Free Book - Part 15
Humphrey de Bohun welcomed the party into his home. He called for food and water to be brought for the men to refresh themselves while the tables were laid. Llewelyn paced the floor of the hall as de Bohun spoke to him.
‘I know, Humphrey,’ Llewelyn spoke now, ‘and I thank you for your pleadings and those of your kinsmen, and I thank you also for the care of my family, which you undertook at your own peril.’
Llewelyn slammed his fist on the table in despair as he spat out his hatred for the King.
‘I have a pardon from the King in my bundle and it is not worth the paper it is written on! I have a right to reclaim my lands, for they are mine, Humphrey, and that I must do. They were forfeited to the Crown and have been fully restored to me, as have Rhodri’s lands to him. They have no right to them and I need my lands to support my people and, mostly so, my family. The Despensers waited until I was out of the way and have coveted Rhodri’s lands for many years and so seized their opportunity well. I know there was nothing you could do, my friend, as my kinsmen could not. The King is so weak that we all live in danger from his misdeeds.
‘I shall ride to the Despensers, Humphrey, if you would furnish me with fresh mounts, the ones we arrived on will be good for nothing again. I am sorry to see good mounts ridden thus but it was my wife’s sanity or them.’
Humphrey de Bohun saw in the eyes of Llewelyn Bren the hurt at what imprisonment had done to his wife. ‘I see that imprisonment has dimmed your Luci’s eyes, Llewelyn, but the light shines still. In such a woman only death could extinguish the flame.’
Llewelyn smiled. He looked at de Bohun and watched his face turn uncomfortable as he said,
‘Never doubt, my Norman friend, that I know of the prize I have in my keeping.’
He turned then, before the face of de Bohun could give more to him than he would wish him to know.
‘I will go to Despenser tomorrow, Humphrey, and show him my pardon. He must leave my home, they have so much. Why would they usurp me? They will leave, I know, and return my rightful heritage to me when I confront them with my pardon.’
‘It will not be so easy, Llewelyn,’ de Bohun spoke. ‘I have spoken with Hugh and he does not let go easily of gains he has made.’
‘Surely he will see sense,’ Llewelyn spoke in those controlled tones that de Bohun was learning to know were more lethal than another man’s temper. ‘His King does not want any more trouble than he already has.’
‘Then you must go prepared, Llewelyn, and well protected.’
‘Yes, Humphrey, that I have learned when dealing with you Normans, for apart from yourself and Gilbert de Clare I have not met any I would trust.’
Luci’s children ran to her, the eldest that she had left, Roger, taller than she could ever have imagined. Her little Luci, Angharad and Bethan clinging to her skirts as if to stop her ever going again, while William and Llewelyn stood like little men, smiling as the tears welled up in their eyes.
She touched each one of them gently, spoke a word to each, took them onto her lap one by one, and the older ones she hugged until there was little breath left in them. She cried openly and they cried with her as Eleri helped her to hug and comfort each one. Even the nursemaids cried at the scene before them.
Luci stayed with them until they were all ordered to bed by Eleri, who they obeyed unflinchingly. They all had a hug from their mother and they all pretended to close their eyes so she could leave as Eleri had asked them too.
They crept from the bedchambers as Luci looked up to Eleri, thanking her and hugging her for all her worth.
‘My friend, you have gone beyond any realms that I could ever have wished for in caring for my children and I love you as each one of them for your care.’
‘My Lady,’ Eleri spoke, ‘you are my family, for I have never been part of any other.’
Luci’s hand flew to her mouth as she looked into her friend and confidante’s eyes, begging her to forgive her for her selfishness,
‘Eleri, you wait still to see your Rhys. What was I thinking of? I am so sorry, please forgive me.’
Eleri pulled Luci to her and hugged her again as she answered,
‘Luci, My Lady, I saw him from the window before you appeared and he knows I am here waiting for him. I have waited such a long time, a few hours means nothing at all. It is a long time also since we have been under a roof together and I shall not let him go again. I shall have him always now, as I always dreamed. I know he is mine and he knows I wait for him. Time is on our side at last, we both have nothing to fear, we have time to love and time to rest together. So much time has been taken from us, we must make up for it in the way we know how.’
Luci looked into the soul of this woman and knew pure love in that moment, love that would stand any test of time. As she smiled, the flames in her eyes ignited for her friend, for her companion, for a bigger part of her life than she had ever realised before. Arm in arm they descended the stairwell down to the hall to greet their men for a night that would be the start of many, many nights in the arms of their loved ones.
Humphrey de Bohun placed the best food that he had on the tables that night for his guests. Luci laughed for the first time since their incarceration in the Tower, and Eleri smiled at her Rhys with a promise of her loving that night in her eyes, for him to read openly and unabashed. They had waited so long since the night on the mountain above Caerphilly castle to lie in one another’s arms again had Eleri and Rhys, they had waited and wished. They did not call to the wind like Luci and Llewelyn, not finding comfort in the stars above their heads. Their love was more earthly and needful but it never left them as they lay at nights. In the comfort of one anothers arms, the touch that they had sorely missed was theirs again.
Luci gave herself to her Llewelyn that night as she had not done since Caerphilly. It was sweetness and light, as Llewelyn enjoyed the wife that he thought he had lost.
Her eyes came alive as her lips curved into that old remembered smile that she gave to no other man but him, her beloved. She was his woman, he knew. He had never doubted it. She was in his soul as he was in hers and there was no man who could tear them apart ever.
Llewelyn looked deep into her eyes and pledged his love for her as she reached up and pulled his head down to kiss his hair, to whisper into his ear and to nuzzle into his neck as he loved her. His Luci had returned to him. Now he must return her and his children to their home, and their life would be back to where it should be.
The fighting days of Llewelyn Bren were over. He had done his share. His life was his to nurture his family and to never leave them again. The fighting would cease or it would be left to others. He would reclaim his lands and settle down to a life of slow farming bliss with his soul mate. Llewelyn Bren wanted for nothing at that time to make his life complete. He had faith that the parchment in his bundle would give him back that which was his by birthright and the King’s command. He took his Luci to him and loved her, adored her and thanked his God that they had survived and were home again, albeit not quite back at their castle but on their way there, on their way home to peace and tranquillity in their hills and valley’s once again.
They left at dawn as the sun crept up over the Brecon mountains. Llewelyn had argued with his sons the previous night and had told them that they were to stay as he would be well protected. Their pale faces beside those of his other children, who had stayed at home, worried him and he wanted them to regain their strength ready to take up their tasks once back home.
Rhys beside his Lord, never failing him but with a bashful smile on his face as Eleri handed him his bundle, smiling as he slapped her backside and pulled her to him for a hug before leaving.
Laughter was ringing in their ears and in their hearts as the guard of Humphrey de Bohun sat mounted alongside them, ready for the trek to the home of Llewelyn Bren. Llewelyn, Rhys and Rhodri were provided with the best horses that Humphrey de Bohun had and as Llewelyn shook his hand and de Bohun put his arm around the Welshman’s shoulders, he thanked him again for his hospitality and swore to repay him for his protection.
The whole party were in full mail with their bows primed and their swords hanging against their legs down to the belly of their horses. Luci reached her husband just before he mounted and he took her into his arms as she looked on him, troubled to be losing him so soon.
‘I need to go now, Luci’ he whispered to her. ‘We must return home and get our family back to normal. Everything will come right soon, you wait and see, my love.’ Luci placed his band of gold on his head as she reached up to touch him one last time. He raised his head as the Norman guard of Humphrey de Bohun raised their colours before them, and Rhys, Rhodri and Llewelyn Bren rode at the head out of the castle.
Rhys carried the banner of the Lord of Miskin and Senghenydd high above their heads. It flew in the breeze in a flash of colour for all to see as they rode over the drawbridge.
Humphrey de Bohun watched Luci turn, to see the eyes and smile that he knew so well and hungered for as he had never hungered for anything in his life before.
It took them just two days to reach the castle of Llewelyn Bren. His people stopped them as they rode, slapping his leg and reaching up to him to welcome him home. They were thanking their God for bringing their Lord Llewelyn back to them. Now their lives could take on a normality again instead of living in fear of the Despensers and the whim of the King.
Each and every one of the tenants of Llewelyn Bren knew of his love for them and his tolerance and heartfelt need to protect them. They thanked him for it with their words of kindness.
They reached the castle and Rhys hammered on the wooden doors as the horses clonked their feet on the drawbridge, impatient for their riders to dismount after a hard ride. The sentries looked down on them as they looked up, waiting for the great gates to swing open. Hugh Despenser gave the order for the gate to be opened and the party rode close together into the courtyard, where they sat atop their horses, waiting for Despenser to join them.
He came to the head of the steps above the drawbridge and asked their purpose for coming to his castle.
Llewelyn Bren spoke to him as he reached into his bundle for his parchment roll,
‘My Lord Despenser, I have here a full pardon from your King and reinstatement of my lands and castle forfeited to the Crown.’
Despenser laughed as he looked down on Llewelyn Bren.
‘You expect me to take the word of a Welshman! You surprise me, My Lord!’
Llewelyn seethed with anger.
‘My Lord Despenser, it is a Welshman’s castle that you inhabit without just cause. My lands and home have been reinstated to me and mine and I would be obliged if you would vacate them on the Orders of your King.’
‘Why should my King give back to you what he has given to me, My Lord Llewelyn?’
‘Because, My Lord Despenser, you have no right to be here, these lands are mine and your King has rightfully stated that in my pardon, if you would look on it.’
Despenser turned to his father, who then said,
‘Llewelyn Bren, you should not have escaped with your head and I believe that you have no right to these lands, so you may leave now with your head, if you have any sense.’
Llewelyn felt his blood boil as they stood there looking down on him.
‘My Lord, I have the might of your King in my hand, and his seal. It you fail to read what he has scribed then I shall read it out for you.’
Rhodri spoke then as Llewelyn held out his parchment,
‘My Lord Despenser, I too have a full pardon and I believe that you occupy the lands of Afan, lands that have been reinstated to me by the Crown also. My plea is the same as Llewelyn Bren’s; that you vacate my lands and leave us free to carry on our lives at the command of your King.’
‘My Lords,’ Hugh the Younger spoke, ‘you may leave with your heads if you leave now. However, if you outstay your welcome on our land our actions will be ratified by our King, as you call him, and any deeds we carry out to protect ourselves are our right. I suggest you leave now by the way that you came and look elsewhere for abodes for you and your vagrant tenants and family. You are dismissed. Leave now with your heads, for our patience is wearing thin.’
The guard of Humphrey de Bohun shifted, unsettled on their mounts. The horses could sense the tension. They snorted and shuffled, turning and fighting against their reins.
Llewelyn Bren knew he had no choice but to leave. They were outnumbered and they had come to reason, not to be slaughtered. He was not prepared for fighting but his heart wanted him to leap up on the steps and tear the throat from the snide Despenser and his gloating father as they stood there, disdainfully awaiting his departure.
Llewelyn Bren had no choice but to turn his horse and order the Norman guard of Humphrey de Bohun to retreat to the outer side of his home and leave his lands once again. They rode slowly away from the castle as plans flashed into three minds that pondered, as they walked their horses away from the castle and into the thick forest from where they had come.
They camped at a small river in one of the valleys between the two castles. Their horses needed rest. They lit a fire and Rhys expertly lifted some trout from the river while Humphrey de Bohun’s guard, together with Rhodri, laid snares and trapped rabbits for their supper. They were deep in thought as the meat and fish sizzled and dripped fat into the fire, sending colours up into the air with the sparks.
Suddenly they were surrounded, with bows trained on them from every angle. Llewelyn Bren had a knife placed at his throat and was hauled to his feet by two mail-clad men. They dragged him back to their outer circle as Rhys lunged at them and Llewelyn kicked aimlessly into the dirt at his feet. The knife cut into his neck and he watched in vain as Rhodri sprang to his feet.
The bowmen let loose their arrows and Rhys fell into the fire. An arrow had pierced his neck and the blood spurted into the flames in which he lay. His screams rent the air as Rhodri was run through with a sword, right where he stood.
The guard of de Bohun were slaughtered where they lay with the arrows piercing their legs, arms and faces. The soldiers of the Despensers trod their faces into the dirt as they silenced each one methodically, and they dragged Llewelyn Bren to the horses, where they tied him face down across the back of his horse and rode into the night, back to the castle that he sought to reclaim.