Luci and Eleri floated in the pool in the early morning, the cold water invigorating their bodies, refreshing, tantalisingly clear and sweet. They bathed themselves and held their hair under the water as it ran downstream, laying there like nymphs of the woodland, unreal creatures in the mist and dew dripping from the trees above them, plopping into the pool like silver droplets into a pool of life.
Luci was swinging between deep anger and a dream-like state as she waited for news. Eleri just hoped and prayed silently, knowing her lot was as it had always been, and if need be she would bury her Rhys and miss him for all of her life as she went about it, a shadow of herself but working to survive.
Other thoughts invaded the breast of Luci, being a warrior’s daughter and of the blood of the rulers of this land. She would not rest and live her life out in peace if her Llewelyn was taken. He was her Lord, he was her man and he was her life. The passion stirred in her and the tales of her ancestors would not let her be in peace.
She had waited for three days now since arriving back at her home, three days spent planning and hoping, but three days that saw hope return to her heart. She let the feelings run into her as she looked up into the sky above. She knew as Eleri knew that they were still alive. They would have felt the arrows pierce their breasts in their very own bodies, should that have been their fate. No, they lived still, but the news was a long time in coming to such impatient women.
Their time in the pool always worked to relax them. The ritual of bathing and making ready for the return would not be put aside. All must be ready always to greet and to love as was their way and their purpose in their lives as they saw it, the welcoming smile with white flashing teeth breaking into a grin as the tears fell, part of their passion as a nation and part of their very beings.
The hooves breaking twigs went unnoticed to the two with their heads under the water with their hair floating downstream as they lay there dreaming, until the splash of the hooves in the water brought their heads swiftly to the surface. They looked up through the water streaming down their faces, bodies still submerged, slowly backing to the rocks behind them, holding their arms about them for protection in the most natural way ever as the horseman looked down at the two women.
Luci’s face whitened and drained of any vestige of blood and Eleri’s eyes blazed like fury at the invasion of their privacy.
‘My Lady, I thought I should bring you the news,’ the horseman spoke. His cold, haughty sneer told Luci half of what she waited to know without a word being spoken – her husband would not be home soon.
Eleri moved in front of her in the water as she spoke, watching her face and knowing who stood above them without a doubt in her mind. She spoke clearly.
‘Speak what you have a mind to say and then leave, for you are being watched at this moment.’
‘Watched!’ the laugh erupted from the horseman as if from the Devil’s cauldron. ‘Do not amuse me! Your people are scattered to the four corners of this country now, cowering and afraid, hiding in their homes. The ones that reached them, of course!’
‘Speak, you coward, and leave!’ Luci shouted. ‘You defiler of women, you cowardly bastard that you are, speak and leave before I kill you with my bare hands and wreak My Lords vengeance myself!’
Eleri held her then as his horse took fright at the vociferousness of Luci’s deep guttural tones and reared up above them as the women backed away from the flashing hooves.
‘Speak! I shall speak!’ the horseman spat through clenched teeth as he fought to regain control of the creature whose back he sat astride. ‘I shall speak to tell you, My Lady, that your husband awaits you in Brecon Castle, where you shall be summoned and escorted soon for your trip to the Tower of London to await your King’s pleasure! Your pathetic rebellion is over! Your people are once again beaten, as they always will be! You know of our strength, My Lady. Why bother to resist it?’
He spoke with such a look of utter contempt on his face. Had Eleri had a weapon in her hand she would have wiped it off without remorse as she twisted the blade in his heart. He reeled the horse about and climbed out of the dirty, churned riverbed as he turned, leered at their nakedness and spoke for the last time to them before leaving.
‘Do not think to escape, for there is no escape for you ever.’
They emerged from the churned water and Eleri did not know whether or not she was happy with the look of pure hatred and fury on Luci’s face at that instant. There was no going back for Luci now. Her hatred was complete and Eleri knew that, should one hair of her husband’s or sons’ heads be harmed, then the fury of Luci would descend on the Normans with a wrath that they would never have experienced before, and deep in her, Eleri knew that she would be right by her side.
Luci and Eleri dressed in silence with the air between them daring either one to speak. They rode like thunder back to the castle, where the emissary from Llewelyn awaited them. Luci swung down from her horse, left it to Eleri and ran up the stone steps to reach him, where he had been watching for them from the battlements.
Luci, breathless, told the emissary, ‘I know what you are about to tell me, I have had word. Is he well? And my sons, are they with him? Are they unhurt?’
The questions came thick and fast and the emissary answered, ‘My Lady, I had thought to bring you bad news but it seems that my horse was not fleet enough of foot for me to reach here in time.’
Luci held up her hand, ‘The fault lies not with you, as we were told from a source who would have left the battlefield before you were sent. He hoped to destroy me once again but he gave me hope where he stood, for I knew that my Llewelyn was alive. Anything else he could have said was nothing compared to that. I know that he is imprisoned but are we not as a nation imprisoned by the accursed Norman forces? That he is alive and with my sons is enough. He has been imprisoned before, as have all our kinsmen. He will not be harmed in the keeping of the King. They would not dare.’
Eleri reached Luci’s side and enquired of the emissary news of her Rhys. Her heart lifted when she was given the news that he was with Llewelyn still, even if in imprisonment in the castle of Humphrey de Bohun. This was nothing new at all. Rhys would survive alongside his Lord, she knew.
The emissary was led to an anteroom off the great hall where he gave a full account of the surrender of Llewelyn Bren.
Luci’s was proud in her grief as she thought of the bravery of her husband and sons, who stood besides him and surrendered, knowing that it had taken Llewelyn much heart searching to make that decision, deep thinking as he was. As conscientious as his beloved knew him to be, there was more fire and fight running in his veins than in a dozen Norman Lords that she knew of well.
Luci walked to the edge of the chamber and shook her head as she questioned the way of things, as she asked why they had to do this. She spoke to the people present as she recalled the slaying of Gilbert de Clare, her husband’s and sons’ leader and friend at twenty-four years of age on the field of Bannockburn, only less than two years before. This weak King had then let himself be led into allowing men to attempt to rule de Clare’s lands, men who could not rule a field full of cattle.
Luci spoke scornfully, ‘He must and will see reason in this affair. And when they come to take me –’ a gasp arose from the chamber and she put up her hand.
‘This was not something the emissary relayed to me, but it was sent by the Normans themselves, through one of their own.’
Eleri watched Luci closely, not knowing which way she would turn, knowing she had it in her to lead as her husband had done but knowing that the time was not right and that she must hold her tongue and her temper now for their men’s safety.
Luci knew that Eleri watched her. She did not need to see her eyes. She felt them bore into her from all sides as she battled with the thoughts of reason and anger reverberating around her brain. The thoughts threatened to destroy her as she took a deep breath, seeing her laughing sons’ faces before her very eyes. And she heard a voice come to her from afar; singing, laughing, telling tales of their brave deeds, memories of wrestling with her sons on the green swathes of grass running away from the castle walls.
In that moment she knew the meaning of life and self preservation as she looked to the faces before her.
‘They must live. It is imperative, and we must do all in our power to bring that about. I have to leave for imprisonment and I shall go willingly, for I shall be with my husband. I must take my son Meurig with me as he will be seen a danger and a target, so he will dwell with me wherever I go for his safety. But the daughters and younger sons of Llewelyn Bren will remain in the care of you, whom we love, with help from our kinsmen until time that we will return. For I know that we shall return. The King is a foolish King but he is not stupid and he will see the error of his landlord’s ways.
‘I shall be ready when they come for me, as will Meurig, who wears the golden crown with his father’s blessing. I have one more request to make of all here, that you join me in prayer before I leave, to pray for the soul of our Ewan, whose sweet melodious voice will never again float around the heights of the great hall, but whose singing and valour on the field of battle will be marked down in history as of one of the true bards.’
Every person in the room felt sorrow on the death of Ewan, whose tinkling voice, cheery disposition and wit had lifted many of them from despair time and time again. Perhaps this was meant to be, for he would never grow old and withered, his voice would be remembered as young and pure as he was, and his face among the stars would never wear the frown lines of those who have seen life take them down, time and time again. No, Ewan is indestructible now in the sky. He is there, forever twinkling among the stars, where he deserves to be. He was immortal when he was born, Eleri muttered under her breath, in praise of a much loved son of her Cymru, her Wales.
The emissary left to tell his twin brother’s family of their loss. His heart reached out to them and it would be his lot to care for them now. He would do this without thought as was the way of the Welsh. And of those twin brothers, the one which would lead half a life now until he joined his brother once again, would care for his brother’s children as his own and he would be happy to see to them in his brother’s place. They were different yet they were the same and everyone who loved the one also loved the other. So it was his place to nurture and care and it would be his gift to his brother to do so for him.
Luci and Meurig prepared themselves for their journey. Their horses were chosen and their formal clothes and adornments befitting their stations were cleaned, prepared and laid out ready for their journey.
The Normans waited patiently in the kitchens, where they were fed well while Luci packed her son Meurig’s bundle herself.
‘We must pack well, my son, for we have to carry sustenance to your brothers and your father of the fare they are used to. They will appreciate that as much as seeing us, I am sure.’
She smiled at Meurig, trying to reassure him that all would be well. She lifted his golden crown to his head when he was garbed in his mail and wearing the colours of his house, as did Llewelyn when he left them. This son, Meurig, who was as deep as his father but not as scholarly as his brother John, but with more seriousness about him than Griffith, whose laughter would be quelled now without his constant companion, Ewan the Harper.
She held his face in her hands, gently running her fingertips down the serious countenance as she spoke to him, ‘Meurig, you were not afraid to guard this castle in your father’s and brothers’ absence, so why the melancholy now, my son?’
Meurig looked pained into his mother’s eyes as he spoke, ‘Mother, I have known and read of the injustice of the Norman, how he does not kill cleanly. I know of the barbarism of hanging and drawing the innards from a man while still alive and I am so afraid, my mother, so afraid.’ He stood there, unmoving, with a tear rolling down his face.
He was thirteen years of age.
‘I am afraid that I will cry out and shame my birth, shame my people and not die like the warrior that my father believes me to be by the bestowing of my crown.’
Luci took him into her arms then as he fought to regain control of his emotions. She shushed him as she had shushed children and grown men so many times before.
She looked deep into his eyes and spoke,
‘My son, some acts are inflicted to draw by force that cry, that scream. It is not unnatural for a warrior to scream or curse in death. Be not afraid of your end for if it is your end then it will be the end of us all. And if any of us cry out then it will be a battle cry and not a cry of shame, and however you feel it escape your lips, my son, it will be heard as the cry of the warrior that you are.
‘Now come with me and be not afraid of that which has not happened. Be only afraid of that of which you know, for the unknown is not to be feared, my son, it is but shadows and is unreal. So walk with me proud and ride to your father, to imprisonment, yes, but remember: they can imprison our bodies but they will never imprison our hearts, my son. Our souls are as free as our hawks and our minds can learn and think if we were in the very Devil’s haunts. For that they cannot see they cannot take. I am proud to walk with you and ride with you, my son. I am in your hands now.’
They walked from the chamber, down into the courtyard and onto their fully regaled mounts, proud and seated with their heads held tall and strong as they turned their horses northward to their Lord, their Prince Llewelyn, who awaited them in Brecon Castle, and willingly toward the same fate that he would endure, as they would be together and they would love and live wherever they were.
Humphrey de Bohun sat at the table in the great hall of his castle at Brecon, pondering over what should happen to Llewelyn Bren. He had been here long enough to know that to rise up again would not be adverse to this warlike race of people whom he loved, but his King was his supreme ruler and it was his place to rule and to collect the dues of his conquering race. However, this King was so weak that his private life left a lot to be desired and he was being manipulated by so many power-hungry men around him.
De Bohun sent a guard to ask Llewelyn Bren to join him. Llewelyn strode into the room and faced de Bohun squarely across the table.
‘Sit, Llewelyn,’ de Bohun spoke, ‘for have we not sat thus many times before?’
Llewelyn sat and looked deep into the face of Humphrey de Bohun from across the large, solid, hewn table.
‘I wish to God that Gilbert de Clare had lived and not died on the field in Scotland, you know, Humphrey.’
‘Do I not wish the same thing?’ de Bohun replied.
‘Gilbert de Clare was a natural tactician, young as he was, and he had young and old eating out of his hands, be they Norman or Welsh.’
Llewelyn took his goblet of wine and drank of it at his host’s table as he listened to de Bohun continue.
‘You know that I must take you to the King, Llewelyn, as I have been commanded. But I am afraid the Despensers may have their clutches on him already. While you are here, Llewelyn, you and your family will sit at the table to eat with my family, as we always have done, but I have no sway over what will happen at the Tower, and there you must go together with your sons and wife, for those are my orders. It is not for me to question, yet how can I not when I see my King being led by his nose, like a bull with a string of obnoxious creatures pulling the rope?’
‘Ahh, it is a pity, Humphrey,’ Llewelyn spoke, ‘that we could not sort things out without interference. Then all this might not have happened. I was glad to see you come to take my surrender, Humphrey, for I have trust in you even though you reek of that Norman blood that runs in your veins.’
De Bohun smiled at Llewelyn and answered him wisely as he said,
‘Watch your tongue, Llewelyn Bren, or I shall have it on my plate for breakfast, as you know my countrymen are wont to do.’
The two laughed together and Llewelyn relaxed and ate with Humphrey de Bohun, tasting his food for the first time in a long while. But he yearned for his Luci to be there, with the stars in the heavens sitting at their sides, and they would leap into his brain and dance in front of his eyes with the smile that struck hope into his heart, the smile he knew was for him alone. In all this wide world she smiled just for him, and that is what made her priceless.
Luci and Meurig rode into the castle at Brecon soon after sunrise on the third day of their travels. Humphrey de Bohun came out to meet the party and he greeted Lady Luci with as much honour as he would his own wife. She was impatient with the formality, as he knew, yet he kept her there, wanting to gaze on this woman for a little longer than was probably polite but holding her there with his talk until he had to let her go to her husband.
He informed her that while they were prisoners of his he should afford them the best hospitality that he could but that very soon they must leave for London and the King.
She looked up into his face as she said,
‘My Lord de Bohun, where my husband goes I shall follow him, where I go my sons will follow and where we go our people will follow. We are your prisoners, My Lord, but we are not without support still, as you know. We shall ride with you to the King, we shall go as your prisoners, but we shall not be silent, My Lord, for there are grievances that must be aired and if the actions of my husband were the only way to be heard and get justice then we have a cause to put before the King. And bear witness when I tell you that I shall not be silenced until he hears me, My Lord, for that is the right of my birth, as it is his right to bring us before him as prisoners. Prisoners, yes, but finished, no, for we have fight in us still, and always will, as you know too well, My Lord de Bohun.’
De Bohun fell to his knee in front of this woman who spoke to him fearlessly, kissed her hand and welcomed her to his castle, and he looked up into her eyes as he said to her,
‘To be graced by a prisoner such as yourself, My Lady Luci, would make me the envy of the whole of the Kingdom, and forgive me if I take pleasure in my task, but I beg of you now that if ever you have need of me, My Lady, I am at your service, now and always.’
He rose to his feet and led the party into the great hall, where Llewelyn and the sons of Luci walked towards them. They cried out for joy when they clapped eyes on Meurig, as Luci walked straight into her Llewelyn’s arms and heart.
Their imprisonment at Brecon Castle lasted two days, where they sat at the table of Humphrey de Bohun and his family and ate with them as they exchanged pleasantries and staved off the time that they knew would come soon. Rhys even regained some of his humour, but Llewelyn and Luci noticed together the pained expression on his face for his Eleri to come to him. He knew she was the only one Luci could have enough trust in to leave her children with but he still missed her so much and wondered if it was his fate to not set eyes on his Eleri again.
Each one of them thought deeply during these two days of rest before setting out on the journey that would take Llewelyn Bren, Rhys, Griffith and John back into the city they had fled from two and a half months earlier. Rhys had led them out of the trap then and now he felt like a caged dog as he was heading back for London, away from his home and his woman again.
He would never forget the night before the battle at Caerphilly, when he had seen her face riding towards him on the mountain with Lady Luci, their hair flying in the wind and nothing in their path that could stop them from
reaching their men. Oh, how they had loved that night, with all the passion of youth.
After all their time together they had found the love that was buried within them over time, but in the face of danger they had brought it to the fore for a purpose. Rhys knew the purpose. Rhys knew he was blessed to have a woman like Eleri by his side and how he wished she were here with him right now even though he wanted her to be safe. He needed her love on the mountain right now and he knew that were she here it would be what he would have received without a doubt in his mind.
Griffith longed to be home to grieve for his friend and to talk into the night around their own fire with his contemporaries, who would all grieve with him.
John missed his books and wished he could bury himself in his father’s library and lose himself there with no thought for anything but the next sentence that would surprise him or the next fact that he did not know.
Llewelyn grieved only for his own hearth and the children that they had left behind in safety. Everything else he could want in the world was here with him. Everything, that is, but peace of mind and freedom from the dreams that haunted him night after night.
His love was here in his arms. She would love him, take him, nurse him and adore him until his strength returned, he knew. But when he looked deep into her he saw something that had not been there before. He looked at her, sometimes puzzled, as if he saw something in her eyes that he did not understand.
Ever fiery, Luci’s passion and fervour would die as quickly as it rose, hasty in battle, quick with her hands and temper but so easily subdued. Llewelyn looked deep into her and found a hatred, a deep hatred that he had never seen before, but he did not question its cause.
They languished and thought for the two days allotted them and on the third day they all mounted in the courtyard at Brecon for the long trek back to where it had all started, the feelings running in the breasts of the returning Welshmen entirely different now but still not without hope.
They rode out of the castle a commanding group, some fifty strong, with the colours of Humphrey de Bohn carried in front and Llewelyn Bren and his three sons, each proudly wearing their band of gold low down on their brows, and their mother in their midst, protecting her with their might from all who would dare to look on her. Thus they walked out of the mighty wooden doors of Brecon Castle.
Rhys and Rhodri were watched well on the road to London, Humphrey de Bohun not trusting any one of these Welshmen if he did not have to. They made for the well-worn road that would skirt their valleys. They would travel over the mountaintops and down the mighty Afan Valley, which Rhodri knew so well, having grown up there.
They would ride close to the home of Rhodri, the home that Luci had visited with Eleri on their way to Caerphilly and her cousin Angharad his mother. They would touch the roaring ocean and ride the coastline to Cardiff where they would rest and change horses for the next leg of their journey. They would eat well in the homes and castles of the Normans that hugged this rich and fertile coast land, where orchards and field crops abounded in the rich fertile soil.
Through the garden of Wales they would ride to the capital city and their fate, never flinching, accepting their lot, but ready to fight with their words and their tongues still. They would not go silently into that alien Kingdom, and as Luci looked on her sons she lifted her eyes to the heavens above and prayed that should they all die, then let her be the first to go, as to see any of her beloved children or her husband go before her would tear her in two and would be pain more intense than losing her own life.
They camped at Cardiff and were given a cautious welcome as the people came to look on the prisoners of Humphrey de Bohun and the man who had rid Glamorgan of its tax collectors, the man who had caused so many Norman and English to flee that land.
They left the next morning on fresh mounts in the early drizzle, following the banner of Humphrey de Bohun, carried still in front of them as they rode three and four abreast on the wide road.
The tears threatened but Luci held them at bay as they left the valleys behind to skirt the river that would put them on English soil. Up the valley they rode to the ford, where they would cross, and when their hooves touched that English Norman conquered soil they all knew there was no going back. That this was started by Llewelyn Bren only weeks before they all knew, but they also knew that it would be more than weeks before it was settled, for now they would face the King again and this time he would not let them escape his clutches. This was the only thought that invaded every mind at the moment of reaching that fertile English soil, and it would be many more months before any of them left it again. If they ever would.