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The Lord of Dynevor
by Evelyn Everett-Green
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Wendot bent his head in voiceless assent. He knew something of his country's history, and that his mother spoke only the sad truth.

"My son," continued she after a pause, "it chances sometimes in this troubled life of ours that we are called upon to make choice, not between good and evil, but between two courses, both of which are beset with difficulties and obstacles, both of which mingle together evil and good, for which and against which much may be argued on both sides, and many things that are true be said for and against both. To some such choice as this has our poor country now come. Experience has taught us that she is incapable of uniting all her forces and of making of herself one compact, united kingdom. That course, and that alone, would be her true salvation; but that course she will not take, and failing that, she has to choose between being torn and rent by faction till she is an easy prey to the English king, who will then divide her territories amongst his own hungry and rapacious barons, or for the princes to submit to pay him the homage for their lands which he (possibly with injustice) demands, but which if paid will make of him their friend and protector, and will enable the country to live in peace and prosperity, assured that the king will support those who acknowledge him, and that he will not deprive of their ancestral rights any who will bring their homage to him, and hold their territory as it were from him. Understandest thou thus much?"

"Ay, mother, I understand it well; and though there is something in the thought that stirs my blood and sets it coursing through my veins in indignation — for I see not by what right the English king lays claim to our fair lands — still I know that conquest gives to the conqueror a right, and that if he chose to march against us with his armies, he might well find us too much weakened by our petty feuds to resist his strong veterans. And the English are not all bad. I have learned that these many days whilst our guests have been with us. I have thought at times that they would be true friends and allies, and that we might do well to copy them in many ways. In truth, if the choice lies betwixt being rent in pieces by each other and giving homage to the great Edward, who can be merciful and just, I would rather choose the latter. For there must be something grand and noble about him by what our little maid says; and to pay homage is no such hard thing. Why, does not he himself pay homage to the King of France for the lands he holds in his kingdom?"

A look of relief crossed the face of the mother as she heard these words from her first-born son. She took his hand in hers and said earnestly:

"Wendot, I am glad to hear thee speak thus, for thou art the heir of Dynevor, and upon thee much may fall some day. Thou knowest what thy brothers are — I speak of Llewelyn and Howel. I cannot but fear for them — unless, indeed, the rapacious greed I sometimes see in Llewelyn proves stronger than his fierce hatred to the English, and he prefers to do homage for his lands rather than lose them. But thou art the head of the family, and the chief power will rest with thee when thy father is gone. I counsel thee, if the time comes when thou must make thy choice, be not led away by blind hatred of the English. They may prove less cruel foes than thine own countrymen are to one another. If Wales may not be united under one native king, let her think well ere she rejects the grace held out to all who will yield fealty to the English monarch. That is what I wished to say to thee. Remember that the English are not always cruel, always rapacious. There are generous, noble, honourable men amongst them, of whom I am sure our guest is one."

"Ay, he has a grand face," said Wendot. "A face one can both love and trust. And all that the little one tells me of the king and his family inclines my heart towards him and his. I will remember what you have said, mother, and will ponder your words. Methinks it is no lovely thing to hate as Llewelyn and Howel hate; it makes men act rather as fiends than as honourable soldiers should."

The conversation ended there, and was not renewed; but the very next day Lord Montacute sought Wendot's room, when the lad was lying alone, wearying somewhat of his own company, and the light sprang into his eyes as he saw the guest approach, for in his own boyish way he had a great admiration for this man.

"Well, lad, I am glad to see thee looking something more substantial and like thine own self," said Lord Montacute, seating himself upon the edge of the bed and taking Wendot's hand in his. "This hand has done good service to me and mine — good service, indeed, to the King of England, who would have been forced to chastise with some severity the outrage planned upon a subject of his, and one dear to him from association with his children. Tell me, boy, what can I do for thee when I tell this tale to my lord of England? What boon hast thou to ask of him or of me? For thou needest not fear; whatever it be it shall be granted."

"Nay, I have no boon," answered Wendot, his cheek flushing. "I did but do my duty by any guest beneath my father's roof. I was responsible for the safety of the maid. I had taken that duty on myself. I want nothing; she is safe, and that is enough. Only if you would speak to my father for my brothers Llewelyn and Howel. I know they have merited deep displeasure; yet they are but lads, and doubtless they were led away by evil counsels. He would hear pleading better from you than from me."

"It shall be done," said Lord Montacute, still regarding Wendot steadily; "and now, boy, I would speak to thee seriously and gravely as man to man, for thou hast proved thyself to be a man in action, in courage, and in foresight. And thy parents tell me that thou art acquainted with the burning questions of the day, and that thy brothers' headstrong hatreds and prejudices do not blind thee."

Wendot made no reply, but fixed his bright eyes steadily on Lord Montacute's face. He on his side, after a brief silence, began again in clear, terse phrases:

"Lad, if thou livest thou wilt some day be Lord of Dynevor — master of this fair heritage, the fairest, perhaps, in all South Wales. Thou hast noble blood in thy veins — the blood of princes and kings; thou hast much that men covet to call their own; but thou art surrounded by foes who are jealous of thee, and by kinsmen who have already cast covetous eyes on thy possessions."

"Ay, that traitorous Meredith ap Res, whose mother is English, and who would — But pardon me. I would not willingly speak against your nation. Indeed, I feel not bitter as others do; only —"

"Boy, thou art right to be loyal and true. I like thee none the less for the patriotic fervour which breaks out in thee. But I am glad that thou shouldest see both sides of this matter, that thou shouldest see the peril menacing thy brothers from thine own kinsman, who has strengthened himself by an English alliance. It is useless to blind thine eyes to what is coming. They tell me thou art not blind; and I come to thee, lad, because I think well of thee, to ask if it would please thee to strengthen thy position in thine own land and in Edward's sight by an alliance with an English maiden of noble birth. Hast thou ever thought of such a thing?"

Wendot's wide-open eyes gave answer enough. Lord Montacute smiled slightly as he said:

"Ah, thou art full young for such thoughts; and thou livest not in the atmosphere of courts, where babes are given in marriage almost from their cradles. But listen, Res Wendot; I speak not in jest, I am a man of my word. Thou hast risked thy life to save my little maid. Thou art a noble youth, and I honour both thee and thy parents. The maid has told me that she loves thee well, and would be well pleased to wed thee when she is of the age to do so. These are but childish words, yet they may prove themselves true in days to come. It is in the interests of all those who have the peace and prosperity of this land at heart to strengthen themselves in every way they can. My little daughter will have an ample dower to bring her husband; and I will keep her for thee if thou wilt be willing to claim her in days to come. I should like well to see her ruling in these fair halls; and thou hast proved already that thou art a knightly youth, whose hand she may well take with confidence and pride.

"Thy parents are willing; it waits only for thee to say. What thinkest thou of a troth plight with the little maid?"

Wendot's face glowed with a sort of boyish shame, not unmingled with pride; but the idea was altogether too strange and new to him to be readily grasped.

"I have never thought of such things," he said shyly, "and I am too young to wed. Perchance I may grow into some rough, uncouth fellow, who may please not the maiden when she reaches years of discretion. Methinks it would scarce be fair to plight her now, at least not with such a plight as might not be broken. If our nations meet in fierce conflict, as they yet may, it would be a cruel thing to have linked her hand with that of a rebel, for such we are called by the English monarch, they say, when we rise to fight for our liberties bequeathed by our ancestors.

"Nay, noble lord, frown not on me. There be moments when methinks two spirits strive within me, and I am fearful of trusting even myself. I would not that grief or sorrow should touch her through me. Let me come and claim her anon, when I have grown to man's estate, and can bring her lands and revenues. But bind her not to one whose fate may be beset with perils and shadows. There be those amongst our bards who see into the future; and they tell us that a dark fate hangs over the house of Dynevor, and that we four shall be the last to bear the name."

Lord Montacute was looking grave and earnest. There was something in his face which indicated disappointment, but also something that spoke of relief. Possibly he himself had offered this troth plight with something of hesitation, offered it out of gratitude to the noble lad, and out of respect to his parents, who, as he saw, would prove valuable allies to the English cause, could they but be induced to give their allegiance to it. Yet there was another side to the picture, too; and Wendot was too young for any one to predict with certainty what would be his course in the future. The hot blood of his race ran in his veins; and though his judgment was cool, and he saw things in a reasonable and manly light, it would be rash to predict what the future might have in store for him.

"Well, lad, thou hast spoken bravely and well," said the Englishman, after a pause for thought. "Perchance thy words are right; perchance it will be well to let matters rest as they are for the present. We will have no solemn troth plight betwixt ye twain; but the maid shall be promised to none other these next four years, so that if thou carest to claim her ere she reaches woman's estate, thou shalt find her waiting for thee. And now I must say thee farewell, for tomorrow we ride away the way we came. I trust to see thee at the king's court one of these days, and to make known to his royal majesty the noble youth of Dynevor."

Wendot was left alone then for some time, pondering the strange offer made to him, and wondering whether he had been foolish to refuse the promised reward. He had never seriously thought of marriage, although in those days wedlock was entered upon very young if there were any advantage to be gained from it. A lad of fifteen is seldom sentimental; but Wendot was conscious of a very warm spot in his heart for little Gertrude, and he knew that he should miss her sorely when she went, and think of her much. Would it have been a sweet or a bitter thing to have felt himself pledged to a daughter of England? He felt that he could not tell; but at least the decision was made now, and his words could not be recalled.

Just ere the sun set that summer's day there came down the stone corridor which led to his room the patter of little feet, and he leaned up on his elbow with brightening eyes as the door opened and little Gertrude came dancing in.

"I thought I was to have been married to you, Wendot, before we went away," she said, looking into his face with the most trusting expression in her soft dark eyes; "but father says you will come to marry me some day at the king's court. Perhaps that will be better, for I should like Eleanor and Joanna to see you. They would like you so, and you would like them. But do come soon, Wendot. I do so like you; and I shall want to show you to them all. And I have broken my gold coin in two — the one the king gave me once. I got the armourer to do it, and to make a hole in each half. You must wear one half round your neck, and I will wear the other. And that will be almost the same as being married, will it not? And you will never forget me, will you?"

Wendot let her hang the half of the coin round his neck by a silken thread, strange new thoughts crowding into his mind as he felt her soft little hands about him. Suddenly he clasped them in both of his and pressed warm kisses upon them. Gertrude threw her arms about his neck in a childish paroxysm of affection, saying as she did so between her kisses:

"Now, it's just like being husband and wife; and we shall never forget one another — never."



CHAPTER V. THE KING'S CHILDREN.

"Dynevor —did you say Dynevor? O Eleanor, it must be he!"

A tall, slim, fair-faced maiden, with a very regal mien, looked up quickly from an embroidery frame over which she was bending, and glanced from the eager, flushed face of the younger girl who stood beside her to that of a tall and stalwart English youth, who appeared to be the bearer of a piece of news, and asked in her unconsciously queenly way:

"What is it, Sir Godfrey, that you have told this impetuous child, to have set her in such a quiver of excitement?"

"Only this, gracious lady, that certain youthful chieftains from the south have come hither to Rhuddlan to pay their homage to your royal father. In his absence at Chester they have been lodged within the castle walls, as becomes their station. It has been told me that amongst them are four sons of one Res Vychan, lately dead, and that he was Lord of Dynevor, which honour has descended to his eldest son. I was telling what I knew to Lady Gertrude when she broke away to speak to you."

"Eleanor, it must be he — it must be they!" cried Gertrude, with flushing cheek and kindling eye — "Res Vychan, Lord of Dynevor, and his four sons. It could be none else than they. O Eleanor, sweet Eleanor, bid them be brought hither to see us! Thou hast heard the story of how we went thither, my father and I, two years agone now, and of what befell me there. I have never heard a word of Wendot since, and I have thought of him so oft. Thou art mistress here now; they all heed thy lightest word. Bid that the brothers be brought hither to us. I do so long to see them again!"

Gertrude was fairly trembling with excitement; but that was no unusual thing for her, as she was an ardent, excitable little mortal, and ever in a fever of some kind or another. The young knight who had brought the news looked at her with unmistakable admiration and pleasure, and seemed as though he would gladly have obeyed any behest of hers; but he was fain to wait for the decision of the stately Eleanor, the king's eldest and much-beloved child, who in the temporary absence of her parents occupied a position of no little importance in the household, and whose will, in the royal apartments at any rate, was law.

But there were other listeners to Gertrude's eager words. At the far end of the long gallery, which was occupied by the royal children as their private apartment, a group of three young things had been at play, but the urgency of Gertrude's tones had arrested their attention, and they had drawn near to hear her last words. One of these younger children was a black-eyed girl, with a very handsome face and an imperious manner, which gave to onlookers the idea that she was older than her years. Quick tempered, generous, hasty, and self willed was the Lady Joanna, the second daughter of the king; but her warm affections caused all who knew her to love her; and her romantic temperament was always stirred to its depths by any story that savoured of chivalry or heroism.

"What!" she cried; "is Wendot here — Wendot of Dynevor, who held the Eagle's Crag against half a hundred foemen to save thee, sweetest Gertrude, from captivity or death? — Eleanor, thou knowest the story; thou must bid him hither at once! Why, I would thank him with my own lips for his heroism. For is not Gertrude as our own sister in love?"

"Ay, Eleanor, bid him come," pleaded Alphonso, a fragile-looking boy a year younger than Joanna, whose violet-blue eyes and fair skin were in marked contrast to her gipsy-like darkness of complexion; and this request was echoed eagerly by another boy, a fine, bold-looking lad, somewhat older than Alphonso, by name Britten, who was brought up with the king's children, and treated in every way like them, as the wardrobe rolls of the period show, though what his rank and parentage were cannot now be established, as no mention of him occurs in any other documents of that time.

The Princess Eleanor, as she would now be called, although in those far-back days the title of Lady was generally all that was bestowed upon the children of the king, did not attempt to resist the combined entreaties of her younger playfellows. Indeed, although somewhat mature both in mind and appearance for her years, she was by no means devoid of childish or feminine curiosity, and was as willing to see the hero of Gertrude's oft-told tale as her more youthful companions could be. Moreover, it was her father's policy and pleasure to be generous and gracious towards all those who submitted themselves to his feudal sovereignty; and to the young he ever showed himself friendly and even paternal. The stern soldier-king was a particularly tender and loving father, and his wife the best of mothers, so that the family tie in their household was a very strong and beautiful thing. When the monarch was called away from his own royal residences to quell sedition or rebellion in this turbulent country of Wales, his wife and children accompanied him thither; and so it happened that in this rather gloomy fastness in North Wales, when the rebellion of the warlike Llewelyn had but just been crushed, the king's children were to be found assembled within its walls, by their bright presence and laughter-loving ways making the place gay and bright, and bringing even into political matters something of the leniency and good fellowship which seems to be the prerogative of childhood.

Thus it was that one powerful and turbulent noble, Einon ap Cadwalader, had left as hostage of his good faith his only child, the Lady Arthyn, to be the companion of the king's daughters. She had been received with open arms by the warm-hearted Joanna, and the two were fast friends already, although the Welsh girl was several years the elder of the pair. But Joanna, who had been educated in Spain by her grandmother and namesake, and who had only recently come to be with her own parents, had enjoyed abroad a liberty and importance which had developed her rapidly, and her mind was as quick and forward as her body was active and energetic.

Intercourse with Arthyn, too, had given to the younger princess a great sympathy with the vanquished Welsh, and she was generously eager that those who came to pay homage to her father should not feel themselves in a position that was humiliating or galling. The gentle Eleanor shared this feeling to the full, and was glad to give to the young knight Sir Godfrey Challoner, who was one of her own gentlemen-in-waiting, a gracious message for the young Lord of Dynevor to the effect that she would be glad to receive him and his brothers in her father's absence, and to give them places at the royal table for the evening meal shortly to be served.

Great was the delight of Gertrude when the message was despatched. Her companions crowded round her to hear again the story of her adventure on the Eagle's Crag. Gertrude never knew how she had been betrayed by Wendot's brothers. She believed that they had been accidentally hindered from coming to her rescue by the difficulties of the climb after the eagle's nest. There was a faint, uncomfortable misgiving in her mind with regard to the black-browed twins, but it did not amount to actual suspicion, far less to any certainty of their enmity; and although Eleanor had heard the whole story from her parents, she had not explained the matter more fully to Gertrude.

An invitation from royalty was equal to a command, and the eager children were not kept waiting long. The double doors at the end of the long gallery, which had closed behind the retiring form of Godfrey, opened once again to admit him, and closely in his wake there followed two manly youths — two, not four — upon whose faces every eye was instantly fixed in frank and kindly scrutiny.

Wendot had developed rapidly during these two last years, although he retained all his old marked characteristics. The waving hair was still bright and sunny, the open face, with its rather square features, was resolute, alert, manly, and strong. The fearless blue eyes had not lost their far-away dreaminess, as though the possessor were looking onward and outward beyond the surroundings visible to others; and beneath the calm determination of the expression was an underlying sweetness, which shone out from time to time in the sunny smile which always won the heart of the beholder. The figure was rather that of a man than a lad — tall, strongly knit, full of grace and power; and a faint yellow moustache upon the upper lip showed the dawn of manhood in the youth. There was something in his look which seemed to tell that he had known sorrow, trial, and anxiety; but this in no way detracted from the power or attractiveness of the countenance, but rather gave it an added charm.

Griffeth retained his marked likeness to his brother, and was almost his equal in height; but his cheek was pale and hollow, while Wendot's was brown and healthy, his hands were slim and white, and there was an air of languor and ill-health about him which could not fail to make itself observed. He looked much younger than his brother, despite his tall stature, and he blushed like a boy as he saw the eyes of the ladies fixed upon them as they came forward, bowing with no ungraceful deference.

"Wendot, Wendot. don't you know me?"

The young man started and raised his eyes towards the speaker. So far, he had only been aware that there were a number of persons collected at the upper end of the long gallery. Now he found himself confronted by a pair of eager, dancing eyes, as soft and dark as those of a forest deer, whilst two slim hands were held out to him, and a silvery voice cried softly and playfully:

"O Wendot, Wendot, to think you have forgotten!"

"Lady Gertrude!"

"Ah, I am glad you have not forgotten, though methinks I have changed more than you these past years. I should have known you anywhere. But come, Wendot; I would present you to my friends and companions, who would fain be acquainted with you. They know how you saved my life that day, I have told the tale so oft.

"Let me present you first to our sweetest Lady Eleanor, our great king's eldest daughter. You will love her, I know — none can help it. And she lets me call myself her sister."

Young things have a wonderful faculty of growing intimate in a very brief space, and the formalities of those simpler times were not excessive, especially away from the trammels of the court. In ten minutes' time Wendot and his brother had grasped the names and rank of all those to whom they had been presented, and were joining in the eager talk with ease and with enjoyment. Joanna stood beside Wendot, listening, with unfeigned interest, to his answers respecting himself and those near and dear to him; whilst Alphonso had drawn Griffeth to the embrasure of a window, and was looking up into his face as they compared notes and exchanged ideas. It seemed from the first as though a strong link formed itself between those two.

"Your brothers would not come. Was that fear or shame or pride?" asked Joanna, with a laughing look into Wendot's flushed face. "Nay, think not that we would compel any to visit us who do it not willingly. Gertrude has prepared us to find your brothers different from you. Methinks she marvelled somewhat that they had come hither at all with their submission."

Wendot hesitated, and the flush deepened on his face; but he was too young to have learned the lesson of reticence, and there was something in the free atmosphere of this place which prompted him to frankness.

"I myself was surprised at it," he said. "Llewelyn and Howel have not been friendly in their dealings with the English so far, and we knew they aided Llewelyn of North Wales in the revolt which has been lately quelled. But since our parents died we have seen but little of them. They became joint owners of the commot of Iscennen, and removed from Dynevor to the castle of Carregcennen in their own territory, and until we met them some days since in company with our kinsman Meredith ap Hes, coming to tender their homage, as we ourselves are about to do, we knew not what to think of them or what action they would take."

"Are both your parents dead, then?" asked Gertrude, with sympathy in her eyes. "I heard that Res Vychan was no longer living, but I knew not that the gentle Lady of Dynevor had passed away also."

Wendot's face changed slightly as he answered:

"They both died within a few days of each other the winter after you had been with us, Lady Gertrude. We were visited by a terrible sickness that year, and our people sickened and died in great numbers. Our parents did all they could for them, and first my father fell ill and died, and scarce had the grave closed over him before our mother was stricken, and followed him ere a week had passed. Griffeth was also lying at the point of death, and we despaired of his life also; but he battled through, and came back to us from the very gates of the grave, and yet methinks sometimes that he has never been the same since. He shoots up in height, but he cannot do the things he did when he was two years younger.

"What think you of him, sweet Lady Gertrude? Is he changed from what he was when last you saw him, ere the sickness had fastened upon him?"

Several eyes were turned towards the slim, tall figure of the Welsh lad leaning against the embrasure of the window. The sunlight fell full upon his face, showing the sharpness of its outlines, the delicate hectic colouring, the tracery of the blue veins beneath the transparent skin. And just the same transparent look was visible in the countenance of the young Prince Alphonso, who was talking with the stranger youth, and more hearts than that of Wendot felt a pang as their owners' eyes were turned upon the pair beside the sunny window. But Wendot pressed for no answer to his question, nor did Gertrude volunteer it; she only asked quickly:

"Then Griffeth and you live yet at Dynevor, beautiful Dynevor, and Llewelyn and Howel elsewhere?"

"Ay, at Carregcennen. We have our respective lands, though we are minors yet; and our kinsman Meredith ap Res is our guardian, though it is little we see of him."

"Meredith ap Res! I know him well," cried a girlish voice, in accents which betrayed her Welsh origin. "He has ever been a traitor to his country, a traitor to all who trust him; a covetous, grasping man, who will clutch at what he can get, and never cease scheming after lands and titles so long as the breath remains in him."

They all turned to see who had spoken, and Arthyn — the headstrong, passionate, patriotic Arthyn, who, despite her love for her present companions, bitterly resented being left a hostage in the hands of the English king — stood out before them, and spoke in the fearless fashion which nobody present resented.

"Wendot of Dynevor, if you are he, beware of that man, and bid your brothers beware of him, too. I know him; I have heard much of him. Be sure he has an eye on your fair lands, and he will embroil you yet with the English king if he can, that he may lay claim to your patrimony. He brings you here to the court to make your peace, to pay your homage. If I mistake not the man, you will not all of you return whence you came. He will poison the king's mind. Some traitorous practices will be alleged against you. Your lands will be withheld. You will be fed with promises which will never be fulfilled. And the kinsman who has sold himself body and soul to the English alliance will rule your lands, in your names firstly perchance, until his power is secure, and he can claim them boldly as his own. See if it be not so."

"It shall not be so," cried Alphonso, suddenly advancing a step forward and planting himself in the midst of the group.

His cheek was crimson now, there was fire in his eyes. He had all the regal look of his royal father as he glanced up into Wendot's face and spoke with an authority beyond his years.

"I, the king's son, give you my word of honour that this thing shall not be. You are rightful Lord of Dynevor. You took not up arms against my father in the late rebellion; you come at his command to pay your homage to him. Therefore, whatever may be his dealings with your brothers who have assisted the rebels, I pledge my princely word that you shall return in peace to your own possessions. My father is a just and righteous king, and I will be his surety that he will do all that is right and just by you, Wendot of Dynevor."

"Well spoken, Alphonso!" cried Joanna and Britton in a breath, whilst Wendot took the hand extended to him, and bent over it with a feeling of loyal gratitude and respect.

There was something very lovable in the fragile young prince, and he seemed to win the hearts of all who came within the charm of his personal presence. He combined his father's fearless nobility with his mother's sweetness of disposition. Had he lived to ascend the throne of England, one of the darkest pages of its annals might never have been written.

But this hot discussion was brought to an end by the appearance of the servants, who carried in the supper, laying it upon a long table at the far end of the gallery. No great state was observed even in the royal household, when the family was far away from the atmosphere of the court as it was held at Westminster or Windsor.

A certain number of servants were in attendance. There were a few formalities gone through in the matter of tasting of dishes served to the royal children, but they sat round the table without ceremony; and when the chaplain had pronounced a blessing, which was listened to reverently by the young people, who were all very devout and responsive to religious influences, the unconstrained chatter began again almost at once, and the Welsh lads lost all sense of strangeness as they sat at the table of the king's children.

"Our father and mother will not return for several days yet," said Joanna to Wendot, whom she had placed between herself and Gertrude; "but we have liberty to do what we wish and to go where we like.

"Say, Gertrude, shall we tell Wendot on what we have set our hearts? It may be he would help us to our end."

"I would do anything you bid me, gracious lady," answered Wendot with boyish chivalry.

The girls were eying each other with flushed faces, their voices were lowered so that they should not reach the ears of the Lady Edeline, Joanna's governess, who was seated at the board, although she seldom spoke unless directly addressed by Eleanor, who seemed to be on friendly terms with her.

"Wendot," whispered Joanna cautiously, "have you ever hunted a wolf in your mountains?"

"Ay, many a time, though they be more seldom seen now. But we never rid ourselves altogether of them, do as we will."

"And have you killed one yourself?"

"Yes, I have done that, too."

"And is it very dangerous?"

"I scarce know; I never thought about it. I think not, if one is well armed and has dogs trained to their duties."

Joanna's eyes were alight with excitement; her hands were locked together tightly. Her animated face was set in lines of the greatest determination and happiest anticipation.

"Wendot," she said, "there is a wolf up yonder in that wild valley we can see from yon window, as you look towards the heights of Snowdon. Some of our people have seen and tracked it, but they say it is an old and wily one, and no one has got near it yet. Wendot, we have set our hearts on having a wolf hunt of our very own. We do not want all the men and dogs and the stir and fuss which they would make if we were known to be going. I know what that means. We are kept far away behind everybody, and only see the dead animal after it has been killed miles away from us. We want to be in the hunt ourselves — Britten, Alphonso, Arthyn, Gertrude, and I. Godfrey would perhaps be won over if Gertrude begged him, and I know Raoul Latimer would — he is always ready for what turns up — but that would not be enough. O Wendot, if you and your brothers would but come, we should be safe without anybody else. Raoul has dogs, and we could all be armed, and we would promise to be very careful. We could get away early, as Gertrude did that day she slipped off to the Eagle's Crag.

"Wendot, do answer — do say you will come. You understand all about hunting, even hunting wolves. You are not afraid?"

Wendot smiled at the notion. He did not entirely understand that he was requested to take part in a bit of defiant frolic which the young princes and princesses were well aware would not have been permitted by their parents. All he grasped was that the Lady Joanna requested his assistance in a hunt which she had planned, and with the details of which he was perfectly familiar, and he agreed willingly to her request, not sorry, either for his own sake or for that of his more discontented brothers, that the monotony of the days spent in waiting the return of the king should be beguiled by anything so attractive and exciting as a wolf hunt.

The Dynevor brothers had often hunted wolves before, and saw no special peril in the sport; and Joanna and Gertrude felt that not even the most nervous guardian could hesitate to let them go with such a stout protector.

"I do like him, Gertrude," said Joanna, when Wendot and his brother had retired. "I hope if I ever have to marry, as people generally do, especially if they are king's daughters, that I shall find somebody as brave and handsome and knightly as your Wendot of Dynevor."

For Gertrude and Joanna both took the view that the breaking of the king's gold coin between them was equivalent to the most solemn of troth plights.



CHAPTER VI. WELSH WOLVES.

The Princess Joanna was accustomed to a great deal of her own way. She had been born at Acre, whilst her parents had been absent upon Edward's Crusade, and for many years she had remained in Castile with her grandmother-godmother, who had treated her with unwise distinction, and had taught her to regard herself almost as a little queen. The high-spirited and self-willed girl had thus acquired habits of independence and commanding ways which were perhaps hardly suited to her tender years; but nevertheless there was something in her bright vivacity and generous impetuosity which always won the hearts of those about her, and there were few who willingly thwarted her when her heart was set upon any particular thing.

There were in attendance upon the king and his children a number of gallant youths, sons of his nobles, who were admitted to pleasant and easy intercourse with the royal family; so that when Joanna and Alphonso set their hearts upon a private escapade of their own, in the shape of a wolf hunt, it was not difficult to enlist many brave champions in the cause quite as eager for the danger and the sport as the royal children themselves. Joanna was admitted to be a privileged person, and Alphonso, as the only son of the king, had a certain authority of his own.

The graver and more responsible guardians of the young prince and princesses might have hesitated before letting them have their way in this matter; but Joanna took counsel of the younger and more ardent spirits by whom she was surrounded, and a secret expedition to a neighbouring rocky fastness was soon planned, which expedition, by a little diplomacy and management, could be carried out without exciting much remark.

The king and queen encouraged their family in hardy exercises and early hours. If the royal children planned an early ride through the fresh morning air, none would hinder their departure, and they could easily shake off their slower attendants when the time came, and join the bolder comrades who would be waiting for them with all the needful accoutrements for the hunt on which their minds were bent.

One or two of the more youthful and adventurous attendants might come with them, but the soberer custodians might either be dismissed or outridden. They were accustomed to the vagaries of the Lady Joanna, and would not be greatly astonished at any freak on her part.

And thus it came about that one clear, cold, exhilarating morning in May, when the world was just waking from its dewy sleep of night, that Joanna and Alphonso, together with Gertrude and Arthyn, and young Sir Godfrey and another gentleman in attendance, drew rein laughingly, after a breathless ride across a piece of wild moorland, at the appointed spot, where a small but well-equipped company was awaiting them with the spears, the dogs, and the long, murderous-looking hunting knives needed by those who follow the tracks of the wild creatures of the mountains.

This little band numbered in its ranks the four Dynevor brothers; a tall, rather haughty-looking youth, by name Raoul Latimer; and one or two more with whose names we have no concern. Britten, who accompanied the royal party, sprang forward with a cry of delight at seeing the muster, and began eagerly questioning Raoul as to the capabilities of the dogs he had brought, and the possible dangers to be encountered in the day's sport.

Gertrude and Joanna rode up to Wendot and greeted him warmly. They had seen him only once since the first evening after his arrival, and both girls stole curious glances at the dark faces of the two brothers unknown as yet to them. They were almost surprised that the twins had come at all, as they were not disposed to be friendly towards the English amongst whom they were now mingling; but here they were, and Gertrude greeted both with her pretty grace, and they answered her words of welcome with more courtesy than she had expected to find in them.

Llewelyn and Howel were submitting themselves to the inevitable with what grace they could, but with very indignant and hostile feelings hidden deep in their hearts. Their old hatred towards the English remained unaltered. They would have fought the foe tooth and nail to the last had they been able to find allies ready to stand by them. But when their uncle of North Wales had submitted, and all the smaller chieftains were crowding to the court to pay homage, and when they knew that nothing but their own nominal subjection would save them from being deprived of their lands, which would go to enrich the rapacious Meredith ap Res, then indeed did resistance at that time seem hopeless; and sooner than see themselves thus despoiled by one who was no better than a vassal of England, they had resolved to take the hated step, and do homage to Edward for their lands. Indeed, these brothers had to do even more; for, having been concerned in the late rebellion, they had forfeited their claim upon their property, only that it was Edward's policy to restore all lands the owners of which submitted themselves to his authority. The brothers felt no doubt as to the result of their submission, but the humiliation involved was great, and it was hard work to keep their hatred of the English in check. Those wild spirits had not been used to exercising self-control, and the lesson came hard now that they were springing up towards man's estate, with all the untempered recklessness and heat of youth still in their veins.

Perhaps there was something in the expression of those two dark faces that told its tale to one silent spectator of the meeting between the Welsh and English; for as the party united forces and pushed onwards and upwards towards the wild ravine where the haunt of the wolf lay, the twin brothers heard themselves addressed in their own language, and though the tones were sweet and silvery, the words had a ring of passionate earnestness in them which went straight to their hearts.

"Methinks I am not mistaken in you, sons of Dynevor. You have not willingly left your mountain eyry for these halls where the proud foeman holds his court and sits in judgment upon those who by rights are free as air. I have heard of you before, Llewelyn and Howel ap Res Vychan. You are not here, like your brethren, half won over to the cause of the foe; you would fight with the last drop of your blood for the liberty of our country."

Turning with a start, the brothers beheld the form of a slight and graceful maiden, who was pushing her palfrey up beside them. She appeared to be about their own age, and was very beautiful to look upon, with a clear, dark skin, large, bright eyes, now glowing with the enthusiasm so soon kindled in the breast of the children of an oppressed people — a people thrilling with the strange, deep poetry of their race, which made much amends for their lack of culture in other points.

Llewelyn and Howel, learning caution by experience, scarce knew how to respond to this appeal; but the girl met their inquiring glances by a vivid smile, and said:

"Nay, fear me not. I am one of yourselves — one of our country's own children. Think not that I am here of my own free will. I deny not that I have learned to love some amongst our conqueror's children and subjects, but that does not make me forget who I am nor whence I have come. Let us talk together of our country and of the slender hopes which yet remain that she may gird herself up and make common cause against the foe. Oh, would that I might live to see the day, even though my life might pay the forfeit of my father's patriotism. Let Edward slay me — ay, and every hostage he holds in his hand — so that our country shakes off the foreign yoke, and unites under one head as one nation once again."

These words kindled in the breast of the twin brothers such a glow of joy and fervour as they had not known for many a weary day. They made room for Arthyn to ride between them, and eager were the confidences exchanged between the youthful patriots as they pursued their way upwards. Little they heeded the black looks cast upon them by Raoul Latimer, as he saw Arthyn's eager animation, and understood how close was the bond which had thus quickly been established between them and the proud, silent girl whose favours he had been sedulously trying to win this many a day.

Raoul Latimer was a youth with a decided eye to the main chance. He knew that Arthyn was her father's heiress, and that she would succeed at his death to some of the richest lands in Wales. Possibly her father might be deprived of these lands in his lifetime, as he was a turbulent chieftain, by no means submissive to Edward's rule. If that were the case, and if his daughter had wedded a loyal Englishman of unquestionable fidelity, there would be an excellent chance for that husband of succeeding to the broad lands of Einon ap Cadwalader before many years had passed. Therefore young Raoul paid open court to the proud Welsh maiden, and was somewhat discomfited at the small progress he had made.

But he was a hot-headed youth, and had no intention of being thrown into the shade by any beggarly Welshmen, be they sons of Dynevor or no, so that when the party were forced by the character of the ground to dismount from their horses and take to their own feet, he pressed up to Arthyn and said banteringly:

"Sweet lady, why burden yourself with the entertainment of these wild, uncivilized loons? Surely those who can but speak the language of beasts deserve the treatment of beasts. It is not for you to be thus —"

But the sentence was never finished. Perhaps the flash from Arthyn's eye warned him he had gone too far in thus designating the youths, who were, after all, her countrymen; but there was a better reason still for this sudden pause, for Llewelyn's strong right hand had flown out straight from the shoulder, and Raoul had received on the mouth a stinging blow which had brought the red blood upon his lips and the crimson tide of fury into his cheeks.

With an inarticulate cry of rage he drew his dagger and sprang upon the young Welshman. Swords were drawn in those days only too readily, and in this case there had been provocation enough on both sides to warrant bloodshed. The youths were locked at once in fierce conflict, striking madly at each other with their shining blades, before those who stood by well knew what had occurred.

It was only too common at such times that there should be collision between the sons of England and Wales; and the suffering and the penalty almost invariably fell upon the latter. This fact was well known to the children of the king, and possibly prompted the young Alphonso to his next act.

Drawing the small sword he always carried at his side, he threw himself between the combatants, and striking up their blades he cried in tones of such authority as only those can assume who feel the right is theirs:

"Put up your weapons, gentlemen; I command you in the king's name.

"Raoul, this is your doing, I warrant. Shame on you for thus falling upon my father's guest in his absence, and he a stranger and an alien! Shame on you, I say!"

But scarce had these words been uttered before a shrill cry broke from several of the girls, who were watching the strange scene with tremulous excitement. For young Llewelyn, maddened and blinded by the heat of his passion, and not knowing either who Alphonso was or by what right he interposed betwixt him and his foe, turned furiously upon him, and before any one could interpose, a deep red gash in the boy's wrist showed what the Welsh lad's blade had done.

Wendot, Griffeth, and Godfrey flung themselves upon the mad youth, and held him back by main force. In Raoul's eyes there was an evil light of triumph and exultation.

"Llewelyn, Llewelyn, art mad? It is the king's son," cried Wendot in their native tongue; whilst Joanna sprang towards her brother and commenced binding up the gash, the lad never for a moment losing his presence of mind, or forgetting in the smart of the hurt the dignity of his position.

Llewelyn's fierce burst of passion had spent itself, and the sense of Wendot's words had come home to him. He stood shamefaced and sullen, but secretly somewhat afraid; whilst Arthyn trembled in every limb, and if looks would have annihilated, Raoul would not have existed as a corporate being a moment longer.

"Gentlemen," said Alphonso, turning to those about him, and holding up his bandaged hand, "this is the result of accident — pure accident. Remember that, if it ever comes to the ears of my father. This youth knew not what he did. The fault was mine for exposing myself thus hastily. As you value the goodwill in which I hold you all, keep this matter to yourselves. We are not prince or subject today, but comrades bent on sport together. Remember and obey my behest. It is not often I lay my commands upon you."

These words were listened to with gratitude and relief by all the party save one, and his brow gloomed darker than before. Arthyn saw it, and sprang towards Alphonso, who was smiling at his sister in response to her quick words of praise.

"It was his fault — his," she cried, pointing to the scowling Raoul, who looked ill-pleased at having his lips thus sealed. "He insulted him — he insulted me. No man worthy the name would stand still and listen. It is the way with these fine gallants of England. They are ever stirring up strife, and my countrymen bear the blame, the punishment, the odium —"

But Alphonso took her hand with a gesture of boyish chivalry.

"None shall injure thee or thine whilst I am by, sweet Arthyn. The nation is dear to me for thy sake, and thy countrymen shall be as our honoured guests and brothers. Have we not learned to love them for thy sake and their own? Trouble not thy head more over this mischance, and let it not cloud our day's sport.

"Raoul," he added, with some sternness, "thou art a turbulent spirit, and thou lackest the gentle courtesy of a true knight towards those whose position is trying and difficult. Thou wilt not win thy spurs if thou mendest not thy ways. Give thy hand now, before my eyes, to the youth thou didst provoke. If thou marrest the day's pleasure again, I shall have more to say to thee yet."

It was not often that the gentle Alphonso spoke in such tones, and therefore his words were the more heeded. Raoul, inwardly consumed with rage at being thus singled out for rebuke, dared not withstand the order given him, and grudgingly held out his hand. It was not with much greater alacrity that Llewelyn took it, for there was much stubborn sullenness in his disposition, and his passion, though quickly aroused, did not quickly abate; but there was a compulsion in the glance of the royal boy which enforced obedience; and harmony being thus nominally restored, the party once more breathed freely.

"And now upwards and onwards for the lair of the wolf," cried Alphonso; "we have lost time enough already. Who knows the way to his favourite haunts? Methinks they cannot be very far away now."

"I should have thought we had had enough of Welsh wolves for one day," muttered Raoul sullenly to Godfrey; but the latter gave him a warning glance, and he forbore to speak more on the subject.

Gertrude had watched the whole scene with dilated eyes, and a feeling of sympathy and repulsion she was perfectly unable to analyze. When the party moved on again she stole up to Wendot's side, and said as she glanced into his troubled face:

"He did not mean it? he will not do it again?"

Wendot glanced down at her with a start, and shook his head.

"He knew not that it was the king's son — that I verily believe; but I know not what Llewelyn may say or do at any time. He never speaks to me of what is in his head. Lady Gertrude, you know the king and his ways. Will he visit this rash deed upon my brother's head? Will Llewelyn suffer for what he did in an impulse of mad rage, provoked to it by yon haughty youth, whose words and bearing are hard for any of us to brook?"

"Not if Alphonso can but get his ear; not if this thing is kept secret, as he desires, as he has commanded. But I fear what Raoul may say and do. He is treacherous, selfish, designing. The king thinks well of him, but we love him not. I trust all will yet be well."

"But you fear it may not," added Wendot, completing the sentence as she had not the heart to do. "I fear the same thing myself. But tell me again, Lady Gertrude, what would be the penalty of such an act? Will they —"

"Alphonso has great influence with his father," answered Gertrude quickly. "He will stand your brother's friend through all; perchance he may be detained in some sort of captivity; perchance he may not have his lands restored if this thing comes to the king's ears. But his person will be safe. Fear not for that. Methinks Alphonso would sooner lay down his own life than that harm should befall from what chanced upon a day of sport planned by him and Joanna."

And Gertrude, seeing that a load lay upon the heart of the young Lord of Dynevor, set herself to chase the cloud from his brow, and had so far succeeded that he looked himself again by the time a warning shout from those in advance showed that some tracks of the wild creature of whom they were in pursuit had been discovered in the path.

"Do not run into danger," pleaded Gertrude, laying a hand on Wendot's arm as he moved quickly forward to the front. "You are so brave you never think of yourself; but do not let us have more bloodshed today, save the blood of the ravenous beast if it must be. I could find it in my heart to wish that we had not come forth on this errand. The brightness of the day has been clouded over."

Wendot answered by a responsive glance. There was something soothing to him in the unsolicited sympathy of Gertrude. He had thought little since they parted two years before of that childish pledge given and received, although he always wore her talisman about his neck, and sometimes looked at it with a smile. He had no serious thoughts of trying to mate with an English noble's daughter. He had had no leisure to spare for thoughts of wedlock at all. But something in the trustful glance of those dark eyes looking confidingly up to him sent a quick thrill through his pulses, which was perhaps the first dawning life of the love of a brave heart.

But there was an impatient call from the front, and Wendot sprang forward, the huntsman awakening within him at the sight of the slot of the quarry. He looked intently at the tracks in the soft earth, and then pointed downwards in the direction of a deep gully or cavernous opening in the hillside, which looked very dark and gloomy to the party who stood in the sunshine of the open.

"The beast has gone that way," he said; "and by his tracks and these bloodstains, he has prey in his mouth. Likely his mate may have her lair in yon dark spot, and they may be rearing their young in that safe retreat. See how the dogs strain and pant! They smell the prey, and are eager to be off. We must be alert and wary, for wolves with young ones to guard are fierce beyond their wont."

He looked doubtfully at the girls, whose faces were full of mingled terror and excitement. Godfrey read his meaning, and suggested that the ladies should remain in this vantage ground whilst some of the rest went forward to reconnoitre.

But Joanna, ever bold and impetuous, would have none of that.

"We will go on together," she said. "We shall be safest so. No wolf, however fierce, will attack a number like ourselves. They will fly if they can, and if they are brought to bay we need not go near them. But why have we come so far to give up all the peril and the sport at the last moment?"

"She speaks truth," said Wendot, to whom she seemed to look. "At this season of the year wolves have meat in plenty, and will not attack man save in self defence. If we track them silently to their lair, we may surprise and kill the brood; but we are many, and can leave force enough to defend the ladies whilst the rest fight the battle with the creatures at bay."

Nobody really wished to be left behind, and there was a pleasant feeling of safety in numbers. Slowly and cautiously they all followed the track of the wolf downwards into the gloomy ravine, which seemed to shut out all light of the sun between walls of solid rock.

It was a curious freak in which nature had indulged in the formation of this miniature crevasse between the hillsides. At the base ran a dark turbid stream, which had hollowed out for itself a sort of cavernous opening, and the walls of rock rose almost precipitately on three sides, only leaving one track by which the ravine could be entered. The stream came bubbling out from the rock, passing through some underground passage; and within the gloomy cavern thus produced the savage beasts had plainly made their lair, for there were traces of blood and bones upon the little rocky platform, and the trained ear of Wendot, who was foremost, detected the sound of subdued and angry growling proceeding from the natural cave they were approaching.

"The beasts are in there," he said, pausing, and the next moment Raoul had loosed the dogs, who darted like arrows from bows along the narrow track; and immediately a great he wolf had sprung out with a cry of almost human rage, and had fastened upon one of the assailants, whose piercing yell made the girls shrink back and almost wish they had not come.

But Wendot was not far behind. He was not one of the huntsmen who give all the peril to the dogs and keep out of the fray themselves. Drawing his long hunting knife, and shouting to his brothers to follow him, he sprang down upon the rocky platform himself, and Llewelyn and Howel were at his side in a moment. Godfrey would fain have followed, but his duty obliged him to remain by the side of the princess; and he kept a firm though respectful grasp upon Alphonso's arm, feeling that he must not by any means permit the heir of England to adventure himself into the fray. And indeed the boy's gashed hand hindered him from the use of his weapon, and he could only look on with the most intense interest whilst the conflict between the two fierce beasts and their angry cubs was waged by the fearless lads, who had been through many such encounters before, and showed such skill, such address, such intrepidity in their attack, that the young prince shouted aloud in admiration, and even the girls lost their first sense of terror in the certainty of victory on the side of the Welsh youths.

As for Raoul Latimer, he stood at a safe distance cheering on his dogs, but not adventuring himself within reach of the murderous fangs of the wolves. He occupied a position halfway between the spot upon which the fray was taking place and the vantage ground occupied by the royal party in full sight of the strife.

Arthyn had passed several scornful comments upon the care the young gallant was taking of himself, when suddenly there was a cry from the spectators; for one of the cubs, escaping from the melee, ran full tilt towards Raoul, blind as it seemed with terror; and as it came within reach of his weapon, the sharp blade gleamed in the air, and the little creature gave one yell and rolled over in its death agony. But that cry seemed to pierce the heart of the mother wolf, and suddenly, with almost preternatural strength and activity, she bounded clean over the forms of men and dogs, and dashed straight at Raoul with all the ferocity of an animal at bay, and of a mother robbed of her young.

The young man saw the attack; but his weapon was buried in the body of the cub, and he had no time to disengage it. Turning with a sharp cry of terror, he attempted to fly up the rocky path; but the beast was upon him. She made a wild dash and fastened upon his back, her fangs crushing one shoulder and her hot breath seeming to scorch his cheek. With a wild yell of agony and terror Raoul threw himself face downwards upon the ground, whilst his cry was shrilly echoed by the girls — all but Arthyn, who stood rigidly as if turned to stone, a strange, fierce light blazing in her eyes.

But help was close at hand. Wendot had seen the spring, and had followed close upon the charge of the maddened brute. Flinging himself fearlessly upon the struggling pair, he plunged his knife into the neck of the wolf, causing her to relax her hold of her first foe and turn upon him. Had he stabbed her to the heart she might have inflicted worse injury upon Raoul in her mortal struggle; as it was, there was fierce fight left in her still. But Wendot was kneeling upon the wildly struggling body with all his strength, and had locked his hands fast round her throat.

"Quick, Llewelyn — the knife!" he cried, and his brother was beside him in an instant.

The merciful death stroke was given, and the three youths rose from their crouching posture and looked each other in the eyes, whilst the wolf lay still and dead by the side of her cub.

"Methinks we have had something too much of Welsh wolves," was the only comment of Raoul, as he joined the royal party without a word to the brothers who had saved his life.



CHAPTER VII. THE KING'S JUDGMENT.

The great King Edward had been sitting enthroned in the state apartment of the castle, receiving the homage of those amongst the Welsh lords and chieftains who had been summoned to pay their homage to him and had obeyed this summons.

It was an imposing sight, and one not likely to be forgotten by any who witnessed it for the first time. The courageous but gentle Queen Eleanor, who was seldom absent from her lord's side be the times peaceful or warlike, was seated beside him for the ceremony, with her two elder daughters beside her. The young Alphonso stood at the right hand of the king, his face bright with interest and sympathy; and if ever the act of homage seemed to be paid with effort by some rugged chieftain, or he saw a look of gloom or pain upon the face of such a one, he was ever ready with some graceful speech or small act of courtesy, which generally acted like a charm. And the father regarded his son with a fond pride, and let him take his own way with these haughty, untamable spirits, feeling perhaps that the tact of the royal boy would do more to conciliate and win hearts than any word or deed of his own.

Edward has been often harshly condemned for his cruelty and treachery towards the vanquished Welsh; but it must be remembered with regard to the first charge that the days were rude and cruel, that the spirit of the age was fierce and headstrong, and that the barons and nobles who were scheming for the fair lands of Wales were guilty of many of the unjust and oppressive acts for which Edward has since been held responsible. The Welsh were themselves a very wild race, in some parts of the country barely civilized; and there can be no denying that a vein of fierce treachery ran through their composition, and that they often provoked their adversaries to cruel retaliation. As for the king himself, his policy was on the whole a merciful and just one, if the one point of his feudal supremacy were conceded. To those who came to him with their act of homage he confirmed their possession of ancestral estates, and treated them with kindness and consideration. He was too keen a statesman and too just a man to desire anything but a conciliatory policy so far as it was possible. Only when really roused to anger and resolved upon war did the fiercer side of his nature show itself, and then, indeed, he could show himself terrible and lion-like in his wrath.

The brothers of Dynevor were the last of those who came to pay their act of homage. The day had waned, and the last light of sunset was streaming into that long room as the fair-haired Wendot bent his knee in response to the summons of the herald. The king's eyes seemed to rest upon him with interest, and he spoke kindly to the youth; but it was noted by some in the company that his brow darkened when Llewelyn followed his brother's example, Howel attending him as Griffeth had supported Wendot; and there was none of the gracious urbanity in the royal countenance now that had characterized it during the past hour.

Several faces amongst those in immediate attendance upon the king and his family watched this closing scene with unwonted interest. Gertrude stood with Joanna's hand clasped in hers, quivering with excitement, and ever and anon casting quick looks towards her brother, who stood behind the chair of state observant and watchful, but without betraying his feelings either by word or look. Raoul Latimer was there, a sneer upon his lips, a malevolent light in his eyes, which deepened as they rested upon Llewelyn, whilst Arthyn watched the twin brothers with a strange look in her glowing eyes, her lips parted, her white teeth just showing between, her whole expression one of tense expectancy and sympathy. Once Llewelyn glanced up and met the look she bent on him. A dusky flush overspread his cheek, and his fingers clenched themselves in an unconscious movement understood only by himself.

The homage paid, there was a little stir at the lower end of the hall as the doors were flung open for the royal party to take their departure. Edward bent a searching look upon the four brothers, who had fallen back somewhat, and were clustered together not far from the royal group, and the next minute an attendant whispered to them that it was the king's pleasure they should follow in his personal retinue, as he had somewhat to say to them in private.

Wendot's heart beat rather faster than its wont. He had had some foreboding of evil ever since that unlucky expedition, some days back now, on which Llewelyn's sword had been drawn upon an English subject, and had injured the king's son likewise. Raoul had for very shame affected a sort of condescending friendliness towards the brothers after they had been instrumental in saving him from the fangs of the she wolf; but it was pretty evident to them that his friendship was but skin deep; whilst every word that passed between Arthyn and Llewelyn or his brother — and these were many — was ranked as a dire offence.

Had Wendot been more conversant with the intrigues of courts, he would have seen plainly that Raoul was paying his addresses to the Welsh heiress, who plainly detested and abhorred him. The ambitious and clever young man, who was well thought of by the king, and had many friends amongst the nobles and barons, had a plan of his own for securing to himself some of the richest territory in the country, and was leaving no stone unturned in order to achieve that object. A marriage with Arthyn would give him the hold he wanted upon a very large estate. But indifferent as he was to the feelings of the lady, he was wise enough to see that whilst she remained in her present mood, and was the confidante and friend of the princesses, he should not gain the king's consent to prosecuting his nuptials by force, as he would gladly have done. Whereupon a new scheme had entered his busy brain, as a second string to his bow, and with the help of a kinsman high in favour with the king, he had great hopes of gaining his point, which would at once gratify his ambition and inflict vengeance upon a hated rival.

Raoul had hated the Dynevor brothers ever since he had detected in Arthyn an interest in and sympathy for them, ever since he had found her in close talk in their own tongue with the dark-browed twins, whose antagonism to the English was scarcely disguised. He had done all he knew to stir the hot blood in Llewelyn and Howel, and that with some success. The lads were looked upon as dangerous and treacherous by many of those in the castle; and from the sneering look of coming triumph upon the face of young Latimer as the party moved off towards the private apartments of the royal family, it was plain that he anticipated a victory for himself and a profound humiliation for his foes.

Supper was the first business of the hour, and the Dynevor brothers sat at the lower table with the attendants of the king. The meal was well-served and plentiful, but they bad small appetite for it. Wendot felt as though a shadow hung upon them; and the chief comfort he received was in stealing glances at the sweet, sensitive face of Gertrude, who generally responded to his glance by one of her flashing smiles.

Wendot wondered how it was that Lord Montacute had never sought him out to speak to him. Little as the lad had thought of their parting interview at Dynevor during the past two years, it all came back with the greatest vividness as he looked upon the fine calm face of the English noble. Was it possible he had forgotten the half-pledge once given him? Or did he regret it, now that his daughter was shooting up from a child into a sweet and gracious maiden whom he felt disposed to worship with reverential awe? Wendot did not think he was in love — he would scarce have known the meaning of the phrase and he as little understood the feelings which had lately awakened within him; but he did feel conscious that a new element had entered into his life, and with it a far less bitter sense of antagonism to the English than he had experienced in previous years.

After the supper was ended the royal family withdrew into an inner room, and presently the four brothers were bidden to enter, as the king had somewhat to say to them. The greater number of the courtiers and attendants remained in the outer room, but Sir Godfrey Challoner, Raoul Latimer, and one or two other gentlemen were present in the smaller apartment. The queen and royal children were also there, and their playfellows and companions, Gertrude holding her father by the hand, and watching with intense interest the approach of the brothers and the faces of the king and his son.

Edward was seated before a table on which certain parchments lay. Alphonso stood beside him, and Wendot fancied that he had only just ended some earnest appeal, his parted lips and flushed cheeks seeming to tell of recent eager speech. The king looked keenly at the brothers as they made their obeisance to him, and singling out Wendot, bid him by a gesture to approach nearer.

There was a kindliness in the royal countenance which encouraged the youth, and few could approach the great soldier king without experiencing something of the fascination which his powerful individuality exercised over all his subjects.

"Come hither, boy," he said; "we have heard nought but good of thee. Thou hast an eloquent advocate in yon maiden of Lord Montacute's, and mine own son and daughters praise thy gallantry in no measured terms. We have made careful examination into these parchments here, containing reports of the late rebellion, and cannot find that thou hast had part or lot in it. Thou hast paid thy homage without dallying or delay; wherefore it is our pleasure to confirm to thee thy possession of thy castle of Dynevor and its territory. We only caution thee to remain loyal to him thou hast owned as king, and we will establish thee in thy rights if in time to come they be disputed by others, or thou stirrest up foes by thy loyalty to us."

Wendot bowed low. If there was something bitter in having his father's rightful inheritance granted to him as something of a boon, at least there was much to sweeten the draught in the kindly and gracious bearing of the king, and in Alphonso's friendly words and looks. He had no father to look to in time of need, and felt a great distrust of the kinsman who exercised some guardianship over him; so that there was considerable relief for the youth in feeling that the great King of England was his friend, and that he would keep him from the aggression of foes.

He stood aside as Edward's glance passed on to Llewelyn and Howel, and it was plain that the monarch's face changed and hardened as he fixed his eye upon the twins.

"Llewelyn — Howel," he said, "joint lords of Iscennen, we wish that we had received the same good report of you that we have done of your brethren. But it is not so. There be dark records in your past which give little hope for the future. Nevertheless you are yet young. Wisdom may come with the advance of years. But the hot blood in you requires taming and curbing. You have proved yourselves unfit for the place hitherto occupied as lords of the broad lands bequeathed you by Res Vychan, your father. For the present those lands are forfeit. You must win the right to call them yours again by loyalty in the cause which every true Welshman should have at heart, because it is the cause which alone can bring peace and safety to your harassed country. It is not willingly that we wrest from any man the lands that are his birthright. Less willingly do we do this when homage, however unwilling and reluctant, has been paid. But we have our duties to ourselves and to our submitted subjects to consider, and it is not meet to send firebrands alight into the world, when a spark may raise so fierce a conflagration, and when hundreds of lives have to pay the penalty of one mad act of headstrong youth. It is your youth that shall be your excuse from the charge of graver offence, but those who are too young to govern themselves are not fit to govern others."

Whilst the king had been speaking he had been closely studying the faces of the twin brothers, who stood before him with their eyes on the ground. These two lads, although by their stature and appearance almost men, had not attained more than their sixteenth year, and had by no means learned that control of feature which is one of nature's hardest lessons. As the king's words made themselves understood, their brows had darkened and their faces had contracted with a fierce anger and rage, which betrayed itself also in their clenched hands and heaving chests; and although they remained speechless — for the awe inspired by Edward's presence could not but make itself felt even by them — it was plain that only the strongest efforts put upon themselves hindered them from some outbreak of great violence.

Edward's eye rested sternly upon them for a moment, and then he addressed himself once again to Wendot.

"To thee, Res Wendot," he said, "we give the charge of these two turbulent brothers of thine. Had not the Prince Alphonso spoken for them, we had kept them under our own care here in our fortress of Rhuddlan. But he has pleaded for them that they have their liberty, therefore into thy charge do we give them. Take them back with thee to Dynevor, and strive to make them like unto thyself and thy shadow there, who is, they tell me, thy youngest brother, and as well disposed as thyself.

"Say, young man, wilt thou accept this charge, and be surety for these haughty youths? If their own next-of-kin will not take this office, we must look elsewhere for a sterner guardian."

For a moment Wendot hesitated, He knew well the untamable spirit of his brothers, and the small influence he was likely to have upon them, and for a moment his heart shrank from the task. But again he bethought what his refusal must mean to them — captivity of a more or less irksome kind, harsh treatment perhaps, resulting in actual imprisonment, and a sure loss of favour with any guardian who had the least love for the English cause. At Dynevor they would at least be free.

Surely, knowing all, they would not make his task too hard. The tie of kindred was very close. Wendot remembered words spoken by the dying bed of his parents, and his mind was quickly made up.

"I will be surety for them," he said briefly. "If they offend again, let my life, my lands, be the forfeit."

The monarch gave him a searching glance. Perhaps some of the effort with which he had spoken made itself audible in his tones. He looked full at Wendot for a brief minute, and then turned to the black-browed twins.

"You hear your brother's pledge," he said in low, stern tones. "If you have the feelings of men of honour, you will respect the motive which prompts him to give it, and add no difficulties to the task he has imposed upon himself. Be loyal to him, and loyal to the cause he has embraced, and perchance a day may come when you may so have redeemed your past youthful follies as to claim and receive at our hands the lands we now withhold. In the meantime they will be administered by Raoul Latimer, who will draw the revenues and maintain order there. He has proved his loyalty in many ways ere this, and he is to be trusted, as one day I hope you twain may be."

Llewelyn started as if he had been stung as these words crossed the king's lips. His black eyes flashed fire, and as he lifted his head and met the mocking glance of Raoul, it seemed for a moment as if actually in the presence of the king he would have flown at his antagonist's throat; but Wendot's hand was on his arm, and even Howel had the self-command to whisper a word of caution. Alphonso sprang gaily between the angry youth and his father's keen glance, and began talking eagerly of Dynevor, asking how the brothers would spend their time, now that they were all to live there once more; whilst Arthyn, coming forward, drew Llewelyn gently backward, casting at Raoul a look of such bitter scorn and hatred that he involuntarily shrank before it.

"Thou hast taken a heavy burden upon thy young shoulders, lad," said a well-remembered voice in Wendot's ear, and looking up, he met the calm gaze of Lord Montacute bent upon him; whilst Gertrude, flushing and sparkling, stood close beside her father. "Thinkest thou that such tempers as those will be easily controlled?"

Wendot's face was grave, and looked manly in its noble thoughtfulness.

"I know not what to say; but, in truth, I could have given no other answer. Could I leave my own brethren to languish in captivity, however honourable, when a word from me would free them? Methinks, sir, thou scarce knowest what freedom is to us wild sons of Wales, or how the very thought of any hindrance to perfect liberty chafes our spirit and frets us past the limit of endurance. Sooner than be fettered by bonds, however slack, I would spring from yonder casement and dash myself to pieces upon the stones below. To give my brothers up into unfriendly hands would be giving them up to certain death. If my spirit could not brook such control, how much less could theirs?"

Gertrude's soft eyes gave eloquent and sympathetic response. Wendot had unconsciously addressed his justification to her rather than to her father. Her quick sympathy gave him heart and hope. She laid her hand upon his arm and said:

"I think thou art very noble, Wendot; it was like thee to do it. I was almost grieved when I heard thee take the charge upon thyself, for I fear it may be one of peril to thee. But I love thee the more for thy generosity. Thou wilt be a true and brave knight ere thou winnest thy spurs in battle."

Wendot's face flushed with shy happiness at hearing such frank and unqualified praise from one he was beginning to hold so dear. Lord Montacute laid his hand smilingly on his daughter's mouth, as if to check her ready speech, and then bidding her join the Lady Joanna, who was making signals to her from the other side of the room, he drew Wendot a little away into an embrasure, and spoke to him in tones of considerable gravity.

"Young man," he said, "I know not if thou hast any memory left of the words I spake to thee when last we met at Dynevor?"

Wendot's colour again rose, but his glance did not waver.

"I remember right well," he answered simply. "I spoke words then of which I have often thought since — words that I have not repented till today, nor indeed till I heard thee pass that pledge which makes thee surety for thy turbulent brothers."

A quick, troubled look crossed Wendot's face, but he did not speak, and Lord Montacute continued — "I greatly fear that thou hast undertaken more than thou canst accomplish; and that, instead of drawing thy brothers from the paths of peril, thou wilt rather be led by them into treacherous waters, which may at last overwhelm thee. You are all young together, and many dangers beset the steps of youth. Thou art true and loyal hearted, that I know well; but thou art a Welshman, and —"

He paused and stopped short, and Wendot answered, not without pride:

"I truly am a Welshman — it is my boast to call myself that. If you fear to give your daughter to one of that despised race, so be it. I would not drag her down to degradation; I love her too well for that. Keep her to thyself. I give thee back thy pledge."

Lord Montacute smiled as he laid his hand upon the young man's shoulder.

"So hot and hasty, Wendot, as hasty as those black-haired twins. Yet, boy, I like thee for thy outspoken candour, and I would not have thee change it for the smooth treachery of courtly intrigue. If I had nought else to think of, I would plight my daughter's hand to thee, an ye both were willing, more gladly than to any man I know. But, Wendot, she is mine only child, and very dear to me. There are others who would fain win her smiles, others who would be proud to do her lightest behest. She is yet but a child. Perchance she has not seriously considered these matters. Still there will come a time when she will do so, and —"

"Then let her choose where she will," cried Wendot, proudly and hotly. "Think you I would wed one whose heart was given elsewhere? Take back your pledge — think of it no more. If the day comes when I may come to her free and unfettered, and see if she has any regard for me, good. I will come. But so long as you hold that peril menaces my path, I will not ask her even to think of me. Let her forget. I will not bind her by a word. It shall be as if those words had never passed betwixt us."

Lord Montacute scarce knew if regret, relief, or admiration were the feeling uppermost in his mind, as the youth he believed so worthy of his fair daughter, and perhaps not entirely indifferent to her dawning charms, thus frankly withdrew his claim upon her hand. It seems strange to us that any one should be talking and thinking so seriously of matrimony when the girl was but fourteen and the youth three years her senior; but in those days marriages were not only planned but consummated at an absurdly early age according to our modern notions, and brides of fifteen and sixteen were considered almost mature. Many young men of Wendot's age would be seriously seeking a wife, and although no such thought had entered his head until he had seen Gertrude again, it cannot be denied that the idea had taken some hold upon him now, or that he did not feel a qualm of pain and sorrow at thus yielding up one bright hope just when the task he had taken upon himself seemed to be clouding his life with anxiety and peril.

"Boy," said Lord Montacute, "I cannot forget what thou hast done nor what she owes to thee. I love thee well, and would fain welcome thee as a son; but my love for her bids me wait till we see what is the result of this office thou hast taken on thyself. Thou hast acted rightly and nobly, but in this world trouble often seems to follow the steps of those who strive most after the right. If thine own life, thine own possessions, are to pay the forfeit if thy brethren fall away into rebellion — and Edward, though a just man and kind, can be stern to exact the uttermost penalty when he is angered or defied — then standest thou in sore peril, peril from which I would shield my maid. Wherefore —"

"Nay, say no more — say no more. I comprehend it all too well," replied Wendot, not without a natural though only momentary feeling of bitterness at the thought of what this pledge was already costing him, but his native generosity and sweetness of temper soon triumphed over all besides, and he said with his peculiarly bright and steadfast smile, "You have judged rightly and well for us both, my lord. Did I but drag her down to sorrow and shame, it would be the bitterest drop in a bitter cup. A man placed as I am is better without ties."

"Also the days will soon pass by, and the time will come when this charge ceases. Then if the Lady Gertrude be still mistress of her hand and heart, and if the Lord of Dynevor comes to try his fate, methinks, by what I have seen and heard, that he may chance to get no unkindly answer to his wooing."

Wendot made no reply, but only blushed deeply as he moved away. He scarce knew whether he were glad or sorry that Gertrude came out to meet him, and drew him towards the little group which had gathered in a deep embrasure of the window. Joanna, Alphonso, and Griffeth were there. They had been eagerly questioning the younger lad about life at Dynevor, and what they would do when they were at home all together. Joanna was longing to travel that way and lodge a night there; and Gertrude was eloquent in praise of the castle, and looked almost wistfully at Wendot to induce him to add his voice to the general testimony. But he was unwontedly grave and silent, and her soft eyes filled with tears. She knew that he was heavy hearted, and it cut her to the quick; but he did not speak of his trouble, and only Alphonso ventured to allude to it, and that was by one quick sentence as he was taking his departure at bedtime.

"Wendot," he said earnestly, "I will ever be thy friend. Fear not. My father denies me nothing. Thy trial may be a hard one, but thou wilt come nobly forth from it. I will see that harm to thee comes not from thy generosity. Only be true to us, and thou shalt not suffer."

Wendot made no reply, but the words were like a gleam of sunshine breaking through the clouds; and one more such gleam was in store for him on the morrow, when he bid a final adieu to Gertrude before the general departure for Dynevor.

"I have my half gold coin, Wendot. I shall look at it every day and think of thee. I am so happy that we have seen each other once again. Thou wilt not forget me, Wendot?"

"Never so long as I live," he answered with sudden fervour, raising the small hand he held to his lips. "And some day, perchance, Lady Gertrude, I will come to thee again."

"I shall be waiting for thee," she answered, with a mixture of arch sweetness and playfulness that he scarce knew whether to call childlike confidence or maiden trust. But the look in her eyes went to his heart, and was treasured there, like the memory of a sunbeam, for many long days to come.



CHAPTER VIII. TURBULENT SPIRITS.

The four sons of Res Vychan went back to Dynevor together, there to settle down, outwardly at least, to a quiet and uneventful life, chiefly diversified by hunting and fishing, and such adventures as are inseparable from those pastimes in which eager lads are engrossed.

Wendot both looked and felt older for his experiences in the castle of Rhuddlan. His face had lost much of its boyishness, and had taken a thoughtfulness beyond his years. Sometimes he appeared considerably oppressed by the weight of the responsibility with which he had charged himself, and would watch the movements and listen to the talk of the twins with but slightly concealed uneasiness.

Yet as days merged into weeks, and weeks lengthened into months, and still there had been nothing to alarm him unduly, he began, as the inclement winter drew on, to breathe more freely; for in the winter months all hostilities of necessity ceased, for the mountain passes were always blocked with snow, and both travelling and fighting were practically out of the question for a considerable time.

Wendot, too, had matters enough to occupy his mind quite apart from the charge of his two haughty brothers. He had his own estates to administer — no light task for a youth not yet eighteen — and his large household to order; and though Griffeth gave him every help, Llewelyn and Howel stood sullenly aloof, and would not appear to take the least interest in anything that appertained to Dynevor, although they gave no reason for their conduct, and were not in other ways unfriendly to their brothers.

The country was for the time being quiet and at peace. Exhausted by its own internal struggles and by the late disastrous campaign against the English, the land was, as it were, resting and recruiting itself, in preparation, perhaps, for another outbreak later on. In the meantime, sanguine spirits like those of Wendot and Griffeth began to cherish hopes that the long and weary struggle was over at last, and that the nation, as a nation, would begin to realize the wisdom and the advantage of making a friend and ally of the powerful monarch of England, instead of provoking him to acts of tyranny and retaliation by perpetual and fruitless rebellions against a will far too strong to be successfully resisted.

But Llewelyn and Howel never spoke of the English without words and looks indicative of the deepest hatred; and the smouldering fire in their breasts was kept glowing and burning by the wild words and the wilder songs of the old bard Wenwynwyn, who spent the best part of his time shut up in his own bare room, with his harp for his companion, in which room Llewelyn and Howel spent much of their time during the dark winter days, when they could be less and less out of doors.

Since that adventure of the Eagle's Crag, Wendot had distrusted the old minstrel, and was uneasy at the influence he exercised upon the twins; but the idea of sending him from Dynevor was one which never for a moment entered his head. Had not Wenwynwyn grown old in his father's service? Had he not been born and bred at Dynevor? The young lord himself seemed to have a scarce more assured right to his place there than the ancient bard. Be he friend or be he foe, at Dynevor he must remain so long as the breath remained in his body.

The bard was, by hereditary instinct, attached to all the boys, but of late there had been but little community of thought between him and his young chieftain. Wendot well knew the reason. The old man hated the English with the bitter, unreasoning, deadly hatred of his wild, untutored nature. Had he not sprung from a race whose lives had been spent in rousing in the breasts of all who heard them the most fervent and unbounded patriotic enthusiasm? And was it to be marvelled at that he could not see or understand the changes of the times or the hopelessness of the long struggle, now that half the Welsh nobles were growing cool in the national cause, and the civilization and wealth of the sister country were beginning to show them that their own condition left much to be desired, and that there was something better and higher to be achieved than a so-called liberty, only maintained at the cost of perpetual bloodshed? or a series of petty feuds for supremacy, which went far to keep the land in a state of semi-barbarism?

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