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

“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: 

“Prince Alphonso!”

“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.”