Read CHAPTER XI - THE KING’S CLEMENCY. of The Lord of Dynevor, free online book, by Evelyn Everett-Green, on ReadCentral.com.

“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.

But Gertrude knew all; it was no dream to her.  She saw the love light in the eyes dearest to her in the world.  She had heard her name called; she had seen that the love she had cherished for the hero of her childhood had not been cherished in vain.  Perhaps Wendot had betrayed more in his sickness and weakness than he would have allowed himself to do in his strength, knowing himself a helpless, landless prisoner in the hands of the stern monarch who occupied England’s throne.  But be that as it may, Gertrude had read his secret and was happy, though with such a chastened happiness as alone was possible to one who knew the peril in which her lover lay, and how hopeless even Alphonso thought it to obtain for him the king’s pardon.

“My father would have betrothed us as children,” said Gertrude, her face glowing, but her voice steady and soft, for why should she be ashamed of the faithful love of a lifetime?

“When we saw each other again he would have plighted us, but for the fear of what Llewelyn and Howel would do.  But think you I love him less for his love to his country?  Think you that I have aught to reproach him with, when I know how he was forced into rebellion by others?  I care not what he has done.  I love him, and I know that he loves me.  Sooner would I share a prison with him than a palace with any man beside; yet I fear that in prison walls he will pine and die, even as a caged eagle, and it is that fear which breaks my heart.

“O Griffeth, Griffeth, if you can save him, how we will bless you from, our hearts!  Give him to me, and I will guard and cherish him.  I have wealth and lands for us both.  Only his liberty is lacking ­”

“And that we will strive to compass yet,” said Alphonso gently.  “Fear not, sweet Gertrude, and betray not thyself.  Only remember from this time forward that Wendot is my friend and companion here, and that thy lover Griffeth lieth in yon chamber, sick and stricken.”

“I will remember,” she answered resolutely; and so the change of identity was accomplished, with the result that the old chroniclers aver that Wendot, eldest son of Res Vychan, died in the king’s prison in England, whilst all that is known of the fate of Griffeth is that he was with his brother in captivity in England in the year 1283, after which his name completely disappears, and no more is known of him, good or bad.

That night there were commotion and distress in Carnarvon Castle, for the young Alphonso broke a blood vessel in a violent fit of coughing, and for some hours his life was in the utmost danger.

The skill of the leeches, however, combined with the tender care of his mother and sisters, averted for a time fatal consequences, and in a few days the prince was reported to be out of immediate danger.  But the doctors all agreed that it would not be wise for him to remain longer in the colder air of north Wales, and advised an immediate removal to Windsor, where more comforts could be obtained, and where the climate was milder and more genial.

Edward’s work in Wales was done.  The country was quiet, and he had no longer any fear of serious rebellion.  The first thought in his mind was the precarious condition of his son, and immediate steps were taken to convey the invalid southward by slow and gentle stages.

A horse litter was prepared for him, and by his own special request this easy conveyance was shared by him with the two Welsh youths, to whom, as his father and mother thought, he had taken one of those strange sick fancies not uncommon to those in his state of health.

Wendot, as he called the younger brother, had been his most devoted nurse during the days of peril, and his quick understanding of the unspoken wishes of the prince had evoked a real and true gratitude from the royal parents.

The real Wendot was by this time so far recovered as to be able to bear the journey, and illness had so wasted him that he looked no older than Griffeth; and though still perplexed at being called Griffeth, and by no means understanding his brother’s earnest request that he would continue to answer to the name, he was too weak to trouble his head much about the matter; and the two Welsh brothers were regarded by the English attendants as too insignificant to be worthy of much notice.  The prince’s freak to have them as travelling-companions was humoured by his parents’ wish; but they little knew how much he was wrapped up in the brothers, nor how completely his heart was set upon seeing the accomplishment of his plan before he died.

Alphonso had all his senses about him, and the wistful look on Griffeth’s face, as the mountains of his beloved Wales grew dim in the distance, was not lost upon him.  Wendot was sleeping restlessly in the litter, and Alphonso stretched out his hand, and laid it gently upon Griffeth’s.

“Art regretting that thou leavest all for me?” he asked gently; and the answer was such a look of love as went to his very heart.

“Nay; I would leave far more than that for thee, sweet prince, but it is my last look at home.  I shall see these grand, wild hills no more.”

“No, nor yet I,” answered the prince, his own eyes growing somewhat dim; “and I, too, have loved them well, though not as thou lovest, my friend.  But be content; there are fairer things, sweeter scenes than even these, in store for us somewhere.  Shall we repine at leaving the beauties of earth, when the pearly gates of Paradise are opening before our very eyes?

“O Griffeth, it is a wondrous thought how soon we may be soaring above the very stars!  And methinks it may well be given to thee to wing thy way to thine own home for one last look ere thou departest for the holy land whence we can never wish to return.”

Griffeth gave him a bright, eager look.

“I will think that myself ­ I will believe it.  This is not my last farewell.”