now and his man’s feelings made him strong, but how strong was a man without his woman to return to?
John put his arm around his brother’s shoulders and said softly to him, ‘Griffith, my brother, I shall start that harem with you, boy. We shall love for Ewan and all our friends that will not have the chance to love, for I need that harem as did Ewan.’
Griffith looked into his brother’s face and cried out the grief to him that was deep in his heart. John held him and swore that they would survive to love, that they would survive to lead and that they would survive to fight again and again.
Llewelyn stood at the falls in Ystradfellte in the chill of the night and whispered up into the stars, ‘Luci, I am coming home. I cannot live without you, for living without you would be hell on earth. I have to get to you, my love. I have to get home once again.’
He stood there looking into the vast sky above him, out into the blackness, hearing the owls and nightjars calling, holding his arms around his cold body as Luci would have done. But she would be warm, he knew. She would comfort him, she would soothe away his fears as he slept, and in the morning sun he knew she would be there at his side as he did what he knew he must.
All night they planned where the few thousand men left with them would be placed in the valley as they waited for the Norman army to walk into their trap. They would hide behind the mountain ridges, they would be up trees, barely breathing, they would be behind the banks of the river in the morning light as the sun rose up and over the huge Brecon mountains.
Not a bird would sing as the horses walked into the pass and through the river, where they would watch them silently from their positions. The mighty Ystradfellte falls would loom in front of them as it did when Llewelyn’s army moved up the river. They would have to leave the river banks to traverse the pathways and then they would stand and fight. They would not know that they had waited, that they were going to stop them here, for Llewelyn did not want to lead them further into the heartlands. There was no need, for they would meet eventually, so let it be on his terms. Let it be here and let it be now.
The Welshmen heard them coming from miles away. They listened for the sound of the horses hooves. They listened for the stilling of the birds’ song as they passed. They listened to their hearts pound in their ears. They listened and waited and then they saw.
The Norman Lords sat well astride their horses, the banners of their colours carried in front of them as they came in a blaze of colour that moved cautiously up the river. They were a sight to put fear into the heart of the stoutest soul, let alone the weakened and broken Welshmen who watched with fear and hate enmeshed in them.
The Welshmen looked down from their battle stations and knew that they should not move until their own battle cry sounded. The hate welled up in their breasts and as their legs wanted to run so their hearts wanted to fight and die at the Norman sword rather that be totally defeated. For they would be heroes to the last. This was what they had come to do, and this was what they would do, the valiant Welshmen still with their Lord Llewelyn.
Humphrey de Bohun sat on his horse at the base of the huge falls on the river at Ystradfellte as he looked up and wondered why everything was so quiet. They knew that Llewelyn Bren would stand and fight. Had they not run him into the ground, but where would he stop and where would he fight?
De Bohun looked around searchingly, feeling totally uneasy with his current situation. He looked up the height of the falls and, lo, there he saw Llewelyn Bren right at the top, looking down on him with his band of gold low on his head, flashing in the morning sun. He held up his hand to stay the archers who had dropped to their knees and aimed at the sight above them.
Above the roar of the water he heard the voice of Llewelyn Bren, a voice that he had heard many times before on occasions when he had faced him in pleas for his people and peace, the man he had sat and broken bread with at table in happier times.
‘Llewelyn Bren!’ de Bohun ordered. ‘We charge you to surrender to the King for insurrection, murder and inciting your people to riot.’
The hidden men of Llewelyn’s army gritted their teeth, waiting for the battle cry to sound and their chance to move. Their hearts beat in unison with those of the Norman army as they all stayed and waited, as Humphrey de Bohun ordered Llewelyn Bren to surrender.
‘My Lord de Bohun,’ the voice of Llewelyn came above the roar of the river.
‘I would bargain with you.’
De Bohun scoffed as he shouted, ‘With what have you to bargain, My Lord Llewelyn?’
‘With your lives,’ Llewelyn answered from his eagles perch. ‘For how many will you lose today, My Lord? You know we have fight in us still and you are surrounded.’
The Normans looked about them as a circle of archers appeared with their bows trained on the leading party of the Norman army. They were bedraggled, they were starving, they were weary, but every man in that trap, be they Welsh man or Norman, knew for a certainty that the weapon they held in their hands was as lethal now as it ever was and would slice through them as a knife through freshly churned butter.
‘My Lord!’ de Bohun shouted. ‘How can you bargain? For we shall bring more men, and then even more men, as you well know!’
‘My Lord de Bohun!’ Llewelyn shouted as though his lungs would break. ‘Your men are as exhaustible as mine, and I have lost too many. It is me you want, as you know, and it is me who will appease your King. I shall surrender, My Lord de Bohun, on condition that you harm my people no more and let them return to their homes.’
Humphrey de Bohun consulted with his counterparts around him and shouted to Llewelyn, ‘What guarantees do we have that this is not a further trap, Llewelyn Bren?’
‘My Lord!’ Llewelyn Bren shouted. ‘I have lost enough! What I did I did to save my people from starvation. You can take me now as I offer, or you can fight, for I shall fight to the end as will every man that you see.’
As Llewelyn’s arms moved, from out of the trees and river banks, and down from the forest above them, came hundreds, no thousands, of men, each armed as he could be, each white faced, grimy and bedraggled, but each one there, ready for the word to fight, which would send them crazed into the Norman army.
Llewelyn Bren’s demeanour remained wholly calm now. ‘I give you me, Humphrey de Bohun, to take to your King, for my people must go free. They acted on my command, as do your soldiers, and better for one man to die than a nation to perish by the sword!’
Behind Llewelyn Bren and to each side of him walked his sons, their crowns flashing alongside their father’s, circles of Welsh gold, three. They stood in silent offering above the roar of the waterfall as Llewelyn spoke to them, begging them to turn and leave with Rhys and Rhodri.
‘Father, we have shown ourselves for a purpose,’ Griffith spoke. ‘For we are your sons, we are of your blood and where you go we go with you.’
Humphrey de Bohun spoke then, ‘Llewelyn Bren, you surrender to your King. I accept your surrender on his behalf. Let your people leave and return to their homes.’
Humphrey de Bohun took Llewelyn Bren and his sons, Griffith, John, Rhodri and Rhys in return for the safe passage of Llewelyn’s people to their homes. They marched them, guarded on all sides astride their mounts, from the falls at Ystradfellte to Bohun’s castle at Brecon. They headed north as the remaining men of the bedraggled, starving army of Llewelyn Bren watched, tears in their eyes and silent heads bowed as the procession passed through them.
Llewelyn and his sons sat proud, as did Rhodri and Rhys, as they were escorted to their fate and their prison. People came out of their houses and farm houses to watch as they passed, wishing their Lord safe passage and speedy return and cursing in their own tongue the Norman colours as they rode by. Llewelyn Bren was still their Lord, their Prince and the man that had fought to free them, but now he must pay the price.
Llewelyn had dispatched the twin brothers to tell his Luci the news. He did not have time enough to write her himself, so the brothers would have to break the news to her as well as they could.
Llewelyn’s defeat hurt him to his very core. He still struggled with his conscience and fought with the voice inside that told him he had deserted his family as badly as if he had run away from them. They were his life.
Without them he was not even a man, but he had chosen his path with his Luci, and he knew that what was to come now was a result of his actions.
He rode in silence, deep in thought within himself, not noticing anything except his own worst fears in his heart, not for himself but for his family, his sons, his wife and his loved ones. Please, dear God, let them not bear repercussions for what I have done, for I did not do it willingly, he spoke silently to the air around him. Take me! For it is my hands that have destroyed your creatures! It is on my head and no one else’s, so just take me and be done!
Llewelyn was not afraid to die. He was a warrior and he knew he would die a warrior when the time came. He just could not let go of what he would leave behind. He did not want to depart this life and leave his Luci to grieve.
The thought of his loved ones grieving brought tears to his eyes and drove a thousand knives into his heart. He talked to himself silently and he told himself to stop thinking, but the more he told himself the more the thoughts sprang into his troubled, wandering mind as he travelled further and further, step by step, towards the King.
Up through valleys they dragged themselves with the mighty mountains towering above them. The surreal, deeply forested sides of the valleys were hauntingly beautiful in stark contrast to the blue of the sky above them, blue and as cold as the hearts of the men being led further and further from their homes.
Their bundles had been taken from them and the crwth of Ewan now sat on a packhorse with their other belongings. Griffith felt anger run through him and despair at their failure, while John’s thoughts traversed the same paths as his father’s.
They were not allowed to write when they camped, as the Normans knew not what they wrote and mistrusted their knowledge and their intentions in writing. They were not allowed to read the books in their bundles, as the Normans did not know what the words said. So the prisoners spent the time talking among themselves and coming to terms with their imprisonment. Llewelyn tried to salve his elder son’s anger. He told him that the King would not harm them. He would be afraid of the aftermath if they did.
‘Griffith, we are not without support still, my son,’ he said to him gently. ‘No harm will come to you, I am sure.’
‘Father,’ Griffith answered, ‘harm has been done on both sides and I do not try to protect myself. Remember, father, I am your son and I am not afraid to die. It is the way that vexes me of our death, for I want to die on the field of battle, not stuck like a pig as these barbarous, yellow-bellied intruders would have me do.’
John, silent until now, spoke to his father, ‘I have a fear for our mother, for Griffith speaks like her and she is not known for temperance as are we, father.’
Llewelyn smiled weakly as he spoke, ‘Far be it for me to hold your mother from what she sets out to do, but I have given orders to be taken to her, stating that it is for her to protect my lands and my people now and that her task should be to keep them safe from the Normans until such time as we can return. I hope that she will heed my words, John, for her safety is what is uppermost in my mind. She must survive for us to survive always, my sons.’
They ate what meagre fare was handed to the prisoners by one of the smirking soldiers that watched them. They were given bread not to their liking as they fed on fresh meat and the produce of their livestock. This belly-filling sap was not what they chose, but eat it they had to as they could not hunt any longer for that which was their sustenance.
They left next morning before the sun showed its face and rode to Brecon Castle, the fortress of Humphrey de Bohun. They arrived just before the sun set over the other side of the valley for the night that was to come. They were quartered with guards at the doors and all slept that night the sleep of the defeated. Llewelyn had looked through the little slits of windows at the dark sky above and poured out his soul to his Luci, crying out for her silently, to protect herself and to look to her children, for they were the future now.