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Title: Star of Mercia - Historical Tales of Wales and the Marches
Author: Devereux, Blanche
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  Star of Mercia

  Historical Tales of Wales and the
  Marches _by_ Blanche Devereux


  _With an Introduction by_ Ernest Rhys


  Jonathan Cape
  Eleven Gower Street, London


  _First published 1922
  All rights reserved_

  _Printed in Great Britain by_ Butler & Tanner, _Frome and London_



INTRODUCTION


There are three reading-publics to which a tale-writer who attempts the
uncertain business of writing about Wales may appeal. One is the
homebred Welsh public that asks for a tale in the old tongue, _yr hen
iaith_, and has never been quite satisfied, I believe, by any novel or
short story about its life, or its real or romantic concerns, written
in English. The second is the quasi-Celtic public, which may or may
not know the _Mabinogion_ or Borrow's _Wild Wales_, and is glad of
anything that gets the romance atmosphere. The third is the ordinary
fiction-loving English public, which asks for a good story, rather
likes a Welsh background as in Blackmore's _Maid of Sker_ (a much
better book than _Lorna Doone_ to my mind), and does not trouble about
the fidelity of the local colour in the reality of the setting. It is
from the second and third of these audiences that Miss Devereux can
look to gain her "creel-full of listeners," as the story of _The Yellow
Hag_ has it.

She has, to begin with, the genuine tale-teller's power of using a
motive, a bit of legend, or a proverbial and stated episode, and giving
it fresh life and something original out of her own fantasy. In her way
of narrative, she does not adopt any rigorous ancientry. She has a
sporting sense in dealing with an archaic character like _Mogneid_,
and is satisfied to see him hammer at a door with the butt of his
riding-whip. She will make _Gildas_ and _St. David_ or _Dewi Sant_,
collogue as they never did in the old time before us; and devise a
comedy and a drunkard's tragedy of her own for a wicked old sinner like
King _Gwrthyrn_, just as she mixes chalk and charcoal freely in the
Saxon cartoons that follow the Welsh. The important thing is, she makes
her people live, and by the bold infusion of the same old human nature
with prehistoric Welsh and old chronicler's English, she succeeds in
creating a region of her own. It is not literally Cymric or Saxon; but
it is instinct with the fears, loves, hopes and appetites that never
decay, and realizes alike the drunkard's glut and the saint's mixed
piety and shrewd sense.

In her story of _Saint David_ she has gone to the old "Lives" and the
documents for some of her colour. There are passages that may terrify
the modern reader, who has no Welsh and does not know how to pronounce
_Amherawdwr_ (the Welsh form of imperator or emperor), _Dyfnwal_,
_Llywel_ or _Cynyr_. The average English reader who is brought up on
soft and sibilant C's and i-sounding Y's will probably end by turning
the last name into "sinner" in vain compromise. And possibly Miss
Devereux is too hard on the average un-Celtic reader; for though she
turns _Gwy_ into Wye, she retains _Dyfi_ for Dovey. But these are the
pleasant little inconsistencies that exist in every English writer,
from Shakespeare and Ben Jonson to Sir Walter Scott and George
Meredith, who has attacked the impregnable old fortress of the British
tongue.

It is interesting to compare the two tales of wilder Wales with those
of Mercia and Saxondom that succeed them in this mixed story-book. The
first are realized almost entirely, you will discover, from the man's
point of view. The Saxon tales are more intimately felt, and realized
from the woman's dramatic angle. It is avowedly so in the chronicle of
Winifred, Ebba's daughter, telling the grim love-story of Earl Sweyn
the Nithing and Algive. This is in texture, and reality of presentment,
maintaining the pseudo-archaic mode with just the faintest reminder of
the modern tale-teller pulling the puppet-strings, on the whole the
completest of all these new-old tales. In the portrait of Algive,
tenderly and joyously painted, there is a faint reminiscence of a
Celtic romance-heroine like Olwen (in the _Mabinogion_), which adds to
the charm. And in other ways it will be found by the story-loving and
unprejudiced reader, who reads for the pleasure of the thing, and not
for criticism or edification, that these _Tales of Two Regions_ gain by
carrying over at times the atmosphere of the one--never so lightly
indicated--into the actual presentment of the other.

ERNEST RHYS.

1922.



CONTENTS


                                          PAGE

INTRODUCTION                                 5

GWRTHEYRN THE DRUNKARD                      11

DEWI SANT                                   35

STAR OF MERCIA                              65

EARL SWEYN THE NITHING                      86

EDITH'S WELL                               109

RICHARD THE SCROB                          120



Gwrtheyrn the Drunkard

"_Vortigern of repulsive lips, who, drunken, gave up the Isle of Thanet
to Hengist._"

--WELSH TRIADS.


Mogneid son of Votecori tapped upon the lintel of the open doorway and
called "Ho, there! Is there refreshment for wayfarers?" From within
came a luxurious sound of snoring. Mogneid muttered a curse, and began
to hammer impatiently with the butt of his riding-whip. The father of
the household coughed, rolled heavily from his bed of rushes, and
appeared at the door--an old man, blinking with sleep, but collected
and courteous.

"What, lord?" said he. "There is tired you are now! How may I serve
you? Please you share the shelter of my roof till evening!"

"Nay, not so," Mogneid replied, "I am in haste to reach my journey's
end. Give us to drink, sir, I pray you--beer, milk, or water--what you
will--anything! We are dried up with this dust! And tell me, if you
can, how far hence dwells Gwrtheyrn the King?"

Without waiting to answer, the old man hobbled away, and returned a few
minutes later with a big stone pitcher and two little cups of horn.

"Alack, my friend," he grumbled, "they have taken all the beer. They
are all gone to mow the hay, look you, my son and the women! and I am
left to milk the cows and tend the livestock. Sore thing it is that old
age comes so soon! Well, lord, if ye will not stay to cleanse your feet
and enter my dwelling, let us at least converse in the shade. Here is
new milk, that quenches thirst." He led Mogneid and his four
serving-men beneath the boughs of a great hawthorn-tree, the only
ornament of his straw-littered, pig-frequented entrance-yard.

"Seek ye King Gwrtheyrn?"

He dropped thankfully on to a low seat surrounding the tree trunk, and
Mogneid sat down beside him, quaffed at the creamy liquor, and wiped
the dust and sweat from his countenance. The traveller was a
middle-aged man, thin and muscular, with a dark grizzled beard, and
vague-looking light blue eyes that missed sight of nothing that went on
around him. Upon the backs of his hands was tattooed a mystic design of
circles interlaced.

"I am from the land of Dyfed, reverend sir," he answered, "and I travel
to the court of Gwrtheyrn son of Guitaul, lord of Ewyas, of Erging, and
of Caer Glouwy. My folk were somewhat akin to his, many a generation
ago, and there is talk of a marriage between my niece and a lord of
Gwent who follows King Gwrtheyrn. If I mistake not greatly, I am now
not very far from my kinsman's palace."

"Noble lord," his host rejoined, "if ye be akin to Gwrtheyrn our King,
doubtless ye lament, as we do, his fall from greatness. Our Gwrtheyrn,
heaven protect him! was lord of all the armies of Britain--like the
commanders of the Romans, see you now; and in truth a very great prince
is he; none braver, or taller, or more just and more generous. But the
pirates came by sea on every side; and those Britons of the East--they
cannot fight like us men of the west; so King Gwrtheyrn sought to
procure peace, that the land might have time to rest and gather her
strength. When the chieftains of the Saxons, or Jutes, as they call
that tribe of them, came to confer with him, they feasted well
together, and Gwrtheyrn looked with eyes of love upon the daughter of
Hengist the Jute; and he wedded her, and gave to her kinsmen a parcel
of land in Kent, to hold under him, that they might aid him to beat off
all other robbers. But after this there was no peace at all. God's
curse on the Saxon ruffians! Would they keep within their boundaries,
think you? Nay, they disquieted the Britons upon every side. Then the
lords of Britain, with old Emrys at their head, grew angry, and refused
to follow Gwrtheyrn longer: even Gwrthefyr, his son by the Roman woman,
declared for another Amherawdwr[1] and other ways. So what was left to
Gwrtheyrn, when they had taken from him the government of Britain, but
to dwell here in the land of his fathers, amongst his own natural born
people, and rule over us?--and there is well he does rule over us--yes,
yes! I and my sons were with him in his army, in the grand old
days--not so very long ago, truly. And behold me now--a life fit for a
cart-horse! And I a free tribesman of Gwrtheyrnion!"

          [1] Imperator.

"Why, from thy saying," said Mogneid, "thou bearest great love to
Gwrtheyrn."

"Indeed yes!" cried the old man. "These are ill times we live in!
Emrys commands in Britain now, or would command--but when all is said
and done, he is only lord of Morganwg. And he is a stark Roman, who
will have all things cut and dried about him. I tell you, I have a
very little opinion of these Romans, and of them who follow in their
steps. I have often heard my father tell of them. They came to our
land, and cut down our fair sheltering forests, and carried away our
fighting men to their own wars, so that Britain was left naked to the
Saxons. As for their priests--sir, I perceive you to be from the west,
where, I hear, priests are few.... Well, well! father Pewlin says,
when the ague torments me, 'Pray that thou mayest be given strength to
bear the trial.' Not such for me! I have fastened a scrap of my
clothing above the old healing--well out yonder."

"The old gods are indeed very wise! And Gwrtheyrn son of Guitaul? How
does he pass his time?"

"Alack that I must tell it! Is the caged beast as princely and as
mighty as he that roams abroad where he will?... Sometimes he hunteth
the stag or the boar--and there is metheglin, or wine, perchance--and
good beer. What else is left to our lord Gwrtheyrn? he who was a hero
in good King Arthur's time! That fat-faced Queen--I trow she is no
stay to him! 'The sweet Verge of Drunkenness!' That was a song my
father used to sing."

"Most honoured sir," Mogneid broke in, "I thank you very heartily for
your kind entertainment. But I must press on upon my road. I shall
praise your hospitality to my noble cousin, believe you me. Tell me, I
pray you, how soon I may be with him?"

"Fifteen miles and more is Caer Gwrtheyrn from here. Cross you
Clywedog and Ithon both. From the ford of Ithon there is a bridle-track
the whole way. May the Saints and Mary keep you! and all the powers
that be! May you suffer no violence, and may no goblin or hound of
hell affright you!"

"May all the powers bless you, my father! May the She-Greyhound of the
Heavens,[2] who maketh fat both land and cattle, favour you! Fare ye
well!"

          [2] Ceridwen.

Mogneid and his little train set forth once more. They reached the
glen of Trawscoed in the cool of the evening when the sky was aglow
with amber lights and calm turquoise depths.

Caer Gwrtheyrn, the residence of the King of this country, which took
the name of Gwrtheyrion from its then lord, rose a mile or so before
them, upon the heights of Mynydd Denarch. As the Demetian cast his eye
over the surrounding country, in the east, upon the track that
descended from the hills of Gref-o-dig and Bron-y-Garn-llwyd, he
caught sight of what looked to him like the glint of the sun on steel
helmet and corslet.

Mogneid lost no time. He quickened his pace, and reached the gateway
of Caer Gwrtheyrn in about fifteen minutes. Soon the customary ritual
was fulfilled: his feet were bathed by the porter, to signify his
acceptance of hospitality for the night, and the King's door-keeper
ushered him into the castle hall.

It was dark already there. The torches smoked foully. There was a
manifold smell of beer, roast meat, barley-broth, rosemary and
woodruff, dogs and humanity. Mogneid felt that he could never find his
way except perhaps by the sense of touch. Presently a loud, harsh
voice rang out:

"Who is it? Who? What say you? Thou didst not inquire? What have I
told thee? I will have the name and ancestry of every considerable
visitor to my house--announced to me"--the voice spoke thickly--"as
has always been my wont! Curse thee for a numskull! Whom have we
here?"

Mogneid, who had reached the head of the board, looked up, and saw,
scowling down upon him, a gigantic, loosely-built personage, of
dignified bearing for all his violence--the wreck of a fine man, with
a flushed face and swollen, bloodshot eyes--Gwrtheyrn, King of
Gwrtheyrnion, Erging and Ewyas, whom the Britons had deposed from the
sovereignty of them all for all his ill-judged policy and for what
they deemed extravagant, un-British notions--Gwrtheyrn the Goidel, of
the foreign "repulsive" lips.[3]

          [3] Supposedly so called from his Goidelic accent in speaking
          British.

"Gracious lord," said Mogneid, "it is your humble kinsman, Mogneid,
son of Votecori, son of Maelumi, from the land of Dyfed, praying that
he may sojourn awhile under the King's protection. There is a family
matter in question, O Gwrtheyrn, in which I seek the aid of the
chieftain of my tribe."

"Son of Votecori!" cried Gwrtheyrn, with outstretched hand. "My
father's cousin's son! Now welcome, kinsman. Ho! bring meat and wine
for the Lord Mogneid! Thou must eat ere we further confer."

Seated by the side of his host, the new-comer feasted upon broiled
mutton-chops, which were carried in from without, for during the
summer weather Gwrtheyrn's food was cooked in a kitchen in an
outhouse. The King's hall was crowded, but the company presented few
elements of interest to the man of Dyfed. The Jutish Queen sat upon
Gwrtheyrn's other hand, counting the stitches in her needlework; she
had a broad face, a square full chin, and heavy auburn plaits. There
were a few old women, her attendants; the huntsmen, servants, and
men-at-arms; some rustic noblemen, talkative and disputatious; and
some half-dozen of the King's pages or foster-sons, who squabbled in
whispers over noughts and crosses chalked upon the empty hearth-stone.

"Lord," said Mogneid, "there come others to claim hospitality of thee
ere nightfall, I do think. As I looked back upon the eastern valley, I
beheld a party of horsemen, clad in steel armour, such as the Romans
wear."

"Art clever, kinsman," Gwrtheyrn replied. "It is Emrys, to a
certainty! or emissaries of his! Well that we are warned. They shall
be warmly received, I promise!"

"Whence comes Ambrosius?" Mogneid asked. "As I travelled hither, I
heard of him at Caerdydd."

"Look you, cousin," said Gwrtheyrn, "Ambrosius and I have some
contention toward, concerning my lordship of Buallt, of which this
overweening person claims the right to dispose, forsooth!--One cup
more, kinsman Mogneid; it is of the Kentish vintage. Now when these
Romanizers----"

"They are here," said Mogneid.

In truth, the clatter of horses' hooves resounded outside the
building, and the voices of men. Twenty mail-clad soldiers entered the
hall, with a keen-faced leader at their head.

"Greeting, King Gwrtheyrn," the officer cried, "from Ambrosius the
Imperator!"

"Greeting!" returned Gwrtheyrn shortly. "What would the Lord Emrys say
to us by your lips?"

"Thus says Aurelius Ambrosius to you, O Gwrtheyrn King of Erging: The
renowned and mighty lord Ambrosius himself is now at Buallt, whither
he is come to bestow the lordship of those lands--which are his as
much as thine by hereditary right, be it said--upon the valiant prince
Pascent thy son, for fitting appanage and livelihood. And he charges
thee, O Gwrtheyrn, to attend him straightway, upon the morrow, to
witness the installation of thy said son in all due form and order."

"Fore God!" Gwrtheyrn roared, "this is passing insolence! Hence to thy
master, sir, and tell him that Gwrtheyrn permits not that another
force from him what is his own! Or if it be too late now to make the
return journey, why, there are my villeins' cow-houses at your service
for the night. Ye shall have a guard set over you while ye are
sleeping. Out of our presence, instantly, by blessed Paul!"

"So be it," said the soldier. "We will back to the lord of Britain."

While they were departing, the Queen and her women rose and withdrew.
The foster-children went out into the twilit courtyard to play; the
servants, after removing the dishes and the victuals, one by one left
the room. Mogneid drew his seat closer to that of Gwrtheyrn.

"Ticklish fellows, these mongrel Romans," he observed.

The King was drinking deeply; the veins of his forehead still throbbed
with rage and shame. By and by he put down his cup, and began to talk,
with much gesticulation.

"Romans! Romans! Romans! Curse them all, high and low, up and down!...
Ambrosius their tyrant, to the lousiest beggar's brat--and----What
good are they to the clans of Britain?--with their fine habits and
their sickly vices? What good to me was my wife Severa, Maxen's
daughter? Ye see what sons she brought me--Gwrthefyr, and Cyndeyrn,
and Pascent--cleave to Ambrosius, and forsake their own father! Here,
in the west, are men mightier and taller and braver than all their
enfeebled town-dwellers. Good fighting Goidels...."

"All men do know as much," said the other. "For my part, I would that
my kinsmen were the chief men of the land."

"God!" panted Gwrtheyrn. "What is gone is gone--for ever." He looked
upon his companion with a watery eye. "Thou art verily welcome, good
Mogneid. A man is always glad to gossip with one of his own blood,
especially after long time of dreariness. Few guests knock at my
castle-gate--we are out of the run of life nowadays, alas! alas!"

The monotony and the squalor were all too evident.

"It were surely unjust," said Mogneid, in soothing tones, "that Buallt
should be taken from thee."

"And shall I suffer it? I have my favourite hunting-lodge in that
lordship. They are my lands--my lands! It pleases me to dwell there!"
Gwrtheyrn shouted with maudlin vehemence.

"What is your purpose, O King?"

"Well, that--I know not. But he shall not have my lands! Look you,
kinsman, it is near the harvest-time: I think my men will not come
willingly to arms."

"Then speak Ambrosius fair, biding thy time. Go not to Buallt, if thou
like not the indignity; and when the harvest is over, levy thy forces
and win back thine own. Is there difficulty in this?"

"All the priests are ever on the old fox's side. A man cannot well
struggle if he have holy Church against him. These are evil days
indeed. They meddle in everything, these rascally adze-heads.[4] Now
in the days of old, we could worship whom we would, aye, and how we
would. Prosperous days!... There were the sacred fires at the spring
and at the fall--those were things of power; they made the earth yield
bravely and plenteously. I remember I have run through the bonfires,
myself, many a time, when I was a child. And the magic of the wise
ones--I swear each spell was worth ten blessings of a priest!"

          [4] Celtic priests, from their form of tonsure.

"The King speaks soothly. In Dyfed there are many who do think as we,
and who will scarcely permit the new-fangled faith to show its head.
It is not too late, O King, to throw off the yoke of the Romanizers.
Ye are all the world yet to your own people; they hate to see you idle
and dispossessed. There are many men of my country eager to rise at
your bidding: I know their minds."

"Cousin, this is a cheerful saying! Thy coming has filled me with
hope."

"Know then that the ancient wisdom is mine, perfectly: from my
childhood was I trained up in it by the last survivors of the
venerable sacred order. Listen, then, my lord, that should be King of
all the kings of Britain, to the words of the high gods that they have
spoken unto Mogneid! Thus and thus, O Gwrtheyrn, foretold the entrails
of the slave-boy accepted of Ceridwen...."

                 *       *       *       *       *

"Lord King," said Eliseg the chief huntsman, "it is not meet, nor is
it wise, to talk of intimate matters with the scavenger of the
by-ways. In other words, master, there is an old crafty bird, called
cuckoo, who stealeth the nests of others that his own offspring may
grow and flourish. Few have seen the cuckoo, but there are some that
have had sight of him. The cuckoo is perfectly familiar to me."

"Aye, so," said Dyfnwal the King's chamberlain.

"By Hu the Mighty! speak plainly, Eliseg, or else hold thy tongue,
thou naughty rogue!" cried Gwrtheyrn; but he smiled upon his trusty
servant.

"Lord, I think ye cannot know what ye are about. The cuckoo of my
simile, look you, he is the new-come guest, the lord from Dyfed, from
whom the King has no secrets. This is not the first time this man has
crossed my way. In Dyfed I was born, and there my wife's parents do
still dwell. O King, this is Mogneid the Druid, of very evil fame!"

"The devil take thee for a lying slanderer! Mogneid is near of kin to
me, within the nine degrees. He is a worthy prince, and fit to company
me in all my undertakings. Well, and if he be learned in the ancient
wise things--what can we show to-day to compare with the might of our
forefathers?"

"By my dogs and my horns and my leashes! King Gwrtheyrn," said Eliseg,
"we seek not to meddle impertinently, Dyfnwal and I, look you. But I
have served you four and thirty years, and Dyfnwal thirty, day in and
day out, in storm and shine, and we would not, for the love we bear
you, that ye should now ride for a fall."

"We speak as your friends," Dyfnwal grunted.

"It is a dangerous reptile ye have sheltered," continued the other.
"Dreaded is he throughout the land of Dyfed for his unfathomable
deeds. He has all the art of the Druids; and he is the last of the
brood, God be praised! The days of darkness are over, my king: men
will no longer take succour from the wiles of devils, thanks be to the
Lord Christ and to Mary the dear Lady of mankind!"

"Will ye hold your peace?" stormed the King. "Get you gone, both of
you, or I will have your tongues slit for you! What next, what next, I
ask you?"

"The tantrums of him!" said Eliseg, when they two were outside the
door. "Dyfnwal, look you, I fear that this fellow will bring peril
upon the King. He was never up to good from the hour wherein he first
drew breath. He is up and down the country, about and about, each day,
questioning every gaffer and goodwife, every lad, lass, and babe that
will waste the precious hours talking with him. Already Lord Gwrtheyrn
is never from the metheglin. We must let nothing escape us, lest our
master be undone."

"I have eyes," said Dyfnwal. "I use them."

"Hist! I see him," exclaimed the huntsman. "Grows there gold in the
villeins' hay-meadow, think you?"

Within the hall, Gwrtheyrn raged and muttered. When his wrath began to
cool, he felt the want of the congenial society of Mogneid. This
King's life was a lonely one. The Queen spent hours at spinning and
carding, weaving and embroidery; and although she would listen,
nodding and smiling, at any time to her husband's remarks, she seldom
spoke, and her thoughts seemed always far away, at rest upon things
serene and pleasant. So it came about that he seldom sought her
company. Why must his kinsman tarry so long from him? wondered
Gwrtheyrn. He gulped down a cupful of metheglin, and then another, and
subsided into a chair, to wait.

Mogneid came up the hill, smiling to himself. He knew the lie of the
country of Gwrtheyrnion well by now, and the disposition of its
people. He entered the castle hall. To his surprise, early in the day
though it was, Gwrtheyrn sat propping himself nicely in his chair of
state: a gold cup, relic of the sack of some Romano-British villa, lay
at his feet, and there were splashes of metheglin on the floor. The
King's mood was benign and expansive.

"Want thee--tell me," he greeted him. "Old preaching devil! Alleluia!
and they all ran away! Whatshisname?"

"Garmon, perhaps," answered Mogneid. Affecting indifference, he
watched his kinsman narrowly.

"Garmon--yes--yes--that's he. Father of the king of devils! Well,
Garmon--he's here. He's sent me a message." ... Gwrtheyrn seized his
cousin's arm. "I'll tell thee a secret. Knowest thou my first wife's
niece? Knowest her? A most sweet lass! She came to me, two years ago,
being widowed and very young, and having no protector. I have her now,
in the little summer dwelling of Rhaiadr Gwy. None know--the Queen
knows not. Well.... It has leaked out somehow.... Holy Garmon sends to
tell me that we are a scandal far and wide, and bids me mend my way of
life. The old fool! Calls her my daughter! Understand, she's not my
daughter. Not my daughter! Wife's niece!"

"Thou must send her away!" cried Mogneid.

"Don't want to send her away. 'Tis a pretty chuck--she pleases me....
Besides"--he beamed--"we have a son."

"All this is nought!" Mogneid insisted harshly. "Will you risk all we
have schemed for, my lord, for one girl? Put her from you, I say!"

He had used too rough a tone. A look of distress crept across the
stupor of the King's countenance.

"This priesthood! 'tis a cursed powerful thing," he said, with the
stirrings of cunning apparent. "Old Garmon--he has the ear of
Ambrosius. And these Christians show forth miracles in plenty."

"My lord, they are not the only wonder-workers. Can it be that the
wise men of old, who raised the giant stones for the temples, and
forged the swords and shields that none now can fashion, were weaker
than these unlettered saints? And their lore abides in me, and in some
few instructed ones in the west country. Now, Gwrtheyrn, my king, what
can a man's will do not, if he foster and train it by supernatural
discipline? And what is the first work of the will but to sink our
enemies?"

"What is the end of man, Mogneid?" said Gwrtheyrn. "Shall he be born
again, Mogneid? Perhaps from the crop of a hen? Shall he? From the
crop of a hen!"[5]

          [5] Gwrtheyrn had Taliesin's mystical account of his
          incarnations in mind.

"There is no end to the soul," Mogneid replied. "And every soul
returns to a body when he may find one. Come, O King, take heart. We
shall trample upon the necks of Ambrosius and Garmon."

"Kinsman, do what you can," said the King. "I rely on you."

Mogneid left him then, and sought the Queen's apartment. He despised
the King's wife, but as a tool she might be useful.

Gwrtheyrn, sobered now, beat his brow in turmoil of another sort.

"Beast or bird"--he cried--"man or woman--or wandering, bodiless
spirit! Or purgation by fire--or to roast in flames for ever! I
believe--I believe in hell! God--if Thou beest God ... O Christ,
Christ! I am lost--I cannot repent!"


Germanus of Auxerre and his colleague Lupus came to Caer Gwrtheyrn,
aflame with zeal for God and for the Church. In his palace hall they
upbraided King Gwrtheyrn, calling him the shame and scandal of all
Britain. As for the royal culprit, he would not hear them patiently.
Furious words were bandied between them.

"Things shall be as I will!" roared Gwrtheyrn. "Am I not lord in my
own dominions? Presumptious shaveling! what thinkest thou I care for
thy preachments?"

"O Gwrtheyrn, egregious sinner!" said Germanus. "Know that we have
power behind us. Ambrosius, who is near at hand with his army, will
soon be here, to punish or to break thee. Who will comfort thee with
the rites of holy Church if we proclaim thee outcast? Fortunate art
thou if thou escape so easily. Lupus and I will fast upon the Lord God
until He grant our demands concerning thee. Ere many days, heaven will
pour down fire upon thee, to shrivel up thee and thine and all thine
ill-famed land!"

This curse carried such terror to all standing by that even Mogneid
durst not suggest that the King should order the seizure of the holy
men, and they two passed out and went their way. Said Mogneid to
Gwrtheyrn:

"If Ambrosius come upon us, and Garmon and his monks from Llanharmon,
we are undone, and they will surely do thee to death. I can think of
only one resource. Thy Queen--has she not Saxon kindred about
Pengwern, not forty miles away? I think she will be persuaded to send
them messages. We will make allies of them; and should Ambrosius
besiege this fortress, we can hold out within, until the Saxons come
to deliver us."

"Do what thou wilt," answered Gwrtheyrn. "Speak thou to my wife. By
now she must have heard some story of my pretty dear."

The Queen was not jealous; and very readily she dispatched a runic
writing and another token to a kinsman of hers whom she knew to be
commanding the Saxon outposts at Pengwern. These were entrusted to
three huntsmen of the King's, who had by heart every path and by-track
in the country. Gwrtheyrn and Mogneid made fast the defences, and
provided arms for every man of the King's subjects near at hand who
could be spared from gathering in the harvest in feverish haste.

But, on the morning of the next day, Eliseg brought dire tidings to
Caer Gwrtheyrn. The monks of Cilfachau had taken all three messengers,
and had carried them off to Germanus at Buallt. And the army of
Ambrosius had been seen moving upon Gwrtheyrn's palace.

"We must to Llanaelhairn, in the valley that opens into Lleyn from the
bay of Arvon," said Gwrtheyrn. "There it will be hard for them to
follow us."

"My plans have failed," thought Mogneid. "I came hither too late.
Cousin Gwrtheyrn cannot weather this storm."

In a very little while, their preparations were made and they set out:
the King and the Druid; the Queen upon a pillion behind Eliseg;
Dyfnwal and all the men of the household, a few of the women whose
homes were inaccessible, and every man of the royal hamlet who could
be quickly armed and mounted--leaving Caer Gwrtheyrn to whatsoever
might befall.

For seven hours they rode to the north-west. After passing the
confines of Gwrtheyrn's own lands, they kept to the course of the Wye,
which river became narrower and more rapid with every frequent bend.
They travelled slowly, for they were an unwieldy party. About sunset,
an ominous smoky glare appeared in the sky in the region they had
abandoned.

"They burn Caer Gwrtheyrn!" said the King; and he wept uncontrollably.

At nightfall they came to the outskirts of the waste about Plinlimmon.
This was an uninhabited tract, part oak and elm thicket, part
alder-shaded swamp. In the higher reaches, huge craggy hills arose
like spectral scaly monsters gathering their strength for a spring.
Beyond lay the open moorland where Wye has its rising, and where
Severn is a tiny trickle, whose source is unknown to man. Owls hooted
in this wooded valley, and there were strange flutterings, squeakings
and snappings, and patterings over the ground. The King's men refused
to go farther.

"The dogs of hell are abroad, lord!" cried one. "Arawn's hounds--yes,
yes! Once it is dark, they roam this desert place. There is fearful
they are now. White they are, every one, with rose-red ears, and their
jaws foam and drip. And the man who sees them--sure to be ailing from
that very hour, and die before long, and that is a fact. Very, very
unlucky! Let us stay where we are, now!"

They wailed and besought so piteously that Gwrtheyrn had to permit a
halt in spite of the friendly moonlight, and of Mogneid's whispered
urgings. A long low cave was near at hand: into it they packed,
shivering in the night-mist, for they durst not kindle a fire.

They passed a restless night; only the Queen slept soundly in the cave
on the borders of the haunted forest. Then on once more over the rocky
track that led through Arwystli and Meirionedd to their goal, the
peninsula of Lleyn.

"I dreamed of Garmon," said Gwrtheyrn, as they started. "His face
glowed white, like hottest iron, kinsman Mogneid--I cannot forget it.
He is fasting upon his God, to procure my destruction."

Mogneid answered nothing, but gnawed his lip.

"Llanaelhairn must we make upon the morrow," continued the King. "It
is a little old fortress of my father's building, for to guard the
valley beneath Yr Eifl from attack by sea: I myself have not set foot
there for more than thirty years. The way thither is little known, and
I wager Emrys will be finely entangled once or twice if he endeavour
to follow us. But there are caretakers, and there should be flocks and
herds for our regaling."

That night they spent in Arthog. A hospitable Goidelic lord
overwhelmed them with attentions, giving them what food he had, and
they passed the night in and about his dwelling. Across the estuary of
the Mawddach, the forsaken druidic stones showed white and awful.

By noon next day, they had reached the borders of Lleyn. By late
afternoon, as they pursued their rough, scarcely distinguishable,
interminable way, the Queen grew querulous. She could ride no longer;
every muscle in her body ached; she must drink deeply from a tumbling
spring that ran across their path, and bathe her face, hands, and
feet; she was hungry, and here were bilberries. Surely they were safe
from their enemies? And every one was sun-dried and speechless!

Well, she might rest a breathing-while: they might all stretch their
limbs and eat and drink their fill.

"But come thou on with me, cousin," said Gwrtheyrn. "I cannot stay
still. We will go ahead, and spy over the hills before us, and seek
the readiest way." To the commander of the men-at-arms: "Look you,
tarry not long, for sunset will soon be upon us."

Said Eliseg to Dyfnwal, "They are gone together, the King and he. I
like not the evil lowering of his face this day. We should follow
them."

"At once!" said Dyfnwal. "The bay and the roan are the fleetest."

The sky had clouded over, and there was a rainy light in the western
quarter.

"Look yonder!" cried Mogneid, when they had ridden some two miles
farther.

A great army of horsemen was winding about the foot of the hills of
Pennant, and at their head was something, broad and scarlet-gleaming,
that flapped in the evening breeze--surely the dragon-standard of
Ambrosius.

"Then the end is come," said Mogneid.

"On to Llanaelhairn!" Gwrtheyrn exclaimed. "Once there, we can get the
cattle within, and hold the ford, belike, with my people that dwell
there. Hasten, kinsman, hasten! The others have sure guides; they
cannot miss the way."

When they reached the ford of the little brook, now called by King
Gwrtheyrn's name, that flowed beneath the walls of the fortress of
Llanaelhairn, the moon was shining, and the clouds were fewer. They
crossed the castle forecourt. Not a soul was about, for the land-maer
and his family had gone to the upper pastures to bring in the sheep
and cattle. As they opened the hall door, the stifling atmosphere beat
heavily against their faces. A fierce fire was burning, upon which the
women of the household had lately roasted whole the carcasses of
several sheep. After glancing around, Mogneid sped up the stairway
leading into the look-out tower, and Gwrtheyrn followed him into the
small, low chamber at the top. He found Mogneid before its
half-ruinous window, tugging at the rusty iron grating that screened
the aperture.

Presently the mortar that had held it crumbled, the whole frame-work
came away in Mogneid's hands, and he cast it violently upon the floor.
Then he returned to the window. Above him the heights of the Rivals
towered; away to the west, the sea-waves lapped sullenly; below, Nant
Gwrtheyrn ran very low in its stony bed.

"What hope is there now?" cried Gwrtheyrn the King. "What hast thou
done for me, Mogneid my kinsman, who promised so much? Garmon is a
greater curser than thou--his magic mightier. The ancient gods have
lied to thee, Mogneid--they delude thee--thou art not their favoured
one! Wilt thou give me back my kingdoms, thou who hast all things of
power at thy fingers' ends!" He rushed upon the other with a snarl
like a wild beast's.

Mogneid son of Votecori turned upon him a look that scorched, and
Gwrtheyrn cowered back against the wall, shaking from head to foot.

"Thou scum of dross! Thou refuse thing! Thou drunkard and son of
drunkards! Aye, a high destiny hadst thou once--until thou gavest over
thy will to sloth and rottenness! Talk ye of hope, my lord? Was
Ambrosius ever known to spare? Well, there is one way--by this
opening, see you?--it is fully wide enough: a man may lower himself;
it is a swift ending. Concerning what will follow, these Christians
lie. Perchance thou wilt become a silvery salmon, very wise, in Wye or
Dyfi; or a wallowing hog; or Emperor of the West, perchance, or Pope
of Rome. Jump, Gwrtheyrn, King of Gwrtheyrnion, Buallt, Erging, Ewyas,
and Caer Glouwy, sometime Pendragon of all Britain, and flee shame!"

"Shame--only that ... I must flee shame!" muttered Gwrtheyrn, climbing
into the window as though compelled by the fascination of Mogneid's
eye. "I must--I will ... I cannot...."

He faltered on the edge, but the Druid, standing behind, pushed him,
and his long body fell hurtling through the air.

After peering for a moment at a certain motionless dark patch upon the
stones below, Mogneid descended the staircase, in haste to make his
escape.

Eliseg and Dyfnwal caught him in the doorway. They carried him, bound
hand and foot, into the hall, and threw him upon the fire that still
burned brightly. After a little while, they took him off the fire, and
hacked off his head with a chopper that was used for jointing meat.



Dewi Sant

"_O holy David, our bishop, take away our sadness._"


David strode along the winding road: his feet were bare, his head was
bare and tonsured, and one garment, of coarse felt, but snowy white,
was his only bodily covering. The sun beat down upon him; the sky, of
a deep, throbbing blue, held few clouds, and they silvery and
sweetly-curved as the breast-feathers of a dove; on his left, the
sea dazzled; before and about him, small columns of dust twirled
mischievously. David's eyes, dark and bright, feasted untiringly upon
the life and growth around him, and he sang as he went.

    "Dancing is the sea, the winds are dancing also:
    Breath of angels hath the sun-warmed hay, the poppies
        are out in scarlet.
    Good thing it is for a man to strive in his lifetime.

    "A mighty chorus echoeth from the bed of ocean:
    There is also the poem of the flight of birds.
    Who would conquer sin, must learn praise and gratitude.

    "Who hath set the thrift in the rocks that are smooth
        and barren?
    Who nourisheth the little sweet rose that maketh a garden
        of the sand-dunes?
    How can a man wander, when for him the Love of God is nailed
        on high?

    "The corn-ears are purple-ripe:
    Generous gifts bring the apple-boughs against the season of
        All Saints.
    Very good is song, that giveth cheerfulness."

He turned him about, and looked back upon the whitewashed walls of
Mynyw, his darling among his many foundations. To the little company of
religious who followed his steps, he cried:

"I do think that of all the lands in all the world the fairest is our
land of Cymru. And of all the parts of Cymru, look you, the fairest and
the sweetest is this Dyfed."

Aidan, Teilo, Ismail, and some few more clustered round him. Said they
all together:

"Indeed, indeed, blessed, holy father, blessed is our Dyfed!" and many
were the looks of affection they cast upon their little abbot.

"I have been in the Holy Country," said David. "That is the very marvel
of the world--a jewel set in the desert; but hard and bright, dear me!
there is unplayful it is! I can never give thanks enough, children,
that I am permitted to dwell here where I was born."

So saying, he resumed his journey. They had left the monks' cultivated
domain behind them, and were now in the shade of a broad lane between
willows and hazels, where the mallows and the bellflowers grew rankly.
Of a sudden, the lane came to an end, and they emerged upon the little
promontory below Porth Mawr. Carn Llidi loomed above them, on their
right hand, and at its foot rose Ty Gwyn, the deserted college of
Patrick, with its grave-stones round about it. In the western distance,
far away, appeared a green fairy land, with the hazy forms of mountains
melting into the skyline.

"Let us pray for our brethren of Ireland," said David, "of the Second
Order of Saints."

About an hour later, David was still some few paces at the head of his
people, and repeating to himself, hands folded, the prayers for the
third hour after noon, when he felt his shoulder seized in a brawny
grip, and he was forcibly twisted round until he faced a sturdy
individual, with a broad, smiling red face, sandy hair, and twinkling
green-grey eyes, and fully equipped with the war-sword, flowing robe,
and shoes of dressed leather which only a nobleman might wear. Near him
were his retinue of horsemen, one of whom held the steed from which his
lord had just dismounted.

"David, little cousin," was his greeting, "whither so fast, I pray
thee, with thy chin to the ground? Have you mission to punish
wrong-doers, O very powerful saint?"

"Why, kinsman Cadfan," David replied, "sweet is the sight of you to the
eyes. It is seldom we meet now. But I am not abroad to deal with
evildoers, look you. Dyfed, thanks be to God! is a very peaceful place;
the religion of Christ reigns even in the farthest nooks. I have enough
to do, kinsman, to order mine own house and the brethren and disciples
over whom I rule. The bishops hold synod at Brefi, and I must be there
with the rest; though little doing, say I, follows much talking."

"Hast indeed won all this land by thy words and wonders?" cried Cadfan,
who, though he had great affection for David, could never, in his
presence, master an uncontrollable desire to tease him. "Look that they
deceive thee not, the pigs of Dyfed! and pay not double tithes to their
Druids, and turn to them first at birth and at death! What did I hear
of thee and of a monstrous old stone? Some tale spread by women...."

"Dost thou doubt the power of God?" exclaimed David, with flashing
eyes. Then, as he caught sight of his interlocutor's face, he could not
help smiling. "Cadfan, they would not give up the old stone of
Cetti--slew beast and fowl upon it, to obtain prosperity, or for
blessing or cursing, and slept beneath its shade that dreams might
visit them! Then, on a day, when a great crowd was there assembled, I
prayed, and took a sword in my hand, and climbed upon the old
abomination, to the very top; and I smote with my sword in the face of
all the people, and lo! the stone split in twain with a hideous scream.
Oh, joyful was my heart for that God had deigned to heed my
supplication! And so was the unbelieving remnant drawn into the
Church's fold."

"Well done, well done!" said his jovial kinsman.

"And the Gwyddel chieftains? Are they forbearing towards thee?"

"Boia is dead. Leschi came out of Ireland and slew him and all his in
one night; and Leschi is for holy Church. But it was pity for Boia. He
suffered us gladly, and I think would have hearkened to the word ere
long. A brave soul! I say mass for him often, as Cattwg does for worthy
Virgil. But the wicked shrew, his wife! she urged him with all her
might against us; and when we would take no notice of her handmaidens
whom she sent to bathe in the stream that runs before our very doors,
one day she lured Dunawd her step-daughter to an ancient altar in a
forsaken spot, and sacrificed her to the Siddi, her underground gods.
First shore off the little one's hair,[6] and then slit her throat! A
sweet innocent child! who would come to our church door, to peep and to
listen, and then flee shyly away. Alas! alas! a grievous happening!"

          [6] In sign of dedication.

"And wilt thou spend all thy days in lonely Dyfed, little holy one? I
did hear of thee at Afallach,[7] where Joseph's thorn grows. Didst thou
not bestow there some very rich treasure? Would that not be a kingly
centre for thee to dwell in?"

          [7] Glastonbury.

"At Afallach left I the sapphire altar which I brought from Caer Salem.
Afallach will be great and famous, I doubt not; but, Mary be aiding! I
will live and die yonder in Glyn Rhosyn, nursery of the dearest of my
sons. Lonely we are, yes. We control no state policy, for Britain is
the dominion of the Saxons; but Cymru shall render us thanks in days to
come: we shall have great power of prayer."

"O cousin, it is marvel to me that thou canst thus go barefoot in the
dust, and hang rough texture of the taeogion[8] about thee, and drink
nought but tasteless water. I am but an ordinary man, and I would not
forego my pleasures of everyday for any miracles which might be sung of
down the ages. Well, well! each man to his own taste! I go to old Aunt
Angharad, at Porth Mawr. The blessed woman! she has found me a dainty
maid to wife, says she. Now speak me a blessing, David, and let me have
your prayers."

          [8] Villeins.

"Our Lord God be aiding thee, kinsman Cadfan! May He preserve to thee
thy good tenderness of heart!"

"And may He prosper thee, my David! Fare thee well, little kinsman."

Cadfan departed on his way, and David and his companions set their
faces northwards. They were not a solitary party. The road swarmed with
priests and monks, and was trodden also by many laymen and some few
women whom devotion or curiosity drew to the synod of the bishops at
Brefi in Ceredigion. As evening drew on, the abbot-bishop of Menevia
led his tired followers up the slope of a wooded hill, where he knew
were dry caverns to pass the night in, and a spring of water. When they
neared their proposed resting-place, a tonsured figure ran out from
under the trees, and stood in their path-way, waving his arms.

David whistled to the mongrel greyhound that padded by his side. Then,
suddenly, he hastened his steps, his face aglow.

"Padarn! Dear, dear me! My Padarn! Are ye many? Or may we spend this
night with thee and thine in this God-given spot?"

"Well met, well met, David!" cried Padarn, "And well met all, ye
road-stained travellers! There is surely room for all." He hurried
through the thicket to the clearing before the rocky bank which the
aforesaid caves perforated, calling out: "Brethren! whom see ye here,
whom see ye? Look you, this is David of Mynyw. Teilo, he, and I did
journey together to the holy Jerusalem, one in soul, in joy, and in
sorrow; and is it not a gladsome thing that he should be here amongst
us this night?"

An enthusiastic welcome ensued, and before long David, Teilo, Aidan,
Ismail and the rest had been seated by the fire and supplied with food
and drink. This was the Age of the Saints. Besides the newcomers there
were some dozen holy men, whose names are living yet, sitting about
upon the ground, each one bound for the great synod of the Cymric
priesthood. In the mouth of the largest cave squatted an elderly man,
sallow and wrinkled, with a beak-like nose and weary eyes; he had
vellum, pen, and inkhorn, and wrote sedulously, giving himself no
respite, with a heavy frown between his brows the while. David knew him
for Gildas of Strathclyde, the apostle of Ruys in Lesser Britain.

They yielded early to their fatigue, and lay down where they best
might, most of them within the shelter of the caves. Gildas put aside
his pen.

"They are all mightily drunken with the use and custom of sins!" he
thundered. "If I reckoned without pause for ten years, the scandals
concerning the high men of Britain would not be enumerated--and
concerning also our monks and ordained priests (Have mercy, have mercy,
on us miserable sinners!). Our princes are a host of devils--nay, worse
than devils, for have they not received the sign and sacrament of
baptism? Lust, and pillage, and oppression are such as were never
before since the creation of the world. Stinking to heaven is
Gomorrah--I should say Aberffraw! And there dwells the most heinous,
the Satan of them all--and that is Maelgwn Gwenedd!"

David yawned, said a prayer for his kinsman Maelgwn, stretched himself,
and fell asleep.

At the first glimmer of dawn, they were awakened by the clanging of
Gildas's bell. Their prayer said, David went to bathe in the brook near
by. When he returned to the camp-fire, Gildas, his countenance sallower
than usual, twisting and biting his lips, had just bent down to the
simmering pot that hung over the flames, with a loaf of bread in his
hand, when the mongrel grey-hound darted up to him, made an ecstatic
leap, and snatching the loaf in his teeth, rushed away with it down the
hill-side.

David's laugh pealed loud and clear. The holy Gildas turned furiously
upon a little boy, one of his pupils, who stood beside him rubbing
sleepy eyes, and abused him for not giving his master warning of what
he must have seen was likely to occur. The bishop of Mynyw ran as fast
as he could after the thief. Some distance below, in the valley, he
caught his dog, beat and scolded him, and possessed himself of the
bread. In the village at the hill's foot, he admired a cottager's
leeks, and was given a handful. He then re-ascended the hill.

"The sour-faced hawk!" thought he. "I am glad, very glad, he did not
obtain the rule of Mynwy when he tried to supersede me, long ago!"

Gildas confronted him.

"Ill is thy laughter, Dewi mab Sandde!" he spluttered hoarsely. "For a
holy man of God--such conduct is light...."

"Thou hast the black bile, brother," said David. "Laughter is surely
given us for good--so are we different from the brute beasts. We must
practise austerities for all needful purposes; but I counsel thee that
thou endeavour to find joy in all things gay and innocent, and in thine
own mishaps, that prove thee human, most of all: so shall such
dust-specks not make the sunshine less sweet to thee!" In softer tones,
"Lift up thy heart, brother; in a very little while, we shall break our
fast. I and my companions will find food enough for us all and to
spare."

Gildas, raging inarticulately, rushed into the cave where he had spent
the night.

David turned to the contrite boy, whose cheeks showed traces of tears.

"Hast thou seen our Lady's Candle,[9] over yonder by the quarry-side?"
said he. "Such altar-light saw I never made by the hand of man. Seek
thou it out, for a lovely sight."

          [9] The great mullein.

"Father David," answered the child, "how may that be? Do they not tell
us that we must not gratify our senses, for that this world teems with
sin most foul?"

"That is old nonsense!" cried David. "Has not the Lord made all the
earth, and is not His Word indwelling? And, son, remember this--come
storm, come drought, come frost, nothing can take our God from us."

"Is it true, O my father," asked the boy, wide-eyed, "that once on a
time your own cook did try to poison you?"

"The poor mad fellow!" said the bishop shortly. "Luckily one of my
guests suspected, and so were we one and all saved alive. Go thou draw
water, little one, where the brook is deepest: I have need of more."

David stirred the broth in the pot, adding his leeks and some sage and
pepper which he carried about him. The monks had gone their several
ways, in search of wild fruits and pot-herbs. From within the biggest
cave came the sound of restless fidgeting. David began to sing:

    "Hast thou heard the saying of Calwaladr,
    King of all Britain?
    The best crooked thing is the crooked handle of a plough."

There was a hasty footfall behind and Gildas stood beside him.

"Thy pardon, David," he said, very humbly, hanging his head. "Indeed,
indeed, I know not why--but I have always a dark humour before
breakfast!"

"Oh, Gildas, Gildas," cried David, as he wrung both the other's hands.
"I am too hot-mettled, I fear, in the early hours!"

When they were within an hour's walk of the town of Brefi, David left
them and disappeared into the woods.

"There will be enough to talk and enough to listen," said he to Aidan.
"I feel a great need to pray."

The rest of the party proceeded without him. Now upon and around the
hill of Brefi vast numbers of people were assembled. Certain questions
disquieted the land of Cymru. Some hundred and fifty years before,
Morgan the Briton, who is also called Pelagius, being at Rome, where he
lived ascetically and reasoned unceasingly, hatched from his brain a
subtle heresy. Adam's sin was his alone, and brought no curse upon his
children; the will of a man to do good was enough to secure him from
sin; Christ died only that His example might prompt and incite the
well-disposed to greater efforts, and that those baptized in His Name
might enter after death into a heaven superior to that of unbelievers.
Now, of all the races of the earth, the race which set most store by
the sayings of Morgan was his own nation of the Briton, who love
discussion before all things, and especially discussion of the
properties of the soul. Even so late as this, the Pelagians in Britain
were many, and tampered with the faith of many, exhorting their
fellow-Christians to forego the aid of the sacraments, as tending to
superstitious bondage. And that some even of the clergy led gross and
scandalous lives, we have Saint Gildas to witness.

The day of the synod was hot to oppression. From early morning until
past noon, one after another, bishop and priest addressed the
gathering. There was as much embroidered rhetoric, impassioned
argument, and brilliant, aimless quotation as always abound wherever
the Cymry are met together; but to no one came the trenchant words that
would sever the knots of their problems. As for the greatest among
them, Dyfrig, and Deiniol, and Gildas, they seemed tongue-tied by the
heavy weather, and hopelessly dreary.

Then said Dyfrig the aged saint:

"One who was made bishop by the Patriarch of Caer Salem is not present
amongst us, a man who is eloquent, full of grace, and approved in
religion, who has spread the Gospel far and wide in the desert regions
of Britain, and has thoroughly purged the pagan land of Dyfed: David
the son of Sandde, of Mynyw in Pebidiog. Let us send for him."

Gildas, Dyfrig, and Deiniol, and the young Aidan, sought and found
David, and to Brefi hill they led him. Now the sides of the hill were
white as a flowering orchard with the bleached garments of the priests
and bishops who crowded thereon, and for a mile or more on every hand
stretched the great throng of the people. When David came among them,
the holy men made a pile of their cloaks, satchels, and books that he
might mount upon it, for he was a short man (they say three cubits in
height). So he stood up before them in all his greatness, and he seemed
to tower high above them all.

He spoke to them in his voice of silver; he smote at error with strong
strokes, which called forth both tears and laughter; he pleaded sweetly
with the recalcitrant; his arguments were sound, his metaphors lively
and concise. How can it be supposed, said he, that the nature of man
can of itself engender righteousness to salvation? He told of his own
laborious days: of his long discipleship with Illtyd; his missionary
journeys throughout the west of Britain; his struggle, scarcely ended,
with hostile princes and heedless people in his native province; his
temptations, contests, watchings, and privations; his experiences as a
ruler of religious and a trainer of youth. "If a man glorify his will,
there follows pride; and pride drops dead in the presence of God mocked
and crucified!"

Then he talked of discipline, of the need of it in human life, and of
how it must be loving and carefully contrived, that the heart of the
delinquent be not hardened.

Of those who listened, not one moved from his place until the end of
David's discourse, and scarcely one stirred hand or foot. And some
there were who saw a spirit near the saint, like to a dove, with
gleaming bill, who sometimes perched upon his shoulder and whispered in
his ear. And to many in that assembly his words brought comfort entire
and ease from mental strife, and left in their hearts a pathway of
peace and light.

They acclaimed him with rapturous tongues; far and wide they noised it
that David of Mynyw was the treasure of the Cymry, the prince of all
the saints of Britain. Gildas muttered congratulations, and hurried
away to his interminable writing. His heart was not free from envy for
a little while.

As David was leaving the synod, he heard the sound of heartbroken sobs
from a little gathering upon the banks of the Teify. It was a poor
woman lamenting by the body of her son.

"Dewi, Dewi!" she cried, "have pity upon my affliction! He was my only
little weakly child, and I have striven so sorely to rear him! God
cannot reave him from me. Entreat Him for me, Dewi Sant!"

The tears rose to David's eyes as these sorrowful words were uttered;
he knelt down by the body, and began to rub the hands and the feet, and
to pray aloud in this wise.

"O Lord, my God, who didst descend to this world from the bosom of the
Father for us sinners, that Thou mightest redeem us from the jaws of
the old enemy, have pity on this widow, and give life to her only son,
that Thy Name may be magnified in all the earth!"

He felt the limbs growing gradually warmer beneath his touch, and he
continued to pray, and to call upon the boy in tender, soothing tones.
By and by the eyelids flickered; then the boy opened his eyes, raised
himself for the space of a second, and looked full into the eyes of
David. They gave him wine, and life was secured to him.

When they had escaped from the grateful outpourings of the mother,
David said to Teilo:

"Brother, an awful thing is death! For after death, we come no more;
and judgment follows. It has been given to me once or twice to behold
the Angel drawing near to those who themselves were unaware; and power
has even then come upon me that I might put them in mind of their
latter end. I pray often, Teilo, that neither thou, nor I, nor any of
the brethren, nor any of all my beloved people, may be cut off without
timely warning."

Wherefore, say the ancients, is the Corpse Candle foretelling
dissolution oftenest seen in the diocese of Mynyw.

The next day, before they had travelled many miles, earth and sky took
on a mysterious aspect. A heavy blight hung in the air; and a strange,
watery column, with its head in the clouds, trailed over the earth,
discharging raindrops which were hot to the touch and yet struck chill.
A few men and women fell sick by the roadside; their bodies shrivelled
and turned yellow, and in a few hours they died. David remained among
the sufferers, nursing and consoling. The Yellow Plague hourly
increased its ravages. Some recounted that the advance of the pest
could be seen in the form of a female spirit--a frightful hag,
hairless, with flavescent features and long pointed teeth, who clutched
at her prey. Ere many days, the land was choked with unburied corpses.

"Maelgwn the King is dead!" they told David.

"Then is Gildas content!" said he. "Hasten we to Mynyw."

In Dyfed, for all his loving zeal, he could not dwell long, because of
the Plague which followed him there. So David and all his surviving
brethren and all the inhabitants of Pebidiog whom he could gather
together set sail for Lesser Britain. There he laboured greatly for
five years and more at Leon, Saint Ivy, and Loquivy, preaching the word
of God and founding churches and houses of religion.


In the last year but one of the fifth century after Christ, when David
was a very old man, Cynyr son of Cyngen, a scholar in Teilo's Côr upon
the Taff, being unable to bear the stern rule of Teilo, fled from the
college and wandered until he came upon Llywel the hermit of Selyf in
Brycheiniog, who entertained him and kept him under his protection. And
a little after Llywel died, and Cynyr dwelt still in the former cell of
Llywel. That year was cold and frosty, and the fruits of the earth were
nipped in the ear and in the bud. At the autumn equinox great storms of
wind and rain arose, followed early by snow, and the flocks of the men
of Brycheiniog were lost and starved for the most part. As soon as the
thaw set in at the beginning of the next year, Llyr Merini, lord of
Talgarth, laid claim to a cantref in the lordship of Rhaint son of
Brychan, his wife's brother, as belonging to his own tribe, and
publicly reproached King Rhaint with being the cause of the late
disastrous weather through his harbourage of an apostate religious. The
men of Llyr fell upon the lands of Rhaint, seized his men, broke their
ploughs, and carried off the little grain they had ready to sow. Some
of the seed-corn with which they could not escape they cast into the
stony bed of the brook Cilieni. Rhaint and his people proceeded to
fitting reprisals. And so things continued until the spring had come
indeed. It was then that David of Mynyw, as he journeyed through
Brycheiniog, declared his will to judge between the warring princes.

On the morning of the first of May, a white-robed monk, with horny
hands, and a tanned face whose pointed nose and patient brown eyes made
it resemble the face of a dog, stood in the dingle through which the
Clydach flows. Upon a gradually-sloping bank, where primroses and small
blue violets bloomed in the damp and mossy grass, he had just spread
three sheep-skins, and was regarding their position with doubtful look.
He appeared oblivious of two other persons who occupied the little glen
at the same moment, though these were no less than Llyr Merini, lord of
Talgarth, and his wife Gwen, daughter of King Brychan. At a seemly
distance were their household attendants.

"O Lily, servant of David," said Llyr, "I have heard that he thy master
holds the keys that do lock and unlock the portals of heaven!"

"Very righteous saint is David," replied Lily. He did no more than
glance at the lord and lady.

"Surely he does consider that the perjury of one tonsured to God is of
all things the most abominable?"

"David has a key to all of heaven that is in the world," David's
servant continued. "Where he scattereth, there does the good corn
spring. When the Yellow Plague had run its course, and we returned from
Llydaw, a crushing labour was before him, for men were lax and weary,
and religion wellnigh forgotten. But this task he fulfilled, for the
blessing of God was upon him, and he and his disciples journeyed far
afield, hither to Brycheiniog, and into Gwent, Ewyas, and Erging, and
sowed the seed of the Gospel in plenty. Every holy thing does David
foster and honour. And he reads plainly the hearts of men, and traces
the springs of their actions. A fountain of justice is the heart of
David."

"Many fair churches owns David. Loves he not gifts of gold, and silver,
and polished jewels," said Gwen eagerly, "for the adornment of his
foundations? They say that the praise of beauty is ever upon his lips."

"This will not do for my master!" cried Lily, snatching one of the
fleeces from the ground. "How can he, whose years are ninety and more,
huddle upon the moss like a lithe-limbed stripling? He must have a seat
conformable to his dignity, myn Duw!"

"See, see!" Gwen cried. "A heap of logs for the great May fire! We will
fetch one of them, husband, for the use of the powerful saint."

They carried a log between them to the foot of the bank. Lily approved
it, after scrutiny, and spread one of his cherished sheepskins upon it.
Then David came slowly into the glen towards them, leaning upon the arm
of King Rhaint of the Red Eyes. With a quick gesture of greeting to all
there assembled, he seated himself in the tribunal prepared for him. He
seemed smaller than ever now, for his form was bowed and his skin was
abundantly wrinkled, and all his life and energy centred in his
gleaming dark-hazel eyes.

Teilo, abbot-bishop of Llandaff, and Ismael, one of David's own
bishops, were with him, and some of their attendant monks; and the
courtiers and fighting-men of Rhaint followed. A few of the villagers
had made their way to the place of meeting.

"Speak you now your causes, my children," said David, in his clarion
tones, which the years had scarcely weakened.

"This one has attacked my lands," cried Rhaint, "and has broken the
ploughs of my men, and destroyed their valuable corn-seed!"

"This one," cried Llyr, "keeps from me a cantref which was my father's
and the father of my father's; and Brycheiniog brings forth no
sustenance, for Rhaint mab Brychan protects the renegade Cynyr!"

Two armed men, shouting and threatening, dragged a youth in monastic
garb, tonsured, his countenance pallid and his eyes dim with watching
and fasting, to the feet of the bishops.

"Here is Cynyr, between my men," said Rhaint. "Examine him, father,
upon his matter."

"O stinging viper!" exclaimed Teilo. "Obedience didst thou vow to me in
my college upon the Taff! And thou didst manifest such notable
dispositions in the early days of thy pupilage!"

"May the penalty be heavy and bitter, we pray you, holy bishops," said
Gwen, "that the curse be lifted from us. Always very ill fortune dogs
the breach of a vow!"

"Lady, I would have silence about me," said David, "that I may pray Our
Lord for grace to discern rightly between Teilo my son and my brother
and Llywel who is in Paradise." ... After a brief pause: "What pleadest
thou, Cynyr? By whose permission hast thou betaken thyself to the life
of a solitary? Wilt thou confess thy sins, and return to the faithful
congregation?"

"Dewi mab Sandde, with you will I go," the young man replied.

"With me? but not with Teilo? Speak out thy mind, and fear not."

"Not with Teilo. His rule is too harsh: I cannot bow myself to such
authority."

"Thou must go with my brother Teilo, being his pupil and servant."

"I will abide here in Llywel's cell, and gather about me my own Côr,
and rule it. Or I will live beneath the ordinance of David. Let him[10]
not cast me away; for of all saints he is the most efficacious! I would
be a holy man, even as he is. But, look you, the legions of Satan do
compass me about, and make hideous my nights and my days. There is also
an evil, fair woman, Indeg daughter of Maenarch, who plagues me
whenever I do meet with her; and her spirit is with me continually, to
trouble me, when she herself is absent! Pray for me, for the love of
the Lord!"

          [10] David. Cynyr uses the third person singular of courtesy.

"O Cynyr," said David meditatively, "hast thou the gift of obedience, I
wonder?... Thou hast taken thy final vows before the Holy Sacrament?"
he added suddenly.

Cynyr hung his head, and grew even paler than he had been before.

"No, no. My consecration should have been at the Paschal Feast of last
year. I fled Llandaff the week before. This I told to blessed Llywel
before he took me in."

"Why, Teilo," said the bishop of Mynyw, "I had heard that this Cynyr
had deserted the furrow that he had undertaken to plough. Where is the
truth in this?"

"My overseer of the disciples did speak of his consecration," was the
other bishop's answer.

"Thou hast said that his vows were taken?"

"I did think that they were," said Teilo.

"Llandaff has done the youth great wrong!" cried David.

A dull red crept into the face of Teilo, but he did not utter a word.

"Come you here, Llyr and Rhaint," David said sternly. "This is my
judgment, princes, upon you. It is written that cursed is he who
oppresses the poor and helpless. Ye have brought contention and
bloodshed to pass. Your people are slain, or wounded, or they pine in
captivity; those that remain unhurt and free are starving, their fields
being waste; and great is your guilt, for their livelihood is given
into your charge! Ye have just heard the conclusion of your affair.
Cynyr son of Cyngen is no vowed monk; how can heaven have sent a blight
upon your lands for his sake? Greed it was that made Llyr to plunder
the Lordships of Rhaint. And Rhaint has hated his brother, though I say
not that his hatred had no cause. Ye two shall swear to be friends, and
to keep peace, and maintain good government. And half of Selyf shall be
thine, O Rhaint, for Brychan thy father did win it in fair fight; and
half shall be Llyr's, for thy sister is his wife, and he is thy
brother. So shall the lords of Gwent not spoil Brycheiniog when its
chief men are divided."

The princes exclaimed together:

"Wondrous his judgment! There is content we are!"

"Gwen daughter of Brychan, wilt thou swear to this also?"

"Yes, yes!" the Lady Gwen replied. "No love of warfare have I!"

"In the name of God, ye do promise to hold to peace and fellowship?"

"In the name of God, we do promise to hold to peace and fellowship one
with another!"

"Prosperity be upon you, and upon your children and your children's
children, and upon all that is yours and theirs, while ye do observe
this solemn compact!" said David then. "And if so be ye scorn and break
it, may lightning and storm devastate your territories, may sickness
and famine stalk throughout them, and may rottenness take hold upon
your bodies! Amen, amen!"

Rhaint and Llyr held each other's hands and shook them up and down;
they almost danced upon the springy sod in the exhilaration that their
reactive emotion had quickened.

"I am old donkey, Llyr!" shouted Rhaint. "I forgive thee thy ravages.
My people will have no bread this year; but doubtless thou wilt
provide?"

"Donkey and cuckoo am I!" roared Llyr. "I will feed thy people. We will
make a great feast to-night, and forget our differences."

And they two and Gwen sat down upon the bank, and laughed and gossipped
together.

Cynyr flung himself at David's feet.

"Forsake me not!" he wailed. "I am as firmly resolved as ever to lead
the life of a saint. Let the little holy one of Mynyw be aiding to me!"

The abstraction of age was upon David; he sat gazing at and through the
kneeling youth.

Lily approached him, carrying something square wrapped in a cloth.

"What wouldst thou say, my servant?" the bishop murmured. "Well, well,
indeed, what hast thou there?"

"My father's official," answered Lily. He removed the cloth, and
disclosed a book, with cover worn and water-stained, and laid it upon
his master's knees.

David turned the pages, caressing them with his numb old fingers.

"Once I was harsh with a boy,"[11] said he. "And my harshness was
because of this blemished volume. I thank thee, Lily, for bringing that
sin of anger to my mind. The child, whom I had permitted to read my
office-book, left it out of doors upon a rainy day. For penance I sent
him to lie at full length upon the sand of the shore at Porth Mawr; and
in the press of business I forgot for many hours where I had bidden him
bide. When at last I ran to find him, the waves were licking his body,
and half-drowned was he.... My son," the saint continued, addressing
Cynyr, "hast thou not told me that the direst of thy assailant demons
is a living woman, and no bloodless spirit?"

          [11] St. Aidan, bishop of Ferns.

"Indeg daughter of Maenarch pesters and torments me, so that the
thought of her is an ever-present temptation. Great hate and scorn has
she for me, and her strength she spends in striving for my downfall.
She does come bringing bannuts,[12] for she knows I love to eat them!"

          [12] Walnuts.

"My father," Lily interposed, "they say that the girl is here."

"Well, indeed, now," said David, "let her come forth."

Several women pushed a maiden into the middle of the ring formed by the
assembly. She seemed to have been weeping, for her eyelids were
flushed; she shook her dark hair over her face, and clutched her hands
together and plucked at a ring she wore.

"Daughter," said David, "why do you torment and pester Cynyr son of
Cyngen, a hermit seeking God?"

Her lips moved. Some thought she whispered hoarsely:

"I do not!"

"Dost thou hate Cynyr?"

"I hate him in my heart!" cried she.

"I will hang him from yonder ash-tree," said David with a mocking
twinkle, "to-morrow at dawn."

"No, no!" she shrieked. "Mercy, mercy! Holy David, there is cruel he
is! Spare him--spare Cynyr----"

"Peace, woman!" David's face had become a mask of fury, but his voice
was mellifluous. "Nothing will thy tongue avail thee. Thou hast wrought
devilish magic, and surely we shall slay thee as a witch!"

"Myn Duw!" shouted Cynyr the novice, tossing his arms on high. "Do not
so! I was mistaken--there is mad I have been. David has cleared the
covering from my eyes! I love Indeg...."

"And thou, Indeg," said David softly, "dost thou love Cynyr?"

Said she, more softly still:

"I like him ... as well as I like any man."

"Our Lord God lays hold upon His own," cried David, "and, Teilo, there
is no need to grab souls for him. Rhaint mab Brychan, wilt thou adopt
this Cynyr into thy tribe, when he shall have sojourned with thee the
accustomed number of years? He will make a brave fighting-man, though
not in the picked army of heaven."

"Yes, indeed!" replied Rhaint the King. "I am David's servant, to do
his bidding."

"Now, upon blessed Llywel's land, where he lived and died," the saint
continued, "we will set a new church, and Llywel, Teilo, and I, we
three, will own it in perpetuity. And of the three thou, Teilo, shalt
have the pre-eminence. Willingly wilt thou fast forty days upon this
spot, for our church's hallowing. A small omission troubles thy
conscience, I know. Children," turning from the Abbot of Llandaff to
the man and woman before him, "I would see all well with you before I
depart. Give me thy ring, Indeg."

She put her ring in the palm of David.

"It is not yet the noon-hour," said he. "Lily, where is my altar, and
the other things I now require?"

"Here is your altar, my father," was Lily's reply, "and the sacred
elements, look you!--ready for the swearing of oaths."

He brought David's portable altar and placed it before him, and set
bread and wine upon it.

David rose to his feet, and, supported by Teilo and Ismael, said mass
as it was celebrated for a marriage.

"Cynyr," said he in the British tongue, "wilt thou have Indeg as thy
wife?"

"Yes, yes!" Cynyr answered.

"And, Indeg, wilt thou have Cynyr as thy husband?"

She nodded her head several times.

"Then I declare before all these, men and women of the Plant y Cymry,
that ye be man and wife together. And, Cynyr, thou shalt love Indeg as
long as her life shall last; and thou, Indeg, shalt love Cynyr and obey
him. The blessing of God is upon you; and ye shall go with my blessing,
and with the blessing of Teilo."

Hand in hand the lovers wandered away over the young, green grass.

"Sixty days and no less will I fast before I consecrate Llywel's
church," cried Teilo, his native generosity breaking forth, "and those
two shall have my prayers at each day's offering!"

Gwhir, Teilo's bard at Llandaff, unslung his harp from his shoulder,
and struck a triumphant prelude from the strings. He began to chant the
praises of his master:

    "Thrice a hundred servants of Christ does Teilo feed in his Bangor.
    The fierce old dragon he drove to the seas--potent is our father.
    Miracles are all about the little ones of Teilo.

    "With Brynach aforetime did angels company in the wilderness about
        Nant Nimer.
    No harvest had Llandaff but flower of the broom, the gold-finch of
        the meadows.
    Surely white messengers were at hand for the succour of the Côr of
        Teilo!"

David listened at first with a slight frown, but by the end of the
second triad his countenance had softened.

"Truth governs the tongue of Gwhir," said he. "Hearken! there is also
music over yonder. Give me thy arm, my Ismael--I would hear the
children sing."

They left the dingle, David and his followers, and ascended a gentle
slope that led to an open stretch of level, sheep-cropped sward. Here
stunted cowslips grew, and daisies, and a few stray tufts of thyme
greeted the footsteps of each comer with their tonic perfume. Young men
and girls, partnered in couples, were dancing about a blossoming
hawthorn. At their shoulders and wrists, their knees or their ankles,
coloured ribbons fluttered; and as they sprang, with outstretched arms,
to touch the tree-trunk they hissed between tongue and palate. A man
played shrilly upon a pipe, and a number of elderly women, seated upon
the ground, were singing:

    "Arianrod's battlements light the pathless waste of the sky.
    Oak for power, and ash for aid, and birch for constancy!
    Bird calls to bird that gone is winter, the time of hunger and
        fear.
    Bless the thorntree, maidens and boys, and bless the spring of
        the year!"

David watched them indulgently, for the days of the Druids were far
off. When their dance was over, they rushed in a body to his feet,
begging his blessing, and crying out compliments, sincere though
extravagant, upon his sanctity and his fame.

"Dewi Sant! Dewi Sant! Father of the Saints of Britain! May he live
amongst us for ever!"

"As God wills," said he, as he turned to leave them. "Beautiful the May
tree--more beautiful the groves of Paradise. There is a hard task, my
brothers, for Ismael."

His companions remembered well what he had spoken of Ismael in two
months less than a year from that hour.[13]

          [13] Ismael succeeded David as Bishop of Mynyw.

One February day in the year Six Hundred and One, many folk, rich and
poor, flocked to the walls of Ty Ddewi, David's monastic enclosure. A
rumour had gone abroad that the saint had had heavenly premonition that
his end was near at hand. So, weeping and lamenting, these men and
women came from the regions around, crying upon their bishop to take
their sadness from them. Within Ty Ddewi there was a wonderful silence
and peace; and in the streets of Mynyw were heard the flutterings of
invisible wings.

"Look you, this mourning must cease, now!" said blessed David.

"Well, well, true is what ye have heard. Merry tidings have reached me!
In a little while from now, on the first day of March, I must go hence
to the place where is life without end, rest without labour, and joy
without sorrow--where is health and no pain, youth and no old age,
peace and no contention, music and no discord. I charge you pray
always, in all your undertakings, spiritual and bodily; and be good,
little people, for the best usage is goodness."

His last words on earth were just as simple:

"Take me with Thee!"



Star of Mercia

    "_Hic regina detestatur
    Amplexus illicitos;
    Spreta mortem machinatur
    Ob amores vetitos._"


"Nay, Ethelfrith, bide thou here in quiet!" said Cynerith. "Tush, girl!
art no child now, at sixteen years old! Why, thou hast witnessed the
death of many a fledgling rook. The sun must not stain thy cheeks this
day, and that thou knowest! The young man cannot now be afar off, God
help! Nay, good lack! I will not have such pouting! It is my behest
that thou stay at home."

In reality, the Lady Ethelfrith could scarcely be said to pout; and she
knew her mother too well to venture a protest. The party set
forth--Offa the King, the imperious Cynerith his Queen, their son the
Atheling, and Eadburh their handsome elder daughter, wife of Beorhtric,
King of Wessex, and now on a visit to her parents' court--and the young
Ethelfrith, debarred from the sport, climbed to the upper room which
was her own sleeping-chamber, and looked out over the shire of
Hereford.

If she leant out and turned sideways, her window commanded a view of
the highway that ran by the gates of King Offa's palace of Sutton. She
peered idly in that direction, without emotion of any sort--even anger,
or curiosity. Below her lay the orchard-close, bright green under foot,
and rosy overhead with the vernal glory of the apple-trees. It was the
fairest day of the fair month of May; but its beauty awoke in
Ethelfrith a dull, continuous pain. She was seldom happy, poor little
princess: she thought much, but there was no one to whom she could tell
her ideas, or who would give her sympathy. The King was always
occupied; her brother was as spare of speech as herself; her mother was
the Queen and unapproachable, except when she jested coarsely; and she
feared her sister, the Queen of Wessex. There were many puzzling things
in her everyday world which had only just begun to claim her attention.

She was a very fairy-like being, so small and slim and fragile; her
complexion was as delicate as the apple-blossom; she had soft eyes,
grey as the plumage of a dove and a soft mouth with an obstinate curve;
her hair was of the purest, palest gold, just saved from being flaxen
and colourless. A strange child, surely, for those two robust persons,
Offa and Cynerith. Just now she was wondering why they had not told her
before yesterday of Ethelbert of East Anglia, his coming and its
purpose. Every one about the palace had known of it but herself. She
had overheard what had been whispered to a servant of her sister's from
Wessex, in the orchard, upon the foregoing afternoon, by one of her
father's henchmen, whose eyes had shed a marvellously tender light
while he gazed upon her, King Offa's daughter.

"She is the star and flower of all Mercia," this henchman had said,
"and she is to wed Lord Ethelbert, the star of the Eastern Angles."

Although she had remarked it, the expression of the speaker's
countenance had in no wise stirred her sensibilities; she had been a
little ruffled in temper, perhaps--no more. For Ethelfrith had no
affinities with the courtiers; the overfed, voluptuous women and their
satellites filled her with a cold disgust. The nuns of Marden, she
thought, led peaceful lives, and bore in their faces a truly joyous
light. Yet she had no longing for the seclusion of a religious house.
She would sometimes, however--though very rarely--go to visit the
sisters and spend a day in their company. The reverend mother was a
motherly woman indeed; she was very gentle with the princess, and
careful to refrain in her presence from any allusion to her life or her
kinsfolk that might dash her girlish, half-childish dreams. When the
maiden returned to her ordinary surroundings, how the glare and the
chatter tired her head and oppressed her whole dainty frame! So it came
about that the Lady Ethelfrith was little accounted by the great folk
of Mercia: she was always silent, usually prim, and sometimes brusque;
and to some she seemed a cross, spoilt child, and to others, witless.

Then there had been her mother's half-teasing words of the evening
before; that was really all she knew! At the thought of King Ethelbert,
a sharper pain than the ache of loneliness amid natural beauties struck
through her heart. She remembered the Queen's parting injunctions. Her
childhood was surely at an end. This Ethelbert would be coming by the
highway to the halls of Sutton before long.

Impatiently she turned away from the dusty road. Her eyes lighted upon
the flowering gorse-bushes that blazed upon the outskirts of an upland
covert in the distance. There ran through her head a riddle of her
nursery days, couched in the rhyming metre which the Mercians had begun
to imitate from the neighbouring Welsh.

                  "Yellow and green,
                  Sharp and keen,
                  Grows in the mene.
    The King can't ride it, no more can the Queen."

Song after song, carol after carol, lay after lay, came tripping
after--some of God and the saints and ghostly blessedness; some of love
and mirth; others of woe. A smile hovered about the lips of Ethelfrith.
She loved songs--they were often her only solace.

She would walk in the garden--no, she would not. The sun was too
hot--the wind was too cold. She had just decided to wile away the time
by strumming upon her cither, when she descried figures approaching
along the road. They were horsemen, many horsemen; a mighty train. And
there, unmistakably, was the banner of some great one. It was not a
lord of Mercia, nor a lord of Wessex! Ethelfrith rushed from her room,
down the stairs, and headlong into the orchard-close, in a fit of wild
shyness.

There was her waiting-maid, and there were several aged ladies who
cared not to look on at the shooting of the rooks. All confused, she
stammered to them of her surmise--how that the King of East Anglia was
even at their gates. What should they do, with her parents away?

"Why, lady, there is no need for fear," said one kind-hearted matron.
Even as she spoke a servant appeared in the orchard doorway, ushering
with every token of respect a company of nobly-attired, travel-stained
men. In another moment the little group beneath the trees had become
aware of the leader of the party--a young man, very lithe, very
muscular, with an energetic open countenance, and the bluest, brightest
eyes that Ethelfrith had ever seen. Their glance wandered from one to
another of the women, and came to rest upon King Offa's youngest
daughter.

It seemed to her that the universe whirled around her: she had to
strain at her insteps in order to keep herself upright. Then she heard
him saying:

"O lady, forgive me that I know not whom I should greet! Do I speak to
the high and mighty lady, the Lady Ethelfrith of Mercia?"

She curtsied, and hung her head; she was pallid now, who had been
crimson the instant before; her tongue refused to utter audible sound.

"I am Ethelbert of East Anglia," continued the stranger. "Here am I at
King Offa's bidding. They have told you of my coming?"

"Indeed, I am Ethelfrith," said she. "I do greatly grieve--my father
and mother.... Oh, my lord, will ye not be seated? I had forgotten....
Ye will deem me unmannerly...."

"Nay, lady, surely nay," said Ethelbert earnestly; and he seated
himself beside her upon a bench built round the trunk of an ancient
apple-tree. He had begun to address her once more in his kindly tones,
when a bustling noise reached them from within the palace, and in
another moment the whole court was about them. Offa, the welcoming
host, Cynerith, with her ready, witty talk. And Eadburh, whose person
and taste in adornment made her give the effect of a full-blown poppy.
Ethelfrith felt faded and nerveless beside her. She shrank into the
background.

"In a good hour!" cried Offa. "Ye have spoken with my little daughter,
I see: no need to make you known one to another. I trow ye are weary
from your wayfaring. Come with me, and ye shall bathe you, and have
meat and drink. And then, Ethelbert Etheldred's son, I will show you my
horses, my hounds, and my hawks, and ye shall say whether ye have other
such in East Anglia."

And they all departed into the house, leaving the princess alone.

She, pondering dazedly, thought that a thunderstorm had broken.

But the sun was shining as it had shone all day: the little stream
which bounded the orchard from the meadows beyond was as blue as the
sky whose colour it borrowed. The earth beneath her feet seemed to pant
forth the scent, sweet and languorous, of white wild violets. A cuckoo
shouted insistently. The air was vibrant with the voices of created
things. A glimmering sulphur-moth came fluttering before her.
Ethelfrith began to run. About and about she chased it, screaming in
her excitement; and presently she fell on her knees, panting, by the
brookside, her arms clasped around a clump of meadowsweet and
forget-me-not.

Summer was summer once again.


They were all upon a green knoll, sheltered by ash and elm. They had
flown their hawks with some success, and were now enjoying shade and
repose, while their attendants laid the midday meal before them.

Ethelfrith looked often at Ethelbert. He was listening somewhat
impatiently to Eadburh, whose florid beauty was evidently little to his
taste.

"Lord King," she was saying, "ye seem to me in no wise a monkish man. I
thought, from what I had heard, that surely ye would betake you to the
life of the cloister, or else bind yourself to all of a saint's life in
your kingly halls. I beseech you say, had ye ever such a meaning?"

"They were my youthful thoughts," said Ethelbert. "But I have put them
far from me. A king's life is for a king, and no monk's life. Besides,
I am the last of my father's house."

He rose, and crossed to Ethelfrith, offering to pour mead into her
drinking-horn.

Now Cynerith had looked often and long at Ethelbert since his coming.

"A harmless boy!" she remarked to her daughter Eadburh; and then she
said "Fore heaven! the handsomest boy I have seen this many a year!"

Eadburh laughed her horse-laugh.

"Are all things to thy liking, fair lady?" said Ethelbert to
Ethelfrith.

"Why, greatly to my liking, O King!" answered she.

Suddenly Cynerith called out, "Child, where is thine amethyst brooch?
Is it lost, then, thou naughty one?"

"My lady," said the girl, trembling, "I did give it.... Ye saw the
beggars. One there was that might have been a leper; and there were
little children. O mother, be not wroth! I could not do else--woeful
was their crying. I sent them unto the sisters, who will feed them and
care for them this night; and I gave my brooch unto the woman with the
baby in her arms."

"Fie upon thee, fie upon thee!" cried the Queen. "Is my daughter
altogether a fool? I will not have thee go among such filthy folk, to
touch them belike! Precious stones give I not thee for this!"

"All beggars and such scum should be whipped and branded," said
Eadburh, little guessing that in years to come she herself would roam a
foreign city,[14] begging her bread. "Lord father, think ye not that it
would be well that when a bondman have not work enough, or when he
feign himself a cripple, his lord might sell him beyond seas? So do I
often tell King Beorhtric."

          [14] Pavia.

"Why, why," Ethelbert broke in, "I miss my ring of onyx!"

"Was it loose upon thy finger?" said Queen Cynerith. "Often in
unhooding a hawk----"

"Nay," said he, smiling, "I do think it is where the Lady Ethelfrith's
sweet charity would have it be!"

Cynerith bit her lip.

"Have ye indeed bestowed your ring upon the beggars?" Ethelfrith
whispered.

"Surely, aye," answered he. "The sad, sorry souls! These do fear lest
they be besmirched by fellowship with the mean and ailing. But I think
that a king, before all men in the earth ought to be lowly." Bending
towards her, he said softly, "Tell me now, are all things truly to thy
liking?"

"Oh, my lord...." said she. Here, amongst all these people--before all
her kindred!

"'High and mighty' I greeted thee," he pursued. "Dearest, I knew not
then to whom I spake. 'Soft and lovely lady' hail I thee now!"

He handed her down the slope and together they wandered slowly through
the fields.

The royal party followed immediately, and they proceeded, mostly on
foot, along the path which leads through the lush meadow-land.
Presently Cynerith called the King of East Anglia to her, and they in
their turn headed the company.

"May-tide is God's gift to lovers," she said. "The Queen's words are
sooth," was his rejoinder.

"Hearken to the live things, and to the birds," said Cynerith, and her
eyes were languishing. "Ethelbert, a woman's heart blooms blithe and
tender in this month of May!"

Eadburh looked her sister from head to foot.

"Art not a fine woman," she remarked. "Belike thou wilt yet grow."

"Think ye I must needs become a fine woman?" said the other, smiling.

"Men like them," replied Eadburh. "All men," she added, with a meaning
glance towards Ethelbert.

"What wouldst thou hint?" cried Ethelfrith; but Queen Eadburh was gone
from her side.

The younger sister was not easy in heart or mind. Lately she had become
aware of circumstances which she did not care to think on; and now, her
sister's words! She was used to the moods of her mother; but there was
also Sexwolf, the young lord who had been the Queen's constant
companion for two years--he was full of smouldering fury, it was
evident, and would speak to no one. Her brother was near at hand, but
he always snubbed her when she talked inquisitively; he would be no
help. There was thane Edric, the honest old man, seneschal of the
court; she was certain he would tell her plainly anything he thought
she ought to know. Why should she not take her perplexities to him?
Alack! here was Eadburh again! Her she could not question. She would
consult old Edric later on.

"Is a woman ever too old to love?" said Cynerith the Queen.

Ethelbert looked up quickly, surprised and a little amused. They were
walking along the edge of a springing cornfield.

"Look, the bonny blossoms!" cried she.

She stooped over a patch of poppies, whose bowls seemed to burn with
liquid scarlet fire. As she did so, her hand brushed against
Ethelbert's as though by accident.

"Bonny, for sure," answered the young man.

"Pity they have no smell--as it were, no soul. They are rank, too, I
think. O lady mother, this morning I heard Ethelfrith singing to
herself...."

                 *       *       *       *       *

"Why, Leofgythe, whither away?" said Ethelfrith.

Said the waiting-maid: "Lady, there is great mirth afoot to-night for
us of the household. The Queen hath given us leave that we may go to
the dancing at Aegelstane the Thane's. I beseech you, my lady, that ye
forget not to comb your locks right thoroughly; they must shine like
gold for King Ethelbert."

"Good luck go with thee, Leofgythe," cried the Lady gaily. "I would we
might have dancing too. But I fear me we shall be too few." And she
passed on up the staircase.

In the palace hall King Ethelbert and Queen Cynerith sat facing one
another across a little table, playing at chess. All was not well
between them. The Queen leant very far over the board, and her lips
were pouting. Her fingers rested lightly upon the head of a chessman.
Suddenly she withdrew her hand, and launched a side-long look at her
opponent from beneath drooping lashes. Ethelbert's brow was black, and
for an instant there appeared in his eyes a glint of loathing.

Then Cynerith surveyed the board once more and played her piece.

It was checkmate.

As by a common impulse, they both rose, making no comment upon the
game. The Queen was flushed and quivering. Ethelbert bowed to her and
strode hurriedly from the hall.

Cynerith went then to King Offa's private chamber. The King was there
alone: he smiled at sight of her, and greeted her lovingly. Cynerith
stood before him, rapping one foot upon the earthen floor.

"My lord," she burst forth at last, "what will ye do if things fall out
even so as your dearest wishes be undermined?"

Offa spread wide his hands.

"How now, sweetheart?" he queried, laughing.

"It were well to be ready. If East Anglia become our foe--if Ethelbert
will not wed with Ethelfrith----?"

"Not wed with Ethelfrith! Not wed my little maid! How, wife, what
meanest thou?"

"I understand not, for my life," said Cynerith, "which way things are
faring between them twain! It is my belief that Ethelbert is here to
pick a quarrel with thee, Offa."

"Tush, woman, woman! I have marked nought of this."

"Thou wilt own that my woman's wit is ever quicker than thine own,
husband. I think he beareth little love to our daughter, and none to
thee or me, or any of us. For all he is so mild, and his tongue so
smooth, he is a man to scheme deep undertakings. Why hath he brought
with him so great an armed train--greater far than a wedding
warranteth? Offa, I tell thee this youth will some day spread his sway
in England, even so far as thou hast spread thine!"

"If I thought he truly scorned my daughter...."

"Shall we let him go forth, husband, wed or unwed? Thou shouldst set
him straightway in ward, the wheedling knave! or there are other ways,
maybe!"

"Lady wife," said Offa, "do thou bear in mind that this man is our
guest!"

"My lord, Ethelbert is young, and as for thee, thou hast looked thy
last upon the height of thy manhood. And Egbert our son will never be
the man that thou art. I say, beware! Come tell me now, if so be that
Ethelbert of East Anglia wriggle from out of this pact he is come to
make with us--if he make of us laughing-stocks from Iceland unto Caisar
Charles's court--aye, and beyond--say ye will strike, O Offa of Mercia,
so that your kingly dignity be upheld in the land!"

"God knoweth I will strike, and right heavily!" cried Offa. "I give my
word I will not fail thee. But, lady, I hold thee mistaken--all this
can scarcely be."

And as he was in gleeful humour, he put the matter from his mind, and
began contentedly to examine and polish his boar-spears. He had
suffered one or two envious pangs through Ethelbert's youth and vigour.
Moreover, strong man though he was, he had never been able to bridle
Cynerith.

Hardly had the Queen left the room than Sexwolf, her neglected
favourite, sprang out upon her; and bitterly he upbraided her, raging,
expostulating, pleading, outside the very door of King Offa's cabinet.

"Hold thy tongue, young man!" said she loudly, in her stateliest tones;
and she swept from before him into the hall, where some were setting
out the evening meal.

It was a hot evening, even sultry. They opened the doors, and such
windows as had swinging frames, and the red glow of sunset shone in
upon them for a brief hour. Though few of their court were to be
present, they decked themselves that night in their full finery.
Cynerith, clad in wine-purple, was as handsome, seen by twilight, as
she had ever been in the days of her prime. Eadburh, in green and
crimson, was gorgeous and blatant. Ethelfrith wore white, exquisitely
embroidered with silver and gold.

Star of Mercia was she indeed that night. Eadburh seemed a burning
brazier by contrast; Cynerith a painted shrew. No more was the Lady
Ethelfrith silent; merry words flowed from her lips; time and again her
laughter rippled out, soft and joyous. King Offa began, as was his
custom, to talk of his wars, and of the stupendous dyke, boundary
between his dominions and the lands of the wild Welsh, which the March
folk, at his bidding, had dug in the sweat of their brows; but he soon
hushed his voice, and listened proudly while his youngest-born told of
her new-found pleasure in hunting, dancing, and friendly company. Even
the Atheling, a stalwart, somewhat sullen youth, was seen once or twice
to smile.

They brought her cither, and she sang them all her store of songs, with
an art and confidence of which none had ever thought her capable. King
Ethelbert applauded her and cast fond looks upon her, and at the end of
every ditty he prayed her for more.

By and by, when the light faded and the torches were kindled, Offa the
King began to yawn, and to doze in his chair. The Queen then conversed
apart with Ethelbert. She bore herself meekly towards him, was innocent
and child-like in manner and speech. Presently Offa awoke. His wife was
beside him, bearing a brimming tumbler.

"What--what--sweetheart?" said he.

"It is mine own brew that thou lovest so well," Cynerith replied. She
waited while he drank, and noted how the potion increased his
drowsiness.

"Husband," she whispered, "I have sure proof that it is even as I
guessed. He will go hence upon the morrow, leaving us pledges which he
hath no mind to fulfil. Then will he stir up the men of his own
kingdom, without doubt, hoping to take thee defenceless in thine old
age. The hour is ripe, Offa my King! Shall he live to work our
undoing?"

"I shall be nithing in the eyes of all men," murmured Offa.

"Lo, no man shall know how the end did come about," said the Queen. "I,
thy wife, will be thy handmaid in this as in all things, aye, and bear
the blame, if blame be to follow. Trust in me. O son of Woden, it
profiteth not a man to spare his enemies. Hereafter shall thy sway
reach from the hills of Wales even unto the eastern sea."

And Offa nodded his head.

She took another cup in her hand, and beckoned to Ethelbert, who rose
to meet her midmost in the hall.

"We will talk together of the wedding day," said she. "The King leaves
all such business unto me." Then they drank to one another, very
gravely, where they stood.

Eadburh, sitting by her sister, nudged her, with sneering lips.

"Let us now to bed, children," cried Cynerith.

"I trow we are all full weary, even as our lord the King."

As she passed out, she said in the ear of a trusted servant: "Gymbert,
be ready against I need thee!"

Edric the seneschal stayed behind, searching the floor and the tables
for property mislaid, smothering the torches himself with meticulous
care. He heard a light step brush across the strewn rushes. Ethelfrith
stood before him, darkly cloaked and hooded.

"My little hare was ailing this evening," said she. "I might not find
thee, Edric, though I sought. But even now he is better than I could
earlier have hoped."

"I will go see him early to-morrow," said Edric, "if ye do think he
will live through this night." He was a man of few words.

"He will live through the night.... Edric, I have no wish to sleep. I
have thoughts and fears which break through my rest.... And then ...
Eadburh said ... at least I do fancy that she meant to say...."

"Her tongue wags ever too fast," Edric rejoined. "Well, lady, what said
she?"

"It was of my lord King Ethelbert she spake.... I am sorely troubled.
Meseemeth that the Queen and King Ethelbert love each other not, or
mayhap.... And there is strife between my mother and Sexwolf.... I hate
Eadburh!" cried Ethelfrith. "God forgive me!" she added, horrified.

Surprise and interest went far to conquer Edric's wonted reserve. The
little princess irked him usually; but now--yes, and formerly
throughout that evening--she showed signs of a spirit that he had never
suspected to exist in her.

"Listen, lady," said he. "King Ethelbert should go his ways, taking you
with him. He loveth you dearly, as all may see. Here hath he been three
weeks, and is no nearer the settlement of that which brought him
hither. Ye are scarce even a moment together. This is a drear
betrothal."

"Alack! how can I help?" said she. "Can a maid beg a man to wed her?"

"And fret not yourself too greatly over what Queen Eadburh may say or
do. Her mind is evil, and all that she looketh upon doth take on for
her the same ill hue."

"O Edric, good Edric, dear Edric, say to me that all must be well! My
heart sinks within me. Tell me--tell me truly whether my father's court
be fair and clean, as I have heretofore dreamed it to be!"

Edric turned away his face, and began to poke, with the staff which he
always carried, in the rushes beneath a little table standing under one
of the windows. A faint clink resounded. He stooped and picked up a
small, finely-wrought key with a handle curiously bent.

"That is my mother's wry-necked key!" exclaimed Ethelfrith. "Great
store sets she by it. Thou knowest she weareth it ever upon the chain
at her waist."

"She leant much upon the board this evening, playing at chess with
Ethelbert," said the old man, "Belike it was rubbed loose, or the chain
broke."

"It openeth the garden door of the chamber, built down into the earth,
beneath the Queen's bedroom," the Lady continued. "I have never been
within, nor hath any that I have heard of. But Gymbert may go
sometimes: he hath another key like unto this. Once, one of the maids
did whisper.... But I will not believe it!"

"Neither have I ever seen into that chamber," said Edric the seneschal;
and both together they uttered the same words:

"This night spake she into the ear of Gymbert, even as she left the
hall!"

"O child, be strong!" said Edric. He stopped and coughed. "There would
be no harm," he ventured, "in learning to be strong."

They were both silent for a little while. Then "Take thou the Queen's
key, Ethelfrith Offa's daughter," said he. "She shall deem it utterly
lost. It may serve thee at need."

She slipped it into her bosom, and went softly from the room.


"God's blood! thou sorry young fool!" cried Offa's wife. "Is this all I
must hear from thee--I, who have done thee so much honour? By the
Fiend! thou art right hardy! Thinkest indeed that the man who scorneth
me shall have my daughter? I am no loser, and Offa and I, we shall
share thy kingdom!"

She stamped her foot three times, and scarcely had she done so when a
part of the floor of her bedchamber began quickly to descend, and
Ethelbert King of the East Angles, who stood upon that part, sank with
it out of sight.

There followed one or two cries, fierce, but muffled almost to
extinction, and a thud.

The Queen put her face to the opening, and called, "Gymbert, is all
done?"

There was no reply. She bent low to listen. Then a piercing sound
assailed her ears--the voice of a woman, shrieking again and again,
with gruesome, mechanical regularity.

Another moment, and Cynerith had reached the garden. The outer door of
this wing, her private door, was open. Upon the threshold stood her
youngest daughter, in night-rail and hooded cloak.

Gymbert the Queen's thrall rushed at the Lady Ethelfrith, and tried to
take hold of her. She fought and beat him off, and tottered, shrieking
still, though more faintly, sobbing and moaning, down the few steep
steps and towards the middle of the room, where lay a shapeless mass
from which a pool of crimson was spreading slowly. A flickering lantern
swung from a hook upon the wall.

Others arrived upon the scene. First came old Edric; then Eadburh, with
her mass of tawny hair about her face; then Offa, muttering hoarsely;
and all the inhabitants of the palace thronged to learn what had
befallen.

Ethelfrith was seated upon the ground, holding Ethelbert's dissevered
head in her arms, and she rocked herself to and fro, and chanted in a
far-away tone.

    "Under the leaves, under the leaves,
    There saw I maidens seven!"

She broke off short, and changed her tune.

    "Then He built Him a bridge of the beams of the sun,
    And over the water ran He;
    And the three wealthy wights they followed him after,
    And drowned they were all three!"

"Come, canst thou riddle me my ridlass?

                    "Yellow and green,
                    Sharp and keen,
                    Grows in the mene.
    The King cannot ride it, no more can the Queen."

"No more can the Queen.... I must mind me to tell my mother that in two
years and a little more her son will be lying dead and cold. How sister
Eadburh will storm at what must follow--the fall of our proud house!...
Heart's dearest, the sun is high in heaven. Why do ye not awake, my
lord? Do ye not hear the lark singing? Ethelbert, there is blood all
about thy hair--it is like a crown, Ethelbert!"

Babbling thus and laughing, she was torn away: nor did she ever recover
her reason, though she lived thereafter thirty years.



Earl Sweyn the Nithing

_Being the Chronicle of Winifred Ebba's daughter_


In the first year of King Hardicanute, on the sixth-and-twentieth day
of May, feast of blessed Augustine, Algive, only child of Aldred,
sometime thane of Berrington, became by oath-plight nun of the Order of
blessed Benedict, before the altar of the Abbey-church of Leominster,
lately builded and begun by Leofric the good Earl. By this means grew
the hoard of the same holy house the richer by the half of her goods.
The other half, and her land at Berrington eke, Athelstane her uncle
kept for himself.

On the self-same day, and in the self-same abbey-church, did I,
Winifred Ebba's daughter, whose father had been freed churl of the
father's father of this Algive, make also mine awful vows to serve God
after St. Benedict's law. Algive Aldred's daughter had then fifteen
years, and I six more than she: all the days of our lives had we played
together, and I watched over her. And for that I had ever longed, since
I could mind me, for the religious life, I was glad in that hour: and
my kindred chode not too greatly, for that I willed to tread the path
whereon wended our old thane's daughter. But for Lady Algive was her
oath-plight the spring of many and bitter woes.

Now Algive was a right comely maiden. Like the blush of the wild rose
on milk was the skin of her cheek: red as the wild rose-berries her
soft lips; her hair yellow as the heart of the honeysuckle, and long
and curling before they shore it; and her eyes were blue and grey
together, as the onyx-stone in my Lord Bishop's great ring. She was
hale, blithe, and unmoody, mild and forgiving; she worshipped God as do
most women; she had ever a most sweet ruth for all that ailed or
sorrowed; boughsome was she unto the rule of St. Benedict, in so far as
the Abbess willed: yet I do mind me of thinking always that Heaven had
not called her to be a nun. Howsoever, these thoughts kept I to myself.
Twenty sisters were we, a few good enough, many less good than the best
that lead the life of the world. We dwelt together in peace as far as
might be; but there were no saints among us, such as King Edward loved.
Nor was there such learning at Leominster as many of our English
sisterhoods did boast of; but of such things I cannot speak cunningly,
nor was I ever drawn to lettered lore. For me, the things of the
household: let me cook and mend, heal and bind, and all happiness is
mine. Our sister Algive had small learning enough. But because she was
sunny ever, and none hated her, and because, moreover, her kin were
mighty folk, when the Abbess Mildred came to die, we made her Abbess
over us. Algive was then in her one-and-twentieth year. I do think that
from first to last her rule was overmild. Many of us left prayer for
idle talking--an ill thing where there are many women! Me she took from
the kitchen, wherein I had wrought since my coming to the convent, to
be sub-prioress, and sent me often as her trusted bode about the farm
and garden.

Those were the days when holy King Edward sat upon the throne in
Thorney Island, by London town, and doughty Earl Godwin swayed the
land. Many hated this Godwin; not a few feared, but ever followed him;
but I who knew him can tell you so much of him: Were he greedy of
wealth and grasping after means to might, yet had he a stout English
heart, and none loved better than he the English land, or kenned better
the wants of English folk. Churl's son or childe's son, I wit not, but
King Edward took his daughter, fair Edith, as Lady of the English; and
the children of Godwin were of the blood of kings, for he wedded Gytha
the Danish Lady, kinswoman of King Canute. But though foremost in Witan
and in leaguer, two of his own sons might Earl Godwin never rule. Of
the six sons of Godwin, with three have I, Winifred, had my dealings,
and of those three this is my reckoning: Sweyn the eldest was a man,
for all his wilfulness and his sinful wrath. Harold the next-born was a
noble prince. Woe worth the day wherein the arrow slew him! As for
Tostig, fair of face as Michael Archangel, he was a devil.

Now the Abbey of Leominster stood in the old land of Offa, some
fourteen miles from the Hereford, where the king's armies are wont to
pass over Wye into the fastnesses of the Welsh. Some three years before
my lady Algive became our Abbess, Sweyn the first-born son of Godwin
was made Earl, and given as Earldom much of the old kingdom of the
March--to wit, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, and more beside. Ere
long there spread from mouth to mouth tales of the wildness of our
young Earl, even such wildness as Godwin his father bore with never in
any other lord in England. More viking he seemed than Englishman, which
made some to wonder, and to put abroad a groundless slander. And with
brooding brows and foreboding nods, folk would tell of how he spurned
the wise words of the old, or of how he would at times drink deep, and
then fall to singing, fighting, or love-making maybe. Yet was he a
righteous lawgiver, and open-handed ever: loving a daring deed, a
hearty lay, a tale of the great ones of bygone years. Few there were
that wished him not well, and few that prayed not God to bring him
through the storms of youth to a steady manhood. Alack! alack for Lord
Sweyn! tallest, proudest, most gifted of all the Godwinsons!

It was on the twenty-sixth day of May--the self-same day of our
profession--in the year of Our Lord One Thousand, Forty and Seven, when
the hawthorn was in full bloom, and the bleak blossoms of the
blackthorn hung withered and tattered on their swart stems, and all our
broad meadows shone golden with the buttercup, that we of the convent
of Leominster heard a clatter of many horses' hooves upon the
cobble-stones before our door. And there before the door was Sweyn our
Earl, with twenty Danish house-carles that followed him, and at his
side some of the wealthiest and worthiest thanes of our smiling shire
of Hereford. He was much above the mean height, long-limbed and lithe,
with a swift and noiseless tread; not ruddy, as are the most of the
English, but dark of hair and milk-white of skin as his mother the
Dane, and browned about the face and neck by wind and sun; with a nose
like the beak of a hawk, and eyes like the hawk's for brightness, and a
sudden, rare smile such as God gives to few. And a most beguiling
tongue had Earl Sweyn--the tongue of a sagaman.

I saw his coming, peeping from an upper window, and went in haste with
the tidings to the Lady Abbess.

He strode into her little parlour, and louted low before her. Then many
a strange thing happened. I was standing by at this their first
meeting, and what there befell can I forget never. For ye must bear in
mind that for six years I had toiled without end within the convent
kitchen, and beheld no man, young or old, goodly or wizen, but Godmund
the priest. It was a fair sight that greeted the Earl, that of Algive
Aldred's daughter, now full-grown to womanhood--two and twenty years
had she--fair even in her weeds of black, with her eyes lowered, yet
she peering, as I knew, all the while from beneath her lashes. And so,
when he then beheld her, Sweyn Godwinson grew pale beneath his bronze,
and stood stock-still before her, his look all wonder. Algive raised
her grey-blue eyes to his for one short moment. Of a sudden she dropped
her gaze once again to the hem of her kirtle, and felt fumblingly for
the crucifix at her waist. Then Sweyn flushed deep red, and his fingers
clenched on the handle of his boar-spear; and taking another step
forward, he bowed him down once more, and gave her greeting in words.
Thereafter these twain talked together in courtly wise, as befitted
them.

                 *       *       *       *       *

From that day forth came Earl Sweyn often to our Abbey. Twice or thrice
had he with him his near kinsman, Beorn, late made Earl of the Middle
English, sister's son to King Canute. This was a handsome man enough,
but methought his eyes were treacherous. After a while Earl Sweyn
brought Beorn no more, but himself came, and was much with the Abbess
alone.

My lady had indeed grounds for beseeching help of him: her churls were
unruly, and who could rede the Abbess so well as the Earl? Howsoever,
within the sisterhood was there great tattle of talk, and light hinting
anent their two names. I but waited, and prayed, feeling sharp woe, and
sorrowed in my heart--Mary forgive me!--as much for him as for her.

Then one day late in June, the Lady Abbess rode forth, with only a band
of weapon-bearing churls, to Hereford, where Sweyn the Earl then dwelt.
A week's stay made she there, then rode back again to her Abbey. No
more was she the woman that she had been--even Algive the fair,
sparkling as a beam of the sun. Wan as the dead was she now, with
tight-drawn lips. All day long would she walk up and down the cloister,
up and down the garden paths, oft-times wringing her hands together.
The evil mutterings grew, and tongues waxed ever louder and bolder; and
some sisters forbore not openly to cast gibes at their Abbess almost
before her back was turned.

I beguiled them as well as I could to leave chatter and spend
themselves in healthful work, for it was hay-harvest-tide. On a day
early in August, the eleventh day, we bore in our last load of hay. I
mind me well of that eleventh of August--sultriest day of all that
sultry month: the lift bright as glass, and cloudless altogether until
the hour of sun-setting. All day long we laboured in the heat, staying
only for our holy offices, the which were soon said under the roof-tree
of heaven; and every sister, yea, even the Abbess Algive herself,
worked as lustily as the stoutest churl. All was done at early even;
the great wains rolled home to the barns, and we passed in thankful
procession to our church, and there sang vespers, as well as we might
for our parched throats. The evening meal was spread in the hall of the
convent: each nun stood beside her stool at the board--thinking, one
and all, I trow, of white wheaten bread, and cool cider, and eke of
dreamless slumber: at the board's head, the Abbess had but now beckoned
to Godmund the Priest that he should ask blessing on our food, when
there arose a loud clamour without, such as made even the drowsiest to
start, and we heard the voice of the portress, angry and shrill. Then
one threw open the door of the hall, and there upon the threshold stood
Earl Sweyn Godwinson, and behind him his house-carles, twenty dauntless
men of the Danes.

Earl Sweyn stepped within the hall, up to where the Abbess was.

"My lady," he cried, before us all, "here am I. Come thou with me!"

Abbess Algive would not meet his gaze. She strove a little to speak,
and a whisper came.

"Lord Earl----"

Sweyn kept his glowing eyes upon her until at last she raised her eyes
to his. Then:

"Sweyn, Sweyn," quoth she, and went to him, putting both her hands into
his hands. She would have withdrawn them indeed, but he caught her
about the body, and laughing a little, bore her shoulder-high from her
convent hall.

We sped to our gates, but he was already ahorse, with her before him,
holding to him tightly, and his men were springing to their saddles.
Out at the gates they streamed, and we after them, into the midst of
Leominster town, where they halted a little while. What a sight was
there upon Leominster green! Small wonder that the folk thronged to
stare! There were the sisters of blessed Benedict, running hither and
thither as they were wode, all shrieking, some laughing, most wailing
and calling upon all the saints: there lame old Father Godmund,
snuffling and chiding all unheeded; in the midst of all, Sweyn the
Earl, with his Danish house-carles about him, marking naught, it
seemed, but a loose nail in his horse's shoe. Suddenly, one Sister
Sexburh, who had been ever greedy after gold and jewels and such light
things of the world, cried with a loud voice:

"What, good sisters! bide ye here when the road lies open before you?
What of the flock when the shepherdess is fled? Must we ever waste
within walls?" And picking up her kirtle with one hand, she set off
swiftly down the high-way, with Offa the drunken thane in her wake.

But of all that there befell--to my shame I own it--I heard no more,
for now Earl Sweyn set his horse's head towards Hereford, and with him
was Algive with her arms about him; and I had no more thought of the
Abbey of Leominster, of my holy oath of profession, of the needy I was
wont to feed and clothe and the sick I was wont to heal; but I ran
until I came up with Sweyn's horse, catching at his stirrup and calling
out:

"Leave me not, leave me not! Take me also, Lord Earl!"

Sweyn made sign to one of his men that rode beside him, who, stooping,
lifted me into his saddle before him, and so was I borne along,
following Earl Sweyn and my Lady Algive.

                 *       *       *       *       *

From that day forth was Earl Sweyn forced to flee from shire to shire.
For wheresoever he would go, the noise of his sacrilege sped before
him. All priests of God cried out upon him throughout the length and
breadth of the land; and of the folk, the most did shun the Earl, and
curse the whole brood of Godwin.

Then Sweyn took pen in hand, and wrote unto Edward our King, his sister
Edith the lady's lord, begging this thing of him: That whereas Algive
Aldred's daughter had taken the holy oath-plight in full early youth,
for dread of her kindred, whom she might not withstand, this Algive
might now be freed of her oath, and be wedded to him, Sweyn Godwinson,
as his lawful wife. Now blessed Edward was a great saint, ywiss. Did
any man ill or slightingly by this Edward's self, his laws or his
kingship, then had the King towards him the kind heart of a woman: but
woe betide that one that had wrought wrong to Holy Church! He alone
would find starkness in King Edward. For him had our Lord King heart of
stone! When he had read the writing of Lord Sweyn, he cut and tore the
same in shreds, and stamping his foot upon the ground, swore by blessed
Dunstan's bones that Sweyn Godwinson should rue the day wherein he was
born.

King Edward was abiding at Winchester, and Earl Godwin and his other
sons were with him. Unto his father sent Sweyn then for help, but
Godwin did most straitly let that he should not come to him: nor would
any of his brethen hold speech with Sweyn, but Harold only.

Then was Algive the Abbess stricken with fear, and wanhope, and bitter
remorse, and she fled from before Earl Sweyn, and hid herself in the
house of a kinsman of mine own, in the borough of Pevensey, in
Kentland, where, try as he would, he might never come at her. Here, in
the summer of the next year, her son Haco was born.

And about this tide was Sweyn Godwinson outlawed by Witenagemote, and
became as a wolf, and his head as a wolf's head, and thus any man might
slay him, and yet go guiltless of blood.

And Sweyn fled to the sea-shore, and took ship with his house-carles,
and fared unto his Danish kin, and with them roved the seas a viking,
for full a year and more.

Now my Lady Algive and I abode in the house of Oswy my kinsman, a
worthy chapman of the town of Pevensey, and the folk around kenned
nought of us nor of whence we came, believing her to be a widow and I
her maid. For King Edward and Earl Godwin had made fast unto my lady
some small means of livelihood. Thus a whole year passed from the
spring of Sweyn Godwinson's forth-going, and summer was come again. And
one fine day, when my lady and I did walk forth into Pevensey market to
buy us fresh cake-bread, who should come through the market, wending
afoot, but Sweyn's cousin, Earl Beorn of the shifty eyes. He caught
sight of Algive's face beneath her wimple, as she stood by the
cake-seller's booth, and halted beside her, and spake softly, near to
her ear. And when my lady returned to our dwelling, Earl Beorn went
along with her, and there talked with her alone some while.

Often thereafter came he unto my lady Algive at my kinsman's house at
Pevensey--once in the week at the seldomest. What this boded I could
not guess, but ever I misliked this Beorn more and more.

One evening, late in summer, I, after long wandering by the shore in
the cool of the eventide, hied me home, weening that somewhat ailed my
lady, and sought her in her own small chamber. I found her therein,
crouched low upon the floor, white as sheeted ghost, her eyes a-stare,
her mouth round-agape. Seeing me, she stumbled to her feet, and with
one great sob, flung her arms about my neck and held me as she would
never let me go.

"Winifred, sweet friend," then said mine alderliefest lady, "fail me
not now, thou that hast followed me through weal and woe! For now must
I to a deed before which my whole being quails. Know then--Earl
Beorn--he hath wooed me long to his own ends, and I withstood him,
minding me that my troth is to Christ our Lord, even though I be now
desecrate. But ever he spake of the King, and of how he, Beorn, had
lately besought him that Sweyn might come again into England, and be
made once more lord and earl, as beseemeth his father's son. And King
Edward, said he, seemed like to yield. And oh! I have but now plighted
me, that if Sweyn be inlawed by his means, I will go unto Beorn
whensoever he shall send for me.... O Winifred, thou wilt yet stand by
me? Thou wilt go with me--on that day...? To what end my soul's weal?
Is not Sweyn's life wrecked through me?"

Seeing how it was with her, I wrestled not with her resolve, but
soothed her crying, and swore to stand or fall by her. In the town of
Pevensey I had a friend, a trusty good-wife who had been whilom of Earl
Godwin's household, and loved Lord Sweyn as her own bairn. Indeed, I
had but now learned of her that Sweyn, with his Danish ships, hung even
then about the shores of Kent. And in his father's lordship of Bosham
were some, as I knew, that gave him food and shelter when he willed to
set foot on English ground. To one of these I sent, bidding him tell
Sweyn the outlaw that I had that for his ear alone which must be said,
and quickly. Three days later I found him, Earl Godwin's first-born,
within a filthy hovel, wherein must he ever stoop that his head hit not
against the thatch.

Straightway I fell on my knees before him, not knowing what I
uttered--only saying over and over:

"Lord Sweyn, Lord Sweyn, this must not be!"

And I told to him the guilty bargain made by my Lady Algive with Beorn
the Earl, for sake of him, Sweyn Godwinson.

Scarce was my meaning clear ere his fell wrath began to gather like a
thunder-storm.

"May he burn in hell-fire!" cried Sweyn. "May earth spue forth his
body, that he come never to no burial! May the ravens of Odin pick his
bones for ever, and each day may the flesh grow upon them anew! The
toad! The rat!--Aye, I too have trafficked with Beorn Estrithson of
late, and found him kindly and loving enough. Speak for me to the King!
Shall I be inlawed? I do think for a day: and then, if I but yawn at
mass, or smile at a pretty wench by the roadside, they will drive me
once more forth!"

Then growing calmer he said:

"Into thy keeping give I Algive. Watch well; and when Beorn would work
his wicked will, send me tidings, and I will be with them ere harm can
come to that lady."

Honeyed words spake Earl Beorn in King Edward's ear, and within the
week was Sweyn Godwinson inlawed, and of the King bidden come and
welcome.

On the self-same night my lady bade me wit that the hour of her dread
was nigh. Now the King's ships were out, ready to fight with Baldwin
the Flemish Earl, but in the end King Edward willed not to war with
Baldwin, so must the seamen to their own homes. It had so befallen that
the King had sent for Harold Godwinson to Sandwich, where he was then
dwelling. Earl Harold's seamen were of Devon, and would make Dartmouth
on the next day, and thus must Earl Beorn be over them in their ship of
war, in Harold's stead. At eventide would Earl Harold yield up his
command to Beorn his kinsman, in the haven of Pevensey; and at eventide
would Beorn have my Lady Algive come to him aboard this ship.

Then I sent a trusty one in haste with these tidings unto Sweyn.

As the sun was setting, my lady, hooded altogether, and leaning upon my
arm, went down to the water-side. In a shed, behind heaped-up timber,
crouched we hidden, and watched Earl Harold and his household men land
from the tall warship when the shades of night were fast drawing down,
and set out for the court of the King. Earl Beorn was left, and four of
his men, and they had all eaten and drunken well.

When all was once more still, we crept out, she and I, clomb the ladder
that yet hung adown the side, and so aboard the ship of Earl Beorn. In
the bows lay the four seamen, heavy with the ale they had drunken: they
seemed scarce to mark our going. Now Beorn awaited her astern, in a
tent-room strung upon poles and screened on all sides with thick
hangings, wherein he had feasted with Harold a little before. At the
door of this tent I left her, and ran with all my haste to the ship's
side. Beneath my cloak I had carried, so warily, a little lanthorn,
whose horn I had shrouded with a scrap of thin red silk. This I waved
thrice to and fro, for a token to Lord Sweyn without.

In the twinkling of an eye, he came on out of the darkness, ten of his
Danish followers in his wake: swiftly and soundlessly they leapt
aboard. They took hold on three of Beorn's men ere they could struggle
or cry, gagged them, and bound them fast. The fourth saw we not at all
at that time.

Swiftly sped Sweyn towards the Earl's tent, the great battle-axe of a
viking in his hand, and I beside him. Even fleeter was I, for I forged
ahead, and had torn aside the hangings even as he came up with me. Earl
Beorn stood within, flushed and lowering: at his feet knelt Algive, her
hood wrested away, and the fingers of his right hand clasped in the
short golden curls of her hair. Beside him, as though thrust from his
way, was a light trestle-board, yet strewn with bread, broken meats,
and drinking-horns: upon this board he leant unsteadily with his other
hand. Said he thickly, swaying a little:

"By the hammer of Thor, who dare----"

Then Sweyn glided within, and called full softly and sweetly: "Ho,
Beorn Estrithson! Here is Sweyn Godwinson!"

"Is it so?" said Beorn. "Is it so indeed? Sweyn the Outlaw! Sweyn the
Nithing!" His voice rose in a drunken laugh. "Godwin's son! Sweyn the
son of King Canute, and of Gytha the spotless princess."

It was the last hiss of that wicked worm. The Danish war-axe of Sweyn
whistled once through the air, and smote Earl Beorn right between the
brows, and he fell heavily along the deck, and by his blood was Algive
all foully bespattered as she lay.

And Sweyn sang loud and hoarse and high; hoarse and high and loud sang
he:

    "Utters the axe: of Sweyn the sea-rover;
    Lifeless he lies: the wiler of women!
    Blood of betrayer: is it not a sight full seemly?
                Haro! Haro!
                Aié! Haro!
    Lo! cries his lord: Weapon unworthy,
    Lop I thy head leifer, than 'gainst brave and true men bear thee!
    Hempen death rather his, that was sib-folk's slanderer.
    'Cowards come not: To the halls of the Chosen!
                Haro! Haro!..."

But of all that followed I nothing saw nor heard, for a great blow was
stricken me behind the head, and black darkness rushed down upon mine
eyes and ears.


The blood beat dully against my brow, and my head ached as it would
split in twain. I lay on a day-bed, pillowed with down.

On the ship? There had been a ship.... The fourth man! He must have
fallen upon me as I stood in the tent-door.

Nay, I was once again within four walls. There were voices of men and
women about me. I opened mine eyes. Near-by saw I some that I kenned
full well, though they kenned not me, for often had I gazed upon the
great ones of the land, since coming into Kent. On a settle over
against me sat proud Lady Gytha, Earl Godwin's wife: her grief had made
her stony; her eyes were heavy, and her lips a thin, tight streak. Earl
Tostig stood before the empty hearth, clanking ever at the golden chain
about his neck. At the feet of his mother, upon a stool, sat Harold,
holding on his knee the child Haco Sweynson.

"Stirs she yet?" said Lady Gytha.

"Nay, not yet," Tostig answered. I shut mine eyes, for his harsh tones
jarred and sickened me.

"Was it Algive?" she said, right mournfully. "Has this woman once again
brought my Sweyn to nought?"

"Lady mother," spake Earl Harold, "I was, as ye know, at Dartmouth
town, when, at dead of night, came one of my men to me. In a dark wynd,
he said, armed men set upon him and held him fast, and one, whose voice
seemed the voice of Sweyn, gave into his arms this child, son of Sweyn
Godwinson, and bade him take him thence unto me, or be slain where he
stood. 'And look thou beneath the shed of Oswald the shipman, by his
wharfside,' quoth he that might be Sweyn, 'and there wilt thou behold
more which beareth on this matter.' My man and his fellows sought the
sheds of Oswald, and lo! bound hand and foot, four seamen of Beorn's
ship, which Sweyn my brother sailed out of Pevensey, and the body of
Beorn Estrithson our kinsman, mangled fearfully, and eke yon poor soul,
whom the men of Beorn call the Lady Algive's woman."

Then I guessed that I was now in the house of Earl Godwin at
Dorchester.

"Slain by my son!" moaned Lady Gytha. "Beorn, who won for him the
King's forgiveness!"

"Fore God and His host of hallows!" cried Tostig bitterly. "Heavy is
now our shame! Such wantonness knows no end. Outcast of Holy Church was
Sweyn Godwinson--and now black murder done on him who had befriended
him. Shall the whole house of Godwin fall for the strayings of one?
Were I King----"

"Hold!" Harold thundered. "Never aught underhand did Sweyn, and that
thou well wittest, Tostig!"

At this I strove to sit upright on my bed, but could not, and fell
back.

"See, she swoons no more," said Lady Gytha, and was at my side,
bringing wine in a flask.

Then there broke in upon us Godwin the Earl, with fumbling step, his
eyes wild, his grey locks tangled and unkempt.

"Woe worth the day!" he cried aloud unto his lady. "Woe worth the hour
wherein he saw the light, this son of thine! Twice outlaw he, and
Nithing by the word of the armed Gemot! Foul blows where thanks were
owing--that was well done, O Sweyn! No child of mine art thou
henceforward. Harold, stand thou in his stead: thine are all the rights
of the first-born."

He sank upon a settle, shading his countenance with his hands. Lady
Gytha went to him, and her tears began fast to flow. Then came Tostig's
whisper, sudden and clear as the cracking of ice:

"What, Harold, so soon? I did think----"

But Harold chode not with him, for the boy Haco whimpered, and he fell
to soothing him in most kind wise.

Then, by God's favour, I rose from my bed, and knelt at the feet of the
Earl and his lady, and spake to them of the shameful saying of Beorn,
the which had goaded Sweyn Godwinson to smite him to death. In after
years, Lord Harold knew, but so softly spake I there that my tale was
heard of Godwin and Gytha only, and no word reached the ear of Tostig.

When I had ended, Lady Gytha arose, to pass from us all into an inner
room. And Earl Godwin arose too, and caught her arm as she went.

"Gytha--wife"--said he--"here is it at an end! I am old, I am old,
Gytha!"

It was sooth he spake, the once stout Earl. He was an old man from that
hour. But Gytha held her head high, and I knew that in her heart she
was glad for her son.


Good folk, ye say that ye would hear yet further of Earl Sweyn and of
the Lady Algive, who are now no more, and of how they came to their
ends. Men say that King Edward would once more have pardoned this lord,
Edith the Lady besought him so. But when Sweyn had put the body of Earl
Beorn on shore at Dartmouth, of his eight ships, six then left him, for
his men, both Danes and English, now beheld him stained with the blood
of a kinsman. And as he sailed towards the east, in the warship of
Beorn, with one of his own ships faithfully following, the men of
Hastings set forth from their haven, and hunted these craft until they
overtook and seized them. But Sweyn Godwinson they took not, nor Lady
Algive that was with him; and they twain hied them into Flanders, and
there abode all that winter. Thereafter Lord Sweyn went once more
a-sea-roving, seeking forgetfulness, as I have heard.

In the year One Thousand Fifty and One, when the townsfolk of Dover,
greatly wroth, did wreak the wrongs done to them by Eustace the French
Earl upon the said Earl and his men, Godwin withstood the King upon the
men of Dover's behalf, and was banished by King Edward beyond seas, he
and all his house. Then went they also unto Baldwin's land, and Sweyn
met them there, and abode with them, for he had long yearned for sight
of his kindred.

When Godwin was called back into England, they were for bringing Sweyn
with them, to be inlawed, and received back into the King's trust, But
Sweyn's pride was broken. He would come no more to the land of his
birth, who had so fouled the fair fame of Godwin's house. Harold should
stand in his stead: he would fare afar, pilgrim to the Holy Grave and
Calvary Hill, that haply he might find the forgiveness of heaven. When
the children of Godwin returned, they had in their keeping Algive my
dear lady. All this while had she been in the city of Bruges, in the
ward of Baldwin's daughter, Mahault, that is now Queen of the English,
wife to King William. They sent for me to her, and put us to dwell
together in the house of my kinsman at Pevensey, where we had woned
aforetime.

Now in two years from that time began my Lady Algive to wane and to
wither, as a green bush when the sap no more rises. She spake little,
and prayed long hours together. At last came the day, when she went
abroad no more, and often kept her bed. Then one morning early, she
called me to her side and thus quoth she:

"O Winifred, this month agone dreamed I a dream, one that is sooth and
no vanity. I dreamed that Sweyn, my lord and my love, stood before me,
the rime in his hair, his feet bruised and bleeding, and beckoned me.
So I know--ask me not how--that he is no longer on life, and that God
in his goodness sendeth death to me also. But lo! another marvel. Each
morn, as I awaken, I hear the ring of footsteps that come from a far
frozen land. Each morn, I say, are these footsteps louder and nigher;
but Sweyn comes not at all any more."

This was at the winter-tide. Early in the next summer, my good friend,
she who had been of the household of Gytha, sent to let me wit that an
holy priest and pilgrim was lately come from the East, bearing tidings
which my lady should hear. To our house-door came he, and I led him
within to my lady, where she lay. And this was his tale, told in few
words:

"Good wives, as I journeyed hither from the Holy City, I traversed the
land of Lycia, where they have a winter more bitter than any winter we
English know. And one evening came one to our fellowship, saying that
yonder, beneath the roof of an holy hermit, lay a man of the north,
they thought of the Island of the Angles, sick unto death. I followed
this Lycian, seeking my countryman, and found him, a mighty man
aforetime, I ween, but now so wasted with his wanderings that he seemed
to have no flesh, but only skin and bone. And when I would shrive and
housel him, thus he spake: 'Priest, know that I am Sweyn the Nithing,
first-born son of Earl Godwin, and whilom Earl in fair England, from
Hereford even unto Oxenford! Woe for the sins of unbridled youth! I
have profaned the Holy Church of Christ, and have wrought murder, even
upon my kinsman, when the red wrath boiled in my blood--aye, and the
guilt of mine own father's death is also upon me, most wretched! Since
these things done have I known no peace until this hour, wherein I
leave my life.'

"Soon after died he of the cold."

Now about an hour after this pilgrim had given over speaking, Algive
Aldred's daughter went forth from the bitterness of the world to the
unbounded mercy of God.

As for Haco Sweynson, he fell fighting by King Harold upon Senlac
field.

And I, Winifred, daughter of Ebba, yet live on, and pray in each hour
to Our Lord Christ and to Mary mild, His Mother, that the souls of
these twain, Sweyn and Algive, may be cleansed of every foul stain. For
though their sins were many and great, yet scorned they none, nor lied,
nor ever betrayed any but themselves, neither ground down the needy
when that might was theirs; and verily and indeed they loved much; and
I, who have sinned my share, God wot! do faithfully hope to meet them
both again ere long in the fair, shining meads of Paradise.



Edith's Well

"_Sicut spina rosam genuit Goduinus Edivam._"


So, Gundred my son's daughter, thou hast been to London town; and thou
hast seen this new Queen Edith, whom men in the French tongue call
Maulde; and she is the fairest lady who ever in all the world sat
beside king in high-seat; the most gracious, the meekest, the
freest-handed, the most ruthful! Edith, quoth the child? Long ago there
was an Edith.... Well, daughter, a queen once spoke to thy grandfather,
and he to her; and a mighty wonder marked their meeting, which will be
remembered while time shall last. Young folk love tales, and the old
are fain to the telling of tales. Sit down by my feet, and hear how
once upon a day Edith came to her Well yonder by the highway.

I have witnessed frost and snow, storm and lightning, pest and famine,
in my nigh-on-eighty years; I have known drought and burning also, but
never such drought as befell us in the year One Thousand Sixty and
Five. This was a great year in its beginnings: a marvellous year for
the apple-bloom; we had carried two crops of hay before July was out;
the wheat-ears were so heavy that they leant together as they grew,
like unto folk in a crowd that swoon, and even the barley would
scarcely bestir itself at the coming of a welcome wind. Oh, the heat of
that summer! We had three showers in all between April and the end of
August, and they but soft and slender. The earth cracked in places into
gaps full many a foot wide; the grass was no more green, but the colour
of the baked earth in which it had root: small weeds died, and the moss
withered on stock and stone; half a day was the life of a brier-rose.
Rabbits, hares, and some birds starved all about us; the field-mice
were a scourge to us at the first, but later even they and the
hedgehogs gave up the breath of life. The brooks dwindled and ceased to
flow but in a trickle: many an age-old spring sent forth water no more.
The morning dews were heavy, but soon gone; and the earth could drink
them in no farther than a hen may scratch. Though we dug dew-ponds, the
little moisture they gathered was not worth our toil. We cut the corn
in haste, for the wild fowl rifled it day and night. Many an one that
laboured did the sun strike dizzy. One man and one boy were slain by
the heat-stroke, and some tottered from the fields to work no more that
year. With those that remained, it was mug to mouth ten times in the
hour! My cider was gone within the first three days; and then my goodly
beer must follow! And in the second week in August they sent from
Ledbury to tell me that Edith the Lady, King Edward's wife, would pass
near by my dwelling as she went to visit her brother, Harold Godwinson
the Earl, at Hereford, and begged that I in charity would give her
refreshment upon her wayfaring.

As the Lady willed, so must I do, for our King's sake, and for the sake
of other some. In my boyhood I had been one year a henchman of Godwin
her father's; Gytha her mother had nursed me in some slight sickness; I
had ridden out with Sweyn to fight with Griffith the Welsh king. I had
not seen this Edith since she was a young maiden in her father's hall:
men had told of her as both merry and learned; but I had never been
near her, to speak one word. It was said that she led a gleeless life
with her pious old lord. She would not pass right before my door, I
deemed, on her way to the Hereford: I would take food and drink, and
meet her upon the road that runs through Ledbury to Gloucester, and
ride with her some deal of her journey, if she should wish for my
company. So I set out about the ninth hour of the morning, with four of
my men: my good wife, thy grandmother, I bade abide within doors, for
fear of the deadly heat. We bore with us a pie and wheaten bread--no
butter, for it would have melted. Little beer and no cider had I by
then; but we took two skins of ripe mead, fit for queen or king.

The sun was shining so strongly that we could almost hear the shooting
of his beams. The air was seen to throb. White dust lay thickly over
grass, bush and tree. There was a dreadful stillness; the only sound
that ourselves made not was the sickening hum of flies. We went slowly,
with bracken-leaves bound about our heads and twined within our horses'
browbands. When we had gone some two miles, there befell a great
mishap. The stopper flew from the mead-flask at the saddle-bow of
Anflete the reeve, and the mead gushed out. We had not time to catch
any of it ere it lay frothing in the dust. And then, as though the
devil strove to plague us, the other bottle, which mine own horse
carried, burst also, and left us likewise liquorless.

But we bore on, until we came to a spot a few yards off the Ledbury
highway, where the banks were steep and the bushes shady: indeed, all
about was the woodland of the vill of Stoke, belonging to this same
Edith the Lady, who had set a reeve therein to see to her rights and
her profits. Seemingly she would not stay to look upon her own land, so
fain was she for sight of Harold her brother. Near the joining of the
ways, then, we waited. Our throats were as dry as a smith's bellows. My
men had swallowed what little beer we had left before I could forbid
them. At once I made the blockheads seek for water, thinking of the
wants of those we had come to meet. Not one drop within a hundred yards
in every quarter, though God knows there are springs and streams enough
thereabouts in any common year! We stretched ourselves in what there
was of shade, and soon we beheld them coming, a goodly company of
ladies and armed men.

We went forward to greet them; the foremost of them got down from their
saddles; the Lady of the English came stately towards me, smiled, and
put her small hand in mine.

"Odda, right glad am I to meet with thee," she said. "Dost thou mind
thee how at Winchester I let my head-rail fall from a window into the
buckthorn-tree, and how thou didst climb in and get it again, and didst
send it me by my mother's woman?"

I remembered. Being but a henchman of the stable, I could not myself go
with it.

How gracious her smile! How mild her condescension! Great wonder was it
throughout the land, I knew, that she should be so lowly-sweet. The
Lady Edith was little like to Earl Godwin her father, the rugged, grim
old man! Although at this time about forty-four years old, as I think,
she was an exceedingly fair woman still. Her skin was white as
walrus-bone, and very little wrinkled; her hair long, thick, and
red-golden as ever it had been, for though she was now hooded and
staidly wimpled, I saw it uncovered later on that morning, and I could
find therein no grizzled strand. Her clothing? She was cloaked and
hooded, meseemeth, in fallow hue--and a little cross, finely-wrought in
silver, hung at her throat; but how can a man speak of women's
garments? I know that her mouth was soft and kindly, and quivered a
little sometimes when she was not speaking; and there were now black
shadows beneath her big grey eyes--maybe from the hardship of her
journeying.

"My lady," I answered, "I beg that ye will rest awhile, and eat of the
food that I have here. Alack! I have no drink to set before you! We
brought mead, but in the heat an hour agone it burst our bottles; and
there is no water near at hand--we have but lately sought it."

The lady raised her hands to her brows in most weary wise.

"Good Odda," she said, notwithstanding, "I thank thee much for thy
kindness in thus coming, and for all the pains that thou hast taken.
And since thy mead was lost on my behalf, I thank thee for it also. Let
us sit here awhile and eat, as thou sayest; we are sore anhungered,
that is sure. And later we will go find my reeve at Stoke over yonder.
He will doubtless have one drop of somewhat for us each to drink. We
also emptied our flasks an hour ago, silly souls that we were!"

She had with her her mass-priest, her women, her men-at-arms, her
thralls. We sat down upon the ground, and broke the pasty into
portions, and dealt out my fine wheaten bread.

As she talked with me of the old days in her own home, suddenly we
heard a noise in the woodland upon our right--a child's voice
wailing--the voices of two children. Far away at first, then somewhat
nearer. Two wandering children, crying fit to burst their bosoms. Great
breathless, thirsty sobs, swelling every now and then to a despairing
roar.

The lady had sprung to her feet, and had broken through the nearest
bushes into the thicket beyond.

"Hither! hither!" she cried. "Come! Come! But where are ye? Weep no
more--here is help!"

We all followed her. She walked onward, calling; they shouted still,
and drew nearer and yet more near: at last they came forth, the little
mites, upon a bare plot whereon we had halted. Boy and girl they were;
five and seven years old they seemed: hand clasped in hand, cheeks
grimy with dust which their tears had furrowed, faces flushed and
seared by the mighty heat.

She ran to meet them, with outstretched arms. They ran to her, and
caught at her skirts. The girl, the younger, cried, "We were lost!" and
the boy said hoarsely, "Mother!... O mother, the world looks black....
Oh, my head, I cannot see!" and he had fallen flat at her feet before
she could stay him.

The girl said, "Lady, my head--great smart have I also!" and her breath
came thick and loud.

The Lady Edith gathered sorrel-leaves, and bound them about the heads
of the bairns.

"It is not enough," said she then. "They must have water."

"There is no water here," Anflete my servant answered. "We sought it
high and low before my lady's coming."

She wrung her hands in sharp woe.

"O Christ, have mercy!" she said. "O Mary, that art our mother,
hasten--help!"

Then her passion seemed to leave her, and she knelt, and began to speak
in still, low tones; but I heard her words.

"Father of all goodness," she prayed, "save these twain alive, who are
more to Thee than the wild sparrows! Strengthen then, Lord, I beseech
thee, the gift that Thou hast bestowed upon Thine handmaid!"

Having so said, she arose, and quickly bade her folk bear the children
with them, and shade the little ones' heads. It was high noon now, but
she flung her hood back, and her wimple fell away and hung down with
the hood, so that her bright hair was laid bare, and her shapely neck
and breast of ivory. Many a woman would have seemed light-minded, even
wanton, so; but our Edith was queen in everything she did. Although the
soil was burning, and scorched the feet through riding-boots, she began
to walk swiftly, glidingly, around and about. She held her
riding-switch, a toy with handle of gold and amber, bent bow-wise
between her two hands. Her lips were parted, as those of one who
breathes-in freshest air.

And we followed, a great awe upon us. We were once more in the lane
where we had rested, when a gleam awoke in her eyes, which had become
dark and shut off from earthly sight, and she sped ahead of us even
faster than at first. She came to where the bank overhung, and was
covered with sagging ferns, shrivelled and caked with dust. A shiver
shot through her whole body, and the switch that she carried started
and writhed as it had been a live snake.

"God be praised!" she exclaimed. "Here is water for them!" She stamped
her foot. "Dig! dig! Bring spades--Oh, dig! Quick! Would ye see them
die before your eyes?"

"Sebbe the charcoal-burner!" said Anflete. "I will fetch his spade."

Edith had snatched his war-axe from one of her men-at-arms and was
hewing at the bank whereunder she stood; I hacked away with my broad
knife; some of the others scratched with their hands. In a little while
Anflete was back from the charcoal-burner's with spade and pick, and we
got more skilfully to work. A homely croon was heard in the heart of
the earth. A spot of moisture darkened the bottom of the hollow that we
had made. One spadeful more, and up it bubbled--a little spring, but a
strong one. There were stones still within the hollow, and we put back
more to keep up the shifting sides; and into the bowl so made the water
flowed, thick and clotted, truly, with the dust and flakes of
sandstone, but how sweet to touch and taste! Oh, the happy noise of
water in a thirsty land!

The Lady Edith dipped a clout in the well and bathed the heads and
necks of the little ones, gave them to drink, and set them to lie in
the shade. Soon the girl-child stirred and wept, and Edith lifted her
up in her arms. A shrill cry made us all turn to behold a poorly-clad
woman, hot and unkempt, who stumbled towards us, tears in her eyes and
terror in her voice.

"Ye naughty ones!" she stormed at sight of the children. "Here have I
been...."

Then she stopped short, with open mouth, and stared at the slender,
bare-headed woman who held her younger child, until one whispered: "It
is the King's Lady!" when she louted down upon her knees.

"Hush! hush!" said Lady Edith to her sobbing burden. "Fear not,
sweetheart! Thou must go home now--go to thy mother indeed!" and she
laid her in the arms of the kneeling woman.

Never had she been more lovely than in that moment, her face shining
like a rose, her eyes most tender and brightly-beaming. When, a short
while after, she turned from mother and child and came seeking me, a
huge pity rushed up within me, and I think that she read that pity in
my look.

"Dread lady," said I, being a little mazed, and all soft with ruth,
"how goes it with our Lord the King?"

"Whenas I left my lord, all was right well with him," she answered. "He
had some sickness in the spring, but it irked him little, truly, for
his years. Such an holy life he leads, and yet he is so long-enduring
towards them of worldly mind! It is great joy to me that I may see him
sometimes, and be somewhat near him."

She crossed herself, and the fair light faded from her.

"Wherefore do I murmur?" said she. "Is not Jordan flood better than all
the rivers of Damascus?"

And so saying, she folded her meek hands above her heart, and went her
way.

I never saw her again. The well that she found for us abideth for her
memorial: clear and cool in every weather--the freshest in all the
countryside. I have often thought of her since that day; and I think of
her more often now than ever in the long night hours that are not the
drowsy hours when one has grown old. Dreams, Gundred, dreams--waking
dreams, but idle things none the less! But sometimes meseemeth that her
very self is near me, standing as I best knew her, arms outheld, face
aglow. She lived and died childless; the old King had made an oath,
they say, for fear he might fall short of heaven. Once or twice evil
tongues have made free to slander her fame! She was staunch, I know,
and flawless; and yet her heart was quick and warm. Girl, I have ever
recked little of the greater deal of the saints to whom prelates bid us
pray. Of God and of his goodness I reck much; and this is the saint
whom I worship before all others, crowned in this world or
uncrowned--Edith the well-beloved Lady, whom all her people honoured
and pitied.



Richard the Scrob


"Better than mine, Kenric--better than thine!" said Grim. "Ever his are
taken, and ours are left. Who will look at our sheep and our oxen when
the Scrob's are by?"

Kenric withdrew the straw that he had been chewing from between his
teeth, and ceased to stare at the white-limbed, red-spotted cattle in
the pen before him.

"Eh! he buyeth for the Bishop," he mumbled. "And he buyeth for the folk
of Hereford town. And for the Abbot of Leominster. And for the Prior of
Wenlock. His salted meat is rowed upon Wye and upon Severn to feed the
merchantmen of Bristol. Grim, this Frenchman is a worker of spells."

"And even so the beasts of his own breeding are such as thou wilt not
meet with on any other man's land within the two shires. Heavier!
Fatter! Sleeker! I would that his lord the devil would fly away with
him soon! Hast thou but seen his woolsacks yonder? What other has such
great store to sell? True, he can have little spinning at home, with no
women."

"I have not seen him--Richard the Scrob," said vague Kenric, returning
to his straw-munching. "Are not these sold already----"

"Kenric, stand not and grumble, with blind eyes," cried Munulf the
maltman, who now accosted these two. "Here is a sight not often
seen--the little widow, Kenric, the plump widow. Look up and behold the
light of thine eyes, where she cometh, girt about with her husband's
stalwart kinsfold."

"Hey? who?" Kenric rejoined. "Who cometh yonder? Alftrude the widow of
Winge? Oh, aye, it is a pretty woman enough----"

"And should be rich woman enough," said Grim. "They are watchdogs
indeed, the brethren of the Moor. I wonder that they let her show her
nose at Ludford fair--so little and straight is it that many a man will
love it, by heaven! My good wife pities Alftrude greatly. She will be
widow to the end of her days, they ward her about so wilily."

"I know it, I know it!" wheezed Kenric. "And Ulwin, Alward, and
Ednoth--they are three ill men to deal withal. Alack! no hope have I!"
He summoned up a faint sigh of good-humoured resignation. "If but now
thou found me grumbling," he explained, "it was at French Richard."

Munulf raked his fingers through his long yellow hair, and looked
mysterious.

"I have heard cunning talk of late," said he "Men say that these
outland folk that swarm about our King shall soon be outlanders
twofold; for shall they not be bundled off, beyond the seas, whither
they came? Earl Godwin called together his Mickle Gemot seven weeks
ago. I would we knew how that has sped. Godwin is wont to bring about
his will!"

"Why, my lords, he hath brought it about, the good Earl!" sounded in an
excited cackle behind them. Hildred the ale-wife hastened to join the
three speakers, her red face unusually resplendent with pride in being
foremost retailer of news for that day. "A man of Worcester brought
great tidings yestereve. Godwin is driving out the accursed Normans,
every one--man, woman, child, and priest. Even Ralf our Earl, the
King's nephew, shall go, though his mother were English Godgifu!"

"Bless the work!" exclaimed Grim. "These Normans have a knack of
drawing to themselves the wealth that should be ours. There should be
pickings, eh? for all true Englishmen!" He nudged Kenric, and
whispered:

"H'st! see where Richard comes!"

Richard the Norman came up to his cattle-pen. He was a small man,
slightly built, and of upright carriage, and he moved with a spring in
his gait. He had an aquiline nose, a persistent chin, and a strong,
exceedingly well-formed mouth; his eyes were dark and deeply-set
beneath the fine straight line of brow, and they looked straight into
the eyes of others. His face was clean-shaven like a cleric's, and more
than ordinarily wrinkled about mouth, eyes, and brow for his age, which
was a little over thirty; the black hair of his head was cut short at
the nape of the neck and the top of the forehead. He wore a short tunic
of dull-coloured cloth, and leather boots, and from his waistbelt hung
a small, shabby leather bag. Behind him walked his two servants, Howel
the Welshman, and his own countryman Perot.

"Good day, Thane Kenric," said Richard the Scrob. "Good day, lords
both, and to you, worshipful Munulf."

"Ah! Good day, Richard Scrob's son."

"Warm weather for November. A very Martin's summer," said Richard.

"Aye," from Grim. "Oh, aye, right warm, this weather. It may become
hot. It shall soon be hot for all Frenchmen!" he concluded savagely.

Richard seemed unconscious of Grim's words and of their tone. He
unfastened the bag from his belt, opened it, and surveyed the contents
complacently. Oswin, the maltman's son, a weak-kneed, loose-lipped
youth, gave a laboured imitation of the Norman's air of detachment, a
few yards away.

"Why, son," said Munulf, when he had finished guffawing at this
specimen of his offspring's wit, "what bearest in thy bosom?" pointing
to the opening at the neck of the lad's jerkin, where a small, dark
head was seen to writhe.

"Oh, it is my weasel," Oswin replied. "He harms me not, for I feed him,
but others he biteth. There are some shall feel his fangs before Holy
Martin's fair is out, I warrant you, my father!"

"Here are the Moor folk at last. I shall sit down," Kenric announced
portentously. He withdrew to the customary resort of thanes and great
men on market-days, on holidays, and at all public functions held upon
Ludford green--the huge elm whose boughs cast their shadow as far as
the cattle-pen of Richard the Scrob. There he subsided upon a bench,
and sent a serving-woman of the ale-wife's for beer.

The green was now crowded with buyers and sellers of every degree. Grim
and Munulf, who leant upon the hurdles surrounding Richard's exhibits,
saw the throng before them part to release a procession of two thralls,
four lean oxen, four women in riding-mantles, and three corpulent men
who wore the grimy remains of once-fine garments, and had pretentiously
heavy gold ornaments at their necks and about their wrists and fingers.
Three of the women were comely and commonplace: the pleasant person of
the fourth could not have failed to command attention in any
surroundings. She was young, of moderate height, and generously built;
she was small-featured, white skinned, blue-eyed, and her lips were
full and wholesomely red. Over her head and the greater part of her
figure was a hooded cloak, evidently new, of periwinkle-blue cloth; and
upon her breast lay her hair in long plaits of that soft shade which is
not golden, nor brown, nor chestnut, but all three, and has yet an
ashen-silver haze upon its surface when the sun shines behind it. Her
gown was black, and much the worse for wear, and at the base of her
throat gleamed a bunch of the spindle-tree's pink berries, fastened in
place with a silver pin.

"Good day, or else good morrow, Ulwin," said Grim, scarcely attempting
to veil the sneer in his voice. "Ye are late with your stock."

"Late--aye!" panted the eldest, fattest, most showily-dressed of the
newly arrived men. "Aye--late! All for women--hindered by women! I ask
you, fellows, what should women do at fair or market, if they bring not
wares to sell? Squander good money! Bedizen themselves to the nines!
Would God that I had let thee from coming forth in thy prideful gear!"
he snarled at her of the blue mantle. "Did I not say that thou wouldst
seem no better than a tumbling-girl in the eyes of the folk? Dost thou
mind that my brother lies in his grave?"

Richard the Scrob's right hand closed upon the hurdle in a convulsive
grasp.

"It is five years since he died," said the woman.

"Get behind me, and stay behind me, out of our way," said Ulwin. "See
here, Alftrude, thou shalt not stir whence I now bid thee stand. I will
not have thee waste our goods on womanish nothings. Geegaws and sweet
foodstuffs, forsooth! What lacks the woman? Will she tell the world
that we clothe her not nor board her?"

She made no reply. For a moment she looked him full in the face: there
was no reproach in her gaze, but only contempt and a spice of derision;
then she turned and walked calmly, with unflushed cheeks, to join the
other women in the background, and stood with them. The market-crowd
surged all about them.

"These are thine?" growled Ulwin to Richard, indicating the penned
oxen.

"Mine they were," answered Richard. "I sold them to Edmund the flesher
of Worcester this morning, when the fair was but new-begun. But I have
others, Ulwin Ednoth's son, if ye wish to buy."

"Buy! Pah! no, not I! It is not of buying that I have to speak with
thee, Richard."

"Of what then, worthy thane?"

"Indeed, it is not of buying that I have to speak with thee, Richard.
Thou art learned in the law: because thou art so learned, the Lord
Abbot deems thee worthy of his trust; but all thy cleverness could not
teach thee.... How can I say, all-wise one, that thou didst not know?
Well, the Lord Abbot knew not--aye, even I myself knew not--that
Ashford, which thou callest thine, was not holden by us and by our
father of the Abbot of Leominster, and that therefore neither the Abbot
nor I might make over this land of Ashford to thee in exchange for ...
such and so much cattle and silver ... two years ago."

"Ashford is mine. I have set up a mill there, with the Abbot's
licence."

"Not thine, Richard the Scrob. I am Turstin of Wigmore's man for
Ashford, and I may not go with it to any other lord;[15] and Turstin is
wishful to uphold his right. As for thy mill ... well, thou hast made
it, and there will be the tolls for me."

          [15] He could not sell or convey it.

"If there be any flaw in our dealings, then is it matter for the moot."

"Now, understand me, thou!" shouted Ulwin, with a pompous gesture of
the arms and an outward thrust of his swollen underlip. "That which
thou hast tricked of me I will have again, yea, this day and this hour!
Ulwin of the Moor is unwonted to waiting!"

"Then, Ulwin, understand thou that Richard of Overton is unwonted to
brook such words from any. At the bidding of none do I yield up mine
own."

Scarcely had Richard proclaimed his defiance than a thrill such as some
much-desired presence imparts forced him to glance past the wrathful
bully's left shoulder. The widow Alftrude was now close behind her
brother-in-law, and studied the Scrob from head to foot with wide,
wondering blue eyes.

"I have nowise tricked you, Ednoth's son," said he, his countenance
once more unperturbed. "Ye did chaffer with me for silver. This is
matter for the hundredmen. They shall hear and try it."

"Hearken, good neighbours, to the high and mighty words!" Ulwin jeered.
"How will he speed when Englishmen are met together? Does he dream that
their dooms are for the French?"

"Come from here, now, master!" cried the high-pitched voice of
Richard's servant Howel, in which agitation was patent. Ednoth, Ulwin's
brother, pushed past Howel and jostled him roughly, in order to draw
nearer to the two disputants. Howel flung up his head, his eyes
kindling, and hissed an imprecation under his breath.

"Hey? what hast thou there?" said Ulwin.

"Nought, nought," Ednoth answered. "It is but a Welshman who bars my
way."

"No Welshman am I!" cried Howel the servant of Richard. "I am a man of
Irchenfield--as good an Englishman as any of you here--and a better
Englishman, too, than ye clumsy boors that think yourselves noblemen!
When the King of the English marches with his army into Wales, we men
of Irchenfield do go the foremost, that we may be the first to deal
death, and----"

"Do they dance in Irchenfield?" piped the maltman's son, as he shambled
out of the crowd and swiftly inserted a furry object between the collar
of Howel's jerkin and the back of his neck.

"We shall soon see. Oh, merrily, right merrily--merrier and higher than
in all Herefordshire else! On, on, brave Welshman! None here can hope
to beat thee!"

Loud was the spectators' laughter as the victim bounced up and down,
shaking and tossing his limbs, and twisting his head and his body. When
Richard had succeeded in dragging the weasel from out of his
serving-man's garments, Howel rushed forward, bent on reprisal. Ednoth,
the primary cause of the trouble, happened to be the person nearest: in
a second Howel had him by the throat, and his short knife gleamed bare.

Half a dozen bystanders instantly joined in the fray, most of them for
the purpose of overwhelming the impudent Welshman of Irchenfield: in
the midst of the turbulent knot were Ulwin, tugging at Ednoth's
shoulders, and Richard, who held on to Howel by the arms and so
compelled him to desist from stabbing at the Englishman.

"Peace, thou fool!" cried Richard. "Leave be, now, Howel my man! I will
not be embroiled for idle pride of thine. God's death! put up thy
dagger!"

Sullenly but promptly, Howel allowed his master to lead him out of the
clutches of his assailants.

"Peace, I beg of you, good men," the Norman continued. "We do but
hinder the many that care not for our meaning. See, yon lady would come
by!"

The crowd had borne Alftrude away from her brother-in-law's side during
the scuffle: she stood by the booth of a seller of gilded gingerbread,
the nearest stall to the thanes' elmtree, a coin in one hand and two
shining half-moons of cake in the other. Distaste and hesitancy were in
the look she cast upon the brawlers.

"Lady, fear not," said Richard. "If ye would but lean upon my arm----"

Eagerly she moved towards him, in bland acceptance of his offer;
however, before he could approach her, Ulwin had interposed himself,
thundering:

"Lay by yon nasty trash! Straight shalt thou wend thee homeward!
Spendthrift! Shameless woman! Is this a widow's mourning? Is this
modesty? Come home, I say!"

He seized her by the arm, and in so doing trod heavily upon her toes.
Alftrude's lips contracted, and her eyelids flickered with the pain,
and she steadied herself against the gingerbread stall. Richard the
Scrob was now beside them: with the first missile to hand, his own
money-bag, he struck at the head of Ulwin; and Ulwin reeled and sat
down upon the ground with a curse and a roar.

"Foul clot of dirt!" said Richard. "I will not have thee deal so with
her!"

His money-bag was still in his right hand; but why was it no heavier
than a strip of pigskin? Where was the reassuring weight to which he
had grown used throughout that day?

"Look, look!" the ale-wife screamed. "His ill-gotten silver of itself
runs from him! Gather, gather, I say--it is his no more! All these
French are to be driven forth. Shall he hoard king's coin in our land?"

The well-worn bag had burst its seams, and pieces of money strewed the
muddy ground.

Thralls, boys, and children hurled themselves upon them; they
struggled, fought, kicked and clawed up the mud, laughed ecstatically,
and rushed about the green, each hugging what he had secured.

The crimson faded from Richard's countenance, and he stood white as
death and still as a stone. Alftrude hid her face in her hands.

"Up, Ulwin!" exclaimed Ednoth. "Let us drive his cattle to Worcester
for him--to Hereford--or to hell! Down with the Frenchman! Long life to
Earl Godwin!"

From under the elm stepped Ingelric the aged thane of Caynham, his
beard half-covering his flowing moss-green robe.

"No, no, it is unseemly!" he said. "Richard is my friend; he saved me
once from debt and loss. If any man befriend me----"

"Good folk," stuttered Kenric behind him, "this is more than a game! We
are not thieves."

But Ednoth and Grim had torn down the hurdles of the pen; the crowd had
once more concentrated on that spot, and in another instant, shouting
and shrieking, babbling and cheering, they chased and pelted the cattle
of Richard the Scrob down Ludford street and out into the open country
beyond.

Alftrude had flung her arms about Ulwin. She seemed in a swoon: no, she
was not fainting; her cheeks were aglow, and her finger-nails were
embedded in her brother-in-law's neck.

"Perot! Howel!" called Richard. "Come on, come on! To me!"

The English, in their zeal for the dispersal of his cattle, had
forgotten him. He ran between the outlying houses, followed by his
servants, and upon the outskirts of the town they came face to face
with the main body of the rabble, and drew their short swords.

"Ere ye farther go," said Richard, "ye shall slay me and my men!"

They bombarded the three with stones and dirt; a woman threw an egg,
another hurled her market-basket with uncertain aim.

"Tear him limb from limb!" snarled someone. "Surer rid of him so than
by banishment!"

Ednoth was advancing upon Richard, sword in hand.... There was a sudden
hush, an awestruck murmur.

"Lord Abbot! Lord Abbot!"

"Hold your hands, in the Name of God and of His holy Church!" cried an
imperious voice.

Ednoth lowered his sword; the thanes uncovered their heads; many
cowered, some stared resentfully; some slipped away in the tracks of
the vanished cattle; the women fell on their knees. From the
market-place came the Abbot of Leominster upon his fat white nag, with
his chaplains and his retinue of men-at-arms riding behind him.

"Ednoth of Moor, what would ye?" he demanded, flourishing the parchment
roll that he carried in his bejewelled right hand.

"Wherefore is the market all-to-wrecked? Would ye work murder upon
harmless Ricardus here?"

"Lord," said Ednoth, "here is a Frenchman who by craft sucketh the
wealth from our land. Witanagemot is for putting an end to all such."

"Indeed--and, Ednoth, art thou Witanagemot? Thou art too rash--ye are
sadly unbridled, folk of Ludford. Hear the truth from me. There are
surely many foreigners, Normans of the King's mother's people, who do
craftily suck the wealth of England, and who bear not themselves truly
towards blessed Edward our King; and Godwin and his Great Gemot have
decreed that such shall go forth whither they came and leave the sway
of England to Englishmen. But are there not some Normans, worthy
fellows, whom no man could wish ill? Richard who dwells at Overton--has
he not lived fifteen years among you, in good repute? In all
Herefordshire is there no better dealer in corn and cattle: from
Shrewsbury to Hereford is none more learned in the laws of English and
of Welsh--none who can write a fairer hand--none of readier wit or
smoother tongue: he hath been great help to me; how shall I spare him?
Shall they bereave me of Ricardus? said I. I knelt before the King; I
reasoned with stern Godwin; and ere I left London both had promised me
my will. Yesterday the sheriff sent to me anent the outgoing of the
French; and I have ridden since dawn, seeking Ricardus, that I might
show him how Holy Church rewardeth goodwill for goodwill. Hugolin
bideth about King Edward, they tell me, and Robert the Staller--they
are faithful servants; as for the others, one Dumfrey--some outlandish
name!... Hah! I have the sheriff's writing.... 'Banished be they all
beyond seas, but Humfrey's Cocksfoot and Richard the Scrob.'"

Richard bent to kiss the Abbot's ring.

"Children, go your ways," the prelate continued, "with our blessing
upon you. I rede you repent of your rashness. Ye are not robbers and
rioters--no, but law-abiding English. Ricardus, come to me to-morrow
morning: I have much to talk over with thee." So saving, he signed to
his attendants, and ambled away.

"My blessing, also, upon thee, worthy friend," a low voice said in
Richard's ear.

It was the blue-clad woman. Ulwin, with gashed forehead and scratched
neck, was shepherding his kinsfolk in the direction of his abode.

"Ashford shall be mine, O mighty Norman," said he with an exultant
sneer. "Thy star is set, though abbots smile on thee."

"Oh, Ulwin, brother!" exclaimed Alftrude--"oh, where is my silver
bodkin? It is gone, Ulwin! And it was my mother's own! Can one have
snatched it from me?"

"Have ye seen it lying?" asked Richard of a group of persons lately
come from the green.

"What wouldst thou?" said Ulwin to Alftrude. "I bade thee leave the
thing at home! Come on, thou spitfire--I will not wait."

Old Ingelric hobbled up, and laid his hand upon Richard's arm.

"Have no fear," he said. "Thou art not without friends. Though likely
thou wilt not see thine oxen again, and who shall trace the coins----"

Richard shook himself free.

"The rogue who stole her pin!" he cried--"I will split his head also!"


The grey cob plodded and splashed through the stream of slushy mud and
half-thawed snow which represented the descending track from Ulwin's
dwelling of the Moor to the highway between Ludford and Leominster.
Upon him was Alftrude, closely muffled in a grey felt mantle, and
beside him, holding the bridle, splashed and floundered a bare-legged
boy, the bondman's son, with alder-clogs upon his feet. Alftrude rode
in some discomfort, perched astride upon a man's saddle: her right arm
supported a big wicker basket. The December sun shone out
self-assertively: nevertheless the child slapped his free hand
continually against his thigh, and often blew ruefully upon the fingers
that clasped the reins. The widow, however, paid no heed to the moist
chill of the morning air. Every now and again she glanced behind her.
Once, in the shelter of the grove of hollies, she stopped for a moment
to listen. There was no sound but the purring of a brook beneath its
perforated covering of ice. She urged on her stolid steed.

As they reached the heath, they heard the scrunch of a horse's hooves
upon the ground they had just traversed. Alftrude turned her head
nonchalantly; then she smote the cob such a sudden blow with her whip
that the boy stumbled, and stared up into his mistress's face, aghast.
About twenty paces more, and the Norman came up with her, riding alone.
He would have passed her with "Good day to you, lady!" but she called:
"Friend, stay awhile!" and he reined in his horse and proceeded beside
her.

"Master Richard," said she, "I would thank you meetly, if I could, for
your great and neighbourly kindness, and beg forgiveness of you for
that I have not myself done so until now. My mother's pin is the
dearest of all my few possessions. Tell me, how came it into your
hands?"

"If ye be content, madame, I am honoured," said Richard. "It was no
matter. The maltman's dunderhead son passed it about the ale-house that
night. They gave it up when I did call for it."

(This was not true. When Richard had seized the trinket from the thief,
the ale-house company had fallen on him to a man, and had rolled
ten-deep upon him about the floor, until their sense of fair-play had
obliged them to draw off.)

Alftrude was smiling her slow, comfortable smile. Could she--the gleam
in her eyes seemed one of admiration--could she have heard what had
really befallen?

"I was like to weep when I saw it again," said she.

They had reached the steepest slope of the hill. Richard the Scrob
dismounted.

"I will carry the basket," said he. "And I will lead your horse
heredown. Let yon lad take mine. Whither make ye?" he continued, when
the boy had fallen behind with his new charge. "Madame, I think ye
should not fare abroad by such a slippery road and in such fickle
weather."

"I must to Ludford," she answered. "What think ye of this? There are
seven young children at home, and in the house no spices nor dried
grapes to make them Yuletide broth or Yuletide cake, and the housewife
will not send any for these! Yet our bairns must have their Christmas
fare like other bairns! so I am for Hildred the ale-wife, who has such
sweet stuffs to sell." But even as she enlarged upon her purpose, her
cheeks blushed red.

"It is shameful!" said he, and his tone was full of warmth. "I like not
their dealings with you, these kinsmen of your former lord!"

"Good friend," said Alftrude, "how wilt thou do now? Thy cattle--thy
money--the best of all thy gear! Great thy loss that evil market-day!
Indeed I am abashed by the folk with whom I dwell!"

"Why, I must stint and save, that is all. It will be no new thing--so
have I done all the days of my life. When I first came over to join the
train of Ralf the Earl, I had nothing but two silver pieces, my pen and
inkhorn, and my wits. That was fifteen years ago.... They have been
lonely years in England since Idonea died."

"She was your wife?"

"Idonea was my wife. She was of Bayeux--daughter of Robert the deacon.
I had her but two years in this misty island. A short sickness bore her
off."

"Alack, alack! that is piteous!"

"She fretted ever for Normandy. I think it was as well she died."

Alftrude eyed him gravely, reflectively. Suddenly she shook with silent
laughter.

"Oh! oh!" she cried when she had recovered her voice, in answer to his
manifest surprise, "ye would have laughed, Son of Scrob, had ye seen a
sight that mine eyes beheld three nights ago. Know that Ulwin will ever
have the swine and the fowls to wander in and out of the house, as they
were mankind, that they may eat up the scraps of food which he throweth
by among the rushes. Upon that night, my husband's mother and I had
gone aloft with the maidens, when a mad hubbub arose--Ulwin shouting,
threatening, praying--with such grunts and shrieks besides, ye would
have thought the Fiend himself was there. We hurried down, and there
stood my good brother, smiting upon his bed with a flail as strongly as
his quaking hand would let him--and the fattest pig tangled in the
covering of fat Ulwin's bed!"

"Oh, gladsome sight!" exclaimed Richard. "Ye did work havoc upon that
same Ulwin that day at the fair? Indeed I think I owe my life to a
lady's finger-nails!"

"Ye had avenged his roughness with me," she answered. "And I saw him
rise to fall upon you."

By this time they had emerged upon the highroad; and now there passed
them two nuns riding sleek mules, and two serving-men, mounted also.

"There goes Burghild of Caynham," said Alftrude. "It is now five years
since she took her holy oaths. I would not be she for all the
world--though, heaven wot! a nun's life is a peaceful life!"

"There is peace to be found where no nuns are, lady."

"Know ye her story, Richard Scrob's son? She is the thane of Caynham's
daughter, and Godric the brother of Athelstane of Berrington loved her
dearly, and she him. But his lands were small and barren, and he could
offer her no fitting home, or so he thought. He would take service with
some great lord, and store what wealth the saints might send him, that
he might make yon maiden his wife. They met twice or thrice in the
year, and I am sure each read the other's mind; but he never told her
of his love and of his hopes. And she pined for him, and grew pale, and
tart of mood. Godric went out with Earl Sweyn against the Welsh king,
and was slain by the Welshmen. When Burghild heard these tidings, she
fell sick of sorrow, even nigh unto death; but she is brave; she clung
to life, and now she is the Church's bride. Oh, sad that lack of goods
should sunder two true hearts!"

"How could he speak, being a man without wealth?" said Richard. "He
might not speak." He would not look at her.

"He should have spoken," said Alftrude softly.

"Now, as for these swine indeed, thy kinsmen----" cried he.... "Pardon
my rough speech, Lady Alftrude; but I have marked how they treat
you--you who were their brother's wife--better born than they, and
better nurtured. As the dirt underfoot! Must ye abide beneath their
roof? Is there none other with whom ye might dwell?"

"My brother is a thane about the King's court. I have not set eyes on
him for many a year. I have no other brother and no sister."

"It is many a day since I have wondered how ye bore with them."

"Since ye press me, Richard, I will own that my lot is hard. I have
been widowed these five years. Since Winge my husband died, the land
and goods with which he left me--aye, and mine own goods which I
brought him--I may not call mine own. The first they till and order as
they will, and the yield thereof they put with the yield of their land.
As for the goods, they all lay hands upon them with never a 'by your
leave' to me! Ulwin would have sold my mirror of steel last week, but I
hid it.... Richard Scrob's son, there are two of thine oxen among the
cattle at the Moor. At least, I am sure I saw them at Martin's Fair
within thy pen."

"Let them be. I have enemies enough at this time. To claim your goods!
To sell your mirror!"

"They grudge me this my new cloak," Alftrude continued, drawing a fold
of periwinkle blue from beneath her winter wrapping. "True, it is not
of my weaving; but mine own corn did I sell to buy the cloth. I believe
they grudge me my mother's own jewels! Ulwin, and Alward, and Ednoth,
and their mother, and the wives of the three. There would be no
pleasure for any but Ulwin, if he could have his way: others must
scrape and lack for him. A bad husbandman, too, is Ulwin. Men will give
him but little for his crops and cattle. And that little leaves his
poke that he may feast and game, and bet on sparring-cocks. But I think
the women are the worst to dwell with."

"And the housewife--your husband's mother? Has she no kindness for
thee, who wert wife to her son?"

"We were childless, Winge and I."

"By holy Stephen! it is a weary life ye tell me of!"

"I am well wonted to such weariness. I am four and twenty. A great age,
Richard."

"Madame, I am thirty-two, and I think that the sweetest of my life is
yet before me."

"Here is Ludford. Now, God speed you, lord," said she, holding out her
hand to him. The next instant she withdrew it in confusion, exclaiming:
"I know not why I clepe you lord!"

"I know," said Richard, and took her hand. "Alftrude, I will see to it
that thou become a very great lady."


From the thicket bordering the pathway proceeded gasping, panting,
maudlin complaints, and thickly-uttered curses; then came the sound of
a feeble struggle as though a heavy body strove vainly to extricate
itself from glutinous, liquescent soil. Richard the Scrob got down from
his horse, handed the reins to Perot, who walked beside him, and strode
in among the alders. The light of the sinking moon revealed a man lying
face downwards, his legs submerged in a marshy pool, his hands clinging
to a tuft of rushes. Having chosen a firm foothold, Richard seized the
unfortunate by the scruff of the neck, and hauled him on to more or
less solid ground. The bloated visage, streaming with mud, was just
recognizable as that of Ulwin of the Moor.

"Oh, oh--ah--oh!" he blubbered. "I am a dead man! Drowned dead--frozen
to the inwards! One had bewitched the accursed nag that she might throw
me!"

Richard heard a horse cropping the wet fern a little distance away. He
captured the offending animal without difficulty, and gave it into the
care of his servant. Then he approached Ulwin once more, and took him
by the arm in order to help him to his feet.

"Dost thou dare?" cried the Englishman, striking aimlessly in the
direction of his rescuer's chin. "I have no gold upon me--nought upon
me! Murder! Murder by our lord the King's highway! Fellow, I am a
thane, and my wergild a thane's wergild--twelve hundred shillings
worth!"

"No robber am I. Ulwin, I am Richard of Overton. Ye have known me this
many a year--I am Richard the Scrob."

"Scrob? Scrob? Eh, what is Scrob?" said the thane of the Moor. "Oh,
aye--I mind--thou art the Frenchman--Richard--neighbour Richard. Well,
Richard, my old nag tossed me off--bewitched is she, the jade! And
Alward and Ednoth and the others--to hell with them for selfish churls!
they rode on and left me here--would not wait for me--rode on and left
me lying here.... I called--I called! Wending home from Wigmore....
Cakes and ale had we--good eating and drinking at Wigmore, Richard....
Left me here to drown! What think ye of that?"

"Belike they missed thee not!" replied the other grimly. "Here is your
horse. Try to get upon her. I think your bones are whole."

Ulwin remained sitting in the mud.

"Wa--la! wa--la!" He was weeping again now. "Wa-la-la and woe the day!
Beggared am I and all undone! They set two worthy cocks to fight....
Oh, a fair sight to see them at war! When all around would wager upon
them, how might I not do likewise? One hundred shillings have I lost to
the men of Wigmore! And, Richard, I am burdened with debt: one hundred
and forty shillings in all do I owe among my neighbours. I must sell
myself into thralldom--my wife--my hapless bairns! Let me flee the
shire...."

Richard brought a leather wallet from beneath his mantle.

"No need," said he. "See here," and he unfastened the string which
closed the wallet.

"What?" shouted Ulwin, scrambling to his knees. "Money? Money? How
comest thou by money? Art surely a sorcerer--a warlock--leagued with
Satan and all his devils! Why, it is not three years since we--since
thy cattle was driven loose and thy silver scattered and lost beneath
the feet of Ludford folk!... Richard Scrob's son--good neighbour----"

"Now, cease thy whimpering of a dog, Ulwin of Moor, if man thou be,"
said Richard. "Shalt not sell thyself for debt. One hundred and forty
shillings--such shalt thou borrow of me.... Nay, not now. At thine own
dwelling, in the afternoon.... Give me Alftrude thy brother's widow to
wife: that she will have me I know well. Half thy brother's
morning-gift to her of land shalt thou keep; and if within ten years
from this day thou owe me still that which I do pledge me here and now
to lend thee, I will take again Ashford and its mill. They were truly
holden of the Abbot, all the time."


"So they have crowned French William at Westminster?" said Ulwin.

"Aye, so was I told by one of Harold's men who came alive through
Senlac slaughter," Grim replied. "This William is a stark man, they
say; but he has sworn to abide by our old laws."

The men of mark were gathered about Ludford elm. It was a warm, misty
day in February. There was a fair upon the green for the sale of
chickens, ducks, and geese.

"I do think that these be lying tidings," said Tori the priest of
Ludford. "Two kings dead within a year, and English and Welsh at peace
in Herefordshire! I will believe there is such a William when I have
set eyes upon him, and in the deaths of kings when I see kings lying
dead. I am a stickler for the good old ways: I do not waste my prayers
upon an unknown outlander, but beseech heaven for Edward and for his
Lady as I have been wont all the days of my life!"

"Under seven kings have I dwelt," Ingelric the ancient murmured
dreamily. "First Ethelred, then Sweyn, then Canute. Canute was a Dane,
but a better man than Ethelred. Then Harefoot, then Hardicanute, then
Edward whom they call the Blessed. Well, well, peace to his soul! There
were no more righteous folk in England after his crowning than before.
And so the son of Godwin is cast down and slain! It is a little thing,
children, where or of whom a king be born, if so be he govern strongly
and wisely."

"Now, Childe Edric, what say ye to this?" cried Ulwin of the Moor.

"Father Ingelric, ye know that my mind is quite other," said a hoarse,
far-carrying voice. The speaker, a weather-tanned young man, with
bright grey eyes and a resolute chin, bent towards Ulwin and whispered:

"The poor old man--he doteth!"

"A fair tide for the ploughing," Kenric's elephantine tact prompted him
to observe. "I think there will be no more frost nor snow."

"We have one Norman here," said Ulwin to Edric. "Spared when the others
were banished, through the might of the greedy Abbot. He has the
Fiend's own luck. Frost and snow! I would the earth were ice-bound for
his sake! I would the frost would shatter his plough-shares! I would he
might drop dead as doth a sparrow!"

"Richard is a good fellow," Ingelric interjected stubbornly. "And one
king is much as another king."

"Is it nothing to you all," cried Edric the Wild, "that England shall
be no more England, but Normandy? What of Harold, our King and our Earl
of late, and his bloody end? Must we all bow to the robber, because the
men of the South loved their harvest-beer better than their
motherland?"

"We are free English!" said one; and another: "What shall we do?"

"We have our hills and our woodlands," Edric continued. "When William
sends his warriors amongst us, we will lead them jack-o'-lantern's
dance, and utterly undo them. My men are all armed and ready to come
forth whensoever I bid them; and I have the word of the Welsh lords
that they will give us help."

"If Howel of Irchenfield were here," Kenric remarked ruminatively, "he
would tell you to put no trust in the word of a Welshman. And Howel is
right: they do never cleave to us, though time and again have they
sworn faith and truth unto our kings. And I have not seen Howel this
day...."

"Howel, Richard's man, say ye?" panted the ale-wife, as she deposited
mugs of beer before two of her customers. "Howel passed the ford three
weeks ago, or nearer four. I know not whither he went."

"Richard also crossed over this day at dawn," said Munulf the maltman,
"and with him his firstborn boy. They took the road to Stretton."

"Hey? it is not like Richard to miss the fair," said Ulwin. "I see
bondmen of his who watch his wares."

"But not the goodwife?" said Kenric. "How not? She loves the mirth of
the market."

"Why, he liketh not that Alftrude bestir herself overmuch, or rub
shoulders with all and sundry," answered Ulwin contemptuously. "Treats
her as she were the Mother of God herself, or a queen at the least. And
they have been wed eleven years!"

"I met some of his men yesterday upon the heath," said Grim, "all
mud-bespattered and outworn. What hath he now in hand, Ulwin?"

"Pah! who can tell? He hath fetched a swarm of accursed
foreigners--smiths and wrights--from overseas, and he must keep them
busy. There is ever some new-fangled hewing or digging. He set a
yew-hedge in the fall, ye know; and they say he will have a fish-pond."

"Here is friend Richard," said Ingelric, "and the little lad also."

Richard appeared upon the green, on horseback, accompanied by his son
Osbern, aged ten, who rode a pony. Having tethered their mounts to two
of a row of posts beside the ale-house door, they made their way to the
elm-tree. The years had been generous towards Richard the Scrob. He was
better clothed and shod than formerly, more serene, less spare. Osbern,
the eldest of his children, had his father's firm mouth and his
mother's clear blue eyes.

"Greeting," said Ulwin, with an uneasy leer. "We talk of thee,
neighbour, as a great man and a wealthy. Shouldst thank me for Alftrude
and what she brought thee, which latter did surely set thee on thy
feet."

"Nay, Ulwin, surely I did set thee once upon thy feet, with timely
loan. Hast thou forgotten, also, that I have had no answer from thee to
a question I put to thee above a year and four months ago?"

"What mean ye? Say all that ye mean aloud, in the ears of these thanes,
and let them judge between thee and me!" Ulwin's brain was slow, but he
rightly guessed that an explicit reply would follow, for Richard's love
of litigation was notorious.

"Thou knowest that I speak of Ashford, which wrongfully thou keepest
from me, and of the hundred and forty shillings which thou borrowedst."

"Thou knowest, and all here know, that Ashford is mine, holden of
Turstin as lord," said Ulwin.

"Turstin is not lord of that land; the Abbot is lord thereof indeed,
and by the Abbot's leave did it pass from thee to me. And I did pay thy
gaming-losses; and thou gavest me Alftrude my dear wife, and half of
the land she had as thy brother's widow. I did swear to let thee be in
Ashford for ten years, and thou to give it up to me when ten years were
run, or to repay me the sum of my lending in gold."

"Not so," said Ulwin. "I agreed with thee for Alftrude and half of her
morning-gift from Winge. Why should she take more with her when she
went from us to wed a needy foreigner?"

"I have thy mark which thou settedst to the bond I wrote."

"I made no mark. I saw no bond."

"There is Ednoth's mark thereon, beneath thine own."

"Say, brother Ednoth, have I pledged all this to Richard the Scrob by
tongue or by pen?"

"I know nought of it," answered Ednoth.

Richard thrust his hands into his belt. The faintest possible shadow of
a smile lurked at the corners of his lips. For a second his glance
wandered absently to the rocky hill of Lude[16] which towered above
Ludford on the farther bank of the Teme where that river turned
northward to join the Corve, and for a fraction of a second rested upon
the narrow track straggling round the southern side of the hill and
descending steeply to the ford.

          [16] Now Ludlow.

"Bring witnesses to my mark and Ednoth's!" cried Ulwin with a gobbling
laugh. "Bring witnesses to the Abbot's right! The hundredmen will laugh
thee to scorn. This Richard is a liar, friends: guilt hath sapped his
boldness, or wealth and good-living, belike; he who was wont to be so
ready with his fists now quails before an Englishman. What, dost thou
smile? Aha, thou thinkest on the Frenchman at Westminster! What deemest
thou we shall make of thy Duke?"

"What ye will, I doubt not," said Richard. "I am for law and order." He
seated himself upon a root of the elm, and leant against the trunk.
Every now and again he scanned what could be seen of the winding road
about the hill of Lude.

"Hear me once more," said Edric the Wild. "Ye should make ready against
aught that may befall while these your fruitful acres are your own and
all unscathed. The tyrant hath left his spoor of fire and steel from
the South Saxon land to London town.... Why, Gunwert of Mereston! What
tidings? Steady, man--drink first, speak after!"

A weary, speechless man dropped from his horse to Edric's feet.

"They come!" he gasped, when he had swallowed a mouthful of beer.
"Sighted beyond Stretton.... From Shrewsbury ... in their
hundreds--fully armed!"

Richard, deep in the shadow of the tree, took the boy Osbern's hand and
drew him down beside him.

"Hasten, all!" shouted Edric, quivering with eagerness. "To every
homestead where be weapons--tools--what ye can find! Hasten, hasten!
Ride--gather your men together! We will beat them back at the ford."

All were on their feet, all running--every thane, every churl, every
thrall. Some dashed into houses and sheds, and bore thence sickles,
scythes, axes, picks, shovels, and mattocks, and ancient rust-caked
weapons; some seized the horses tethered by the ale-house door and
sprang upon them. Richard, still holding Osbern by the hand, entered
the town in the midst of the first contingent of those who remained on
foot.

"They have taken our horses," he whispered. "Silence now--we must not
move nor breathe!"

The maltman's barn opened on to Ludford Street, and they slipped within
and hid between the outer wall and a rampart of odorous sacks. Edric
drove the whole body of his compatriots out into the open. After a
quick consultation with Ingelric, he set off with the old man on the
shortest route to Caynham. Some made towards Ashford, some towards the
Moor. A few splashed through the ford over which the grey waters of the
Teme glided in their winter flood.

An hour passed; another hour; the second hour after noon began. Richard
was still in the maltman's storehouse, scarcely stirring from the post
he had originally taken up, listening intently to every sound that
penetrated from without. Osbern had perched himself upon a sack by his
father's side, as motionless except for his fingers, about which he
twined a piece of string in cat's cradle pattern. The voices of women
reached them, the laughter of children, the swirl of water among the
roots of the willows. Falling cobwebs powdered these two with dingy
flakes; conflicting currents of air made the malt-dust dance all around
them; they heard the patter of rats' feet, the dogged gnawing of a
mouse. Suddenly a woman shrieked in terror----

"Yonder--see yonder! Horsemen! horsemen! Yonder the death of us all! My
man--where is he? Gone--left me here helpless! The Frenchmen! The
Frenchmen!"

Panic seized the women of Ludford (there were some twenty of them):
tearful, voluble, or outwardly composed, they carried, dragged, drove
their children up the street, across the green, and out of the town, in
frantic search of masculine protection.

Richard and Osbern stepped stiffly out into the street, brushing their
garments as they went. Yes, there they were, the horsemen, filing along
the hill-side track. The apathetic sun of late winter lent a sulky
radiance to lance, mace, and scabbard, ringed hauberk, conical helm,
and kite-shaped shield. Nearer they came--sixty in all, Richard
guessed. The cavalcade appeared at the farther end of the street:
men-at-arms, pursuivants, knights, esquires, and, behind his banner,
riding alone, William fitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford and Lord of
Breteuil, in the full splendour of vigorous manhood.

"Seignior!" cried Richard the Norman--"Seignior, faictes grace a moy,
qui suys de vostre sang!"

William fitzOsbern threw an amused glance at a forgotten cobweb that
adhered to the speaker's head.

"Mort Dex!" said he. "Whom have we here?"

"Richard of Overton, son of Hugh, son of Osbern, son of Walter of Rye
in the Cotentin, where my nephew is now lord. Sir Count, the mother of
my grandsire was cousin and nurse unto Herfast your own father's
father, and unto noble Dame Gunnore his sister, spouse of our then
Duke."

"Thou art the Scrope. I have heard of thee. One named Perot spoke of
thee with the King at Westminster; and that British fellow of
thine--Howel they call him--guides the company of Ralph de Mortemar
behind us upon the road. I have pressed on with another to conduct me,
for I would reach the city of Hereford as soon as may be."

"Seignior, I have dwelt for twenty years within your county that now
is," said Richard, dropping on one knee, "and I pray of you justice and
your puissant aid! The rascal English do me wrong, and they will not
consider my cause, for I stand alone. One Ulwin invades certain of my
lands and a mill which I myself set up beside the river: he first
exchanged this Ashford for money and cattle of mine, then pleaded his
no-right to sell."

He paused. FitzOsbern had half-turned in his saddle and was surveying
the rugged hill of Lude upon the other side of the ford.

"What a rock of defence!" he exclaimed. "Careless fools to let it stand
unfortified!... Well, I did look for thee to come to greet us; but
alone? and--toil-stained, is it? I have seen no rascal English
hereabouts. This seems a village dead or sleeping. Are ye the only
persons here alive, thou and one child?"

"News of your coming has reached these English, my lord, and they
believe that your purpose is to spoil their homesteads, and so they are
gone without into the country, gathering together all able men for
resistance. Wild Edric of Clun was here but now, at work upon their
fears. Though they be mostly on foot, and their weapons be rusty, they
are more than we, and might bar your road to Hereford. Come with me, I
pray you: on yonder hill I have a strong house, where ye, aye, and all
these, may be safe."

"Joyously will we partake of thine hospitality, good Richard, for an
hour or so, although our march be thereby delayed. Thy Howel, I know,
will lead Ralph de Mortemar to thy very door. Say, who is the lad? Son
of thine, I wager."

"My eldest son, so please you. Osbern, stand forth."

"Hah! Osbern fitzRichard, how sayest thou?

"Wilt thou serve my lady in bower and at board until such time as thou
be old enough to ride with me into battle?"

"Assurement, mon seignior!" replied the child, upon his knee beside his
father in a moment. His French had the thick accent of an Englishman.

FitzOsbern smiled down upon him.

"Shalt learn more gracious French," said he, "but not more gracious
manners. Well, let us be going."

"Seignior," said one of the esquires, "I hear the tramp of many feet,
but no voices at all."

"The English!" cried William, and Richard the Scrob sprang to his feet.
"They think to surprise us. It were best parley with them in the open,
in peaceable guise. Boy, I will carry thee behind me."

Osbern clambered on to the Earl's steed.

"Sir, have I your leave?" asked Richard of Sir Walter de Lacy, who rode
on the left of his master. Lacy nodded, and instantly Richard was
astride behind him. He had scarcely mounted, when a strange, seething
hiss resounded from one side of the street, and above their heads.
Another hiss, and another: a splutter, then a crackle; and the thatch
of the maltman's dwelling, which adjoined his barn, burst into
steadily-spreading flame.

"O Mary! happy thought!" they heard in the fatuous tones of the
maltman's son Oswin. "Hem them right well about, and watch them cook
alive!"

"Thank God for burning pitch!" and in the indignant voice of Grim:

"Thou oaf! Would thou had been born dumb! We had them snared!"

A horse neighed shrilly; the other horses echoed the warning sound.

"Quick, ere terror benumb them!" the Earl shouted. "Right about--a dash
for it!"

A bucketful of hot pitch streamed from one roof, hot charcoal cinders
showered from another; some one flung a lighted torch. Another thatch
was already on fire. The English were formed in a thin ring all round
Ludford. The Norman charge scattered those at the bottom of the street,
and the horsemen poured out.

"Follow me!" cried Richard. "I know a way to baffle them. Ride,
sirs--ride as ye were devils!"

Edric of Clun, on horseback, planted himself in fitzOsbern's way with
menacing gesture; William hurled his truncheon, hit him on the head,
and sent him tumbling from his saddle. Ednoth clung like a vice to
Richard's legs for some yards, and was thrown to the ground, and
trampled by many hurrying hooves. The few mounted English tried
valiantly to intercept the trained cavalry, but were unhorsed or put to
flight.

"To Richard's hall!" shouted Ulwin, from the background, where he was
making tentative passes in the air with an antique sword. "Overton!
Overton! Fire! Burn! Torches, I say--bring torches! Come on, all of
you! Come, burn his house to the ground!"

The Earl and his men had rallied to Richard the Scrob, who called and
signalled to them from Walter de Lacy's crupper. He headed straight for
the forest of Haye.

"Warily now," said he. "There is much bogland."

He led them westward, skirting swamps, threading apparently
impenetrable thickets, with scarcely a pause. They could hear faintly
the voices of a few Englishmen who cursed as they wandered among the
briary undergrowth. The hindmost of the Normans looked back and saw
Ludford flaming, crumbling, and falling into ruins.

"It is mine own secret path," their guide announced. "Verily, mon
seignior, I have prepared for your coming."

They left the forest behind them, and rode through the hamlet of
Overton.

"Look yonder!" said Richard, pointing to the grey gleam of a stone
rampart among the trees surrounding his mansion.

"What is this?" laughed the Earl. "Have ye licence from King William to
erect a castle within his realm?"

"I am King William's loyal subject," the Scrob replied. "Of a
certainty, our King will not grudge a timely shelter to his Earl."

A curtain-wall, roughly but strongly compacted of quarried stone, of
wood, and of rubble, surrounded and concealed the timber dwelling of
Richard and Alftrude; at the western end of the enclosure the
unfinished keep loomed upon its mount; and about them both an
eight-foot moat was drawn.

"The keep as well!" cried fitzOsbern. "Oh, guileful notion, to colour
it with pitch! Only the hawk-eyed may spy it from the valley, for the
foliage embowers it--and, man, ye can surely keep watch therefrom for
many a mile!"

At a blast from Richard's horn, the drawbridge was lowered, and several
Normans in his service appeared upon the threshold, mail-clad and fully
armed.

"It was four weeks building, under Geoffrey of Rouen," said Richard,
"and the moat was digging thirteen days more. I have engines of war
within, and great store of missiles of stone. Enter, bel sire. They
will not find it easy to burn this my dwelling about my head."

"Let the peasants come!" said William fitzOsbern. "They must learn to
know their masters; but please the saints! we shall not need to take
the lives of many. Perchance the sweet peers of heaven may send that
Mortemar find us before long.... Cousin, thou hast a pleasant view from
thy fortress, even through such a narrow peephole. H'm! Rich
forfeitures for our sovereign Lord! Thou shalt trouble thyself no more,
cousin Richard, concerning lands and mills and cheating Saxons. As far
and as wide as eye can see, from the sky that is our Lord God's
footstool unto Satan's fires in the centre of earth, this same pleasant
country shall be thine own, in reward for this day's fealty and
service, and so I, William of Hereford and Breteuil, promise thee in
the name of the King.... Nay, no thanks: kneel but one moment
longer.... It is meet, sirs, is it not, that our leader in this
engagement should hold the honourable rank of chevalier? We will
account this a field of battle. Rise up, Sir Richard fitzHugh le
Scrope!"


The next morning, when the Earl of Hereford had gone his way, and the
bodies of the only two Englishmen slain by Ralph de Mortemar's rescuing
party had been borne to burial, the new lord of the Moor, of Ashford,
of Ludford, and of Stanage rode out to display the extent and resources
of his manors to his astonished lady. Their itinerary ended, they stood
in the evening outside the moat and gazed at the placid, billowing
country beneath them. Although by the cold, saffron light of a February
sunset the misty course of the Teme was the only certain landmark and
it was hard to distinguish meadow and ploughland, pasture and forest,
they had to feast their eyes until the last glimmer faded.

"With right tillage," said Richard, "it should yield me thrice its
yearly value in grain. And I will have yet more sheep, and yet more
cattle: there is now place for four times as many as ever I bred.... I
have made thee great and famous, as I promised; and Osbern, with the
Earl to favour him, should be an even greater lord than I.... Our
fishpond shall go forward upon the morrow. What sayest thou to an
orchard yonder, planted with apples of Normandy? and I think that
Gascon vines would ripen passably upon our southern slope. O Alftrude,
thou knowest how I have loved and pondered this land this many a year;
and we shall have great profit of it, ma belle, thou and I together."

Alftrude dwelt at Richard's Castle well content; for, as she sometimes
observed when she looked round upon her flocks, her herds and her
horses, her orchards, her cornfields, her vineyards, her chickens,
ducks and geese, her hounds and her falcons, her fishpond, her smooth
green lawn, her yew-tree alley, her doves and her peacocks, and her
band of healthy children, there was no reason at all why she should not.





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