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Title: Harold : the Last of the Saxon Kings — Volume 06
Author: Lytton, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Baron
Language: English
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BOOK VI.


AMBITION.



CHAPTER I.


There was great rejoicing in England.  King Edward had been induced to
send Alred the prelate [139] to the court of the German Emperor, for
his kinsman and namesake, Edward Atheling, the son of the great
Ironsides.  In his childhood, this Prince, with his brother Edmund,
had been committed by Canute to the charge of his vassal, the King of
Sweden; and it has been said (though without sufficient authority),
that Canute's design was, that they should be secretly made away with.
The King of Sweden, however, forwarded the children to the court of
Hungary; they were there honourably reared and received.  Edmund died
young, without issue.  Edward married a daughter of the German
Emperor, and during the commotions in England, and the successive
reigns of Harold Harefoot, Hardicanute, and the Confessor, had
remained forgotten in his exile, until now suddenly recalled to
England as the heir presumptive of his childless namesake.  He arrived
with Agatha his wife, one infant son, Edgar, and two daughters,
Margaret and Christina.

Great were the rejoicings.  The vast crowd that had followed the royal
visitors in their procession to the old London palace (not far from
St. Paul's) in which they were lodged, yet swarmed through the
streets, when two thegns who had personally accompanied the Atheling
from Dover, and had just taken leave of him, now emerged from the
palace, and with some difficulty made their way through the crowded
streets.

The one in the dress and short hair imitated from the Norman,--was our
old friend Godrith, whom the reader may remember as the rebuker of
Taillefer, and the friend of Mallet de Graville; the other, in a plain
linen Saxon tunic, and the gonna worn on state occasions, to which he
seemed unfamiliar, but with heavy gold bracelets on his arms, long
haired and bearded, was Vebba, the Kentish thegn, who had served as
nuncius from Godwin to Edward.

"Troth and faith!" said Vebba, wiping his brow, "this crowd is enow to
make plain roan stark wode.  I would not live in London for all the
gauds in the goldsmith's shops, or all the treasures in King Edward's
vaults.  My tongue is as parched as a hay-field in the weyd-month.
[140]  Holy Mother be blessed!  I see a Cumen-hus [141] open; let us
in and refresh ourselves with a horn of ale."

"Nay, friend," quoth Godrith, with a slight disdain, "such are not the
resorts of men of our rank.  Tarry yet awhile, till we arrive near the
bridge by the river-side; there, indeed, you will find worthy company
and dainty cheer."

"Well, well, I am at your hest, Godrith," said the Kent man, sighing;
"my wife and my sons will be sure to ask me what sights I have seen,
and I may as well know from thee the last tricks and ways of this
burly-burly town."

Godrith, who was master of all the fashions in the reign of our lord
King Edward, smiled graciously, and the two proceeded in silence, only
broken by the sturdy Kent man's exclamations; now of anger when rudely
jostled, now of wonder and delight when, amidst the throng, he caught
sight of a gleeman, with his bear or monkey, who took advantage of
some space near convent garden, or Roman ruin, to exhibit his craft;
till they gained a long low row of booths, most pleasantly situated to
the left of this side London bridge, and which was appropriated to the
celebrated cookshops, that even to the time of Fitzstephen retained
their fame and their fashion.

Between the shops and the river was a space of grass worn brown and
bare by the feet of the customers, with a few clipped trees with vines
trained from one to the other in arcades, under cover of which were
set tables and settles.  The place was thickly crowded, and but for
Godrith's popularity amongst the attendants, they might have found it
difficult to obtain accommodation.  However, a new table was soon
brought forth, placed close by the cool margin of the water, and
covered in a trice with tankards of hippocras, pigment, ale, and some
Gascon, as well as British wines: varieties of the delicious cake-
bread for which England was then renowned; while viands, strange to
the honest eye and taste of the wealthy Kent man, were served on
spits.

"What bird is this?" said he, grumbling.

"O enviable man, it is a Phrygian attagen [142] that thou art about to
taste for the first time; and when thou hast recovered that delight, I
commend to thee a Moorish compound, made of eggs and roes of carp from
the old Southweorc stewponds, which the cooks here dress notably."

"Moorish!--Holy Virgin!" cried Vebba, with his mouth full of the
Phrygian attagen, "how came anything Moorish in our Christian island?"

Godrith laughed outright.

"Why, our cook here is Moorish; the best singers in London are Moors.
Look yonder! see those grave comely Saracens!"

"Comely, quotha, burnt and black as a charred pine-pole!" grunted
Vebba; "well, who are they?"

"Wealthy traders; thanks to whom, our pretty maids have risen high in
the market." [143]

"More the shame," said the Kent man; "that selling of English youth to
foreign masters, whether male or female, is a blot on the Saxon name."

"So saith Harold our Earl, and so preach the monks," returned Godrith.
"But thou, my good friend, who art fond of all things that our
ancestors did, and hast sneered more than once at my Norman robe and
cropped hair, thou shouldst not be the one to find fault with what our
fathers have done since the days of Cerdic."

"Hem," said the Kent man, a little perplexed, "certainly old manners
are the best, and I suppose there is some good reason for this
practice, which I, who never trouble myself about matters that concern
me not, do not see."

"Well, Vebba, and how likest thou the Atheling? he is of the old
line," said Godrith.

Again the Kent man looked perplexed, and had recourse to the ale,
which he preferred to all more delicate liquor, before he replied:

"Why, he speaks English worse than King Edward! and as for his boy
Edgar, the child can scarce speak English at all.  And then their
German carles and cnehts!--An I had known what manner of folk they
were, I had not spent my mancuses in running from my homestead to give
them the welcome.  But they told me that Harold the good Earl had made
the King send for them: and whatever the Earl counselled must, I
thought, be wise, and to the weal of sweet England."

"That is true," said Godrith with earnest emphasis, for, with all his
affectation of Norman manners, he was thoroughly English at heart, and
now among the staunchest supporters of Harold, who had become no less
the pattern and pride of the young nobles than the darling of the
humbler population,--"that is true--and Harold showed us his noble
English heart when he so urged the King to his own loss."

As Godrith thus spoke, nay, from the first mention of Harold's name,
two men richly clad, but with their bonnets drawn far over their
brows, and their long gonnas so worn as to hide their forms, who were
seated at a table behind Godrith and had thus escaped his attention,
had paused from their wine-cups, and they now listened with much
earnestness to the conversation that followed.

"How to the Earl's loss?" asked Vebba.

"Why, simple thegn," answered Godrith, "why, suppose that Edward had
refused to acknowledge the Atheling as his heir, suppose the Atheling
had remained in the German court, and our good King died suddenly,--
who, thinkest thou, could succeed to the English throne?"

"Marry, I have never thought of that at all," said the Kent man,
scratching his head.

"No, nor have the English generally; yet whom could we choose but
Harold?"

A sudden start from one of the listeners was checked by the warning
finger of the other; and the Kent man exclaimed:

"Body o' me!  But we have never chosen king (save the Danes) out of
the line of Cerdic.  These be new cranks, with a vengeance; we shall
be choosing German, or Saracen, or Norman next!"

"Out of the line of Cerdic! but that line is gone, root and branch,
save the Atheling, and he thou seest is more German than English.
Again I say, failing the Atheling, whom could we choose but Harold,
brother-in-law to the King: descended through Githa from the royalties
of the Norse, the head of all armies under the Herr-ban, the chief who
has never fought without victory, yet who has always preferred
conciliation to conquest--the first counsellor in the Witan--the first
man in the realm--who but Harold? answer me, staring Vebba?"

"I take in thy words slowly," said the Kent man, shaking his head,
"and after all, it matters little who is king, so he be a good one.
Yes, I see now that the Earl was a just and generous man when he made
the King send for the Atheling.  Drink-hael! long life to them both!"

"Was-hael," answered Godrith, draining his hippocras to Vebba's more
potent ale.  "Long life to them both! may Edward the Atheling reign,
but Harold the Earl rule!  Ah, then, indeed, we may sleep without fear
of fierce Algar and still fiercer Gryffyth the Walloon--who now, it is
true, are stilled for the moment, thanks to Harold--but not more still
than the smooth waters in Gwyned, that lie just above the rush of a
torrent."

"So little news hear I," said Vebba, "and in Kent so little are we
plagued with the troubles elsewhere, (for there Harold governs us, and
the hawks come not where the eagles hold eyrie!)--that I will thank
thee to tell me something about our old Earl for a year [144], Algar
the restless, and this Gryffyth the Welch King, so that I may seem a
wise man when I go back to my homestead."

"Why, thou knowest at least that Algar and Harold were ever opposed in
the Witan, and hot words thou hast heard pass between them!"

"Marry, yes!  But Algar was as little match for Earl Harold in speech
as in sword play."

Now again one of the listeners started, (but it was not the same as
the one before,) and muttered an angry exclamation.

"Yet is he a troublesome foe," said Godrith, who did not hear the
sound Vebba had provoked, "and a thorn in the side both of the Earl
and of England; and sorrowful for both England and Earl was it, that
Harold refused to marry Aldyth, as it is said his father, wise Godwin,
counselled and wished."

"Ah! but I have heard scops and harpers sing pretty songs that Harold
loves Edith the Fair, a wondrous proper maiden, they say!"

"It is true; and for the sake of his love, he played ill for his
ambition."

"I like him the better for that," said the honest Kent man: "why does
he not marry the girl at once? she hath broad lands, I know, for they
run from the Sussex shore into Kent."

"But they are cousins five times removed, and the Church forbids the
marriage; nevertheless Harold lives only for Edith; they have
exchanged the true-lofa [145], and it is whispered that Harold hopes
the Atheling, when he comes to be King, will get him the Pope's
dispensation.  But to return to Algar; in a day most unlucky he gave
his daughter to Gryffyth, the most turbulent sub-king the land ever
knew, who, it is said, will not be content till he has won all Wales
for himself without homage or service, and the Marches to boot.  Some
letters between him and Earl Algar, to whom Harold had secured the
earldom of the East Angles, were discovered, and in a Witan at
Winchester thou wilt doubtless have heard, (for thou didst not, I
know, leave thy lands to attend it,) that Algar [146] was outlawed."

"Oh, yes, these are stale tidings; I heard thus much from a palmer--
and then Algar got ships from the Irish, sailed to North Wales, and
beat Rolf, the Norman Earl, at Hereford.  Oh, yes, I heard that, and,"
added the Kent man, laughing, "I was not sorry to hear that my old
Earl Algar, since he is a good and true Saxon, beat the cowardly
Norman,--more shame to the King for giving a Norman the ward of the
Marches!"

"It was a sore defeat to the King and to England," said Godrith,
gravely.  "The great Minster of Hereford built by King Athelstan was
burned and sacked by the Welch; and the crown itself was in danger,
when Harold came up at the head of the Fyrd.  Hard is it to tell the
distress and the marching and the camping, and the travail, and
destruction of men, and also of horses, which the English endured
[147] till Harold came; and then luckily came also the good old
Leofric, and Bishop Alred the peacemaker, and so strife was patched
up--Gryffyth swore oaths of faith to King Edward, and Algar was
inlawed; and there for the nonce rests the matter now.  But well I
ween that Gryffyth will never keep troth with the English, and that no
hand less strong than Harold's can keep in check a spirit as fiery as
Algar's:  therefore did I wish that Harold might be King."

"Well," quoth the honest Kent man, "I hope, nevertheless, that Algar,
will sow his wild oats, and leave the Walloons to grow the hemp for
their own halters; for, though he is not of the height of our Harold,
he is a true Saxon, and we liked him well enow when he ruled us.  And
how is our Earl's brother Tostig esteemed by the Northmen?  It must be
hard to please those who had Siward of the strong arm for their Earl
before."

"Why, at first, when (at Siward's death in the wars for young Malcolm)
Harold secured to Tostig the Northumbrian earldom, Tostig went by his
brother's counsel, and ruled well and won favour.  Of late I hear that
the Northmen murmur.  Tostig is a man indeed dour and haughty."

After a few more questions and answers on the news of the day, Vebba
rose and said:

"Thanks for thy good fellowship; it is time for me now to be jogging
homeward.  I left my ceorls and horses on the other side the river,
and must go after them.  And now forgive me my bluntness, fellow-
thegn, but ye young courtiers have plenty of need for your mancuses,
and when a plain countryman like me comes sight-seeing, he ought to
stand payment; wherefore," here he took from his belt a great leathern
purse, "wherefore, as these outlandish birds and heathenish puddings
must be dear fare--"

"How!" said Godrith, reddening, "thinkest thou so meanly of us thegns
of Middlesex as to deem we cannot entertain thus humbly a friend from
a distance?  Ye Kent men I know are rich.  But keep your pennies to
buy stuffs for your wife, my friend."

The Kent man, seeing he had displeased his companion, did not press
his liberal offer,--put up his purse, and suffered Godrith to pay the
reckoning.  Then, as the two thegns shook hands, he said:

"But I should like to have said a kind word or so to Earl Harold--for
he was too busy and too great for me to come across him in the old
palace yonder.  I have a mind to go back and look for him at his own
house."

"You will not find him there," said Godrith, "for I know that as soon
as he hath finished his conference with the Atheling, he will leave
the city; and I shall be at his own favourite manse over the water at
sunset, to take orders for repairing the forts and dykes on the
Marches.  You can tarry awhile and meet us; you know his old lodge in
the forest land?"

"Nay, I must be back and at home ere night, for all things go wrong
when the master is away.  Yet, indeed, my good wife will scold me for
not having shaken hands with the handsome Earl."

"Thou shalt not come under that sad infliction," said the good-natured
Godrith, who was pleased with the thegn's devotion to Harold, and who,
knowing the great weight which Vebba (homely as he seemed) carried in
his important county, was politically anxious that the Earl should
humour so sturdy a friend,--"Thou shalt not sour thy wife's kiss, man.
For look you, as you ride back you will pass by a large old house,
with broken columns at the back."

"I have marked it well," said the thegn, "when I have gone that way,
with a heap of queer stones, on a little hillock, which they say the
witches or the Britons heaped together."

"The same.  When Harold leaves London, I trow well towards that house
will his road wend; for there lives Edith the swan's-neck, with her
awful grandam the Wicca.  If thou art there a little after noon,
depend on it thou wilt see Harold riding that way."

"Thank thee heartily, friend Godrith," said Vebba, taking his leave,
"and forgive my bluntness if I laughed at thy cropped head, for I see
thou art as good a Saxon as e'er a franklin of Kent--and so the saints
keep thee."

Vebba then strode briskly over the bridge; and Godrith, animated by
the wine he had drunk, turned gaily on his heel to look amongst the
crowded tables for some chance friend with whom to while away an hour
or so at the games of hazard then in vogue.

Scarce had he turned, when the two listeners, who, having paid their
reckoning, had moved under shade of one of the arcades, dropped into a
boat which they had summoned to the margin by a noiseless signal, and
were rowed over the water.  They preserved a silence which seemed
thoughtful and gloomy until they reached the opposite shore; then one
of them, pushing back his bonnet, showed the sharp and haughty
features of Algar.

"Well, friend of Gryffyth," said he, with a bitter accent, "thou
hearest that Earl Harold counts so little on the oaths of thy King,
that he intends to fortify the Marches against him; and thou hearest
also, that nought save a life, as fragile as the reed which thy feet
are trampling, stands between the throne of England and the only
Englishman who could ever have humbled my son-in-law to swear oath of
service to Edward."

"Shame upon that hour," said the other, whose speech, as well as the
gold collar round his neck, and the peculiar fashion of his hair,
betokened him to be Welch.  "Little did I think that the great son of
Llewellyn, whom our bards had set above Roderic Mawr, would ever have
acknowledged the sovereignty of the Saxon over the hills of Cymry."

"Tut, Meredydd," answered Algar, "thou knowest well that no Cymrian
ever deems himself dishonoured by breaking faith with the Saxon; and
we shall yet see the lions of Gryffyth scaring the sheepfolds of
Hereford."

"So be it," said Meredydd, fiercely.  "And Harold shall give to his
Atheling the Saxon land, shorn at least of the Cymrian kingdom."

"Meredydd," said Algar, with a seriousness that seemed almost solemn,
no Atheling will live to rule these realms!  Thou knowest that I was
one of the first to hail the news of his coming--I hastened to Dover
to meet him.  Methought I saw death writ on his countenance, and I
bribed the German leach who attends him to answer my questions; the
Atheling knows it not, but he bears within him the seeds of a mortal
complaint.  Thou wottest well what cause I have to hate Earl Harold;
and were I the only man to oppose his way to the throne, he should not
ascend it but over my corpse.  But when Godrith, his creature, spoke,
I felt that he spoke the truth; and, the Atheling dead, on no head but
Harold's can fall the crown of Edward."

"Ha!" said the Cymrian chief, gloomily; "thinkest thou so indeed?"

"I think it not; I know it.  And for that reason, Meredydd, we must
wait not till he wields against us all the royalty of England.  As
yet, while Edward lives, there is hope.  For the King loves to spend
wealth on relics and priests, and is slow when the mancuses are wanted
for fighting men.  The King too, poor man! is not so ill-pleased at my
outbursts as he would fain have it thought; he thinks, by pitting earl
against earl, that he himself is the stronger [148]. While Edward
lives, therefore, Harold's arm is half crippled; wherefore, Meredydd,
ride thou, with good speed, back to King Gryffyth, and tell him all I
have told thee.  Tell him that our time to strike the blow and renew
the war will be amidst the dismay and confusion that the Atheling's
death will occasion.  Tell him, that if we can entangle Harold himself
in the Welch defiles, it will go hard but what we shall find some
arrow or dagger to pierce the heart of the invader.  And were Harold
but slain--who then would be king in England?  The line of Cerdic
gone--the House of Godwin lost in Earl Harold, (for Tostig is hated in
his own domain, Leofwine is too light, and Gurth is too saintly for
such ambition)--who then, I say, can be king in England but Algar, the
heir of the great Leofric?  And I, as King of England, will set all
Cymry free, and restore to the realm of Gryffyth the shires of
Hereford and Worcester.  Ride fast, O Meredydd, and heed well all I
have said."

"Dost thou promise and swear, that wert thou king of England, Cymry
should be free from all service?"

"Free as air, free as under Arthur and Uther: I swear it.  And
remember well how Harold addressed the Cymrian chiefs, when he
accepted Gryffyth's oaths of service."

"Remember it--ay," cried Meredydd, his face lighting up with intense
ire and revenge; "the stern Saxon said, 'Heed well, ye chiefs of
Cymry, and thou Gryffyth the King, that if again ye force, by ravage
and rapine, by sacrilege and murther, the majesty of England to enter
your borders, duty must be done: God grant that your Cymrian lion may
leave us in peace--if not, it is mercy to Human life that bids us cut
the talons, and draw the fangs."

"Harold, like all calm and mild men, ever says less than he means,"
returned Algar; "and were Harold king, small pretext would he need for
cutting the talons and drawing the fangs."

"It is well," said Meredydd, with a fierce smile.  "I will now go to
my men who are lodged yonder; and it is better that thou shouldst not
be seen with me."

"Right; so St. David be with you--and forget not a word of my message
to Gryffyth my son-in-law."

"Not a word," returned Meredydd, as with a wave of his hand he moved
towards an hostelry, to which, as kept by one of their own countrymen,
the Welch habitually resorted in the visits to the capital which the
various intrigues and dissensions in their unhappy land made frequent.

The chief's train, which consisted of ten men, all of high birth, were
not drinking in the tavern--for sorry customers to mine host were the
abstemious Welch.  Stretched on the grass under the trees of an
orchard that backed the hostelry, and utterly indifferent to all the
rejoicings that animated the population of Southwark and London, they
were listening to a wild song of the old hero-days from one of their
number; and round them grazed the rough shagged ponies which they had
used for their journey.  Meredydd, approaching, gazed round, and
seeing no stranger was present, raised his hand to hush the song, and
then addressed his countrymen briefly in Welch--briefly, but with a
passion that was evident in his flashing eyes and vehement gestures.
The passion was contagious; they all sprang to their feet with a low
but fierce cry, and in a few moments they had caught and saddled their
diminutive palfreys, while one of the band, who seemed singled out by
Meredydd, sallied forth alone from the orchard, and took his way, on
foot, to the bridge.  He did not tarry there long; at the sight of a
single horseman, whom a shout of welcome, on that swarming
thoroughfare, proclaimed to be Earl Harold, the Welcbman turned, and
with a fleet foot regained his companions.

Meanwhile Harold, smilingly, returned the greetings he received,
cleared the bridge, passed the suburbs, and soon gained the wild
forest land that lay along the great Kentish road.  He rode somewhat
slowly, for he was evidently in deep thought; and he had arrived about
half-way towards Hilda's house when he heard behind quick pattering
sounds, as of small unshod hoofs: he turned, and saw the Welchmen at
the distance of some fifty yards.  But at that moment there passed,
along the road in front, several persons bustling into London to share
in the festivities of the day.  This seemed to disconcert the Welch in
the rear, and, after a few whispered words, they left the high road
and entered the forest land.  Various groups from time to time
continued to pass along the thoroughfare.  But still, ever through the
glades, Harold caught glimpses of the riders; now distant, now near.
Sometimes he heard the snort of their small horses, and saw a fierce
eye glaring through the bushes; then, as at the sight or sound of
approaching passengers, the riders wheeled, and shot off through the
brakes.

The Earl's suspicions were aroused; for (though he knew of no enemy to
apprehend, and the extreme severity of the laws against robbers made
the high roads much safer in the latter days of the Saxon domination
than they were for centuries under that of the subsequent dynasty,
when Saxon thegns themselves had turned kings of the greenwood,) the
various insurrections in Edward's reign had necessarily thrown upon
society many turbulent disbanded mercenaries.

Harold was unarmed, save the spear which, even on occasions of state,
the Saxon noble rarely laid aside, and the ateghar in his belt; and,
seeing now that the road had become deserted, he set spurs to his
horse, and was just in sight of the Druid temple, when a javelin
whizzed close by his breast, and another transfixed his horse, which
fell head foremost to the ground.

The Earl gained his feet in an instant, and that haste was needed to
save his life; for while he rose ten swords flashed around him.  The
Welchmen had sprung from their palfreys as Harold's horse fell.
Fortunately for him, only two of the party bore javelins, (a weapon
which the Welch wielded with deadly skill,) and those already wasted,
they drew their short swords, which were probably imitated from the
Romans, and rushed upon him in simultaneous onset.  Versed in all the
weapons of the time, with his right hand seeking by his spear to keep
off the rush, with the ateghar in his left parrying the strokes aimed
at him, the brave Earl transfixed the first assailant, and sore
wounded the next; but his tunic was dyed red with three gashes, and
his sole chance of life was in the power yet left him to force his way
through the ring.  Dropping his spear, shifting his ateghar into the
right hand, wrapping round his left arm his gonna as a shield, he
sprang fiercely on the onslaught, and on the flashing swords.  Pierced
to the heart fell one of his foes--dashed to the earth another--from
the hand of a third (dropping his own ateghar) he wrenched the sword.
Loud rose Harold's cry for aid, and swiftly he strode towards the
hillock, turning back, and striking as he turned; and again fell a
foe, and again new blood oozed through his own garb.  At that moment
his cry was echoed by a shriek so sharp and so piercing that it
startled the assailants, it arrested the assault; and, ere the unequal
strife could be resumed, a woman was in the midst of the fray; a woman
stood dauntless between the Earl and his foes.

"Back! Edith.  Oh, God!  Back, back!" cried the Earl, recovering all
his strength in the sole fear which that strife had yet stricken into
his bold heart; and drawing Edith aside with his strong arm, he again
confronted the assailants.

"Die!" cried, in the Cymrian tongue, the fiercest of the foes, whose
sword had already twice drawn the Earl's blood; "Die, that Cymry may
be free!"

Meredydd sprang, with him sprang the survivors of his band; and, by a
sudden movement, Edith had thrown herself on Harold's breast, leaving
his right arm free, but sheltering his form with her own.

At that sight every sword rested still in air.  These Cymrians,
hesitating not at the murder of the man whose death seemed to their
false virtue a sacrifice due to their hopes of freedom, were still the
descendants of Heroes, and the children of noble Song, and their
swords were harmless against a woman.  The same pause which saved the
life of Harold, saved that of Meredydd; for the Cymrian's lifted sword
had left his breast defenceless, and Harold, despite his wrath, and
his fears for Edith, touched by that sudden forbearance, forbore
himself the blow.

"Why seek ye my life?" said he.  "Whom in broad England hath Harold
wronged?"

That speech broke the charm, revived the suspense of vengeance.  With
a sudden aim, Meredydd smote at the head which Edith's embrace left
unprotected.  The sword shivered on the steel of that which parried
the stroke, and the next moment, pierced to the heart, Meredydd fell
to the earth, bathed in his gore.  Even as he fell, aid was at hand.
The ceorls in the Roman house had caught the alarm, and were hurrying
down the knoll, with arms snatched in haste, while a loud whoop broke
from the forest land hard by; and a troop of horse, headed by Vebba,
rushed through the bushes and brakes.  Those of the Welch still
surviving, no longer animated by their fiery chief, turned on the
instant, and fled with that wonderful speed of foot which
characterised their active race; calling, as they fled, to their Welch
pigmy steeds, which, snorting loud, and lashing out, came at once to
the call.  Seizing the nearest at hand, the fugitives sprang to selle,
while the animals unchosen paused by the corpses of their former
riders, neighing piteously, and shaking their long manes.  And then,
after wheeling round and round the coming horsemen, with many a
plunge, and lash, and savage cry, they darted after their companions,
and disappeared amongst the bushwood.  Some of the Kentish men gave
chase to the fugitives, but in vain; for the nature of the ground
favoured flight.  Vebba, and the rest, now joined by Hilda's lithsmen,
gained the spot where Harold, bleeding fast, yet strove to keep his
footing, and, forgetful of his own wounds, was joyfully assuring
himself of Edith's safety.  Vebba dismounted, and recognising the
Earl, exclaimed:

"Saints in heaven! are we in tine?  You bleed--you faint!--Speak, Lord
Harold.  How fares it?"

"Blood enow yet left here for our merrie England!" said Harold, with a
smile.  But as he spoke, his head drooped, and he was borne senseless
into the house of Hilda.



CHAPTER II.


The Vala met them at the threshold, and testified so little surprise
at the sight of the bleeding and unconscious Earl, that Vebba, who had
heard strange tales of Hilda's unlawful arts, half-suspected that
those wild-looking foes, with their uncanny diminutive horses, were
imps conjured by her to punish a wooer to her grandchild--who had been
perhaps too successful in the wooing.  And fears so reasonable were
not a little increased when Hilda, after leading the way up the steep
ladder to the chamber in which Harold had dreamed his fearful dream,
bade them all depart, and leave the wounded man to her care.

"Not so," said Vebba, bluffly.  "A life like this is not to be left in
the hands of woman, or wicca.  I shall go back to the great town, and
summon the Earl's own leach.  And I beg thee to heed, meanwhile, that
every head in this house shall answer for Harold's."

The great Vala, and highborn Hleafdian, little accustomed to be
accosted thus, turned round abruptly, with so stern an eye and so
imperious a mien, that even the stout Kent man felt abashed.  She
pointed to the door opening on the ladder, and said, briefly:

"Depart!  Thy lord's life hath been saved already, and by woman.
Depart!"

"Depart, and fear not for the Earl, brave and true friend in need,"
said Edith, looking up from Harold's pale lips, over which she bent;
and her sweet voice so touched the good thegn, that, murmuring a
blessing on her fair face, he turned and departed.

Hilda then proceeded, with a light and skilful hand, to examine the
wounds of her patient.  She opened the tunic, and washed away the
blood from four gaping orifices on the breast and shoulders.  And as
she did so, Edith uttered a faint cry, and falling on her knees, bowed
her head over the drooping hand, and kissed it with stifling emotions,
of which perhaps grateful joy was the strongest; for over the heart of
Harold was punctured, after the fashion of the Saxons, a device--and
that device was the knot of betrothal, and in the centre of the knot
was graven the word "Edith."



CHAPTER III.


Whether, owing to Hilda's runes, or to the merely human arts which
accompanied them, the Earl's recovery was rapid, though the great loss
of blood he had sustained left him awhile weak and exhausted.  But,
perhaps, he blessed the excuse which detained him still in the house
of Hilda, and under the eyes of Edith.

He dismissed the leach sent to him by Vebba, and confided, not without
reason, to the Vala's skill.  And how happily went his hours beneath
the old Roman roof!

It was not without a superstition, more characterised, however, by
tenderness than awe, that Harold learned that Edith had been
undefinably impressed with a foreboding of danger to her betrothed,
and all that morning she had watched his coming from the old legendary
hill.  Was it not in that watch that his good Fylgia had saved his
life?  Indeed, there seemed a strange truth in Hilda's assertions,
that in the form of his betrothed, his tutelary spirit lived and
guarded.  For smooth every step, and bright every day, in his career,
since their troth had been plighted.  And gradually the sweet
superstition had mingled with human passion to hallow and refine it.
There was a purity and a depth in the love of these two, which, if not
uncommon in women, is most rare in men.

Harold, in sober truth, had learned to look on Edith as on his better
angel; and, calming his strong manly heart in the hour of temptation,
would have recoiled, as a sacrilege, from aught that could have
sullied that image of celestial love.  With a noble and sublime
patience, of which perhaps only a character so thoroughly English in
its habits of self-control and steadfast endurance could have been
capable, he saw the months and the years glide away, and still
contented himself with hope;--hope, the sole godlike joy that belongs
to men!

As the opinion of an age influences even those who affect to despise
it, so, perhaps, this holy and unselfish passion was preserved and
guarded by that peculiar veneration for purity which formed the
characteristic fanaticism of the last days of the Anglo-Saxons,--when
still, as Aldhelm had previously sung in Latin less barbarous than
perhaps any priest in the reign of Edward could command:

    "Virginitas castam servans sine crimine carnem
     Caetera virtutem vincit praeconia laudi--
     Spiritus altithroni templum sibi vindicat almus;" [149]

when, amidst a great dissoluteness of manners, alike common to Church
and laity, the opposite virtues were, as is invariable in such epochs
of society, carried by the few purer natures into heroic extremes.
"And as gold, the adorner of the world, springs from the sordid bosom
of earth, so chastity, the image of gold, rose bright and unsullied
from the clay of human desire." [150]

And Edith, though yet in the tenderest flush of beautiful youth, had,
under the influence of that sanctifying and scarce earthly affection,
perfected her full nature as woman.  She had learned so to live in
Harold's life, that--less, it seemed, by study than intuition--a
knowledge graver than that which belonged to her sex and her time,
seemed to fall upon her soul--fall as the sunlight falls on the
blossoms, expanding their petals, and brightening the glory of their
hues.

Hitherto, living under the shade of Hilda's dreary creed, Edith, as we
have seen, had been rather Christian by name and instinct than
acquainted with the doctrines of the Gospel, or penetrated by its
faith.  But the soul of Harold lifted her own out of the Valley of the
Shadow up to the Heavenly Hill.  For the character of their love was
so pre-eminently Christian, so, by the circumstances that surrounded
it--so by hope and self-denial, elevated out of the empire, not only
of the senses, but even of that sentiment which springs from them, and
which made the sole refined and poetic element of the heathen's love,
that but for Christianity it would have withered and died.  It
required all the aliment of prayer; it needed that patient endurance
which comes from the soul's consciousness of immortality; it could not
have resisted earth, but from the forts and armies it won from heaven.
Thus from Harold might Edith be said to have taken her very soul.  And
with the soul, and through the soul, woke the mind from the mists of
childhood.

In the intense desire to be worthy the love of the foremost man of her
land; to be the companion of his mind, as well as the mistress of his
heart, she had acquired, she knew not how, strange stores of thought,
and intelligence, and pure, gentle wisdom.  In opening to her
confidence his own high aims and projects, he himself was scarcely
conscious how often he confided but to consult--how often and how
insensibly she coloured his reflections and shaped his designs.
Whatever was highest and purest, that, Edith ever, as by instinct,
beheld as the wisest.  She grew to him like a second conscience,
diviner than his own.  Each, therefore, reflected virtue on the other,
as planet illumines planet.

All these years of probation then, which might have soured a love less
holy, changed into weariness a love less intense, had only served to
wed them more intimately soul to soul; and in that spotless union what
happiness there was! what rapture in word and glance, and the slight,
restrained caress of innocence, beyond all the transports love only
human can bestow!



CHAPTER IV.


It was a bright still summer noon, when Harold sate with Edith amidst
the columns of the Druid temple, and in the shade which those vast and
mournful relics of a faith departed cast along the sward.  And there,
conversing over the past, and planning the future, they had sate long,
when Hilda approached from the house, and entering the circle, leant
her arm upon the altar of the war-god, and gazing on Harold with a
calm triumph in her aspect, said:

"Did I not smile, son of Godwin, when, with thy short-sighted wisdom,
thou didst think to guard thy land and secure thy love, by urging the
monk-king to send over the seas for the Atheling?  Did I not tell
thee, 'Thou dost right, for in obeying thy judgment thou art but the
instrument of fate; and the coming of the Atheling shall speed thee
nearer to the ends of thy life, but not from the Atheling shalt thou
take the crown of thy love, and not by the Atheling shall the throne
of Athelstan be filled'?"

"Alas," said Harold, rising in agitation, "let me not hear of
mischance to that noble prince.  He seemed sick and feeble when I
parted from him; but joy is a great restorer, and the air of the
native land gives quick health to the exile."

"Hark!" said Hilda, "you hear the passing bell for the soul of the son
of Ironsides!"

The mournful knell, as she spoke, came dull from the roofs of the city
afar, borne to their ears by the exceeding stillness of the
atmosphere.  Edith crossed herself, and murmured a prayer according to
the custom of the age; then raising her eyes to Harold, she murmured,
as she clasped her hands:

"Be not saddened, Harold; hope still."

"Hope!" repeated Hilda, rising proudly from her recumbent position,
"Hope! in that knell from St. Paul's, dull indeed is thine ear, O
Harold, if thou hearest not the joy-bells that inaugurate a future
king!"

The Earl started; his eyes shot fire; his breast heaved.

"Leave us, Edith," said Hilda, in a low voice; and after watching her
grandchild's slow reluctant steps descend the knoll, she turned to
Harold, and leading him towards the gravestone of the Saxon chief,
said:

"Rememberest thou the spectre that rose from this mound?--rememberest
thou the dream that followed it?"

"The spectre, or deceit of mine eye, I remember well," answered the
Earl; "the dream, not;--or only in confused and jarring fragments."

"I told thee then, that I could not unriddle the dream by the light of
the moment; and that the dead who slept below never appeared to men,
save for some portent of doom to the house of Cerdic.  The portent is
fulfilled; the Heir of Cerdic is no more.  To whom appeared the great
Scin-laeca, but to him who shall lead a new race of kings to the Saxon
throne!"

Harold breathed hard, and the colour mounted bright and glowing to his
cheek and brow.

"I cannot gainsay thee, Vala.  Unless, despite all conjecture, Edward
should be spared to earth till the Atheling's infant son acquires the
age when bearded men will acknowledge a chief [151], I look round in
England for the coming king, and all England reflects but mine own
image."

His head rose erect as he spoke, and already the brow seemed august,
as if circled by the diadem of the Basileus.  "And if it be so," he
added, "I accept that solemn trust, and England shall grow greater in
my greatness."

"The flame breaks at last from the smouldering fuel!" cried the Vala,
"and the hour I so long foretold to thee hath come!"

Harold answered not, for high and kindling emotions deafened him to
all but the voice of a grand ambition, and the awakening joy of a
noble heart.

"And then--and then," he exclaimed, "I shall need no mediator between
nature and monkcraft;--then, O Edith, the life thou hast saved will
indeed be thine!"  He paused, and it was a sign of the change that an
ambition long repressed, but now rushing into the vent legitimately
open to it, had already begun to work in the character hitherto so
self-reliant, when he said in a low voice, "But that dream which hath
so long lain locked, not lost, in my mind; that dream of which I
recall only vague remembrances of danger yet defiance, trouble yet
triumph,--canst thou unriddle it, O Vala, into auguries of success?"

"Harold," answered Hilda, "thou didst hear at the close of thy dream,
the music of the hymns that are chaunted at the crowning of a king,--
and a crowned king shalt thou be; yet fearful foes shall assail thee--
foreshown in the shapes of a lion and raven, that came in menace over
the bloodred sea.  The two stars in the heaven betoken that the day of
thy birth was also the birthday of a foe, whose star is fatal to
thine; and they warn thee against a battle-field, fought on the day
when those stars shall meet.  Farther than this the mystery of thy
dream escapes from my lore;--wouldst thou learn thyself, from the
phantom that sent the dream;--stand by my side at the grave of the
Saxon hero, and I will summon the Scin-laeca to counsel the living.
For what to the Vala the dead may deny, the soul of the brave on the
brave may bestow!"

Harold listened with a serious and musing attention which his pride or
his reason had never before accorded to the warnings of Hilda.  But
his sense was not yet fascinated by the voice of the charmer, and he
answered with his wonted smile, so sweet yet so haughty:

"A hand outstretched to a crown should be armed for the foe; and the
eye that would guard the living should not be dimmed by the vapours
that encircle the dead."



CHAPTER V.


But from that date changes, slight, yet noticeable and important, were
at work both in the conduct and character of the great Earl.

Hitherto he had advanced on his career without calculation; and
nature, not policy, had achieved his power.  But henceforth he began
thoughtfully to cement the foundations of his House, to extend the
area, to strengthen the props.  Policy now mingled with the justice
that had made him esteemed, and the generosity that had won him love.
Before, though by temper conciliatory, yet, through honesty,
indifferent to the enmities he provoked, in his adherence to what his
conscience approved, he now laid himself out to propitiate all ancient
feuds, soothe all jealousies, and convert foes into friends.  He
opened constant and friendly communication with his uncle Sweyn, King
of Denmark; he availed himself sedulously of all the influence over
the Anglo-Danes which his mother's birth made so facile.  He strove
also, and wisely, to conciliate the animosities which the Church had
cherished against Godwin's house: he concealed his disdain of the
monks and monkridden: he showed himself the Church's patron and
friend; he endowed largely the convents, and especially one at
Waltham, which had fallen into decay, though favourably known for the
piety of its brotherhood.  But if in this he played a part not natural
to his opinions, Harold could not, even in simulation, administer to
evil.  The monasteries he favoured were those distinguished for purity
of life, for benevolence to the poor, for bold denunciation of the
excesses of the great.  He had not, like the Norman, the grand design
of creating in the priesthood a college of learning, a school of arts;
such notions were unfamiliar in homely, unlettered England.  And
Harold, though for his time and his land no mean scholar, would have
recoiled from favouring a learning always made subservient to Rome;
always at once haughty and scheming, and aspiring to complete
domination over both the souls of men and the thrones of kings.  But
his aim was, out of the elements he found in the natural kindliness
existing between Saxon priest and Saxon flock, to rear a modest,
virtuous, homely clergy, not above tender sympathy with an ignorant
population.  He selected as examples for his monastery at Waltham, two
low-born humble brothers, Osgood and Ailred; the one known for the
courage with which he had gone through the land, preaching to abbot
and thegn the emancipation of the theowes, as the most meritorious act
the safety of the soul could impose; the other, who, originally a
clerk, had, according to the common custom of the Saxon clergy,
contracted the bonds of marriage, and with some eloquence had
vindicated that custom against the canons of Rome, and refused the
offer of large endowments and thegn's rank to put away his wife.  But
on the death of that spouse he had adopted the cowl, and while still
persisting in the lawfulness of marriage to the unmonastic clerks, had
become famous for denouncing the open concubinage which desecrated the
holy office, and violated the solemn vows, of many a proud prelate and
abbot.

To these two men (both of whom refused the abbacy of Waltham) Harold
committed the charge of selecting the new brotherhood established
there.  And the monks of Waltham were honoured as saints throughout
the neighbouring district, and cited as examples to all the Church.

But though in themselves the new politic arts of Harold seemed
blameless enough, arts they were, and as such they corrupted the
genuine simplicity of his earlier nature.  He had conceived for the
first time an ambition apart from that of service to his country.  It
was no longer only to serve the land, it was to serve it as its ruler,
that animated his heart and coloured his thoughts.  Expediencies began
to dim to his conscience the healthful loveliness of Truth.  And now,
too, gradually, that empire which Hilda had gained over his brother
Sweyn began to sway this man, heretofore so strong in his sturdy
sense.  The future became to him a dazzling mystery, into which his
conjectures plunged themselves more and more.  He had not yet stood in
the Runic circle and invoked the dead; but the spells were around his
heart, and in his own soul had grown up the familiar demon.

Still Edith reigned alone, if not in his thoughts at least in his
affections; and perhaps it was the hope of conquering all obstacles to
his marriage that mainly induced him to propitiate the Church, through
whose agency the object he sought must be attained; and still that
hope gave the brightest lustre to the distant crown.  But he who
admits Ambition to the companionship of Love, admits a giant that
outstrides the gentler footsteps of its comrade.

Harold's brow lost its benign calm.  He became thoughtful and
abstracted.  He consulted Edith less, Hilda more.  Edith seemed to him
now not wise enough to counsel.  The smile of his Fylgia, like the
light of the star upon a stream, lit the surface, but could not pierce
to the deep.

Meanwhile, however, the policy of Harold throve and prospered.  He had
already arrived at that height, that the least effort to make power
popular redoubled its extent.  Gradually all voices swelled the chorus
in his praise; gradually men became familiar to the question, "If
Edward dies before Edgar, the grandson of Ironsides, is of age to
succeed, where can we find a king like Harold?"

In the midst of this quiet but deepening sunshine of his fate, there
burst a storm, which seemed destined either to darken his day or to
disperse every cloud from the horizon.  Algar, the only possible rival
to his power--the only opponent no arts could soften--Algar, whose
hereditary name endeared him to the Saxon laity, whose father's most
powerful legacy was the love of the Saxon Church, whose martial and
turbulent spirit had only the more elevated him in the esteem of the
warlike Danes in East Anglia (the earldom in which he had succeeded
Harold), by his father's death, lord of the great principality of
Mercia--availed himself of that new power to break out again into
rebellion.  Again he was outlawed, again he leagued with the fiery
Gryffyth.  All Wales was in revolt; the Marches were invaded and laid
waste.  Rolf, the feeble Earl of Hereford, died at this critical
juncture, and the Normans and hirelings under him mutinied against
other leaders; a fleet of vikings from Norway ravaged the western
coasts, and sailing up the Menai, joined the ships of Gryffyth, and
the whole empire seemed menaced with dissolution, when Edward issued
his Herr-bane, and Harold at the head of the royal armies marched on
the foe.

Dread and dangerous were those defiles of Wales; amidst them had been
foiled or slaughtered all the warriors under Rolf the Norman; no Saxon
armies had won laurels in the Cymrian's own mountain home within the
memory of man; nor had any Saxon ships borne the palm from the
terrible vikings of Norway.  Fail, Harold, and farewell the crown!--
succeed, and thou hast on thy side the ultimam rationem regum (the
last argument of kings), the heart of the army over which thou art
chief.



CHAPTER VI.


It was one day in the height of summer that two horsemen rode slowly,
and conversing with each other in friendly wise, notwithstanding an
evident difference of rank and of nation, through the lovely country
which formed the Marches of Wales.  The younger of these men was
unmistakably a Norman; his cap only partially covered the head, which
was shaven from the crown to the nape of the neck [152], while in
front the hair, closely cropped, curled short and thick round a
haughty but intelligent brow.  His dress fitted close to his shape,
and was worn without mantle; his leggings were curiously crossed in
the fashion of a tartan, and on his heels were spurs of gold.  He was
wholly unarmed; but behind him and his companion, at a little
distance, his war-horse, completely caparisoned, was led by a single
squire, mounted on a good Norman steed; while six Saxon theowes,
themselves on foot, conducted three sumpter-mules, somewhat heavily
laden, not only with the armour of the Norman knight, but panniers
containing rich robes, wines, and provender.  At a few paces farther
behind, marched a troop, light-armed, in tough hides, curiously
tanned, with axes swung over their shoulders, and bows in their hands.

The companion of the knight was as evidently a Saxon, as the knight
was unequivocally a Norman.  His square short features, contrasting
the oval visage and aquiline profile of his close-shaven comrade, were
half concealed beneath a bushy beard and immense moustache.  His
tunic, also, was of hide, and, tightened at the waist, fell loose to
his knee; while a kind of cloak, fastened to the right shoulder by a
large round button or brooch, flowed behind and in front, but left
both arms free.  His cap differed in shape from the Norman's, being
round and full at the sides, somewhat in shape like a turban.  His
bare, brawny throat was curiously punctured with sundry devices, and a
verse from the Psalms.

His countenance, though without the high and haughty brow, and the
acute, observant eye of his comrade, had a pride and intelligence of
its own--a pride somewhat sullen, and an intelligence somewhat slow.

"My good friend, Sexwolf," quoth the Norman in very tolerable Saxon,
"I pray you not so to misesteem us.  After all, we Normans are of your
own race: our fathers spoke the same language as yours."

"That may be," said the Saxon, bluntly, "and so did the Danes, with
little difference, when they burned our houses and cut our throats."

"Old tales, those," replied the knight, "and I thank thee for the
comparison; for the Danes, thou seest, are now settled amongst ye,
peaceful subjects and quiet men, and in a few generations it will be
hard to guess who comes from Saxon, who from Dane."

"We waste time, talking such matters," returned the Saxon, feeling
himself instinctively no match in argument for his lettered companion;
and seeing, with his native strong sense; that some ulterior object,
though he guessed not what, lay hid in the conciliatory language of
his companion; "nor do I believe, Master Mallet or Gravel--forgive me
if I miss of the right forms to address you--that Norman will ever
love Saxon, or Saxon Norman; so let us cut our words short.  There
stands the convent, at which you would like to rest and refresh
yourself."

The Saxon pointed to a low, clumsy building of timber, forlorn and
decayed, close by a rank marsh, over which swarmed gnats, and all foul
animalcules.

Mallet de Graville, for it was he, shrugged his shoulders, and said,
with an air of pity and contempt:

"I would, friend Sexwolf, that thou couldst but see the houses we
build to God and his saints in our Normandy; fabrics of stately stone,
on the fairest sites.  Our Countess Matilda hath a notable taste for
the masonry; and our workmen are the brethren of Lombardy, who know
all the mysteries thereof."

"I pray thee, Dan-Norman," cried the Saxon, "not to put such ideas
into the soft head of King Edward.  We pay enow for the Church, though
built but of timber; saints help us indeed, if it were builded of
stone!"

The Norman crossed himself, as if he had heard some signal impiety,
and then said:

"Thou lovest not Mother Church, worthy Sexwolf?"

"I was brought up," replied the sturdy Saxon, "to work and sweat hard,
and I love not the lazy who devour my substance, and say, 'the saints
gave it them.'  Knowest thou not, Master Mallet, that one-third of all
the lands of England is in the hands of the priests?"

"Hem!" said the acute Norman, who, with all his devotion, could stoop
to wring worldly advantage from each admission of his comrade; "then
in this merrie England of thine thou hast still thy grievances and
cause of complaint?"

"Yea indeed, and I trow it," quoth the Saxon, even in that day a
grumbler; "but I take it, the main difference between thee and me is,
that I can say what mislikes me out like a man; and it would fare ill
with thy limbs or thy life if thou wert as frank in the grim land of
thy heretogh."

"Now, Notre Dame stop thy prating," said the Norman, in high disdain,
while his brow frowned and his eye sparkled.  "Strong judge and great
captain as is William the Norman, his barons and knights hold their
heads high in his presence, and not a grievance weighs on the heart
that we give not out with the lip."

"So have I heard," said the Saxon, chuckling; "I have heard, indeed,
that ye thegns, or great men, are free enow, and plainspoken.  But
what of the commons--the sixhaendmen and the ceorls, master Norman?
Dare they speak as we speak of king and of law, of thegn and of
captain?"

The Norman wisely curbed the scornful "No, indeed," that rushed to his
lips, and said, all sweet and debonnair: "Each land hath its customs,
dear Sexwolf: and if the Norman were king of England, he would take
the laws as he finds them, and the ceorls would be as safe with
William as Edward."

"The Norman king of England!" cried the Saxon, reddening to the tips
of his great ears, "what dost thou babble of, stranger?  The Norman!--
How could that ever be?"

"Nay, I did but suggest--but suppose such a case," replied the knight,
still smothering his wrath.  "And why thinkest thou the conceit so
outrageous?  Thy King is childless; William is his next of kin, and
dear to him as a brother; and if Edward did leave him the throne--"

"The throne is for no man to leave," almost roared the Saxon.
"Thinkest thou the people of England are like cattle and sheep, and
chattels and theowes, to be left by will, as man fancies?  The King's
wish has its weight, no doubt, but the Witan hath its yea or its nay,
and the Witan and Commons are seldom at issue thereon.  Thy duke King
of England!  Marry!  Ha! ha!"

"Brute!" muttered the knight to himself; then adding aloud, with his
old tone of irony (now much habitually subdued by years and
discretion), "Why takest thou so the part of the ceorls? thou a
captain, and well-nigh a thegn!"

"I was born a ceorl, and my father before me," returned Sexwolf, "and
I feel with my class; though my grandson may rank with the thegns,
and, for aught I know, with the earls."

The Sire de Graville involuntarily drew off from the Saxon's side, as
if made suddenly aware that he had grossly demeaned himself in such
unwitting familiarity with a ceorl, and a ceorl's son; and he said,
with a much more careless accent and lofty port than before:

"Good man, thou wert a ceorl, and now thou leadest Earl Harold's men
to the war!  How is this?  I do not quite comprehend it."

"How shouldst thou, poor Norman?" replied the Saxon, compassionately.
"The tale is soon told.  Know that when Harold our Earl was banished,
and his lands taken, we his ceorls helped with his sixhaendman, Clapa,
to purchase his land, nigh by London, and the house wherein thou didst
find me, of a stranger, thy countryman, to whom they were lawlessly
given.  And we tilled the land, we tended the herds, and we kept the
house till the Earl came back."

"Ye had moneys then, moneys of your own, ye ceorls!" said the Norman,
avariciously.

"How else could we buy our freedom?  Every ceorl hath some hours to
himself to employ to his profit, and can lay by for his own ends.
These savings we gave up for our Earl, and when the Earl came back, he
gave the sixhaendman hides of land enow to make him a thegn; and he
gave the ceorls who hade holpen Clapa, their freedom and broad shares
of his boc-land, and most of them now hold their own ploughs and feed
their own herds.  But I loved the Earl (having no wife) better than
swine and glebe, and I prayed him to let me serve him in arms.  And so
I have risen, as with us ceorls can rise."

"I am answered," said Mallet de Graville, thoughtfully, and still
somewhat perplexed.  "But these theowes, (they are slaves,) never
rise.  It cannot matter to them whether shaven Norman or bearded Saxon
sit on the throne?"

"Thou art right there," answered the Saxon; "it matters as little to
them as it doth to thy thieves and felons, for many of them are felons
and thieves, or the children of such; and most of those who are not,
it is said, are not Saxons, but the barbarous folks whom the Saxons
subdued.  No, wretched things, and scarce men, they care nought for
the land.  Howbeit, even they are not without hope, for the Church
takes their part; and that, at least, I for one think Church-worthy,"
added the Saxon with a softened eye.  "And every abbot is bound to set
free three theowes on his lands, and few who own theowes die without
freeing some by their will; so that the sons of theowes may be thegns,
and thegns some of them are at this day."

"Marvels!" cried the Norman.  "But surely they bear a stain and
stigma, and their fellow-thegns flout them?"

"Not a whit--why so? land is land, money money.  Little, I trow, care
we what a man's father may have been, if the man himself hath his ten
hides or more of good boc-land."

"Ye value land and the moneys," said the Norman, "so do we, but we
value more name and birth."

"Ye are still in your leading-strings, Norman," replied the Saxon,
waxing good-humoured in his contempt.  "We have an old saying and a
wise one, 'All come from Adam except Tib the ploughman: but when Tib
grows rich all call him "dear brother."'"

"With such pestilent notions," quoth the Sire de Graville, no longer
keeping temper, "I do not wonder that our fathers of Norway and
Daneland beat ye so easily.  The love for things ancient--creed,
lineage, and name, is better steel against the stranger than your
smiths ever welded."

Therewith, and not waiting for Sexwolf's reply, he clapped spurs to
his palfrey, and soon entered the courtyard of the convent.

A monk of the order of St. Benedict, then most in favour [153],
ushered the noble visitor into the cell of the abbot; who, after
gazing at him a moment in wonder and delight, clasped him to his
breast and kissed him heartily on brow and cheek.

"Ah, Guillaume," he exclaimed in the Norman tongue, this is indeed a
grace for which to sing Jubilate.  Thou canst not guess how welcome is
the face of a countryman in this horrible land of ill-cooking and
exile."

"Talking of grace, my dear father, and food," said De Graville,
loosening the cincture of the tight vest which gave him the shape of a
wasp--for even at that early period, small waists were in vogue with
the warlike fops of the French Continent--"talking of grace, the
sooner thou say'st it over some friendly refection, the more will the
Latin sound unctuous and musical.  I have journeyed since daybreak,
and am now hungered and faint."

"Alack, alack!" cried the abbot, plaintively, "thou knowest little, my
son, what hardships we endure in these parts, how larded our larders,
and how nefarious our fare.  The flesh of swine salted--"

"The flesh of Beelzebub," cried Mallet de Graville, aghast. "But
comfort thee, I have stores on my sumpter-mules--poulardes and fishes,
and other not despicable comestibles, and a few flasks of wine, not
pressed, laud the saints! from the vines of this country: wherefore,
wilt thou see to it, and instruct thy cooks how to season the cheer?"

"No cooks have I to trust to," replied the abbot; "of cooking know
they here as much as of Latin; nathless, I will go and do my best with
the stew-pans.  Meanwhile, thou wilt at least have rest and the bath.
For the Saxons, even in their convents, are a clean race, and learned
the bath from the Dane."

"That I have noted," said the knight, "for even at the smallest house
at which I lodged in my way from London, the host hath courteously
offered me the bath, and the hostess linen curious and fragrant; and
to say truth, the poor people are hospitable and kind, despite their
uncouth hate of the foreigner; nor is their meat to be despised,
plentiful and succulent; but pardex, as thou sayest, little helped by
the art of dressing.  Wherefore, my father, I will while the time till
the poulardes be roasted, and the fish broiled or stewed, by the
ablutions thou profferest me.  I shall tarry with thee some hours, for
I have much to learn."

The abbot then led the Sire de Graville by the hand to the cell of
honour and guestship, and having seen that the bath prepared was of
warmth sufficient, for both Norman and Saxon (hardy men as they seem
to us from afar) so shuddered at the touch of cold water, that a bath
of natural temperature (as well as a hard bed) was sometimes imposed
as a penance,--the good father went his way, to examine the sumpter-
mules, and admonish the much suffering and bewildered lay-brother who
officiated as cook,--and who, speaking neither Norman nor Latin,
scarce made out one word in ten of his superior's elaborate
exhortations.

Mallet's squire, with a change of raiment, and goodly coffers of
soaps, unguents, and odours, took his way to the knight, for a Norman
of birth was accustomed to much personal attendance, and had all
respect for the body; and it was nearly an hour before, in long gown
of fur, reshaven, dainty, and decked, the Sire de Graville bowed, and
sighed, and prayed before the refection set out in the abbot's cell.

The two Normans, despite the sharp appetite of the layman, ate with
great gravity and decorum, drawing forth the morsels served to them on
spits with silent examination; seldom more than tasting, with looks of
patient dissatisfaction, each of the comestibles; sipping rather than
drinking, nibbling rather than devouring, washing their fingers in
rose water with nice care at the close, and waving them afterwards
gracefully in the air, to allow the moisture somewhat to exhale before
they wiped off the lingering dews with their napkins.  Then they
exchanged looks and sighed in concert, as if recalling the polished
manners of Normandy, still retained in that desolate exile.  And their
temperate meal thus concluded, dishes, wines, and attendants vanished,
and their talk commenced.

"How camest thou in England?" asked the abbot abruptly.

"Sauf your reverence," answered De Graville, "not wholly for reason
different from those that bring thee hither.  When, after the death of
that truculent and orgulous Godwin, King Edward entreated Harold to
let him have back some of his dear Norman favourites, thou, then
little pleased with the plain fare and sharp discipline of the convent
of Bec, didst pray Bishop William of London to accompany such train as
Harold, moved by his poor king's supplication, was pleased to permit.
The bishop consented, and thou wert enabled to change monk's cowl for
abbot's mitre.  In a word, ambition brought thee to England, and
ambition brings me hither."

"Hem! and how?  Mayst thou thrive better than I in this swine-sty!"

"You remember," renewed De Graville, "that Lanfranc, the Lombard, was
pleased to take interest in my fortunes, then not the most
flourishing, and after his return from Rome, with the Pope's
dispensation for Count William's marriage with his cousin, he became
William's most trusted adviser.  Both William and Lanfranc were
desirous to set an example of learning to our Latinless nobles, and
therefore my scholarship found grace in their eyes.  In brief since
then I have prospered and thriven.  I have fair lands by the Seine,
free from clutch of merchant and Jew.  I have founded a convent, and
slain some hundreds of Breton marauders.  Need I say that I am in high
favour?  Now it so chanced that a cousin of mine, Hugo de Magnaville,
a brave lance and franc-rider, chanced to murder his brother in a
little domestic affray, and, being of conscience tender and nice, the
deed preyed on him, and he gave his lands to Odo of Bayeux, and set
off to Jerusalem.  There, having prayed at the tomb," (the knight
crossed himself,) "he felt at once miraculously cheered and relieved;
but, journeying back, mishaps befell him.  He was made slave by some
infidel, to one of whose wives he sought to be gallant, par amours,
and only escaped at last by setting fire to paynim and prison.  Now,
by the aid of the Virgin, he has got back to Rouen, and holds his own
land again in fief from proud Odo, as a knight of the bishop's.  It so
happened that, passing homeward through Lycia, before these
misfortunes befell him, he made friends with a fellow-pilgrim who had
just returned, like himself, from the Sepulchre, but not lightened,
like him, of the load of his crime.  This poor palmer lay broken-
hearted and dying in the hut of an eremite, where my cousin took
shelter; and, learning that Hugo was on his way to Normandy, he made
himself known as Sweyn, the once fair and proud Earl of England,
eldest son to old Godwin, and father to Haco, whom our Count still
holds as a hostage.  He besought Hugo to intercede with the Count for
Haco's release and return, if King Edward assented thereto; and
charged my cousin, moreover, with a letter to Harold, his brother,
which Hugo undertook to send over.  By good luck, it so chanced that,
through all his sore trials, cousin Hugo kept safe round his neck a
leaden effigy of the Virgin.  The infidels disdained to rob him of
lead, little dreaming the worth which the sanctity gave to the metal.
To the back of the image Hugo fastened the letter, and so, though
somewhat tattered and damaged, he had it still with him on arriving in
Rouen."

"Knowing, then, my grace with the Count, and not, despite absolution
and pilgrimage, much wishing to trust himself in the presence of
William, who thinks gravely of fratricide, he prayed me to deliver the
message, and ask leave to send to England the letter."

"It is a long tale," quoth the abbot.

"Patience, my father!  I am nearly at the end.  Nothing more in season
could chance for my fortunes.  Know that William has been long moody
and anxious as to matters in England.  The secret accounts he receives
from the Bishop of London make him see that Edward's heart is much
alienated from him, especially since the Count has had daughters and
sons; for, as thou knowest, William and Edward both took vows of
chastity in youth [154], and William got absolved from his, while
Edward hath kept firm to the plight.  Not long ere my cousin came
back, William had heard that Edward had acknowledged his kinsman as
natural heir to his throne.  Grieved and troubled at this, William had
said in my hearing, 'Would that amidst yon statues of steel, there
were some cool head and wise tongue I could trust with my interests in
England! and would that I could devise fitting plea and excuse for an
envoy to Harold the Earl!'  Much had I mused over these words, and a
light-hearted man was Mallet de Graville when, with Sweyn's letter in
hand, he went to Lanfranc the abbot and said, 'Patron and father! thou
knowest that I, almost alone of the Norman knights, have studied the
Saxon language.  And if the Duke wants messenger and plea, here stands
the messenger, and in his hand is the plea.  Then I told my tale.
Lanfranc went at once to Duke William.  By this time, news of the
Atheling's death had arrived, and things looked more bright to my
liege.  Duke William was pleased to summon me straightway, and give me
his instructions.  So over the sea I came alone, save a single squire,
reached London, learned the King and his court were at Winchester (but
with them I had little to do), and that Harold the Earl was at the
head of his forces in Wales against Gryffyth the Lion King.  The Earl
had sent in haste for a picked and chosen band of his own retainers,
on his demesnes near the city.  These I joined, and learning thy name
at the monastery at Gloucester, I stopped here to tell thee my news
and hear thine."

"Dear brother," said the abbot, looking enviously on the knight,
"would that, like thee, instead of entering the Church, I had taken up
arms!  Alike once was our lot, well born and penniless.  Ah me!--Thou
art now as the swan on the river, and I as the shell on the rock."

"But," quoth the knight, "though the canons, it is true, forbid monks
to knock people on the head, except in self-preservation, thou knowest
well that, even in Normandy, (which, I take it, is the sacred college
of all priestly lore, on this side the Alps,) those canons are deemed
too rigorous for practice: and, at all events, it is not forbidden
thee to look on the pastime with sword or mace by thy side in case of
need.  Wherefore, remembering thee in times past, I little counted on
finding thee--like a slug in thy cell!  No; but with mail on thy back,
the canons clean forgotten, and helping stout Harold to sliver and
brain these turbulent Welchmen."

"Ah me! ah me!  No such good fortune!" sighed the tall abbot.
"Little, despite thy former sojourn in London, and thy lore of their
tongue, knowest thou of these unmannerly Saxons.  Rarely indeed do
abbot and prelate ride to the battle [155]; and were it not for a huge
Danish monk, who took refuge here to escape mutilation for robbery,
and who mistakes the Virgin for a Valkyr, and St. Peter for Thor,--
were it not, I say, that we now and then have a bout at sword-play
together, my arm would be quite out of practice."

"Cheer thee, old friend," said the knight, pityingly, "better times
may come yet.  Meanwhile, now to affairs.  For all I hear strengthens
all William has heard, that Harold the Earl is the first man in
England.  Is it not so?"

"Truly, and without dispute."

"Is he married, or celibate?  For that is a question which even his
own men seem to answer equivocally."

"Why, all the wandering minstrels have songs, I am told by those who
comprehend this poor barbarous tongue, of the beauty of Editha
pulchra, to whom it is said the Earl is betrothed, or it may be worse.
But he is certainly not married, for the dame is akin to him within
the degrees of the Church."

"Hem, not married! that is well; and this Algar, or Elgar, he is not
now with the Welch, I hear."

"No; sore ill at Chester with wounds and much chafing, for he hath
sense to see that his cause is lost.  The Norwegian fleet have been
scattered over the seas by the Earl's ships, like birds in a storm.
The rebel Saxons who joined Gryffyth under Algar have been so beaten,
that those who survive have deserted their chief, and Gryffyth himself
is penned up in his last defiles, and cannot much longer resist the
stout foe, who, by valorous St. Michael, is truly a great captain.  As
soon as Gryffyth is subdued, Algar will be crushed in his retreat,
like a bloated spider in his web; and then England will have rest,
unless our liege, as thou hintest, set her to work again."

The Norman knight mused a few moments, before he said:

"I understand, then, that there is no man in the land who is peer to
Harold:--not, I suppose, Tostig his brother?"

"Not Tostig, surely, whom nought but Harold's repute keeps a day in
his earldom.  But of late--for he is brave and skilful in war--he hath
done much to command the respect, though he cannot win back the love,
of his fierce Northumbrians, for he hath holpen the Earl gallantly in
this invasion of Wales, both by sea and by land.  But Tostig shines
only from his brother's light; and if Gurth were more ambitious, Gurth
alone could be Harold's rival."

The Norman, much satisfied with the information thus gleaned from the
abbot, who, despite his ignorance of the Saxon tongue, was, like all
his countrymen, acute and curious, now rose to depart.  The abbot,
detaining him a few moments, and looking at him wistfully, said, in a
low voice:

"What thinkest thou are Count William's chances of England?"

"Good, if he have recourse to stratagem; sure, if he can win Harold."

"Yet, take my word, the English love not the Normans, and will fight
stiffly."

"That I believe.  But if fighting must be, I see that it will be the
fight of a single battle, for there is neither fortress nor mountain
to admit of long warfare.  And look you, my friend, everything here is
worn out!  The royal line is extinct with Edward, save in a child,
whom I hear no man name as a successor; the old nobility are gone,
there is no reverence for old names; the Church is as decrepit in the
spirit as thy lath monastery is decayed in its timbers; the martial
spirit of the Saxon is half rotted away in the subjugation to a
clergy, not brave and learned, but timid and ignorant; the desire for
money eats up all manhood; the people have been accustomed to foreign
monarchs under the Danes; and William, once victor, would have but to
promise to retain the old laws and liberties, to establish himself as
firmly as Canute.  The Anglo-Danes might trouble him somewhat, but
rebellion would become a weapon in the hands of a schemer like
William.  He would bristle all the land with castles and forts, and
hold it as a camp.  My poor friend, we shall live yet to exchange
gratulations,--thou prelate of some fair English see, and I baron of
broad English lands."

"I think thou art right," said the tall abbot, cheerily, and marry,
when the day comes, I will at least fight for the Duke.  Yea--thou art
right," he continued, looking round the dilapidated walls of the cell;
"all here is worn out, and naught can restore the realm, save the
Norman William, or----"

"Or who?"

"Or the Saxon Harold.  But thou goest to see him--judge for thyself."

"I will do so, and heedfully," said the Sire de Graville; and
embracing his friend he renewed his journey.



CHAPTER VII.


Messire Mallet de Graville possessed in perfection that cunning
astuteness which characterised the Normans, as it did all the old
pirate races of the Baltic; and if, O reader, thou, peradveuture,
shouldst ever in this remote day have dealings with the tall men of
Ebor or Yorkshire, there wilt thou yet find the old Dane-father's wit
--it may be to thy cost--more especially if treating for those animals
which the ancestors ate, and which the sons, without eating, still
manage to fatten on.

But though the crafty knight did his best, during his progress from
London into Wales, to extract from Sexwolf all such particulars
respecting Harold and his brethren as he had reasons for wishing to
learn, he found the stubborn sagacity or caution of the Saxon more
than a match for him.  Sexwolf had a dog's instinct in all that
related to his master; and he felt, though he scarce knew why, that
the Norman cloaked some design upon Harold in all the cross-
questionings so carelessly ventured.  And his stiff silence, or bluff
replies, when Harold was mentioned, contrasted much the unreserve of
his talk when it turned upon the general topics of the day, or the
peculiarities of Saxon manners.

By degrees, therefore, the knight, chafed and foiled, drew into
himself; and seeing no farther use could be made of the Saxon,
suffered his own national scorn of villein companionship to replace
his artificial urbanity.  He therefore rode alone, and a little in
advance of the rest, noticing with a soldier's eye the characteristics
of the country, and marvelling, while he rejoiced, at the
insignificance of the defences which, even on the Marches, guarded the
English country from the Cymrian ravager [156].  In musings of no very
auspicious and friendly nature towards the land he thus visited, the
Norman, on the second day from that in which he had conversed with the
abbot, found himself amongst the savage defiles of North Wales.

Pausing there in a narrow pass overhung with wild and desolate rocks,
the knight deliberately summoned his squires, clad himself in his ring
mail, and mounted his great destrier.

"Thou dost wrong, Norman," said Sexwolf, "thou fatiguest thyself in
vain--heavy arms here are needless.  I have fought in this country
before: and as for thy steed, thou wilt soon have to forsake it, and
march on foot."

"Know, friend," retorted the knight, "that I come not here to learn
the horn-book of war; and for the rest, know also, that a noble of
Normandy parts with his life ere he forsakes his good steed."

"Ye outlanders and Frenchmen," said Sexwolf, showing the whole of his
teeth through his forest of beard, "love boast and big talk; and, on
my troth, thou mayest have thy belly full of them yet; for we are
still in the track of Harold, and Harold never leaves behind him a
foe.  Thou art as safe here, as if singing psalms in a convent."

"For thy jests, let them pass, courteous sir," said the Norman; "but I
pray thee only not to call me Frenchman [157].  I impute it to thy
ignorance in things comely and martial, and not to thy design to
insult me.  Though my own mother was French, learn that a Norman
despises a Frank only less than he doth a Jew."

"Crave your grace," said the Saxon, "but I thought all ye outlanders
were the same, rib and rib, sibbe and sibbe."

"Thou wilt know better, one of these days.  March on, master Sexwolf."

The pass gradually opened on a wide patch of rugged and herbless
waste; and Sexwolf, riding up to the knight, directed his attention to
a stone, on which was inscribed the words, "Hic victor fuit
Haroldus,"--Here Harold conquered.

"In sight of a stone like that, no Walloon dare come," said the Saxon.

"A simple and classical trophy," remarked the Norman, complacently,
"and saith much.  I am glad to see thy lord knows the Latin."

"I say not that he knows Latin," replied the prudent Saxon; fearing
that that could be no wholesome information on his lord's part, which
was of a kind to give gladness to the Norman--"Ride on while the road
lets ye--in God's name."

On the confines of Caernarvonshire, the troop halted at a small
village, round which had been newly dug a deep military-trench.
bristling with palisades, and within its confines might be seen,--some
reclined on the grass, some at dice, some drinking,--many men, whose
garbs of tanned hide, as well as a pennon waving from a little mound
in the midst, bearing the tiger heads of Earl Harold's insignia,
showed them to be Saxons.

"Here we shall learn," said Sexwolf, "what the Earl is about--and
here, at present, ends my journey."

"Are these the Earl's headquarters, then?--no castle, even of wood--no
wall, nought but ditch and palisades?" asked Mallet de Graville in a
tone between surprise and contempt.

"Norman," said Sexwolf, "the castle is there, though you see it not,
and so are the walls.  The castle is Harold's name, which no Walloon
will dare to confront; and the walls are the heaps of the slain which
lie in every valley around."  So saying, he wound his horn, which was
speedily answered, and led the way over a plank which admitted across
the trench.

"Not even a drawbridge!" groaned the knight.

Sexwolf exchanged a few words with one who seemed the head of the
small garrison, and then regaining the Norman, said: "The Earl and his
men have advanced into the mountainous regions of Snowdon; and there,
it is said, the blood-lusting Gryffyth is at length driven to bay.
Harold hath left orders that, after as brief a refreshment as may be,
I and my men, taking the guide he hath left for us, join him on foot.
There may now be danger: for though Gryffyth himself may be pinned to
his heights, he may have met some friends in these parts to start up
from crag and combe.  The way on horse is impassable: wherefore,
master Norman, as our quarrel is not thine nor thine our lord, I
commend thee to halt here in peace and in safety, with the sick and
the prisoners."

"It is a merry companionship, doubtless," said the Norman; "but one
travels to learn, and I would fain see somewhat of thine uncivil
skirmishings with these men of the mountains; wherefore, as I fear my
poor mules are light of the provender, give me to eat and to drink.
And then shalt thou see, should we come in sight of the enemy, if a
Norman's big words are the sauce of small deeds."

"Well spoken, and better than I reckoned on," said Sexwolf, heartily.

While De Graville, alighting, sauntered about the village, the rest of
the troop exchanged greetings with their countrymen.  It was, even to
the warrior's eye, a mournful scene.  Here and there, heaps of ashes
and ruin-houses riddled and burned--the small, humble church,
untouched indeed by war, but looking desolate and forlorn--with sheep
grazing on large recent mounds thrown over the brave dead, who slept
in the ancestral spot they had defended.

The air was fragrant with spicy smells of the gale or bog myrtle; and
the village lay sequestered in a scene wild indeed and savage, but
prodigal of a stern beauty to which the Norman, poet by race, and
scholar by culture, was not insensible.  Seating himself on a rude
stone, apart from all the warlike and murmuring groups, he looked
forth on the dim and vast mountain peaks, and the rivulet that rushed
below, intersecting the village, and lost amidst copses of mountain
ash.  From these more refined contemplations he was roused by Sexwolf,
who, with greater courtesy than was habitual to him, accompanied the
theowes who brought the knight a repast, consisting of cheese, and
small pieces of seethed kid, with a large horn of very indifferent
mead.

"The Earl puts all his men on Welch diet," said the captain,
apologetically.  "For indeed, in this lengthy warfare, nought else is
to be had!"

The knight curiously inspected the cheese, and bent earnestly over the
kid.

"It sufficeth, good Sexwolf," said he, suppressing a natural sigh.
"But instead of this honey-drink, which is more fit for bees than for
men, get me a draught of fresh water: water is your only safe drink
before fighting."

"Thou hast never drank ale, then!" said the Saxon; "but thy foreign
tastes shall be heeded, strange man."

A little after noon, the horns were sounded, and the troop prepared to
depart.  But the Norman observed that they had left behind all their
horses: and his squire, approaching, informed him that Sexwolf had
positively forbidden the knight's steed to be brought forth.

"Was it ever heard before," cried Sire Mallet de Graville, "that a
Norman knight was expected to walk, and to walk against a foe too!
Call hither the villein,--that is, the captain."

But Sexwolf himself here appeared, and to him De Graville addressed
his indignant remonstrance.  The Saxon stood firm, and to each
argument replied simply, "It is the Earl's orders;" and finally wound
up with a bluff--"Go or let alone: stay here with thy horse, or march
with us on thy feet."

"My horse is a gentleman," answered the knight, "and, as such, would
be my more fitting companion.  But as it is, I yield to compulsion--I
bid thee solemnly observe, by compulsion; so that it may never be said
of William Mallet de Graville, that he walked, bon gre, to battle."
With that, he loosened his sword in the sheath, and, still retaining
his ring mail, fitting close as a shirt, strode on with the rest.

A Welch guide, subject to one of the Underkings (who was in allegiance
to England, and animated, as many of those petty chiefs were, with a
vindictive jealousy against the rival tribe of Gryffyth, far more
intense than his dislike of the Saxon), led the way.

The road wound for some time along the course of the river Conway;
Penmaen-mawr loomed before them.  Not a human being came in sight, not
a goat was seen on the distant ridges, not a sheep on the pastures.
The solitude in the glare of the broad August sun was oppressive.
Some houses they passed--if buildings of rough stones, containing but
a single room, can be called houses--but they were deserted.
Desolation preceded their way, for they were on the track of Harold
the Victor.  At length, they passed the cold Conovium, now Caer-hen,
lying low near the river.  There were still (not as we now scarcely
discern them, after centuries of havoc,) the mighty ruins of the
Romans,--vast shattered walls, a tower half demolished, visible
remnants of gigantic baths, and, proudly rising near the present ferry
of Tal-y-Cafn, the fortress, almost unmutilated, of Castell-y-Bryn.
On the castle waved the pennon of Harold.  Many large flat-bottomed
boats were moored to the river-side, and the whole place bristled with
spears and javelins.

Much comforted, (for,--though he disdained to murmur, and rather than
forego his mail, would have died therein a martyr,--Mallet de Graville
was mightily wearied by the weight of his steel,) and hoping now to
see Harold himself, the knight sprang forward with a spasmodic effort
at liveliness, and found himself in the midst of a group, among whom
he recognised at a glance his old acquaintance, Godrith.  Doffing his
helm with its long nose-piece, he caught the thegn's hand, and
exclaimed:

"Well met, ventre de Guillaume! well met, O Godree the debonnair!
Thou rememberest Mallet de Graville, and in this unseemly guise, on
foot, and with villeins, sweating under the eyes of plebeian Phoebus,
thou beholdest that much-suffering man!"

"Welcome indeed," returned Godrith, with some embarrassment; "but how
camest thou hither, and whom seekest thou?"

"Harold, thy Count, man--and I trust he is here."

"Not so, but not far distant--at a place by the mouth of the river
called Caer Gyffin [158].  Thou shalt take boat, and be there ere the
sunset."

"Is a battle at hand?  Yon churl disappointed and tricked me; he
promised me danger, and not a soul have we met."

"Harold's besom sweeps clean," answered Godrith, smiling.  "But thou
art like, perhaps, to be in at the death.  We have driven this Welch
lion to bay at last. He is ours, or grim Famine's.  Look yonder;" and
Godrith pointed to the heights of Penmaen-mawr.  "Even at this
distance, you may yet descry something grey and dim against the sky."

"Deemest thou my eye so ill practised in siege, as not to see towers?
Tall and massive they are, though they seem here as airy as roasts,
and as dwarfish as landmarks."

"On that hill-top, and in those towers, is Gryffyth, the Welch king,
with the last of his force.  He cannot escape us; our ships guard all
the coasts of the shore; our troops, as here, surround every pass.
Spies, night and day, keep watch.  The Welch moels (or beacon-rocks)
are manned by our warders.  And, were the Welch King to descend,
signals would blaze from post to post, and gird him with fire and
sword.  From land to land, from hill to hill, from Hereford to
Caerleon, from Caerleon to Milford, from Milford to Snowdon, through
Snowdon to yonder fort, built, they say, by the fiends or the giants,
--through defile and through forest, over rock, through morass, we have
pressed on his heels.  Battle and foray alike have drawn the blood
from his heart; and thou wilt have seen the drops yet red on the way,
where the stone tells that Harold was victor."

"A brave man and true king, then, this Gryffyth," said the Norman,
with some admiration; "but," he added in a colder tone, "I confess,
for my own part, that though I pity the valiant man beaten, I honour
the brave man who wins; and though I have seen but little of this
rough land as yet, I can well judge from what I have seen, that no
captain, not of patience unwearied, and skill most consummate, could
conquer a bold enemy in a country where every rock is a fort."

"So I fear," answered Godrith, "that thy countryman Rolf found; for
the Welch beat him sadly, and the reason was plain.  He insisted on
using horses where no horses could climb, and attiring men in full
armour to fight against men light and nimble as swallows, that skim
the earth, then are lost in clouds.  Harold, more wise, turned our
Saxons into Welchmen, flying as they flew, climbing where they
climbed; it has been as a war of the birds.  And now there rests but
the eagle, in his last lonely eyrie."

"Thy battles have improved thy eloquence much, Messire Godree," said
the Norman, condescendingly.  "Nevertheless, I cannot but think a few
light horse----"

"Could scale yon mountain-brow?" said Godrith, laughing, and pointing
to Penmaen-mawr.

The Norman looked and was silent, though he thought to himself, "That
Sexwolf was no such dolt after all!"





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