Part 5 out of 7
So in a little time I sought him again, and found him in a room
with warm sunlight streaming into it, making the strange pictured
walls bright and cheerful, and yet somewhat over close for one who
loves the open air or the free timbered roof that loses itself in
the smoke wreaths overhead, with the wind blowing through it as it
blows through the forest whence it was wrought, and with twitter of
birds to mind one of that also. Nevertheless, the old king in his
purple mantle with its golden hem over the white linen tunic, and
his little golden circlet on his curling white hair, seemed in
place there, even as I minded thinking that Owen in his British
array seemed in place.
Now Howel stood where Owen was wont to stand, and the only other in
the room was the lady, who rose from the king's side to greet me.
And if her smile was a little sad, it was plain that Nona the
princess was glad as her father to see her guest again, and I will
say that to me the sight of her was like a bright gleam in the grey
of sadness that was over all things. It did not seem possible that
she and trouble could find place together.
So I greeted her, and she went back to her place quickly, for
hardly would Gerent wait for us to speak a few words before he
would talk of that which was in all his thoughts; and then came
Jago and stood at the door, guarding it as it were against
Now the old king told me all that I had heard from his thane
already, and I must tell what I thought thereof, and that was
little enough beyond what I have said, and at last, when he seemed
to wait for me to ask him more, I put a question that had come into
my mind as I rode, and asked if there might be any chance of Morfed
the priest having a hand in the matter.
And at that the king's frown grew black, and he answered fiercely:
"Morfed, the mad priest?--Ay, why had not I thought of him before?
Look you, Oswald, into my hall of justice he came, barefoot and
ragged from his wanderings, but a few days before Owen left me; and
before all the folk, high and low, who were gathered there he cried
out on all those who spoke for peace with the men who owned the
rule of Canterbury, and who held traffic with the Saxon who has
taken our lands. And Owen was for speaking him fair, seeing that he
was crazed, but I bade him be silent, telling the priest that what
was lost is lost, and there needed no more said thereof; and that
if the men of Austin and we differed it was not the part of
Christian men to make the difference wider, even as Owen and
Aldhelm were wont to say. And at that he raved, and threatened to
lay the heaviest ban of the Church on Owen, and on all who held
with him, and so he was taken from my presence, and I have seen him
no more. But he was a friend of Morgan."
"That is the priest who was with Dunwal, surely," Howel said.
"The same," I answered--"and I was warned of him," and I looked
toward the princess, and she smiled a little and flushed.
"I mind how he glared at Oswald across my table," Howel said. "But
one need fear little from him, as I think. Who will heed a crazy
"Many," answered Gerent. "The more because they deem him inspired.
I will have him taken and brought to me."
There fell a little uneasy silence after that outburst of the
king's, but I felt that I had not yet heard all that they would
tell me. So we waited for the old king to speak, and at last he
turned suddenly to the princess, setting his thin white hand on her
shoulder, and said:
"Now tell Oswald what foolishness brought you here, Nona, daughter
of Howel, that he may say what he thinks thereof."
"Maybe he also will think it foolishness, King Gerent," she said in
her low clear voice. "But however that may be, I will tell him, for
in what I have to say may be help. I cannot tell, but because it
might be so I begged my father to bring me hither. It was all that
I could do for my godfather."
There was just a little quiver in her lip as she said this, and the
fierce old king's face softened somewhat.
"Nay," he said, "I meant no unkindness. I forgot that it is not
right to speak to a child as to grown warriors. It is long since
there was a lady about the place who is one of us."
Then Nona smiled wanly, and set her hand on that of the old king,
and kept it there while she spoke.
"Indeed, Thane, it may be foolishness, and now perhaps as time goes
on it begins to seem so to me. Once, as I know now, on the night
when Owen first slept in his new house on the moor, I dreamed that
he was in sore danger, for I seemed to see shadows of men creeping
everywhere round the house that I have never set eyes on; and
again, on the next night, and that was the night of the burning, I
saw the house in flames, and men fought and fell around it among
the flickering shadows, but I did not seem to see Owen. And then on
the next night, soon after I first slept, I woke trembling with the
most strange dream of all. I think that the light had hardly gone
from the west, but the moon had not yet risen. I dreamed that I
stood at the end of a narrow valley, whose sides were of tall
cliffs of rough grey stone, and in the depth of the valley I saw a
great menhir standing on the farther side of a black pool. And all
the surface of the pool was rippling as if somewhat had disturbed
it, and set upright in the ground on this side was a sword, like to
that which King Ina gave you, Thane--ay, that which you wear now,
not like my father's swords. And I thought that I heard one call on
Now I heard Jago stifle a cry behind me, and as for myself I stood
silent, biting my lip that I might know that I was not dreaming
also, and I saw that Howel was looking at me in a wondering way,
while Gerent glowered at me. All the time that she had been
speaking, Nona had looked on the ground, in some fear lest we
should smile at this which had been called foolishness, and I was
glad when the king broke the silence with a short laugh.
"Well, Oswald, what think you of this? On my word, it seems that
you half believe in the foolishness that some hold concerning
"I would not hold this so," said Howel,--"seeing that she has
dreamed of things that did take place, as we know too well."
"Fire and fighting? Things, forsooth, that every village girl on
the Saxon marches is frayed with every time she sleeps."
So said Gerent, and I answered him:
"Foolishness I cannot call this, either, Lord King. I also have
seen the same in the night watches. I have seen pool and menhir,
and the cliffs that hem them, even as the princess saw them. And I
woke with the voice of Owen in my ears."
"Dreams, dreams!" the old king said. "Go to, you do but tell me
these trifles to please me, and as if to give me hope that in such
an unheard-of place we shall find him whom we have lost. Say no
more, but go your ways on the morrow and search. And may you find
your dream valley and what is therein."
He rose up impatiently, and Howel gave him his arm from the room.
Jago followed him, and when the heavy curtain fell across the
doorway, Nona, who had risen with Gerent, turned to me.
"I am sure now that there we shall find Owen," she said, with a new
light of hope in her eyes. "And also I am sure that at the bottom
of all the matter is Morfed the priest."
"It was a needed warning against him that I had from your hand,
Princess," I said; "now let me thank you for it."
"I am glad you had it safely, for indeed I feared for you with
those people on the ship with you. What has become of them?"
I told her the fate of Dunwal, so far as I knew it. I did not then
know that Gerent had put an end to his plotting once for all two
days after Owen was lost. As for his daughter, I knew no more than
Jago told the ealdorman.
Then she said: "Now I would ask you to speak to my father, that he
would let me go with you to Dartmoor, that I may help you search. I
do not like to be far from him, but he says there may be danger.
Which makes me the more anxious not to leave him, as you may
She smiled, but as I made no answer she went on:
"And maybe Owen will need nursing when you find him. They say he
was sorely wounded. Ay, I am sure we shall find him, else why did
we have these strange visions? And I think that were he not
disabled altogether he would have won to freedom in some way."
"It is that wounding that makes me fear the worst," I said in a low
voice; for indeed the thought of Owen as hurt, in the care, or want
of care, of those who hated him, was not easy to be borne. "It is
my fear that we shall be too late."
"Nay, but you must not fear that," she said quickly. "That is no
sort of mind in which you have to set to work. I will think rather
that they have carried him to some safe tending. There will be time
enough to dread the worst when it is certain. There was nought in
the dreams to make us think that he was dead."
The bright face and voice cheered me wonderfully, and for the
moment, at least, I felt sure that our search would not fail. Then
I tried to persuade her not to come with us. One could not say that
there was any safety, even for her, among the men who would harm
Owen, though I thought that none would be in the least likely to
fall on Howel. Rather, they would keep out of his way altogether.
In my own mind I wished that I was going alone, or with none but
Jago, though, on the other hand, it might be possible that men
would speak to him if they would not to me. And at last I did
persuade her to bide here until we had news, promising that if need
was she should come and see the place herself when all was known.
"Well, maybe it is not so needful that I should go now," she said.
"I thought that I alone could tell my father when that valley was
found, but you know as much of it as I, and will be sure when you
stand in it."
And so we fell to talk of these visions which were so much alike,
and there was but one difference in them. In the dream of the
princess the pool had been ruffled, and mine was still as glass.
And that seemed strange, and we could make nothing of it. Then
Howel came back, and there is little more to say of the doings of
that evening. There was no feasting in Gerent's house now.
Very early in the next dawning Howel and I rode westward with five
score men of Gerent's best after us, into wilder country than I had
ever yet seen; and late in the evening we came to where the
countless folds of Dartmoor lie round the heads of Dart River. And
there Tregoz had set his house, and I think that it was the first
that had ever been in those wilds, save the huts of the villagers.
Only the hall of the place had been burnt, and there yet stood the
house of the steward on the village green, if one may call a meadow
that had a dozen huts round it by that name, and we bestowed
ourselves in the great room of that, while our men found places in
stables and outhouses and the huts. Every man of the place had fled
as they saw us coming, for the fear of Gerent was on them; but the
women and children remained, and they had heard of the son of Owen,
at least, since he and I were in Dartmoor in the spring. I had some
of them brought to me when we were rested, and told them that none
need fear aught, knowing that they would tell their menfolk.
And so it was, for after we had been quietly in the place for two
days the men were back and at their work again. I do not think that
even our Mendip miners were so wild as these people, and their
strange Welsh was hard for me and Howel to understand. I will say
that the whole matter seemed hopeless for a time, for no man would
say anything to us about it. If we spoke to a man, questioning him,
and presently wished to find him again, he was gone, and it would
be days ere he came back.
Some of our guards knew the country as well as most, and with them
we rode many a long mile into the hills during the first few days,
searching for the deepest valleys, and ever did I look to see the
great menhir before me as we came to bend after bend of the hills.
Circles of standing stones we found, and cromlechs, ruins of
ancient round stone huts where villages had been before men could
remember, and once we saw a menhir on the hillside; but that was
not what I sought, and none could tell us of the lost valley.
Yet it was in my mind as I questioned one or two that their looks
seemed to say that the description of the place was not unknown to
them, and if they would they could tell me more. At last, when I
came to know the speech better at the end of a week, I thought that
I would try another plan; I would trust to the shepherds, and ride
alone for once across the hills. I thought that, even were I set
upon, my horse would take me from danger more quickly than hillmen
could run, and Howel, unwillingly enough, agreed that it seemed to
be the only chance. Maybe the men would speak more openly with me
on the hillside and alone.
So I asked if there was any one could tell me where there were
menhirs in the valleys, and a shepherd said that he knew two or
three. So I rode with him at my side to one of these, but it was
not that which I sought; and, as I hoped, the man was more willing
to speak, and we got on well enough. We had not met with a soul all
day, but my hawk had taken two bustard after I saw the stone and
was disappointed. One of these as a gift to the shepherd had opened
his lips wonderfully, and we were talking as we rode in the dusk,
and were not so far from the village, of another stone that I was
to see next day, when I asked him if he had ever heard of the lost
valley of pool and menhir.
He did not answer, but shrunk to my side, looking round him
"What comes, Lord," he said, whispering;--"see yonder?"
He pointed across the bare hillside, and I looked but saw nothing.
"I saw nought," I said. "Is it unlucky to speak of the place?"
"I saw somewhat leap from yonder rock," he whispered; "it went
behind that other."
Plainly the man was terrified, and I asked him what he feared.
"The good folk, Lord."
"Pixies?--Do they come when one speaks of the lost valley?"
"Speak lower, Lord,--lower! Look, yonder it is again!"
Then I also saw in the dusk the figure of a man who crept softly
from one great boulder to another, and without thinking of the
terror of the shepherd I spurred my horse, and rode straight for
the rock behind which the figure disappeared, having no mind to
have an arrow put into me at short range by one of the men of
Tregoz--or of Morfed--unawares.
The shepherd howled in fright when he was left, but I did not heed
him, and in a moment I was round the rock and almost on the
cowering man whom I had seen. He turned to fly, and I cried to him
to stop, but he only got another rock between me and him, for the
hillside was covered with them, and shrank behind it, so that I
could only see his wild eyes as he glared at me across it. He said
nothing, and I did not think that he was armed, so far as the dim
evening light would let me see.
"Why are you dogging me thus?" I cried; "come out, and no harm will
I rode round, and he shifted as I did, so that he was between me
and the shepherd, and then I called to the latter that this was but
a man, and bade him come and help me to catch him. Whereon the man
looked swiftly over his shoulder and saw that he was fairly
"Keep him back, Master," he said in a strange growling voice, which
was not that of a Dartmoor savage either in tone or speech. "Keep
him back, and we will talk together; I mean no harm."
But I had no need to tell the shepherd not to come, for he bided
where he was, being afraid; but I held up my hand to him as if to
bid him be still, lest the man should know that he would not help
"Come out like a man," I said. "One would think that you were some
"Master, I will swear that I am not. Let that be, for I have
somewhat to tell you that you will be glad to hear."
"If that is true, why did you not come openly, instead of waiting
till I had you in a corner? Every one knows that there is reward
for news from any honest man."
"There are those who would take my life if they caught me, Master.
I have been seeking for speech with you alone all this day; I hoped
the shepherd would leave you hereabout for his home, and then I
would have come to you."
"Well," I said, "if you could tell me what I need to hear I will
hold you safe from any."
"Master, will you swear that?" said the man eagerly.
Then it came across me that maybe this was one of those who fell on
Owen, for one might well look for a traitor among so many.
So I answered cautiously: "Save and except you are one of those who
have wrought harm to the prince you shall be safe. If you are one
who has him alive and in keeping you shall be safe also."
"Master, you have promised, and it is well known that you keep your
word. I am your man henceforward, by reason of that promise. I will
give you a token that I have not harmed the prince."
"What have you to tell?"
"Master, they say that you seek the lost valley, of which none will
"That seems true; but speak up, and mouth not your words so."
"Here was I born and bred, Master," said the man, still in the same
growling voice. "I know where the lost valley is hidden, though
none may go there save at peril of life. It is unlucky so much as
to speak thereof."
"Can you take me within sight of its place, so that I can find it?"
I asked, with a wild hope at last springing up in me.
"I can; and, Master, unluckier than I am I cannot be, so that life
is little to me. Into that place I will even go for you, and risk
what may befall me, if only you will find pardon for me. Only, I do
not know if you will find aught of Owen the prince there."
"You must be in a bad way, my poor churl," said I, "if things are
thus with you. But if you will help me to that place, and there let
me find what I may, there is naught that may not be forgiven you.
Even were it murder, I will pay the weregild for you, and you shall
have cause to say that the place has no ill luck for you."
"Thane," said the man, in a new voice that was strangely familiar
to me, "you have spoken, and forgiven I shall surely be."
Then he rose from behind the rock and came to my side, and took my
hand and kissed it again and again, and surely I had seen his form
"Thane, I am Evan the outlaw, and my life is yours because you
forgave me a little once, and saved me from the wolves, giving that
life back to me when I knew it well nigh gone."
I looked at the pale hair and beard of the man, and wondered.
Evan's had been black as night.
"It is Evan's voice," I said; "but you have changed strangely."
"Needs must I, Thane, with every man's hand against me, if I would
serve you and Owen the prince for your sake."
Then I looked round for my shepherd, but he had fled.
"Come to the house with me," I said. "I think that none will know
you, and if they do so I will answer for you."
"No, Thane; after tomorrow, seeing that even Howel sets such store
on finding the valley, as men tell me, I shall be safe even from
him. I think that you are the only one who will trust me yet."
There I knew that he was most likely right. Had I not been certain
that he could have kept me from knowing him even yet, I think that
I might have been doubtful of him myself.
"As you will," I answered. "We can meet tomorrow. Now give me that
token by which I am to know that you have not harmed Owen."
"It is right that you should not yet trust me," Evan said, as if he
read my thoughts, "for I do not deserve it. Here is one token: 'It
is not good to sleep in the moonlight.' And I will give you yet
another, if I may, for, indeed, I would have you know that the
words I spoke yonder were true when I said that you should be glad
that you freed me, and that I have tried to serve you. That may be
known by the token of the blackthorn spine and the dog whip."
I reined up my horse in wonderment and stared at him, and he came
close to my side, so that I could see him plainly. And, lo! his
shoulders grew rounded, and his eyes crossed terribly, and they
bided so, and he mumbled the words he had said when the whip of the
huntsman fell on him.
Then he straightened himself again and looked timidly at me. He was
not like the man who had bound me so cruelly in Holford combe on
"Evan," I cried, "what you did for me at the ealdorman's gate is
enough to win any pardon you may need."
"It is wonderful that, after all, pardon should come from you,
Thane. Do you mind how I said to you that I hoped to win it
otherwise through you when we took you on the Quantocks? It is good
to feel as a free man once more."
"Free, and maybe honoured yet, Evan," I said; for I knew that he
had risked his life for me and Owen. "Presently you shall come with
me to Wessex, where none know you, and there shall be a fresh life
for you. It is in my mind that what you brought on me was as a last
"Ay, that is true, Thane."
And then I asked him to tell me all he knew of Owen, and of what
had happened here, and how it came about that he knew aught. And as
he told me it was plain that this was a true tale, for one could
feel it so.
He had followed Owen, keeping himself hidden, after I went to
Winchester, for there he knew that I was safe, and yet he would
serve me if he could. So from the hillside where he lay he had seen
the burning and the fight; and after Owen fell he followed them who
bore him away, till he lost them in a grey mist that rolled from
the hills and hid them in the darkness. Nor had he been able to
find trace of them again, though he had hunted far and wide.
And so he waited for my coming, being sure that I would not be
long. But he knew that they had gone toward what he called the lost
valley, if it was not likely that they would dare so much as look
"But," he said, "there was a priest with them, seeming to lead
them. Maybe he would dare."
Into my mind at once came the certainty that this must be Morfed,
but Evan knew nought of him. He had no more to tell me of this.
CHAPTER XIII. HOW OSWALD AND HOWEL DARED THE SECRET OF THE MENHIR, AND MET
So we two rode on together over the wild hills, and talked of what
chance there might be of finding Owen on the morrow. He could not
tell me if his wounds were deep, for he was far off and helpless,
but he told me how he had fought, and that was even as I had known
Now the soft June darkness had fallen, and we were not a mile from
the first houses of the village. Soon, if they were alert, we
should meet the first outpost of our men who guarded us, and mayhap
it were better that Evan came no farther tonight. Yet I would know
somewhat of himself and the way in which he had helped me thus. So
I stayed my horse and dismounted for a few minutes.
"Tell me, Evan," I said, "how came you into trouble at the first?"
"It is easy, Thane," he answered. "I was Evan the chapman, and well
known near and far in Cornwall and Dyvnaint as an honest man, even
as I have seemed yet beyond the water. Two years ago I slew the
steward of this Tregoz in the open market place of Isca, and there
was indeed little blame to me, for I did but protect my goods which
he would have taken by force, and smote too hard. Little order was
there in that market if the king was not there, and Morgan and his
friends were in the town. Men have taken heart again since the
coming back of Owen, for it was bad enough, as you may suppose by
what happened to me. So I fled, and then Tregoz had me outlawed,
with a price on my head, so that, being well known, I had to take
to Exmoor and herd with others in the same case. I knew that no
weregild, as the Saxon calls it, would be enough to save me from
"There I was the one who could sell the stolen goods across the
water, being held in good repute there, and I traded with the Norse
strangers who ferried me across. So it was that when Owen came I
was in Watchet, and there Tregoz saw me and laid hands on me. Then
he needed men to carry out that which he would do, and he had me
forth and spoke to me, saying that if I would manage the Quantock
outlaws for him he would forgive me and have me inlawed again. I
was to have been hanged that day, Thane, and so you will see that I
had no choice. Owen's coming saved me then."
Evan was not the first man whom I had known to be driven into evil
ways by misfortune and powerful enemies. I had little blame for
him. A man will do much to save his neck from the rope. But this
did not tell me how he knew the plans of Tregoz after I set him
free in Dyfed.
"Then you came back to the Cornishman after I freed you?" I asked.
"That I did not, Thane, for the best of reasons. He would have
hanged me at once if he were in power, and I had not meant to let
him set eyes on me again in any case, for he was treacherous. I
came back round the head waters of the Severn, through Wessex,
where I was only a Weala, though, indeed, that is almost the same
as an outlaw there; and there, by reason of Gerent's seeking for
me, I changed my looks and watched for Tregoz, for I found that he
was yet about the place in hiding. Thralls know and tell these
things to men of their own sort, though they seem to know nothing
if you ask them, Thane."
"Then you wrote the letters?"
"I had them written by the old priest of Combwich by the Parrett
River, who will tell you that he did so. I took them myself to the
palaces for you."
"And was it you who slew Tregoz?"
"Ay, with that seax you gave me back at the Caerau wolf's den. I
heard that he had been speaking with a sentry, and thereafter I
followed him and heard his plan. I saw him change arms with the
sentry, and presently I fell on him, but the arrow had sped and I
feared I was too late. I had to cross the trench from the bushes
where I was hidden."
"But the poisoning at Glastonbury?--How did you know of that?
"Easy it was to know of, but less easy to prevent. I lurked round
Glastonbury until I saw the girl, and knew that some fresh trouble
was on hand for you. I knew her, for I had seen to that at Norton,
that I might learn somewhat, if I could, while she attended on the
lady, the daughter of Dunwal. She met her master there once or
twice with messages, and it was by following her that I found his
hiding in the hills. It was not hard for me to get her to tell me
all that she had to do, for I made her think that I was in the
plotting. Then she found it harder than had been expected to serve
you, for she was kept about the lady. So she asked me, and I told
her to wait. I thought she would most likely lose her chance
altogether, and maybe but for your staying at the gate that day she
would have done so."
"It was not the first time that we have had half the household
outside serving a hunting party," I said.
"And each time I have been there, Thane, lest this should happen.
The girl told me that such times were her only chance, and I said
she had better wait for such a one again. I knew that in the open I
could in some way spill the horn, so that she would be helpless and
harmless afterward. Therefore I bade her not to try to harm you in
the house, for my own reasons, but told her that it were safer for
herself to wait for some stirrup cup chance, as it were. That day I
saw that it had come, and I cut a thorn from the nearest bush and
was ready. I could not reach the girl to stumble against her."
I minded that Thorgils had said that this Evan could beguile Loki
himself with fair words, and I could well believe it. But he did
not do things by halves when he set himself a task, and I felt that
but for him I should certainly have been a victim--to Mara, or to
"Who wrought this plot? Was it Mara, the Cornish lady?"
"I do not think so," he answered, shaking his head. "There is one
thing that the girl would never tell me. In no wise could I get the
name of the one who gave her the poison. I do not know where she
fled to, but it is likely that it was to that one."
"Some day you shall know how grateful I am for this, Evan," I said.
"Now I must go. Only one thing more.--Where do you sleep?"
"Wheresoever I may, that I may be near you, Thane. Now meet me
tomorrow at this place, and we will go to the lost valley. After
that let me serve you for good and all if I may. I can do many
things for you, and you had my life in your hand and gave it back
to me; though indeed I know that it was hard for you to do so,
seeing that a thane is sorely wronged by being bound by such as I."
"I can give you little, Evan; but I can, as I have said, find you a
place in the court, whence you may rise."
"Let me serve you, Master," he said earnestly. "I have served
myself for long enough, and it has not turned out well. If I please
you not, I will go where you bid me, but in anywise let me try."
"As you will," I said. "I owe you well-nigh aught you can ask, and
this is little enough."
Then I shook hands with him and parted. It was a strange meeting.
I went back to Howel with a mind that was full of what I might find
on the morrow, but with little hope that there would be anything of
sign that Owen yet lived. Howel was growing anxious for me as the
darkness fell, and was glad to greet me, and I suppose my face told
"Why," he said, as I stepped into the firelight on the hearth of
the little house, "what is this? Have you heard news at last?"
"I have found one who will take us to the lost valley, but nothing
more. I have heard nought fresh, but that there was indeed a priest
with the men who took Owen away."
"Well, we guessed as much as that; but I tell you plainly, Oswald,
that I fear what may be in store for us in that place. Nona is not
the girl to fancy things, and I know that her dreams must have been
terrible to her. And then you also--"
"I fear, too," I said. "But I do not think that anything will be
worse than this long uncertainty. Well, that is to be seen. Now I
must tell you who it is that is to guide us, and maybe you will say
that it is a strange story enough. Have patience until you hear
So I told him, beginning with the certainty that I had had some
friend at work for me, and then telling him at last that I had
found the man who had indeed saved me from these two dangers, and
would also have saved Owen if he could.
"Why, how is it that he kept himself hidden all the time?"
"For good reason enough, in which you have some share," I answered,
laughing. "It is none other than Evan the chapman."
"Evan!--How did he escape the Caerau wolves? I tell you that I had
him tied up for them--and hard words from Nona did I get therefore
when she knew. I was ashamed of myself for the thing afterwards,
and on my word I am glad he got away. But when I am wroth I wax
hasty, and things go hard with those who have angered me. But he
was a foe of yours."
"Laugh at me as you will," I said; "I made him my friend when I cut
his bonds in your woods."
He stared at me in wonder, and I told him what the hunting led to.
And then I also told of what had sent Evan among the outlaws, and
how he came to fall in with me.
"You are a better man than I, Oswald," he said thoughtfully, when I
ended. "I could not have let him go. I am glad that you did it, and
that for other reasons than that the deed has turned out to be of
Then he would hear more, and when it came to the way in which Evan
had beguiled the Welsh servant he laughed.
"Surely he laid aside the squint when he made up to her, else from
your account he would not have been welcome. But he could hardly
have kept it up, lest the wind should change and it should bide
with him, as the old women say. Well, I used to like the man, and
so did Nona, and it is good to think that one was not so far
Now we thought that on the morrow we would go with but half a dozen
men to the valley, if that would seem good to Evan. If he thought
more were needed it would be easy to call them to us from the place
where we were to meet him; and so we slept as well as the thought
of that search would let us, and it was a long night to me. I think
it was so for Howel also, for once in the night he stirred and
spoke my name softly, and finding that I waked he said:
"I know why that girl of Mara's would not tell who set her on you.
It is not like a maid to be sparing with her mistress' secrets, and
Morfed is at the back of it. It is his work, and he laid a curse on
the girl if she told who sent her. About the only thing that would
keep her quiet."
"Why would Morfed want to hurt me?"
"Plain enough is that. If you were slain, Gerent would hold Ina
responsible for Owen's sake, and Ina would blame Gerent, and there
would be a breach at the least in the peace that your bishop has
Then we were silent, and presently sleep came to me, until the
first light crept into the house and woke me.
In an hour we were riding across the hills with Evan, for whom we
had brought a horse, and there were fifty men with us. We should
leave them at a place which Evan would show us, and so go on with
him without them. It was not so certain that we might not run into
the nest of the men who had taken Owen, though this would surely
not be in the lost valley.
Many a long mile Evan led us into the hills northwestward, and far
beyond where I had yet been. I cannot tell how far it was
altogether, for the way was winding, but I lost sight of all
landmarks that I knew, and ever the bare hills grew barer and yet
more wild, and I could understand that there were places where even
the shepherds never went.
At first we saw one or two of these watching us from a distance,
but soon we passed into utter loneliness, and nought but the cries
of the nesting curlew which we startled, and the wail of the plover
round our heads, broke the solemn stillness of the grey rocks on
every side. Even our men grew silent, and the ring of sword on
stirrup seemed too loud to be natural at last. We were all fully
armed, of course.
Then we came to a place where the hills drew together, and doubled
fold on fold under a cloud of hanging mist that hid their heads,
and as we rode, once Evan pointed silently to a rock, and I looked
and saw strange markings on it that had surely some meaning in
them, though I could not tell what it was. And when I looked at him
in question I saw that his face was growing pale and anxious, so
that I thought we must be near the place which we sought. So it
was, for after we had left that stone some two score fathoms behind
us, as we passed up a narrow valley, there opened out yet another,
wilder and more narrow still, and at its mouth he would have us
leave the men and go on with him.
Now, we had seen no man, but when it came to this, Howel said:
"By all right of caution, we should have an outpost or two on those
ridges. If we are going into this place it will not do to be
So without question Evan pointed out places whence men could watch
well enough against any possible comers, but he told me that we
were close to the place we would see, and a call from our horns
would bring help at once if it were needed. Howel sent men by twos
to the hilltops, and the rest dismounted and waited where we stayed
them, while we three went on together up the valley. I bade one of
the men give Evan his spear, for he had none.
Grey and warm it was there, for the clouds hung overhead, and no
breeze could find its way into the depths of this place, and it was
very silent, but it was not the lost valley itself. And now Howel,
who had not yet so much as seemed to know Evan, rode alongside him
for a moment, and spoke kindly to him, telling him that he was glad
of all that I had told him, and at last asking him to forget that
which he had done to him in the woods of Dyfed. And that was much
for the proud prince to ask, as I think, and I held him the more
highly therefor in my mind.
And Evan replied by asking Howel to forget rather that he had ever
deserved death at his hands.
"It shall be seen that I am not ungrateful to the Thane, my master,
hereafter--if I may live after seeing this place," he said.
"Is it so deadly, then?" asked Howel, speaking low in the hush of
"It is said that those who see it must die--at least, of us who ken
the curse on it. I do not think that it will harm you or the thane
to see it, for you are not of this land at all. I have known men
see this valley by mischance, and they have died shortly, crying
out on the terror thereof. Yet none has ever told what he saw
Now it seemed to me that it was possible that such men died of fear
of what might be, as men who think they are accursed, whether by
witchcraft or in other ways, will die, being killed by the trouble
on their minds, and so I said to Evan:
"I will not take you into this place. Show us the way, and I will
"No, Master," he said, in such wise that it was plain that there
was no turning him. "I am a Christian man, and I will not let old
heathen curses hold me back, now that there is good reason why I
should stand in that place. I will not be afraid thereof."
"Is the curse so old?" I asked.
"Old beyond memory," he said. "As old as what is in that place."
"As the menhir, therefore."
"I do not know that there is a menhir, Thane. How know you?"
I reined up, and told him shortly. It was only fair that I should
do so. Then he said:
"The prince is dead, and maybe that he lies there will end the
curse. Come, we will see."
A few paces more, and suddenly the hillside seemed to open in a
ragged cleft that made another branching valley into the heart of
the left-hand hillside, so deep that it seemed rather to sink
downward from the mouth than to rise as a valley ever will. In all
truth, none would ever have found that place unless he sought for
it with a guide. I had not guessed that we were so near its
I looked round the hills, but from here I could see not one of our
men on their watch posts, though one would have thought that where
they stood it would have been impossible to lose sight of all. We
were almost at the head of the wider valley along which we had
Now I had thought to be the leader into the lost valley when we
came to it, but this Evan would not suffer. There was not room for
us to ride abreast into its depths, for the narrow bottom of the
cleft in the hills was littered with fallen boulders from the
steeps that bordered it, and through these we had to pick our way.
There was no path, nor was it possible to trace any mark of the
foot of man or horse that might have been there before us, and the
valley turned almost in a half circle, so that we could see no
distance before us.
Now, I know that Evan had a hard struggle with his fears, but
nevertheless, without drawing rein he led on, only turning to me
with one word that told me that we had found the place; and as he
turned I saw that his face was ashy pale, and as he rode on he
crossed himself again and again, and his lips moved in prayer.
Down the long curve of the valley we rode, and it ever narrowed
under rocky hills that grew at last to cliffs, and I knew that this
must be but the bed of a raging torrent in the winter, for the
stones that rattled under the horse hoofs were rounded, and here
and there were pools of clear water among them. Any moment now
might set us face to face with what I longed to see.
And when I saw Evan, ten paces ahead of me, straighten himself in
the saddle as if he would guard a blow from his face, and draw
rein, I knew that we were there, and I rode to his side and looked.
Suddenly the valley had ended in the place which I had seen in my
vision--a rugged circle of cliffs, in whose only outlet, to all
seeming, we stood. And in the midst of that circle was the pool of
still, black water, and across that towered the tall menhir from a
green bank on which it stood facing me. All round the pool was
green grass, bright with the treacherous greenness that tells of
deep bog beneath it, and then fair turf, and beyond the turf the
rocky scree from the cliffs again. The menhir was full thrice a
It was even as I had seen it. I knew every rock and patch of green,
and the very outline of the edge of the beetling crags that had
been so plain to me in the dream light ere Owen called me.
But I did not heed these things at the first. My eyes went to the
place where Nona the princess had seen the sword in the long grass
on the hither side of the pool's edge, but I could not see it now.
Then I must ride forward and search for it, and at that time Howel
was close to me, and together we rode yet a little farther into the
circle that the cliffs made, and as we drew closer to the edge of
the pool I scanned every inch of the ground, seeking the sword
which it seemed impossible that I should not find.
"It has gone," said Howel in a hushed voice.
And at that moment I saw a sparkle among the new grass at the very
edge of the bog that surrounded the pool, and I threw the reins to
the prince and sprang from my horse and went toward it. The light
was very dull here, though it was nigh midday now, and indeed so
high and overhanging were the cliffs that I do not think the sun
ever reached the surface of the pool, save at this high midsummer,
and then but as it passed athwart the narrow entrance, which faced
south. Then it would send its rays across the pool full on the face
of the menhir, as it seemed.
So I could see nought again until I was close to the spot whence
the spark shone, and then I caught it once more, and hastily I
cleared aside the rank grass with my spear butt, and lo! even as
she had seen it in dreams the sword of Owen was there, and it was
the gleam from the gem in its hilt, which no damp could dim, which
had caught my eye. But a little while longer and we should never
have seen even that, for the weapon was slowly sinking into the bog
in which its scabbard point had been set, and even as I stepped
forward a pace to reach it the black ooze rose round my foot, and
Evan, who was behind me, caught my hand and pulled me back from its
Then I turned with the sword in my hand, and I saw that his face
had found its colour again, and that his fears had left him, for he
had looked on the valley of the mighty curse and yet lived. His
horse was at his side, and he had sprung to help me, but I hardly
heeded him, for I had what I sought in my hand, and I held it up to
Howel without a word, and a sort of fresh hope began to rise in my
heart. Owen might not be so far from us.
"How came it there?" Howel said, wondering.
"Who can tell," I answered, turning over many possibilities in my
"One thing is certain," Evan said,--"no man set it in that place
meaningly, for there he must have known that it would be whelmed
soon or late."
"Nor could it have been dropped there," I answered. "None would go
so near the edge of the bog. It was surely thrown there. One
thought to hurl it into the pool. Yet if so he could have done it,
or would have tried again."
"Come, let us search the place," said Howel.
I hung the sword to my saddle bow, while Evan took the horses. The
leather scabbard was black with the bog water of the turf where it
had been set, but the blade within it was yet bright and keen.
Then I and the prince together walked slowly round the edge of the
black pool on the broad stretch of grass between the bog around it
and the loosely piled stones of the cliffs' foot. Here and there
even this turf shook to our tread, as if it too were undermined
with bog, and we went warily, therefore, wishing that we had not
left our spears by the horses.
"One would call such a place as this 'the devil's cauldron' in our
land," said Howel. "I mislike it altogether."
Then he sprang back with a start, and clutched my arm and pointed
to the ground at his feet. The skull of a man grinned up at us,
half sunk in the green turf, and the ends of ribs shewed how he to
whom it had belonged lay. There went a cold chill through me as I
looked; but I saw that the bones were old, very old. They had
nought to do with our trouble, and what had been to others about
the loss of him who had died here was long past and forgotten, or
amended. But for the sake of what had been I was fain to unhelm for
a moment as we stepped past them.
So we went on silently until we were halfway to the menhir, and
then we saw that there was yet another way into this place, for
across the water a jutting wall of rock had hidden a gorge that had
surely been cleft by water, for down it came a little stream that
seemed to sink into the turf so soon as it reached it.
"That is what fills the pool," said I, "and it must find its way
hence underground like the stream at Cheddar. The pool may be
fathomless. I would that I could look into its depths."
"What may not be in yonder gorge?" said Howel. "We must go and
So we came to the menhir's foot, and though the bog came almost to
it there was yet a little mound of turf on which it stood, and I
went to that to see if thence I could peer deeper into the dark
water, but I could not.
"Come," Howel said, "it is midday, and I for one would not be on
these hills on Midsummer Eve. Call me heathenish if you like, but
this is an unlucky night whereon to walk in the haunts of the good
I had forgotten that so it was, and even now I only smiled at the
prince, for my mind was full of other things as I followed him
toward the glen whence the stream came. And now I was sure that
here was growing more clearly a trace as of a seldom trodden path
toward its mouth. We passed a great flat rock, whereon were strange
markings and a hollowed basin, which stood behind the menhir near
the cliff, and to this the path led, but not beyond, from the glen.
Now we were almost in the opening, when both of us stopped and
looked at one another.
Surely there were footsteps coming among the rocks of the water
course before us. Steep and crooked as this was, we could hear
them, though as yet if it were a man or men who came we could not
see. I pulled the prince back into cover, where the rocks hid us
from any one who came down the stream, and I loosened my sword in
its sheath, for I could not be so sure that it might not be sorely
The rattle of stones came nearer, and I saw Evan hurrying to us. He
also had heard, and he had made shift to tie the horses to some
point of rock, and he ran with our spears in his hand to join us.
"Get to the other side of the pool, Thane," he said. "It may be the
band of men who wrought the burning."
"No," I answered. "Listen. Maybe there are three or four men, not
more. I want to take one if I can. He shall tell me all he knows of
For I had made up my mind that one who would come here freely must
needs be of those who had brought Owen.
Then from the narrow portal of the glen passed quickly, looking
neither to the right nor left, a tall man, followed by two others,
and they seemed not to see us, but went straight toward the menhir
along that path I thought I had traced, and Howel and I stared at
them, speechless and motionless, for the like of them we had never
As for Evan, he reeled against the rock, and stared after them,
clutching it with both hands, so that his spear fell rattling along
"The Druids!" he gasped. "We are dead men."
At the sharp rattle the leader of the three men turned, and I knew
him. He was clad in a wonderful gold and white robe that swept the
ground, priest-like, but not that of any Christian, and his hair
was bound with a golden fillet with which oak leaves were twisted,
and in his ears were large earrings. On his bare right arm was a
coiled golden bracelet, and a heavy golden torque was round his
neck, and a great golden brooch knit up the folds of his flowing
white cloak on his right shoulder. But for all this strange dress I
knew him, and he was Morfed the priest, and I heard Howel mutter
the name also.
Then a word from Morfed caused the other two to turn, and they saw
us, and there flashed from under their robes--which were like those
of their leader, save for golden ornaments--a long knife in the
hand of each, and they made as if to fly on us.
Morfed held up his hand, and they stayed, glaring at us. I listened
for the coming of more of his followers down the water course, but
I heard none.
Then Morfed spoke a word or two to his men, and came toward us,
leaving them standing where they were, some twenty paces or less
behind him, and as he came his pale face shewed no sort of feeling
of any kind. His strange bright eyes seemed to look past us, as if
we were but stones at the path side.
"So it is the Saxon," he said, staying close before us. "Well, I
have waited for you, if I did not look to see you here. And this is
Howel of Dyfed. Surely a Briton knows that to break in on the rites
of the Druid is death? But Howel ever was rash. And this is the
outlaw. It is a true saying that he who sees this place shall die,
Then said Howel boldly: "Briton I am, and therefore I know that the
rites of the Druid are banned by Holy Church. Wherefore does one of
her priests come in this heathen robe to such a place as this on
the eve of midsummer?"
"Seeing that none but the initiated may know what truth the ancient
faith holds, it is not for you to say that this is heathenry,
Prince," Morfed answered more quietly than I expected. "Ask yon
Saxon if his Yule feast is less sacred to him now because it is not
so long since that it was Woden's. Is tomorrow less Midsummer Day
because it is the day of St. John? Hold your peace thereon, and go
hence while I suffer you."
At that I glanced at the mouth of the valley whence we came, half
looking to see it blocked by men, but it was not. There was nothing
to stay us three armed men in this place, with but three against
us, and they well-nigh defenceless. Morfed saw that glance and
"The Druid has other arms than those of steel," he said, and he
drew slowly from the wide cincture round his waist a little golden
sickle and balanced it in his hand before me, flashing it to and
Now I was sure that he was crazed in all truth, and I would speak
him fair that I might learn what he would tell me. Howel was
silent, seeming to look curiously at the golden toy in the priest's
hand, as it shifted restlessly backward and forward.
"We have come hither to pry into no ancient rites, Morfed," I said.
"Tell me what you know of Owen the prince, my foster father, and we
will go hence. I have seen that which tells me that he is near, but
there are yet things that I must learn of how he came and where he
But Morfed seemed to heed me not at all as I spoke. Only, he kept
moving the little sickle which Howel watched, and its glancings
drew my eyes to it in spite of myself, for overhead the sky was
clearing somewhat and the sun was trying to break through, and the
gold shone brightly.
"Midday," muttered the priest, "nigh midday, and what is to be done
against the morrow must be done, else will the tale of many a
thousand years be marred, and by me. Lo! the sun comes, and time
The sun did indeed shine out now as some cloud passed, and I saw
that its rays came slanting through the gap in the cliffs across
the pool, passing the menhir without lighting on it, but falling
now on the flat rock that was behind it, though not fully yet. Half
thereof was still in the shadow thrown by the hills.
Morfed glanced at that shadow, and his face changed, for I think
that he knew the time for some midday rite which we might not see
was near, and at that he seemed to make some resolve. He did not
turn from us, but he lifted his voice in a strange chant, and said
somewhat in Welsh that I could not understand, and as they heard it
his two followers placed themselves on either side of the flat rock
three paces behind him, and stood motionless. Then Morfed lifted
his arm and began to sing softly, swinging the sickle in time to
the song, with his eyes on us.
I thought that maybe he would sing to us the end of Owen, as would
Thorgils, but the tongue in which the words were spoken was not the
Welsh that I knew. I think now that it was the tongue of the men
who reared the menhir, and that which was the mother of the tongue
of Howel and Gerent alike. It was an uncanny song, and I waxed
uneasy as it went on, and the flashing sickle waved more quickly
before my eyes.
Soon the murmur of the song seemed to get into my brain, as it
were, and the sparkle of the gold in the sunlight wove itself into
strange circles of light before my eyes, widening and narrowing in
mystic curves that dazzled me, until at last I would look no
longer, and with an effort I turned my head and glanced at Howel to
ask if this foolishness should not be ended.
But he shook his head.
"Let him be," he said in a whisper. "It is ill to anger a crazed
man. Surely he will tell what we need soon."
But beside him Evan seemed to be shrinking as in terror. I suppose
the Briton has old memories of the Druids of past days which yet
bid him fear them.
"Hearken to me, and heed them not," sang Morfed in words that I
could understand. "Hearken, for you have much to learn."
That was true, and I turned to him. I supposed that he was in truth
about to speak to me as I would, and straightway the look of Morfed
was on my face, and the song went back to its old burden, and the
flashing sickle held my eyes with its circling, and I knew that if
I looked long I also must pass as it were from myself, as had those
two, and I wrenched my eyes from him.
Then a movement on the stone caught my gaze, and I saw that the two
men yet stood motionless, but across the sunlit patch which had
crept nearer the centre where the hollowed bowl was, a great adder,
greater than any I had ever seen, thick and spade-headed, had
coiled itself in shining folds peaceably and seeming not to heed
the men. Only its head was raised a little, and it swayed as in
time to the chant of the priest, while the long forked tongue
flickered forth now and then restlessly.
But Morfed went on with his song and his waving, seeming to try to
draw my look back to him, and I noted, as I glanced again at him,
that a shade of doubt crossed his face, and at that a new thought
came to me. Maybe if he saw that I feared him not he would speak.
So I looked in his eyes and bade him be silent and hearken to what
I said to him.
Some wave of anger flushed his face then, and he drew a pace nearer
to me, but he was not silent, and the waving sickle was not still.
Neither of these things troubled me any longer, and I looked past
them, in such wise that he might see that I meant him to obey me,
even as one will look at a sullen thrall who delays to carry out an
order given. A captain of warriors will know what signs to watch
for in a man's face well enough, and slowly and at last I saw the
look for which I waited steal across the face of the man before me,
and then I raised my hand and said:
"Be still, and answer me."
The song stopped, and the lifted sickle sank with the hand that
held it, and the eyes of Morfed left mine and sought the ground.
"What will you?" he said. "Let me go, for it is time."
"When you have answered," I said sternly. "Tell me, where is Owen?"
"In yonder pool," he said, as a child will answer its teacher.
But if he answered as a child, his face was sullen as of a child
that is minded to rebel, and I knew that he would try not to tell
"You lie," I said coldly. "Neither Christian priest nor Druid would
dare set a prince of Cornwall in an unhallowed grave. Tell me the
"Ay, I lied," he said, speaking in a strange voice that seemed to
come from him against his will. And then he spoke quickly, without
faltering or excuse. "I led the men who should slay the despiser of
the faith of his youth and friend of the Saxon, and we came to the
house and destroyed it, but they slew him not. Sorely wounded he
was, and yet they would not do my bidding and make an end, but
murmured at me. Then they bore him away into the hills, saying that
they would heal him of his hurts and thereafter win his pardon, for
he was ever forgiving, and it is true that I told them not who it
was they were to slay. I said that it was Oswald the Saxon, who
slew Morgan, and they were glad. I do not know how it has come to
pass that you are here. I hate you!"
"Speak on, Morfed," I said, for he had stayed his words on that,
and I bent all my mind into that command as it were, so that he
knew that I meant to be his master in this.
"Why should I not speak," he said dully. "Let me end quickly. Ay, I
went with them, thinking that he would die on the way, for he was
sorely wounded, and I mocked them and threatened them in vain. I
led them to this place, and when they knew it they fled, and left
him to me. Wherefore I brought him here, that I might see him
die--I and these two carried him on the litter the men made. Then
will I bury him in no hallowed grave, for I myself spoke the
uttermost ban of Holy Church against him, for that he had herded
with the men of the Saxons who follow Canterbury, and has wrought
for peace with them."
Then I knew at last that Owen was not dead, and I think that in my
gladness I lost my hold on Morfed, as it were, for I half forgot
him. And at that moment there came a little cry from one of the men
who waited by the flat altar stone, and both of them looked to
Morfed for some command, as if a time had come. The stone was in
full light now, and I noted that the shadow of the menhir was
creeping toward its base, but not yet quite pointing to it.
But Morfed did not answer the cry, and the great adder, roused by
it, moved restlessly in its coils, darting its long forked tongue
into the hollow of the stone as if it sought somewhat. Then one of
the men who seemed the younger took from under his robe a golden
flask and poured what looked like milk into the hollow, and the
creature lowered its head and lapped it thence.
At that cry Morfed started and half turned. But I had more to ask
him, and I spoke sternly. Behind me was a rattle of arms, as if
Howel would have stayed him.
"Morfed," I said, "you have yet to tell me where Owen, the prince,
is hidden. If you would finish what you are about here, tell me
straightway, or bid one of these men shew me, or we will stay all
Maybe I spoke more boldly than I felt, for indeed the whole
business and the place made all seem uncanny. I know that my
comrades feared it all.
But now Morfed heeded my word no longer. Slowly at last he turned
away, and now he must needs look back toward the altar stone and
the menhir in turning, and the sight of them seemed to bring to his
mind what work he had here, so that in a moment I was forgotten,
and he sprang past me toward his attendants, one of whom was
pointing silently, but with a white face, to the shadow of the
menhir. And I saw that now it touched the stone and crept up on its
surface for an inch or less.
I suppose that tomorrow that shadow would be so much shorter, and
would not lie on the flat top of the stone at all. Then for a
little space the sun would seem to one at the back of the altar to
stand on the menhir's top, while all the stone and the bowl where
the adder lay was in full light, even as men say the sun seems to
stand on the great stone of Stonehenge on Midsummer Day at its
rising. I had seen that wonder once, and this minded me of it.
But what Morfed saw told him that midday had come and was passing;
and all that meant to him, beyond that the time for some rite had
been forgotten, I cannot tell. There came from his lips a cry that
was of terror and of sorrow as I thought, and the adder lifted its
head from its lapping and coiled itself menacingly.
He did not heed the creature, but threw abroad his hands sunwards,
and began to speak hurriedly in that tongue which I could not
follow; and as his words went on the faces of his men grew haggard,
and one of them wept openly. The younger threw the golden vessel he
had in his hand into the pool, and turned on me a look of the most
terrible hate, and his hand stole under his robes as if he sought
the knife I had seen him draw when they first came.
Now Howel and Evan were beside me, wondering, but spear in hand,
and I was glad. There was more than enmity in the look of these
men, and one to three has little chance. Whatever strange fears my
friends had felt passed with the sight of danger.
But while Morfed spoke his followers were still, listening to him
intently, until at last he seemed to dismiss them; and then they
turned from him with a strange deep reverence, and folded their
hands on their breasts, and came past where we stood, not looking
at us, but with their eyes on the ground as if they were going
back, up the water course whence they came. And at that I thought
they might be going to where Owen was, and that they would harm
"Quick, Evan," I said; "follow them. See where they go."
"Ay, follow them," said Morfed. "Now I care not what befalls."
And with that he raised his voice and called somewhat to the men,
and they quickened their pace into the glen. I did not understand
what they said in return, but somewhat in the words of the ancient
tongue they spoke was more plain to Howel, and he cried to me
hastily, hurrying after Evan.
"Guard you the priest here, and beware of him!"
Then he dashed up the water course into which Evan had already
disappeared, and I heard the feet of the four on the loose stone as
they climbed upward. I had almost a mind to follow them, for I
thought that their way led to Owen, but I dared not leave Morfed to
go elsewhere. This might only be a plan to lead us astray.
CHAPTER XIV. HOW OSWALD FOUND WHAT HE SOUGHT, AND RODE HOMEWARD WITH NONA
So I was left with Morfed the priest, and he did not offer to
follow his men, but stood and faced me with eyes that gleamed with
the fire of wrath or madness, or both. We waited, both of us, as I
think, to hear if any sound beyond the lessening footfalls came
from the water course, but they died away upward, and there was
still no word between us. Then I thought that I would try one more
plan with him.
"Morfed," I said, "take me to Owen, and I will pledge my word that
Gerent shall seek no revenge for what has been done by you."
"What I have done!" he broke out. "I sought to rid the land of a
foe, and that was a deed worth doing. Know you what you have
done?--Through you is ended the tale of many a thousand years. The
time is past when I, the priest and Archdruid of this poor land,
should have done what has been done, since time untold, without
fail, against tomorrow's rites. That day, therefore, through you
shall be unobserved. It is strange that a mere Saxon warrior, with
no thought beyond his feasting and fighting, should set his will
against mine and prove the stronger. Now I wit well that this is
some fated day, and that herein lies some omen of what shall be."
Then he turned a little from me, and looked at the shadow which had
passed altogether from the altar stone now, and half to himself he
"I had thought that this menhir had fallen when this came to pass.
But maybe the old prophecy meant that not until it fell we must
cease our rites. But that was not how we read the words of old
time. If we read them wrong, what else have we mistaken?"
"Morfed," I broke in on his musings, "end this idle talk, and tell
me of Owen. Then I will go hence and leave you to work what you
will here. I had no wish to disturb your rites, whatsoever they
were. If aught has happened amiss, it was your own fault, not mine.
Your own deed brought me here."
But he paid not the least heed to me, and yet I thought that he
tried to put me off, as it were, by seeming wrapt in thoughts.
"Surely it should have fallen on this day that sees the end, even
as runs the ancient prophecy--'When the pool shall whelm the stone,
Druid rite and chant are done.' But it has not fallen, and the end
is not yet. But what shall amend this fault?"
I had listened for some sound from Howel and Evan, but since the
footsteps passed up the glen I had heard none until this moment.
Then came one cry from far upward, and silence thereafter. Morfed
heard it and looked up, setting at the same time his hand on the
edge of the altar stone.
The golden sickle flashed as he did so, and at that, swift as the
flash itself, the adder stiffened its coils, and its head flew
back, baring the long fangs, and twice it struck the hand deeply.
"I am answered," Morfed said quietly. "My life shall amend."
But he never moved his hand, and the adder swiftly slid from off
the stone and sought some hiding place in the loose rocks at the
cliff foot, and the priest watched it go, motionless.
"Look you, Saxon," he said, lifting his eyes to me; "now I must
die, and with me ends the line of the Druids of this land of the
olden faith. Yonder in the Cymric land beyond the narrow sea whence
Howel came it shall not be lost. The hills shall keep it, and there
the slow mind of the Saxon shall not slay the old powers as you
have slain them in me. Now I know that nought but the power of the
cross shall avail on such minds as yours, for the lore of the older
days is not for you. See! This is an end, and now you in your
simpleness shall do one last thing for me."
I saw that the hand which yet rested on the altar was swelling
already, and was waxing fiery red with four black marks where the
fangs struck it. And I had a sort of pity for him, seeing him bear
this, which he deemed his punishment, bravely. Still, he had
answered nothing as to where Owen was.
"Morfed," I said, therefore--"if it is indeed the last hour for
you, make amends for another ill by telling me where Owen is, and I
will do what you ask me, if it is what I may do honestly and as a
"Grave me a cross on yonder menhir in token that the days of the
Druid are numbered," he said softly, sitting down on the stone with
his head bowed, as if in deadly faintness.
Two steps took me to the menhir, and I drew my seax that I might do
as he asked me. It was a little thing, and Christian, and I thought
that maybe he had come to himself from the madness of which men
spoke. Yet though it seemed long that Howel was away, and I longed
to follow him, I dared not leave this man, seeing that for all I
knew Owen was somewhere close at hand, and it was not to be known
what this priest might do in his despair. Howel and Evan might be
following the men yet into some hiding place.
I set the point of my weapon to the stone and went to work, graving
the upright stem of the cross first, thinking that Morfed would
speak when he saw that I was indeed doing as he asked me. The stone
was softer than I expected, and surely was not of the granite of
the cliffs around, but had been brought from far, else I could not
have marked it at all. Yet I had to lean heavily on my seax as I
cut, and it was no light task, as I stood sidewise that I might not
lose sight of Morfed.
"I die," he said presently. "There will be none left who may bring
back the ancient secrets hither from the land of the Cymro. See,
this is an end."
He rose up, staggering a little, and cast the golden sickle from
him into the pool with a light eddying splash, as if it skimmed the
surface ere it sank, but I did not look at it, and that was well
for me. I saw his hand fly to his breast, as the hands of his men
had gone for their weapons when they first saw us, and I knew what
Hardly had the golden toy touched the water when out flashed a long
dagger from his robes, and he flew on me, thinking, no doubt, that
I must needs turn my head to watch the fall of his sickle, and I
was ready for him. He was no warrior, and his hand was too high,
but he was a priest, and on him I would not use my weapon. I swung
aside from him, striking up his arm, and his blind rush carried him
against the menhir, so that the blow which was meant for me fell
thereon, scoring the stone deeply; and lo! his own hand ended with
that blow what I had begun, marking the cross-beam I had yet to
make, so that the holy sign was complete.
And I saw that in a flash, even as he reeled back from the menhir
and staggered. His foot splashed into the ooze of the bank and went
down; and with that he lost his footing altogether and fell
headlong into the pool, swaying as he went, across the front of the
Now there was a shout and the sound of hurrying footsteps behind
me, but it was Howel's voice, and I did not turn. I leaned on the
menhir to try to catch the white robes that swirled below me, and
then I felt a heave and quaking in the turf on which I knelt as I
reached over the black water, and Howel cried out and dragged me
back roughly for a long fathom.
The menhir was falling. Slowly at first, and then more swiftly, it
bent forward over the pool, and then it gathered way suddenly, and
with a mighty crash it fell with all its towering height across
it--and across the last flash of the white robes of the man who yet
For a moment the cross looked skyward, and then the wave swept over
the stone, and it was gone into the unknown depths that maybe held
so many secrets of the strange rites of those who had reared it.
Only where its foot had been planted was a pit to shew that
somewhat had been there, and that was slowly filling with the black
bog which had undermined the stone at last. The old prophecy had
come to pass, and there was indeed an end.
But I saw for a moment into that pit before it was filled, and in
it was laid open as it were a great stone chest, where the base of
the menhir had been to cover it, and in that were skulls and bones
of men, and among them the dull gleam of ancient gold and flint.
The wild tumult of the water died away, and the ripples came, and
then the pool was glassy as before, but there was no sign of
movement in it, and now it was clear no longer. And still Howel and
I stared silently at that place whence the great stone had passed
like a dream.
"Nona saw it troubled," Howel said at last.
But I answered what was in my mind, with a sort of despair:
"He never told me where Owen lies."
"But I think we have found him, or nearly," Howel answered. "Come
with me. This is no place for us to bide in. Did you hear those
I had heard the echoes from the rocks after the great crash, and
they were strange and wild enough, but I heard nothing more.
"I heard one shout some time since," I said, rising up from where I
still sat as Howel had left me.
"Nay, but the wailing when the stone fell," he said. "Wailing from
all around. Wailing as of the lost. Come hence, Oswald."
I do not know if the man of the more ancient race heard more than
I, mingled with those wild echoes, but I know that Howel the prince
feared little. Now he was afraid, even in the bright sunlight, and
But the first shock had passed from me, and I looked for our
horses. They had gone. I think that the fall of the menhir scared
them, for they were yet tied where Evan left them, just before
"Howel, the horses have broken loose and gone," I cried.
"Let them be," he said; "they will but go to the men down the
valley, and will be caught there. Come, we must get hence."
He fairly dragged me with him towards the glen, and it was not
until we were out of the circle of cliffs round the pool and
picking our way among the boulders of the water course, that he
"That is better," he said,--"one can breathe here. I do not care if
I never set eyes on that place again, and indeed I hope we need
not. Now we have to find Owen as quickly as we may."
"What of the two men?"
"One turned on us, and we slew him perforce. The other Evan has
tied up safely, though it took us all our time to catch him. I left
Evan trying to make him speak."
I wondered in what way he was trying, but the path grew steeper and
steeper, and the plash of water falling among the stones made it
hard to hear. We went on and on, ever upward, until the walls of
the narrow glen widened, and at last we were on a barren hillside,
across which the little stream found its way in a belt of green
grass and fern and bog from farther heights yet, and there I looked
for Evan. The path reappeared here again, and it went slanting
across the hill and over its shoulder, hardly more than a sheep
track as it was. And here lay the body of the slain man.
"Over the hill crest," Howel said, noting my look around. "The man
ran across this track. Did you hear what Morfed said to them?"
"No, I heard him call, of course, but his tongue is unknown to me."
"It was the ancient British, I think. I heard a word or two here
and there, but few of those we use yet. I heard more that are
written in our oldest writings, and few enough of them. But what he
said to his men was plain enough, happily. He bade them kill the
captive to amend the wrong done. I do not know what the wrong was."
I knew then that Owen had had a narrow escape, and but for the
fleetness of foot of Evan he would surely have been slain. I told
Howel of what had passed while he was absent, and so we came to the
hilltop, and I saw a little below me the white robes of the
captive, and Evan sitting by him, resting on his spear. He rose up
as we came to him.
"Has he spoken, Evan?" I said.
"Ay, Master," he answered, with a grin that minded me of other days
with him. "He says he will take us to the place where Owen lies, if
we will promise to spare his life."
"We will promise that," I answered. "We will let him go his own way
after we have seen all that we need."
"Let me rise, then," the man said quietly. "I will shew you all."
"Do not untie his hands, Evan, but let him walk," I said. "He is
not to be trusted, if he is like his master."
It was the elder of the two whom we had before us, and he seemed
downcast and harmless enough as we let him rise, though he was
unhurt. He had run on while the younger turned to stay the
pursuers, but Evan had caught him. He led us along the path, which
I suppose his own feet and those of Morfed had worn, unless it was
old as the menhir itself, and on the way he said suddenly:
"Let me ask one thing of you. Has the menhir fallen?"
"Ay, with the cross graven on it," I answered; and my words checked
a laugh that was on Evan's lips.
"I knew it. I heard the crash," the man said. "That is an end
But Howel told the whole story as he had seen it take place, from
the time when Morfed flew at me, to the time when the waters were
still again; and as he heard, the man clenched his hands and bowed
his head and went on quickly, as if that would prevent his hearing.
After that he said nothing.
Then the path took us round the shoulder of a hill, and before us
was a rocky platform on the sunward slope which went steeply down
to another brook far below us. Far and wide from that platform one
could see over the heads of three streams, and across three hill
peaks that were right before us, and at the back of the level place
was a great cromlech made of one vast flat stone reared on three
others that were set in a triangle to uphold it. Seven good feet
from the ground its top was, and each of the three supporting
stones was some twelve feet long, so that it was like a house for
space within, and the two foremost stones were apart as a doorway.
And again beyond the cromlech was a hut, shaped like a beehive of
straw, built of many stones most wonderfully, both walls and roof.
There were things about this hut that seemed to tell that it was in
use, and even as our footsteps rang on the rocky platform, out of
its low doorway crept an ancient woman and stared at us wildly.
"What is this?" she screamed. "How should these unhallowed ones
"Silence, mother," our captive said. "All is done, and these men
come to take away the prince."
Then she saw that he was bound with Evan's belt, and at that she
screamed again, and a wild look came into her face, and with a
bound that was wonderful in one so old and bent she fled to the
cromlech, and climbed up the rearward stone in some way, perching
herself on the flat top, whence she glared at us.
"We will not harm you, mother," I said, seeing her terror.
And even as I spoke, from within the stone walls of the cromlech
came the voice that I longed to hear again, weak, indeed, but yet
that of Owen:
Then I paid no more heed to the hag, but ran into the dark place,
and there indeed was my foster father, swathed in bandages, and
lying white and helpless on a rough couch, but yet with a bright
smile and greeting for me, and I went on my knees at his side and
I will not say more of that meeting. Outside the old woman cursed
and reviled Howel and Evan and the captive in turns unceasingly;
but I heeded her no more than one heeds a starling chattering on
the roof in the early morning. I had all that I sought, and aught
else was as nothing to me.
After a little while Howel's face came into the doorway, and Owen
called him in. I saw the look of the prince change as he marked the
many swathings that told of Owen's sore hurts.
"Nay, but trouble not," Owen said, seeing this. "I am cut about a
bit, for certain, but not so badly that I may not be about again
soon. The old lady overhead has a shrewd tongue, but she is a
marvellous good leech. I have not fared so badly here, and I knew
Oswald would not rest until he found me."
"Now we must take you hence," I said. "Our men wait, and we can no
doubt get them here."
He smiled, being tired with the joy of seeing us and the speaking,
and I went out to Evan. The old woman still sat on the cromlech,
and when she saw me her voice rose afresh with more hard words,
which I would not notice.
"Evan," I said, "how shall we take the prince hence?"
"The litter they brought him on stands behind the hut yonder," he
answered; "for this man tells me so. Also he says that we are not
half a mile from our men, and that we can see one from just above
So I sent him to bring them, telling him how the horses were gone,
so that we had no need to go back into the valley. To tell the
truth, I was as much relieved in my mind that we need not do so as
it was plain that he was. Then when he was gone I went back to
Owen, and he asked me if we had seen Morfed. I did not tell him
more than that we had done so, but that he was not here, one of his
two men having guided us, for the tale we must tell him by and by
might be better untold as yet.
"It does not matter," he said. "I cannot understand the man. At one
time I think that he was at the bottom of all the trouble, and at
another that he rescued me from the men who fell on the house. I
have seen little of him here until yesterday and today. There is a
man whom he calls 'the Bard,' who has tended me well enough with
the old dame, and another whom he names 'the Ovate,' whom I have
seen now and then--a younger man. I have set eyes on none but these
four since the men of the burning left me to them in the hills."
We asked him how all that went, and he told us what he could
remember. He had waked from some sort of a swoon while he was being
carried, in the midst of many men, and again had come to himself
when his litter had been set down. At that time there was seemingly
a quarrel between Morfed and his two followers and these men, and
it ended by the many departing and leaving him to the priest. That
was, as I knew, when the hillmen would not come into the lost
"They set my sword beside me," he said. "Presently in the dark I
saw the gleam of a pool, and I made shift to throw it into the
water, so that no outlaw or Morgan's man should boast that he wore
it. Ina gave it me. One of the men saw me throw it, and was for
staying, but the other said he had heard the splash and that it was
gone. Morfed was not near at the time, having gone on. I heard him
singing somewhere beyond the water."
"I have found it, father," I said. "It was on the edge of the pool,
in long grass, and it helped us somewhat, for we knew you were
near. Now say if it is well to move you yet. We can bide here with
the men if not."
He laughed a little.
"I think so, but that is a question for the leech. Ask the dame.
Maybe she will answer if you speak her fair."
Howel went to do that, saying that maybe she would listen to a
Briton, for most of her wrath was concerning my Saxon arms. So
presently I heard her shrill voice growing calmer as Howel coaxed
her, and then there was a sound as if she climbed from her perch,
and Howel came back to us.
"We may take you, she says. Hither come the men in all haste also,
and we may get away from this place at once. These hills are
uncanny on Midsummer Eve, and I am glad that we have long daylight
Then said Owen:
"Oswald, I have not withal, but I would fain reward the bard and
the old woman for their care of me. I think that even at
Glastonbury there are none who would have healed these hurts of
mine more easily than she."
I had my own thoughts about the bard, but I said that I would see
to this, and went to him. The men were close at hand, and I saw
that they led our horses with them.
"Bard," I said, "Owen the prince speaks well of you. Is it true
that you would have slain him had you not been stayed on your way?"
"I do not know, Lord," he answered. "When I was with Morfed, needs
must I do his bidding, even against my will. Yet, away from him, I
think that I should not have harmed the prince. I am a Christian
man, for all that you have seen."
"There was somewhat strangely heathenish in what I did see," I
said. "But I suppose that is all done with?"
"I might go across the sea to the British lands in the north or in
the south and learn to attain to druidship," he said. "But I will
not. What I know shall die with me. He who was the next to me
above, even Morfed, is gone, and he who was next below is gone
also. Druid and Ovate both. I am the only one of the old line left,
and I will be the last. Call me Bard no longer, I pray you."
"Well," I said, for there was that in the face of the man which
told me that he was in earnest, "I will believe you, and the more
that Owen trusts you."
I let loose his hands then, and he stretched his cramped arms and
thanked me. I minded well what that feeling was like.
"What would Morfed have done with the prince?" I asked.
"I do not know. I have heard him plan many things. I think that if
he had won him to his thoughts concerning the men of Canterbury he
would have taken him home. If not, I only know this, that he would
never have been seen in this land again. There was a thought of
carrying him even across the sea to the Britons in the south--in
Gaul. But of all things Morfed hoped that he would die here."
So I supposed, but I said no more, for Evan and the men reined up
close to us. There was joy enough among them all as Owen was slowly
and carefully laid on the rough litter. And we left those two
staring after us, silent. But I suppose that the terror of that
strange place will still lie on all the countryside, and I hold
that since the day when the wizards of old time reared the menhir
on that which it covered, with cruel rites and terrible words that
have bided in the minds of men as a terror will bide, no man but
such as Morfed has dared to pry into that valley lest the ancient
curse should fall on them--the curse of the Druid who would hide
his secrets. It may be, therefore, that it will not be known by the
folk that the menhir has fallen, even yet, for we who did know it
told them nought thereof.
As for that falling, it is the saying of Howel that it was wrought
by the might of the holy sign, and maybe he is not so far wrong in
a way. For if the slow creeping of the bog had at last undermined
the base of the tall stone so that it needed but little to disturb
its balance, no wind could reach it in that cliff-walled place even
in the wildest gale, and it is likely that no hand but mine had
touched it for long ages. I began, and the rush and blow of Morfed
ended, the work of overthrow, with the sign of might complete. And
Evan holds that but for the graving thereof he at least were by
this time a dead man.
It was late evening when we came to the village, with no harm to
Owen at all beyond tiredness, which a good sleep would amend; and
after that there is little that I need tell of Howel's going to
Exeter with the good news, and of his bringing back to us a litter
more fitted for the carrying of the hurt prince, and then the
welcome that was for us from Gerent.
When we were back with him, Owen passed into the loving hands of
Nona the princess, and I do not think that he had any cause to
regret his older leech of the beehive hut, skilful as she was, for
we who loved him saw him gain strength daily.
Now I found means to send a letter to Ina, by the tin traders who
were on the way to London, telling him that all was well, and
begging him to suffer me to bide with my foster father for a time
yet, as I knew indeed that I might, for my new place in the
household had few duties save at times of ceremony, and in war,
when I must lead the men of the household as the bearer of the
king's own banner. And as the days went on it grew plain to me that
there was somewhat amiss about the court here.
There was no dislike of myself, as I may truly say, among the men
of West Wales whom I met with, but there was a coldness now and
then which I could not altogether fathom, and that specially among
the priests. It seemed that while Gerent had forgotten that I was
aught but the son of Owen, who had brought him back, no one else
forgot that I was a Saxon, and that there was more in the
remembrance than should be in these times of peace. I could not
think that this was due to my share in the death of Morgan either,
for it was plain that not one of his friends was about the court.
At last I spoke of this to Howel, and found that he also had seen
somewhat of the kind.
"I know it," he said. "If I am not very much mistaken, and I ought
to know the signs of coming trouble by this time, there is somewhat
brewing in the way of fresh enmity with your folk. It comes from
"There are more of the way of thinking of Morfed, therefore," I
"And if that is so there may be more danger for Owen. It is well
known that he is for peace, and that Gerent will listen to him in
We talked of that for some time, not being at all easy yet
concerning the matter, after seeing how far some were willing to go
toward removing one who was in their way. I could not stay here
long, nor could Howel, and it was certain that Gerent could not
well guard Owen up to this time.
And at last Howel spoke the best counsel yet, after many plans
turned over between us.
"We will even take him to Dyfed, and nurse him to strength in
Pembroke. Then if aught is in the wind it will break out at once,
lest he should return and spoil all. Gerent will either have to bow
to the storm and fight, or else he will get the upper hand and
quiet things again. If he can do that last, at least till Owen is
back, all will be well. Owen will take things in hand then, and
will be master."
That was indeed a way out of the trouble, and therein Nona helped
us with Owen, so that at last he consented. I will say that he knew
little or nothing of possible trouble here, and we told him
nothing, for, in the first place, we had no certainty thereof, and
in the next, he was not strong enough to do anything against it if
When we came to ask Gerent if Howel might take him to Dyfed, we
found no difficulty at all, which surprised me not a little. I
think that the king knew that it was well for him to be across the
channel in all quiet.
So it came to pass that in a few days all was ready for our going
to Watchet to find Thorgils or some other shipmaster who would take
us over. We could wait at Norton until the time of sailing came, if
we might not cross at once, and thence I should go back to Ina.
One may guess without any telling of mine what the parting with
Owen was for Gerent. As for myself, I was somewhat sorry to bid the
old king farewell, for I liked him, and he was ever most kind to
me. But I was not sorry to leave his court, by any means, for those
reasons of which I have spoken, and of them most of all for fear of
more plotting against Owen.
Now I will say that the ride to Watchet, slow and careful for his
sake who must yet travel in the litter, and in fair summer weather,
is one that I love to look back on. As may be supposed, by this
time I and the princess were very good friends, and it is likely
that I rode beside her for most of the way. We had many things to
One thing I have not set down yet is, that it had been easy, after
what he had done for us, to win full pardon for Evan from Gerent.
Now he rode with me, well armed and stalwart, as my servant, and
one could hardly want a more likely looking one. And Nona had some
good words and friendly to say to him, which made him hold his head
higher yet after a time.
Presently, since I was on my way back to Glastonbury and onwards,
we must needs speak of Elfrida, and I told her how I had fared when
I came back from Dyfed. She laughed at me, and I laughed at myself
also; for now I knew at last that the old fancy had in all truth
passed from my mind.
So we came to Norton, and then sought Thorgils, and after that it
was a week before he was ready. I mind the wonder on the face of
the Norseman when he saw Evan at my heels on the day when his ship
came home and I met him on the wharf; but he was glad to see him
"Faith," he said, "it has been a trouble to me that a man whom I
was wont to trust had turned out so ill. It shook my own belief in
my better judgment. I did think I knew a man when I saw him, until
then. So I was not far wrong after all. Now I will make a new song
of his deeds, and I do not think it will be a bad one."
Then it came to pass that one day, when the wind blew fair for
Tenby, I saw the ship draw away from me as her broad sail filled,
while on the deck was Owen in a great chair, and from his side Nona
waved to me, and Howel shouted that I must come over ere long and
fetch Owen home. Thorgils was steering, and he lifted his arm and
cried his parting words, and so I turned away, feeling lonely as a
man may feel for a little while. And presently I looked again
toward the ship, and I think that the last I saw of her was the
flutter of Nona's kerchief in the soft wind, and I vowed that
nought should hinder me from Dyfed when the time came.
Thereafter I rode to Glastonbury, and told Herewald what I thought
of the trouble that was surely brewing in the west; and he said
that he also had some reason to think that along his borders men
were getting more unruly, as if none tried to hinder them from
giving cause of offence to us.
"Well, if they will but keep quiet until this wedding is over it
will be a comfort," he said. "I should be more at ease if once
Elfrida was safely in Sussex."
Then I learned that the wedding was to be in a month's time or so,
and already there were preparations in hand for it. With all my
heart I hoped also that nought might mar it.
Then I passed on to the king at Winchester, and glad was he to hear
that we had indeed found Owen. But as he listened to what I thought
was coming on us from the west, he said:
"It is even what Owen and I foresaw with the death of Aldhelm. This
is a matter that not even Owen could have prevented, for it comes
of the jealousy of the priests. We will go to Glastonbury and
watch, and maybe we shall be in time for the wedding. But I will
not be the one to break the peace. If war there must be, it must
come from Gerent."
And so he mused for a while, and then said:
"Well, so it will be. And not before West Wales has tried her
failing force for the last time will there be a lasting peace."
CHAPTER XV. HOW ERPWALD SAW HIS FIRST FIGHT ON HIS WEDDING DAY.
So we went to Glastonbury in a little time, and now it was as if
Yuletide had come again in high summer, so full was the little town
with guests who came to the wedding. Erpwald had come soon after
us, with a train of Sussex thanes, who were his neighbours and
would see him through the business, and take him and his bride home
again. Well loved were the ealdorman and his fair daughter, and
this was the first wedding in the new church, of which all the land
Only Ina was somewhat uneasy, though he would not shew it. For on
all the Wessex border from Severn Sea to the Channel there was
unrest. It seemed that the hand of Gerent had altogether slackened
on his people, so that they did what they listed, and it was even
worse than it had been in the days of Morgan and his brother, for
at least they were answerable for what the men of Dyvnaint wrought
of harm. There was none to take their place here, while the old
king bided in Exeter or in Cornwall, and never came to Norton at
all now. So there was pillage and raiding across the Parrett, and
at last Ina had sent messages to Gerent concerning it.
A fortnight ago that was, and now the messengers had returned,
bearing word from Gerent that he himself would come and speak to
Ina of Wessex and answer him, and it was doubtful what that answer
meant. There might well be a menace of war therein, or it might
mean that he was only coming to Norton. It would not be the first
time that the two kings had met there and spoken with one another
in all friendliness concerning matters which might have been of
much trouble. And we heard at least of no gathering of forces by
Yet Ina warned all the sheriffs of the Wessex borderland, and could
do no more. The levies would come up at once when the first summons
All of which the ealdorman spoke to me of, but neither Erpwald nor
Elfrida knew that war was in the air. We did not tell them. Thus we
hoped to keep all knowledge that aught was unrestful from them in
their happiness, until at least they two were beyond the sound of
war, if it needs must come.
But it came to pass on the day before the wedding that all men knew
thereof in stern truth, and that was a hard time for many.
Erpwald and I sat on the bench before the ealdorman's house in the
late sunshine of the long July evening, talking of the morrow, and
of Eastdean, and aught else that came uppermost, so that it was
pleasant to think of, and before us we could see the long road that
goes up the slope of Polden hills and so westward toward the Devon
border. Along it came a wain or two laden high with the first rye
that was harvested that year, and a herd or two of lazy kine
finding their way to the byres for the evening milking. And then
beyond the wains rose a dust, and I saw the waggoners draw aside,
and the dust passed them, and the kine scattered wildly as it
neared them; and so down the peaceful road spurred a little company
of men who shouted as they came, never drawing rein or sparing spur
for all that the farm horses reared and plunged and the kine fled