The Hangman of Morgan’s Land
Barbara Conway Evans
Llewelyn ap Rhys ap Griffith ap Ivor Bach
Lord of Senghenydd and Miskin
Llewelyn the Ugly
Llewelyn stormed across the huge room and slammed his bare fist against the stone wall. It did not make his face muscles move even as he turned to is wife, grating through his clenched teeth.
‘Who are these people that they will do this to us? Have we not given them enough already!’
Luci watched and said nothing. What could she say? The blood of her forefathers was on these accursed Normans hands. She rose and took his hand in hers. She felt the pain in him as she covered his bloody knuckles.
She looked deep into this man’s face, her bearing proud, as she answered him in the voice of the woman she was, strong yet passionate, a mother and a lover.
‘We are powerless, Llewelyn.’
‘No!’ Llewelyn cried emphatically, the teeth clenched again, his guttural tones making his wife wince as she watched her Lord struggle for control.
‘What makes them more powerful, Luci? They cannot fight as we do, they are not men of our land, but they beat us with taxes and keep us without to make us weak. I cannot let them take more from my people, Luci. They have taken too much already.’
Luci walked to the bowl on the wooden chest, dipped in a rag and walkedback towards Llewelyn.
He turned from her. ‘Do not bathe my wounds, Luci. Do not try to weaken me. My blood will be shed before they take more from my people. This little bit is just the start.’
Luci looked down for the first time as her husband spoke to her.
‘Do not make me wrong, Luci. Is this the man you want your sons to look up to? Is this the man you would have feed your children? That will let them take more from me than I or my people can give. No, Luci, I will go to the King tomorrow and if blood must be spilled then let it be on our mountains, in our lands that will always be ours no matter where they build their stone castles. They can take our lands, Luci, but they will never take our hearts. They will never own this ground where our ancestors lie. Use it, yes, but it shall be ours again, even over the blood of my children and my children’s children. I can take no more! I leave for London tomorrow.’
Llewelyn ran two steps at a time up the stone staircase into the bedchamber where he took a book from the chest under the narrow arched window and sat to look into its pages, seeing nothing but the blind fury he struggled to control. She came to him there later when he was engrossed in the book.
She stood in the doorway and watched his furrowed brow, the strong face that had watched her as she loved him, as she bore his children and rode by his side into the mountains and valleys of their home. He looked up, sensing her presence, and she went to him, kneeling on the floor at his feet.
‘Luci,’ he spoke gently now, ‘mind your gown, there will never be another the way these Normans are taking our sustenance from us.’
She smiled at him and her face was as a thousand stars in the night sky asshe reached towards him and took his face between her hands, whispering to him, ‘My Lord, my Master, my love, look deep into me and tell me that I shall leave you to ride alone.’
His arms went about her and he pulled her to him, and he cried on her shoulder as she shushed him as a child until his body calmed, until her whispers reached his soul and until he was hers, in her arms, safe for the present and not wanting to be anywhere but here with this woman whose strength fed and nurtured him, whose smiles lit up his days and nights.
She held him from her, radiant in her defiance, her hair tumbling over her face, her weather beaten arms with the strength of the bow at which she excelled, with fingers that could pluck the songs from the sirens of the mist on the harp. Llewelyn never doubted this woman. He never had cause.
‘Tomorrow you ride to the King, My Lord. You shall take our sons with you and I shall be alongside you, watching you. I shall never leave you whatever you do and wherever you go. My gods are your gods, my lands are your lands and my people are your people, Llewelyn. May fortune go with you, for if anyone can talk some sense into those ignorant, unread demons, it is you. I shall stay, for perhaps my temper would not hold like My Lords, confronted with them in numbers.’
Llewelyn rose as she rose with his hand in hers. Their eyes met on a level, this woman who would fight alongside him, who would give her life to free her people from the tyranny they bore, whose heart was entwined with his in the earth that they stood upon, from where they had risen and to whence they would return.
‘There is no one else to do this, Llewelyn,’ she spoke as she walked to the door. ‘It is for us to fight with the spoken word, or the bow and sword, if need be. But we both know that your people look to you. I know you will not fail them but be safe, my love, think of your family also. They love you, as do your people. You must try to speak to the King on our behalf, make them see that we have nothing else to give. ‘I must go to see to the children now.’
Luci looked back as she made for the door of the chamber.
‘You look for your words in your books, my husband. I look for mine in your eyes.’
Llewelyn watched as she left the chamber and his brow furrowed again. His light had gone but her words were etched in his memory for him to remember on the ride tomorrow, a long hard ride, but a worthwhile one. He prayed silently as he looked down into his book in the fast fading light that trickled through the narrow window.
Luci tried soothing him in his sleep. He murmured and he tossed, and she lay awake as he slept the sleep of the troubled. She looked at him, feeling his demons in her too. Her thoughts troubled her, the thoughts of his journey and the dread of the outcome. So much have they lost, so much bloodshed in their lives, so much passion that they could share, but not with these arrogant usurpers that had taken all and were now draining the very life blood from them. Can they not feel? Luci thought. What makes them so different?
Her questions lay unanswered on her mind as she held him in her arms, smoothing back the thick hair from his brow, not being able to stop from kissing it softly and murmuring to him, ‘Quiet, my darling man, my cariad, we shall do what we must, we shall learn from our fathers’ mistakes and do it right this time.’
She watched him grimace in his sleep. She ran her fingers down the sides of his face as gently as fairy dust, as the warmth and love in her swelled. She kissed his brow, his nose, his lips, so softly that he slept still. When his dark eyes looked at her she knew instinctively what he thought. Many times the need for words was irrelevant between them, his mind and hers together. She would be afraid every minute he was away from her this time, but she would not let him see that in her face, she could mask her feelings well. He would know and she would not add to the burden he carried, she would be strong, as she was, as she always would be for this man. The face that she adored she etched into her very being to prepare her for tomorrow.
Luci had watched her sons and daughters grow tall and strong. She watched their minds develop with the passion and learning that was in their blood. They devoured their books as did their father. That learning they took from him eagerly, this man that could lead a nation, whom people loved as they looked on him, unimposing, always at ease, putting others at ease, as was their way. Never had they known this subservience in their history, the thoughts of superior beings as alien to them as these people who strangled them.
How did my grandfathers feel then? Luci thought. For they had known the time before the demons came. They had lived easily even though they worked so hard. Life was never easy but it was freedom to do with what they would. I wish, dear God, that they had never sailed to our shores, that the times that our bards sing to us were still here, so my children could live their lives in freedom, not with the Norman yoke around their necks and their chains around their feet.
Luci looked at the moonlight shafting through the window as it struck on her husband’s gold band. The moonlight lit it to cold metal. The sun makes it warm, shining gold, but the moonlight makes it hard iron. Is it a sign?
Luci’s heart missed a beat. The fiery passion of my people and the cold steel of the Norman heart. Yes, God, I know. We are a world apart.
The gold band that Llewelyn would pull onto his head as he entered the company of the Normans, until then held on his belt, was not needed with his own people. That band that was the heritage of the Welsh royal blood, unassuming and only to be used when needed. But a band that had struck fear into many a Norman soul when spotted on the field of battle. The band of their lineage, the band of gold that lay in the stark moonlight still shafting darts of cold steel into Luci’s heart as her tears fell silently and her eyes closed to blot out the vision that invaded her soul.
The mist of the mountains hung on the valley like a veil. Llewelyn swung his legs over the snorting stallion, reining him in hard, pulling his head around as he wheeled and scuffed the grass beneath his feet, grass which had been green last evening but was now churned by impatient hooves wishing to be gone, to feel the ground move under their feet.
Llewelyn’s two sons, Griffith ap Llewelyn and John ap Llewelyn, rode with him, as did a band of true men.
Luci’s sons looked to her. Fine, handsome young men with no fear in their faces and a bearing as proud as their mother’s. She walked towards each of them in turn, handing them a bundle of cloth, holding meat, cheese and a taut skin full of creamy milk.
To each of them she spoke in turn, having no fear of the whirling horsesaround her, but wishing them Godspeed, safe journey and to know that she would be with them until they returned. She then, with strong hands, placed on their heads their bands of pure gold, which she pulled down as they leaned to her from their mounts, fast onto their brows, holding their locks in place.
Luci had no expression as she looked into their faces, offering words ofencouragement and hope, with a warm look within her eyes for each one to take with them in their hearts.
All watched her and would not move until she had completed her ritual task. From one son to the other she walked, to both the same greeting, taking no heed that one of them was not yet sixteen years of age. They were equal now in her eyes.
This party held half the men of her household and yet she bid them haste with all speed to fight for their rights as their forefathers had done. They were leaving as heroes and in her heart she hoped they would return victorious, but not an inkling of what was deep in her would she show to these men who had a ride of three hundred miles facing them through Norman held lands.
They would change their mounts at other Welsh households on the way, where they would find food and beds as needed, doing the same on the ro rode on their backs, to carry a man from deepest Wales to London was beyond their strength.eturn journey. Even though these horses were as tough and well bred as the men where.
Let it not be beyond the strength of these men to carry out what shall be started here, Luci thought as she walked lastly to her husband, who lookeddown on her, his jawline hard, his hair misty with dew, the mountain mist clinging to him as if to restrain him there, shrouded in the mists, safe where he knew every stone and hiding place, even blindfolded.
His eyes softened as he looked on Luci’s serious countenance, knowing without words what she felt. His hands took the food out of hers as he touched her wedding ring softly, leaning down to her as she placed the largest band of gold on his head. She smiled at him, knowing that the greatest gift she could give him at that moment was the picture of her like this, praying for him in her heart, and that special smile on her lips saved for her Lord, her Master, her lover.
‘Godspeed, My Lord,’ she spoke. ‘Sustenance for your journey as I entrust our sons into your care. Be proud to have them at your side.’ As his head lifted from her a cheer arose from all present, to see Llewelyn Bren, Lord of Senghenydd and Miskin, wear the symbolic band of the Kings and princes of Wales. Hope rose in their hearts for injustices to be righted, for wrongs to be undone. This man was their leader, as naturally as water runs in streams, as naturally as he humbly took the honour that his name inspired in all.
‘Remember,’ Luci turned to the band of men who surrounded her ‘Remember the blood of your forefathers. Remember what they suffered and do not let them die in vain. We are a people as one and we shall fight with words that shall come from your Lords mouth, who knows in his heart that he speaks the will of all.’
She turned abruptly from her husband, slapped the rump of his horse and commanded in full voice, ‘Ride, my people, to seek justice from the Norman Lords, justice that is ours by right, justice that will be ours in truth!’
As the horses thundered past her, down the path leading from the castle to the valleys they would traverse on their epic journey, she stood alone in the field turned to mud, head dropped, the first tear falling silently down her cheek, slithering over her cloak then sinking into the heavy woollen cloth as the next one followed close on its heels.