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Part 13

Luci looked around her. She missed her hills already. She felt exposed, almost naked in the midst of flat fields and plains with no cover to run for should they be attacked.

Llewelyn laughed at her troubled face as he said to her, ‘Luci, it is they that are afraid. We will attack them, not they us, my love.’

The faces took on a grimmer look the further they travelled, stopping at the sides of the tracks for rest and then sleeping in the string of Norman castles that fortified the conqueror’s domains. They were looked upon suspiciously and people came to look on the face of this Welshman who had raised an army and hung all the government officials, many wishing that he had done it to their tax collectors too. They did not know what they would find when they came to look but they were not disappointed when Rhodri pulled himself to his full height beside Rhys, and they growled fiercely like the savages they were supposed to be.

John would giggle at the sight of them playing the part for the spectators and it would bring a little smile to Luci’s , Meurig’s and Griffith's face too. Llewelyn would sit there whittling away with a sharp little blade as they played the jesters, looking towards him as he concentrated on the little masterpiece in his hands. He would smile that discerning smile of his without even looking at them directly, yet seeing every expression of their faces, which were locked into his memory for him to draw upon time after time whenever he needed them.

So they journeyed closer and closer to the great capital city of London, that hive of trade where a Welshman was not the usual man to find on the streets and where everything seemed dirty to Luci due to the lack of space that they seemed to have here. Why do they all have to live in one place? There is something not right about this. They have all this room and they are huddled on top of one another like rats in a hole. I do not understand these people at all. And where on earth do they grow their food and graze their cattle? I have not seen a decent field for ages.

Llewelyn smiled at her and hoped that her wonder and awe would carry her for a while as they neared the centre of the city and their imprisonment very soon. He did not know what to expect, as did no one else. Even Humphrey de Bohun was apprehensive of what the King would do. It was hard to know, with a King such as they had, led by so many favourites, who would be his adviser next and what their fate would be.

They were taken firstly to the King and to his Court, where Humphrey de Bohun did the best he could for them as regards a place to wash and change their clothes to appear before the King. He wished to see all of them, and as they walked announced into his presence, Llewelyn and his three sons, wearing their golden bands with Luci in their midst, looked impressive enough. Rhys and Rhodri came behind, Rhys looking warily around as if measuring up the possibility of escape still. They looked an imposing band and Luci stood proud amongst them, wishing that she had Eleri by her side and wishing at this moment that she was home protecting her children against this armed might that faced her now.

They dropped to their knees, heads bowed in deference to the King as Luci curtseyed deeply. Llewelyn Bren was ordered to walk forward from the group towards the King, whilst the armed guard moved four men with him and another dozen surrounded the small group of Welsh left at the back of the Court hall.

Llewelyn bowed to the King as he entered his immediate presence and as the King ordered him to rise he did so looking straight into the face of this man he had evaded once, but now he did not know if he could do it again. His mind was alert, still thinking and planning ahead as the King spoke.

‘Llewelyn Bren, you come before me again and in different circumstances than when we met last. How speak you of your deeds?’

‘Your Highness,’ Llewelyn spoke levelly with no faltering in his quiet, cultured but determined voice, ‘I come to beg your forgiveness for my deeds and to humbly implore you firstly to let my people leave. They are my followers only and bear no threat to you or your Crown.’

The King smiled even. ‘My Lord, I see before me your blood in another half dozen who, by the looks on their faces, would be ready to drive your people to insurrection at the drop of a hat, were they to leave here now. It took a lot of effort to stop you and now you must pay the price for your actions. You are guilty of actions against your Crown that are too numerous to list. You have made it impossible for us to collect the taxes in your lands and beyond, from where my people have fled. My Lord, when will you learn that you cannot fight the entire Norman nation or their might and power? You will never win!’

Griffith strained to answer for his father. Luci wished she had him in her arms, away from this pomp and pageantry and safe in the hills of home. And John felt his mind travel away from this hall, into his sanctuary, to the knowledge that he clung to like a raft in times like these. Meurig just wanted to be gone from this place, back home where he could be himself again.

‘Your Highness,’ Llewelyn spoke, ‘you left me no choice. My people could not and cannot pay your taxes. We have not your money, we have only what we need and work for. To look to us for money is asking the impossible.’

The King carried on, ‘You have gold in your mountains, gold that you fashion your crowns from. You are not without precious things but you lack the need to trade with what you have. This need is what we provide your people with. They must learn to speak our language and trade with us.’

‘Your Highness, you cannot change my people over night. We have traditions that have nurtured us for all our lives and our fathers lives before that. You do not let us into your towns to trade unless we speak your language and yet it is our country and we speak our own tongue.’

‘Hold your tongue, My Lord!’ the King spoke. ‘Or you will add further insurrections to the list of your misdeeds as we speak. Generations have passed since you were conquered as a nation. Why do you still fight for an identity that will bring you nothing?’

‘Your Highness,’ Llewelyn spoke, ‘we had all we needed before your people came to our shores. We ate well, we lived well and we never asked for more. You bring what we cannot afford and stop us from living as we always have done in our hills and mountains. We ask for nothing, Your Highness, only peace from war and no unfair burdens that are impossible to pay. If your tax collectors insist on taking my people’s lands then they will starve, for they have no other means of feeding their families other than from the land they were born to.’

‘My Lord,’ the King spoke, ‘your people must learn to trade and must learn crafts that will give them employment if they cannot farm.’

‘But, Your Highness,’ Llewelyn broke in, ‘they know nothing else, and our farmers are not haulers or inn keepers but farmers who have lived off a little bit of earth for time immemorial and are now being thrown off by greed and usury.’

The veins on the King’s neck stood out as he faced Llewelyn Bren.

‘Enough, My Lord! I give you every chance to answer but this is not for my ears. Can you not hold your tongue even now? You will be taken to the Tower where you will be kept until such time as I decide your fate. My advisors will set a sustenance rate for your keep as we are always fair, My Lord, and would not starve you in our keeping, for that might upset some more of your kinsmen, damn the lot of them!

‘Leave me now and keep to the Tower while I see to more important matters than the heads of a few meagre Welsh, who cannot be helped from their pitiful existence into a better life, so must dwell there to rot! But mark my words, Llewelyn Bren, your people will pay their taxes and pay them heavily, or they will suffer the consequences again and again. Each one of you here will also forfeit your lands, goods and chattels, for they will not be needed to keep yourselves in the comfort you will find here.’

‘Your Highness, what of our families who rely on our lands?’ Llewelyn spoke.

'My Lord, perhaps you should have thought of them before embarking on your little rampage, mmm? To the tower with them, and guard them well! Make sure there is no escape along the way or every one of your heads will fall alongside theirs!’

Luci held her head high as they were marched through the streets to the huge Tower that would hide from them the light and the fields of home. The place was so big and so dirty. They were led through huge iron gates and up dark, cold steps away from the sun, but at least they were together, at least they would stay together for now.

Each day from now on Luci and her family would pray for their release. They would petition the King until he let them go, for Luci knew now as did Llewelyn that their time was not to be short. The King did not want to incite the Welsh again and the price they had cost him in men and arms was not one he wanted to pay again if he could avoid it. He would recoup a lot of the losses again in his cold, calculating way, through the seizure of their lands and goods. But Llewelyn swore to himself that should he ever leave this unsightly place with his head then he would reclaim his lands and those of his people from those who would take so eagerly what would never be theirs in truth.

They were quartered well in the tower, better perhaps than what they would have been at home. They were given an allowance each day for food that they could buy from the hawkers, fruit merchants and bakers who came to the tower to sell their wares, or they could have cooked meals brought in from the nearby eating houses and inns, or pay the jailers to provide for them. Even flower sellers came with their wares, as did haberdashers with ribbons and fripperies, to try to tempt the Welsh Lady in the tower.

Humphrey de Bohun came to see Llewelyn and Luci before leaving for Wales again. He said that he had spoken to the King on their behalf but could do no more.

Llewelyn held out his hand to this man who had shown a human side to the Norman blood. He asked him to check on their family during his journey, and to get word back to him on their land and home and whether or not it had been seized.

Luci took his hand in hers and implored him to look for Eleri and her children.

De Bohun looked deep into this woman and his heart bled for the injustice of these people’s lives. He struggled with his conscience and the Norman blood inside him as he told himself that these people were guilty of insurrection against his supreme Majesty and against the Crown of the conqueror. But deep inside him, as he lost himself in the pools of Luci’s eyes, there was a nagging doubt, a doubt that things should be happening like this, that there was something tragically wrong when a people so proud, so strong, had to be brought to their knees time and time again by a stronger force, but for what reason? A few fields. A string of castles that must be kept strong at all costs.

Why could not these people have just been left alone? They fought against one another even, but they loved as no other nation he had ever seen, with an intensity that set them apart wherever they were, and he suffered when he watched Luci look on Llewelyn. He suffered when he saw that smile. And he suffered when he thought that someone could never love him that way and never look on him, even imprisoned, as though the light shone from his very being. He knew the look, he had watched the faces, but he had never in all his life received that look, and it broke his heart that he who had so much perhaps had nothing at all.

Llewelyn handled their captivity better by far than Luci. He could lose himself in his writing, as did his sons John and Meurig. They could lose themselves in the pamphlets and books that the jailers and hawkers brought for them, knowing they would be paid well.

Meurig was a little restless on occasions, but Luci and Griffith both sat and stared silently while their family were engrossed in their reading and writing.

Griffith grew morose and Luci tried to cheer him up, but while she smiled her body cried out to her, from deep in the pit of her being, to find some freedom soon, for her tolerance was disappearing fast. She tried to write but she failed to get her feelings down on parchment and so she threw the quill, causing Llewelyn to look on her with despair.

‘Llewelyn,’ she cried, ‘I am writing but it is not happening. I need to feel, not write. I need to pour out my feelings to the grass under our feet. What have we here, my love? We have nothing. We are fed, yes, but what of our souls? What of our children? I yearn to run to them but my feet are not free, as though they are fettered with chains. I need to work, to feel the wood under my hands, to set the fires, to feel my children’s hands in mine as I lead them through their life. And I need to feel the sweat run on my body as I ride and hunt for our food, my love. I need to feel all these, I cannot write them in words. I need to do these things, not read about them.

‘I am lost here, my husband, for I cannot go, Llewelyn, I cannot be free. I cannot fly my hawks and watch them soar, calling them back to me with a whisper into the air, my love. What is this life to me? It is nothing. I have lost half of my family and watch the other half die slowly with their skin turning sickly, the health disappearing from their cheeks, their hair lank and uncared for. How can we survive like this, my husband? For I am being broken apart with this dungeon for a home.’

Llewelyn tried to calm her. He tried to tell her that it was not good for her sons to hear her speak like this. But her despair hurt him too. Without her he would not be calm here, but he could not make her happy here as she made him.

He took her into his arms in the dark bedchamber and she pushed him from her, crying from her very being, ‘My husband, I have no right of your love. I am your wife, yes, but I have no means of bathing in the river. I have no sweet herbs to shine my hair, I have nowhere to become clean. How these people manage to live like this, without a river of pure sweet water and herbs fresh picked to anoint ones body, I cannot surmise, but I feel defiled, my husband, I am not clean. The cleanliness I need comes with the freedom that I crave and I must have it soon or I will die.’

Llewelyn forced back her head and kissed her deeply. ‘You are my wife, you are my woman, and I shall love you whether you have been to the river or not. I am yours, Luci, and you must put from your mind whatever has
defiled you, for I am here and I will protect you even in this dungeon of hell. Without you I would not have survived. Without you to return to and without your strength I would not have been able to carry out that which I did. Luci, I beg you, love me and put from your mind all that troubles you, for I have need of you here and now as I have never needed you before.

‘Do not turn from me my Luci, for every day could be our last as we wait on the whim of the King. Never turn from me, for that would be far more than I could bear, and if you do not take me as your husband now, I shall wish that I had died on the field of battle and left you a widow and clean. For all that I could give to you now is freedom from me. If I could give you freedom from here, my love, you would never have set foot in here. All I can do now is beg you to take me and love me as if there were no tomorrow, for as long as I have set eyes on you I have loved you and if today is my last, Luci, I have loved you well and have never faltered in my devotion.’

Luci cried tears of frustration and hurt as she took her husband’s face between her hands and looked deep into his very soul, as was her art. She spoke softly through her tears to him, ‘My Lord, though it goes against every thing that I know and have learned, I shall love you this night for you are all that I want and all that I need. But forgive me, My Lord, for not coming to you as I should, for not having the freedom to prepare myself as is our way, for that right has been forfeited to the usurpers Crown. But I shall not let him beat me, my love, I shall not let him win. I shall plead tomorrow again, and the day after, and I shall write my words to the King and beg for his pardon so that I can return to find my children and my freedom again.’

She kissed his forehead, she kissed his lips, she kissed his cheeks and his nose as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him, her yielding body in his arms as he cried on her naked shoulders, ‘My Luci, you smell as sweet as the honeysuckle in the hedgerows, my love. You are perfect to me and you are mine. This is all I ask.’

Luci lay in his arms and gave herself to him and she smiled that special smile for him alone, the smile that had struck jealousy into more than one Norman heart.
The weeks dragged into months and Luci, Llewelyn and their sons, together with Rhys and Rhodri, despaired at ever leaving their prison. They had no idea what was happening at home and word had not come from Humphrey de Bohun or any other source.

Luci grew wan and waiflike with her enforced captivity. Llewelyn watched her every day and felt his heart break in two as he watched the very being drain from her and his sons slowly.

They had written daily to the King, petitioned him and begged for leniency and mercy, to no avail. Their jailers did their best to help the prisoners who had struck the hearts of all around them with their consideration for others and stoical calmness in their imprisonment. But Llewelyn knew that the time was coming close when his beautiful Luci would just fade away from him, and then he would have no more reason to live or fight. They had been there for far too long when a summons came from the King, for Llewelyn to present himself at his Court.
Llewelyn stood in front of Edward II.

‘My Lord,’ the King spoke, ‘you have been entertained in my Tower for some time now and I feel a need to return you to the country from whence you came. But I am troubled.’

‘Your Highness,’ Llewelyn spoke, ‘would that I could ease your troubled mind for the sake of my wife and sons, who waste away in your keep.’

Edward turned to his advisers at his sides and spoke with them briefly before turning back to Llewelyn.

‘My Lord, I have no wish to fight your countrymen any longer, my losses are great and the Barons of your country have me to release you for the sake of peace. I seem to be fighting petty insurrections at every turn and it is not good that we should be so. I need your undertaking, Llewelyn Bren, that your people will not be incited to riot under you and you will make every effort to uphold your King’s peace in your land. I have nothing else to give back to these Welsh, only you, and so I must do so to appease my enemies, who are many.’

Llewelyn looked into the face of this weak king, and he feared for the future of the country while he still held sway over it.

‘Your Highness,’ he spoke, ‘I have no need of insurrection any longer. I have pondered well during my stay with you here and want nothing other that to return home to care for my family and people, within the laws that you so graciously decree.’

‘I have had word from the Barons in Wales that you are sorely needed there, Llewelyn Bren, though for what purpose I could not tell.’

The affected King studied his fingernails in front of Llewelyn until it took all of Llewelyn’s calm restraint that he had saved for most of his life not to take this pathetic King and wring his neck for him and finish this petty bantering once and for all. His mind raged as he stood there, subdued for the sake of the freedom that was beckoning, incensed that one so weak by right of birth only could destroy all that was built up by his father, Edward I. How in Gods name could his father have sired this poor example of a human? Let alone make him King!

The King looked up into Llewelyn Bren's face as he spoke menacingly, ‘I can assure you, My Lord, that it is others that have put pressure on me to return you to your people. If the pressure had not been so great your heads would have rolled into the dirt a long time before this. You have friends in high places, Llewelyn Bren. Think yourself lucky that I am not as strong as I should be at this time. My country is ruled by many and it seems that many of those that rule prefer your head to be on your shoulders, although I doubt they would want mine to sit there for too long.

‘Take your family and your followers and remember I would not be lenient a second time. You may recover your lands and live out your life there in peace, Llewelyn Bren. By my decree you have a full pardon as of this date, 17th June 1317. Now leave my presence and do not darken it again ever!’

Llewelyn held Luci while she sobbed into his arms. His sons looked on with tears glistening in their eyes as their father spoke to her gently. He smoothed her hair back and kissed her tears from her face.

‘My love,’ he said, ‘we will find your children safe, we will fly your hawks again and I shall bathe you in the river and make you my Luci again.’

She looked up into her husband’s face as she spoke softly and quietly, ‘My love, I have given up hope and cannot seem to drag the strength from my being to believe that we will walk from here.’

‘My love, you shall not walk from here, you shall ride on the best horses that this Godforsaken place can provide, and when you set foot on your own soil again then your spirits will lift and you will gain strength again from your homeland and from your family. Luci, make ready for your journey, my love, we are going home.’

Like a shadow of her former self, Luci walked slowly from the Tower to the cobbled yard, where Llewelyn lifted her onto a horse, her face a mask, showing nothing.

Afraid to hope and afraid to look back in case this was just a dream, her husband led her horse as her sons and Rhys and Rhodri followed them slowly.

A sad, solemn procession, they moved through the city, and when they came to the first river and green fields, Llewelyn halted the party. He lifted Luci from her horse and sat her down under a huge oak tree, whose branches spread out like a canopy over their heads as they lay there and drank in the sweet cool air and felt the breeze brush their faces like fairy dust on the wings of angels.

Such feelings were buried in Luci but she felt an awakening deep inside her as she smelled the very air around her, as her body felt the chains lift from it physically, as she felt hope trickling back into her breast again so very slowly. She drank it in and soaked it up from the air around her.

Llewelyn’s hand reached for his Luci’s and she left it lie in his. This lifted his spirits, for it was so long since he had been able to love his Luci or get close to her. This little contact lifted his heart and gave him hope again that their freedom had come in time to save her.

They lay thus for an hour or more before Rhys broke into the reverie and called for them to be on their way to find shelter before nightfall, as their journey would be long. They remounted and set off at a faster pace, now that the city was left behind them, and they made good progress, stopping at an inn for the night.

Luci still did not respond to their freedom as did her sons, who made for the bar of the inn and demanded ale there and then to quench their thirst. Llewelyn ordered food for all and paid with the silver that had been returned to them upon their departure from the King’s hospitality. Luci sat as though in a dream and ate meagrely of the food as though hunger was furthest from her mind.

She turned to her husband though and he saw the flickering of a smile on her lips as she mouthed the words to him, ‘Give me time, my love. When I see my children eat again, when I find them safe, I shall be happy.’

Llewelyn took her by the hand and led her to their bed, where she slept the sleep of the defeated, wrapped in his arms, and as the moonlight shafted through the window onto her beautiful pale face his tears fell onto his hands as they caressed her, and he cried for the Luci that was no more.

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