So the old bard sang his wild songs, and Llewelyn and Howel sat by the glowing fire of logs that blazed in the long winter evenings upon his hearth, listening to his fierce words, and hardening their hearts and bracing their wills against any kind of submission to a foreign yoke. A burning hatred against the English king also consumed them. Had they not, at the cost of most bitter humiliation, gone to him as vassals, trusting to his promise that all who did homage for their lands should be confirmed in peaceful possession of the same? And how had he treated this act of painful submission? Was it greatly to be wondered at that their hearts burned with an unquenchable hatred? To them Edward stood as the type of all that was cruel and treacherous and grasping. They brooded over their wrongs by day and by night; they carried their dark looks with them when they stirred abroad or when they rested at home. Wenwynwyn sympathized as none besides seemed to do, and he became their great solace and chief counsellor.
Wendot might uneasily wonder what passed in that quiet room of the old man's, but he never knew or guessed. He would better have liked to hear Llewelyn burst forth into the old passionate invective. He was uneasy at this chronic state of gloom and sullen silence on the vexed question of English supremacy. But seldom a word passed the lips of either twin. They kept their secret — if secret they had — locked away in their own breasts. And days and weeks and months passed by, and Wendot and Griffeth seemed almost as much alone at Dynevor as they had been after their father's death, when Llewelyn and Howel had betaken themselves to their castle of Carregcennen.
But at least, if silent and sullen, they did not appear to entertain any plan likely to raise anxiety in Wendot's mind as to the pledge he had given to the king. They kept at home, and never spoke of Iscennen, and as the winter passed away and the spring began to awaken the world from her long white sleep, they betook themselves with zest to their pastime of hunting, and went long expeditions that sometimes lasted many days, returning laden with spoil, and apparently in better spirits from the bracing nature of their pursuits.
Griffeth, who had felt the cold somewhat keenly, and had been drooping and languid all the winter, picked up strength and spirit as the days grew longer and warmer, and began to enjoy open-air life once more.
Wendot was much wrapped up in this young brother of his, who had always been dearer to him than any being in the world besides.
Since he had been at death's door with the fever, Griffeth had never recovered the robustness of health which had hitherto been the characteristic of the Dynevor brothers all their lives. He was active and energetic when the fit was on him, but he wearied soon of any active sport. He could no longer bound up the mountain paths with the fleetness and elasticity of a mountain deer, and in the keen air of the higher peaks it was difficult for him to breathe.
Still in the summer days he was almost his former self again, or so Wendot hoped; and although Griffeth's lack of rude health hindered both from joining the long expeditions planned and carried out by the twins, it never occurred to Wendot to suspect that there was an ulterior motive for these, or to realize how unwelcome his presence would have been had he volunteered it, in lieu of staying behind with Griffeth, and contenting himself with less adventurous sports.
Spring turned to summer, and summer to autumn, and life at Dynevor seemed to move quietly enough. Griffeth took a fancy to book learning — a rare enough accomplishment in those days — and a monk from the Abbey of Strata Florida was procured to give him instruction in the obscure science of reading and writing. Wendot, who had a natural love of study, and who had been taught something of these mysteries by his mother — she being for the age she lived in a very cultivated woman — shared his brother's studies, and delighted in the acquirement of learning.
But this new development on the part of the Lord of Dynevor and his brother seemed to divide them still more from the two remaining sons of Res Vychan; and the old bard would solemnly shake his head and predict certain ruin to the house when its master laid aside sword for pen, and looked for counsel to the monk and missal instead of to his good right hand and his faithful band of armed retainers.
Wendot and Griffeth would smile at these dark sayings, and loved their studies none the less because they opened out before them some better understanding of the blessings of peace and culture upon a world harried and exhausted with perpetual, aimless strife; but their more enlightened opinions seemed but to widen the breach between them and their brothers, and soon they began to be almost strangers to each other.
Wendot and Griffeth regretted this without seeing how to mend matters. They felt sorry for Llewelyn and Howel, deprived of the employments and authority they had enjoyed of late, and would have gladly given them a share of authority in Dynevor; but this they would not accept, drawing more and more away into themselves, and sharing their confidences with no one except Wenwynwyn.
The summer was now on the wane, and the blustering winds of the equinox had begun to moan about the castle walls. The men were busy getting in the last of the fruits of the earth and storing them up against the winter need, whilst the huntsmen brought in day by day stores of venison and game, which the women salted down for consumption during the long dreary days when snow should shut them within their own walls, and no fresh meat would be obtainable.
It was a busy season, and Wendot had time and mind alike full. He heeded little the movements of his brothers, whom he thought engrossed in the pleasures of the chase. He was not even aware that old Wenwynwyn was absent for several days from the castle, for since the estrangement between him and the old man he was often days at a time without encountering him.
Llewelyn and Howel were visibly restless just now. They did not go far from the castle, nor did they seem interested in the spoil the hunters brought home. But they spent many long hours in the great gallery where the arms of the retainers were laid up, and their heads were often to be seen close together in deep discussion, although if any person came near to disturb them they would spring asunder, or begin loudly discussing some indifferent theme.
They were in this vast, gloomy place, sitting together in the deep embrasure of one of the narrow windows as the daylight began to fail, when suddenly they beheld Wenwynwyn stalking through the long gallery as if in search of them, and they sprang forward to greet him with unconcealed eagerness.
"Thou hast returned."
"Ay, my sons, I have returned, and am the bearer of good news. But this is not the place to speak. Stones have ears, and traitors abound even in these hoary walls which have echoed to the songs of the bard for more years than man can count. Ah, woe the day; ah, woe the falling off! That I should live to see the sons of Dynevor thus fall away — the young eaglets leaving their high estate to grovel with the carrion vulture and the coward crow! Ah! in old days it was not so. But there are yet those of the degenerate race in whom the spirit of their fathers burns. Come, my sons — come hither with me. I bring you a message from Iscennen that will gladden your hearts to hear."
The boys pressed after him up the narrow, winding stair that led to the room the bard called his own. It was remote from the rest of the castle, and words spoken within its walls could be heard by none outside. It was a place that had heard much plotting and planning ere now, and what was to be spoken tonight was but the sequel of what had gone before.
"Speak, Wenwynwyn, speak!" cried the twins in a breath. "Has he returned thither?"
"Ay, my sons; he has come back in person to receive his 'dues,' and to look into all that has passed in his absence. These eyes have seen the false, smiling face of the usurper, who sits in the halls which have rung to the sound of yon harp in days when the accursed foot of the stranger would have been driven with blows from the door. He is there, and —"
"And they hate and despise and contemn him," cried Llewelyn in wild excitement. "Every man of Iscennen is his foe. Do not I know it? Have we not proved it? There is no one but will rise at the sound of my trumpet, to follow me to victory or death.
"Wenwynwyn, speak! thou hast bid us wait till the hour has come till all things be ripe for action. Tell us, has not that hour come? Hast thou not come to bid us draw the sword, and wrest our rightful inheritance from the hand of the spoiler and alien?"
"Ay, verily, that hour has come," cried the old bard, with a wild gesture. "The spoiler is there, lurking in his den. His eyes are roving round in hungry greed to spoil the poor man of his goods, to wrest the weapon from the strong. He is fearful in the midst of his state — fearful of those he calls his vassals — those he would crush with his iron glove, and wring dry even as a sponge is wrung. Ay, the hour is come. The loyal patriots have looked upon your faces, my sons, and see in you their liberators. Go now, when the traitor whose life you saved is gloating over his spoil in his castle walls. Go and show him what it is to rob the young lions of their prey; show him what it is to strive with eagles, when only the blood of the painted jay runs in his craven veins. Saw I not fear, distrust, and hatred in every line of that smooth face? Think you that he is happy in the possession of what he sold his soul to gain? Go, and the victory will be yours. Go; all Iscennen will be with you. Wenwynwyn has not sung his songs in vain amongst those hardy people! He has prepared the way. Go! victory lies before you."
The boys' hearts swelled within them at these words. It was not for nothing that they, with their own faithful followers, sworn to secrecy, had absented themselves again and again from Dynevor Castle on the pretence of long hunting expeditions. It was true that they had hunted game, that they had brought home abundance of spoil with them; but little had Llewelyn or Howel to do with the taking of that prey. They had been at Iscennen; they had travelled the familiar tracks once again, and had found nothing but the most enthusiastic welcome from their own people, the greatest hatred for the foreign lordling, who had been foisted upon them by edict of the king.
Truly Raoul Latimer had won but a barren triumph in gaining for himself the lands of Iscennen. A very short residence there had proved enough for him, and he had withdrawn, in fear that if he did not do so some fatal mischance would befall him. He had reigned there as an absentee ever since, not less cursed and hated for the oppressive measures taken in his name than when he had been the active agent.
Matters were ripe for revolt. There only wanted the time and the occasion. The leader was already to hand — the old lord, young in years, Llewelyn ap Res Vychan, and Howel his brother. With the twins at their head, Iscennen would rise to a man; and then let Raoul Latimer look to himself! For the Welsh, when once aroused to strike, struck hard; and it cannot be denied that they ofttimes struck treacherously beside.
Small wonder if, as Wenwynwyn declared, young Raoul had found but small satisfaction in his visit to his new estate, and lived upon it in terror of his very life, though surrounded by the solid walls of his own castle.
The hour had come. Llewelyn and Howel were about to taste the keen joy of revenging themselves upon a foe they hated and abhorred, about to take at least one step towards reinstating themselves in their ancestral halls. But the second object was really less dear to them than the first. If the hated Raoul could be slain, or made to fly in ignominy and disgrace, they cared little who reigned in his place. Their own tenure at Carregcennen under existing circumstances they knew to be most insecure, and although they had organized and were to lead the attack, they were to do so disguised, and those who knew the share they were to take were pledged not to betray it.
Loose as had grown the bond between the brothers of late, the twins were not devoid of a certain rude code of honour of their own, and had no wish to involve Wendot in ruin and disgrace. He was surety for their good behaviour, and if it became known to Edward that they had led the attack on one of his English subjects, Dynevor itself might pay the forfeit of his displeasure, and Wendot might have to answer with his life, as he had offered to do, for his brothers. Thus, though this consideration was not strong enough to keep the twins from indulging their ungovernable hatred to their foe, it made them cautious about openly appearing in the matter themselves; and when, upon a wild, blustering night not many days later, a little band of hardy Welshmen, all armed to the teeth, crept with the silent caution of wild beasts along a rocky pathway which led by a subterranean way, known only to Llewelyn and Howel, into the keep of the castle itself; none would have recognized in the blackened faces of the two leaders, covered, as they appeared to be, with a tangled growth of hair and beard, the countenances of the sons of Res Vychan; whilst the stalwart, muscular figures seemed rather to belong to men than lads, and assisted the disguise not a little.
The hot-headed but by no means intrepid young Englishman, who had not had the courage to remain long in the possessions he had coveted, and who was fervently wishing that this second visit was safely over, was aroused from his slumbers by the clash of arms, and by the terrified cries of the guard he always placed about him.
"The Welsh wolves are upon us!" he heard a voice cry out in the darkness. "We are undone — betrayed! Every man for himself! They are murdering every soul they meet."
In a passion of rage and terror Raoul sprang from his bed, and commenced hurrying into his clothes as fast as his trembling hands would allow him. In vain he called to his servants; they had every man of them fled. Below he heard the clash of arms, and the terrible guttural cries with which the Welsh always rushed into battle, and which echoed through the halls of Carregcennen like the trump of doom.
It was a terrible moment for the young Englishman, alone, half-armed, and at the mercy of a merciless foe. He looked wildly round for some means of escape. The tread of many feet was on the stairs. To attempt resistance was hopeless. Flight was the only resource left him, and in a mad impulse of terror he flung himself on the floor, and crept beneath the bed, the arras of which concealed him from sight. There he lay panting and trembling, whilst the door was burst open and armed men came flocking in.
"Ha, flown already!" cried a voice which did not seem entirely unfamiliar to the shivering youth, though he could not have said exactly to whom it belonged, and was in no mood to cudgel his brains on the subject.
He understood too little of the Welsh tongue to follow what was said, but with unspeakable relief he heard steps pass from the room; for even his foes did not credit him with the cowardice which would drive a man to perish like a rat in a hole rather than sword in hand like a knight and a soldier.
The men had dashed out, hot in pursuit, believing him to be attempting escape through some of the many outlets of the castle; and Raoul, still shivering and craven, was just creeping out from his hiding place, resolved to try to find his way to the outer world, when he uttered a gasp and stood or rather crouched spellbound where he was; for, standing beside a table on which the dim light of a night candle burned, binding up a gash in his arm with a scarf belonging to the Englishman, was a tall, stalwart, soldierly figure, that turned quickly at the sound made by the wretched Raoul.
"Spare me, spare me!" cried the miserable youth, as the man with a quick movement grasped his weapon and advanced towards him.
He did not know if his English would be understood, but it appeared to be, for the reply was spoken in the same tongue, though the words had strong Welsh accent.
"And wherefore should I spare you? What have you done that we of Iscennen should look upon you as other than a bitter foe? By what right are you here wringing our life blood from us? Why should I not stamp the miserable life out of you as you lie grovelling at my feet? Wales were well quit of such craven hounds as you."
"Spare me, and I renounce my claim. I swear by all that is holy that if you will but grant me my life I will repair to the king's court without delay, and I will yield up to him every claim which I have on these lands. I swear it by all that is holy in heaven and earth."
"And what good shall we reap from that? We shall but have another English tyrant set over us. Better kill thee outright, as a warning to all who may come after."
But Raoul clasped the knees of his foe, and lifted his voice again in passionate appeal.
"Kill me not; what good would that do you or your cause? I tell you it would but raise Edward's ire, and he would come with fire and sword to devastate these lands as I have never done. Listen, and I will tell you what I will do. Spare but my life, and I will entreat the king to restore these lands to your feudal lords, Llewelyn and Howel ap Res Vychan. It was by my doing that they were wrested from them. I confess it freely now. Grant me but my life, and I will undo the work I have done. I will restore to you your youthful chiefs. Again I swear it; and I have the ear of his Grace. If thou hast thy country's cause at heart thou wilt hear me in this thing. I will give you back the lords you all love. I will trouble you no more myself. I would I had never seen this evil place. It has been nought but a curse to me from the day it was bestowed."
The man uttered a harsh laugh, and stood as if considering. Raoul, whose eyes never left the shining blade his foe held suspended in his hand, pleaded yet more and more eloquently, and, as it seemed, with some effect, for the soldier presently sheathed his weapon, and bid the wretched youth rise and follow him. Raoul obeying, soon found himself in the presence of a wild crew of Welsh kerns, who were holding high revelry in the banqueting hall, whilst his own English servants — those, at least, who had not effected their escape — lay dead upon the ground, the presence of bleeding corpses at their very feet doing nothing to check the savage mirth and revelry of the victors, who had been joined by the whole of the Welsh garrison, only too glad of an excuse for rising against the usurper.
A silence fell upon the company as the dark-bearded soldier marched his captive into the hall, the yell of triumph being hushed by commanding gesture from the captor. A long and unintelligible debate followed, Raoul only gathering from the faces of those present what were their feelings towards him. He stood cowering and quaking before that fierce assembly — a pitiful object for all eyes. But at length his captor briefly informed him that his terms were accepted: that if he would write his request to the king and obtain its fulfilment, he should go free with a whole skin; but that, pending the negotiation, which could be carried on by the fathers of the Abbey of Strata Florida, he would remain a close prisoner, and his ransom would be the king's consent.
These were the best terms the unhappy Raoul could obtain for himself, and he was forced to abide by them. The fathers of the abbey were honest and trustworthy, and carried his letters to the king as soon as they had penned them for him. Raoul was clever in diplomatic matters, and was so anxious for his own safety that he took good care not to drop a hint as to the evil conduct of the people of Iscennen, which might draw upon them the royal wrath and upon him instant death. He simply represented that he was weary of his charge of this barren estate, that he preferred life in England and at the court, and found the revenues very barren and unprofitable. As the former owners had redeemed their character by quiet conduct during the past year and a half, his gracious Majesty, he hinted, might be willing to gratify them and their people by reinstating them.
And when Edward read this report, and heard the opinion of the father who had brought it — a wily and a patriotic Welshman, who knew how to plead his cause well — he made no trouble about restoring to Llewelyn and Howel their lands, only desiring that Wendot should renew his pledge for their loyalty and good conduct, and still hold himself responsible for his brothers to the king.
And so Llewelyn and Howel went back to Carregcennen, and Wendot and Griffeth remained at Dynevor, hoping with a fond hope that this act of clemency and justice on the part of Edward would overcome in the mind of the twins the deeply-seated hatred they had cherished so long.
CHAPTER IX. THE RED FLAME OF WAR.
"Wendot, Wendot, it is our country's call! Thou canst not hang back. United we stand; divided we fall. Will the Prince of Dynevor be the man to bring ruin upon a noble cause, by banding with the alien oppressor against his own brethren? I will not believe it of thee. Wendot, speak — say that thou wilt go with us!"
Wendot was standing in his own hall at Dynevor. In the background was a crowd of retainers and soldiers, so eagerly discussing some matter of vital interest that the brothers stepped outside upon the battlemented terrace to be out of hearing of the noise of their eager voices.
There was a deep gravity on Wendot's face, which was no longer the face of a boy, but of a youth of two-and-twenty summers, and one upon whom the cares and responsibilities of life had sat somewhat heavily. The tall, well-knit frame had taken upon it the stature and developed grace of manhood; the sun-browned face was lined with traces of thought and care, though the blue eyes sparkled with their old bright and ready smile, and the stern lines of the lips were shaded and hidden by the drooping moustache of golden brown. There were majesty, power, and intellect stamped upon the face of the young Lord of Dynevor, and it was very plain to all who observed his relations with those about him that he was master of his own possession, and that though he was greatly beloved by all who came in contact with him, he was respected and obeyed, and in some things feared.
By his side stood Griffeth, almost as much his shadow as of yore. To a casual observer the likeness between the brothers was very remarkable, but a closer survey showed many points of dissimilarity. Griffeth's figure was slight to spareness, and save in moments of excitement there was something of languor in his movements. The colour in his cheeks was not the healthy brown of exposure to sun and wind, but the fleeting hectic flush of long-standing insidious disease, and his eyes had a far-away look — dreamy and absorbed; whilst those of his brother expressed rather watchful observation of what went on around him, and resolution to mould those about him to his will.
Facing this fair-haired pair were the twin Lords of Iscennen, considerably changed from the sullen-looking lads of old days, but still with many of their characteristics unchanged. They were taller and more stoutly built than Wendot and Griffeth, and their dark skins and coal-black hair gave something of ferocity and wildness to their appearance, which look was borne out by the style of dress adopted, whilst the young Lords of Dynevor affected something of the refinement and richness of apparel introduced by the English.
For the past years a friendly intercourse had been kept up between Dynevor and Carregcennen. The country had been at peace — such peace as internal dissensions would allow it — and no one had disturbed the sons of Res Vychan in the possession of their ancestral rights. The tie between the brothers had therefore been more closely drawn, and Wendot's responsibility for the submissive behaviour of the turbulent twins had made him keep a constant eye upon them, and had withheld them on their side from attempting to foment the small and fruitless struggles against English authority which were from time to time arising between the border-land chief and the Lords of the Marches.
But now something very different was in the wind. After almost five years of peace with England, revolt had broken out in North Wales. David, the brother of Llewelyn, had commenced it, and the prince had followed the example thus set him. He had broken out into open rebellion, and had summoned the whole nation to stand by him in one united and gallant effort to free the country from the foreign foe, and unite it once again as an undivided province beneath the rule of one sovereign.
The call was enthusiastically responded to. North Wales rose as one man, and flocked to the banners of the prince and his brother. South Wales was feeling the contagion of coming strife, and the pulse of the nation beat wildly at the thought that they might win liberty by the overthrow of the foe. One after another the petty chiefs, who had sworn fealty to Edward, renounced their allegiance, and mustered their forces to join those of Llewelyn and David. The whole country was in a wild ferment of patriotic excitement. The hour seemed to them to have arrived when all could once again band together in triumphant vindication of their national rights.
Llewelyn and Howel ap Res Vychan were amongst the first to tender their allegiance to the cause, and, having sent on a compact band of armed men to announce their coming in person, had themselves hurried to Dynevor to persuade their brothers there to join the national cause.
And they found Wendot less indisposed than they had feared. The five years which had passed over his head since he had fallen under the spell of the English king's regal sway had a good deal weakened the impression then made upon him. Edward had not visited the country in person since that day, and the conduct of the English Lords of the Marches, and of those who held lands in the subjected country, was not such as to endear their cause to the hearts of the sons of Wales. Heart-burnings and jealousies were frequent, and Wendot had often had his spirit stirred within him at some tale of outrage and wrong. The upright justice of the king was not observed by his subjects, and the hatred to any kind of foreign yoke was inherently strong in these sons of the mountains. In the studies the Dynevor brothers had prosecuted together they had imbibed many noble thoughts and many lofty aspirations, and these, mingling with the patriotic instinct so strongly bound up in the hearts of Cambria's sons, had taught them a distrust of princes and an intense love for freedom's cause, as well as a strong conviction that right must ever triumph over might.
So when the news arrived that the north was in open revolt, it struck a chord in the hearts of both brothers; and when the dark-browed twins came with the news that they had openly joined the standard of Llewelyn, they did not encounter the opposition they had expected, and it was with an eager hopefulness that they urged upon the Lord of Dynevor to lend the strength of his arm to the national cause.
"Wendot, bethink thee. When was not Dynevor in the van when her country called on her? If thou wilt go with us, we shall carry all the south with us; but hang thou back, and the cause may be lost. Brother, why dost thou hesitate? why dost thou falter? It is the voice of thy country calling thee. Wilt thou not heed that call? O Wendot, thou knowest that when our parents lived — when they bid us not look upon the foe with too great bitterness — it was only because a divided Wales could not stand, and that submission to England was better than the rending of the kingdom by internal strife. But if she would have stood united against the foreign foe, thinkest thou they would ever have held back? Nay; Res Vychan, our father, would have been foremost in the strife. Are we not near in blood to Llewelyn of Wales, prince of the north? Doth not the tie of blood as well as the call of loyalty urge us to his side? Why dost thou ponder still? Why dost thou hesitate? Throw to the wind all idle scruples, and come. Think what a glorious future may lie before our country if we will but stand together now!"
Wendot's cheek flushed, his eye kindled. He did indeed believe that were his father living he would be one of the first to hasten to his kinsman's side. If indeed the united country could be strong enough to throw off the yoke, what a victory it would be! Was not every son of Wales bound to his country's cause at such a time?
There was but one thing that made him hesitate. Was his word of honour in any wise pledged to Edward? He had paid him homage for his lands: did that act bind him to obedience at all costs?
But such refinements of honour were in advance of the thought of the time, incomprehensible to the wilder spirits by whom he was surrounded. Llewelyn answered the brief objection by a flood of rude eloquence, and Howel struck in with another argument not without its weight.
"Wendot, whatever course thou takest thou art damned in Edward's eyes. Thou hast held thyself surety for us, and nought but death will hold us back from the cry of our country in her need. Envious eyes are cast already by the rapacious English upon these fair lands of thine, which these years of peace have given thee opportunity to enrich and beautify. Let the king once hear that we have rebelled, and his nobles will claim thy lands, thy life, thy liberty, and thou must either yield all in ignominious flight or take up arms to defend thyself and thine own. I trow that no son of Res Vychan will stand calmly by to see himself thus despoiled; and if thou must fight, fight now, forestall the foe, and come out sword in hand at thy country's call, and let us fight shoulder to shoulder and hand to hand, as our forefathers have done before us. Thou knowest somewhat of English rule, now that thou hast lived beneath it these past years. Say, wilt thou still keep thy neck beneath the yoke, or wilt thou do battle like a warrior for liberty and independence? By our act thou art lost — yet not even that thought can hold us back — then why not stand or fall as a soldier, sword in hand, than be trapped like a rat in a hole in inglorious inaction? For methinks whatever else betided thou wouldst not raise thy hand against thy countrymen, even if thy feudal lord should demand it of thee."
"Never!" cried Wendot fiercely, and his quick mind revolved the situation thus thrust upon him whilst Howel was yet speaking.
He saw at once that a course of neutrality would be impossible to him. Fight he must, either as Edward's vassal or his foe. The first was impossible; the second was fraught with a keen joy and secret sense of exultation. It was true what Howel said: he would be held responsible for his brothers' revolt. The English harpies would make every endeavour to poison the king's mind, so that they might wrest from him his inheritance. He would be required to take up arms against his brothers, and his refusal to do so would be his death warrant. Disgrace and ruin lay before him should he abide by such a course. The other promised at least glory and renown, and perhaps a soldier's death, or, better still, the independence of his country — the final throwing off of the tyrant's yoke.
His heart swelled within him; his eyes shone with a strange fire. Only one thought checked the immediate utterance of his decision, and that was the vision of a pair of dark soft eyes, and a child's face in which something of dawning womanhood was visible, smiling upon him in complete and loving trust.
Yes, Wendot had not forgotten Gertrude; but time had done its work, and the image of the fair face was somewhat dim and hazy. He yet wore about his neck the half of the gold coin she had given him; but if he sometimes sighed as he looked upon it, it was a sigh without much real bitterness or regret. He had a tender spot in his memory for the little maid he had saved at the risk of his own life, but it amounted to little more than a pleasant memory. He had no doubt that she had long ago been wedded to some English noble, whose estates outshone those of Dynevor in her father's eyes.
During the first years after his return home he had wondered somewhat whether the earl and his daughter would find their way again to the rich valley of the Towy; but the years passed by and they came not, and the brief dream of Wendot's dawning youth soon ceased to have any real hold upon him. If her father had had any thoughts of mating her with the Lord of Dynevor, he would have taken steps for bringing the young people together.
The last doubt fled as Wendot thought this over; and whilst his brothers yet spoke, pointing to the rich stretch of country that lay before their eyes in all the glory of its autumn dress, and asking if that were not an inheritance worthy to be fought for, Wendot suddenly held out his hand, and said in clear, ringing tones:
"Brothers, I go with you. I too will give my life and my all for the liberty of our land. The Lord of Dynevor shall not be slack to respond to his country's call. Methinks indeed the hour has come. I will follow our kinsman whithersoever he shall bid."
Llewelyn and Howel grasped the outstretched hand, and from within the castle walls there burst forth the strains of wild melody from the harp of old Wenwynwyn. It seemed almost as though he must have heard the words that bound Wendot to the national cause, so exultant and triumphant were the strains which awoke beneath his hands.
It was but a few days later that the four brothers rode forth from beneath the arched gateway of Dynevor, all armed to the teeth, and with a goodly following of armed attendants. Wendot and Griffeth paused at a short distance from the castle to look back, whilst a rush of strange and unwonted emotion brought the tears to Griffeth's eyes which he trusted none saw beside.
There stood the grand old castle, his home from childhood — the place around which all the associations of a lifetime gathered. It was to him the ideal of all that was beautiful and strong and even holy — the massive walls of the fortress rising grandly from the rocky platform, with the dark background of trees now burning with the rich hues of autumn. The fair valley stretched before their eyes, every winding of which was familiar to them, as was also every individual tree or crag or stretch of moorland fell as far as eye could see. The very heart strings of Wendot and Griffeth seemed bound round these homelike and familiar things; and there was something strangely wistful in the glances thrown around him by the young Lord of Dynevor as he reined in his horse, and motioning to the armed followers to pass him, stood with Griffeth for a few brief moments alone and silent, whilst the cavalcade was lost to sight in the windings of the road.
"Is it a last farewell?" murmured the younger of the brothers beneath his breath. "Shall I ever see this fair scene again?"
And Wendot answered not, for he had no words in which to do so. He had been fully occupied all these last days — too much occupied to have had time for regretful thought; but Griffeth had been visiting every haunt of his boyhood with strange feelings of impending trouble, and his cheek was pale with the stress of his emotion, and his voice was husky with the intensity of the strain he was putting upon himself.
"Griffeth, Griffeth!" cried Wendot suddenly, "have I done wrong in this thing? I asked not thy gentle counsel, yet thou didst not bid me hold back. But tell me, have I been wrong? Could I have done other than I have?"
"I think not that thou couldst. This seems like a call from our country, to which no son of hers may be deaf. And it is true that our brothers have undone thee, and that even wert thou not willing to take up arms against them and thy countrymen, the rupture with Edward is inevitable. No, I am with thee in what thou hast done. The Lord of Dynevor must show himself strong in defence of his country's rights.
"Yet my heart is heavy as I look around me. For we are going forth to danger and death, and who knows what may betide ere we see these fair lands again, or whether we may ever return to see them more?"
Wendot would fain have replied with cheerful assurance, but a strange rush of emotion came over him as he gazed at his childhood's home, together with a sudden strong presentiment that there was something prophetic in his brother's words. He gazed upon the gray battlements and the brawling river with a passionate ardour in his glance, and then turning quickly upon Griffeth, he said:
"Brother, why shouldst thou leave it? thou art more fit for the safe shelter of home than for the strife of a winter war. Why shouldst thou come forth with us? Let us leave thee here in safety —"
It was but one word, but the volume of reproach compressed into it brought Wendot to a sudden stop. They looked into each other's eyes a moment, and then Griffeth said, with his sweet, meaning smile:
"We have never been separated yet, my Wendot; in sorrow and joy we have ever been together. It is too late to change all that now. I will be by thy side to the end. Be it for life or for death we will ride forth together."
And so with one hard hand clasp that spoke volumes, and with one more long, lingering look at the familiar towers of the old home, Wendot and Griffeth, the Lords of Dynevor, rode forth to meet their fate at the hands of the mighty English king.
Of that sudden, fierce, and partially successful revolt the history books of the age give account. Llewelyn and his brother David, joined by the whole strength of the North, and by much able assistance from the South, drove back the English across the border; and when Edward, hurrying to the spot, marched against them, his army was utterly routed near the Menai Straits, and the triumphant Welsh believed for a few brief months that they were victors indeed, and that the power of the foe was hopelessly broken.
Llewelyn with his army retired to the fastnesses of Snowdon, where the English durst not pursue them, and these less hardy soldiers suffered so terribly in the winter cold that the mortality in their ranks caused the triumphant mountaineers to prophesy that their work would be done for them without any more exertion on their part.
But the lion-hearted King of England was not of the stuff that easily submits to defeat. He knew well that Wales was in his power, and that he had but to exercise patience and resolution, and the final victory would be his.
Permitting no relaxation of his efforts in the North, even when the winter's bitter cold was causing untold sufferings amongst his soldiers, he commenced a muster of troops in the South, from which country most of the disaffected nobles had drawn away to join the insurgents under the Prince of Wales, as Llewelyn was called. It was a shock of no small magnitude to that prince to hear that his foe was thus employing himself; and leaving the fastnesses of Snowdon with a picked band of his hardiest men, amongst whom he numbered Llewelyn and Howel, he marched southward himself, hoping to overthrow this new force before it had gathered power sufficient to be dangerous.
Wendot would gladly have been of the number, for inaction, and the rude barbarism he saw around him, were inexpressibly galling to him; and the more he saw of the savage spirits by whom he was surrounded the less he was able to hope for any permanent advantage as the result of this rising. The jealousies of the respective chiefs were hardly held in check even in the face of a common peril. It was impossible not to foresee that the termination of a war with England would only be the signal for an outbreak of innumerable petty animosities and hostile feuds.
So Wendot would have been thankful to escape from this irksome inactivity, and to join the band going south; but the condition of Griffeth withheld him, for the youth was very ill, and he often felt that this winter of hardship up in the mountain air was killing him by inches, although he never complained.
It was out of the question for Griffeth to march or to fight. He lay most of the day beside a little fire of peat, in a cabin that Wendot and his men had constructed with their own hands, beneath the shelter of a rock which broke the force of the north wind, and formed some protection against the deep snow. Griffeth had borne his share gallantly in the earlier part of the campaign, but a slight wound had laid him aside; and since the intense cold had come, he had only grown more white and wasted and feeble day by day. Now that the sun was gaining a little more power, and that the melting of the snow bespoke that spring was at hand, Wendot began to hope the worst was over; but to leave his brother in such a state was out of the question, and he saw Llewelyn and Howel depart without attempting to join them.
Days and weeks had passed, and no news had been received by those up in the mountains of the result of Llewelyn's expedition. It was reported by scouts that Edward was at Carnarvon Castle in person, making hostile demonstrations of a determined kind, which, in the absence of their chief, the wild Welsh kerns knew not how to repel. They were safe where they were, and awaited the return of their leader; but a terrible stroke had yet to fall upon them, which proved the final blow to all their hopes and ambitions.
It was a wild, windy night. Wendot had piled the fire high, and was sitting with Griffeth talking of past days, and gazing with an unconscious wistfulness into the glowing embers, which seemed to him to take the semblance of those familiar towers and rocks which he sometimes felt as though he should never see again. Griffeth paused in the midst of something he was saying, and looked round with a start. It seemed to both brothers as though a hand was fumbling at the latch. Wendot rose and opened the door, and a tall, gaunt figure staggered rather than walked into the room, and sank down as if perfectly exhausted beside the glowing fire.
Griffeth uttered a startled exclamation.
"Llewelyn!" he cried sharply; and Wendot, barring the door, and coming forward like one in a dream, asked with the calmness of one who reads dire disaster:
"Where is Howel?"
"Dead," came the answer in a hollow voice, as though the speaker was exhausted past words — "dead by the side of Llewelyn our prince. Would that I too lay beside them!"
Wendot, too stunned to say another word at that moment, busied himself in getting his brother food and wine, of which he plainly stood sorely in need. He ate ravenously and in perfect silence; and his brothers watched him without having the heart to put another question. Indeed they knew the worst: their prince dead; the flower of their army slain — their own brother among the number — the rest dispersed; the remaining forces without a leader, without a rallying point, without a hope. What need of farther words?
Presently Llewelyn spoke again, this time with more strength, but still with the sullenness of despair:
"It was a mere skirmish on the banks of the Wye. We were in advance of the main body, and a party of English fell upon us. We did our best to sell our lives dearly. I thought I had sold mine when my time came, but I awoke and found myself beside the stream. Howel was lying upon me, stark and dead, and our prince a few yards away, with his own men round him. I do not think the foe knew whom they had slain, or they would have taken at least his head away as a trophy. I know not who took the news to our comrades, but they learned it, and dispersed to the four winds. I was forced to remain for some days in a shepherd's hut till my wounds were somewhat healed, and since then I have been struggling back here, not knowing what had befallen our camp in these mountains. Am I the first to bear the, news, or has it been known before?"
"You are the first," answered Wendot in a strange, blank voice. "We have heard nothing; we have been living in hopes of some triumph, some victory. We will let our fellows rest in peace one night longer. Tomorrow we must tell all, and decide what our action must be."
"There is nothing more to hope for," said Llewelyn darkly. "Our hope is dead, our last prince lies in a nameless grave. There is but one choice open to us now. Let those who will submit themselves to the proud usurper, and let us, who cannot so demean the name we bear, go forth sword in hand, and die fighting to the last for the country we may not live to deliver."
It seemed, indeed, as if Llewelyn's words were to prove themselves true; for no sooner did the news of the disaster on the banks of the Wye become known than the army began to melt away, like the snow in the increasing power of the sun. The chiefs, without a head, without a cause or a champion, either retired to their own wild solitudes or hastened to make their peace with their offended king; and only those who put honour before safety or life itself stood forth sword in hand to die, if it might be, with face to foe in defence of a cause which they knew was hopelessly lost.
And amongst this gallant but reckless little band were the three brothers of Dynevor, who, having once taken up the sword against Edward, were determined not to lay it down until the hand of death was cold upon each heart.
CHAPTER X. CARNARVON CASTLE.
"There has been a battle — desperate fighting. They are bringing the prisoners into the guardroom," cried Britton, bursting into the royal apartments with small ceremony in his excitement. "Come, Alphonso; come, Joanna — let us go and see them. Our fellows say they made a gallant stand, and fought like veritable tigers. In sooth, I would I had been there. Methinks it is the last of the fighting these parts will see for many a long year."
Alphonso sprang up at the word of his comrade, eager to go and see the prisoners, his humane and kindly nature prompting him to ascertain that no undue harshness was displayed towards them by the rude soldiers. But Joanna, although her face was full of interest and eagerness, shook her head with a little grimace and a glance in the direction of her governess, Lady Edeline; for during the years that had elapsed between the visit of the royal children to Rhuddlan and this present visit to Carnarvon, Joanna had grown from a child to a woman, and was no longer able to run about with her brothers at will, though she still retained her old fearless, independent spirit and impulsive generosity of temperament, and was a universal favourite, despite the fact that she gave more trouble than any of her younger sisters.
The royal family had been for some time in Wales. They had wintered at Rhuddlan, where the little Princess Elizabeth had been born the previous year, just prior to the outbreak of the rebellion. Now they were at Carnarvon for greater security, the king considering that fortress the stronger of the two. The rebellion was practically at an end, but there was much to look into and arrange with regard to the rebels and their affairs, and there was the prospect of a considerable sojourn at the castle.
At this moment Edward was himself absent, though not far away. It had been rumoured that there had been sharp, irregular fighting all about the region of Snowdon, where the rebels had had their headquarters. Considerable excitement had prevailed for some time in the English ranks, and there was still complete uncertainty as to the fate of Llewelyn, Prince of Wales; for although a rumour was rife that he had fallen in fight, it had never been corroborated by trustworthy testimony, and so long as that turbulent prince remained alive there was no security for the peace or submission of the country.
Thus it was that the news of a victory and the capture of prisoners was exceedingly exciting to those within the castle. Alphonso, who was looking somewhat stronger for his sojourn in the bracing air of Wales, sprang up to go with Britton to make inspection, and again Joanna secretly bewailed her fate at being a girl, unable to take an equal share with her brother in such matters.
The guardroom at the castle was a vast and really fine apartment, with a vaulted roof and majestic pillars, that gave the idea of much rude strength of construction. Just at this moment it was the scene of an animated picture, and the boys paused at the door by which they had entered to look about them with eager curiosity.
The hall was full of soldiers, most of whom wore the English king's badge, and were known by sight to them as being attached to the castle; but mingled with these were other men, some in the English dress, but many others wearing the wild garb of the sons of the mountains, and these last had, for the most part, fetters on their wrists, or were bound two and two together and guarded by the English, whilst many of them were drooping under the effect of ghastly wounds, and several forms lay stretched along the ground indifferent to, or insensible of, their surroundings.
Desperate fighting there had been, indeed, to judge from appearances, and Alphonso's gentle spirit was stirred within him as he caught the sound of deep groans mingling with the loud voices of the soldiers. He had inherited the gentle spirit of his mother, and the generosity which always takes the part of the weak and oppressed. It mattered not that these men had been taken with swords drawn against his royal father; they were prisoners now, they had lost their all; and if rebels from the English standpoint, had been striving to free their country from what appeared to them as the unjust inroads of a foreign foe.
Alphonso, himself sinking into an early grave, and fully aware of his own state, saw life somewhat differently from his soldier sire, and felt little sympathy for that lust of conquest which was to the great Edward as the elixir of life. The lad's thoughts were more of that eternal crown laid up in the bright land where the sword comes not, and where the trump of war may never be heard. The glory of an earthly diadem was as nothing to him, and he had all that deep love for his fellow men which often characterizes those who know that their time on earth is short.
Stepping forward, therefore, with the air of quiet authority which he knew so well how to assume, he enforced silence by a gesture; and as the soldiers respectfully fell back before him, he walked through the groups of prisoners, speaking friendly words to them in their own tongue, and finally gave strict command to the captain of the guardroom to remove the fetters from those who were wounded, and see that they had all due tendance and care, whilst the rest were to be guarded with as little rigour as possible, and shut up together, where they would have at least the consolation of companionship in their misfortune.
The captain gave respectful heed to these words, and was by no means loath to carry out his instructions. He was a humane man himself, though inured to the horrors of war, and he, in common with all who came into contact with the young prince, felt towards him a great love and reverence; for there was something unearthly at times in the radiant beauty of the young Alphonso's face, and the growing conviction that he was not long for this world increased the loving loyalty shown to him by all.
"Your Grace's behests shall be obeyed," answered the man readily; "I myself will see that the wounded receive due and fitting care. They are brave fellows, be they rebels or no, and verily I believe there is not a man of them but would have laid down his life a hundred times to save that of the two young leaders who led them on to the last desperate sally. Such gallant feats of arms I have seldom beheld, and it was sore trouble to capture without killing them, so fiercely did they fight. But I bid the men take them alive, if possible, as they seemed too gallant and noble to fall in that vain struggle. Methinks, could they be tamed to serve the king as valiantly as they fought for that forlorn hope, they might be well worth the saving. I am always loath to see a brave life flung away, be it of friend or foe."
"Right, good Poleyn; thy words do thee credit. And where are these gallant leaders? Show me them, for I would fain speak a kindly word to them. I would not that they feared my father's wrath too much. Stern he may be, but cruel never, and it would please me well to bid them submit themselves to him, that he might the more readily forgive them. Tell me which they be."
"They are not here," answered the captain; "I had them removed for greater comfort and security to mine own lodging. One of them is so sore wounded that I feared he would not live to make submission to the king unless he had prompt and skilful tendance; whilst the other, although his hurts be fewer and less severe, looks as if some mortal sickness were upon him. It may be nought but the feebleness that follows loss of blood and hard fighting; but I left them both to the care of my wife, who is the best tender of the sick that I have ever known. They came under her hands last night, brought on by our mounted fellows in advance of the rest. Today they are somewhat recovered; but I have had scarce time to think of them. I have been occupied since dawn with these other prisoners."
"I would fain see these youths; said you not they were but youths, Poleyn?" said Alphonso, whose interest was aroused by the tale he had heard. "I will go to your lodging and request admittance. Your worthy wife will not refuse me, I trow?"
The man smiled, and said that his wife would be proud indeed to be so visited. Alphonso, to whom the intricacies of the castle were well known, lost no time in finding the lodging of the captain of the guard, and quickly obtained admittance to the presence of the wounded youths, who occupied a comfortable chamber over the gateway, and had plainly been well looked to by the capable and kindly woman who called Poleyn her lord and master.
The bright light of day was excluded from the sickroom, and as the prince stood in the doorway his eyes only took in the general appearance of two recumbent figures, one lying upon a couch beside a glowing fire of wood, and the other extended motionless upon a bed in an attitude that bespoke slumber, his face bandaged in such a way that in no case would it have been recognizable.
But as Alphonso's eyes grew used to the darkness, and fixed themselves upon the face of the other youth, who was dressed and lying on the couch, he suddenly gave a great start, and advanced with quick steps to his side.
"Griffeth!" he cried suddenly.
The figure on the couch gave a start, a pair of hollow eyes flashed open, there was a quick attempt to rise, checked by the prince himself, and Griffeth exclaimed in the utmost astonishment:
"Yes, Griffeth, it is I indeed;" and then the prince sat down on the edge of the couch and gazed intently at the wasted features of the youth, towards whom in days gone by he had felt such a strong attachment.
There was something of sorrow and reproach in his glance as he said gently:
"Griffeth, can it really be thou? I had not thought to have seen thee in the ranks of our foes, fighting desperately against my father's soldiers. Whence has come this bitter change in thy feelings? and what is Wendot doing, who was to act as guardian toward his younger brethren? Hast thou broken away from his controlling hand? O Griffeth, I grieve to see thee here and in such plight."
But Griffeth's sad glance met that of the young prince unfalteringly and without shame, although there was something in it of deep and settled sorrow. He made a gesture as though he would have put out his hand, and Alphonso, who saw it, grasped it warmly, generous even when he felt that he and his father had been somewhat wronged.
"Think not that we took up arms willingly, Wendot and I," he said faintly, yet with clearness and decision. "Ay, it is Wendot who lies there, sore wounded, and sleeping soundly after a night of fever and pain. We shall not disturb him, he is fast in dreamland; and if you would listen to my tale, gentle prince, I trow you would think something less hardly of us, who have lost our all, and have failed to win the soldier's death that we went forth to seek, knowing that it alone could make atonement for what must seem to your royal father an act of treachery and breach of faith."
And then Griffeth told all his tale — told of the wrongs inflicted on hapless Wales in Edward's absence by the rapacious nobles he had left behind him to preserve order, of the ever-increasing discontent amongst the people, the wild hope, infused by David's sudden rising, of uniting once and for all to throw off the foreign yoke and become an independent nation again. He told of the action taken by their twin brothers, of the pressure brought to bear upon Wendot, of the vigilant hostility of their rapacious kinsman Res ap Meredith, son of the old foe Meredith ap Res, now an English knight, and eager to lay his hands upon the broad lands of Dynevor. It was made plain to the prince how desperate would have been Wendot's condition, thus beset with foes and held responsible for his brothers' acts. Almost against his will had he been persuaded, and at least he had played the man in his country's hour of need, instead of trying to steer his way by a cold neutrality, which would have ruined him with friend and foe alike.
Griffeth told of the hardships of that campaign amongst the mountains; of the death of Llewelyn the prince, and of his brother Howel; and of the resolve of the gallant little band, thus bereft of their hope, to go out and die sword in hand, and so end the miserable struggle that had ceased to be aught but a mockery of war. It was plainly a bitter thought even to the gentle Griffeth that they had not met the death they craved, but had fallen alive into the hands of the foe.
Alphonso gently chid him, and comforted him with brave and kindly words; and then he asked what had befallen his brother Llewelyn, and if he had likewise fallen in the fight.
"Nay; he was not with us when we made that last rally. He commenced the march with us, but his wound broke out again, and we were forced to leave him behind. He and a handful of faithful servants from Iscennen and Dynevor were to try and push on to the stronghold of Einon ap Cadwalader, and ask counsel and assistance from him. In old days he and our father were friends. Although he was one of the few who did not join Llewelyn in this rising, he has ever been well-disposed towards his countrymen. So we hoped our brother would find shelter and help there. If he had tried to march with us, he must assuredly have died."
"Ha!" said Alphonso smilingly, "methinks Llewelyn will have no trouble in gaining entrance there. Rememberest thou the Lady Arthyn, who was with us at Rhuddlan when thou wast there before? She hath left us of late to return to her father, whose loyalty has been proved, and whose request for his child was listened to graciously. But we shall be seeing them soon again, for my father betrothed Arthyn's hand to Raoul Latimer, whom doubtless thou rememberest as a somewhat haughty and quarrelsome lad. Time has softened down some of his rude tempers, and he has ever been eager for the match. My father has promised her hand in troth plight to him, and we await the coming of her and her father for the ceremony of betrothal.
"If I remember rightly, she was always a friend to thy brother. If so, he will find a ready welcome at her father's house, for my Lady Arthyn always had a soft spot in her heart for those we called rebels. She was a true daughter of Wales, albeit she loved us well, and she will like thy brother none the less that his sword has been unsheathed against the English usurper."
And then the prince and the rebel subject both laughed, and that laugh did more to bring them back to their old familiar relations than all that had gone before.
Griffeth was easily led on to tell the story of the life at Dynevor these past years; and Alphonso better understood from his unconscious self-betrayal than from his previous explanation how the fire of patriotic love burned in the hearts of these brothers. He thought that had he been one of them he would have acted even as they had done, and there was no anger but only a pitying affection in his heart towards one whose life was overshadowed by a cloud so like the one which hung upon the horizon of his own sky.
For it was plain to him that Griffeth's hold on life was very slight; that he was suffering from the same insidious disease which was sapping away his own health and strength. He had suspected it years before, and this supposition had made a link between them then; now he was certain of it, and certain, too, that the end could not be very far off. The fine constitution of the young Welshman had been undermined by the rigours of the past winter, and there was little hope that the coming summer would restore to him any of the fictitious strength which had long buoyed up Wendot with the hope that his brother would yet live to grow to man's estate.
"For myself I do not think I wish it," said Griffeth, with one of his luminous glances at Alphonso; "life is very hard, and there seems nothing left to live for. I know not how I could live away from the woods and rocks of Dynevor. But there is Wendot — my dear, kind, most loving brother. It cuts me to the heart to think of leaving him alone. Prince Alphonso, you are the king's son; will you pardon Wendot his trespass, and stand his friend with your royal father? I have no right to ask it. We have grievously offended, but he is my brother —"
A violent fit of coughing came on, and the sentence was never completed. Alphonso raised the wasted form in his arms, and soothed the painful paroxysm as one who knows just what will best relieve the sufferer. The sound roused Wendot, who had been sleeping for many hours, and although he had been brought in last night in an apparently almost dying state, his vigorous constitution was such that even these few hours' quiet rest, and the nourishment administered to him by the good woman who waited on him, had infused new life into his frame, so that he had strength to sit up in bed, and to push aside the bandage which had fallen over his eyes, as he anxiously asked his brother what was amiss.
Then Alphonso came towards him, and, holding his hand in a friendly clasp, told him that he had heard all the story, and that he was still their friend, and would plead for them with his father. Wendot, bewildered and astonished and ashamed, could scarce believe his senses, and asked, with a proud independence which raised a smile in Alphonso's eyes, that he might be led out to speedy death — the death by the headsman's axe, which was all he had now to hope for. Life had no longer any charms for him, he said; if only his young brother might be pardoned, he himself would gladly pay the forfeit for both.
But Alphonso, upon whose generous spirit bravery and self devotion, even in a foe, were never thrown away, replied kindly that he would see if peace could not be made with his offended sire, and that meantime Wendot must get well fast, and regain his health and strength, so as to be fit to appear before the king in person if he should be presently summoned.
But though the young prince left lighter hearts behind him in the room where the two eagles of Dynevor were imprisoned, he found that the task he had set himself with his father was a more difficult one than he had anticipated. Edward was very greatly incensed by this fierce and futile rebellion that had cost him so many hundreds of brave lives, and had inflicted such sufferings on his loyal troops. The disaster at Menai still rankled in his breast, and it was with a very stern brow and a face of resolute determination that he returned to Carnarvon to look into matters, and to settle upon the fate of the many prisoners and vassals who had once mere placed themselves or their lands in his sole power through the act which had rendered them forfeit.
Nor was Alphonso's task rendered less difficult from the fact that Sir Res ap Meredith had been before him, poisoning the king's mind against many of the Welsh nobles, and particularly against the sons of Res Vychan, in whose possession were the province and castle of Dynevor. Upon that fair territory he had long cast covetous eyes. He cared little in comparison for the more barren and turbulent region of Iscennen, and it was upon Wendot and Griffeth, but particularly upon Wendot, that the full bitterness of his invective was poured. He had so imbued the king with the idea that the youth was dangerous, turbulent, and treacherous (charges that his conduct certainly seemed to bear out), that it was small wonder if Edward, remembering his own former goodwill towards the youth, should feel greatly incensed against him. And although he listened to Alphonso's pleadings, and the lad told his story with much simple eloquence and fervour, the stern lines of his brow did not relax, and his lips set themselves into an ominous curve which the prince liked little to see.
"Boy," he said, with an impatience that boded ill for the success of the cause, "I verily believe wert thou in the place of king, thou wouldst give to every rebel chief his lands again, and be not contented until thine own throne came tottering about thine ears. Mercy must temper justice, but if it take the place of justice it becomes mere weakness. I trusted Wendot ap Res Vychan once, and laid no hand upon his lands. Thou hast seen how this trust has been rewarded. To reinstate him now would be madness. No. I have in Sir Res ap Meredith a loyal and true servant, and his claims upon his traitorous kinsman's lands may not be disregarded. Dynevor will pass away from Wendot. It is throwing words away to plead with me. My mind is made up. I trust not a traitor twice."
There was something in his father's tone that warned Alphonso to press the matter no more. He knew that when Edward thus spoke his word was final and irrevocable; and all he ventured now to ask was, "What will become of Wendot and his brother? You will not take their lives, sweet sire?"
"Their lives I give to thee, my son," answered Edward, with a gesture towards his boy which betrayed a deep love, and showed that although he had denied him sternly he did not do so willingly. "As thou hast pleaded for them, I will not sentence them to death; but they remain my prisoners, and regain not their liberty. I know the turbulent race from which they spring. Sir Res will have small peace in his new possessions if any of the former princes of Dynevor are at large in the country. Wendot and Griffeth remain my prisoners."
"Nay, father; let them be my prisoners, I pray," cried Alphonso, with unwonted energy and animation. "Thou hast granted me their lives; grant me the keeping of their persons too. Nay, think not that I will connive at their escape. Give whatsoever charge thou wilt concerning the safety of their persons to those who guard us in our daily life, but let me have them as gentlemen of mine own. Call them prisoners an you will, but let their imprisonment be light — let me enjoy their company. Thou knowest that Britton is fretting for a freer life, and that I see little of him now. I have often longed for a companion to share my solitary hours. Give me Griffeth and Wendot. They have the royal blood of Wales flowing in their veins, and methinks they love me even as I love them. And, father, Griffeth has not many months, methinks, to live; and I know so well all he suffers that my heart goes out to him. He has the love of books that I have, and we have so many thoughts which none seem to understand save our two selves. And he and Wendot are as one. It would be cruelty such as thou wouldst not inflict to separate them whilst one has so short a time to live. Give me them for mine own attendants, and bid the servants guard them as best pleaseth thee. Sweet father, I have not asked many boons of thee. Grant me this one, I pray thee, for my heart is verily set on it."
There was something in this appeal, something in the look upon Alphonso's face, something in the very words he had used, that made it impossible to his father to refuse him. Blind his eyes as he would to the truth, he was haunted by a terrible fear that the life of his only son was surely slipping away. Alphonso did not often speak of his health, and the hint just dropped struck chill upon the father's heart. Passing his hand across his face to conceal the sudden spasm of pain that contracted it, he rose hastily from his chair, and said:
"Give thine own orders concerning these youths. I leave them in thy hands. Make of them what it pleaseth thee. Only let them understand that charge will be given to the custodians of the castle, and of whatever place they visit in the future, that they are prisoners at the king's pleasure, and that any attempt at escape will be punished with instant and rigorous captivity."
"So be it," answered Alphonso, with brightening eyes. "I thank thee, father, for the boon. Thou shalt never have cause to repent it."
CHAPTER XI. THE KING'S CLEMENCY.
"Unhand me, sir. How dare you thus insult me? Let go my hand, or I summon help instantly. I am come to seek the king. Will you raise a tumult within hearing of his private apartments? Unhand me, I say," and Arthyn's cheeks flamed dangerously, whilst her eyes flashed fire.
But Raoul Latimer, though a craven before the face of an armed foe, could be resolute enough when he had only an unprotected woman to deal with, and was quite disposed to show his valour by pressing his unwelcome salutations upon the cheek of the girl he regarded as his future wife. His surprise at encountering Arthyn, whom he believed far away in her father's castle, hastening alone down one of the long corridors of Carnarvon Castle, had been very great. He could not imagine what had thus brought her, and was eager to claim from her the greeting he felt was his due.
But Arthyn had never lacked for spirit, and had always confessedly abhorred Raoul, nor had absence seemed to make the heart grow fonder, at least in her case. She repulsed him with such hearty goodwill that his cowardly fury was aroused, and had not the girl cried aloud in her anger and fear, he might have done her some mischief. But even as she lifted her voice a door in the corridor was flung open, and the king himself strode forth, not, as it chanced, in response to the call, which had not reached his ears, but upon an errand of his own. Now when he saw that at the doors of his own private apartments one of his own gentlemen had dared to lay rude hands upon a woman, his kingly wrath was stirred, and one blow from his strong arm sent Raoul reeling across the corridor till the wall stopped his farther progress.
"How now, malapert boy?" cried Edward in deep displeasure. "Is it thus you disgrace your manhood by falling upon the defenceless, and by brawling even within hearing of your sovereign? You are not so wondrous valiant in battle, Raoul Latimer, that you can afford to blast the small reputation you have.
"Sweet lady, be not afraid; thy king will protect thee from farther insult.
"Ha, Arthyn, is it thou, my child? Nay, kneel not in such humbly suppliant fashion; rise and kiss me, little one, for thou art only less dear to me than mine own children. Come hither, maiden, and speak to me. What has brought thee here alone and unannounced? And what has raised this storm betwixt ye twain?"
"Sire — my king — hear me," cried Arthyn in a choked voice; "and bid that wicked youth, whom I have ever hated, leave us. Let me speak to you alone and in private. It is to you, gracious lord, that I have come. Grant me, I pray you, the boon of but a few words alone and in private. I have somewhat to tell your grace — your royal pardon to ask."
"Pardon? tush, maiden! thou canst not have offended greatly. But come hither; what thou hast to say thou shalt say before the queen and Eleanor. They have ever been as mother and sister to thee. Thou hast no secrets for me which they may not hear?"
"Ah no; I would gladly speak all before them," answered Arthyn eagerly, knowing that in the gentle Eleanor of Castile and her daughter she would find the most sympathizing of friends.
Intensely patriotic as the girl had ever been, loving her country above all else, and throwing heart and soul into that country's cause, she had yet learned a deep love and reverence for the family of the English king, amongst whom so many years of her young life had been spent. She was able to do full justice to the kindly and domestic side of the soldier king's nature, and, whilst she regarded him as a foe to Wales, looked upon him personally as a friend and protector.
Edward's gentleness and affection in his private life equalled his stern, unbending policy in matters of state. It was very tenderly and kindly that he led the girl to the private apartments of the queen; and when once Arthyn found herself face to face with one who had given to her more of mother love than any other being in the world, she flung herself into the arms opened to receive her, and out came the whole story which had brought her on this secret mission to Carnarvon.
"Sweet lady, O most gracious madam, listen and plead for me with the king. He is kind and good, and he knows what true love is. Lady, it is as a wedded wife I come to you, craving pardon for what I have done. But I ever hated that wicked Raoul Latimer, my country's foe, and would have died rather than plight my troth to him. And when he came to us — he, my love, my life, he whom I loved long years ago when we met as boy and girl, and whom I have never forgotten — what could I do? How could I resist?
"And my father approved. He gave my hand in wedlock. And now I am come to pray your pardon for myself and for him whom I love. Oh, do not turn a deaf ear to me! As you have loved when you were young, pardon those who have done likewise."
King and queen exchanged glances, half of amusement, half of astonishment, but there was no anger in either face. Raoul was no favourite in the royal circle, and his visible cowardice in the recent campaign had brought him into open disfavour with the lion-hearted Edward. He loved Arthyn dearly, and this proof of her independence of spirit, together with her artless confidence in his kindliness of heart, pleased him not a little. He had been forced during these past days to act a stern part towards many of the Welsh nobles who had been brought before him. He was glad enough, this thankless task accomplished, to allow the softer and more kindly side of his nature to assert itself. And perhaps the sympathetic glances of his son Alphonso, who had just entered the room, helped to settle his resolve that Arthyn at least should receive full and free forgiveness.
Eleanor had drawn her former playmate towards her, and was eagerly questioning her as to the name of him to whom her heart and hand were now given, and the answer sent a thrill of surprise through the whole company.
"It is one whom you all know, sweet Eleanor — Llewelyn, the son of Res Vychan, Lord of Dynevor. Thou knowest, Eleanor, how he came amongst us at Rhuddlan years agone now, and perchance thou sawest even then how we loved one another, albeit it was but the love of children. But we never have forgotten, and when he came to my father's castle, wounded and weary and despairing after the disaster which robbed Wales of her last native prince, what could we do but receive and tend him? It was thus it came about, and love did the rest."
"And so thou hast wed a rebel, maiden?" quoth Edward, in tones that seemed to be stern by effort rather than by the will of the speaker, whilst the kindly light in the eyes belied his assumed harshness; "and having done so thou hast the hardihood to come and tell us of it thine own self. Fie upon thee for a saucy wench! What better dost thou expect for thyself and thy lord than a lodging in the lowest dungeon of the keep?"
"I know that we ought to expect nothing better," answered Arthyn, with her brightest smile, as she turned fearlessly upon the king. "But do as you will with us, noble king, and we will not rebel or complain, so that we may be together. And my dear lord bid me give you this. He took it with his own hands from the dead hand of Llewelyn, Prince of Wales, and he charged me to place it in your hands as a pledge and token that your enemy ceased to live. Report has told him that men say Llewelyn escaped that day, and that he yet lives to rise against you again. By this signet you may know that he lies dead and cold, and that with him has perished the last hope of Wales ever to be ruled by a prince of her own."
Edward put forth his hand eagerly, and examined the signet ring, which was one he himself had given to Llewelyn on the occasion of his last submission. And as he looked upon it a great weight seemed to be rolled from off him, for it was the first decided intimation he had had that his foe was actually slain. Rumour had been rife with reports of his escape, and although there had not been lacking testimony to the effect that the prince had fallen in battle, the fact had never been adequately established. A few quick questions to Arthyn appeared to establish this beyond all doubt, and in the expansion of the moment Edward was ready not only to forgive the bearer of such welcome tidings, but to forget that he had ever been an offender. One of the sons of Res Vychan had paid the price of his breach of faith with his life; two more were prisoners at his royal pleasure. Surely the family had suffered enough without harsher vengeance being taken. Surely he might give to Arthyn the liberty and possibly even the lands of her lord in return for the welcome intelligence she had brought.
Alphonso, ever on the side of mercy, joined with the queen and Eleanor in persuading the king to forgive and forget, and Arthyn was sent home the day following laden with presents and good wishes, bearing a full pardon to her lord from the English king, as well as a half promise that when the country became somewhat more settled he might make request for his commot of Iscennen with reasonable chance of being heard.
Wendot and Griffeth both saw their new sister before her return, and charged her with all sorts of friendly messages for Llewelyn. If Wendot thought it hard that the brother who had always been England's bitterest foe should be pardoned and rewarded, whilst he himself should be left to pine in captivity, at least he made no sign, and never let a word of bitterness pass his lips. Indeed he was too ill greatly to trouble himself over his own condition or the future that lay before him. Fever and ague had supervened upon the wounds he had received, and whilst Griffeth was rapidly recovering such measure of health and strength as he ever could boast, Wendot lay helpless and feeble, scarce able to lift his head from the pillow, and only just equal to the task of speaking to Arthyn and comprehending the good news with which she came charged.
The brothers had now been removed to better apartments, near to those occupied by the prince, whose servants they nominally were. Griffeth had begun to enter upon some of his duties towards his royal patron, and the friendship begun in boyhood was rapidly ripening to an intimacy which surprised them both. Such perfect mutual understanding and sympathy was rare and precious; and Griffeth did not even look back with longing to the old life, so entirely had his heart gone out to the youthful prince, whose days on earth, like his own, were plainly numbered.
Lady Gertrude Cherleton was still an inmate of the royal household. She was now a ward of Edward's, her father having died a year or two previously. She was not considered a minor any longer, having attained the age of eighteen some time before, and the management of her estates was left partially to her. But she remained by choice the companion of Eleanor and Joanna, and would probably continue to do so until she married. It was a source of wonder to the court why she did not make choice of a husband amongst the many suitors for her hand; but she had hitherto turned a deaf ear to the pleadings of all. Sir Godfrey Challoner had long been sighing at her feet, but she would have none of him, and appeared to be proof against all the shafts of the blind god of love.
But her intense excitement when she heard of the arrival at Carnarvon of the two brothers from Dynevor told its own tale to the Princess Joanna, who had ever been the girl's confidante in this matter, and who had known from childhood how Gertrude had always believed herself pledged. It was a charming secret for them to cherish between them; and now that Wendot was once more beneath the castle roof, the impulsive Joanna would launch out into extravagant pictures of future happiness and prosperity. Her ardent temperament, having no personal romance to feed upon — for though her hand had once been plighted, her future lord had been drowned the previous year in a boating accident, and she was again free — delighted to throw itself into the concerns of her friend, and the sense of power which had been so early implanted within her made her confident of being able to overcome obstacles and attain the object of her wishes, be the difficulties and dangers in their path never so great.
"You shall be united, Gertrude, an he loves thee," cried the generous Joanna, flinging her arms round the neck of her companion, and kissing her again and again. "His life, his liberty, shall be obtained, and thou and he shall be happy together. I have said it, and I will do it."
Whatever was known to Joanna was known to Alphonso, who shared all her feelings, and was most tenderly beloved by her. He was as ardent in the cause as his sister could be; but he saw more of the difficulties that beset their path, and knew better his father's iron temperament, and how deeply Wendot had offended. Doubtless much was due to the misrepresentations of Sir Res ap Meredith, who had now secured for himself the coveted lands of Dynevor; but whatever the cause, the eldest son of the house of Dynevor was the object of the king's severe displeasure, and it was not likely he would relax his vigilance or depart from his word, not even for the prayers of his children or the tears of his favourite Gertrude. He had pardoned Llewelyn at the instance of Arthyn; if the same game were to be played over again by another of his daughters' companions, he would not unnaturally believe that he was being cajoled and trifled with.
"If it were only Griffeth it would be easy," said Alphonso thoughtfully. "But Wendot —"
And there he stopped and shook his head.
It was some days before the king saw the new attendant of his sons; but coming into Alphonso's private apartment one day suddenly, he found several of the royal children gathered there, and with them a fair-haired youth, who was reading to the prince out of an illuminated missal. Alphonso was lying on a couch, and his look of fragile weakness struck cold to the father's heart. Of late the lad's strength had been failing rapidly, but Edward had tried to blind his eyes to the truth. Now he took a hasty step towards the couch, and Griffeth rose quickly from his seat and bent the knee before the king.
"Ha, Wendot," said Edward, with a grave but not unkindly glance, "I have not seen you at these new duties before. So you are a student as well as a soldier? Well, the arts of peace will better become you for the future. I remember your face well, young man. I would it had not been my duty to place you under restraint; but you have broken faith with me, and that grievously. How then can it be possible to trust you in the future? You, as the head of the house, should have set your brothers an example of honour and fealty. As it is, it has been far otherwise, and now you will have to bear the burden of that breach of trust and honour."
Twice Griffeth had opened his lips as if to speak, but Alphonso laid his hand upon his arm with a warning touch, which said as plainly as words could do, "Be silent."
So the youth held his peace, and only bent his head in submission; and Edward, after a moment's pause, added more kindly:
"And how fares it with your brother, Wendot? I hear that his state is something precarious. I hope he has the best tendance the castle can afford, for I would not that any member of my son's household should suffer from lack of care."
"He has all that he needs, I thank you, sire," answered Griffeth. "He lies sorely sick at this present time, but I trust he will amend ere long."
And then the king turned to his son, and spoke with him on some message of the state, and departed without heeding the excited glances of Joanna or the restless way in which she kept looking first at Alphonso and then at Gertrude.
But scarcely had the door closed behind the retiring form of the king before the excitable girl had bounded to her brother's side.
"O Alphonso," she cried, "did you do it on purpose? Tell me what you have in your head."
Alphonso sat up and pushed the hair out of his eyes. Griffeth was simply looking on in surprise and bewilderment. The prince laid a hand upon his arm and spoke very earnestly.
"Griffeth," he said, "it seems to me that through this error of my father's we may yet find means to compass the deliverance of Wendot. There are none of those save ourselves who know which of you twain is the first-born and which the youngest. In your faces there is little to mark you one from the other. Griffeth, if thou wilt be willing to be called Wendot— if Wendot will consent to be Griffeth — then we may perchance make his way plain to depart and live in liberty once more; for it is Wendot, and not Griffeth, who has so roused my father's anger. Griffeth he might easily consent to pardon; but Wendot he will keep as a hostage in his own hands possibly for life itself."
Griffeth listened, and a strange look crept into his face. His cheek flushed, and his breath came thick and fast. He knew Alphonso's motive in suggesting this change of identity. The lads, so closely drawn together in bonds of more than brotherly love, had not opened to each other their innermost souls for nought. Alphonso knew that no freedom, no liberty, would give to the true Griffeth any extension of his brief span of life. His days were as assuredly numbered as those of the royal lad himself, and life had ceased to have attractions for the pair, whose spirits were almost on the wing, who had set their hopes and aspirations higher than anything which earth could give, and whose chiefest wish now was to remain together until death should call them home.
Griffeth's only trouble had been the thought of leaving his brother, and it was when he had realized from Alphonso's words that the king was deeply offended with Wendot, and that it was almost hopeless to think of his obtaining his liberty again, that the heart of the lad sank in despondency and sorrow.
For one of the young eagles of Dynevor thus to be caged — to be left to pine away in hopeless captivity, his brother gone from him as well as the prince who would stand his friend; possibly incarcerated at last in some dreary fortress, there to linger out his days in hopeless misery and inaction — the thought had been so terrible to Griffeth that there had been moments when he had almost longed to hear that the leeches gave up hope of saving his brother's life.
But Wendot was mending now; there was no doubt of ultimate recovery. He would rise from his sickbed to find — what? Griffeth had not dared to ask himself this question before; but now a great hope possessed him suddenly. He looked into Alphonso's eyes, and the two instantly understood one another; as did also Gertrude and Joanna, who stood by flushed and quivering.
"Let it be so," said Griffeth, in a voice which trembled a little, although the words were firm and emphatic. "I take the name the king has given me. I am Wendot, whom he believes the traitor and the foe. Griffeth lies yonder, sick and helpless, a victim to the influence of the first-born son of Res Vychan. It may be, when the king hears more of him, he will in his clemency release and pardon him.
"Ah, if I could but be the means of saving my brother — the brother dearer to me than life — from the fate which others have brought upon him, that I could lay down my life without a wish ungratified! It has been the only thought of bitterness in my cup that I must leave him alone — and a prisoner."
Gertrude's face had flushed a deep red; she put out her hand and clasped that of Griffeth hard; there was a little sob in her voice as she said:
"Oh, if you will but save him — if you will but save him!"
Griffeth looked into her sweet face, with its sensitive features and soft eyes shining through a mist of tears, and he understood something which had hitherto been a puzzle to him.
There had been days when the intermittent fever from which Wendot suffered left him entirely for hours together, sometimes for a whole day; and Griffeth had been sure that on some of these days, in the hours of his own attendance on the prince, his brother had received visits from others in the castle: for flowers had appeared to brighten the sick room, and there had been a wonderful new look of happiness in the patient's eyes, although he had said nothing to his brother as to what had befallen him.
And in truth Wendot was half disposed to believe himself the victim of some sweet hallucination, and was almost afraid to speak of the fancies that floated from time to time before his eyes, lest he should be told that his mind was wandering, and that he was the victim of delusion.
Not once alone, but many times, during the hours of his tardy convalescence, when he had been lying alone, crushed by the sense of weariness and oppression which illness brings to one so little accustomed to it, he had been roused by the sound of light footfalls in his room; he had seen a graceful form flitting about, bringing lightness and beauty in her wake, and leaving it behind when she left. The vision of a sweet, small face, and the lustrous dark eyes which had haunted him at intervals through the long years of his young manhood, appeared again before him, and sometimes his name was spoken in the gentle tones which had never been forgotten, although the memory was growing dim.
Weak and dazed and feeble, both in body and mind, from the exhausting and wasting illness that had followed the severe winter's campaign, Wendot knew not if this vision was but the figment of his own brain, or whether the passionate love he felt rising up in his heart was lavished upon a mere phantom. But so long as she flitted about him he was content to lie and watch her, with the light of a great happiness in his eyes; and once when he had called her name — the never forgotten name of Gertrude — he had thought that she had come and taken his hand and had bent over him with a wonderful light in her eyes, but the very effort he made to rise up and grasp her hands, and learn if indeed it were a creature of flesh and blood, had resulted in a lapse back into unconsciousness, and he was silent as to the vision even to Griffeth, lest perchance he should have to learn that it was but a fevered dream, and that there was no Gertrude within the castle walls at all.