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

A Prince of Cornwall by Charles W. Whistler

Part 6 out of 7

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

terror stricken.

I think that I knew what it meant at once, but Erpwald laughed and
said: "More of our guests, belike. One rides fast to a bridal, but
they are over careless."

But I did not answer, for the hot pace of those who came never
slackened, and spurring and with loose rein they swept across the
bridge over the stream and so thundered toward us.

"Here is a hurry beyond a jest," said Erpwald, sitting up;
"somewhat is amiss, surely."

Never rode men in that wise but for life. In a minute they were
close, and one of them spied me and called to me, waving his arm
toward the palace and reeling in his saddle as he did so. His arm
was bandaged, and I saw that the spear his comrade next him bore
was reddened, and that the other two had leapt on their horses with
nought but the halter to guide them withal, as if in direst need
for haste. Not much longer could their horses last as it seemed.

I sprang up and followed to the king's courtyard, leaving Erpwald
wondering, and a footpath brought me there almost as they drew rein
inside the gates. One of the horses staggered and fell as soon as
he stayed, and his rider was in little better plight. That one who
had beckoned to me knew me, and spoke at once, breathless:

"Let us to the king, Thane. The Welsh--the Welsh!"

"An outlaw raid again?" I asked.

"Would I come hither in this wise for that?" the man answered.

He was a sturdy franklin from the Quantock side of the river--one
whose father had been set there by Kenwalch.

"I can deal, and have dealt, with the like of them, but this is
war. They are on us in their thousands, and I have even been burnt
out for being a Saxon, by a raiding party."

"Whence?"

"From Norton," answered another of the men. "Gerent, their king, is
there with a host beyond counting. One fled from across the hills
and told us, and we believed him not till the raiders came."

With that I took the men straightway to the king, bidding the
house-carles hold their peace awhile. And even as we talked with
this party, another man rode in from the Tone fenlands, and he had
seen the march of the West Welsh men, and knew that Gerent's force
was halted at Norton. A swift and sudden gathering, and a swift
march that was worthy of a good leader, else had we heard thereof
before this.

After that man came another, and yet another, till all the
courtyard was full of reeking horses and white-faced men, and the
ealdorman was sent for and Nunna; and in an hour or less the war
arrow was out, and the news was flying north and south and east,
with word that all Somerset was to be here on the morrow to hold
the land their forebears had won from those who came.

Presently with the quiet of knowing all done that might be done on
us, the ealdorman and I went down to his house.

"Here is an end of tomorrow's wedding," he said sadly. "I do not
know how Elfrida will take it, for it is not to be supposed that
Erpwald will hold back from the levy, though, indeed, if ever man
had excuse, he has it in full."

I knew that he would not, also, and said nothing. He was yet
sitting on the settle where I had left him waiting for me, with the
level sun in his face as it sank across the Poldens, and he looked
content with all things.

"What a coil and a clatter has been past me, surely," he said. "I
doubt there must be a raid over the border, from what I hear the
men shouting."

"More than that, friend," I said gravely, looking straight at him.
"The Welsh are on us in all earnest, and tomorrow we must meet them
somewhere yonder, where the sun is setting."

He looked at me, and his face flushed redder and redder.

"What, fighting in the air?" he said, with a sort of new interest.

"War,--nothing more or less," answered Herewald with a groan.

"I am in luck for once," he said, leaping up. "Let me go with you,
Oswald; for this is what I have never seen."

"Hold hard, son-in-law," cried the ealdorman. "What of the
wedding?"

His face fell, and he stared at us blankly, but his cheek paled.

"Forgive me," he said. "I never can manage to keep more than one
thing in my head at a time. Here was I thinking of nought but that,
until this news came and drove out all else. Don't tell Elfrida
that I forgot it."

"Trouble enough for her without that," answered Herewald. "You
cannot hold back, maybe, though indeed, not one will think the
worse of you if you do so. We must tell Elfrida what has befallen,
however, and she must speak her mind on your doings. Come, let us
find her."

"Do you speak first, Ealdorman," I said, and he nodded and went his
way.

Erpwald and I followed him into the hall, and there stayed. He was
long gone thence to the bower where Elfrida sat with her maidens
preparing for the morrow.

"What will she say?" asked Erpwald presently.

"I think that she will bid you fight for the king, though it will
be hard for her to do so."

"I hope she will, though, indeed, I should like to think that it
will not be easy for her to send me away," said the lover, torn in
two ways. "How long will it take to settle with these Welsh?"

"I cannot tell," I said, shaking my head.

For, indeed, though I would not say it, a Welsh war is apt to be a
long affair if once they get among the hills.

"If we have the victory, I think that the wedding will not be put
off for so very long," I added to comfort him.

He walked back and forth across the hall until Herewald came back,
and then started toward him.

"Go yonder and speak with her," the ealdorman said, pointing to the
door whence he came.

Then he went hastily, and we two looked at one another.

"How is it with her?" I said.

"In the way of the girl who helped you slay Morgan," he said
grimly. "She would hold him nidring if he had not wished to go."

We went to the door and looked out. All the road was dotted with
men from the nearer villages who came to the gathering, and as they
marched, each after the reeve of the place, they sang. And past the
hindmost of them came a single horseman hurrying. Another messenger
with the same news, doubtless.

Then there were footsteps across the hall behind us, and Elfrida
and Erpwald came to us. I stole one glance at her, and saw that she
hid her sorrow and pain well, though it was not without an effort.
She spoke fast, and seemingly in cheerful wise, as we turned to
her.

"Father, here is this Erpwald, who will go to the war, and I cannot
hold him back. What can you say to him?"

"Nought, surely. For if he will not listen to you, it is certain
that he will hearken to none else."

She laughed a little strained laugh, and turned to Erpwald.

"You must have your own way, as I can see plainly enough; and our
wedding must needs wait your pleasure. Even my father will not help
to keep you here."

"But, Elfrida--it was your own saying--" the poor lover went no
further, for he was beyond his depth altogether.

It would seem that this was not the way in which she had spoken to
him when they were alone. So I went to help him.

"We will take care of him, Elfrida," I said, trying to laugh; "but
I think that he is able to do that for himself fairly well."

Then I was sorry that I had spoken, for it was a foolish speech,
seeing that it brought the thought of danger more closely to her
than was need, or maybe than she had let it come to her yet. She
turned into the half-darkness of the hall again, and after her went
Erpwald. The ealdorman and I went to the courtyard and left them,
feeling that we need say no more.

Then through the dusk that horseman whom we had noted clattered up,
and called in a great voice to us, asking if we knew where he
should find Oswald the marshal, and I answered him and went out
into the road to him. And there sat Thorgils, fully armed, on a
great horse that was white with foam, but had been carefully
ridden.

"Ho, comrade! have you heard the news?" he said, gripping my hand.

"Twenty times in half an hour," I answered. "But is there somewhat
fresh?"

"Have any of your twenty told you that these knaves of Welsh have
broken peace with us, tried to burn Watchet town--and had their
heads broken?"

"News indeed, that," said I. "What more?"

"If you Saxons will stand by us, your kin, it may be worth your
while. Here have I ridden to tell you so."

Then I hurried him to the king, for this was a matter worth
hearing. Watchet was on Gerent's left flank, and a force there was
a gain to us indeed, if only by staying the force at Norton for a
day longer. We should have so much the more time in which to gather
the levies.

But, seeing that they were not yet gathered, it did not at first
seem possible to Ina that we could help to save the little town,
whose few men had beaten off today's attack, but would be surely
overwhelmed by numbers on the morrow if Gerent chose. But Thorgils
had not come hither without a plan in his head, and he set it
before the king plainly.

"Norton is on the southern end of the Quantocks, and Watchet is at
the northern end, as you know, King Ina. Between the two on the
hills is the great camp which any force can hold, but nought but a
great one can storm. If you will give me two hundred men, I will
have that camp by morning, and that will save Watchet, and maybe
hold back Gerent in such wise that he will not care to pass it
without retaking it. He will not know how few of us will be there,
and you will be able to choose your own ground for the fighting
while he bethinks him. There is but one road into Wessex across the
Quantocks, and we shall seem to menace that while we cover the way
to Watchet."

"So the camp is held?" asked Ina. "Gerent is before me there."

"Held by the men we beat off from Watchet, King. One we took tells
us that they had no business to fall on our town, but turned aside
to do it. Gerent has little hold on some of his chiefs. Now they
are there with a fear of us and our axes on them, and if we may
fall on them unawares we can take the camp without trouble, as I
think."

"Oswald," said Ina, after a little thought, "how many horsemen can
you raise now?"

The town was full of horses by this time, and I thought that it
would not be hard to raise a hundred, and that in half an hour.
Maybe if we did go with Thorgils we should meet many more men on
the way to the levy also.

"Then you shall go with Thorgils," the king said. "It is a risk,
certainly, but it is worth it. We had held that camp, had we had
but a day's earlier warning, and that loss may be made good thus.
That outlaw of yours will know many a safe place of retreat for you
if need is. Good luck be with you."

He shook hands with us both, and we did not delay. His only bidding
was that we should hold the camp until we had word from him, if we
took it, and he was to learn thereof by signal.

So it came to pass that in an hour and a half Thorgils and I and
Erpwald, who would by no means let me go without him, and three of
his Sussex friends, rode across the causeway to the Polden hills in
the dusk, with a matter of six score men behind us, well armed and
mounted all--for these borderers have need to keep horse and arms
of the best, and those ever ready.

From the ealdorman's door Elfrida watched us go very bravely, and
the glimmer of her white dress was the lodestar that kept the eyes
of her lover turned backward while it might be seen. It vanished
suddenly, and he heaved a deep sigh, and I knew that she had been
fain to watch no longer lest her tears should be seen.

As we went along the Polden ridge we met flying men, and men who
came to the levy, and by twos and threes we added to our little
force, until we had a full hundred more than when we started.

Thorgils took us to a tidal ford that crosses the Parrett River far
below any bridge, which he thought would not yet be watched by the
Welsh. There is a steep hill fort that covers this ford, but on it
were no fires as of an outpost yet. Then we were a matter of eight
miles from the great camp on the highest ridge of the Quantocks
which we had to take, and we had ridden five-and-twenty miles. I
was glad that we had to wait an hour or more for the fall of the
tide before we could cross, for we rode fast thus far.

So we dismounted and watched the slow fall of the water, and we
planned what we would do presently; until at last we splashed
through the muddy ford, and rode on through dense forest land until
the great camp rose above us, a full thousand feet skyward, and we
saw the glow of the watch fires of those who held it. It seemed
almost impossible to scale this hill as we looked on its slope in
the darkness, but we reached its foot where the hill is steepest,
and held on northward yet, until we came to where there is a long
steady rise up to the very gate of the earthworks.

Now there should have been an outpost halfway along this slope
toward the camp, for whatever tribe of the Britons made the
stronghold had not forgotten to raise a little fort for one. But we
were in luck, for this outpost was not held, and we rode past it,
and knew that there was every chance now of our fairly surprising
the camp. The first grey of dawn was coming when I passed the word
to the men to close up, and told them what we were to do.

"We charge through the earthworks, for there is no barrier across
the gate, and spread out across the camp with all the noise we can.
Follow a flight for no long distance beyond the earthworks, but
scatter the Welsh."

So we rode on steadily until we were but a bow shot from the
trench, and yet no alarm was raised, for the foe watched hardly at
all, deeming that no Saxon force would think of crossing where we
crossed the river, or of coming on them from the north at all.

Then Thorgils and I and Erpwald rode forward, and I gave the word
to charge, and up the long smooth slope we went at the gallop, with
a heavy thunder of hoofs on the firm turf of the ancient track. And
that thunder was the first sign that the Welsh knew of our coming.

I saw one come to the gateway and look, and then with a wild howl
throw himself into the outer ditch for safety, and the camp roared
with the alarm, and the dim white figures flocked to the rampart,
and through a storm of ill-aimed arrows we rode through the
unguarded gate and were on them.

"Ahoy!--Out, out!--Holy Cross!"

The war shouts of Norseman and South Saxon and Wessex men were in
startling medley together here, and that terrified the Welsh yet
more. It must have seemed to them that the Norsemen had called
unheard of allies to their help. There was no order or rallying
power among them.

We three were first through the gateway, and then we were riding
across the camp with levelled spears, over men and through the
fires, and a panic fell on the foe, so that without waiting to see
what our numbers were, in headlong terror they fled from the charge
over the ramparts and into the forests in the valleys on either
side beyond whence we came. I had no fear of their rallying thence
to any effect, for it would take them all their time to find their
leaders in the combes and the thick undergrowth that clothed their
sides. Once out of the camp, too, they could not see into it to
tell how few we were.

I suppose that there were some five hundred Welsh in the place. I
do not think that we harmed many of them in the hurry and the dark,
but we scared them terribly. Here and there one rolled under the
horses' hoofs, and we paid no heed to such as fell thus, and they
rose again and fled the faster. All but one, that is, so far as I
was concerned. I charged a man, and my spear missed him as he leapt
aside, and he struck at my horse as I passed him, and the next
moment I was rolling on the ground with the good steed, and the man
behind me had to leap over us as we lay. That was one of the Sussex
thanes, and he was no mean horseman or unready, luckily. Then he
chased my enemy out of the camp, and came back to see if I were
hurt. But I was not, and I bade him go on with the rest. We were
almost across the camp at this time.

"Take my horse rather," he said. "See, there is a bit of a stand
being made yonder."

There were yet some valiant and cooler-headed Welshmen whom the
panic had not carried away, and they were getting together to our
right. The camp was full three hundred paces across, and as we
spread over it our line had gaps here and there, so that some at
least had seen what our numbers were. They had passed into the camp
again over the earthworks, or had been passed by in the place by
us, and they were gathering round one who wore the crested helm and
gilded arms of a chief, and he was raving at the cowards who had
left him. Even now he had not more than a score of men with him.

Our men were chasing the flying foe across the open hilltop now,
outside the camp, and there were but few left within its enclosure,
though I saw the dim forms of some who were turning back without
going beyond the rampart, and one of these was Erpwald. He also saw
the group of Welshmen, and called the other horsemen to him, and
even as the chief saw us two standing alone together, and led his
few toward us, the shout of the four or five who charged with my
friend stayed them, and they closed up to meet the new attack.

Then the Sussex thane, whose name was Algar, saw this, and again
urged me to take his horse, saying that it was not fitting for the
leader to be dismounted while work was yet in hand; but I saw a
thing that bade me forget him, and set me running at full speed
toward the Welshmen. Erpwald had ridden well ahead of his comrades,
and as his spear crossed those of the foe one of them stepped
forward before his chief and made a sweeping blow at the legs of
the horse with a long pole-axe. Down the horse came, and Erpwald
flew over its head into the midst of the enemy, overthrowing one or
two of them as if he had been a stone from a sling.

In a moment they closed over him, but I was there before they could
get clear of one another to slay him. I cut my way through the
turmoil before they knew I was on them, and stood over him sword in
hand, while the Welsh shrank back for a space with the suddenness
of my coming. There was Algar also hewing at them and trying to
reach my side, having dismounted, and those who followed Erpwald
were on them with their long spears. It was more as a shouting than
a fight for a moment or two, but Erpwald never moved, being
stunned, as it seemed. It was like to go hard with me for a time,
for my men could not reach me. Still, I held the Welsh back from
Erpwald and myself.

There was a great shout of "Ahoy," and I saw from beyond the ring
round me the rise and fall of a broad axe, and then Thorgils was at
my back, and close behind him was Evan. More of our men were coming
up fast to where they heard the noise; but the foe were minded to
make a good fight of it, and only to yield when there was no shame
in doing so.

"It is no bad thing to have a good axe at one's back," quoth
Thorgils in a gruff shout between his war cries as he hewed, and
with that I heard the said axe crash on a foe again.

Then I had the chief before me, and his men fell back a little to
make way for him to me. Our swords crossed, and I took his first
thrust fairly on the shield and returned it, wounding him a little,
and he set his teeth and flew at me, point foremost, with the
deadly thrust of the Roman weapon. That the shield met again, and I
struck out over his guard and he went down headlong. And at that
his men made a wild rush on me, yelling. At that time I saw
Thorgils, with a great smile on his face, smite one man to his
right with the axe edge, and another on his left with the blunt
back of the weapon as he swung it round, and Evan saved me from a
man who was coming on me from behind. That is all I know of the
fight, save that it seemed that I heard some cry for quarter, for
of a sudden I went down across Erpwald for no reason that I could
tell.

It was full daylight when I came round, and the first thing that my
eyes lit on was the broad face of Erpwald, who sat by my side with
a woebegone look that changed suddenly to a great grin when he saw
me stir and look at him. Then I saw Evan also watching me, with his
arm tied up, and I was fain to laugh at his solemn face of trouble.
Whereon from somewhere behind me Thorgils cried in his great
seafaring voice:

"There now, what did I tell you two owls? His head is too hard to
mind a bit of a knock like that."

Then he came and laughed at me, and I asked what sent me over.

"The pole-axe man hit you with the flat of his unhandy weapon. It
is lucky for you that he was a bungler, however, for there is a
sore dint in your helm."

I sat up and looked round the camp. There was a knot of captives in
its midst, among whom was the chief I had fought, wounded, indeed,
but not badly, and our men were eating the enemy's provender and
laughing. A fire of green brushwood and heather was sending a tall
pillar of smoke into the air to tell the watchers on the Poldens
and at Watchet that we had done what we came to do. But here we had
to stay till we heard from Ina that we were to join him, and for
Erpwald's sake and Elfrida's I was not sorry.

He had seen his first fight, and nearly found his end therein. I do
not know how I could have looked Elfrida in the face again had he
indeed risen no more from that medley. But I thought that he made
more than enough of my coming to his rescue. It was only a matter
of holding back a crowd till help came.

"All very well to put it in that way, comrade," said Thorgils; "but
where does my axe come in? You are not fair, for, by Thor's hammer,
Erpwald, both of you had been mincemeat but for that."

"Nay," said I, laughing; "you and I were those who held back the
crowd. I could not have done it alone."

"But you did, though," the Norseman answered at once.
"Nevertheless, it was as well that I happened up in good time."

Now we rode across the nearer hills until we could see into the
fair valley which men call Taunton Deane since those days, and we
saw the answering fires which told us that all was well at Watchet,
for we had saved the little town. Not until Gerent learned how few
we were here would he dare to divide his forces. Far off to the
southward in the valley we could see the blue reek of his
campfires, and it would seem that he had not yet moved on the
Wessex border.

All the day we waited and watched, anxious and restless, but no
attack came on us here, and the smoke of the camp grew no thinner
at Norton. A few Norsemen rode up to us from Watchet, and they said
that no move was on hand yet, so far as they could tell. And at
last, as the sun was setting, and shone level on the slope of the
Poldens, above which the Tor of Glastonbury sent a waving wreath of
smoke into the air to bid Wessex gather against the ancient foe, we
saw the long line of sparkling helms and spear points as our host
marched from hill to causeway to the bridge that spans the Parrett.
Ina would hold the heights above Norton before morning.

But that made it the more needful that we should bide here till we
were sent for, seeing that we guarded the flank of our advance; and
hard it was to sit still and do it, with a battle pending yonder.
It was a long night to us, and hungry.

Early in the next morning there was heavy smoke on these hills that
told of burning on the line of our march, and there was more away
toward the far Blackdown hills, as if there were trouble beyond
Tone. And in the afternoon there fell a strange stillness on the
woods round us, and I wondered. There was never a buzzard or kite,
raven or crow, left in all the woodland, and then I minded that
overhead lately the birds of prey had all flown in one direction,
and that toward where Norton lay.

It was the cry of the kite and the voice of the songbirds that I
missed. The birds of prey had gone, and in the cover their little
quarry cowered in fear of the shadow of the broad wings which had
crossed them so often. Even now two of the great sea eagles were
sailing inland, and from these strange signs we knew for certain
that yonder a battlefield was spread for them, where Saxon and
Welsh strove for mastery in the fair valley. But we must pace the
hill crest, silent and moody, waiting for some sign that might tell
us of victory.

That came at last in the late afternoon. Slowly there gathered,
over the trees where Norton was, a haze that thickened into a
smoke, and that grew into heavy dun clouds which rose and drifted
even to the hilltops, for Norton was burning, and by that token we
knew that Ina was victor.

Presently there were flying men of the Welsh who could be seen on
the open hillsides, and some few came even up to this camp, and we
took them, and from them heard how the battle had gone. It had been
a terrible battle, from their account, but they knew little more
than that, and that they were beaten. I suppose that Ina thought it
best for us to hold this camp for the night, for here we bided,
chafing somewhat; and but for what we took from the Welsh, hungry,
until early morning. Then at last a mounted messenger came to us,
and we went to Norton.

There, indeed, was high praise waiting for us from Ina, for it
seemed that our work had checked the advance of Gerent, and had
given time for full gathering of the levies before he was over the
border. But now I learnt that there was another Welsh army in the
field, beyond the Tone River, and until we heard how it fared with
the Dorset levies in that direction it was doubtful if we might
hold that all was well yet. Gerent had not set everything on this
one attack, but had also marched on Langport across the Blackdown
hills. Thither Nunna had led what men he could be spared, and was
to meet the Dorset levies, whose ealdorman, Sigebald, had sent word
to Glastonbury, soon after I left there, to tell of this attack.

In the late evening there were beacon fires on the Blackdown hills,
and a great one on the camp at Neroche which crowns and guards the
hills in that direction. And so presently through the dusk one rode
into Norton with word of the greatest battle that Wessex had fought
since men could remember, for Nunna had met the foe on the way to
Langport, and at last, after a mighty struggle which had long
seemed doubtful, had swept them back across the hills whence they
came, in full flight homeward. So there was full victory for
Wessex, but we had to pay a heavy price therefor. Nunna had fallen
in the hour of triumph, and Sigebald, the ealdorman, was lost to
Dorset also.

Presently we laid Nunna in his mound on the Blackdown hills where
he had fallen. There he bides as the foremost of Saxon leaders in
the new land we had won, and I do not think that it is an unfitting
place for such a one as he. It is certain that so long as a Wessex
man who minds the deeds of his fathers is left the name of Nunna
will be held in honour with that of the king; his kinsman.

CHAPTER XVI. OF MATTERS OF RANSOM, AND OF FORGIVENESS ASKED AND GRANTED.

Now I must needs tell somewhat of the way in which Ina won Norton,
for that had so much to do with my fortunes as it turned out,
seeing that all went well by reason of our holding the hill fort,
in which matter, indeed, Thorgils must have his full share of
praise.

Gerent halted in his march when the flying men from the camp came
in to him, telling him that we were in strong force on the hill,
and so our men crossed the Parrett unhindered, and won to the long
crest of the southward spurs of Quantocks, where the Welsh gathered
against Kenwalch in the old days and stayed his farther conquest.
There was some sort of an advance post by this time in the Roman
camp at Roborough, and Ina sent a few men to take it, and that was
easily done. Then Gerent heard that Ina was on him, and went to
meet him, and so the two armies met on the westward slope of the
hills above Norton, and there all day long the battle swayed to and
fro until the Welsh broke and fled back to the town itself. Then
was a long fight across the ramparts, and at last Ina took the
place, and so chased his enemy in hopeless rout across the moorland
westward yet, until there was no chance of any stand being made.

But Gerent escaped, though it was said that it was sorely against
his will. I was told that the old king came to the battle in a
wonderful chariot drawn by four white horses, and that he stood in
it fully armed, bidding his nobles carry him to the forefront of
the fighting, but that they would not heed him. And presently when
they knew that all was lost they hurried him from the field, though
he cursed them, and even hewed at them with his sword to stay them
as they went.

Now Ina's camp was set within the walls of Norton among the yet
smoking ruins of the palace, where not one stone was left on
another; and the Dragon banner of Wessex floated side by side with
the White Horse of the sons of Hengist, where I had been wont to
see the Dragon of the line of Arthur.

All the afternoon of that day Ina sat and saw the long files of
captives pass before him, and I was there to question any he would,
for he knew little or none of the Welsh tongue.

Many of these captives were of high rank, men who had only yielded
when they must, and here and there I knew one of these by sight.
They would be held to ransom by their captors, and the rest,
freeman or thrall, as they had been, would be the slaves of those
who took them, save they also could pay for freedom. It was a sad
enough throng that passed under the shadow of the proud banners.

At last I saw one whom I knew well, and whom the king knew, for it
was Jago. He stood in the line, looking neither to right nor left,
but taking his misfortune like a brave man.

"Here is Jago, the friend of Owen, whom you know, King Ina," I
said.

The king glanced up at the Welsh thane. There was no pride of
conquest in the face of Ina as he gazed at his captives, and when
one came as Jago came he looked little at him, lest he should seem
to exult.

"Take him, and do what you will with him, Oswald. We owe you much
again; if you see others for whom you would speak, tell me. I will
deal with friends of Owen as you will. That is known already, and
none will gainsay it."

I thanked the king quietly, but none the less heartily, and I ran
my eyes down the line, but I saw no more known faces. So I went
after Jago, who had passed on.

"Friend, you are free," I said. "That is the word of our king, for
the sake of old friendship."

He could not answer, but the light leapt into his eyes, and he held
out his hand to me. Then I took him to the tent which my
house-carles had pitched next the king's, where Nunna's should have
been, and bade him sit down there. Then I went out and brought up
my own prisoners, passing the commoners into the hands of the men
who had been with me, but keeping the chief until the last. Two of
the house-carles led him up, and his face had as black a scowl on
it as I had ever seen, and he looked sullenly at us.

"Who is he?" asked Ina, turning towards me.

I did not know, and, to tell the truth, had forgotten to ask him in
the waiting for news of Nunna. So I asked him his name with all
courtesy, and could win no answer from him but a blacker scowl than
ever. Judging from his arms, which were splendid, and of the half
Roman pattern that Howel wore, he might be of some note. I thought
Jago might know him, so I asked him.

"Mordred, prince of Morganwg {iii}, from across the channel,"
he answered, looking from the tent door. "He is a prize for whoever
took him. Gerent sent word to several of those princes, and his men
are somewhere in the country yet, I suppose. They came at Gerent's
invitation."

I went back to Ina, who had set the chief aside for the moment, and
when some other man's captives had passed, bound to a long cord, my
men brought him forward again.

"Ask him what brought him here," said Ina, when he heard who he
was.

"I have a mind not to answer you," Mordred growled, when I put the
question, "but seeing that there is no use in keeping silence, I
will tell you. I hate Saxons, and so when Gerent asked me I came to
help him."

"With your men?"

"A shipload of them. They are up in the hills yonder, where you
left them, I suppose; and they will be a trouble to you until they
get home, if they can. I am well quit of the cowards."

Now I began to understand how it was that this force went aside to
fall on Watchet, and had little heart in the defence of the camp.
They were strangers, who hated the name of the Northmen from their
own knowledge of them, and could not miss a chance of a fight with
them here. After that the men of Gerent who were with them at the
camp cared nought for their strange leader.

"Take him, and hold him to ransom, Oswald," Ina said, when I told
him all this. "From all I ever heard of Morganwg, he should be some
sort of reward for what you have done. I should set his price high
also, for he deserves it for coming here."

So I took Mordred to my tent, telling him that I must speak of him
of ransom.

"Ransom? Of course, that will be paid. What price do you set on
me?"

Now that was a question on which I had no thought ready, seeing
that I had never held any man of much rank to ransom before, and I
hesitated. At last I remembered what some great Mercian thane had
to pay to Owen some years ago, and I named that sum, which was good
enough for me and Erpwald and Thorgils to share between us.

Thereon his face flushed red, and he scowled fiercely at me.

"What!--Is that the value of a prince of Morganwg? It is ill to
insult a captive."

"Nay, Prince, there is no insult--"

"By St. Petroc, but there is, though! What will the men of
Morganwg--what will the Dyfed men say when they hear that the Saxon
holds one of the line of Arthur at the value of a hundred cows? Ay,
that is how I shall be known henceforth!--Mordred of the cows,
forsooth."

He was working himself up into a rage now, and even Jago from the
corner of the tent where he sat, dejectedly enough, began to smile.
I had spoken of fair coined silver, and I had some trouble myself
in keeping a grave face when this Welsh prince counted the cost of
cattle therein.

"Will you double the sum, Prince?" I asked in all good faith.

"I will pay the ransom that is fitting for a prince of Morganwg to
pay when his foes have the advantage of him. The honour of the
Cymro is concerned."

"Ask him his value," said Jago in Saxon, knowing that Mordred did
not understand that tongue at all. "Never was so good a chance of
selling a man at his own price."

Then I could not help a smile, and Mordred waxed furious. He turned
on Jago with his fist clenched.

"Silence, you miserable--"

"Prince, Prince," I cried. "He did but bid me ask you what was
fitting."

"Well, then, do it," he cried, stamping impatiently, and glaring at
Jago yet.

It was plain that if he did not understand the Saxon he saw that
there was some jest.

"It is a hard matter for me to set a price on you, Prince," I said
gravely. "I have never held one of your rank to ransom before, so
that you will forgive seeming discourtesy if I have unwittingly
done what was not fitting in the matter. What would the men of your
land think worthy of you?"

"Once," he said slowly, "it was the ill luck of my--of some
forebear of mine to have to be ransomed. They paid so much for
him."

He named a sum in good Welsh gold that it had never come into my
mind to dream of. It was riches for all three of us. And I dared
not say that it was too much and somewhat like foolishness, for it
was his own valuation. So I held my peace.

"Not enough?" he asked, not angrily, but as if it would be an
honour to hear that I set him higher. "What more shall I add?"

"No more, Prince. I see that I have yet things to learn."

Truly, I had always heard that the tale of the golden tribute to
Rome from Britain had tempted my forebears here first of all, and
now I believed it. I suppose these Welsh princes had hoards which
had been carried from out of the way of us Saxons and Angles long
ago.

"Ay, you have," Mordred said grimly. "One day it shall be what the
worth of a British prince is in good cold steel, maybe. Now let me
have a messenger who shall take word to my people and bring back
what is needed."

He scowled when I mentioned Thorgils, but he knew him by repute at
least, and was willing to trust him, as I would do so. In the end,
therefore, it was he who took the signet ring and the letter the
prince had written and brought back the gold. Some of the coins
were of the days of Cunobelin, but the most of it was in bars and
rings and chains, wrought for traffic by weight.

Now I will say at once that neither of my comrades would share in
this ransom, though I thought that it was a matter between the
three of us, as leaders of the force that day.

"Not I," quoth Thorgils--"the man was your own private captive, for
you sent him down yourself. What do I want with that pile of gold?
I have enough and to spare already, and I should only hoard it. Or
else I should just give it back to you for a wedding present by and
by. What? Shaking your head? Well, what becomes of all my songs if
they end not in a wedding? Have a care, Oswald, and see that you
make up your mind in time."

So he went away, laughing at me, but afterward I did make him
promise that if he needed a new ship at any time he would tell me,
so that I might give him one for the sake of the first voyage in
the old vessel, and that pleased him well.

Now I told Ina this, being always accustomed to refer anything to
him, and he was not surprised to hear that the Norseman would not
take the gold.

"And if I may advise," he said, "I would not offer a share to
Erpwald; for, in the first place, he does not expect it, seeing
that the captive is yours only, by all right of war; and in the
next, he deems that you have already given him Eastdean, and he is
not so far wrong. So it would hurt him. He will be all the happier
now that he will know that you have withal to buy four Eastdeans,
if you will."

So against my will, as it were, that day made a rich man of me.
Presently I gave the wealth into the hand of Herewald the
ealdorman, and he so managed it, being a great trader in his way,
that it seemed to grow somewise, and I have a yearly sum therefrom
in ways that are hard to be understood by me, but which seem simple
enough to him.

I handed over Mordred to the Norsemen to keep until Thorgils
returned with the ransom, for before we could rest with the sword
in its scabbard again it was needful that all care should be taken
for the holding of the new land we had won, and Ina would see to
that himself. Here and there we had fighting, but the Welsh never
gathered again in force against us, and at last we held every town
and camp from sea to sea along the line of the hills that run from
Exmoor southwards, and there was our new border.

Jago went back to Exeter, seeing that his house was burnt at Norton
with the rest of the town, and I heard afterwards that there he had
found his wife, whom he had sent away when the certainty of war
arose. I was in no trouble for him, as he had houses elsewhere.

But we sent Erpwald back to Glastonbury in all haste, and he was in
nowise loth to go, as may be supposed. One may also guess how he
was received there. Then, as soon as Ina came back with us all, the
ealdorman set to work to prepare afresh the wedding that was so
strangely and suddenly broken in upon, and it was likely to be
little less joyous that it had been so.

On the evening before the wedding the ealdorman came to me, when
the day's duties were over, and said that Elfrida wished to speak
to me. So I went, of course, not at all troubling that the
ealdorman could not tell me what was to be said, for there were
many things concerning tomorrow's arrangements with which I was
charged in one way or another.

So I found her waiting me alone, in that chamber off the hall where
her father and I spoke of the poisoning.

"I have not sent for you for nothing, Oswald," she said, blushing a
little as if it were a hard matter she had to speak of. "There is
somewhat on my mind that I must needs disburden."

"Open confession is good," I said, laughing--"what is it?

"Well--have you forgotten your vow of last Yuletide?"

"Not in the least. Would you have me do so? For that were somewhat
hard."

"No--but yes, in a way."

There she stopped for a moment, and I waited for her to go on, not
having any very clear notion of what was to come. She turned away
from me somewhat, letting her fingers play over one of the tall
horns on the table, when she spoke again.

"It has been in my mind that you--that maybe you thought that I
have been hard on you--in ways, since we spoke in the orchard."

So that was what troubled her, but I did not see why she should
have spoken of it, seeing that a lady has no need at all to justify
her ways in such a matter, surely.

"No," I answered, "that I never thought. If my vow displeased you,
or maybe rather if I displeased you thereafter, I had no reason to
blame any one but myself for the way in which it was needful that I
should be shewn that so it was. It was just the best thing for me,
for it cured me of divers kinds of foolishnesses."

"That is what I would have heard you say," she said with a
light-hearted laugh enough, while her face cleared. "Now I can say
what I will. Do you know that you have kept your vow to the full
already?"

"Not at all. There are long years before you yet, as one may hope."

"Ay, Oswald, and through you those years seem bright to look
forward to. See, through you has come Erpwald, and now you have
kept his life for me at risk of your own. All my life long I shall
thank you for those two things. Surely your vow is fulfilled, for
this will be lifelong service. There is more that I would say to
you, but I cannot."

She turned away again, weeping for very happiness, as I think, that
could not be told, and I had no word to speak that was worth
uttering, though I must say somewhat.

"It will be good to think of you two together--"

"In the place you have given us," she broke in on me. "Love and a
home for all my life! What more could your vow have wrought than
that? Let me go, Oswald, or I shall weep. It was a good day that
sent you to be my champion."

Then she stepped swiftly to me and kissed me once, and fled, and I
do not mind saying that I was glad that she had gone. Too much
thanks for things that had been done more or less by chance, and as
they came to hand as it were, without any special thought for any
one, are apt to make one feel discomforted.

The wedding on the morrow I have no skill to tell of, but as every
one has seen such a thing, that hardly matters. I will only set
down that never had I seen such a bright one, or so good a company,
there being all the more guests present because many who came to
the levies stayed on to do honour to the ealdorman and his
daughter. Elfrida looked all that a bride should, as I thought, and
also as the queen said in my hearing, so that I think I cannot be
wrong. I gave her Gerent's great gold armlet, having caused it to
be wrought into such a circlet for her hair as any thane's wife
might be well pleased to wear.

As for Erpwald, he was dazed and speechless with it all, but none
heeded him, though indeed he made a gallant groom, for that is the
usual way as regards the bridegroom at such times. Which is perhaps
all the more comfortable for him.

Then was pleasant feasting, and after it some of us who had been
Erpwald's closer friends here rode a little way with those two
wedded ones on the first stage of their homeward journey. The
Sussex thanes and their men were with them as guard, and they rode
on ahead and left us to take our leave.

And by and by, after a mile or two, the rest turned back with gay
farewells, and left me alone with the two, for they knew that I was
their nearest friend, and would let me be the last to speak with
them. We had not much to say, indeed, but there are thoughts, and
most of all, good wishes, that can be best read without words.

"There is but one thing that I wish," Elfrida said at the very
last, even when I had turned my horse and was leaving them.

"What is that?" I asked, seeing that there was some little jest
coming.

"Only, that I had seen the Princess Nona."

I laughed, and so they were gone, and I went back to Glastonbury,
wondering if Elfrida guessed what my thoughts of that lady might
be. I had not said much of her to any one, except as one must speak
of people with whom one has been for a while.

Strangely enough had come to pass that which I vowed to do for
Elfrida, though not in the way which had been in my mind when I
drank the Bragi bowl. Presently, when I came back to the
ealdorman's house, I had to put up with some old jests concerning
that vow, which seemed to others to have come to naught, but they
did not hurt me.

Three days after the wedding Thorgils came to Glastonbury with his
charge, and glad enough I was to hand it to Herewald, as I have
already said, and to get the care of it off my mind. Yet I will say
that by this time there had come to me a knowledge concerning this
gold which was pleasant. Only the other day I had been but the
simple captain of house-carles, though I was also the friend of a
mighty king, and foster son of a prince indeed, and that had been
all that I needed or cared for. Lately there had come a new hope
into my life, and it was one that was far from me at that time. But
now, when the time came for me to go to Dyfed for Owen, I should go
with power to choose lands and a home for myself and for that one
whom I dared now to ask to share it. And that was the only reason
that I cared to think of the new riches at all. If that hope came
to naught I should certainly care for them or need them little
enough, for my home would be the court as ever.

Better to me than the gold was a letter from Owen. The honest
Norseman had gone out of his way to put in at Tenby, knowing that I
should be glad to have news thence, and not troubling about Mordred
who was waiting release, at all. So he had seen Owen, who was well
as might be, he said.

"With two holes in one thigh, and his left arm almost growing again
like a crab's claw. I do not think that he was in the least
surprised to hear of the war, nor indeed of its end. All he wanted
to know was of you, as it seemed, at least from me. So it was also
with Howel and the princess. It was good to see their faces when I
told them of the fight at the camp, and how you won glory there.
Nevertheless, I was half afraid that I made the fighting a bit too
fierce over Erpwald, for the princess turned pale enough in hearing
how you were knocked over. You ken that I am apt to make the most
of things when I am telling a story. My father was just the same,
and maybe my grandfather before that, for saga telling runs in the
family."

I laughed at him, but in my mind I thought of the day when I saw
Elfrida pale as she heard of Erpwald's danger at Cheddar, and I
wondered.

Then I turned to Owen's letter, and it was long and somewhat sad,
as may be supposed, for this war had a foreshadowing of long
parting between him and me. But he said that he had known it must
come, having full knowledge, before Morfed the priest took him, how
the war party were getting beyond control. Wherefore he saw that he
and I had been saved much sadness by his absence, and it remained
to be seen how we should fare when he returned. At least, we should
meet soon in Dyfed, for he mended apace.

I need not tell all of that letter, for it was mostly between us
twain. But in it were words for Ina concerning peace, such as an
ambassador from the British might well speak, and they helped
greatly toward settlement by and by. And so the letter ended with
greetings from Howel and Nona, and many words concerning their
kindness to him.

But when I spoke to Thorgils of crossing soon to bring Owen back he
shook his head.

"I suppose he has even made the best of things in the letter, but
if he can bear arms again by Yule it will be a wonder," he said.
"Yet he is well for so sorely wounded a man."

Then he promised that it should not be so long before I heard news
from Owen again, for he had yet to make several voyages before the
winter. And he kept his promise well, for I think that he made one
more than he would have done, for my sake solely, though he will
not own it, lest the long winter should seem lonesome to me.

For I will say at once that Owen did not come back by Yule. All
that went on in the Cornish court I do not know, but it seemed that
Gerent thought it well that he should not return until the last
hope of victory over Wessex had passed from among his people; and
it may be that he did not wish it to be thought that Owen had any
hand in bringing about the peace which he must needs make. He would
see to that, and take all the blame thereof himself, caring nothing
for any man, if blame there should be from those who set the war on
foot.

So although I waited to hear from time to time as Thorgils came and
went, getting also word from him when some Danish ship crossed to
Watchet, nought was said of Owen's return. And I was not sorry, for
as things went I could not have gone to Dyfed to meet him.

There was the new land we had won to be tended, and for a time the
planning for that was heavy enough. All men know now how it ended
in the building of the mighty fortress of Taunton at the southern
end of the Quantock hills, to bar the passage from West to East for
all time. There is no mightier stronghold in all England than this,
at least of those built by Saxon hands, and there has been none
made like it since Hengist came to this land. It stands some two
miles from where the Romans set Norton, for they had the same need
to curb the wild British as have we, and the place they chose for
their ways of warfare needed little amending for ours.

While that was building, Ina dwelt in the house of some great
British lord at the place we call South Petherton, not far off from
the fortress. As the place pleased him, presently he had a palace
built there for himself, which, as it turned out, Ethelburga the
queen never liked at all. However, that came about in after years.
All day long now he was at Taunton, taking pride in overseeing all,
so that there is no wonder that the place is strong.

As for me, I was with Herewald the ealdorman on the new boundary
line with the levies and the king's own following, guarding against
any new attack, and trying to win the Welsh to friendship. That was
mostly my work, as I knew the tongue, and they knew me as Owen's
foster son. We had some little trouble with them for a time, but
soon, as they came to know the justice of the king, and that he did
not mean to drive them from the land, they became content, and
indeed there were many who welcomed a strong hand over them.

Presently there would be Saxon lords over the manors as Ina found
men to hold them, but there would be no change beyond that. Freeman
should be freeman, and thrall thrall, as before, each in his old
holding undisturbed, with equal laws for Saxon and Briton alike.

Now, one day when I came to the house of the king at Petherton on
some affairs I needed his word concerning, presently there came a
message to me that Ethelburga the queen would speak with me, and,
somewhat wondering, I was taken to her bower, and found her waiting
for me.

"Oswald," she said, after a few words of greeting, "there is one
who wronged you once, and has come to ask for your forgiveness.
What answer shall I give?"

"Lady," I said, "I can remember none who need forgiveness from me
now. Those who wrought ill against Owen have it already, or are
gone. I have no foes, so far as I know, myself, and truly no wrongs
unforgiven."

"Nay, but there is this one."

"Why then, my Queen, that one must needs be forgiven, seeing that I
know not of wrong to me."

I laughed a little, thinking of some fault of a servant, or of a
man of the guard, of which she had heard. But she went to a settle
hard by and swept aside a kerchief which lay on it as if by chance,
and under it were two war arrows. And I knew them at once for those
which had been shot into our window at Norton and had vanished.

Now I will say that the sight of these brought back at once some of
the old feeling against those who, like Tregoz, had sought Owen's
life and mine, and my face must needs show it.

"Ay," the queen said, seeing that, "these are indeed a token that
forgiveness is needed."

Then I remembered that there was but one who could come here with
these arrows, though how she had them I could not do more than
guess. It could be none other than Mara, the daughter of Dunwal.

Then suddenly, from among the ladies at the end of the room, one
who was dressed in black rose up and came toward me, and she was
none other than Mara herself, thin and pale indeed, and with the
pride gone from her dark face. Her voice was very low as she spoke
to me, and her bright black eyes were dim with tears.

"I do not ask you to forgive my uncle, or indeed my father--for
what they planned and well-nigh wrought is past forgiveness," she
said, "Forget those things if it be possible, but forgive my part
in them."

"I have done that long ago, lady," I said in all truth.

I knew that she must have been made use of by the men in some ways,
but I did not think at all that she had wished ill as they wished
it, since I knew that Morfed had trained the Welsh girl to the deed
at Glastonbury.

"Ay," she said sadly. "But forgetfulness is not forgiveness. You do
not know how I carried messages between my father and uncle, when
one was in bondage and the other in hiding, so that their plans
were laid through me. I am guilty with them. Therefore I would hear
you say at least that you will try to forgive before I pass from
the world into the cloister where I may pray for them, and for you
also, if I may."

Then I said, with a great pity on me for this lady whom I had known
so proud and careless:

"Lady, I do forgive with all my heart. I do not think that you
could have stood aloof from your father, and I do not think that
you are so much to blame in all the trouble as you would seem to
make me believe. In all truth I do forgive."

She looked searchingly at me while I spoke, and what she saw in my
face was enough to tell her that she had all she needed, and with
one word of thanks she went back to the ladies, and one of them
took her from the room.

"She goes into my new nunnery at Glastonbury tomorrow, Oswald," the
queen said, "and now she will rest content. It was a good chance
that brought you here today, my Thane, for she had begged me to
send for you, and that I could hardly do, seeing that one knows not
where to find you from day to day. I could tell her truly that I
knew I could win your forgiveness: but that would not have been
enough for her, I think."

So Mara passed into the nunnery, and unless she has been one of the
veiled sisters whom one sees in their places at the time of mass, I
do not know that I have ever set eyes on her again. I do not think
that it was the saddest end for her.

CHAPTER XVII. HOW OSWALD FOUND A HOME, AND OF THE LAST PERIL OF OWEN THE
PRINCE.

All that winter, and through the spring, men toiled at the great
fortress, but Ina went back presently to Glastonbury, or to others
of his houses, after his wont, now and then riding even from far to
us to see how all went. And I was fully busy in the new province,
for we made a roll of those who owned land there, that all might be
known to the king, and that matter was set in my hand for those
reasons which had made me useful already in quieting the country.
Moreover, the years at Malmesbury had made me able to write well,
and now I was glad that I had learnt, though indeed it went sorely
against the grain with me to do so at the time. Truly, I had to go
on this errand of the king's with sword in one hand and pen in the
other, but I daresay I did better, and fared less roughly, than
would one who could not speak to the British freemen in their own
tongue. At least, if a man was sullen when I came to him, he was,
as a rule, pretty friendly when I left, for he knew that no harm
was meant him, and that to be on this roll meant that on his lands
he was to bide in peace.

And I may not forget that Evan helped me greatly in the matter, for
he knew almost all of the best freemen.

When the walls were strong, in the midst of the new fortress they
built a good house for Ina, and we thought that he meant to live
here at times, for he had it fully furnished, even to the rushes on
the floor, after Easter. By that time I had leisure to spend the
holy season with the court at Glastonbury, for there was peace
everywhere. And there I had a visit from Thorgils, who brought good
news from across the sea. He had made his first voyage of the year,
and had seen Owen, who was himself again, if yet weak.

He had not written to me, but sent word by the Norseman that he did
but wait for me to come for him, if I might. If not he would come
alone; but it seemed to him that we should have to part when we
reached this side of the channel, for he must go to Gerent at once.

Next day Ina and the queen must needs pass to Taunton to see the
place, for he said that when I might go for Owen depended on its
readiness. So we rode with but a small train, meaning, after seeing
the fortress, to go on to Petherton for the night, which was quite
a usual plan with the king nowadays, since all this building was on
hand.

So we went round all the walls, and saw the new bridge across the
Tone River, and then went into the hall that stood, as I have said,
within the walls of the fortress itself. There all was ready for
the king, even to a fire on the hearth in the middle of the great
hall, which was fully as large as that at Glastonbury itself. I had
not seen this house of late, and now the king would have me go all
over it and tell him what I thought thereof.

Indeed, there was nought to say of it but good, for it would be
hard to find one better planned in all Wessex, as I think, whether
in the house itself, or about the buildings that were set along its
walls without for the thralls and workshops, or in the stables and
other outhouses. It was indeed such a house as any thane would be
proud to hold as his home.

Presently, therefore, after seeing all, the king and queen and I
stood by the hearth in the hall again, and Ina asked me my thoughts
of it. And I told him even as I have written, that all was well
done and completely.

"Why, then," he said, "let me come and stay here now and then."

I laughed at that.

"I have heard, my King, of house-carles who led their masters, but
that is not our way. Where the king goes the household follows, in
Wessex."

He laughed also, for a moment.

"Long may it be so," he said. "Nevertheless, I think that I shall
have to be as a guest here now and then."

Then Ethelburga smiled at my puzzled face, and spoke in her turn.

"Why, Oswald, it seems to me that you are the only man in all
Wessex who does not know who is to live here."

"It is always said that the king himself will make it one of his
palaces, lady," I answered.

Then Ina set his hand on my shoulder, and made no more secret of
what he meant.

"I want you to bide here, my Thane, and hold this unquiet land for
me. There is not one who can better rule it from this fortress for
me than yourself; and the house and all that is in it is yours, if
you will."

Then for a moment came over me that same feeling of loneliness that
had kept me from taking Eastdean again, and with it there was the
thought that I was not able to take so great a charge on me.

"How can I do this, my King?" I said, not knowing how to put into
words all that I felt. "I am not strong enough for such a post."

"Nay," he said gravely. "It is said of me that I do not do things
hastily, and it is a true word enough, seeing that I know that I
often lose a chance by over caution, maybe. Answer me a question or
two fairly, and I think you will see that I may ask you to bide
here."

Then he minded me that I alone of all his athelings knew this Welsh
tongue as if born thereto, and also that men knew me as the son of
Owen the prince, so that the Welsh would hardly hold me as a
stranger. That I had found out in these last months while I had
been numbering the freemen and their holdings; and as I went about
that business I had seen every one that was of any account, so that
already I knew all the land I had to rule better than any other.
That task, however, had been set me, as I know now, in preparation
for this post.

I had no answer to make against all this concerning myself, for it
was true enough, but I did not speak at once. It did not follow
that I could rule as I should, even with all this to help me, and I
knew it.

"What, is more needed?" Ina said. "Well, I at least have had a
letter from Owen by the hand of Thorgils yesterday. See what is
written in it."

He set the writing in my hand, and turned away while I read it. It
was meant for my sight as well as his, for he had written to Owen
concerning this post for me. And after I had read it all I could
say no more, for Owen told how he would help me in all ways
possible, and also that he knew how Gerent himself would be more
content in knowing that no stranger was to be over the land he had
lost.

So I gave the letter back to the king's hand, and said plainly: "I
think that I may not hold back from what you ask me, my King, after
all that Owen says. Nevertheless I--"

"But I am certain that you will do well," said Ina. "Now I shall
miss my captain about the court, but I need him here. So you must
even stay. There is Owen on the west to help you keep the peace in
one way, and Herewald on the east to help you with the levies if
need be. Fear not, therefore. It is in my mind that you will have
an easier time here than any other I could have bethought me of, if
I had tried."

Then, as in duty bound, I knelt and kissed the hand of the king in
token of homage, and he smiled at me contented.

"You will be the first ealdorman of Devon, Oswald, when the Witan
meets," he said; for it needed the word of the council of the
thanes to give me the rank that was fitting.

Then when I rose up and stood somewhat mazed with the suddenness of
it all, Ethelburga the queen, who had stood by smiling at me now
and then, said: "This is your hall, Oswald, remember. But it needs
one thing yet. You were wrong when you said it was complete."

I looked round and saw nothing wanting, from the hangings on the
wall to the pile of skins on the high place seats.

"There are the pegs for the arms of the house-carles," I said, "but
no arms thereon yet. That will soon be mended. And I have to set up
a head or two of game, to make all homely, maybe?"

"More than that, Oswald," she said, laughing. "Strange how dense a
man can be! It is a mistress who is needed. Else the women of Devon
will have no friend at court."

I laughed, a little foolishly, perhaps, not having any answer at
all, and Ina smiled and went out into the court by himself, saying
that he would not meddle with such matters. So I was left to the
queen by the hearth.

"Jesting apart, Oswald," she said, "I had hoped that vow of yours
would have led to somewhat, and whose fault it was that nought came
of it I do not know. However, no harm seems to have been done, and
that may pass, though indeed Elfrida was a favourite of mine. But
see to it that next time you are no laggard. Now, when are you
going to Dyfed?"

Then I suppose my face told some tale against me, for the queen
laughed softly.

"Soon, Oswald?"

I could not pretend to misunderstand her then, but when it was put
to me so plainly it did not seem to me all so certain that my suit
would fare better than my vow. I had no fear once that the last
would not have been welcome, and was mistaken enough. Now, perhaps
because I was in real earnest, I did doubt altogether.

"What, do you fear that there is no favour for you, my Thane?"
Ethelburga said, with a smile lingering round the corners of her
mouth.

"I do not see how there can be," I answered. "I am not worthy. It
is one thing for the princess to be friendly with me, and another
for her to suffer me to look so high."

I spoke plainly to the queen, as I was ever wont since I was a
child in her train and she the kindly lady to whose hand I looked
for all things, and from whom all my earlier happinesses had come.
She was ever the same, and I know well that her name will be
remembered as one of our best hereafter. It was almost therefore as
mother to son that she spoke to me, rather than as mistress to
servant.

"But you had no doubts at all concerning Elfrida."

"That was foolishness, my Queen, and I see it now. This is
different altogether."

"I know it, and it was my fault in a way. Still, you were then but
the landless house-carle captain, and yet you dared to look up to
the daughter of the ealdorman. Now you are the Thane of Taunton,
and to be the first ealdorman of Saxon Devon, with house and riches
at your back, moreover. And she of whom you think is but the
daughter of a Welsh princelet."

"Nay, my Queen, but she is Nona."

"Go your ways, Oswald," the queen said, laughing--"of a surety you
are in earnest this time. Nay, but I will jest no more, and will
wish you all speed to Pembroke. If there is no welcome, and more,
for you there, I am mistaken, for you deserve all you wish."

So we spoke no more, but joined the king. Presently, when I came to
think of what the queen had said of my changed rank and all that, I
saw that she was right, and it heartened me somewhat. Not that I
thought it would make any difference to Nona, but that it surely
must to Howel, which was a great matter after all.

In a week Ina gathered the Witan of Somerset here to Taunton, first
that the last stone of the fortress should be laid with all
solemnity and due rites, even as the foundation had been laid with
the blessing of Holy Church on it, and then that he might take
counsel for the holding of the new land. Then in full Witan I did
homage and took the oaths that were fitting, and so the king girt
my sword on me afresh as I sat at the foot of his throne as the
first ealdorman of Devon; and the Witan confirmed his choice, also
making sure to me all dues that should come to the man who held the
rank. They seemed well satisfied with the king's choice of me, and
that was a good thing, for I will say that I had somewhat feared
jealousy here and there. I do not think that their approval was due
to any special merit of my own at all, but it was plain that I
stood in a halfway place, as it were, between the two courts in a
way that was in itself enough to make the choice good policy.

After that Ina bade me go to Dyfed, while he was yet in the west,
and would set all things in train for me, choosing my house-carles,
and setting such men as I could work well with in places of trust
in the land. There was much for the king to do yet.

"Therefore take what time you will, Oswald," he said kindly. "You
will be busy enough when you come back, and I can trust you not to
overstay your time. If Owen can come to speak with me bring him,
but that is doubtful yet."

One may suppose that I did not delay then. I sent Evan to Thorgils,
and asked him to give me a passage over, and so had a fortnight to
wait for him, as he was on his way from some voyage westward at the
time. Then a fair summer sailing and a welcome from the Danefolk at
Tenby, where we put in rather than make for the long tidal waters
of Milford Haven against a southwest breeze.

There the Danes must needs set themselves in array in all holiday
gear that I might ride to Pembroke as a prince's foster son, with a
better following than Evan and my half-dozen house-carles, and I
rode with fifty men after me, so that the guard at the palace gates
might have thought that Ina himself had come to see Owen, and there
was bustle of welcome enough.

And so there were wonderful greetings for me, from Owen first, and
afterward from Howel and from Nona, and I will not say much of
them. If one knows what it is to see a father whom one had left
weak and ill, strong and well and fully himself again; if one has
met a good friend after absence; if one knows what it may be to see
again the one who is dearest in thought, there is no need for me to
try and tell the greeting, and if not, I could not make it
understood. Let it be therefore. It was all that I looked for, and
I was more than content.

And yet, for all that, it was a long week before I dared to tell
Nona that which I would, and how I did so is another thing that I
cannot set down. Maybe all that I need say is that I need not have
feared, and that the new hall at Taunton waited for its mistress
from that hour forward.

And so at length I knew that I must be away, and I rode to Tenby to
see Thorgils, and found him in the haven, begrimed and happy, with
men and boys round him at work on the ship everywhere, painting and
scraping in such wise that I hardly knew her. From stem to stern
she was bright green instead of her sea-stained rusty black, and a
broad gilt band ran along her side below the oar ports. A great red
and gold dragon from one of the warships of the Danes reared its
crest on the stem head, while its tail curved in red and gold over
the stern post, and even the mast was painted in red and white
bands, and had a new gilt dog vane at its head.

"Here is finery, comrade," I said. "What is the meaning thereof?"

"Well, if you know not, no man knows. I have a new coat for
tomorrow's wedding, and it is only fit that the ship that takes
home the bride should have one also. Wherefore the old craft will
be somewhat to sing about by the time I have done with her."

Then he showed me a new red-striped sail that Eric had given him,
and an awning for the after deck which the women of the town had
wrought for the shelter of the princess whom they loved. It seemed
like a good speeding to Nona and to me.

And so it was at the end of a fortnight thereafter. It would be
long to tell of the morrow's wedding, and then of days at Pembroke
before we sailed, passed all too quickly for me. But at last we
stood with Owen on the deck of the good ship while all the shore
buzzed with folk, Welsh and Danish alike, who watched us pass from
Dyfed to the Devon coast, cheering and waving with mighty goodwill,
and only Howel seemed lonely as he sat on his white horse, still
and yet smiling, with his men round him, where the cliff looks over
the inner harbour, to see the last for many days of the daughter he
had trusted to my keeping.

We cleared the harbour, and then where she had been lying under the
island flew toward us under thirty oars the best longship that Eric
owned, for it was his word that as the Danes had seen me into
Pembroke by land, so they would see Nona from the shore with a
king's following by sea, and that was well done indeed. The old
chief himself was steering in full arms, and all the rowers were in
their mail and helms, flashing and sparkling wondrously in the sun
as they swung in time to the rowing song as they came. And all down
the gangway amidships between the rowers stood the armed men who
should take their places when their turn came, full sixty warriors,
well armed and mail clad as if they had need to guard us across the
sea.

I suppose that there is no more wonderful sight than such a ship as
this, fresh from her winter quarters, and with her full crew of
three men to an oar in all array for war, and Owen and I gazed at
her in all delight. As for my princess, she had more thought for
the kindliness of the chief in thus troubling himself and his men,
I think, for she could not know the pleasure it gave each man of
the Danes to feel his arms on him and the good ship swinging under
him again after long months ashore.

"There is another ship in the offing," I said to Thorgils
presently, when we, with the Dane just astern of us, were some five
miles from land and had ceased to look back to Tenby. Nona had gone
into the cabin away from the wind, which came a little chill from
the east on the open sea, and maybe also that she felt the chill of
parting from her father more than she would have us know.

"Ay," he said, looking at the far vessel under his hand, "I do not
make out what she is--but if she is a trader--well, our Danes are
likely to get some reward for their trouble. They will not have
come out for nothing."

I laughed, for any trader in the Severn sea knew that he must be
ready to pay more than harbour dues if he had the ill luck to meet
with the Danes. They would make him pay for freedom, but would not
harm him unless he was foolish enough to fight.

So we held on, and the strange sail, which was seemingly beating up
channel against the wind, put about and headed for us somewhat
sooner than Thorgils expected.

"She is making mighty short boards," he said. "She should surely
have headed over to the coast yet awhile. Would have fetched a bit
of a breeze off the land there, maybe."

Thorgils watched this vessel curiously, for there were things about
her which seemed to puzzle him. The men, too, were beginning to
talk of her and watch her. And presently I saw that our consort,
the Dane, had slackened her speed, so that there was a mile of
water between us astern.

"Oh ay," said Thorgils, as I spoke of this, "they mean to pick her
up when we have passed her. They can overhaul her as they like."

Now we drew near to the strange ship, and it seemed to Owen and me,
as we stood side by side on the after deck beside Thorgils at the
helm, that we saw here and there among the men on her deck the
sparkle of arms as she lifted and swayed to the waves. She was a
long black ship, not like the Dane at all, and her sail was three
cornered on a long tapering yard, quite unlike ours, which was
square. Thorgils said that she was a trader from the far south, a
foreigner, even from so far as Spain, though why she was here he
could not tell. Mostly such never came round the Land's End.

"She wants to speak with us," he said presently. "I suppose she has
lost herself in strange waters."

The vessel was right across our bows now, some half mile away, and
her tall sail was flapping in the wind as she hove to. Thorgils put
the helm down so as to pass to windward of her, and as he did so
the sail of the stranger filled again, and she headed as if waiting
to sail with us for a while. Now we could see that many of her
crew, which did not seem large, were armed, and I thought little of
that, seeing that there were Danes about. But Thorgils waxed
silent, and sent a man to the masthead suddenly, for some reason
which was not plain to me.

No sooner was the man there than he shouted somewhat in broad Norse
sea language, which made our skipper start and knit his brows.

"How many?" he asked.

"Like to herrings in a barrel.--More than I can tell," the masthead
man answered.

Then Thorgils turned to us.

"This is more than I can fully fathom," he said, leaning on the
helm a little, so that the ship edged up a trifle closer to the
wind steadily. "She has her weather gunwale packed with men, who
are hiding under it--armed men. On my word, it is well that Eric is
with us."

Owen and I looked at one another. If I had been alone, or with him
only, I think I should have rejoiced in this seeming chance of a
fight at sea, but with Nona and her maidens on board there was a
sort of terror for me in what all this might mean.

No honest vessel hid her men thus, and waited for the coming of two
strangers.

"Get your arms on, prince and comrade," said Thorgils. "It is in my
mind that these are desperate folk of sorts. We are pranked up with
that dragon like any longship, and here is Eric astern of us, and
yet there is some look of fighting in the hiding of these men. Will
they face two of us, or what is it?"

"We may not fight with the lady on board, Thorgils," Owen said
under his breath. "If so be we can get away from them we must. Yet
it will be the first time that Oswald and I have thought of
flying."

"There is no merit in staying for a fight if there is need why one
should be out of it," Thorgils said. "See, she is going to try to
get to windward of us, and now will be a bit of a sailing match."

Then he called one of the men, and he came aft and took a pole with
a round red board on its top from where it hung along the gunwale,
and, standing on the stern rail with his arm round the high stern
post, waved it slowly. He was signalling to Eric as Thorgils bade
him.

The ship forged up into the wind closer and closer, and the spray
flew over her bows as she met the sea. But the strange vessel was
no less weatherly, and kept pace with us, and now Eric was bearing
down on us more or less, sailing a little more free than we, though
he also had to luff somewhat to keep near us, taking a long slant
across our course as we sailed now.

I sent Evan for our arms, for the men were arming silently. They
were in the chests in the fore cabin where I had once been bound,
and Nona knew nought of possible trouble on hand. To keep her from
it altogether I went to the low door of her rude shelter before I
put on my mail, and looked in, telling her to keep the cabin closed
against the spray that was flying, and had a bright smile for my
thought. Then I went back to the deck and armed, and all the while
the two ships reached to windward, but even in that little time I
saw that the stranger had gained on us. The man was at work
signalling to Eric again.

"We shall know if he means fighting in no long time," said Thorgils
to me. "If he does I think that he is going to be surprised."

"How?"

"Well, unless every man on board is clean witless they must deem us
both harmless. Maybe they have heard of a wedding party that is to
cross and are waiting for us. Otherwise it seems impossible that
they will face us and the Dane as well."

Now Eric was back on his old tack, and passing astern of us. I saw
the glint of his oar blades, which had been run out from their
ports ready to take the water if need was presently.

And then we knew that his help would be wanted. Suddenly the
strange ship's head flew up into the wind and she was round on the
other tack, paying off wonderfully quickly; and as she did so, from
under her gunwale, where they could be hidden no longer, rose the
armed men, seeming to crowd her deck in a moment. She was full of
them from stem to stern, and our men shouted. She had won well to
windward of us.

But Thorgils had known what was coming, and had kept his quick eye
on the helmsman of the stranger. Even as her helm went down for the
luff his went up and the men sprang to the sheets, and we were
tearing across her bows even as her sail filled on the new tack,
and heading away lift by lift toward Eric. And Eric hove to to meet
us, and his sail fell and his oars flashed out and took the water,
and he made for us like the sea dragon his ship seemed.

"Down with you men under cover!" roared Thorgils. "Arrows,
comrade!--Down with you!"

The strange ship was only a bow shot from us, if a long one yet,
but she was overhauling us apace.

I saw her men forward bending their bows, and the Norsemen of our
crew came aft with my men under the break of the deck on which we
stood, where they were in cover. Evan ran to me with his shield up.

"Evan," I cried, "shield Thorgils." And I set myself before Owen
with my own shield raised to cover him, and he laughed at me
grimly.

He set his own alongside mine, and we three stood covering
Thorgils. The Norseman's face was set and watchful, but his blue
eyes danced under the knit brows, and I do believe that he was
enjoying the sport.

Ay, and so would I but for her who was so close to me. It was the
first time I had known aught but joy in battle, and what all my
strange new thoughts were I cannot say. I would not pass through
that time again for worlds.

Then the first arrow fled from the enemy toward us, falling short
by a yard or two, and at that there came one who looked like a
chief, and stood on the high bows and hailed us in Welsh.

At sight of him Evan cried out, and Owen started.

"Daffyd of Carnbre, Morfed's kinsman," Owen said to me quietly.
"This is the last of the crew who followed Morgan."

"Likewise the last of Daffyd," Thorgils growled grimly. "Look!"

But I could not. Now the arrow storm swept on us, and all the air
seemed dark with shafts which dimpled the sea like a hailstorm, and
clanged on our shields and smote the decks with a sharp click from
end to end of the vessel. Even at that time I saw that some of the
arrows were British, but more of some outland make with cruelly
barbed heads. One or two went near my helm, and I had several in my
shield, but none of us were hurt.

I had to watch them for the sake of Thorgils, who was unmailed, and
I could not look where he pointed ahead of us.

Then of a sudden the arrows ceased to rain on us, and there went a
cry as of terror from the decks of our enemy. The wild war song of
the Tenby Danes rose ahead of us, and I turned and looked. Eric was
close on us, and his men had risen from under the gunwales, where
they too had been hiding until the foe was in their grasp, and now
the dragon was on her prey, and that prey knew it. And yet Evan had
need to shield me as I turned, for the chief whom they called
Daffyd was urging his men to shoot, and himself snatched a bow and
loosed an arrow at us harmlessly.

It was wonderful. Under the sweep of the thirty long oars the
dragon ship tore past us, hurling the white foam from her sharp
bows, while the thunder of war song and breaking wave and rolling
oars filled my ears and set our men leaping and cheering as they
saw her. Eric was on the high forecastle, and he waved his broad
axe at us gleefully, and all along the decks the fighting men stood
above the armed rowers; one shielding the toiler, and one with bent
bow ready, steady as oaks on the reeling deck, and cheering us also
with lifted weapons.

The foe saw, and her oars ran out too late. The dragon met her, and
thus, checking her speed as she passed her, swept her crowded deck
with arrows at half range; and yet the foe held on after us, for
the men of Daffyd and of Morgan were bent on ending Owen if they
themselves must die. The arrows were about us again, and Eric must
turn and be back to our help. It seemed that the foe would be on us
before that help could come.

I did not know the handiness of the longship under oars. She was
about even as I looked again from the foe to her. And her sail was
hoisted, and under that and oars alike she was back on the foe; and
then the men of Daffyd forgot him and us in the greater business of
caring for themselves, and left him raving on the foredeck, to seek
shelter while they might.

Then I suppose the helmsman was shot, for the ship luffed
helplessly, and in a moment the stem of the viking was crashing on
her quarter, and the grappling irons were fast to her. Thorgils
laughed and luffed at once.

"Somewhat to sing of," he said cheerfully, as he hove to to watch
the fight.

That it was in all truth. We were but a bow shot off, and could see
it all. We heard the ships grinding together, and we heard the
shout of the Danes and the outland yells of the Welsh, and we saw
the vikings swarming on board while the axes flashed and the war
song rose again.

"Eric has a mind to pay them for nigh spoiling a wedding voyage,"
quoth our Norseman.

It was no long fight, for I suppose that there are men of no race
who can stand before the Northmen at sea, at least since we have
forgotten the old ship craft of our forefathers. From stem to stern
Eric led his men, sweeping all before him, some foemen even leaping
overboard out of the way of the terrible axes, and so meeting
another death. I think that the Welsh chief Daffyd was the last to
fall before old Eric himself. And then was a great cheer from the
two ships, and after it silence.

Then Eric hailed us, and Thorgils ran out his oars, and we went
alongside the Danish ship. And at that time Nona came from the
cabin, and called me, looking wonderingly at the arrows that
littered the deck at her feet.

"Oswald, what is it all?--Do the good Danes leave us?"

Then she saw my mail, and paled a little.

"Fighting! and I not with you?" she cried. "Is any one hurt?"

But I went to her side and told her how things had gone, asking her
to bide in the shelter yet, for we had things to see that were not
for her. And so she went back again and closed the door, being
assured that the danger had passed.

We went on board the Danish ship, for there was not enough sea to
prevent our lying gunwale to gunwale for a moment. Both Owen and I
would find out if possible how all this came about. There was a row
of captives on the deck of the enemy waiting question, and I looked
down on them from beside Eric.

Swarthy men and black haired they were, speaking no tongue which we
knew, and one of them was black as his hair. I had never seen a
black man before, and he seemed uncanny. The Danes were staring at
him also, and he was grinning at them with white teeth through
thick lips in all unconcern. Many of these men had chains on their
legs, and this black among them.

"Chained to the oar benches they were, poor thralls," Eric said.
"We could not bide that, so we cut them free. Then they fell on
their lords and rent them."

Owen shuddered. He had seen the southern galleys before, and knew
why no man was left alive of the foreigners who had fought. Our kin
do not slay the wounded. But there were some Britons left among the
captives, and one of them cried to Owen by name for mercy.

We had that man on board the Dane and questioned him, and learnt
all. He had no reason to hide aught when he was promised safety.

Daffyd had heard that we were to cross from Tenby, having had all
the doings of Owen spied upon since the winter. Then he learned
that when I came over Owen was to return, and therefore he had my
doings watched also. He hired this foreign ship in Marazion, where
she put in for trade just as he was wondering how to compass our
end on the journey, promising her fierce crew gold of his own and
all plunder there might be, if they would help him to an easy
revenge. So they came into the Severn sea, and lay for a fortnight
or more under Lundy Island, watching for us as a cat watches for a
mouse, and getting news now and then from Welsh fishers from
Milford Haven.

It was from them that Daffyd learned of my wedding, and so it came
to pass that neither he nor the strangers thought for a moment that
our two ships held aught but passengers and much plunder, with a
princess to hold to ransom, moreover, for the taking. They took no
account of the few house-carles we might have with us, and even I
knew nought of the crossing of the armed Danish ship with us, which
was planned so that it came as a pleasant surprise to us all.
Thorgils was right, and it had been a terrible one for them.

So the plunder fell to Eric, and it was worth having. There was the
ship and arms and captives, and the gold of Daffyd, and that of the
traders, moreover, with some strange and precious woven goods from
southern looms, silken and woollen, which yet remained in the hold,
wondrous to look on.

Now, in halting words enough I went to thank Eric and his men for
that which he had done for me and mine, which indeed was more than
I knew how to put into words.

"Hold on, comrade," he said, staying me. "I will tell you somewhat.
Good friends enough we are with Howel nowadays, but it was not
always so. It was the doing of your fair princess that things came
not to blows between us at one time, for we held that he was
unreasonable in some matter of scatt {iv} to be paid. She
settled that matter for us with wise words, and we hold that to her
we owe it that we are in Tenby today. Howel could starve us out any
time he chose. And that the prince will own to you if you ask him,
being an honest man, if hasty. We shall miss Nona the princess
sorely--good luck to her."

Then he must needs have all the bales of rich goods set on board
our ship, as a wedding present to Nona, and so set a crew on board
the prize, and she left us, heading homewards to Tenby. We went
back to our own ship at once after this was done, but Eric would
see us safely to Watchet before he was satisfied, and so we took up
the quiet passage again, little harmed enough. Eric had a few
wounded men, but we had not suffered from the arrows.

Presently the stars came out, and Nona and I sat with Owen under
the awning in the quiet of the calm sea, while the men rowed under
the shadow of the sail that held a little wind enough to help them
homeward, and we went over all the things that the day had brought
us. And Owen said:

"Now you may be at rest concerning me, Oswald, for there is not one
left to lift a hand against me of whom I need think twice. Daffyd
was the last of the crew to which Morgan and Tregoz and Dunwal
belonged, for Gerent has the rest in ward safely; and there they
will bide, if I know aught of him, until I have to beg him to set
them free beyond the shores of Cornwall."

I will say now that this was true, for thence forward no man lifted
hand or voice against my foster father. The war and its hopeless
ending quieted the men whom Morfed had led, and there was peace, in
which men turned to Owen as the one who could keep it, and had
given wise counsel which was once disregarded.

So it came to pass that I took home Nona with me, and set her as
princess in the hall at Taunton amid the rejoicing of all the Welsh
folk who were under me; for, as Ethelburga the queen had said, they
knew that they had a friend in her. And here we have bided ever
since, and are happy in home and friends and work, for all seems to
have gone well with us. And as to those good friends of ours, there
may yet be a little to tell before I set the pen aside.

Owen passed to Exeter at the time we came home, for he would see
his uncle before he went to speak with Ina. But presently he was
back with us at Taunton, bearing with him a wondrous present for
the bride from Gerent, and good and friendly words for me which
promised well for the peace of the border, at least while he lived.
And seeing that he lives yet, with Owen at his right hand, that has
been a long time.

Now Owen comes and goes, and none think it strange that he is most
friendly with Ina, for men have learnt that in the peace of the two
realms is happiness.

Presently Jago came back to Norton, for I needed some British
adviser at hand, for Evan, faithful and well trusted as he is as
our honest steward, and able to tell me of the needs of the people,
knows nought of the greater laws and ways, and Herewald minded me
of him. They had ever been good friends, and I could fully trust
him. So he rebuilt his house at Norton, where the land lay waste
round the old Roman walls which our Saxons hate, and there he is
now, helping me mightily with his knowledge of the Welsh customs,
which I do not wish to interfere with more than needful.

For, in the wisdom of Ina, we did not follow the old plan of
driving out and enslaving all the Welsh folk in this new-won land,
as had been the rule in the days of the first coming of our
forefathers when Saxons were few. Those manors whose owners had
fallen or would not bide under the new rule, Ina gave to thanes of
his own, and the men of Somerset and Dorset took what land they
would where the freeman had left them, but all others he left under
new and even-handed laws in peace.

So I had to content the men of both races as well as I could, and
men say that I wrought well. At least, I have had no murmuring, and
I may deem that they are right.

As one may suppose, there is no more welcome guest in our hall than
Thorgils, and at times he brings Eric or some other Tenby Dane with
him if a ship happens to cross hither. Once a year also he brings
Howel, and there is feasting in our hall, Saxon and Norseman,
Briton of the west and Briton from over sea together in all good
fellowship.

One evening it came to pass that Thorgils sat in our hall, which
was bright with the strange stuffs that came from the ship of
Daffyd, and we talked of the old ship a little, after he had sung
to us. And then I said idly:

"She must be getting old, comrade. When am I to give you that new
craft we once spoke of?"

Whereon he looked at Nona suddenly, and said:

"I mind that old promise. But now there is a ship of another sort
that will be a better present. I will ask for that."

"What is it?"

"Build us a church at Watchet, and set there a priest who shall
teach us the way of the Christian. We have seen you forego a blood
feud and do well to the innocent man whom our faith would have
bidden you slay, and it is good. We know you for a brave warrior,
and your faith has not taken the might from your heart as we were
told it must. Only let the priest be a Saxon."

Then he added, as if thinking aloud:

"Ay, Odin and Thor and the rest of the Asir are far off from us
here. Our old faith falls from us, and we are ready for the new.
Let it be soon."

There I think that the hand of Nona wrought, for the Norse folk
fairly worshipped her. So it was not long before that good friend
of mine, the Abbot of Glastonbury, found me the right man, and one
day thereafter Nona and I stood sponsors for Thorgils and one or
two more whom we knew well, at the font in the new church which the
gold of Mordred built instead of the ship, and soon all the little
town was Christian in more than name.

There is happiness at Eastdean, and we meet with Erpwald and
Elfrida at the house of her father now and then, and they have been
here also. But I have never had time to go to Eastdean again,
though it is a promise that we will do so when we may.

It is the word of Ina my master that all things go well where I
bear rule for him, and I fear little blame, if little praise may be
for me, when Owen comes to us from time to time. If there is any
praise, it is due to my fair British princess, who is my best
adviser in all things.

So there is peace; and some day, and that no distant one, there
will grow up here a new race in the west, wrought of the blood of
Saxon and Briton and Norseman; and the men of that Devon and
Somerset that shall be, will have the doggedness of the Saxon and
the fire of the Welsh and the boldness of the Norse, to be first of
all England, maybe, in peace and in war, on shore and at sea. And
that will have been brought to pass by the wisdom of Ina, whose
even laws are held the wisest that the race of Hengist has ever
known.

It is in my mind that the lesson of the wisdom of equal rights for
all men, whether conquered or conqueror, is one that will bide with
us in the days to come, and be our pride.

Now it seems that I have told my story so far as any will care to
hear it. But if there has been aught worth telling it has centered
round that one who took me from the jaws of the wild wolf in the
Andredsweald. First in my heart, and first in the hearts of his
people now at last, must be set the name of my foster father,
Owen--the Prince of Cornwall.

THE END.

Book of the day: