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Authors: Ellis Peters

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BOOK: The Summer of the Danes
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will have none of it,” Cadfael announced practically. “Cadwaladr lied, Owain
has set the matter straight. His brother must work out his own salvation or
damnation unaided.”

do you know so much?” asked Mark mildly.

took care to be close. Do you think a good Welshman would neglect his interests
where the contrivances of his betters are concerned?”

had thought a good Welshman never acknowledged any betters,” said Mark, and
smiled. “You had your ear to the leather of the tent?”

your benefit no less. Owain has offered to buy us all three out of Otir’s hold.
And Otir, if he has held back from coming to terms at once, has promised us
life and limb and this degree of freedom until he comes to a decision. We have
nothing worse to fear.”

was not in any fear,” said Heledd, still gazing thoughtfully southward. “Then
what comes next, if Owain has left his brother to his fate?”

we sit back and wait, here where we are, until either Otir decides to accept
his price for us, or Cadwaladr somehow scrapes together whatever fool sum in
money and stock he promised his Danes.”

if Otir cannot wait, and decides to cut his fee by force out of Gwynedd?” Mark

he will not do, unless some fool starts the killing and forces his hand. I
exact my dues, he said, from the debtor who owes them. And he means it, not now
simply out of self-interest, but out of a very deep grudge against Cadwaladr,
who has cheated him. He will not bring Owain and all his power into combat if
by any means he can avoid it and still get his profit. And he is as able to
make his own dispositions,” said Cadfael shrewdly, “as any other man, and for
all I can see, better than most. Not only Owain and his brother are calling the
shots here, Otir may well have a trick or two of his own up his sleeve.”

want no killing,” said Heledd peremptorily, as though she gave orders by right
to all men presently in arms. “Not for us, not for them. I would rather
continue here prisoner than have any man brought to his death. And yet,” she
said grieving, “I know it cannot go on thus deadlocked, it must end somehow.”
It would end, Cadfael reflected, unless some unforeseen disaster intervened, in
Otir’s acceptance of Owain’s ransom for his captives, most probably after Otir
had dealt, in whatever fashion he saw fit, with Cadwaladr. That score would
rank first in his mind, and be tackled first. He had no obligation now to his
sometime ally, that compact had been broken once for all. Cadwaladr might go
into exile, once he had paid his dues, or go on his knees to his brother and
beg back his lands. Otir owed him nothing. And since he had all his following
to pay, he would not refuse the additional profit of Owain’s ransom. Heledd
would go free, back to Owain’s charge. And there was a man now in Owain’s
muster who was waiting to claim her on her return. A good man, so Mark said,
presentable to the eye, well-thought of, a man of respectable lands, in good
odour with the prince. She might do very much worse.

is no cause in the world,” said Mark, “why it should not end for you in a life
well worth the cherishing. This Ieuan whom you have never seen is wholly disposed
to receive and love you, and he is worth your acceptance.”

do believe you,” she said, for her almost submissively. But her eyes were
steady upon a far distance over the sea, where the light of air and the light
of water melted into a shimmering mist, indissoluble and mysterious, everything
beyond hidden in radiance. And Cadfael wondered suddenly if he was not, after
all, imagining the conviction in Brother Mark’s voice, and the womanly grace of
resignation in Heledd’s.


Article V.




Chapter Ten


CAME DOWN from conference in Otir’s tent towards the shore of the sheltered bay,
where his lithe little dragon-ship lay close inshore, its low sides mirrored in
the still water of the shallows. The anchorage at the mouth of the Menai was
separated from the broad sandy reaches of the bay to southward by a long spit
of shingle, beyond which the water of two rivers and their tributaries wound
its way to the strait and the open sea, in a winding course through the waste
of sands. Turcaill stood to view the whole sweep of land and water, the long
stretch of the bay extending more than two miles to the south, pale gold shoals
and sinuous silver water, the green shore of Arfon beyond, rolling back into
the distant hills. The tide was flowing, but it would be two hours or more yet
before it reached its highest, and covered all but a narrow belt of salt marsh
fringing the shore of the bay. By midnight it would be on the turn again, but
full enough to float the little ship with its shallow draught close inshore.
Inland of the saltings there would, if luck held, be scrub growth that would
give cover to a few skilled and silent men moving inland. Nor would they have
far to go. Owain’s encampment must span the waist of the peninsula. Even at its
narrowest point it might be as much as a mile across, but he would have pickets
on either shore. Fewer and less watchful, perhaps, on the bay shore, since
attack by ship was unlikely that way. Otir’s larger vessels would not attempt
to thread the shoals. The Welsh would be concentrating their watch on the sea
to westward.

was whistling to himself, very softly and contentedly, as he scanned a sky just
deepening into dusk. Two hours yet before they could set out, and with the
evening clouds had gathered lightly over the heavens, a grey veil, not
threatening rain, but promising cover against too bright a night. From his
outer anchorage he would have to make a detour round the bar of shingle to the
mouth of the river to reach the clear channel, but that would add only some
quarter of an hour to the journey. Well before midnight, he decided blithely,
we can embark.

was still happily whistling when he turned back to return to the heart of the
camp and consider on the details of his expedition. And there confronting him
was Heledd, coming down from the ridge with her long, springy stride, the dark
mane of her hair swaying about her shoulders in the breeze that had quickened
with evening, bringing the covering of cloud. Every encounter between them was
in some sense a confrontation, bringing with it a racing of the blood on both
sides, curiously pleasurable.

are you doing here?” he asked, the whistle breaking off short. “Were you
thinking of escaping across the sands?” He was mocking her, as always.

followed you,” she said simply. “Straight from Otir’s tent, and off with you
this way, and eyeing the sky and the tide and that snake-ship of yours. I was

first time ever you were curious about me or anything I did,” he said
cheerfully. “Why now?”

suddenly I see you head-down on a hunt, and I cannot but wonder what mischief
you’re about this time.”

mischief,” said Turcaill. “Why should there be?” He was regarding her, as they
walked back slowly together, with somewhat narrower attention than he gave to
their usual easy skirmishing, for it seemed to him that she was at least half
serious in her probing, even in some way anxious. Here in her captivity,
between two armed camps, a solitary woman might well scent mischief, the
killing kind, in every move, and fear for her own people.

am not a fool,” said Heledd impatiently. “I know as well as you do that Otir is
not going to let Cadwaladr’s treason go unavenged, nor let his fee slip through
his fingers. He’s no such man! All this day he and all his chiefs have had
their heads together over the next move, and now suddenly you come bursting out
shining with the awful delight you fool men feel in plunging headfirst into a
fight, and you try to tell me there’s nothing in the wind. No mischief!”

that need trouble you,” he assured her. “Otir has no quarrel with Owain or any
of Owain’s host, they have cast off Cadwaladr to untie his own knots and pay
his own debts, why should we want to provoke worse? If the promised price is
paid, we shall be off to sea and trouble you no more.”

good riddance that will be,” said Heledd sharply. “But why should I trust you
and your fellows to manage things so well? It needs only one chance wounding or
killing, and there’ll be blazing warfare, and a great slaughter.”

since you are so sure I’m deep in this mischief you foresee…”

very instrument of it,” she said vehemently.

can you not trust me to bring it to a good end?” He was laughing at her again,
but with a degree of almost apprehensive delicacy.

least of all,” she said with vicious certainty. “I know you, you have a lust after
danger, there’s nothing so foolhardy but you would dare it, and bring down
everything in a bloody battle on all of us.”

you, being a good Welshwoman,” said Turcaill, wryly smiling, “fear for your
Gwynedd, and all those men of Owain’s host camped there barely a mile from us.”

have a bridegroom among them,” she reminded him smartly, and set her teeth with
a snap.

you have. I will not forget your bridegroom,” Turcaill promised, grinning. “At
every step I take, I will think on your Ieuan ab Ifor, and draw in my hand from
any stroke that may bring him into peril of battle. There’s no other
consideration could so surely curb any rashness of mine as the need to see you
married to a good, solid uchelwr from Anglesey. Will that content you?”

had turned to look at him intently, her great eyes purple-black and
unwaveringly earnest. “So you are indeed bound on some mad foray for Otir! You
have as good as said so.” And as he did not make any protest or attempt to deny
it further: “Make good what you have promised me, then. Take good care! Come
back without hurt to any. I would not have even you come to harm.” And meeting
the somewhat too bright intelligence of the blue eyes, she added with a toss of
her head, but with a little too much haste for the disdainful dignity at which
she aimed: “Let alone my own countrymen.”

foremost of all your countrymen, Ieuan ab Ifor,” Turcaill agreed with a solemn
face: but she had already turned her back on him and set off with erected head
and vehement stride towards the sheltered hollow where her own small tent was


arose from his chosen nest in the lee of the squat salt bushes wakeful and
restless for no good reason, left Mark already sleeping, and dropped his cloak beside
his friend, for the night was warm. It was at Mark’s insistence that they lay
always within call of Heledd’s tent, though not so close as to offend her
independent spirit. Cadfael had small doubt by this time of her safety within
the Danish enclave. Otir had given his orders, and no man of his following was
likely to take them lightly, even if their minds had not been firmly fixed upon
more profitable plunder than one Welsh girl, however tempting. Adventurers,
Cadfael had noted throughout his own early life of adventure, were eminently
practical people, and knew the value of gold and possessions. Women came much
lower down in the scale of desirable loot.

looked towards where her low windbreak lay, and all was dark and silent there.
She must be asleep. For no comprehensible reason, sleep eluded him. The sky
bore a light covering of cloud, through which only a star here and there showed
faintly. There was no wind, and tonight there would be no moon. The cloud might
well thicken by morning, even bring rain. At this midnight hour the stillness
was profound, even oppressive, the darkness over the dunes shading away both
east and west into a very faint impression of lambent light from the sea, now
almost at its fullest tide. Cadfael turned eastward, where the line of guards
was more lightly manned, and he was less likely to excite any challenge by
being up and about in the dead of night. There were no fires, except those
turfed down in the heart of the camp to burn slowly till morning, and no
torches to prick through the darkness. Otir’s watchmen relied on their night
eyes. So did Brother Cadfael. Shapes grew out of shapelessness gradually, even
the curves and slopes of the dunes were dimly perceptible. It was strange how a
man could be so solitary in the midst of thousands, as if solitude could be
achieved at will, and how one to all intents and purposes a prisoner could feel
himself freer than his captors, who went hampered by their numbers and chained
by their discipline.

had reached the crest of the ridge above the anchorage, where the lighter and
faster Danish ships lay snugly between the open sea and the strait. A wavering
line of elusive light, appearing and vanishing as he watched, lipped the shore,
and there within its curve they lay, so many lean, long fishes just perceptible
as darker flecks briefly outlined by the stroking of the tide. They quivered,
but did not stir from their places. Except for one, the leanest and smallest.
He saw it creep out from its anchorage so softly that for a moment he thought
he was imagining the forward surge. Then he caught the dip of the oars,
pinpricks of fire, gone almost before he could realise what they were. No sound
came up to him from the distance, even in this nocturnal stillness and silence.
The least and probably fastest of the dragon-ships was snaking out into the
mouth of the Menai, heading eastward into the channel.

BOOK: The Summer of the Danes
3.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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