.
"Tell me about Dyvnaint also, for when I was a boy I was long at
Gerent's court. Did not Govan say that you were fostered by one of
the princes? It is likely that I knew your foster father well, if
so; was he Morgan?"
"Not Morgan, but Owen," I answered, and at that Howel almost
started to his feet.
"Owen!" he cried. "Does he yet live? Surely we all thought him
dead, or else he had come hither to us when he was banished. I
loved him well in the old days, and glad I am that you are not
Morgan's charge. Tell me all about Owen. Is he home again?"
"Morgan is dead," I answered, feeling that here I had met with a
friend in all certainty. "And because of that, Owen is in his place
again, and I am here. It has all happened in this week, and to tell
you of it is to tell you all my trouble."
Now he was all impatience to hear, and I told him all that needed
to be told, until I came to the time when Owen was back at Norton
with the old king. Then he asked me some questions about matters
there, and in the midst of my answers sprang up.
"Why," he cried, "here I have forgotten the girl, and she ought to
be hearing all this, instead of sitting in the cold on the cliff.
She is Owen's goddaughter, moreover, and he was here only a little
time before he was banished. She can remember him well."
"Stay, though," he said, sitting down again. "There is your own
tale yet. Let us hear it. Maybe that is not altogether so
My own thought was that I was glad I might tell it without the
wondering eyes of the fair princess on me, being afraid in a sort
of way of having her think of me as the helpless sick man she had
pitied. So I hastened to tell all that story.
And when I came to the way in which Evan brought me, Howel's eyes
flashed savagely, and a black scowl came over his handsome face,
sudden as a thunderstorm in high summer.
"It will be a short shrift and a long rope for that Evan when I
catch him," he said. "He comes here every year, and I suppose that
the goods I have had from him at times have been plunder. I would
that you had ended him last night. Now he has got away in peace,
and is out of my reach, maybe, by this time. Well, how went it?"
Then I told him the end of the tale, wondering how it was that
Thorgils had let him go. I asked the prince if he could explain
that for me.
"Not altogether," he said. "Evan sent to me to ask me for men to
guard the ship presently, after we began the feast, saying that he
was going ashore with his goods, and was responsible to the
shipmaster. I told Thorgils, and he said it was well. So I sent a
guard, and presently Evan came and spoke with Thorgils for a little
while, and drank a cup of wine, and so went his way. Next morning,
before he sailed, Thorgils came and grumbled about the loss of his
boat, saying that Evan had taken some sick friend of his ashore in
her, and that she had not come back. I paid him for it too, because
I like the man, and so does my daughter. He sailed, and then I
heard of the fight for the first time."
Howel laughed a little to himself.
"Master Evan must have paid my rascals well to keep up the story of
the sick man to Thorgils, for he said nothing to me of any fight.
Maybe, however, he never spoke to any of them, and it is likely
that they would not say much to him. And now, by the Round Table!
if you are not the mad Norseman they prated of to me when I wanted
to know who slew the two men, and if you are not the sick man that
Nona is so anxious about! Here, she must come and see you!"
With that he got up and went to the door before I could stay him,
and called gaily to the princess, whose horse I could hear stamping
high above us.
"Ho, Nona, here is a friend of yours whom you will be glad to see.
Ask Father Govan to let you come hither, and bid the men take your
So I must make the best of it, and I will say that I felt foolish
enough. It was in my mind, though, that I owed many thanks to the
princess for all her kind thought for me as sick man. I had already
said as much to Howel. So I began to try to frame some sort of
speech for her. One never remembers how such speeches always fail
at the pinch.
The light footsteps came down the steps in no long time, and then
the princess entered, dressed much as yesterday, with a bright
colour from the wind, and looking round to see the promised friend.
"I have kept you long, daughter," Howel said, taking her hand, "but
I have been hearing good news. Here is Oswald of Wessex, a king's
thane, but more than that to us, for he is the adopted son of your
own godfather, Owen of Cornwall, and he brings the best of tidings
Now the maiden's face flushed with pleasure, and she held out her
hand to me in frank welcome. Yet I saw a little wondering look on
her face as she let her eyes linger on mine for a moment, and that
"You are most welcome, Thane," she said. "It is a wonderful thing
that here I should learn that my lost godfather yet lives. You will
come to Pembroke with us, and tell me of him there?"
Then Howel laughed as if he had a jest that would not keep, and he
cried: "Why, Nona, that is a mighty pretty speech, but surely one
asks a sick man of his health first."
She blushed a little, and glanced again at me.
"Surely the thane is not hurt?" she said.
"Yesterday he was, and that sorely. What was it, Thane?--Slipped
shoulder, broken thigh, and broken jaw? All of which a certain
maiden pitied most heartily, even to lending a blanket to the poor
Then Nona blushed red, and I made haste to get rid of some of the
thanks that were heartfelt enough if they came unreadily to my
lips, and Howel laughed at both of us. I think that the princess
found her way out of the little constraint first, for she began to
"There must be a story for me to hear about all this," she said.
"But I was sure that I had seen your eyes before. I was wondering
where it could have been."
"Well," said Howel, "I have sat with the thane for close on an
hour, and now I do not know what colour his eyes are."
"They were all that I could see of him, father," laughed the
princess, and then she put the matter aside. "Now we have been here
long enough, and good Govan shivers on the hilltop. Surely the
thane will ride home with us, and we can talk on the way."
Howel added at once that this was the best plan for me, and what he
was about to ask me himself.
"I know you will want to get home again as soon as may be," he
said. "No doubt Thorgils will take you at once. I will have word
sent to him at Tenby to stay for you."
"Father, you have forgotten," the princess said, somewhat
doubtfully, as I thought.
"Nay, but I have not," answered Howel grimly. "But honest Thorgils
is a white heathen, and those Tenby men are black heathen. He does
not come into our quarrels, and will heed me, if they will not."
I minded that I had heard of trouble between the Tenby Danes and
this prince, and it seemed that he spoke of it again. However, that
I might hear by and by. So I thanked him, and said that I could
wish for nothing better than to be his guest until I could go on my
Now the princess went to the cliff top and called Govan, while I
armed myself. The hermit came back, and I bade him farewell, with
many thanks for his kindnesses during the hours I had been with
him; and so I went from the little cell with the blessing of Govan
the Hermit on me, and that was a bright ending to hours which had
been dark enough. Govan the Saint, men call him, now that he has
gone from among them, and rightly do they give him that name, as I
Howel dismounted one of his men, and set me on the horse in his
place, and then we rode to the camp at the landing place by the
track which had led me hither, passing the head of the rift from
which I had escaped, so that I saw its terrors in full daylight.
And they were even more awesome to me than as I hung on the brink
with the depths unknown below me. Then Howel told me how once a
hunter had come suddenly on that gulf with his horse at full
gallop, and had been forced to leap or court death by checking the
steed. He had cleared it in safety, but the terror of what he had
done bided with him, so that he died in no long time; I could well
Then the princess told me many things of Govan, and among others
that the poor folk held that when the Danes came and stole the bell
from him he had been hidden from them in the rock wall of the
chapel, which had gaped to take him in, closing on him and setting
him free when danger was past. Certainly there was a cleft in the
rock wall of the chapel wall that had markings as of the ribs of a
man in its sides, and was just the height and width for one to
stand in, but Govan said nought to me about it when he told of the
taking of the bell. Danes also slew all these cattle whose bones I
had passed among.
Then we came in sight of the camp, over which the red dragon banner
of Wales floated, and Howel told me how it was that he had met us
there with his guards.
"Men saw Thorgils' ship from the lookout, and so I came here, for
they said that she could not make Tenby on this tide and must needs
come in here. Nona has been for three months with her mother's folk
in Cornwall--ay, she is half Cornish, and kin to Gerent and Owen. I
was married over there, at Isca, and Owen was at the wedding as my
best man, though he is ten years younger than I. That is how he
came to be the girl's godfather, you see. Now I wanted her back,
for it is lonely at Pembroke without her, and I am apt to wax testy
with folk if she is not near to keep things straight. So I sent
word by Thorgils six weeks ago that she was to come back, and he
was to bring her. I have had the men watching for the ship ever
since. Good it is to see her again, and she has brought good news
also, with yourself. I have a mind to keep you with us awhile, and
let the Norseman take back word of your safety."
But I said that, however pleasant this would be, it seemed plain
that I must get back to Owen with all speed, to warn him of this
trouble that was somewhat more than brewing. It could not be
thought that I would send word and yet never move to his side to
"If I might say what comes into my mind," said the fair princess,
"it seems almost better that none but Owen and yourself know that
the plot is found out, while you guard against it. The traitors
will be less careful if they deem that nought is known. Thorgils is
somewhat talkative, you know."
"That is right," said Howel. "I have a good counsellor here, Thane,
as you see. However, Thorgils will not sail today, for he has just
put in, and I know that he was complaining of some sort of damage
done, as the gale set a bit of a sea into the cove, and he had some
ado to keep clear of the rocks for a time. We will even ride to
Pembroke, and I will send for Thorgils that he may speak with you."
And then he added grimly:
"Moreover, I will send men on the track of Evan, the chapman,
So we called out the guards from the camp, where there were lines
of huts with a greater building in the midst as if it were often
used thus, and so rode across the rolling land northwards till we
came to Pembroke. And there Howel of Dyfed dwelt in state in such a
palace as that of Gerent, for here again the hand of the Saxon had
never come, and the buildings bore the stamp of Imperial Rome.
So once again I was lodged within stone walls, and with a roof
above me that I could touch with my hand, and I need not say how I
fared in all princely wise as the son of Owen. I suppose there
could be no more frank and friendly host than Howel of Dyfed.
Tired I was that night also, and I slept well. But once I woke with
a fear for Owen on me, for I had dreamed that I saw some man
creeping and spying along the wide ramparts of Norton stronghold.
And it seemed that the man had a bow in his hand.
CHAPTER VIII. HOW OSWALD LOST A HUNT, AND FOUND SOMEWHAT STRANGE IN CAERAU
I thought Pembroke a very pleasant place when I came to see it in
the fair winter's morning. The gale had passed, but it had brought
a thaw with it, and there was a softness in the air again, and the
light covering of snow had gone when I first looked abroad. There
had been no such heavy fall here as we had in Wessex beyond the
Maybe pleasant companionship had something to do with my thought of
the place, for none can deny that a good deal does depend on who is
with one. And, seeing that after the morning meal her father was
busy with his counsellors for a time, Nona the princess would shew
me all that was to be seen while we waited the coming of Thorgils.
Whoever chose the place for the building of this palace stronghold
chose well, for it is set on a rocky tongue of land that divides
the waters of an inland branch of the winding Milford Haven, so
that nought but an easily defended ridge of hill gives access to
the fortress. All the tongue itself has sheer rock faces to the
water, and none might hope to scale them. They and the wall across
the one way from the mainland, as one may call it, make Howel's
home sure, and since the coming of the Danes into the land he had
strengthened what had fallen somewhat into decay in the long years
of peace that had passed.
We had never reached Dyfed, either from land or sea. So I saw hawks
and hounds, stables and guardrooms and all else, and at last we
walked on the terraced edge of the cliffs in the southern sun, and
there a man came and said that Thorgils the Norseman had come.
"Oh," said Nona with a little laugh, "he knows not that you are
here! Let us see his face when he meets you!"
"The prince is busy," said the servant. "Is it your will that the
stranger should be brought here?"
"Yes, bring him. Tell him that I would speak with him, but say
nought of any other."
The man bowed and went his way, and the princess turned to me with
a new look of amusement on her face.
"Pull that cloak round you, Thane, and pay no heed to him when he
comes; we may have sport."
They had given me a long Welsh cloak of crimson, fur bordered, and
a cap to wear with it instead of my helm. And of course I had not
on my mail, though Ina's sword was at my side, and Gerent's
bracelet on my arm, setting off a strange medley of black-and-blue
bruises and red chafed places from the cords, moreover. So I
laughed, and did as she bade me, even as I saw Thorgils brought
round the palace toward us from the courtyard where they had taken
charge of his horse. There were two other men with him, tall, wiry
looking warriors, and all three were well armed, but in a fashion
which was neither Welsh nor Saxon, but more like the latter than
"Danes from Tenby," said Nona; "I know them both, and like them.
See what wondrous mail they have, and look at the sword hilt of the
elder man. That is Eric, the chief, and I think he comes to speak
with my father."
The two Danes hung back as they saw that Howel was not present, but
Thorgils unhelmed and came forward quickly, with the courtly bow he
knew how to make when he chose, as he saluted the princess. Then he
turned slightly to me with his stiff salute, and as I nodded to him
I saw him start and look keenly at me. Then he looked away again,
and tried to seem unheeding, but it was of no use; his eyes came
back to me.
"You seem to have met our friend before, Shipmaster," said Nona,
whose eyes were dancing.
"I cannot have done so, Princess," he answered. "But on my word, I
never saw so strange a likeness to one I do know."
"I trust that is a compliment to my friend," she said.
"Saving the presence of the one who is like the man I know, I may
say for certain that it is nought else to him."
I turned away somewhat smartly, for I wanted to laugh, and this was
getting personal. The princess was not unwilling, I think, that it
should be more so.
"Now you have offended the present, and I shall have to say that
the absent need not be so."
"Nor the present either, Princess. See here, Lord, the man you are
so wondrous like in face did the bravest deed I have seen for many
a day. Moreover, he saved the life of a king thereby. Shall I tell
Now this was a new tale to Nona, for, as may be supposed, I had not
said that it was myself who handled Morgan so roughly, as I told
the tale of his end. It would have seemed like boasting myself
somewhat, as I thought, so I did but say that he was dragged away
from the king in time. Nor had I spoken of Elfrida. The tale was
told hurriedly, and when it was done there had been no thought but
of Owen. It was greater news here that he lived than that Ina had
So she glanced round at me in some surprise, and then turned again
"Some time you shall, for I love your songs. Not now, for we have
"Thanks, Lady. It will be a good song, and is shaping well in my
mind. There is a brave lady therein also."
"Well, you have not told us who the brave man is.
"Did I not know that Oswald, son of Owen the Cornish prince, was by
this time in Glastonbury, I should have said he was here, so great
is the likeness. It is a marvel.
"Now, Lord, you will forgive me, no doubt."
"Ay, freely," I said, turning round sharply. "That is, if your
friend has a sword as good as this," and I shewed him the gemmed
hilt of Ina's gift from beneath the folds of my great cloak.
He stared at it, and then at my face again, and I took off my cap
to him with a bow.
"It is strange that a shipmaster knows not his own passenger," I
But he was dumb for a moment, and his mouth opened. Nona laughed at
him and clapped her hands with glee, and I must laugh also.
"By Baldur," he gasped, "if it is not Oswald, in the flesh! What
witchcraft brought you here? To my certain knowledge there is no
ship but mine afloat now in the Severn Sea."
"Why, then, I crossed with you, friend," I said.
"That you did not--" he began, but stopped short.
"Thorgils, Thorgils--the sick man!" cried Nona.
"Oh!" said Thorgils, "can you have been Evan's charge?"
"Ay. Mind you that it was your own word that there might be danger
from the friends of Morgan?"
Then I told him all, and he heard with growls and head shakings,
which but for the presence of the lady might have been hard sayings
concerning my captors.
But when I ended he said:
"If ever I catch the said Evan there will be a reckoning. All the
worse it will be for him that for these five years past I have
known him, and deemed him a decent and trustworthy man, for a Welsh
trader. I have fetched him back and forth with his goods twice or
thrice a year for all that time, and now I suppose he has made me a
carrier of stolen wares! Plague on him. I mind me now that betimes
I have thought he dealt in cast-off garments somewhat, but that was
not my affair. Now one knows how that was."
"I liked the man well, also," said the princess, with a sigh. "He
has come here every year, and betimes as he shewed me his
goods--not those you spoke of, Thorgils--it has seemed to me that
he was downcast, and as one who had sorrow in his heart. Maybe he
had, for his ill doings. He deserves to be punished, but yet I
would ask that--that if you lay hands on him you will be merciful."
"He shewed little mercy to Oswald the thane," growled Thorgils.
"However, Princess, I think that you may be easy. He will not risk
aught, and we shall see him no more. But the knave would beguile
Loki. Never a word did I hear of any trouble, but he came and spoke
to me as I sat with your men yonder, and paid me his passage money,
and said he had asked for a guard for the ship as he wanted to be
away with the sick man. Also he said he would borrow the boat for
his easier passage ashore. I supposed she was smashed in the gale,
as she came not back, and Howel paid me for her when I grumbled."
"I wonder he went near you," I said.
"Therein was craft. If he had not paid passage I would have let
every shipmaster beware of him, and he would have fared ill. He
thought you done for, no doubt, and so fell back on certainty, as
one may say. It is a marvel you escaped the great rifts in yon
cliffs in the storm. Now he will hear that you are none the worse,
and he will be sorry he paid me."
Thorgils laughed grimly, but Nona sighed at the downfall of the man
she had liked. As for myself, it mattered little what became of
him, so far as I was concerned. Howel's men were hunting him as I
knew, and I only hoped they might catch him, for then we might
learn more of the plotting that was on hand from him. He would tell
all to save his skin, no doubt.
But now I told Thorgils how I needed to be back in Norton with all
speed, and it sent a sort of chill through me to see him shake his
"There is need, truly," he said, "and all that may be done I will
do. But yestermorn we found that we had sprung a plank or two just
above the waterline, as we were in a bad berth for shelter. I made
shift to get the ship to Tenby, but on one tack she leaks like a
basket, and she must be repaired. It will take all today, and maybe
tomorrow; but it shall be done, if we have to work double tides, or
to make a cobbler's job of it in haste. I must be off therefore to
see to it. But I hope, if wind will serve us we may sail for home
tomorrow night. Tide serves about midnight, and waits for no man.
You had better be with us betimes."
He saw that I seemed downcast, and added thoughtfully enough: "It
is in my mind that you need have little care yet. Gerent will not
let Owen out of his sight for some time, as I think, and danger
begins when he is abroad alone, and carelessly. Maybe not till he
is at Exeter."
Then he beckoned to the two Danes who were waiting him, and made
them known to me after they had saluted the princess. Eric the
chief was a fine old warrior, iron grey and strong, and the other
was his son, who bade fair to be like his father in time. He was a
sturdy young man, and wore his arms well. They shook hands with me
frankly, and from their words it was plain that Thorgils had told
my story at Tenby already.
"This is the sick man I told you of," he said now. "He turns out to
be a Thane of Glastonbury, and Evan had a hand in some plot of the
friends of Morgan. Took him by craft and brought him here for
ransom, doubtless. I had not thought that man such a knave, and
shall distrust my judgment of men sorely in future."
Then Nona asked them what they would with the prince, and Eric told
"The deer are in the valleys, Lady, and we came to tell the prince
that we have harboured the great stag of twelve points in the woods
beyond Caerau. Will it please him to join our hunt?"
"Doubtless," she said. "Now there is no time to be lost, for the
day is high already."
"None the worse, Princess," said Eric. "The last snow is passing
So we went round to the front of the palace toward the gates, and
there waited half a dozen more men and horses by a gathering of men
on foot with a pack of great hounds, the like of which I had never
seen. They were the Danish hounds, which had come hither with their
masters, and were big and strong enough for any quarry, even were
it the bear that yet lurked in the Welsh mountain wilds.
Then Howel came, and would have me mounted well, and in less than
half an hour we were riding eastward along the ancient way they
call the Ridgeway, which crowns the long hill between the sea and
the valleys where lie the windings of Milford Haven. And so we went
till we could see Tenby itself far off on its rocky ness, and at
that point left Thorgils to go his way, while we turned northward
into the inland valleys, and sought the deep combe where they had
harboured the stag.
The snow lay here and there yet, but it was almost gone, and the
going was somewhat heavy, but overhead the sky was soft and grey,
and the wind was pleasant if chill. North and west it was, and that
would be fair for our crossing, if only it would hold, as Thorgils
deemed that it surely would.
Now it was good to hear the horn and the cheer of the hunters as
they drew the deep cover for the deer, and the half-dozen couple of
hounds that were held back in leash while the rest were at their
work strained and whimpered to be with them. And at last the great
stag broke from the cover, in no haste, but in a sort of disdain of
those who had disturbed him, and after him came a few scurrying
hinds who huddled to him for safely. They trotted to another cover,
and after them streamed the hounds, and then the great stag was
driven alone from his hiding, and so the pack was laid on and we
He headed for the far waters of the haven I had seen glittering
from the hilltop, even as Howel told me was likely, and the pace
was fast at the first. So I settled myself to the work and rode as
one should ride on another man's horse, and a good one, moreover,
carefully enough. But these hills were easier than ours, for
heather was none, and the loose stones that trouble us on Mendips
and Quantocks were not to be seen. It was fair grass land mostly.
So I let my horse go, and in a little while had forgotten aught but
the sheer joy of the pace, and the cry of the great hounds, and the
full delight of such a run as one dreams of. Whereby I have little
more to tell thereof.
For a country may seem to be open enough as one looks down on it
from a height, but as one crosses it the difference in what has
seemed easy riding is soon plain. Long swells of rolling ground
rise as it were from nothing, and deep valleys that had been unseen
cross the path, and the clustered trees are found to be deep woods
as they are neared. Then the man who knows the country has the
advantage, and it is as well to follow him. But I was well mounted,
and the pace was good where the gale had thinned the snow, and it
came about that before I had time to think what Howel and Eric and
the Danes who were on horseback were doing I rode down one side of
a little cover, past which the deer had gone with the hounds close
on him, while the rest went on the other. I heard one shout, but it
did not come into my mind that it was to me, for I thought that
they needs must follow, and did not look round. Then I had to turn
off yet more to the right as the best way seemed to take me, and
meanwhile they were off to the left.
So when I was clear of the thicket and could see across the open
again I had lost them. Unless I could hear the hounds I had nothing
to guide me, and I drew rein and listened for them. As I heard
nothing I rode on until I had a stretch of open country before me,
but there I could see no more. Afterwards I learned that the deer
had turned and made for the hill again, but it did not seem likely
that he would do so with the waters of the haven so close at hand
as I could see them. It was more likely that he would head straight
for them, and so I spurred on once more in that direction. It was
certainly the best thing that I could do, and I had not far to go
before a mile of the open water was before me. But there was nought
on its banks but a row of patient herons, fishing or sleeping, and
the sight of them told me that no man had passed this way for many
a long hour.
I waited in that place for a few moments, to see if the deer made
for the refuge of the water from some cover that as yet hid him
from me, but he did not come. It was plain to me then that the hunt
had doubled back and that I was fairly thrown out, and I went no
farther. By this time Eric might be miles away, and I knew nothing
of the lie of the land, save that along the crest of the Ridgeway
ran the road from Tenby to Pembroke, and that once on that road I
could make my way back in no long time. That, as it seemed to me,
was the best thing that I could do, and I headed my horse at once
for the hill, going slowly, for it was no great distance, and it
was heavy going in the places where the snow had gathered in
drifts. I thought that maybe I should cross the track of the horses
and hounds, or hear Eric's horn before I had gone far, but I
reached the foot of the hill without doing either.
Then I came to a place where the land began to draw upward more
sharply, thickly timbered, with scattered rocks among the roots of
the trees. Fox and badger and wildcat had their hiding places here,
for I could trace them on all sides, and then I saw the track of a
wolf, and that minded me, as that track in snow ever must, of Owen
and the day when he came to my help at Eastdean. That is the
clearest memory I have of my childhood.
Then I thought that I heard the horn, and stopped to listen, nor
was it long before what I had heard came to my ears again. It was
not the sound of the horn, however, but somewhat strange to me, and
for a while I wondered what forest bird or beast had a note like
For the third time I heard it, and now it was plainly like the
half-stifled cry of some one in pain among the trees to the right
of me, and not far distant either. So I rode toward the place
whence the cry seemed to come, and as I went I called. At that the
voice rose more often, with some sound of entreaty in its tone, and
it seemed to be trying to form words. I hastened then, crossing
more wolf tracks on the way, and then I struck the trail of many
men and a few horses; but these were not Eric's, for the hoof marks
were rather those of ponies than of his tall steeds. I followed
that track, for it seemed to lead toward the weary voice that I
heard, and so I came to a circle of great oaks with a clear space
of many paces wide between them, and there I found what I was
seeking. It was piteous enough.
A man was tied to the greatest of the trees, with knees to chin,
and bound ankles, while round his knees his hands were clasped and
fastened so that a stout stake was thrust through, under his knees
and over his elbows, trussing him helplessly. The cords that bound
him to the tree were round his body in such wise that he could by
no means fall on his side and so work himself free from the stake,
and round his mouth was a ragged cloth tied, but not closely enough
to prevent him from calling out as I heard him. I think that he
must have gnawed it from closer binding than I saw now. Across the
snow behind him the paws of some daring wolf had left marks as if
the beast had sniffed at his very back not so long since, and
surely but for the chance of my coming that way nought but his
bones had been left in that place by the pack before morning came
It was a strange cry that this man gave when he saw me, for in no
way could I take it for a cry of joy for rescue. I could rather
think that he had raised the same when the wolf came near him. And
when I dismounted and led my horse after me toward him he seemed to
try to shrink from me, as if I also meant him harm. I thought that
the poor soul had surely gone distracted with the fear of the
forest beasts on him, so that he no longer knew friend from foe,
and I wondered how long he had been bound here in this lonely
place. I had seen no house or trace of men between here and Tenby.
I hitched the bridle rein over a low bough, and leaving my horse
went toward him to set him loose, wondering who had left him here.
And as I drew my seax and went to cut the lashings he writhed
afresh and cried piteously for mercy in what sounded like bad Saxon
from behind the cloth across his face, as though he deemed that I
came to slay him. I did not notice the strangeness of his using my
own tongue here in the heart of a Welsh land at the time, but
thought he took me for one of those who had bound him.
"Fear not," I said, speaking in Welsh to comfort him.
And if anything, that seemed to terrify him yet more.
"Mercy, good Thane--mercy!" he mumbled from his half-stifled lips.
Then it seemed to me that it was strange that he knew what I was,
and before I cut the bonds I took the cloth from his face, and lo!
the man was Evan the outlaw, my enemy!
That told me why he feared me in good truth, for he had need to do
so, and I stood back and looked at him with the bright weapon still
in my hand, and he cried and begged for mercy unceasingly. It
seemed but right that he should be bound helplessly as he had bound
me, yet he had not the bitterness of seeing a friend look on him
without knowing him as had I. It was a foe whom he saw, and that a
Then I was minded to turn away and leave him where he was, until
the foe from the forest looked on him for the last time, for it was
all that he deserved, and I set my seax back in my belt and turned
away to my horse with a great loathing of the man in my mind; and
seeing that, he begged for mercy again most pitiably.
That is a hard thing to hear unmoved, and I stayed and looked at
him again. My first wrath was leaving me as I saw the fullness of
the end of his plans, and I do not think that it is in me to be
"What mercy can you hope from me!" I said coldly.
"None, Thane--none. But let me go hence with you. Better the rope
than these wild beasts. Or slay me now, and swiftly."
"Who, of all your friends, tied you here?" I asked him.
"Howel's men," he answered. "They took my goods at the ford of
Caerau yonder, and so brought me here and left me. That was early
"I marvel that you bided in reach of any who might speak with me,"
"My comrades left me, for fear of that same. I must hire ponies to
get the goods away. I thought you had died on the wild sea that
"It seems to me that this is but justice on you. The goods you have
lost were stolen from honest men. And it were just if I left you
bound as you bound me."
Then the man said slowly: "Ay, it is justice. But will you treat me
even as I treated you, Thane?"
I looked at him in some wonder. The man's face had grown calm,
though it was yet grey and drawn, and this seemed as if he would
own his fault without excuse. I minded that Nona the princess and
her father, ay, and Thorgils, had said that they thought well of
Evan the merchant up till this time.
"Supposing I let you go--What then?" I said.
"First of all, I would tell you somewhat for which you will thank
"Tell me that first," I said, not altogether believing that he had
anything which could be worth my hearing, but with a full mind now
to let him go.
Plainly, he had some sort of faith in me, or in the worth of what
he had to say, for he began eagerly:
"Thane, when we took you, it was Owen of Cornwall for whom we
waited. We were not minding you at all until we saw that we might
hurt him through you."
"That I suppose. I know that you laid wait for Owen the prince."
"Ay, for you know the Welsh and heard all that we said. But listen,
Thane, this is it. Eight of the friends of Morgan had sworn the
death of Owen that morning, and it was the leader of them who set
us on. He was not there, for he waited on another road."
"Were you one of the eight?"
"That I am not," he said. "I and my men were but hired, as Morgan
was wont to hire us now and then. When we took you methought that
it was well for me, for through you I might be inlawed again, even
as I told you."
"Who was this leader?" I asked, heeding this last speech not at
"Tregoz of the Dart, men call him, for he holds lands thereon. Also
there are these of the great men of Cornwall and Dyvnaint."
He called over the names of the other seven, and I repeated them
that I should not forget. The only one that I had heard before was
that of Tregoz. The outlaws had spoken of him, and now I remembered
him as one of those who had seemed loudest in welcome to Owen when
he came to Norton. So I told Evan, and he nodded.
"I heard him boast of the same," he said, and I believed him for
the way in which he said it.
"How do they think to slay Owen, and wherefore?" I asked, and my
blood ran cold at the thought of the treachery that was round him.
Doubtless this Tregoz was back at court.
"In any way that they may compass, and if in such a way as to stir
up war with Ina of Wessex so much the better, as they say. It is
revenge for the death of Morgan, and hatred of the Saxon, mixed."
"Is there any more that I should know?"
"None, Thane. But I have broken no oath in telling you this, as you
might think. We outlaws were not bound, for there seemed no need."
It was strange that he should care to tell me this, being what he
was. Once more I minded words of Thorgils--that the knave would
beguile Loki himself with fair words. Yet there was somewhat very
strange in all the looks and words of the man at this time. But I
would not talk longer with him, and I cut his bonds and freed him.
He tried to rise and stretch his cramped limbs, groaning with the
pain of them as he did so. And that grew on him so that of a sudden
he swooned and fell all his length at my feet, and then I found
myself kneeling and chafing the hands of this one who had bound me,
so that he should come round the sooner. At last he opened his
eyes, and I fetched the horn of strong mead that Howel had bidden
his folk hang on my saddle bow when we rode out, and that brought
him to himself again. He sat up on the snow and thanked me humbly.
"Now, what will you do?" I said. "Let me tell you that Thorgils is
after you, and that Howel has set a price on your head, or was
going to do so. And it is better that you cross the sea no more,
for if ever any one of the men of Gerent or Ina catch you your life
will be forfeit."
"I will get me to North Wales or Mercia, Thane, and there will I
live honestly, and that I will swear. Only, I will pray you not to
tell Howel that I am free."
"I am like to tell no man," I answered grimly. "For I should but be
called a soft-hearted fool for my pains."
"Yet shall you be glad that you freed me. Bid Owen the prince look
to the door before ever he opens it. Bid him wear his mail day and
night, and never ride unguarded. Let him have one whom he trusts to
sleep across his doorway, until Tregoz and his men are all
"Well, then," I said, "farewell--as well as you shall deserve
hereafter. You best know if you have one safe place left to you in
England or in Wales."
"I was not all so bad until the law hounded me forth from men," he
said. "I have yet places where I am held as an honest man."
Now I had enough of him, and I would not ask him more of himself
yet I will say that my heart softened somewhat toward him, for I
knew that here also he had been well thought of. Almost did I
forget how he had treated me, for now that seemed a grudge against
Tregoz. Maybe that was all foolishness on my part, but I am not
ashamed thereof today, as I was then.
"Stay, have you any weapon?" I said, as I was turning away. "There
are many ills that may befall an unarmed man in a wild country."
"There was a seax here," he said, rising stiffly. "They left it on
the ground, that I might see help out of my reach, as it were. Ay,
here it is."
He took it up, and I knew that after all he had felt somewhat as he
had made me feel when I saw help close to me and might not have it.
I pitied him, for I knew well what his torture had been. Ay, and I
will tell this, that men may know how this terror burnt into me.
Many a time have I let a trapped rat go, because I would not see
the agony of dumb helplessness in anything. It frays me. There is
no wonder that I set Evan free.
I said no more, but left him staring after me with the seax in his
hand, and rode on my way, thinking most of all of the peril that
was about Owen, and longing to be back with him that I might guard
him. It seemed likely now that Gerent could take all these men
whose names I had heard without the least trouble, for they could
not deem that their plans were known. Ina would surely let me bide
with my foster father till danger to him was past.
So I came into the road that runs along the top of the Ridgeway,
and then I knew where I was. I could see the great ness of Tenby
far before me across the hills, and presently at a turn in the road
I saw Howel and Eric and his men ahead of me. They had taken the
stag, and knew that I should make my way back, and so troubled not
at all for me.
There Howel and I parted from the Danes, they going back to Tenby,
while we returned slowly to Pembroke. And when we came to the
palace yard we found a little train of horses and men there, as
though some new guests had come in lately.
"I know who these will be," said Howel. "You will have company in
your homeward crossing. Here is Dunwal of Devon, and his daughter,
who have been on pilgrimage to St. Davids, for Christmastide. They
knew that Nona returned at this time, and have come hither on the
chance of a passage home in the ship which brought her. In good
time they are, after all."
Presently I met these folk, and very courteous they were. Dunwal
was a tall, very dark, man, who chose to hold that he was beholden
to myself for the passage home, when he heard why I was sailing so
soon. And his daughter was like him in many ways, being perhaps the
very darkest damsel I have ever seen, though she was handsome
withal. With them was a priest of the old Western Church, a
Cornishman, with his outlandish tonsure. He was somewhat advanced
in years, and strangely wild looking at times, though silent. He
seemed to be Dunwal's chaplain, or else was a friend who had made
the pilgrimage with him. His name was Morfed, they told me.
I do not think that I should have noted him much, but that when he
heard my Saxon name he scowled heavily, and drew away from me; and
presently, when it came to pass that Howel told Dunwal the news I
had brought, I saw his eyes fixed on me in no friendly way as he
listened. Nor did he join with his friends in the words of gladness
for Owen's return, though indeed I had some thought that theirs
might have been warmer. It was almost as if something was held back
by the Devon man and his daughter, though why I should think so I
could not tell. At all events, their way of receiving the news was
not like that of Howel and Nona.
By and by, when we came to sit down at table in the largest room of
the palace, bright with fair linen, and silver and gold and glass
vessels before us, and soft and warm under foot with rugs on the
tiled floor which hardly needed them, as I thought, there was a
guest I was pleased to see. Thorgils had ridden from Tenby at the
bidding of the princess, as it seemed, and his first words to me
were of assurance that all went well for our sailing. The good ship
would be ready for the tide of the morrow night. Pleased enough
also he was with the chance of new passengers, as may be supposed.
I do not think that I have ever sat at a feast whereat so few were
present at the high table, and there were no house-carles at all.
Truly, the room was not large enough for what we deem that a king's
board should be, but we seemed almost in private. There were not
more than thirty guests altogether, but it was pleasant for all
that. The princess was on the right of her father, and Mara, the
daughter of Dunwal, on his left, but I sat next to Nona, and Dunwal
to me again. On the other side of the prince were some of his own
nobles, and across the room sat Thorgils next to the Cornish
priest, among Welshmen of some lower rank. They seemed an
ill-assorted pair, but Thorgils was plainly trying to be friendly
with every one in reach of him, and soon I forgot him in the
pleasantness of all that went on at our table.
However, by and by Howel said to Nona suddenly, in a low voice:
"Look yonder at the Norseman. He must be talking heathenry to yon
priest, for the good man seems well-nigh wild. What can we do?"
Truly, the face of Morfed was black as thunder, while that of the
Norseman was shining with delight in some long-winded story he was
telling. The white-robed servants were clearing the tables at this
moment, and the prince's bard, a fine old harper with golden collar
and chain, was tuning his little gilded harp as if the time for
song had come.
"Make him sing," said Nona. "I bade him here tonight that he might
do so. He has some wondrous tale to tell us."
Howel beckoned to the harper, and signed to him, and the old man
rose at once and went to Thorgils. It was not the first time that
he had sung here, it was plain. Then I noted that the priest was
scowling fiercely at myself, and I wondered idly why. I supposed,
so far as I troubled to think thereof that he was one of those who
hated the very name of Saxon.
Now Thorgils took the harp without demur, smiling at the bard in
thanks, and so came forward into the space round which the tables
were set, while a silence fell on the company.
"If my song goeth not smoothly in the British tongue, Prince,
forgive me. I can but do my best. Truly, I have even now asked my
neighbour, Father Morfed, if it is fairly rendered, but I have not
had his answer yet."
He ran his hand over the already tuned strings, and lifted his
voice and began. It was not the first time that he had handled a
British harp, by any means, but if he played well he sang better. I
do not think that one need want to hear a finer voice than his; and
though he had seen fit to doubt his powers, his Welsh was as good
as mine, and maybe, by reason of constant use, far more easy.
And next moment I knew that he was going to sing nothing more or
less than of King Ina's Yule feast, and what happened thereat. He
had promised to tell the princess the story, and this was her
doing, of course. I could not stop him, and there I must sit and
listen to as highly coloured a tale as a poet could make of it.
Once he saw that I was growing red, and he grinned gently at me
across the harp, and worked up the struggle still more terribly.
And all the while Morfed the priest glowered at me, until at length
he rose and left the room.
I was glad enough when Thorgils ended that song, but Nona must ask
him for yet another, and that pleased him, of course, and he began
once more. This time he sang, to my great confusion, of the
drinking of the bowl, and of my vow, and I wished that I was
anywhere but in Pembroke, or that I could reach the three-legged
stool on which he was perched from under him. I never knew a man
easy while the gleemen sang his deeds, save Ina, who was used to
it, and never listened; and I knew not where to look, though maybe
more than half the folk present did not understand that I was the
hero of the song. Nevertheless, I had to put up with it, till he
ended with a verse or two of praise of our host and of the princess
who loved the songs of the bard, and so took his applause with a
happy smile and went and sat down, while Nona bade her maidens bear
a golden cup and wine to him.
Then the princess turned to me with a quiet smile that had some
mischief in it.
"This last is more than I had thought to hear, Thane," she said;
"you told us nought of yourself and the lady Elfrida when we rode
from the hermit's."
And so she must ask me many questions, under cover of some chant
which the old bard began, and she drew my tale from me easily
enough, and maybe learnt more than I thought I told her, for before
long she said:
"Then it seems that, after all, you are not so sure that the lady
is pleased with you for your vow?"
And in all honesty I was forced to own that I was not. I suppose I
showed pretty plainly that I thought myself aggrieved in the
matter, for the princess smiled at me.
"Wait till you see how she meets you when you return, Thane. No
need to despair till then."
It came into my mind to say that I did not much care how I was met,
but I forbore. Maybe it was not true. And then the princess and the
three or four other ladies who were present rose and left the
table, and thereafter we spoke of nought but sport and war, and I
need not tell of all that. But when I went to my chamber presently,
and the two pages were about to leave me to myself some three hours
or so after the princess left the board, one of them lingered for a
moment behind the other, and so handed me a folded and sealed
"I pray you read this, Thane," he said, and was gone.
It was written in a fair hand, that did not seem as that of any
inky-fingered lay brother, but as I read the few words that were
written I knew whose it was, for none but Nona would have written
"Have a care, Thane. I have spoken with Mara, and I fear trouble.
Dunwal her father is, with Tregoz his brother, at the right hand of
the men who follow Morgan. Morfed the priest is a hater of all that
may make for peace with the Saxon. He is well-nigh distraught with
hatred of your kin."
Then there were a few words crossed out, and that was all. And to
tell the truth, it was quite enough. But as I came to think over
the matter, it seemed to me that until Dunwal knew that it was his
brother who had tried to get rid of me I need not fear him. As for
the priest, his hatred would hardly lead him to harm the son of
So I slept none the less easily, but from my heart I thanked the
princess for the warning. It should not be my fault if Dunwal had
much power for harm when once I met Gerent.
CHAPTER IX. WHY IT WAS NOT GOOD FOR OWEN TO SLEEP IN THE MOONLIGHT.
It needs not that I should tell of the farewell of the next day. I
went from Pembroke with many messages for Owen, and a promise that
if I might ever come over with him I would do so. The princess was
busy with the lady who was to cross with Thorgils, and I did not
find one chance of telling her that I thanked her for her warning,
but I found the page who gave me the letter, and bade him tell his
mistress when we had gone that she had taught me to look in the
face of a fellow passenger, which would be token enough that I
Dunwal and his daughter had some few men and pack horses with them,
and one Cornish maiden who attended Mara, so that we were quite a
little train as we rode from Pembroke toward Tenby in the late
afternoon, with a score of Howel's guards to care for us in all
honour. Part of the way, too, Howel rode, and when we came to the
hill above the Caerau woods, and looked down on the winding waters
again, he said to me:
"I have forgotten to tell you that my men took Evan. By this time
he has met his deserts. I have done full justice on him."
"Thanks, Prince," I said with a shudder, as I minded what I had
saved the man from. "Did your men question him?"
Howel smote his thigh.
"Overhaste again!" he cried in vexation. "That should have been
done; but I bade them do justice on him straightway if they laid
hands on him. They did it."
I said no more, nor did the prince. It was in my mind that he was
blaming himself for somewhat more than carelessness. So presently
he must turn and leave us, and we bade him farewell with all thanks
for hospitality, and he bade me not forget Pembroke, and went his
Then I found Dunwal pleasant enough as a companion, and so also was
Mara, and the few miles passed quickly, until we rode through the
gates of the strong stockade which bars the way to the Danes' town
across the narrow neck of the long sea-beaten tongue of cliff they
have chosen to set their place on. The sea is on either side, and
at the end is an island that they hold as their last refuge if need
is, while their ships are safe under one lee or the other from any
wind that blows.
Far down below us at the cliff's foot, as we rode through the town,
where the houses had been set anywise, like those at Watchet, and
were like them timber built, we could see to our left a little
wharf, and beside it the ship that waited us. And the wind was
fair, and the winter weather soft as one might wish it for the
Now, so soon as Thorgils had seen the baggage of the Cornish folk
safely bestowed I had time for a word with him, taking him apart
and walking up the steep hill path from the haven for a little way,
as if to go to the town. And so I told him who this man was, and
what possible danger might be.
He heard with a long whistle of dismay:
"'Tis nigh as bad as crossing with Evan," he said--"but one is
warned. Let them have the after cabin, and do you take the forward
one; it will be safer. Leave me to see to him when we get to
Watchet, for it is in my mind that Gerent will want him. Moreover,
so long as he thinks that you fear him not he will be careless, and
I will watch him. He will want to learn more before he meddles with
you. As for the priest, I will tend him."
So we were content to leave the matter. Presently, when we were at
sea, I do not think that Dunwal or Morfed had spirit left to care
for aught. I know that I had not. I need not speak of that voyage,
save to say that it was speedy, and fair--to the mind of Thorgils,
At last I slept, nor did I wake till we had been alongside the
wharf at Watchet for two hours, being worn out. Then I found that
Dunwal and his party had gone already, and I wondered, with a mind
to be angry, whereat Thorgils laughed.
"I have even sent them on to Norton with a few of our men to help
him, and they will see that he goes there and nowhere else. You
will find him waiting. I did not want him to fall on you on the
"What is the news?" I asked. "Have you heard aught?"
"The best, I think. Gerent is hunting Tregoz, and Owen has swept up
every outlaw from the Quantocks. Our folk helped him. Some of them
told all they knew when they were taken."
"Then," I said gladly, "Owen knows that I am safe."
"Not so certainly," Thorgils said. "None of our folk can say that
you crossed with me, and as this is the only ship afloat at this
time of the year there is doubt as to where you are. It will be
good for Owen to see you again. What a tale you have for him! On my
word, I envy you the telling."
"Well, then, ride with me to Norton straightway, and you shall tell
all and save me words. Owen shall thank you also for your care for
"What, for letting you sit on my deck while the wind blew? Nay, but
there are no thanks needed between us. You and I have seen a
strange voyage together, and it has ended well. Maybe you and I
will see more sport yet side by side, for I think that we are good
comrades. Let us be going, then, for it was in my mind that I could
not rest until I had seen you safe to your journey's end."
Then I found that he had his own horses ready for us, and two more
men, well armed and mounted also, were waiting with them on the
green where I had been set down in the litter. So in a very short
time Thorgils had told his men all that he would have done about
the ship, and we were riding fast along the road to Norton, while
the thawing snow told of the going of the frost at last.
I had been gone but these few days, but each of them seemed like a
month to look back upon as I rode under the shadow of the hills
that I had last seen as a hopeless captive. It grew warm and soft
as the midday sun shone on us, and the road was muddy underfoot
with the chill water that had filled all the brooks again, but I
hardly noticed the change, so eager was I to be back. Glad enough I
was when we saw the village and the mighty earthworks above it, and
yet more glad when the guards at the gate told us that Owen was
even now in the palace.
I left Thorgils and his men to the care of the guard for the time,
while I went straightway to the entrance doors and asked for speech
"It is the word of the king that you shall have free admittance
into the palace and to himself at any time, Thane," the captain of
the guards said.
So I passed into the great chamber of the palace that was used as
audience hall for all comers, and also as the court of justice.
The place was full of people, and those mostly nobles, so that I
had to stand in the doorway for a moment to see what was going on.
It was plainly somewhat out of the common, for there were guards
along one end of the room. It seemed as if there were a trial.
Gerent sat in the great chair which one might call his throne at
the upper end of the room, and beside him was Owen. I thought that
my foster father seemed pale and troubled in that first glance, but
I had every reason to know why this was so. Before these two stood
a man, with his back to me therefore, and for the moment I did not
recognise him. On either side of this man were guards, and it was
plainly he who was in trouble, if any one. Gerent was speaking to
"Well," he said, "hither you have come as a guest, and as a guest
you shall be treated. But you must know that here within the walls
of the place you shall abide. If you will give your word to do that
I shall not have to keep you so closely."
"This is not what I had looked for from you, King Gerent," the man
I knew the voice at once, for it was that of Dunwal, my fellow
passenger. So the treachery of his brother must be known, and he
was to be held here as a hostage, as one might say. Gerent's next
words told me that it was so.
"If there is any fault to be found, it is in the ways of your
brother. Blame him that I must needs have surety for his behaviour.
It cannot be suffered that he should go on plotting evil against
us, unchecked in some way."
Dunwal shrugged his shoulders, as if to say that all this was no
concern of his.
"Shall you hold my daughter as well?" he said. "I trust that your
caution will not make you go so far as that."
Gerent's eyes flashed at the tone and words, but he answered very
"She will bide here also, and in all honour."
Then he beckoned to a noble who stood near him, and spoke to him
for a moment. It chanced that this was one of the very few whom I
knew here. His name was Jago, and I had often seen him at
Glastonbury, for he was a friend of our ealdorman, Elfrida's
father, holding somewhat the same post in Norton as my friend in
our town. Owen liked him well also, and he was certainly no friend
to Morgan and his party.
"Jago's wife will give your daughter all hospitality in his house,"
Gerent said, turning again to Dunwal. "Have I your word as to
keeping within bounds during my pleasure?"
"Ay, you have it," answered Dunwal curtly.
Then I slipped out of the door quietly, and went to that room where
Owen and I waited on our first coming here, and I sent a steward to
tell him of my arrival. There is no need for me to tell how he
greeted me, or how I met him.
Then when those greetings were over I heard all that had been going
on, and my loss had made turmoil enough. My men had brought back
the news, having missed me very shortly, but it was long before
they found traces of me. The first thing that they saw was my hawk,
as I expected, and after that the bodies of the slain. As I was not
with them, they judged that I had escaped in some way, but they
lost the track of the feet in the woodlands, and so rode back to
Owen in all haste.
Then was a great gathering of men for the hunting of the outlaws,
for it would take a small army to search the wild hills and
woodlands of the Quantocks to any effect. The whole countryside
turned out gladly, and the Watchet Norsemen helped also.
In the end, on the next day they penned the outlaws into some
combe, and took most of them, and then all was told by them, so far
as they knew it. Gerent laid hands on four of the men who had sworn
the oath Evan told me of, that evening after some leading outlaw
had given their names, but Tregoz had escaped.
He had been one of the most active in the matter of the hunt, to
all seeming, and had ridden out with Owen and Jago and the rest.
Then he took advantage of some turn in the hills, when men began to
scatter, and was no more seen. Presently it was plain enough why
this was, when those who were taken were made to speak. Yet it
seemed that he was not so far off, for already an attack had been
made on Owen as he rode beyond the village, though it was no very
dangerous one. Now it was to be hoped that the danger from him was
past, for his brother had been taken the moment he rode into the
gate, and he would suffer if more harm was done.
Then I asked if our king had been told of all this, and I learnt
that he had heard at once, and had written back to Owen to say that
he would pay any ransom that might be asked for me if I yet lived,
as was hoped. The outlaws had told of Evan's plan, but it was not
known if I had been taken out of the country yet.
"All is well that ends well," Owen said; "but I asked Ina not to
say aught of the matter yet for a while. There is one at least in
Glastonbury who might be sorely terrified for you."
He laughed at my red face, for I knew that he meant Elfrida. It was
in my mind, however, that I wished she had heard, for then,
perhaps, she would have been sorry that she had not been kinder to
me--unless, indeed, she was glad that I was out of the way, in all
Then there was my own long tale to be told, and of course I told
Owen all. It was good to hear him say that he himself could have
done nought but free Evan.
Thereafter we sought Thorgils, who was happy in the guardroom, and
had seemingly been telling my tale there, for the men stared at me
somewhat. I do not suppose that it lost in the telling.
Owen thanked him for his help, and took him to see Gerent; which
saved me words, for the Norseman must needs tell how Evan had
brought me on board his ship, and so we even let him say all that
there was to be said.
After that Gerent loaded him with presents, and so let him go well
I went out to his horse with him, and saw him start. His last word
as he parted from me was that if I needed a good axeman at my back
at any time I was to send for him, and so he went seaward, singing
to himself, with the men who had brought Dunwal hither behind him.
After that there was more to say of Howel and his court. It seemed
that Gerent and Owen liked him well, and I wondered that Owen had