Luci ran to meet the emissary that she had known would arrive soon. She ran out of the castle, clothes flying behind her, with Eleri close on her heels, shouting after her, ‘Luci, you will be the death of me with all this running, my girl!’
Luci took the reins of the horse and ran her hand over its snorting muzzle, soothing him after his long, hard ride. She whispered to the horse, telling him that he had brought her news and that she was his friend.
She looked up into the emissary’s tired face as she spoke to him quietly, not to spook the horse further, ‘What news have you for me?’
The young emissary looked down into the face of this lady, thoughts running through his mind. How could Llewelyn stay away from this woman for so long?
‘My Lady,’ he spoke, ‘they have taken the tax collector from Neath and now our numbers exceed ten thousand men.’
‘You have other news for me?’ Luci asked hesitantly as he reached inside his jerkin, from where he extracted the roll that Luci longed to see. She took it from him and smiled then. ‘Come, drink, eat and rest, for I have mind to reply to this missive before you return.’
The emissary was made comfortable after having discussions with Luci and her men at arms. They talked for a little while of their hopes for a good outcome to this war. They talked of how perhaps the English King would know when so many were fighting that their cause was just. They took news from the emissary of how the Normans were fleeing from the towns before their onslaught, and that Llewelyn had had word that there were few Normans left in Glamorgan.
Hope became alive in their breasts as Luci thought deep inside of her. Good may come of this, but what of my husband?
Even though the might of the Normans might be swayed, what about Llewelyn? The man who had led them, the man who had caused the uprising, as they would call it, and her sons. What would happen to them? Her heart was heavy but she did not show it to these hopeful people, she hid it in her deepest being alongside other feelings that lay there waiting.
The emissary rested while a fresh horse was made ready for his return, his horse being let out to grass after feeding well, to make sure that he did not suffer from the long haul he had made. The men at arms discussed further the news that the emissary had brought and Luci retired to her chamber for a little while alone. Eleri watched her leave then went to check on the children in her absence.
Luci sat where Llewelyn always sat when he was home, where the light shone through the narrow window, affording him the best light to read by. Luci could read well but her time was taken up with household tasks and she did not have the love of the book that her husband had. However, the words that confronted her now were the most precious words she had ever seen, for they were hers from her Llewelyn. They were all she had of him now but she would have more of him before long, for she would not let him leave her ever. He was such a part of her being, this man, he dwelt in her soul.
She looked up at the stars at night and she looked up at the clouds in the day, she spoke to them as her hawks flew, asking them to carry her words up to the place above the clouds where the whispers would run through the air and find him wherever he was. She had hope still in her heart, for she would not fail this man by not having hope. This was her task and as she unfurled the parchment the words came to her from Llewelyn’s heart. She was Luci the Warrior Prince’s wife. She was brave, she was a mother, she gave her all always and she read now throwing all of her being into reaching him through his words as he would through hers.
My dearest Luci,
The deed will be done soon. Where I shall go then is not a question. The question I believe now in my darkest moments, which are many without your love, support and touch, is how long will I have to be free? I knew what I did, but I did not do it willingly. Every bit of my being wanted to turn and protect only my family, those that I love beyond my life. But I now feel that I have given my life for my people and have denied my family that which is theirs.
Your sons shall return to you, my Luci, if it is within my might to do so. They shall protect you, my love, and the little ones, who I yearn to see daily. I think of the comfort of my home, with you by my side. I think of flying over the mountains with you, flying your hawks as we ride under them, free as they are on our mountains. These things haunt me, my Luci, and I look to you now to forgive me and to tell me, weak man that I am, that I had no choice. For it is only from your words that my soul shall be stilled. There is no one else who will lose so much from this bloody, cursed war than you, my love. This is what rends my heart in two, this is all that I cannot bear.
Help me, my love, send word to me that you forgive me. Hold my hands, Luci, and I shall go in peace when the time comes for me. For in your forgiveness I shall go to my end, if need be, proud and strong, as I know you would make me.
Take care, my love. I shall meet you soon, whatever the outcome.
Luci took the quill in her hand and dipped it into her ink pot, placed alongside the seal of the Lord of Senghenydd and Miskin, which she would use with hot wax to seal her missive when completed. Her parchment was held down before her by polished stones and as she began to write, the scrape of the pen salved her ears, saved them from the silence that threatened to engulf her and make her weak. The sound of the scraping beat in a rhythm with her heart as she scribed to this beloved man the words which she knew he needed, the words that would make him strong.
My Lord, my husband, my love,
Hear my words, my husband, as I tell you that my love flies to you on the wind with this letter. My heart, which you took with you on your journey, is safe with yours, for I feel it throb still. I take your hands to my lips as I kneel at your feet, My Lord. I kiss your fingers one by one. I turn your hands and kiss your palms as a man as mighty as your father before you, and your grandfather, Llewelyn the Great, before that, and his forebears, who look on him with pride and tell him that his deeds are pure and that, through him, greatness will come. How I long to be with you, My Lord, how my body yearns for your love and for your smile. I need you to smother me with your love, as I wish to
Luci stopped writing abruptly, leaving the quill pressed against the parchment. The ink smudged over the last word in the letter and her tears flowed as though her heart would break. How could she tell this man her true feelings? Words were not her strength, as were his. She had not seen him since before the Norman defiled her.
His rough hands came back to mock her then and she wished to rip off her clothes and cleanse her body again and again.
She could not do this. Who was she to forgive her love? She who was defiled and unclean for him now. How could she say the words that she felt without her heart breaking in two? For then he would surely know.
She threw the quill pen at the parchment, where it came to rest, dragging tendrils like ropes across her words in deep crimson, bloody ink. She ran down the chamber steps, across the hall and up the steps to the children’s quarters.
‘Eleri,’ she whispered, with her tear streaked face telling all as she pulled her friend out of the room. ‘We must talk.’
Eleri paced the walls with Luci while she tried to reason with her. ‘You know that Llewelyn said we were to go to the mountains, Luci,’ she stated gently to her friend, as was her way. ‘You do not want to go against him now, do you?’
The lilting, calm, persuasive voice had no effect on Luci as her plans formed in her teeming mind.
‘I know, Eleri,’ Luci said over and over again. ‘But he never sent word that I could not go to him. I mean, he never said that, did he?’ She looked into her friend’s face and sought there, as her husband sought in hers, sanctification for deeds already done, or for deeds forming rapidly in an alert mind.
Eleri took her hands in hers as she made her sit down on the sloping bank that ran away from the castle, looking out over the valleys and hills.
‘Look, Eleri,’ Luci spoke, ‘they are out there, over one of those mountains. Down in one of those valleys lay my husband and yours. They are alive, Eleri, and we must go to them. We have the emissary to lead us straight to them. There is not much time, Eleri. You know as well as I do that the Norman armies cannot be long in coming now. What if we leave the opportunity go? I for one shall never forgive myself. How could I? And there is something which breaks my heart, Eleri. I have not felt my husband’s breath on my face since before the Norman took me by the river.’
Eleri held out her arms to comfort her friend but Luci stayed her.
‘No, Eleri, my strength has returned. But understand, if my husband were to die before I got to him then my last knowledge of a man would be of the defiler and not my Llewelyn. Can I let this chance go? I fear not, for it is my salvation I seek, and in seeking that I shall give to him what he asks for. I shall seek forgiveness from him silently, without adding to his burdens. It is for the benefit of my children that I go. For to not go and lose him would destroy me. If we love, be it only once again in my life, it will be enough.’
Eleri rose from the bank, held out her hand and said, ‘I shall be ready to ride with you when the emissary leaves, and I shall watch my Rhys smile for me as you walk into your husband’s arms, Luci, for this shall be done. I shall get the horses made ready and get the kitchens to make up three bundles, not one. Make ready for the ride, for we shall not return until you are completely whole, my friend, and until I have given my Rhys something to take with him into battle, also.’
They smiled again as they rushed into the huge castle gate to make hasty preparations for the ride of their lives, for their flight to their husbands, their lovers, their soul mates.
Pagan de Turberville assembled his knights in the castle and fortress of Caerphilly. He stormed about, enraged that this should be happening. He turned to his advisers and screamed at them, asked them how this could be, and he threatened to kill every last one of the vagrant Welsh when he got his hands on them, and he threatened to kill his servants if he did not.
He remembered the time when the Welsh had attacked this castle and they were beaten back again and again. They failed to take the might of the Normans. But where was the King now? Where was the army he had asked for? Did they not understand what was happening here? This uprising had happened so swiftly. Eight weeks ago, Llewelyn Bren was in the clutches of the King in London and instead of being hauled before the Court at Lincoln he had escaped. It was the worst day’s work that the Kings men had ever done when they let him go.
Pagan de Turberville was mad, as mad as he had ever been in his life. His ice-cold exterior had cracked. He needed to get out of here and annihilate this bastard army, but until more forces arrived he was trapped, helpless and useless, and this did not please him.
No, Pagan de Turberville was not a happy man, and his face showed it. His people stayed well out of his way, as though he were a rabid dog that would bite if they got too close.
His confidante, calmed him. He spoke to him, told him that they were on their way and swore that they would never have the gall to attack this, their fortress. The minor castles that Llewelyn and his army had razed to the ground and the tax collectors and mayors that he had forcibly taken from every village across these lands were easy for him. And did not his grandfather, Llewelyn the Great, and his father, Llewelyn, have to cede this land to them? They were all failures, he told him, they would never win.
‘That is what worries me,’ de Turberville said through his clenched teeth. ‘This is my land. And who will collect my taxes now? He knew he could not beat us so he has destroyed the infrastructure we set up to milk these people dry and to stop them rising up as they have done. How can we collect our dues now? Who will collect them? There is not a damned man in this accursed country who will do it now!’
He was right.
‘We shall have to make an example of this man,’ de Turberville said. ‘There is not another man who could lead as he. Who else is there in this mountainous, treacherous country, where they have buried so many of their dead, where they would never conquer completely, where they fought like warriors possessed?’
Gilbert placed a hand on his fellow countryman’s shoulder as he said to him, ‘Pagan, we shall not have to wait long. The time of Llewelyn Bren will not last for much longer. Our forces are getting closer every day. We cannot let him win. We will not!’
Llewelyn Bren rode at the head of his army over the valleys and mountains of his kingdom. He wore his band of gold with his sons behind him and Rhys at his side. They turned their beloved land into a killing field and watched the Normans flee before them as they ridded their lands of the bloodsuckers that were destroying them.
They were gaunt, they camped where they could, and they hid where they could until there was no longer need to hide. They sang around camp fires and they settled in courtyards and castles where they were fed as well as they could have been in such sheer numbers. They fished in their rivers and hunted for food in their forests. They had done what they set out to do and they knew that the Norman armies were on their way.
Llewelyn walked among his men, as did Rhodri, Rhys, Griffith, John and Ewan. Ewan watched Griffith like a hawk, together with his right hand men, who protected the three golden crowns with their lives. They spoke to each assembly and explained that they must now go for the big one before their day was done. They knew that the Norman Lords had fled with their families to the sanctuary of Caerphilly Castle and Llewelyn knew that the heart of the Norman stronghold on his lands sat in that castle behind those mighty walls, walls that had never been breached by a Welsh force, walls built just to withstand them.
He had watched his grandfather cry when he had to sign the command to move back to the other side of the river and cede his flat, productive lands. He had watched his father comfort him and he had watched the old man take the quill in his shaking hand, with his fathers hand on his shoulder to steady him, as the Norman Lords smirked and sneered at the sight. Llewelyn Bren, Lord of Senghenydd and Miskin, was going to take back his grandfather’s pride from the Norman fortress. They would attack at dawn the next day. This new day was for eating, resting and making ready their weapons and arrows.
They stood on the mountaintop and looked down on mighty Caerphilly Castle in the distance and as his blood boiled his body shook, as his heart moved his mind numbed and his soul cried out for his Luci, for his love, for his children, for all that he was about to lose, yet knowing that while they sat in the castle before his eyes, he could not rest and he would not have freed his people.
Luci and Eleri rode like the wind. They changed their horses with the emissary at the Castle of the Lords of Afan, cousin to Llewelyn Bren. The people there were heartened to see them, for their kinsmen rode with Llewelyn Bren and they were glad to have news that they survived still. They ate well and rested for the night in the beautiful Afan Valley, looking down on the monastery of Margam and out to the sea beyond. They talked into the night with their kins people and were given fresh bundles to carry on their journey to their men.
Luci looked down on her aunt Angharad as she bade her farewell.
‘I wish I could ride with you, Luci,’ Angharad spoke. ‘I wish we all could, but I am needed here and my bones are not what they used to be. The horse would be blamed for my sluggishness and I would not want that.’
Luci smiled at her, reached down and kissed her forehead lightly as she blessed her for her thoughts and promised to take in her heart greetings to her sons and grandsons, who rode with Llewelyn Bren.
‘Tell them to hurry home, Luci, for we sorely need them,’ the soft singing voice of Angharad spoke as Luci wheeled her horse around to follow Eleri and the emissary.
She pulled her cloak about her to keep out the morning chill and rode to her husband, her lover, her Llewelyn.
The armies of the Normans moved closer. An army of mercenaries were moved into Cardiff Castle and Humphrey de Bohun moved in on Caerphilly from Brecon. Badlesmere was moving in on Caerphilly through Rudry as William de Montague, Henry Earl of Lancaster and John Giffard moved in also.
Luci and Eleri rode behind the emissary though valleys and rivers, over mountains and hills, through fields and over stone paths towards their goal, towards the men they loved, towards the army that they would join before another dawn broke. They did not know what they would find. They only knew that this day they would meet the army, they would meet their people again, and they would drink in the scents of those they had missed so badly.
Luci looked to the sky as her horse faltered on the steep slope of the mountain. She patted his neck and whispered into his ear, ‘Stand fast, my good and true mount for you serve me well.’
They clambered up the slope, one man, two women and three horses, and as they reached the summit the emissary made a run across the wild, bare top of the mountain. Then he swung down from his horse and turned to Luci.
‘Look, My Lady, look there.’
Eleri and Luci let their horses free and scrabbled to the summit of the rocky outcrop. And before them they saw in the distance, in the valley below and to the south of them, the mighty walls of Caerphilly Castle looming in the afternoon sun, challenging them as it always had done.
‘That, My Lady, is where we shall find our army,’ the emissary spoke as he pointed to the hills beyond the castle, hazy in the weak winter sunshine.
Luci fell to her knees and laughed like a child. ‘I am coming, my love,’ she whispered to the wind that caught her hair, whipping it around her face and body. ‘I am coming to you soon, Llewelyn, My Lord, my love.’