The Vengeance Of The Wolf
by J. Aquila Kempster
A Drama in Wales
In the great stone hall of Llangarth, Daurn-ap-Tavis,
the old Welsh Wolf lay dying. Outside was the night
and a sullen gale whose winds came moaning down the hills
and clung about the house with little bodeful whispers that
grew to long-drawn eerie wails, while pettish rain-squalls
spent their spite in futile gusts on door and casement.
And through the night from time to time a horseman came,
spurring hard and spitting out strange Welsh oaths at the
winds that harried him. Five had passed the door since sun-down,
four worthy sons and a nephew of the Wolf. They
stood now booted and spurred about the old man's couch,
a rough-looking crew with the mud caking them from
head to foot, while the leaping flames from the log
fire flung their shadows black and distorted far up among
They hung around him sullenly, but as he looked them up
and down the sick man's eyes took on a new keenness and a
low, throaty laugh that was half a growl escaped him.
"Well, Cedric, man, what devil's game have you been
playing of late? and, Tad, you black rascal—ah, 'twas a
pity you were born to Gruffydd instead of me. Well, well,
boys, the old Wolf's cornered at last, cornered at last, and
Garm, Levin, Rhys—the Cadwallader's going to live and
laugh, aye, he's going to live and laugh while a Tavis roasts
Garm started with a low growl, while Cedric kicked savagely
at a hound that lay beside the logs.
"Aye, Ced, kick the old dog, but it won't stop the Cadwallader's
Cedric clenched his fists at the taunt and his face grew
purple in the fire glow, but old Daurn went on remorselessly:
"Twenty years he's laughed at the Wolf and his whelps, an'
think you he'll stop now? He was always too lucky for me.
I thought when my lads grew strong—— But there, he laid me
low, the only man that ever did, curse him! There's the
mark, boys; see the shamed blood rise to it?"
He loosened his shirt with a fretful jerk and they bent
over and glowered at the red scar which ran across his chest.
They had all seen it times before, knew the dark quarrel and
the darker fight, had tingled with shame again and again, but
to-night it seemed to hold an added sting, for the Wolf was
going out with his debt unpaid.
Cedric, the elder, gaped and shuddered, then fell to cursing
again, but Daurn drew back the quilt and went on talking:
"I swore by the body of God to get even, and day and night
I've watched my chance. I tried at Tredegar, and that
night ye all mind at Ebbu Vale. Yes, I tell you a dozen times,
but he's a fox, curse him! a sly old fox, and now the Wolf's
teeth are broken. What's that, Ced? Look to him, Tad—aye,
look to all thy cousins. Fine grown lads, big, brave, and
fierce, but the Cadwallader still lives and laughs; yes, laughs
at old Daurn and his boys. My God! to think of it."
"Curse me! choke me!" Cedric stormed out in spluttering
fury, gripping his sword with one hand while he dragged at
his coat with the other. "I'll cut—cut his bl-black gizzard,
blast him. I'm a c-c-coward, eh! Right in my t-teeth!
Well, wait till th'-th' dawn an' see."
He had crammed his hat over his eyes and with coat buttoned
all awry was half way to the door before Tad caught
and held him, whispering in his ear: "Steady, Ced, steady.
He's got some plan or I'm a fool. Come back an' wait a bit,
an' if I'm mistaken I'll surely ride along with ye."
Cedric yielded, doubtful and sullen, but Daurn greeted
him bravely: "God's truth, lad, you've the spirit of the
Wolf at least, but you've got no brains to plan. Come close
an' listen, an' if ye truly want a fight thy father'll never
Then with faltering breath but gleaming eyes he unfolded
the plan he had conceived to make his dying a thing of greater
infamy than all his bloody days.
The beginnings of the feud between the House of the Wolf
and that of Llyn Gethin, the Cadwallader, were so remote
that probably both had forgotten, if they ever knew them, for
the old Welsh chieftains passed their quarrels on from generation
to generation and their hot blood rarely cooled in the
passing. Llyn was about the only man in the country who had
been able to hold his own against "the Tavis," but hold it he
had with perhaps a trifle to spare. Indeed, of late years he
had let slip many an opportunity for reprisals, and thrice had
made overtures of peace which had been violently rejected.
Llyn had fought fair at least, even if he had struck hard, but
the life of the Wolf had been as treacherous as it was bloody.
And day by day and year by year, as Daurn's strength began
to fail and brooding took the place of action, the bitterness
of his hatred grew, and out of this at last the plan. It was
Daurn was old, dying, and weary of the strife. He would
pass at peace with the world and particularly with his ancient
foe. A messenger should be sent inviting Llyn and his sons
to Llangarth. They would suspect nothing, for all Wales
knew the Wolf lay low—would probably come unarmed and
needs must, as time was short, travel by night. Well, there
was a convenient and lonely spot some three miles from
Llangarth—did the lads understand? Aye, they understood,
but their breath came heavily and they glanced furtively
each at the other, while the youngest, Rhys, shivered and drew
closer to Tad.
Daurn's burning eyes questioned them one by one, and
one by one they bowed their heads but spake never a word.
"Ye'll swear to it, lads," he whispered hoarsely, and drew
a long dagger from beneath his pillow. For answer there
came the rattle of loosened steel, and as he again bared his
breast they drew closer in a half circle, laying their blades
flat above his heart, his own dagger adding to the ring of
And then they swore by things unknown to modern men
to wipe out the shame that had lain so long upon their house,
and that before their father died.
As their voices ceased the wind outside seemed to take
up the burden of their bloody oath as if possessed, for it
shrieked and wailed down the great chimney like some living
thing in pain. And then, in a little lull following on the sobbing
cry, there came a curious straining push that shook the
closed oak door.
They stood transfixed, for a moment daunted, with their
swords half in and half out their scabbards, till with a warning
gesture to his cousins, Black Tad stole softly across the floor
and, lifting the heavy bar cautiously, opened the door.
He paused an instant on the lintel, motionless and rigid to
the point of his sword, his eyes fixed on the white face of a
girl who was cowered back against the further wall. For a
fraction of time he hesitated, but the awful anguish of the
face and the mute, desperate appeal of the whole pose settled
him. With a rough clatter he sprang into the dim passage,
rattling his sword and stamping his feet, at the same time
giving vent with his lips to the yelp of a hound in pain, and
following it with rough curses and vituperation. Then, without
another glance at the girl, he re-entered the hall and
slammed to the door, grumbling at Rhys for not keeping his
dogs tied up.
By one o'clock the great hall was still. The men were
lying scattered about the house, for the most part sleeping
as heavily as many jorums of rum made possible.
But the firelight flickering in the hall caught ever an answering
gleam from the old Wolf's eyes as he lay there gray, shaggy,
and watchful. From time to time his bony fingers plucked
restlessly at his beard, and now and again his lips stretched
back over yellow teeth in an evil smile as he gloated over the
details of his coming vengeance.
And out in a chill upper hall Gwenith, the fair daughter
of a black house, sat in a deep embrasure, her arms clinging
to the heavy oak bars desperately. The wind moaned and
sighed about her while her white terrified lips echoed the
agony of her heart. And the burden of her whispered cry
was ever, "Davy!—Davy!" and then: "For the Christ's
So the night drew on with the men and dogs sleeping torpidly;
with the old Wolf chuckling grimly as the shadows
closed about him, and with the child in the cold above sobbing
out pitiful prayers for her lover, for only yesterday she had
plighted her troth to Davy Gethin, the Cadwallader's youngest
These two had met in the early days when she wandered
free over the rolling hills, a wild young kilted sprite, fearful
of nothing save her father and his grim sons. And Davy
had wooed her ardently, though in secret from the first. It
had been charming enough in the past despite the fear that
ever made her say him nay. Then yesterday he had won her
from her tears and fears, won her by his brave and tender
front, and she had placed her little hands on his breast and
sworn to follow him despite all else when once her father had
passed away. And now, twelve short hours after her fingers
had touched him, her fear had caught her by the throat, for
they would kill him surely, her prince, the only joy she had
So went the night, with desperate distracted plans, and the
dumb agony of cold despair. And in the very early dawn,
when men and things cling close to sleep, she heard a gentle
stirring—a muffled footfall on the stairs, and Black Tad
stood at her side, a great shadow, questioning her.
"Mistress, what heard you?"
And she answered quick with loathing: "All! all the vile,
"They are our foes" he muttered moodily.
"Foes! Foes! Nay, none of you are worthy any foe—save
the hangman! Ah, God will curse you! Cruel! Cruel!"
She leaned out of her seat toward him, her panting breath
and fierce words lashing him so that he stepped back a pace,
dazed—she was ever such a gentle child.
"What would you, Gwen?"
"What would I! My God!—a fair fight at least. Oh,
Tad, and I thought you were a brave man."
"I—I—damme, I, what can I do?—and what does it
"Matter?—a foul blot!—matter to you and Ced and
father—nothing! Murderers! I hate you all! What has
the Cadwallader done? All Wales knows 'twas ever father
set on him, not he on father—Always!—always, I say! Aye,
I remember that bloody night at Ebbu Vale. Shame! Shame!
And the harrying and burning at Rhyll, when the mother and
her babes perished. No, you weren't there, Tad, but you
know and I know who was. Ah, Tad, she's crying to God—that
mother, and holding the little dead things in her hands,
close up to his face. And now you'd murder Llyn, for all he's
ever been for peace."
"Hush-s-sh! not so loud, Gwen."
"Not so loud! not so loud!" she jibed bitterly. "If you
fear my poor voice now, what will it be when all Wales is
ringing with this last foul deed?"
Tad breathed hard, then caught her wrists suddenly,
crushing them in his fierceness: "Listen, Gwenith. After
all I'm no Tavis—I'm Gruffydd, and I love you."
She shrank away with wide, fearful eyes, her breath coming
in little painful gasps.
"What—what do you mean, Tad?"
"I love you, Gwen."
"Well, I'm no Tavis—I'm Gruffydd."
Slowly the meaning which he himself hardly understood
dawned on her.
"You'll save them, Tad?"
"Na, na. A fair fight is what you said. 'Tis all I can do."
"And you will?"
"I love you," he persisted stubbornly.
She closed her eyes tightly and leaned back against the
wooden shutter, her hands still held close in his grasp. And
she strove to see clearly through the mist of horror and pain.
It was a chance, at least a fighting chance, to save Davy, her
prince; the only chance, the only way, and outside that what
Her eyes opened and her lips trembled; then she got her
strength back and faced him in the dim dawn.
"My life for theirs, Tad,—is that it?"
Her eyes and her question shamed him, but he clung to
his text doggedly, for he had loved her long and hopelessly in
his wild, stubborn way, and this was his first and only desperate
"I love ye, Gwenith, I love ye!"
There came a stir in the far hall, a long-drawn yawn; and
at the sound the girl whispered fiercely: "Well, it's a bargain;
give them fair warning and I'll—I'll do—give you your
will. Yes, I swear it by the dear Saint David. Quick! let
me go—no, not now!—Tad, I command you, I—I—Quick!
that's Garm's voice; let me go."
"Llyn Gethin! a word in your ear before we ride on."
It was Tad who spoke to the old Cadwallader out in the
moonlight. Llyn had answered Daurn's urgent message
for peace, and a few miles north of Llangarth had met Tad.
At the words the old man looked at him curiously, but reined
his horse in, while his sons watched the pair suspiciously, for
they were young, their blood and their hate still ran hotly,
and save for their father would have had none of this death-bed
"Well, lad, what is it?" asked Llyn, when they were out
"A word of warning, sir—from one who hates you."
"Ah! You were ever a good hater, boy. What is it?"
"'Tis a trick o 'mine, sir—this visit—and you'd better
"I think not, Tad."
"Well, have your way, but if you ride with me you ride to
"We ride with you, Tad."
"Your blood be on you and your sons, then, Llyn Gethin.
You're safe to the stone bridge; after that fend for yourself.
I—I'm a cursed traitor, but, by David, I strike with my
house. There, I've warned you, and God forgive me."
"Amen, lad! Will you shake hands before we ride?"
"No, choke me! I'd sooner ding my dagger in your
So they rejoined the waiting group and rode forward, Tad
moodily in advance, Llyn and his sons in a whispering bunch
some yards behind. It had been Tad's own suggestion that
he ride forward and meet the Gethins so they might be lured
the more easily to the turn beyond the bridge. Now they
followed on till they saw the white masonry gleaming in the
moonlight, and then the dark form of Tad's horse crossing it,
when there was a halt and a grim tightening of belts and
loosening of swords. And as the man on the bridge threw up
his arm, Llyn answered the sign hoarsely: "God keep thee,
son of Gruffydd!" he cried. Then as his sons closed in he
turned on them sternly: "Remember, lads! who touches him
touches me. Ah! steady now! Forward!"
Even as they clattered on the bridge Tad's challenge and
signal to his kinsmen rang out furiously:
"The Wolf! The Wolf and Saint David!"
Then came a rush of horse and steel and wild-eyed men,
which but for their preparation would have swept the Gethins
down. As it was they met it fiercely as it came. They had
not come unarmed—perhaps wise old Llyn distrusted such
late penitence even as did his sons. Be that as it may, the cry
of "Cadwallader!" rose against "The Wolf!" and bore it
back, for even in the first wild rush, Cedric fell away before
a long, swift thrust, and a moment later Rhys, the youngest of
the house went down and died beneath the stamping iron
When Llyn saw this he called to stop the fight, but Tad,
in a frenzy of horror and remorse, flung on again with Garth
and Levin striking wild beside him. 'Twas a wicked rush,
but now the fight stood five to three, and in the crash Levin
slipped and got a dagger in his throat, while Tad spurred
through an open way. Then as he reined and turned, the
end was come, for Garm's shrill death-cry tore the air, and
he was left alone.
Thrice he charged like a wounded boar, shouting hoarsely
for the house he had betrayed. "The Wolf! The Wolf!
Saint David and the Wolf!"
And ever he found that open way and ever their steel
At last he reined in his sweating mare and fell to cursing,
his face distraught with agony and wet with blood and sweat
and tears. So he stood, desperate—at bay, and taunted
them with every vileness his furious tongue could frame.
Then faltered at last with a great heartbroken sob, for they
sat silent and still and would not give him fight.
On the road at his horse's feet Cedric lay and Rhys, and
over yonder in the grass the other two. He swayed weakly
as he looked, then slid from his saddle and stooping, kissed
his cousins one by one, with those grim, silent figures looking
on. He broke his sword across his knee—his father, Gruffydd's
sword—and flung the pieces with an oath at Llyn.
Then, ere they could guess his meaning, his dagger flashed,
and with a last weak cry for "the Wolf," he fell with the men
of his House.
Back at Llangarth the great hall was aglow and Daurn
chuckled and waited and plucked at his beard, till, just past
midnight, there came a sudden commotion and the heavy
tramp of horses in the outer court. Then Gwenith ran in
white and wild, and kneeling, buried her sobs in the drapery
of the couch. And ere her father could question her a group
of sombre figures filled the doorway.
'Twas a dream—surely 'twas a fearful dream! Or were
they ghosts? Yes, that was it; see the blood on them! He
was either dreaming or these were the very dead.
They drew up to the couch, Llyn and his tall, stern sons.
Daurn knew them well and strove to curse them, but the
Cadwallader's grave voice hushed him to a sudden fear.
"Peace be with thee, Daurn-ap-Tavis, we come—to
bid thee farewell."
Daurn gasped and stuttered, his fingers clawing fearfully
while a cold sweat broke out over his forehead. But ere
he found his voice two of Llyn's sons, David and Sion, drew
away to the door, and later, Llewellen and Pen. They came
back heavily and laid their burdens gently by the fire logs
and returned, then came again and went. Five times in all.
And an awful fear was in Daurn's eyes as he glared at those
still, muffled shapes lying close beside him in the firelight.
Then Llyn spoke, slow and sorrowfully, as he stooped and
one by one drew the face-cloths from the dead.
"Peace be with thee, Daurn-ap-Tavis; thy son Cedric—bids
"Rhys—bids thee farewell.
"Also Tad, thy brother's son—bids thee farewell."
But the end was come, for Daurn, with a little childish cry,
had gone to seek his sons. Llyn stooped and gently closed the
old Wolf's eyes, then with bent head and weary step passed
from the room.
But young Davy stole back softly and knelt near the stricken
girl at the foot of the couch.