“You know somewhat of the ways of the Welsh court,” said Ina.
“Needs must, Lord King. I am a shipmaster, and every trader I carry across the sea, sometimes to South Wales, and sometimes to Bristol, and betimes so far as to Ireland, tells me all he has learned. It were churlish not to listen, and then we need warning against such attacks as that of Morgan. Moreover, one likes somewhat to talk of.”
“That is plain enough,” said Nunna, laughing.
“Maybe I do talk too much,” answered the Norseman. “It is a failing in my family. But my sister is worse than I.”
Then the king laughed again, and so dismissed the shipman, and presently Owen bade me make all preparation for riding to Norton on the morrow early. Ina would have us take a strong guard, and I should bring them back, either with or without Owen, as things went.
But little sleep had I that night, for I knew too well that from henceforth my life and that of my foster father must lie apart, and how far sundered we might be I could not tell. There was no love of the Saxon in West Wales, nor of the Welshman in Wessex.
Gerent, the king of the West Welsh, as we called him, ruled over all the land of Devon and Cornwall, from the fens of the Tone and Parrett Rivers to the Land’s End. Only those wide fens, across which he could not go, had kept our great King Kenwalch from pushing Wessex yet westward, and along their line had been our frontier since his days until, not long before Ina came to the throne, Kentwine crossed them to the north and cleared the marauding Welsh of the Quantock hills and forests from the river to the sea, setting honest Saxon franklins here and there in the new-won land, to keep it for him. It was out of those deep wooded hills that Morgan had come on the raid that ended so badly for his brother and himself, for the wasted country was yet a sort of no-man’s land, where outlaws found easy harbourage, coming mostly from the Welsh side. It would not need much to set the tide of war moving westward again, now that our men knew the fenland as well as ever the British learned the secrets of the paths.
Now that the time seemed to have come for him to leave Ina, Owen feared most of all that the long peace would end, for that would mean the rending of old friendships and certain parting from me. How much longer the peace would last was very doubtful, and men said that it was only the wisdom of Aldhelm that had kept it so well, and now he was dead. It was not so long since that a west Welshman would not so much as eat with a Saxon, so great was the hatred they had for us, though that had worn off more or less. Maybe it would have passed altogether but that there were the differences between the ways of the two Churches which were always cropping up and making things bitter again, and those were the troubles that Aldhelm, whom Gerent honoured, had most tried to smooth away with some sort of success. Yet it was well known that many of the Welsh priests and people were sorely against peace with the men who followed the way of Austin of Canterbury.