Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Prince of Cornwall by Charles W. Whistler

Part 4 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

not sought him when the trouble fell on him. I think he would not
go to Dyfed as a disgraced man, for I know he could not clear
himself at the time.

Now at supper, presently, there was Dunwal, looking anxious, as I
thought, but trying not to shew it. His daughter Mara was there
also, and as it happened she sat next to me. I suppose the
seneschal set her there as we had crossed from Dyfed together,
unless she had asked it, or gone to that seat without asking. She
was very pleasant, talking of the troubles of the voyage, and so
went on to speak sadly enough of the greater trouble that had
waited her.

"I am glad the king has kept us, however," she said. "I can be
content with the court rather than with our wild Dartmoor, as you
may guess. But all these things are too hard for me, and how any
man can plot against so wonderful looking a prince as Owen passes
me. I cannot but think that there is some mistake, and that my
uncle has no hand in the affair. That will be proved ere long, I do
believe."

I answered that indeed I hoped that it would prove so, and then
asked for Morfed, the priest who had crossed with us, as I did not
see him among the other clergy at the table. She told me that he
had left them, on foot, at the gate of Watchet, making his way
westward, as she believed. He had only joined their party for
easier travelling in Dyfed.

Then she must needs ask me questions about Thorgils' song, and
specially of Elfrida. I had no mind to tell her much, but it is
hard to refuse to answer a lady who speaks in all friendly wise and
pleasantly, so that I had to tell her much the same that I told
Nona the princess, and began to wonder if every lady who had the
chance would be as curious to know all about what story there was.
And that was a true foreboding of mine, for so it was, until I grew
used to it. But all this minded me of Nona and her warning, and I
was half sorry that the priest had not come here, to be taken care
of with Dunwal.

After that night we saw little of these two. Mara went to the house
of Jago, and Dunwal kept to himself about the palace boundaries
within the old ramparts, and seemed to shun notice. As for me, word
went to Ina that all was well, and he sent a letter back to say
that it would please him to know that I was with Owen for a time
yet. So I bided with him, and for a time all went well, for we
heard nought of Tregoz in any way, while another of his friends was
taken and imprisoned in some western fortress of Gerent's. Nor were
there any more attacks made on Owen, so that after a little while
we went about, hunting and hawking, in all freedom, for danger
seemed to have passed with the taking of Dunwal as hostage.

Then one day a guard from the gate brought me a folded paper, on
which my name was written in a fair hand, saying that it had been
left for me by a swineherd from the hill, who said that it was from
some mass priest whom I knew. The guard had let the man go away,
deeming that, of course, there was no need to keep him. Nor had
they asked who the priest might be, as it was said that I knew him.

I took the letter idly and went to my stables with it in my hand,
and opened and read it as I walked.

"To Oswald, son of Owen.--It is not good to sleep in the
moonlight."

That was all it said, and there was no name at the end of it. I
thought it foolish enough, for every one knows that the cold white
light of the moon is held to be harmful for sleepers in the open
air. But I was not in the way of sleeping out in this early season
with its cold, though, of course, it was always possible that one
might be belated on the hills and have to make a night in the
heather of it when hunting on Exmoor or the Brendons. There was not
much moon left now, either.

So I showed the note to Owen presently, and he puzzled over it,
seeing that it could not have been sent for nothing. At last we
both thought that whoever wrote it, or had it written, knew that
some attack would be made on us with the next moon, when it would
be likely that we might be riding homeward by its light with no
care against foes. That might well be called "sleeping in the
moonlight" as things were; and at all events we were warned in
time. The trouble to me was that it seemed to say that danger was
not all past.

However, when there was no moon at all I forgot the letter for the
time, no more trouble cropping up, and but for a chance word I
think that it had not come into my mind again until we were out in
the moonlight at some time. As we sat at table one evening when the
moon was almost at the full again, some one spoke of moonstruck
men, and that minded me, and set me thinking. He said that once he
himself had had a sore pain in the face by reason of the moonlight
falling on it when he was asleep, and another told somewhat the
same, until the talk drifted away to other things and they forgot
it. But now I remembered how that at our first coming here I had
waked in the early hours and seen a patch of moonlight from a high
southern window on the outer wall of the palace passing across
Owen's breast as he slept. Then I was on the floor across the door,
but now I slept in the same place that Owen had that night, while
he was on the couch across the room and under the window. It was
possible, therefore, that the light did fall on my face, but I was
pretty sure that if so it would have waked me.

At all events, if the letter had aught to do with that, it was a
cumbrous way of letting me know that my bed was in a bad place for
quiet sleep. The only thing that seemed likely thus was that the
good priest who wrote had left the palace before he had remembered
to tell me how he had fared in that room once, and so sent back
word. There were many priests backward and forward here, as at
Glastonbury with Ina. Then it seemed plain that this was the
meaning of the whole thing, and so I would hang a cloak over the
window by and by.

And, of course, having settled the question in my own mind, I
forgot to do that, and was like to have paid dearly for forgetting.

Two nights afterward, when the moon was at the full, I woke from
sleep suddenly with the surety that I heard my name called softly.
I was wide awake in a moment, and found the room bright with
moonlight that did indeed lie in a broad square right across my
chest on the furs that covered me. I glanced across to Owen, but he
was asleep, as there was full light enough to see, and then I
wondered why I seemed to have heard that call. In a few moments I
knew that, and also that the voice I heard was the one that had
come to me in sore danger before.

Idly and almost sleeping again I watched the light, to see if
indeed it was going to cross my face, and then a sudden shadow
flitted across it, and with a hiss and flick of feathers a long
arrow fled through the window and stuck in the plaster of the wall
not an inch above my chest, furrowing the fur of the white bearskin
over me, so close was it.

In a moment I was on the floor, with a call to Owen, and it was
well that I had the sense to swing myself clear from the light and
leap from the head of the bed, for even as my feet touched the
floor a second arrow came and struck fairly in the very place where
I had been, and stood quivering in the bedding.

Then was a yell from outside, and before Owen could stay me I
looked through the window, recklessly enough maybe, but with a
feeling that no more arrows would come now that the archer was
disturbed. It needed more than a careless aim to shoot so well into
that narrow slit. Across the window I could see the black line of
the earthworks against the light some fifty paces from the wall of
the palace, with no building between them on this side at all; and
on the rampart struggled two figures, wrestling fiercely in
silence. One was a man whose armour sparkled and gleamed under the
moon, and the other seemed to be unarmed, unless, indeed, that was
a broad knife he had in his hand. Then Owen pulled me aside.

"The sentry has him," he said, after a hurried glance. "Let us out
into the light, for there may be more on hand yet."

Now I hurried on my arms, but another look showed me nothing but
the bare top of the rampart. No sign of the men remained. I could
hear voices and the sounds of men running in the quiet, and I
thought these came from the guard, who were hurrying up from the
gate.

"The men have rolled into the ditch," I said. "I can see nothing
now."

Then we ran out, bidding the captain of the guard to stand to arms
as we passed through the great door of the palace, and so we went
round to the place whence the arrows had come. A score of men from
the gate were already clustered there on the earthworks, talking
fast as Welshmen will, but heedful to challenge us as we came. I
saw that they had somewhat on the ground in the midst of them.

"Here is a strange affair, my Prince," one of them said, as he held
out his hand to help Owen up the earthworks.

The group stood aside for us to look on what they had found, and
that was a man, fully armed in the Welsh way of Gerent's guards,
but slain by the well-aimed blow of a strong seax that was yet left
where it had been driven home above the corselet. There was a war
bow and two more arrows lying at the foot of the rampart, as if
they had been wrested from the hand of the archer and flung there.
The men had not seen these, but I looked for them at once when I
saw that there was no bow on the slain man.

"Who is this?" Owen said gravely, and without looking closely as
yet.

"It is Tregoz of the Dart, whom the king seeks," one or two of the
men said at once.

I had known that it must be he in my own mind before the name was
spoken. There fell a silence on the rest as the name was told, and
all looked at my foster father. There was plainly some fault in the
watching of the rampart that had let the traitor find his way here
at all.

"Which of you was it who slew him?" asked Owen.

"None of us, Lord. We cannot tell who it may have been. Even the
sentry who keeps this beat is gone."

"Doubtless it was he who slew him, and is himself wounded in the
fosse. Look for him straightway."

There they hunted, but the man was not to be found. Nor was it his
weapon that had ended Tregoz.

Then Owen said in a voice that had grown very stern: "Who was the
sentry who should have been here?"

The men looked at one another, and the chief of them answered at
last that the man was from Dartmoor, one of such a name. And then
one looked more closely at the arms Tregoz wore, and cried out that
they were the very arms of the missing sentry, or so like them that
one must wait for daylight to say for certain that they were not
they.

It was plain enough then. In such arms Tregoz could well walk
through the village itself unnoticed, as one of the palace guards
would be, and so when the time came he would climb from some hiding
in the fosse and take the place of his countryman on the rampart,
and the watchful captain would see but a sentry there and deem that
all was well.

Yet this did not tell us who was the one who had wrestled with and
slain him, and Owen told what had been done, while I went and
brought the bow and arrows from the foot of the rampart, in hopes
that they might tell us by mark or make if more than Tregoz and the
sentry were in this business. Then I looked at my window, and,
though narrow, it was as fair a mark in the moonlight as one would
need. Without letting my shadow fall on the sleeper, it was
possible to see my couch and the white furs on it, though it would
be needful to raise the arm across the moonlight in the act of
shooting. It was all well planned, but it needed a first-rate
bowman.

"It was surely Tregoz who shot," one of the men said. "The sentry
who was here was a bungler with a bow. None whom we know but Tregoz
could have made sure of that mark, bright as the night is. Well it
was, Lord, that you were not sleeping in your wonted place."

Owen glanced at me to warn me to say nothing, and bade the men take
the body to the guardroom. They were already cursing the sentry who
had brought shame on their ranks by leaguing himself with a
traitor, and it was plain that there was no need to bid them lay
hands on him if they could. That was a matter that concerned their
own honour.

So we left the guarding of the place in their hands, and they
doubled the watches from that time forward. Then we went and spoke
with the captain of the guard, who yet kept his post at the doors,
as none had called him.

"Maybe I am to blame," he said, when he heard all. "I should not
have left a Dartmoor man from the country whence Tregoz came to
keep watch there. I knew that he was thence, and thought no harm."

"There is no blame to you," Owen said. "It is not possible to look
for such treachery among our own men."

Then we went into our room to show the captain what had been done.
And thence the two arrows had already been taken. The hole in the
plaster where the first struck was yet there, and the slit made by
the second in the tough hide of the bear was to be seen when I
turned over the fur, but who had taken them we could not tell.
Only, it was plain that here in the palace some one was in the plot
and had taken away what might be proof of who the archer had been,
not knowing, as I suppose, that the attempt had failed so utterly.
For an arrow will often prove a good witness, as men will use only
some special pattern that they are sure of, and will often mark
them that they may claim them and their own game in the woodlands
if they are found in some stricken beast that has got away for a
time. It was more than likely that Tregoz would have been careful
to use only such arrows as he knew well in a matter needing such
close shooting as this. Indeed, we afterwards found men who knew
the two shafts from the rampart as those of the Cornishman, without
doubt.

This I did not like at all, for the going of these arrows brought
the danger to our very door, as it were. Nor did the captain, for
he himself kept watch over us for the rest of that night, and
afterwards there was always a sentry in the passage that led to our
room.

We were silent as we lay down again, and sleep was long in coming.
I puzzled over all this, for beside the taking of the arrows there
was the question of who the slayer of Tregoz might be, and who had
written the letter that should have warned us.

In all truth, it was not good to sleep in the moonlight!

Somewhat of the same kind Owen was thinking, for of a sudden he
said to me: "Those arrows were meant for me, Oswald. Did you note
what the man said about my not sleeping in my wonted place?"

"Ay, but I did not know that you had slept on this side. Since I
came back, at least, you have not done so."

Owen smiled.

"No, I have not," he said; "but in the old days that was always my
place, and you will mind that there I slept on the night we first
were here together. That was of old habit, and I only shifted to
this side when you came back, because I knew that you would like
the first light to wake you. Every sentry who crosses the window on
the rampart can see in here if it is light within, but he could not
tell that we had changed places, for the face of the sleeper is
hidden."

Then he laughed a little, and added:

"In the old days when I was in charge of the palace this face of
the ramparts was always the best watched, because the men knew that
if I waked and did not see the shadow of the sentry pass and repass
as often as it should, he was certain to hear of it in the morning.
Tregoz would know that old jest. I suppose Dunwal may have had some
hand in taking the arrows hence."

"It is likely enough," I answered. "He will have to pay for his
brother's deed tomorrow, in all likelihood, also. But who wrote the
letter, and who slew Tregoz?"

Owen thought for a little while.

"Mara, Dunwal's daughter, is the most likely person to have
written," he said. "It would be like a woman to do so, and she
seems at least no enemy. Maybe the man was the sentry, after all,
and fled because he had given up his arms, and so was sharer in the
deed that he repented of. Or he may have been some friend of ours,
or foe of the Cornishman, who would not wait for the rough handling
of the guard when they found him there where he should not be. No
doubt we shall hear of him soon or late."

But we did not. There was no trace of him, or of the writer of the
letter. One may imagine the fury of Gerent when he heard all this
in the morning, but even his wrath could not make Dunwal speak of
aught that he might know. But for the pleading of Owen, the old
king would have hung him then and there, and all that my foster
father could gain for him was his life. Into the terrible old Roman
dungeon, pit-like, with only a round hole in the stone covering of
it through which a prisoner was lowered, he was thrown, and there
he bided all the time I was at Norton.

By all right the lands of these two fell again into the hands of
the king, and he would give them to Owen.

"Take them," he said, when Owen would not do so at first: "they owe
you amends. If you do not want them yourself, wait until you sit in
my seat, and then give them to Oswald, that he may have good reason
for leaving Ina for you."

So Owen held them for me, as it were, and was content. Some day
they might be mine, if not in the days of Ina, whom we loved.

But Gerent either forgot or cared not to think of Mara, Dunwal's
daughter, and she bided in the best house in the town, with Jago's
wife, none hindering her in anything. There was no more sign of
trouble now that Tregoz and his brother were out of the way.

CHAPTER X. HOW THE EASTDEAN MANORS AND SOMEWHAT MORE PASSED FROM OSWALD TO
ERPWALD.

I bided at Norton with Owen until the Lententide drew near, and
then I must needs go back to my place with Ina. Maybe I should have
gone before this, seeing that all was safe now, but our king had
been on progress about the country, to Chippenham, and so to
Reading and thence to London, and but half his guard was with him,
so that I was not needed. Now he was back at Glastonbury, and I
must join him there and go back to royal Winchester with him for
the Easter feast.

Owen and I also had been far westward at one time or another, in
this space, though there is little worth telling beyond that we
went even to the lands of Tregoz that had passed to him, and so
took possession of them. I could not see that any of the folk on
those lands, whether free or thrall, seemed other than glad that
Owen was their lord now. It was said that Tregoz was little loved.
We left a new steward in the great half-stone and half-timber
house, with house-carles enough to see that none harmed either him
or the place, and so came back to Norton.

Now, one may say that all this time, seeing that Glastonbury was
but so short a distance from Norton, I was a laggard lover not to
have ridden over to see Elfrida, and maybe it would be of little
use for me to deny it. However, I would have it remembered that
there was always fear for Owen in my mind if I was apart from him
at the first, and then there was this westward journey, and the
hunting in new places, and many other things, so that the time
slipped by all too quickly. Also, when it is easy to go to a place
one is apt to say that tomorrow will do, and, as every one knows,
tomorrow never comes. Nor had we said much of that damsel; if Owen
had not altogether forgotten my oath, he never spoke of it, nor did
I care to remind him. Nevertheless, whenever we spoke of Howel and
his daughter, Owen's godchild, I minded that the princess had
bidden me see how Elfrida greeted me when I came back, and it was
in my mind that she would be no less glad to see me after a long
absence.

That I should find out very shortly, but the thought troubled me
little. I will say that the parting from Owen was all that was of
consequence to me, for it was hard enough. I could not tell when we
should meet again, for I must go east and he west now, and
presently all Devon, and maybe Cornwall, would lie between us, even
when our court was at Glastonbury. It would be hard to see him at
all in the coming days, for not often was Gerent here. However,
partings must needs be, and we made the least of it, and so at last
we rode together to the old bridge that crosses the Parrett, and
there bade our last farewells, and went our ways, not looking back.

It was a lonesome ride onward for me after all these days with him,
and I had not a word for my house-carles, who had ridden from
Glastonbury hither to meet me, for the first few miles. Then I
bethought myself, and drew rein a little and let them come up with
me, for I had ridden alone at their head for a while, and so heard
all the news of the court and whatever talk was going about the
place, and my mind left Norton and went on, as it were, before me
to Glastonbury and all that I should see there.

There was a warm welcome waiting for me from the many friends, and
best of all from the king himself. With him I sat long in his
chamber telling of my doings and of Owen, and hearing also of what
had been going on. At the last, when I was about to leave his
presence, he said:

"There is one matter that we must speak of tomorrow, for it is
weighty and needs thought. Let it bide now, for it is nought
unhappy, and so come to me at noon and we will speak thereof. Now
your friends will seek you, and I will not say more."

I left him then with a little wonder as to what this business might
be, but thought little of it, as it would very likely be a matter
of taking some men on some errand or the like house-carle work, and
then I bethought me that I would even go and see how fared Elfrida.
It was not unpleasant to think of taking her by surprise, for I did
not suppose that she had heard of my return yet. At all events, she
would have no chance of making up some stiff greeting for me.
Wherefore I went down the street with my head in the air, making up
my mind how I would greet her, and maybe I thought of a dozen ways
before I reached the ealdorman's door.

His welcome was hearty enough at all events, but before I could
make up my mind to ask for Elfrida, who was not to be seen at
first, though I had counted on finding her at her wheel in the
great hall of the house, as was her wont in the afternoon, he had
wasted a long hour in hearing all that he could of my affairs, as
may be supposed. There had been some strange rumours flying about
since I was lost. I began to wish that I had brought Thorgils home
with me, for it was plain that I should have to go over all this
too often, and he cared not at all how many times he told the same
tale.

At last I was able to find a chance of asking how fared the lady
Elfrida, and at that the ealdorman laughed.

"What, has not all this put that foolishness out of your head?" he
said.

"No, it has not," I answered pretty shortly.

But all the same, the old thought that I had remembered her less
than I would have it known did flash across me for a moment.

"Well, I will send for her, and she will tell you for herself how
she fares."

He sent, and then in about half an hour she came, just as I was
thinking I would wait no longer. And if she had been stiff with me
in the orchard it was even more so now, and I did not seem to get
on with her at all. She said, indeed, that she was glad to see me
back, but in no way could I think that she looked more so than any
one else I had met.

So we talked a little, and then all of a sudden her father said:

"Ho!--Here comes that South Saxon again."

Then at once a blush crept slowly over her fair face, and she tried
not to look toward the great door in vain, though no one came in,
and presently she was gone with but a few words to me. I did not
like this at all, but the ealdorman laughed at her and then at me,
the more that he saw that I was put out.

"Never mind, Oswald," he said. "That vow of yours pledged you to no
more than duty to any fair lady."

"Maybe it is just as well that it did not," I answered, trying to
laugh also.

"Ay, that is right. You were bound to say somewhat, and you did it
well. But it has not pleased the girl, nevertheless."

"I did think, at least, she would have been more glad to see me."

"Trouble yourself not at all about the ways of damsels for the next
five years, or maybe ten, Oswald, my friend," said the ealdorman.
"So will you have an easier life, and maybe a longer one."

Discontented enough I went away, and that same discontent lasted
for a full half-hour. At the end of that time I found myself
laughing at the antics of two boys who were sporting on a flooded
meadow in a great brew tub, while their mother threatened them with
a stick from the bank. It was my thought that a cake would have
fetched them back sooner than the stick, but maybe she knew best.
It was like a hen with ducklings.

Then I grew tired of loitering outside the town and nursing my
wounded pride, and when it began to rain I forgot it, and went back
to the palace and talked about the British warriors with Nunna and
some of the other young thanes until supper time.

Next morning I waited on the king as he had bidden me, finding him
in his chamber with a pile of great parchments and the like before
him. He bade me be seated, and I sat in the window seat opposite
him.

"It is no light matter that I have to speak of," he said, "but I
will get to the point straightway. What do you remember of your old
home, Eastdean?"

Now the thoughts of old days there that had sprung afresh in my
mind in the parting with Owen, made me ready to answer that at
once.

"Little, my King. I was but ten years old when we fled," I answered
therefore.

"That is likely. But would you go back there? As the Thane of
Eastdean, I mean; for I know that you would wish to see the place
where your father lies."

I could not answer him this at once, for it was indeed a matter
that needed thought. So I said, and he turned to his writings with
a nod and left me to myself.

In all these thoughts of mine, pleasant as they were with some
memories, it had never come to me to wish that the lands were mine
again. Save for that one thing of which Ina spoke, and for the
pleasantness of seeing old scenes again, I had never cared to go
back. Owen had not spoken of the lands that should have been mine
for years, and even as he talked with me and Gerent he had not
seemed to remember that old loss at all. Gerent had done so, saying
that I should be back there, but even that did not stir me now. I
was of the court, and here I had my place, and all my life was knit
with the ways of the atheling guard and the ordering of the
house-carles under Owen. If I were to turn from all this to become
a forest thane it would be banishment.

And then I thought of Owen, and how this would take me yet farther
from him. I would sooner, if I must be sent from Ina, go to him and
find what home I might on the lands of Tregoz in wild Dartmoor. And
then the thought of leaving Ina, who had cared for me since I was a
child, was almost as terrible.

"I would not leave you, my King," I said at last.

Ina looked up at me with a smile, but was silent, stroking his
beard as was his way when thinking, looking past me out of the
narrow window to the great Tor that towered beyond the new abbey
buildings.

"Think!" he said at last--"partings must come, and lands are not to
be had lightly. Erpwald's brother, who held Eastdean, is dead."

"I need no lands," I answered. "The ways of a captain of your
house-carles are good to me, and I need no more. If I took those
lands from your hand, my King, needs must that I gave up all the
life with you. Sooner would I let the land go and bide with you.
Yet if I must needs take them, be it as you will."

"It is a great thing that you speak so lightly of giving up," he
answered gravely; "Erpwald, the heathen, was willing to risk his
life for those lands, and he held them dear. And a captain of the
king's house-carles will always look to be rewarded for service
with lands. In time you will seek the same."

"That time has not yet come to me, King Ina."

"Eastdean lies in my hand here," he said, taking up a parchment
with a great seal on it. "I may give it to whom I will, but you are
the lawful heir who should hold it from me. If it goes not to you,
it may be that one whom you would not shall have it."

Then I said, not seeing at all what the king would have me do, but
thinking that he deemed me foolish for not taking the lands
straightway:

"Let me bide with you even yet for a while. When the time comes
that I must leave you I must go to Owen, and neither he nor I care
for aught but to be here. He must leave you because of duty, and if
this is indeed choice with me, let me choose to stay. It is nought
to me who holds the lands, save only that it might be one who will
tend the grave of my father."

Then said Ina, looking into my face and smiling, as if well
pleased:

"The choice is free, my Thane, and I should be wrong if I did not
say that I am glad to hear you choose thus. I have missed you in
these days, and I have work here for you yet. It was in my mind
that thus you would choose, and I am glad. Let it be so. I need one
to take the place of Owen, as second in command of the household,
as one may say, and that you must do for me henceforward.

"Nay," he said quickly, raising his hand as I tried to find some
words of thanks for this honour; "you know the ways of Owen, and
men know you, and it will be as if there had been no change, and
that will mean that we shall have no grumbling in the palace, and
the right men will be sent to do what they are best fitted for--and
all that, so that there will be quiet about the court as ever. It
is a matter off my mind, let me tell you, and no thanks are
needed."

So he laughed and let me kiss his hand, patting me on the shoulder
as I rose, and then bade me sit down again. He had yet more to say.

"With Erpwald who is dead, men would hold that you had a blood
feud. That is done with; but his son yet lives. I do not think it
is your way, or Owen's, to hold that a feud must be carried on in
the old heathen way of our forefathers."

"Most truly not," I said. "What ill has a son of Erpwald done to me
or mine?"

"None! Nay, rather has he done well, for I know that he has
honoured the grave of your father, and even now is ready to do what
he can to make amends for the old wrong. He brought me this."

He took up the parchment that he had shewn me before. It was a
grant of the manors of Eastdean to Erpwald, gained by those means
of utmost craft whereby the king thought that indeed the last of
our line had perished by other hands than those of the heathen
thane.

"Honest and straightforward and Christian-like is this young
Erpwald," the king said. "Well brought up by his Christian mother,
if not very ready or brilliant in his ways. Now he has learned how
his father came into the lands, and though he might well have held
them after his uncle on this grant, he has come hither to set the
matter in my hands. 'It is not fair,' quoth he, 'that I should hold
them if one is left of the line of Ella. I should not sleep easily
in my bed. Nevertheless, I will buy them if so be that one is left
to sell them to me.' So he sighed, for the place is his home."

"All these years it has been no trouble to me that Erpwald's
brother has held the place, my King. It will be no trouble to think
that a better Erpwald holds them yet."

"I do not think that he will be happy unless he deems that he has
paid some price--some weregild {ii}, as one may say; for slow
minds as his hang closely to their thoughts when they are formed.
See, Oswald, I have thought of all this, and the young man has been
here for a fortnight. I brought him here from Winchester, where he
joined me. Let me tell you what I think."

"The matter is in your hands altogether, my King."

"As you have set it there," he said, smiling gently. "Now all seems
plain to me, and I will say that this is even what I thought you
would wish to do. How shall it be if we bid Erpwald, for the deed
of his father, to build a church in Eastdean and there to keep a
priest, that all men shall know how that the martyr is honoured,
and the land be the better for his death?"

Nought better than this could be, as I thought, and I told the king
so.

"Why, then," he said, "that is well. I shall have pleased both
parties, as I hope. I know you will meet him in all friendliness."

Then he let me go, and it was with a light heart that I parted from
him. Now I knew that my father's grave and memory would be held in
more than common honour, and I was content.

Men would miss Owen sorely here, but, save for that, I had so often
acted for him in these last two years that my being altogether in
his place made little difference to any one, or even to myself in a
few days. That last was as well for myself, as it seems to me, for
I was not over proud, as I might have been had the post been new to
me. As it was, I do not think that there was any jealousy over it,
or at least I never found it out. My friends rejoiced openly, and
if any one wondered that the king should so trust a man of my age,
the answer that I had saved Ina's life was enough to satisfy all.

My men drank my health in their quarters that night, and after I
got over the little strangeness of sitting on the high place next
to Nunna, things went on, save for the want of Owen about the
court, even as when he was the marshal and I but his squire, as it
were.

I saw young Erpwald for the first time soon after the king had
spoken of him to me, and I liked the look of him well enough. He
was some few years older than I, square and strong, with a round
red face and light hair, pleasant in smile, if not over wise
looking. One would say that he might be a good friend, but one
could hardly think of him as willingly the enemy of any man. Some
one made me known to him as the son of Owen, as was usual, and as
such would I be known to him for a while; but for some time I saw
little of him, not caring to seek his company, as indeed there was
no reason for me to do so.

The next thing that I heard of him was that he had made a great
friend of the ealdorman since he came here, being often at his
house. It was not so long before I met him there, though my pride,
which would not let me risk another rebuff, kept me away for some
days. I had an uneasy feeling that I should fare no better, and I
could find good reason enough to justify the thought in some ways,
as any one may see from what had happened before.

Maybe that was a token that my first feelings were cooling off, and
I do not think that there is much wonder if they were. It would
have been strange, and not altogether complimentary to the fair
damsel if, after the deed at the feast and the vow that I had to
make, I had not thought myself desperately in love with her at
last, after a good many years of friendship. But now there had
befallen the long days of peril and anxiety which had set her in
the background altogether, and I had had time to come to more sober
thoughts, as it were. Men have said that I aged more in that short
time than in the next ten years of my life, and it is likely.
Nevertheless, it needed but a word or two of kindness to bring me
to Elfrida's feet once for all, and but a little more coldness to
send me from her altogether.

So at last I went to her home to find out how I should fare,
thinking less of the matter than last time, and there she sat in
the hall, chatting merrily with Erpwald. That pleasantness stopped
when I came in, and after the first needful greetings Elfrida froze
again, and Erpwald fell silent, as if I was by no means welcome. I
could see that I was the third who spoils company. However, the
ealdorman came in directly, and I talked to him, and as we paid no
heed to those two they took up their talk once more, and presently
their words waxed low. Whereon the ealdorman glanced at them with a
sly grin and wink to me, and I understood.

So I went away, for that was enough. Of course, I was very angry,
by reason of the scratch to my pride; for it does hurt to think
that one is not wanted, and for a while I brooded over it just as I
had done the other day. Then it came to me that at least I had no
reason to be angry with Erpwald, who could know little or anything
about me, being a newcomer, and it was not his fault if the girl
made a tool of him to scare me away, and after that I found my
senses again, rather sooner than before, perhaps. It was plain that
the ealdorman took it for granted that I had no feeling now in that
direction, and so others would do the same, which was comforting.
So I supposed that there was no more to be said on the subject by
any one, unless Elfrida chose to have the matter out, and set
things on the old footing of frank friendliness again.

There I found that I was mistaken at once. Some one was coming down
the lane after me quickly, and then calling my name. I turned, and
there was Erpwald, with a very red face, trying to overtake me, and
I waited for him.

"A word with you, Thane," he said, out of breath.

"As many as you will. What is it?"

"Wait until I get my breath," he said. "One would think that you
were in a desperate hurry, by the pace you go. Plague on all such
fast walkers!"

That made me laugh, and he smiled across his broad face in return.

"It is all very well to grin," he said, straightening his face
suddenly to a blankness; "but what I have to say concerns a mighty
serious matter."

"Well, then, get it done with," I answered, trying not to smile yet
more.

"I don't rightly know how to begin," he said in a hesitating kind
of way. "Words are as hard to manage as a drove of forest swine,
and I am a bad hand at talking. Can you not tell what I have to
say?"

"Not in the least," I answered.

It flashed across me that he might have found out who I was,
however, and wanted to speak of the old trouble.

"Well," he said at last, growing yet redder, "the Lady Elfrida is
angry that her name has been coupled with yours pretty much
lately."

He stopped with a long breath, and I knew what he was driving at.

"She has told me as much herself already," I said solemnly.

He heaved a sigh of relief.

"But she did not tell me that," he said in a puzzled sort of way.
"Well, it must not go on, or--or else, that is, I shall have to see
that it does not."

"The worst of it is that I cannot help it," said I. "Did the lady
ask you to speak to me of the matter?"

"Why, no; she did not. Only, I thought that some one must. Of
course, I mean that I will fight you if it goes on."

"Of course," I said. "But I can in no wise stop it. Do you know how
it began?"

"Not altogether. How was it?"

"Really, that you had better ask some one else," I said, keeping a
grave face. "I think that it would have been fairer to me to have
done so first. But if there was any real blame to me, do you think
that the ealdorman would have been glad to see me just now? I think
that it was plain that he was so."

"I am an owl," Erpwald said. "Of course, he would not have been.
But did you come to see the ealdorman, or the lady?"

"Why, both of them, of course. I have known them for years."

He looked relieved when he heard that, and I thought that he must
be badly smitten already.

"Well, I will go and ask the ealdorman all about it," he said.
"Where shall I find you in an hour's time?"

"In my quarters," I answered; "but, of course, if you want to fight
me you will have to send a friend to talk to me."

"I will send the ealdorman himself."

"Best not, for he is the man who is charged with the stopping of
these affairs if he hears of them. Any atheling you meet will help
you in such a matter. It is an honour to be asked to do so. But
don't ever ask me to be your second if you have another affair, for
I also have to hinder these meetings if I can."

"Is there any one else I must not ask?" he said in a bewildered
way.

"Best not ask the abbot," I said, and I could not help smiling.

"Now you are laughing at me, and that is too bad. How am I to know
your court ways?"

"Well, you will not have to fight me unless you really want to pick
a quarrel. So it does not matter. Get to the bottom of the
question, and then come and talk it over, and we will see what is
to be done."

He nodded and left me, and I had a good chuckle over the whole
business. It was not likely that Elfrida had set him on me, in the
least; but I suppose he had heard some jest of her father's, who
was one of those who will work anything that pleases them to the
last.

So I went my way, and saw to one or two things, and sat me down in
the room off the hall that had been Owen's, and presently Erpwald
came in, and I saw that he was in trouble.

"Well," I said, "how goes the quarrel?"

"I am a fool," he replied promptly. "The lady should be proud of
the affair, and the more it is talked of the better she should like
it. You are right in saying that it cannot be stopped. Why, there
is a gleeman down the street this minute singing the deeds of
Oswald and Elfrida. As for the vow you made, the ealdorman says
that it could not have been better done. Forgive me for troubling
you about it at all."

He held out his broad hand, and for a moment I hesitated about
taking it. He bore his father's name, but in a flash it came to me
that I was wrong. We were both children when the ill deed was
wrought, and I was no heathen to hold a blood feud against all the
family of the wrongdoer. He did not even know that one of us lived,
and, as the king had told me, I knew that he was prepared to make
amends.

So I took his hand frankly, and he had not noticed the moment's
slowness or, if he did, took it for the passing of vexation from my
mind.

"You will laugh at me again," he said, "but now I am in hot water
in all sooth. The lady will not speak to me at all."

I did laugh. I sat down on the edge of the table and tried to stop
it, but his red face was so rueful that I could not, and at last he
had to smile also.

"Why, what have you done?" I asked. "Now it is my turn to know
reasons why. Here is a new offence to be seen into."

"I only told her that I had spoken to you on the subject, and was
going to talk to the ealdorman, her father, if she would not save
me the trouble by telling me herself all about it."

"And then?"

"She got up and went away, tossing her head, without a word. So I
had a talk with the ealdorman, and learnt all; but after that I
tried to see her, and that black-haired Welsh maiden of hers told
me that she would not see me."

"It seems to me that you have had a bad day," I said. "But what
does it matter? You have done what seemed right, and if it is taken
in the wrong way you cannot help it."

"It does matter," he said. "If she is wroth with me, I don't mind
telling you that I am fit to hang myself. Could you not set things
right for me, somehow? You are an old friend."

"No, hardly; for I am not in favour there just now."

"Well, I shall go and try to get round the Welsh girl to speak for
me."

Now, that was a servant I had never heard of, and I thought I knew
all the household. So I could not tell him if that would be of use,
and he left me in some sort of desperation to try what he could. He
was very much in love.

Next day he came back beaming. Somehow the Welshwoman had managed
things for him, and all was well again. I had my own thought that
Elfrida was by no means unwilling to meet him halfway, but I did
not say so. I think I had fairly got over my feelings by this time,
but I must say that I felt a sort of half jealousy about it. But
the more I came to look on the South Saxon's round face, and to
think of him as Elfrida's favoured lover, the less I felt it. It
became a jest to watch the going of the affair, and I was not the
only one who found it so in a very short time.

Erpwald made no secret of his devotion. He minded me of a great
faithful stupid dog, whose trust was boundless and whose love was
worth having. One could lead him anywhere, but he was true
Sussex--he would not be driven an inch.

So Elfrida had a hopeless slave at her beck and call, and by and by
I was on the old footing, and we used to make much of my vow of
service to her.

"I would that I had made that vow," Erpwald said once.

"It is not too late now," answered the ealdorman, with his great
laugh; "but I do not think it is needed."

After me went Erpwald when he was not at the ealdorman's, and Ina
told me that he was glad to see that I harboured no thought of
revenge.

"Presently you will want to go to Eastdean to see that your
father's grave is well honoured, and this friendliness will help
you," he said. "And for his friend such a man as Erpwald will do
much. The church at Eastdean will be no poor one, and you will help
him choose the place. We could not have asked him to do anything
that has pleased him more."

One thing I feared was that when he found out who I was he would be
ill at ease with me, and I asked the king to tell him in the way
that seemed best to his wisdom, lest the knowledge should come by
chance from some one else.

So he did that, and in a day or two Erpwald came to me and told me
that he knew at last who I was, and we had a long talk together. It
was in his mind to try to make me take the lands again, and I had
hard work to make him believe that I was in earnest when I said
that I did not want them. And at the end I made him happy by
telling him that the king would let me go to Eastdean with him
before long, so that we could see to things together.

"Well," he said, "this is all very pleasant for me, and it is
common saying that you will be some sort of prince in West Wales
before long; but I shall ever feel that my family owes yours more
than I can repay."

After that he was a little uneasy with me for a time, but it soon
wore off, and we used to talk of our ride to Eastdean often enough.

And then happened a thing that set me back into trouble about Owen
again. I had had many messages from him, as may be supposed, and in
all of them he said that there was no sign of danger, or even of
plotting against him.

One of my men brought me a written message one evening. A thrall
had left it at the gate for me. And when I asked from whom it came
I had the same answer that was given me when that other writing
warned me not to sleep in the moonlight, for it was said to come
from a priest whom I knew.

So when I glanced at the writing I was not surprised to see that it
was the same, though the sight of it gave me a cold shudder.
Somewhat the same also was the form in which the message ran:

"To Oswald, son of Owen.--It is not good to take wine from the hand
of a Briton."

Now, I had some reason to believe that Mara had written the first
note, as she seemed the only possible person to warn us of the
plots of her kin, and that was a very plain warning to Owen rather
than to myself, as it seemed. So I thought this might come from the
same hand, and be meant for him also, and that all the more that
there was not a stranger left in Glastonbury, now that the feasting
was over, much less a Welshman. But Owen had none but Welsh round
him, and it seemed to say that there was some plot among them
again. Maybe he would know who was meant by the "Briton." Men have
nicknames that seem foolish to any but those who are in the jest of
them. We used to call Erpwald the "Saxon" sometimes, because he was
not of Wessex, although we were as much Saxon as he, or more so,
according to our own pride.

I went straight down the street to the house of a man whom I knew
well, an honest franklin who had a good horse and knew the border
country from end to end, and I bade him ride with all speed to Owen
at Norton with the paper. He was to give it into his own hand, and
I made shift to scrawl a few words on the outside of it that he
might shew to my friend the captain of the guard, and so win
speedier entry to the palace. I did not send one of my own men,
because he would have been known as coming from me, while this man
was often in Norton about cattle and the like, and none would
wonder at seeing him.

I was easier when I saw him mount and ride away, but I was ill
content until the morning came and brought him back with tidings
that all was well, and that Owen would be on his guard.

Also, the franklin was to tell me that Gerent's court went to Isca,
which we call Exeter, in two days' time, and that Owen would fain
see me before he went westward, if I could come to him. There
seemed to be difficulty in persuading Gerent to let him return to
our court, even for a day now.

Whereon I went to Ina and told him of this new trouble, and he bade
me go. He thought that some fresh plot was being hatched in Exeter,
but both he and I wondered that the warning was not sent direct to
my foster father, rather than in this roundabout way through my
hands. He said the same thing to me that Howel had spoken when I
parted from him.

"These plotters will not think twice about striking at Owen through
you, if it seems the only way to reach him. And you mind that the
princess told you to have a care for yourself. Evan said that if
strife was stirred up between us and Gerent they would be glad. If
they slew you, my Thane, it is likely that there would be trouble,
unless Gerent is as wroth as I should be."

So I went with a few guards and spent the day and night with Owen
at Norton. I knew it was the last chance I should have of seeing
him for a long time, but we talked of the coming summer, promising
ourselves that journey together to see Howel. I told him how things
went with Elfrida and me, and he did not seem to wonder much, nor
to think it of any consequence. He laughed at me, and told me to
get over it as soon as I could, and that was all.

But this last warning he could no more understand than I. It was
his thought that it was meant for me rather than himself.

"You will have to take heed to any Welshman you meet," he said,
"and as you are warned that should be no very difficult matter. No
Briton can ever pretend to be a Saxon."

I do not think that there is more to be said of that meeting,
though indeed I would willingly dwell on it. Mayhap it will be
plain why I would do so presently, for I left him bright and happy
in his old place, with nought but the distance from the foster son
whom he loved to trouble him.

But when I rode away again the sorrow of that parting fell heavily
on me, and I could not shake it off. It seemed to me that I would
not see Owen again, though why it so seemed I could not tell. If I
had any thought of danger to myself I should have cared little, so
it was not that. I wonder if one can feel "fey" for another man if
he is dear to you as no other can be?

CHAPTER XI. HOW ERPWALD FELL FROM CHEDDAR CLIFFS; AND OF ANOTHER WARNING.

In the coming week, after I had thus taken leave of Owen, my friend
Herewald, the ealdorman, would have a hunting party before we all
left him and Glastonbury for Winchester, and so it came to pass
that on the appointed day a dozen of us rode with a train of men
and hounds after us along the westward slopes of the Mendips in the
direction of Cheddar, rousing the red deer from the warm woodlands
of the combes where they love to hide. We had the slow-hounds with
us, and that, as it seems to me, is better sport than with the
swift gaze-hounds I rode after on the Welsh hills with Eric. It is
good to hear the deep notes of them as they light on the scent of
the quarry in the covers, and to see them puzzle out a lost line in
the open, and to ride with the crash and music of the full pack
ahead of one in the ears, as the deer doubles no longer, but trusts
to speed for escape.

Those who were with us were friends of mine and of the ealdorman,
and there were three ladies in the party--one of these being, of
course, Elfrida.

Erpwald was in close attendance on her, a matter which was taken
for granted by every one at this time. He was to go with the court
to Winchester, and thence he and I would ride to Eastdean.

So we hunted through the forenoon, taking one deer, and then rode
onward until we came to the place where the great Cheddar gorge
cleaves the Mendips across from summit to base, sheer and terrible.
The village lies at the foot of the gorge on the western side of
the hills, half sheltered between the first cliffs of the vast
chasm, but on the hillside above is a deep cover that climbs upward
to the summit, and it was said that a good deer had been harboured
there.

So presently, while the hounds were drawing this wood below us, I
and Elfrida and Erpwald found ourselves together and waiting on the
hilltop at the edge of the gorge. I was almost sorry to make a
third in that little party, but Erpwald knew nothing of the
country, and Elfrida had no more skill in matters of time and place
and distance than most ladies, which is not saying much, in all
truth, though I hardly should dare to set it down, save by way of
giving a reason for my presence with so well contented a party of
two.

Now, if there is one who has not seen this Cheddar gorge, I will
say that it is as if the mighty hills had been broken across as a
boy breaks a long loaf, or as if some giant had hewn a narrow gap
with the roughest pick that ever was handled. Our forefathers held
that Woden had indeed hewn it so, and we have tales that the evil
one himself cleft it in a night, and that the rocky islands of
Steep and Flat Holme, yonder in the mid channel, are the rubbish
which he hewed thence and cast there. Maybe the overhanging cliffs
are full four hundred feet high from the little white track which
winds at their foot, and from cliff top to cliff top is but a short
bow shot.

From where we waited one could look sheer down on the track below
us, and a man who was coming slowly along it seemed like a rat in
its run, so far off did he appear. At least, so said Erpwald, who
looked over, riding to the very edge. I had no wish to do so,
having been there before, and not altogether liking it.

Then he wanted Elfrida to look over also, and that frightened her,
and so we rode back and forth a little, for the wind was keen on
the hill, listening for sound of horn or hound in the cover.

One reason why we were so near the edge of the cliffs was that
Erpwald had not seen the place before, and had heard much of it;
and another was that as no deer could cross the gorge we should be
sure to have the hunt before us when one broke. There are tales of
hunted deer, ay, and of huntsmen also, going over the cliffs at
full speed, but that is likely only when the pace has been hot and
the danger is forgotten. I had no mind, either, to see some of
Herewald's young hounds cast themselves over in eagerness if they
chose to follow, as young ones will, the scent of some hill fox who
had his lair among the rocks and knew paths to safety on the face
of the cliffs, so that was yet another reason why we were in that
place, and I tell this because it is likely that some one may ask
how it was that I suffered my friends to bide in so perilous a
spot, seeing what happened presently.

It was not long before those two forgot me, and rode side by side
talking. Maybe I forgot them, for the last time I was on the cliff
tops was across the channel, and I minded the two with whom I rode
then--Howel and Nona.

Then suddenly the ringing of the horn roused us, and Erpwald came
toward me, thinking that, of course, Elfrida was close after him,
but with his eyes too intently watching the place where I had said
a deer was most likely to break cover to notice much else. I was
some twenty paces farther from the edge than they. The horses
pricked up their ears at the well-known sound, and stood with
lifted heads watching as eagerly as we.

Then there came a little cry from Elfrida as she bade her horse
stand, and I heard it trampling sharply, as if restive, behind us.
I turned in my saddle to see what was amiss, and what I saw made my
blood run cold, and the sweat broke out on my forehead in a moment.

With the sound of the horn and the moving away of Erpwald the horse
had waxed restive, as horses will at a cover side when the time to
move on seems near. I think that it had probably reared a little
and that she had tried to check it, for now it was backing slowly
and uneasily toward the edge of that awesome cliff that was but ten
paces from its heels. Even now the girl was backing him yet more in
her efforts to make him stand still, and I dared not make a move to
catch the bridle lest he should swing round at once from me and go
over.

"Spur him, Elfrida. Let his head go, and spur him," I said as
quietly as I could, but so that she must needs hear.

It was all that I could do.

She spurred him, and then as he made a little leap forward, checked
him, and that was yet worse. Then I saw Erpwald, with an ashy face,
dismount and go hastily toward the edge behind her, sidelong, and I
swung my horse away from him, so that by chance hers might follow
me out of danger.

But that was useless. The brute was yet backing, and his heels were
almost on the brink. It seemed that his rider did not know how near
she was.

"Get off!" I said hoarsely. "Get off at once!"

Then she knew, but could only turn and look. The hinder hoofs lost
hold on the rocky edge as the horse made its first slip backward,
and even as the loosened stones rattled down, and it lurched with
one leg hanging over the gulf, Erpwald leapt forward and tore
Elfrida from the saddle, and half threw her toward me. I do not
remember when I dismounted, but I was there and grasped her hand
and dragged her back out of the way of the lashing fore feet.

Then Erpwald was gone. The horse struggled wildly in one last
effort to save itself, and swept my friend over with it. There was
a rattle of stones, a silence, and then a dull crash in the depths
below.

One moment later and all three would have gone. I heard the shout
of the man on the track below, and I wondered in a dull way if he
had been killed also.

And now I had Elfrida to tend, for she had fainted. What she had
seen I could not tell, but I hoped that at least she knew nought
before Erpwald went. It was as if she had lost consciousness when
he reached her, for I saw the hand on the rein loosen helplessly. I
carried her back from the cliff and tried to bring her to herself,
vainly, though indeed I almost wished that she might remain as she
was until we were back in Glastonbury.

Then I wound my horn again and again to bring some to my help, and
I tried not to think of that which surely lay crushed on the road
below. There could be no hope for either man or horse.

Then came the sound of swift hoofs, and there was the ealdorman and
one or two others, coming in all haste to know what the urgent call
betokened, but by the time that he had dismounted and asked if
there was any hurt to his daughter I could only gasp and point
downward. My mouth was dry and parched, and I did not know how to
put into words the thing that had happened; but he saw that
Elfrida's horse was not there, and that Erpwald's ran loose with
mine, and he guessed.

"Over the cliff?" he said, whispering, and I nodded.

"Go and look," he gasped, and he knelt down and took Elfrida from
me.

The two who were with him were trying to catch the loose horses,
and we were alone for the moment. So I crept to the edge and looked
over, fearing what I should see. But I saw nothing but the bare
track winding there, and I remembered that the cliff overhung.

Then, as I scanned every rock and cranny below me a man came out
from under the overhang at the foot of the cliff and looked up. For
a moment my heart leapt, for I thought it was Erpwald. But it was
only the traveller we had seen, and he must have been looking at
what had rolled into the hollow that hid it from me. He glanced up
and caught sight of me.

"How did it happen?" he called up to me.

"Dead?" I called back, with a terror of what I knew would be his
answer.

Then he laughed at me.

"Do you expect a horse to be leather all through, Master? Of course
he is.--Saddle and all smashed to bits."

Then a dull anger took me that he thought of the horse only, as it
seemed, unless he was mazed as I was with it all.

"The man--the man," I said.

"There is no man here, Master. Did one fall?" he said in a new
voice, and he crossed to the other side of the gorge and scanned
the face of the cliff.

"He is not to be seen," he said. "Maybe he has caught yonder."

He pointed to a ledge that was plain enough to me, but nowhere near
the place whence the fall was. There were no ledges to be seen as I
looked straight down, and I knew that this place was the most sheer
fall along all the length of the gorge.

Now three more of our party came up, and at once they rode down to
the village and so round to where the man stood. It seemed a long
time before they were there and talking to him.

"Ho, Oswald!"

Their voices came cheerfully enough, and I looked down at them.

"There seem to be clefts here and there, and in one of those he
must needs be," they said. "We are going to the village to get a
cragsman with a rope, and will be with you anon."

There was at least hope in that, and I watched them ride swiftly
away. The ravens were gathering fast now, knowing that what fell
from above must needs be their prey, and two great eagles were
wheeling high overhead, waiting. I heard the kites screaming to one
another from above the eagles, and from the woods came the call of
the buzzards. They knew more than I.

Now the ealdorman could not bring Elfrida round, and he thought it
best to take her hence. So he had her lifted to him on his horse,
and went slowly and carefully down the hill toward the village with
her. I had told him all that had happened by this time, and I was
to bring word presently to him of how the search went.

So I and those two friends who had first come sat there on the
cliff top waiting in silence for the coming of the man with his
ropes. All that could be said had been said.

Here and there on the face of the cliff some yew trees had managed
to find a holding, and their boughs were broken by the passage of
the horse at least through them. But there were no shreds of
clothing on them, as if Erpwald had reached them. That might be
because the weightier horse fell first. It seemed to me in that
moment of the fall that he was between the horse and the cliff as
he went over the edge, for the forefeet of the horse struck his
legs and threw him backward, and the last thing that I minded was
seeing his head against the horse's mane in some way. That last
glimpse will bide with me until I forget all things.

It seemed very long before our friends came back with the ropes.
Backwards and forwards in front of us flew untiringly two ravens,
now flying across the gorge, and then again almost brushing us with
their wings as they swept up the face of the cliff from below. We
thought they had a nest somewhere close at hand, for it was their
time.

"If Erpwald were dead," I said presently, "those birds would not be
so restless. It is hard to think that they know where he is and how
he fares; but at least they tell us that he is not yet prey for
them."

Backward and forward they swept, until my eyes grew dazed with
watching them, and then suddenly they both croaked their alarm
note, wheeled quickly away from the cliff's face, and fled across
the gorge and were gone.

Then was a rattle of stones, and a shout from some one in the track
below, and I started and saw a head slowly rising above the edge of
the cliff as if its owner had climbed up to us. White and streaked
with blood was the face, but it was not crushed or marred, and it
was Erpwald's.

"Lend me a hand," he said, as we stared at him, as one needs must
stare at one who comes back as it were from the grave. "My head
swims even yet."

I grasped his hand and helped him to the grass, and once there he
stood upright and shook himself, looking round in an astonished way
as he did so.

"No broken bones," he said. "Where is Elfrida? Is she all right? I
was rough with her, I fear, but I could not help it. Could I have
managed otherwise?"

"In no way better," I said, finding my tongue at length. "She has
gone to the village. But where have you been!"

"In a long hole just over here," he answered. "But how long has she
been gone?"

"How long do you think that you have been in your hole?"

"A few minutes. It cannot be long. Yet it must have been longer
than I thought, for the shadows are changed."

It was a full hour and a half since he fell, but I did not say so,
lest it should be some sort of shock to him. So I bade him sit down
while I saw to a cut there was on his head--the only sign of hurt
that he had.

"I thought that I was done for at first," he said.

"So thought I, until we found that you were not at the bottom. Even
now some of us have gone for ropes that we might search the cliff
for you. We could not see you anywhere, and there does not seem to
be any ledge here that could catch you."

"Why, you could have touched me with a spear all the time, if you
had known where to thrust it. I think I fainted, or somewhat
foolish of the sort. My head hit the rock as I went over. Also the
horse ground me between it and the cliff, so that all my breath
went. But that pushed me into the hole, and I will not grumble. At
least, I think that was it, but I cannot be sure. My senses went."

He began to laugh, but suddenly turned to me with a new look on his
face.

"Oh, but was Elfrida feared for me?--What did she think?"

"She saw nought of it," I said. "I believe that she had fainted
with terror when you laid hold of her. The ealdorman came and took
her to the village, and I do not suppose she knows that you have
been lost."

"That is well," he said, with his great sigh. "Look over and see my
hole."

I did not care to look over again, and, moreover, knew that I could
not see it. I mind every jutting stone and twisted yew that is on
the cliff there, to this day. However, one of the others went a
little to one side, where Erpwald had appeared, and swung himself
to the tiny ledge that had given him foothold as he came up, and so
looked at the place. There was a long cleft between two layers of
rock which went back into the cliff's face for some depth, with a
little backward slope that had saved the helpless man from rolling
out again, and there was a raven's nest at one end of it. One may
see that cleft from below and across the gorge if one knows where
to look, but not by any means from above, by reason of the overhang
of the brink. It was plain that, as he thought, the horse's body,
or maybe its shoulder, thrust him into the cleft, but it was well
that he was senseless and so could not struggle, or he would have
surely missed it. It is his saying that he had no trouble in
getting into the place, but more in climbing out.

Now we called the good news to some of our people and the villagers
who were on the road below, and they broke into cheers as they
heard it. They could hardly believe that the man they had seen on
the edge just now was Erpwald himself. Then we went down to the
village, meeting the men with the ropes halfway, and so came to the
first houses of the street, where the ealdorman was standing
outside one of the better sort. He came to meet us, and I never saw
anything like the look on his face when he saw Erpwald and heard
his cheerful greeting. I told him how things ended.

"I have given a lot of trouble, as it seems" Erpwald said humbly;
"but I could not help it."

"Trouble!" said the ealdorman. "Had it not been for you there would
have been nought but trouble for me all the rest of my life."

He took Erpwald's hand as he spoke and pressed it, but he would not
say more then. Maybe he could not. So he turned to me.

"It is all right, Oswald, for Elfrida is herself again, and she saw
nothing after she looked into the gulf below her. I have told her
nothing."

"Do not tell her anything, Ealdorman," Erpwald said. "No need to
say what a near thing it was, or that I handled her like a sack of
oats. She would never forgive me. But Oswald says it was all that I
could have done. It was a good thing that he was there to take
her."

"How are you going to account for the broken head, then?"

"Say I was thrown from my horse afterward, or somewhat of that
kind," he said. "Or, stay, these will do it. I have been birds'
nesting. I thought these would please her. One gets falls while
scrambling after the like."

He put his hand into his pouch as he spoke.

"Plague on it, one is broken," he said, bringing out a raven's egg.
"There were two in that place where I stopped falling."

The ealdorman and I stared at him in wonder. It amazed us that in
such a moment a man should think of this trifle. And now he was
turning his soiled pouch inside out and wiping it with a tuft of
grass, grumbling the while. It was plain that the danger had made
no impression on him.

"Were not you frightened when you found how nearly you had fallen
from the cliff?" I asked him.

"No; why should I be? I did not fall from it. I was feared enough
when I thought that I was going, and I thought I was at the bottom
when I came to myself. But as I had not gone so far, there was an
end."

I minded the story of the Huntsman's Leap, and how I had felt when
I knew my escape. It was plain that this forest-bred Erpwald, with
his cool head, and lack of power to picture what might have been,
would make a good warrior, so far as dogged fearlessness goes, and
that is a long way.

Now the ealdorman kept what else he might have to say until we were
at home, for it was time for us to be off. So we brushed Erpwald
down and hid his cut under a cap that the good franklin of the
house lent him, for his own was gone, as he said, to make a bird's
nest somewhere on the cliffs; and then Elfrida came from the
cottage, looking a little white and shaken with her fright, but
otherwise none the worse, and we started.

Erpwald kept out of her sight for a little while, but as we were
fairly on the way home it was not long before he found his way to
her side, and we let those two have their say out together.

One by one the friends who had joined us dropped out of the party
as their way led them aside, until by the time we reached the
ealdorman's house only half a dozen of us were left. Then Herewald
would have us come in for some cheer after the long day, but we
were tired and stained, and I must be back at the guardroom, and so
he bade his folk bring somewhat out here to us. There was a cask of
ale already set on the low wall by the gate for the men, and we sat
on our horses waiting, with a little crowd of thralls and children
round us, looking at the two good deer that we brought back. Then
the steward and some of the women of the house brought horns of ale
from the house for us.

One of the women came to me, and without seeing who she was, or
thinking of doing so, I reached out my hand for the horn that she
held up, and at that moment some one from behind seemed to run
against my horse's flank, and he lashed out and reared as if he was
hurt. My rein was loose, and I was bending carelessly over to take
the horn, and it was all that I could do to keep my seat for the
moment. As for the girl, she dropped the horn and ran from the
plunging horse into the doorway for safety.

Then I heard the sharp crack of a whip, and the voice of the head
huntsman speaking angrily:

"Out on you for a silly oaf!--What mean you by going near the thane
at all?"

The whip cracked again, and the long lash curled round the
shoulders of a ragged thrall, who tried in vain to escape it.

"On my word, I believe you did it on purpose!" the huntsman cried,
with a third shrewd lash that found its lodgment rightly.

"Mercy, Master," mumbled the man, writhing; "it is this terrible
crossing of the eyes. I do not rightly see where I go."

I had quieted the horse by this time, and I held up my hand to stay
the lash from the thrall. Some one picked up the horn that the girl
had let fall.

"Let him be," I said. "It could but have been a chance, and he is
lucky not to have been kicked. See, he does squint most amazingly."

"Ay," growled the huntsman, "so he does; but I never knew a
cross-eyed man before who had any trouble in walking straight
enough."

The thrall slunk away among his fellows. He was a round-shouldered
man with hay-coloured hair and a stubby beard of the same, and he
rubbed his shoulders with his elbows lifted as he went. Then the
steward gave me a fresh horn, and we said farewell to our host and
hostess, and Erpwald and I went our way.

"I thought that the horse would have knocked the Welsh girl over,"
he said presently. "She was pretty nimble, however. That churl must
have kicked your horse sharply to make him plunge as he did."

"Trod on his fetlock most likely," I answered. "Clumsy knave."

"Well, that huntsman knows how to use a lash, at all events, and he
will have a care in future. But how my head does ache!"

"That is likely enough," I said, laughing. "It was a shrewd knock,
and it kept you in that hole for the longest hour and a half I have
ever known."

"It does take somewhat out of the common to hurt me much," he said
simply.

"Well, by tomorrow you will be famed all over Glastonbury as the
man who fell over Cheddar cliffs and escaped by reason of lighting
on the thickest part of him," I answered.

It was a poor jest enough, but it set him laughing. I did not wish
him to say more of what had just happened, for I was puzzled about
it, and wanted to get my thoughts to work. He had spoken of the
very thing that I had been warned of, for almost had I taken the
horn from the hand of a Briton--the Welsh girl of whom he spoke
once before. I had forgotten her, for I do not think that I had
ever seen her since she came here, until now. But at this moment I
seemed to have a feeling that her face was in some way familiar to
me, though only in that half-formed way that troubles one, and I
was trying to recall how this might be.

Erpwald went off to the guest chamber where he was lodged, and
presently I found our old leech and took him to see after him. He
went comfortably to sleep after his hurt had been dressed, and so I
left him. I will say at once that he felt no more trouble from it.

Then I went to the stables to see how fared my horse after the
day's work, and found him enjoying his feed after grooming. I
looked him over, but I could see no mark to show where the man
might have hurt him. But as I was running my hand along the smooth
hock to feel for any bruise, my groom said to me:

"Have you had a roll in a thorn bush, Master?"

"No.--What makes you think I might have had one?"

"I found this in his flank when I rubbed him down, and it was run
thus far into him."

He held out a long stiff blackthorn spine, marking a full inch on
its length with his thumbnail.

"Enough to set a horse wild for a moment," he went on. "And unless
you had fallen, I could not think how it got there."

"In which flank was it?" I asked, taking the thorn from him.

"The near flank, Master."

That was where the thrall ran against him, and surely the huntsman
was not so far wrong when he said that he did so on purpose. If so,
it was done at the right moment to give me a heavy fall, save for a
bit of luck, or maybe horsemanship. It was a strange business.

"I was through a thicket or two today," I said carelessly. "Maybe I
hit a branch in just the right way to drive it in. If we were
galloping he would not have noticed it. These little things happen
oddly sometimes."

Then the man began to tell me some other little mishaps to horses
that could not be explained, bustling about the while. And before
long I left the stables and went to my own quarters, with the thorn
yet in my hand. It had been cut from the bush, and not broken, just
as if it had been chosen. Now, if these hidden plotters wanted to
frighten me, I am bound to say that they succeeded more or less.
Was the giving of the horn by the Welsh girl to be a signal to the
thrall in some way? If there is one thing that a man need not be
ashamed to say that he fears, it is treachery, and I seemed to be
surrounded by it. Hardly could a house-carle come to my door but it
seemed to me that he must needs bring one of these unlucky notes.
It was just as well that I had some unknown friend to write them to
me, though I cannot say that I had profited by them so far.

Now I sent two of my men to see if they could find the cross-eyed
thrall, but of course he was not to be laid hands on. Only the
people who had been at the ealdorman's door seemed to have seen
him, and they could not tell who or whence he was. He was so easily
known, however, that I thought I should be certain to have him
sooner or later. Such a squint as he had is not to be hidden, and
that made the wonder that he had dared to do this all the greater.

I slept on it all, and woke with fewer fears on me, for I was
overwrought yesterday after all the terrible waiting on the cliff
and what went before. It was Sunday, moreover, and the early
services in the new church helped mightily to set a new face on
things. So when I had seen to the few duties of the morning, I went
down the street to ask after Elfrida, being anxious to hear that
her fright had done her no hurt. Erpwald had been there before me,
but I had missed him since.

Elfrida was well, and glad to see me. We sat and talked of
yesterday, and I found that Erpwald had said nothing of how he
saved her, and it was pleasant to tell her of it, while she
listened with eyes that sparkled. It was plain that I could have
found nothing that would please her better than to talk of him. So
I even told her how he had gone over the edge into the cleft, but
without saying that we feared for his life for so long. Then her
father came in, and at once she asked after some sick person.

"How goes it with him now," she said.

"Well enough, says the leech; but he had well-nigh died in the
night."

"What is it that ails him?--Can the leech tell that yet?"

"He has taken somewhat that has poisoned him," the ealdorman
answered. "The leech asked if he had eaten of mushrooms, or rather
toadstools, by mistake."

"But there are none about as yet."

Now I asked who the sick man was, and Herewald told me that he was
such an one who was with us yesterday. I minded him as one who
stood near me at the door when my horse reared. I thought that he
was the man who picked up my dropped horn, and I was sorry for him.
However, that was not much concern of mine, so we passed to other
talk for a little, and then Elfrida said:

"Are there any tidings of my maiden? I fear for her."

"None at all," the ealdorman said. "Here is a strange thing,
Oswald; for that girl whom you so nearly rode over last evening is
as clean gone as if she had never been. None saw her go, but when
supper time came she was nowhere to be found. Nor is there any
trace of her now."

I felt as if I had expected to hear that the Welsh girl had gone as
well as the thrall, and I cannot say that I was surprised; though
as they had failed in whatever they meant to compass this time, I
could not see why they should not have tried again.

"Whence came she," I asked as carelessly as I could. "Maybe she has
only gone home, fearing blame for dropping that horn."

"She has no home to go to, that we ken. She came from Jago at
Norton only a little while ago, and she would hardly try to get
back there across the hills alone. She is an orphan serf of his,
and I fear that she has been stolen away."

"She has not been here long, then?"

"She came when you were with Owen. Jago sent to ask if Elfrida
would take her in, she being worth having as a maid. His wife had
no place for her, but would that she was well cared for. So she
came with the first chapman who travelled this way."

Now as I thought of this girl, in a moment it flashed across me
where I had seen her before. It was on board the ship at Tenby, and
she came with Dunwal and his daughter Mara. I was certain of it,
though I had only seen her that once, for there I was in a strange
land, and so noticed things and people at which I should hardly
have glanced elsewhere. The Danish and British dress over there was
strange to me also.

Then, as soon as I had a chance I asked the ealdorman for a few
moments of private speech, and we went into his own chamber that
opened on the high place of the hall where we had been sitting.
There I told him all the trouble, for surely I needed all help that
I could find, and at the last I said:

"Mara, the daughter of Dunwal, was at guest quarters with Jago."

Then I saw the face of my friend paling slowly under its ruddy tan,
and he rose and walked across the room once or twice, biting his
lip as though in wrath or sore trouble. I could not tell which it
was, but I thought that he was putting some new thought together in
his mind.

"It is plain enough," he said at last, staying his walk at a side
table. "I saw my sick man pick up that horn the girl dropped, and
he looked into it and laughed and drank from it, saying that it was
a pity to waste good stuff. See, here it is. The curl of it may
have kept a fair draught in it for him."

There were several horns standing in their silver or gilded rests
on the table at his elbow, and he held up that one which had been
brought to me, and then dropped it.

It fell with its mouth upward, rocking on the bend in its midst, so
that it might well have had a gill or two left in it, for it had a
twist as well as the curve in its length, which was somewhat longer
than usual.

"Poison!" he said in a low voice. "That a friend should be thus
treated at my own door, by my own servant! What shall I say to
you?"

"It is hard on you as on any one, Ealdorman," I answered. "But the
girl did not come from Jago. Mara sent her in some way. I am sure
it was she whom I saw at Tenby."

"Ay," he said, "one could not dream that a message seeming to come
from honest Jago was not in truth from him. The trick was sure to
be found out, and that soon, though."

"Not until the deed was done, maybe. This is the first chance that
the Welsh girl has had to hand me aught."

The ealdorman held his peace for a moment, and then he broke out
suddenly:

"By all the relics in Glastonbury, that thrall saved your life! He
is no fool either, for he knew that the horn must be spilt in one
way or the other, and it was worth while for you to run the risk of
a fall rather than that you should drink it. How had he knowledge
of what was to be done?"

"Whoever wrote the warning told him. It was a chance, however, that
we did not come into the house."

"There is some friend watching these traitors," said Herewald. "I
did not know the thrall, but so often men from the hill who have
followed us come here for the ale that they know will be going,
that I thought nothing of a stranger more or less. But why choose
my house for this deed?"

I knew well enough, and it was plain when I minded the ealdorman
that my vow was well known, and told, moreover, by Thorgils in
Mara's hearing. This was a house where I should often be, and when
Mara found out that Jago was a friend of Herewald of Glastonbury
the rest was easy.

"Well, I will send to Jago today, and find out what he knows. That
Cornish damsel must be better watched. Come, let us go and tell the
king."

So we went, and when Ina heard what we had to say he grew very
grave, and asked many questions before he told us what his thoughts
were.

"They have struck at Owen through you, my Thane, even as I feared,"
he said. "I think that the matter of the land of Tregoz has saved
you, for I seem to see in this thrall one of his men who hates him
and will thwart his plans. There are yet men who will carry out
what he planned ere he died. Now I am glad that we soon shall be
gone from hence, and that is the first time that I have been ready
to leave Glastonbury."

Now I will say that when Herewald's messenger came back from Norton
it was even as we thought. Jago had no knowledge of the Welsh girl,
or her sending. But Mara was gone a fortnight or more since, for
Gerent had sent her father for safer keeping to the terrible old
castle of Tintagel on the wild shore, and she had followed to be as
near him as she might. Doubtless the girl might be found there also
in time.

So I had no more warnings, and in a few days the strain on my mind
wore off. I sent a message through Jago to Owen to tell him what
had happened, so that he should have less anxiety for his own
comfort, while he knew that I was shortly to be far hence.

Before that came about, however, Erpwald and Elfrida were betrothed
with all solemnity in the new church, for their wedding was to be
held here also in the summer, when all was ready for a new mistress
at Eastdean. So Erpwald rode with us to Winchester a proud man, and
by that time I thought I had forgotten that I ever held myself
entitled to the place he had won.

But I did not forget the plotting, and as the days wore on, and my
thoughts of it grew a little clearer, I began to wonder if the
thrall who saved me from the poisoned horn might not be the man who
slew Tregoz on the ramparts at Norton in the moonlight. I must say
that it went against the grain for me to believe that Mara had
aught to do with contriving my end through her maid, but unless
there was some crafty hand at work in the background, all
unsuspected, it seemed that there could be none else.

And then one day I found the little letter that Nona had sent me.
In that I was warned against Morfed the Cornish priest, and I had
forgotten him.

Now I will confess that two days after the Cheddar business I took
that little brooch that Elfrida had given me, and dropped it into
three fathoms of water as I rode by the mere one day. There are
foolishnesses one does not care to be reminded of.

CHAPTER XII. OF THE MESSAGE BROUGHT BY JAGO, AND A MEETING IN DARTMOOR.

As one may be sure, there was no danger for me at Winchester, and
if I had any anxiety at all it was for Owen, who had dangers round
him which I did not know. I had sent him word by that old friend of
his, Jago of Norton, how the last warning was justified, and had
heard from him that with the imprisonment of Dunwal his last
enemies seemed to have been removed or quieted. So I was more at
ease concerning him, and presently rode with Erpwald to Eastdean in
the fair May weather to see the beginning of that church which
should keep the memory of my father.

And all I will say concerning that is that when I came to visit the
old home once more I knew that I had chosen right. The life of a
forest thane was not for me, and Eastdean seemed to have nought of
pleasure for me, save in a sort of wonderment in seeing how my
dreams had kept so little of aught of the true look of the place.
In them it had grown and grown, as it were, and now I was
disappointed with it. I suppose that it is always so with what one
has not seen since childhood, and for me it was as well. I felt no
shadow of regret for the choice I had made.

So after the foundation was laid with all due rites, I went back to
the king and found him at Chippenham, for he was passing hither and
thither about his realm, as was his wont, biding for weeks or maybe
months here, and so elsewhere, to see that all went well. And I
knew that in Erpwald and his mother I left good and firm friends
behind me, and that all would be done as I should have wished. Ay,
and maybe better than I could have asked, for what Erpwald took in
hand in his plain single-heartedness was carried through without
stint.

Through Chippenham come the western chapmen and tin traders, and so
we had news from the court at Exeter that all was well and quiet,
and so I deemed that there was no more trouble to be feared. It
seemed as if Owen had taken his place, and that every foe was
stilled.

And yet there grew on me an uneasiness that arose from a strange
dream, or vision, if you will, that came to me one night and
haunted me thereafter, so soon as ever my eyes closed, so that I
grew to fear it somewhat. And yet there seemed nothing in it, as
one may say. It was a vision of a place, and no more, though it was
a place the like of which I had never seen.

I seemed to stand in a deep hollow in wild hills, and round me
closed high cliffs that shut out all but the sky, so that they
surrounded a lawn of fair turf, boulder strewn here and there, and
bright with greener patches that told of bog beneath the grass. In
the very midst of this lawn was a round pool of black, still water,
and across on the far side of that was set a menhir, one of those
tall standing stones that forgotten men of old were wont to rear
for rites that are past. It was on the very edge of the pool, as it
seemed, and was taller than any I had seen on our hills.

And when in my dream I had seen this strange place, always I woke
with the voice of Owen in my ears calling me. That was the thing
which made me uneasy more than that a dream should come often.

Three times that dream and voice came to me, but I said nought of
it to any man. Then one day into the courtyard of the king's hall
rode men in haste from the westward, and when I was called out to
meet them the first man on whom my eyes rested was Jago of Norton,
and my heart fell. Dusty and stained he was with riding, and his
face was worn and hard, as with trouble, and he had no smile for
me.

"What news, friend?" I said, coming close to him as he dismounted.

"As they took you, so have they taken Owen. We have lost him."

"Is he slain?"

"We think not. He was wounded and borne away. We cannot trace him
or his captors. Gerent needs you, and I have a letter to your
king."

I asked him no more at this time, but I took him straightway to
Ina, travel stained as he was. He had but two men with him, and
they were Saxons he had asked for from Herewald the ealdorman as he
passed through Glastonbury in haste.

So Ina took the letter, and opened it, and as he read it his face
grew troubled, so that my fear that I had not yet heard the worst
grew on me. Then he handed it to me without a word.

"Gerent of the Britons, to Ina of Wessex.--I pray you send me
Oswald, Owen's foster son, for I need him sorely. On my head be it
if a hair of him is harmed. He who bears this is Jago, whom you
know, and he will tell my need and my loneliness. I pray you speed
him whom I ask for."

That was all written, and it seemed to me that more was not needed.
One could read between the lines, after what Jago had said.

"What is the need for you?" Ina asked, as I gave him back the
letter.

"To seek for Owen, my father," I said. "Jago must tell what we have
to hear."

Then he told us, speaking in his own tongue, so that I had to
translate for the king now and then, and it was a heavy tale he
brought.

Owen had gone to some house that belonged to Tregoz, in the wild
edge of Dartmoor north of Exeter, and there men unknown had set on
the house and burnt it over him, slaying his men and sorely
wounding himself. Only one man had escaped to tell the tale, and he
was wounded and could tell little. And the deed was wrought in the
night, and into the night he had seen the men depart, bearing the
prince with them. But who and whence they were he could neither
tell nor guess.

Then Gerent had ridden in all haste to the house, and found even as
the wounded man had told, for all was still as the burners left it.
But no man of all the village, nor the shepherds on the hills,
could tell more. Owen was lost without trace left.

Then said Ina: "What more could be done by Oswald?--Will men help a
Saxon?"

"This must be between ourselves, King Ina," Jago said plainly. "It
is in my mind that if Oswald and I or some known lord of the
British will go to that place and sit there quietly with rewards in
our hands, we may learn much; for men fear Gerent the king in his
wrath, and they fled from his coming."

"So be it," said Ina. "Oswald shall go, and it seems to me that
every day is precious, so that he shall go at once. Is there
thought that Owen may be taken out of the country, as Oswald was
taken?"

"Every port and every fisher is watched, and has been so. For that
was the first thing we feared. And word has gone to Howel of Dyfed
and Mordred of Morganwg, farther up the channel, that they should
watch their shores also. Nought has been left undone that may be
done."

So it came to pass that on the next morning Jago and I rode away
together along the great road that leads westward to Exeter and
beyond, asking each train of chapmen whom we met if there was yet
news, and hearing nought but sorrow for the loss of the prince they
had hailed with such joy again. Nor did we draw rein, save to
change horses, till we clattered up the ancient paved street of the
city on its hill, and dismounted at the gates of the white palace
where Gerent waited me.

There the first man who came out to greet me was one whom I was
altogether glad to see, though his presence astonished me for a
moment. Howel of Dyfed passed from the great door and bade me
welcome.

"It is a different meeting from that which we had planned, Thane,"
he said, somewhat sadly. "I am here to help you if I can; for when
we heard that Owen was lost much as you were, we came over
straightway, there being reasons of her own which would not let
Nona rest till we had sailed. Presently you will hear them from
herself, for she is here. Glad am I to see you."

"There is no fresh hope?" I asked, as we went in.

"None; but we hope much from you. At least, your coming will cheer
the old king, for he is well-nigh despairing."

Now I was prepared to see some change in Gerent by reason of all
this sorrow and trouble, but not for all that was plain when I
first set eyes on him presently. Old and shrunken he seemed, and
his voice was weary and dull. Yet there came a new light into his
eyes as he saw me, and he greeted me most kindly, bidding me, after
a few words of welcome, to rest and eat awhile after the long ride,
before we spoke together of troubles.

Book of the day: