Read CHAPTER I - DYNEVOR CASTLE. of The Lord of Dynevor, free online book, by Evelyn Everett-Green, on ReadCentral.com.

“La-ha-hoo! la-ha-hoo!”

Far down the widening valley, and up the wild, picturesque ravine, rang the strange but not unmusical call.  It awoke the slumbering echoes of the still place, and a hundred voices seemed to take up the cry, and pass it on as from mouth to mouth.  But the boy’s quick ears were not to be deceived by the mocking voices of the spirits of solitude, and presently the call rang out again with greater clearness than before: 

“La-ha-hoo!”

The boy stood with his head thrown back, his fair curls floating in the mountain breeze, his blue eyes, clear and bright and keen as those of a wild eaglet, fixed upon a craggy ridge on the opposite side of the gorge, whilst his left hand was placed upon the collar of a huge wolfhound who stood beside him, sniffing the wind and showing by every tremulous movement his longing to be off and away, were it not for the detaining hand of his young master.

The lad was very simply dressed in a tunic of soft, well-dressed leather, upon the breast of which was stamped some device which might have been the badge of his house.  His active limbs were encased in the same strong, yielding material, and the only thing about him which seemed to indicate rank or birth was a belt with a richly-chased gold clasp and a poniard with a jewelled hilt.

Perhaps the noble bearing of the boy was his best proof of right to the noble name he bore.  One of the last of the royal house of Dynevor, he looked every inch a prince, as he stood bare-headed in the sunlight amidst the everlasting hills of his well-loved home, too young to see the clouds which were settling so darkly and so surely upon the bright horizon of his life ­ his dreams still of glory and triumph, culminating in the complete emancipation of his well-loved country from the hated English yoke.

The dog strained and whined against the detaining clasp upon his neck, but the boy held him fast.

“Nay, Gelert, we are not going a-hunting,” he said.  “Hark! is not that the sound of a horn?  Are they not even now returning?  Over yon fell they come.  Let me but hear their hail, and thou and I will be off to meet them.  I would they heard the news first from my lips.  My mother bid me warn them.  I wot she fears what Llewelyn and Howel might say or do were they to find English guests in our hall and they all unwarned.”

Once more the boy raised his voice in the wild call which had awakened the echoes before, and this time his practised ear distinguished amongst the multitudinous replies an answering shout from human lips.  Releasing Gelert, who dashed forward with a bay of delight, the lad commenced springing from rock to rock up the narrowing gorge, until he reached a spot where the dwindling stream could be crossed by a bound; from which spot a wild path, more like a goat track than one intended for the foot of man, led upwards towards the higher portions of the wild fell.

The boy sped onwards with the fleetness and agility of a born mountaineer.  The hound bounded at his side; and before either had traversed the path far, voices ahead of them became distinctly audible, and a little group might be seen approaching, laden with the spoils of the chase.

In the van of the little party were three lads, one of whom bore so striking a resemblance to the youth who now hastened to meet them, that the relationship could not be for a moment doubted.  As a matter of fact the four were brothers; but they followed two distinct types ­ Wendot and Griffeth being fair and bright haired, whilst Llewelyn and Howel (who were twins) were dark as night, with black hair and brows, swarthy skins, and something of the wildness of aspect which often accompanies such traits.

Wendot, the eldest of the four, a well-grown youth of fifteen, who was walking slightly in advance of his brothers, greeted Griffeth’s approach with a bright smile.

“Ha, lad, thou shouldst have been with us!  We have had rare sport today.  The good fellows behind can scarce carry the booty home.  Thou must see the noble stag that my bolt brought down.  We will have his head to adorn the hall ­ his antlers are worth looking at, I warrant thee.  But what brings thee out so far from home? and why didst thou hail us as if we were wanted?”

“You are wanted,” answered Griffeth, speaking so that all the brothers might hear his words.  “The mother herself bid me go in search of you, and it is well you come home laden with meat, for we shall need to make merry tonight.  There are guests come to the castle today.  Wenwynwyn was stringing his harp even as I came away, to let them hear his skill in music.  They are to be lodged for so long as they will stay; but the manner of their errand I know not.”

“Guests!” echoed all three brothers in a breath, and very eagerly; “why, that is good hearing, for perchance we may now learn some news.  Come these strangers from the north?  Perchance we shall hear somewhat of our noble Prince Llewelyn, who is standing out so boldly for the rights of our nation.  Say they not that the English tyrant is on our borders now, summoning him to pay the homage he repudiates with scorn?  Oh, I would that this were a message summoning all true Welshmen to take up arms in his quarrel!  Would not I fly to his standard, boy though I be!  And would I not shed the last drop of my blood in the glorious cause of liberty!”

Llewelyn was the speaker, and his black eyes were glowing fiercely under their straight bushy brows.  His face was the least boyish of any of the four, and his supple, sinewy frame had much of the strength of manhood in it.  The free, open-air life that all these lads had lived, and the training they had received in all martial and hardy exercises, had given them strength and height beyond their years.  It was no idle boast on the part of Llewelyn to speak of his readiness to fight.  He would have marched against the foe with the stoutest of his father’s men-at-arms, and doubtless have acquitted himself as well as any; for what the lads lacked in strength they made up in their marvellous quickness and agility.

The love of fighting seemed born in all these hardy sons of Wales, and something of warfare was known to them even now, from the never-ending struggles between themselves, and their resistance of the authority, real or assumed, of the Lords of the Marches.  But petty forays and private feuds with hostile kinsmen was not the kind of fighting these brothers longed to see and share.  They had their own ideas and aspirations, and eager glances were turned upon Griffeth, lest he might be the bearer of some glorious piece of news that would mean open warfare with England.

But the boy’s face was unresponsive and even a little downcast.  He gave a quick glance into the fierce, glowing face of Llewelyn, and then his eyes turned upon Wendot.

“There is no news like that,” he said slowly.  “The guests who have come to Dynevor are English themselves.”

“English!” echoed Llewelyn fiercely, and he turned away with a smothered word which sounded like an imprecation upon all the race of foreigners; whilst Howel asked with quick indignation: 

What right have English guests at Dynevor?  Why were they received?  Why did not our good fellows fall upon them with the sword or drive them back the way they came?  Oh, if we had but been there

“Tush, brother!” said young Griffeth quickly; “is not our father lord of Dynevor?  Dost think that thou canst usurp his authority?  And when did ever bold Welshmen fall upon unarmed strangers to smite with the sword?  Do we make war upon harmless travellers ­ women and children?  Fie upon thee! it were a base thought.  Let not our parents hear thee speak such words.”

Howel looked a little discomfited by his younger brother’s rebuke, though he read nothing but sympathy and mute approbation in Llewelyn’s sullen face and gloomy eyes.  He dropped a pace or so behind and joined his twin, whilst Wendot and Griffeth led the way in front.

“Who are these folks?” asked Wendot; “and whence come they?  And why have they thus presented themselves unarmed at Dynevor?  Is it an errand of peace?  And why speakest thou of women and children?”

“Why, brother, because the traveller has his little daughter with him, and her woman is in their train of servants.  I know not what has brought them hither, but I gather they have lost their road, and lighted by chance on Dynevor.  Methinks they are on a visit to the Abbey of Strata Florida; but at least they come as simple, unarmed strangers, and it is the boast of Wales that even unarmed foes may travel through the breadth and length of the land and meet no harm from its sons.  For my part I would have it always so.  I would not wage war on all alike.  Doubtless there are those, even amongst the English, who are men of bravery and honour.”

“I doubt it not,” answered Wendot, with a gravity rather beyond his years.  “If all our mother teaches us be true, we Welshmen have been worse enemies to one another than ever the English have been.  I would not let Llewelyn or Howel hear me say so, and I would fain believe it not.  But when we see how this fair land has been torn and rent by the struggles after land and power, and how our own kinsman, Meredith ap Res, is toying with Edward, and striving to take from us the lands we hold yet ­ so greatly diminished from the old portion claimed by the lords of Dynevor ­ we cannot call the English our only or even our greatest foes.  Ah, if Wales would but throw aside all her petty feuds, and join as brothers fighting shoulder to shoulder for her independence, then might there be some hope!  But now ­”

Griffeth was looking with wide-open, wondering eyes into his brother’s face.  He loved and reverenced Wendot in a fashion that was remarkable, seeing that the elder brother was but two years and a half his senior.  But Wendot had always been grave and thoughtful beyond his years, and had been taken much into the counsels of his parents, so that questions which were almost new to the younger lad had been thought much of by the eldest, the heir of the house of Dynevor.

“Why, brother, thou talkest like a veritable monk for learning,” he said.  “I knew not thou hadst the gift of such eloquent speech.  Methought it was the duty of every free-born son of Wales to hate the English tyrant.”

“Ay, and so I do when I think of his monstrous claims,” cried Wendot with flashing eyes.  “Who is the King of England that he should lay claim to our lands, our homage, our submission?  My blood boils in my veins when I think of things thus.  And yet there are moments when it seems the lesser ill to yield such homage to one whom the world praises as statesman and soldier, than to see our land torn and distracted by petty feuds, and split up into a hundred hostile factions.  But let us not talk further of this; it cuts me to the heart to think of it.  Tell me more of these same travellers.  How did our parents receive them?  And how long purpose they to stay?”

“Nay, that I have not heard.  I was away over yon fell with Gelert when I saw the company approach the castle, and ere I could find entrance the strangers had been received and welcomed.  The father of the maiden is an English earl, Lord Montacute they call him.  He is tall and soldier-like, with an air of command like unto our father’s.  The damsel is a fair-faced maiden, who scarce opens her lips; but she keeps close to our mother’s side, and seems loath to leave her for a moment.  I heard her father say that she had no mother of her own.  Her name, they say, is Lady Gertrude.”

“A damsel at Dynevor,” said Wendot, with a smile; “methinks that will please the mother well.”

“Come and see,” cried Griffeth eagerly.  “Let us hasten down to the castle together.”

It was easy work for the brothers to traverse the rocky pathway.  Dangerous as the descent looked to others, they were as surefooted as young chamois, and sprang from rock to rock with the utmost confidence.  The long summer sunlight came streaming up the valley in level rays of shimmering gold, bathing the loftier crags in lambent fire, and filling the lower lands with layers of soft shadow flecked here and there with gold.  A sudden turn in the narrow gorge, through which ran a brawling tributary of the wider Towy, brought the brothers full in sight of their ancestral home, and for a few seconds they paused breathless, gazing with an unspeakable and ardent love upon the fair scene before them.

The castle of Dynevor (or Dinas Vawr = Great Palace) stood in a commanding position upon a rocky plateau overlooking the river Towy.  From its size and splendour ­ as splendour went in those days ­ it had long been a favourite residence with the princes of South Wales; and in a recent readjustment of disputed lands, consequent upon the perpetual petty strife that was ruining the land, Res Vychan, the present Lord of Dynevor, had made some considerable sacrifice in order to keep in his own hands the fair palace of his fathers.

The majestic pile stood out boldly from the mountain side, and was approached by a winding road from the valley.  A mere glance showed how strong was the position it occupied, and how difficult such a place would be to capture.  On two sides the rock fell away almost sheer from the castle walls, whilst on the other two a deep moat had been dug, which was fed by small mountain rivulets that never ran dry; and the entrance was commanded by a drawbridge, whose frowning portcullis was kept by a grim warder looking fully equal to the office allotted to him.

Lovely views were commanded from the narrow windows of the castle, and from the battlements and the terraced walk that ran along two sides of the building.  And rough and rude as were the manners and customs of the period, and partially uncivilized as the country was in those far-off days, there was a strong vein of poetry lying latent in its sons and daughters, and an ardent love for the beautiful in nature and for the country they called their own, which went far to redeem their natures from mere savagery and brute ferocity.

This passionate love for their home was strong in all the brothers of the house of Dynevor, and was deepened and intensified by the sense of uncertainty now pervading the whole country with regard to foreign aggression and the ever-increasing claims upon Welsh lands by the English invaders.  A sense as of coming doom hung over the fair landscape, and Wendot’s eyes grew dreamy as he stood gazing on the familiar scene, and Griffeth had to touch his arm and hurry him down to the castle.

“Mother will be wanting us,” he said.  “What is the matter, Wendot?  Methinks I see the tears in thine eyes.”

“Nay, nay; tears are for women,” answered Wendot with glowing cheeks, as he dashed his hand across his eyes.  “It is for us men to fight for our rightful inheritance, that the women may not have to weep for their desolated homes.”

Griffeth gave him a quick look, and then his eyes travelled lovingly over the wide, fair scene, to the purple shadows and curling mists of the valley, the dark mysterious woods in front, the clear, vivid sunlight on the mountain tops, and the serried battlements of the castle, now rising into larger proportions as the boys dropped down the hillside towards the postern door, which led out upon the wild fell.  There was something of mute wistfulness in his own gaze as he did so.

“Brother,” he said thoughtfully, “I think I know what those feelings are which bring tears to the eyes of men ­ tears of which they need feel no shame.  Fear not to share with me all thy inmost thoughts.  Have we not ever been brothers in all things?”

“Ay, truly have we; and I would keep nothing back, only I scarce know how to frame my lips to give utterance to the thoughts which come crowding into my brain.  But see, we have no time for communing now.  Go on up the path to the postern; it is too narrow for company.”

Indeed, so narrow was the track, so steep the uncertain steps worn in the face of the rock, so deep the fall if one false step were made, that few save the brothers and wilder mountaineers ever sought admission by the postern door.  But Wendot and Griffeth had no fears, and quickly scaled the steps and reached the entrance, passing through which they found themselves in a narrow vaulted passage, very dark, which led, with many twists and turns, and several ascending stairs, to the great hall of the castle, where the members of the household were accustomed for the most part to assemble.

A door deeply set in an embrasure gave access to this place, and the moment it was opened the sound of a harp became audible, and the brothers paused in the deep shadow to observe what was going on in the hall before they advanced further.

A scene that would be strange and picturesque to our eyes, but was in the main familiar to theirs, greeted them as they stood thus.  The castle hall was a huge place, large enough to contain a muster of armed men.  A great stone staircase wound upwards from it to a gallery above.  There was little furniture to be seen, and that was of a rude kind, though not lacking in a certain massiveness and richness in the matter of carving, which gave something baronial to the air of the place.  The walls were adorned with trophies of all sorts, some composed of arms, others of the spoil of fell and forest.  The skins of many savage beasts lay upon the cold stone flooring of the place, imparting warmth and harmony by the rich tints of the furs.  Light was admitted through a row of narrow windows both above and below; but the vast place would have been dim and dark at this hour had it not been that the huge double doors with their rude massive bolts stood wide open to the summer air, and the last beams of the westering sun came shining in, lying level and warm upon the group at the upper end of the hall, which had gathered around the white-haired, white-bearded bard, who, with head thrown backwards, and eyes alight with strange passions and feelings, was singing in a deep and musical voice to the sound of his instrument.

Old Wenwynwyn was a study in himself; his flowing hair, his fiery eyes, his picturesque garb and free, untrammelled gestures giving him a weird individuality of his own.  But it was not upon him that the eyes of the brothers dwelt, nor even upon the soldier-like figure of their stalwart father leaning against the wall with folded arms, and eyes shining with the patriotic fervour of his race.  The attention of the lads was enchained by another and more sumptuous figure ­that of a fine-looking man, approaching to middle life, who was seated at a little distance from the minstrel, and was smiling with pleasure and appreciation at the wild sweetness of the stream of melody poured forth.

One glance at the dress of the stranger would have been enough to tell the brothers his nationality.  His under tunic, which reached almost to the feet, was of the finest cloth, and was embroidered along the lower border with gold thread.  The sur-tunic was also richly embroidered; and the heavy mantle clasped upon the shoulder with a rare jewel was of some rich texture almost unknown to the boys.  The make and set of his garments, and the jewelled and plumed cap which he held upon his knee, alike proclaimed him to be English; yet as he gazed upon the noble face, and looked into the clear depths of the calm and fearless eyes, Wendot felt no hostility towards the representative of the hostile race, but rather a sort of reluctant admiration.

“In faith he looks born to command,” he whispered to Griffeth.  “If all were like unto him ­”

But the lad did not complete the sentence, for he had suddenly caught sight of another figure, another face, and he stopped short in a sort of bewildered amaze.

In Dynevor Castle there had never been a girl child to share the honours with her brothers.  No sister had played in its halls, or tyrannized over the lads or their parents.  And now when Wendot’s glance fell for the first time upon this little fairy-like creature, this lovely little golden-haired, blue-eyed maiden, he felt a new sensation enter his life, and gazed as wonderingly at the apparition as if the child had been a ghost.

And the soft shy eyes, with their fringe of dark lashes, were looking straight at him.  As he gazed the child suddenly rose, and darted towards the brothers as if she had wings on her feet.

“Oh, you have come back!” she said, looking from one to the other, and for a moment seeming puzzled by the likeness; “and ­ why, there are two of you,” and the child broke into the merriest and silveriest of laughs.  “Oh, I am so glad!  I do like boys so much, and I never have any to play with at home.  I am so tired of this old man and his harp.  Please let me go somewhere with you,” and she thrust her soft little hand confidingly into Wendot’s, looking up saucily into his face as she added, “You are the biggest; I like you the best.”

Wendot’s face glowed; but on the whole he was flattered by the attention and the preference of the little maiden.  He understood her soft English speech perfectly, for all the Dynevor brothers had been instructed in the English tongue by an English monk who had long lived at the castle.  Res Vychan, the present Lord of Dynevor, foresaw, and had foreseen many years, the gradual usurpation of the English, and had considered that a knowledge of that tongue would in all probability be an advantage to those who were likely to be involved in the coming struggle.  The boys all possessed the quick musical ear of their race, and found no difficulty in mastering the language; but neither Llewelyn nor Howel would ever speak a single word of the hated tongue if they could help it, though Wendot and Griffeth conversed often with the old monk right willingly.

So as Wendot looked down into the bright little upturned face, he was able to reply readily and smilingly: 

“Where would you like to go, little lady, and what would you like me to show you?”

“Oh, everything ­ all out there,” said the little girl, with a wave of her hand towards the front door.  “I want to go and see the sun.  I am tired of it in here.”

Wendot led the child through the hall, and out upon the great terrace which overlooked the steep descent to the valley and away to the glowing west.  Griffeth followed, glad that his elder brother had been preferred before himself by the little maiden, yet half fascinated by her nameless charm.  Wendot lifted her up in his strong arms to see over the wide stone balustrade, and she made him set her down there and perch himself by her side; for she seemed loath to go back to the hall again, and the boys were as willing as she to remain out in the open air.

“It is pretty here,” said the child graciously; “I think I should like to live here sometimes, if it was always summer.  Tell me your name, big boy.  I hope it is not very hard.  Some people here have names I cannot speak right.”

“They call me Res Wendot,” answered the lad; “generally Wendot at home here.  This is Griffeth, my youngest brother.  Those are not hard names, are they?”

“No, not very.  And how old are you, Wendot?”

“I am fifteen.”

“Oh, how big you are!” said the little lady, opening her eyes wide; “I thought you must be much older than that.  I am twelve, and you can lift me up in your arms.  But then I always was so little ­ they all say so.”

“Yet you travel about with your father,” said Wendot.

“I never did before; but this time I begged, and he took me.  Sometimes he says he shall have to put me in a nunnery, because he has nobody to take care of me when he has to travel about.  But I don’t think I should like that; I would rather stay here.”

Wendot and Griffeth laughed; but the child was not at all disconcerted.  She was remarkably self possessed for her years, even if she was small of stature and infantile in appearance.

“What is your name?” asked Wendot; and the little maid answered, with becoming gravity and importance: 

“I am called Lady Gertrude Cherleton; but you may call me Gertrude if you like, because you are kind and I like you.  Are there any more of you?  Have you any sisters?”

“No; only two brothers.”

“More brothers! and what are their names?”

“Llewelyn and Howel.”

“Llewelyn?  Why, that is the name of the Prince of North Wales that the king is going to fight against and conquer.  Do you think when he has done so that he will come here and conquer you, too?”

Wendot’s cheek burned a sudden red; but he made no reply, for at that moment a head suddenly appeared round an angle of the wall, and a heavy grip was laid upon the shoulder of the child.  A wild face and a pair of flashing black eyes were brought into close proximity with hers, and a smothered voice spoke in fierce, low accents.