Free Book - Part 16
As the scream rent the air, Eleri and Luci ran up the steps from the kitchen to the bedchamber of the children. Blood was running down the arm of little Bethan and she stood there frozen with fear. Luci ran to her and saw the deep cut on her arm.
Young Llewelyn had such a terrified look on his face. Luci turned to him and looked to his feet, where the knife that he had held lay, with blood congealing on the blade.
‘What on earth?’ Eleri said as she grabbed him and shook him, her heart beating at twice its normal rate. ‘Where did you get this, Llewelyn? Where did you get it, boy?’
Bethan’s screams subsided in her mother’s arms as she held together the wound, shouting to Eleri for her to get something to bind it with, to stop the flow of blood.
Eleri picked up the knife, ran to the wooden chest and brought out a strip of linen, which she cut and then ripped in pieces with her bare hands. As the material rent with a grating sound it struck daggers into her heart. Her body felt like lead. Tears sprung to her eyes.
Luci shouted to her as she stood there unmoving. ‘Eleri, it’s alright, she’s alright. Bring me the binding.’
Eleri turned automatically to Luci and handed her the shreds of linen, which Luci then helped to wrap tightly around Bethan’s arm as she looked at them, white faced and shaking.
‘Eleri, what’s the matter?’ Luci asked as she looked at her friend’s stricken face.
Eleri, so brave, so staunch, looked as though she had seen a ghost. Luci handed Bethan to her and she sat her down with the child in her arms. Then she walked to the stricken Llewelyn. She kneeled in front of him as she spoke to him softly.
‘Son, your sister is fine. She has lost a little blood but she’ll survive that. Don’t look so terrified. Just tell me, where did you get the knife?’
Llewelyn stuttered and stammered out his reply. He had picked it up from the kitchen floor, where someone had dropped it. He had always wanted a knife like his father and Rhys and he was only showing it to Bethan and she went to take it from him and he pulled it back as it was his. He could not help it, he did not mean to hurt her.
Luci took him in her arms then and soothed his sobs, telling him that perhaps he’d learned that knives were not for young boys and that he now knew the devastation that they caused.
‘My son,’ she spoke, ‘the time for weapons in our lives is ending now. We shall have a new beginning and we shall find peace at home again soon, all of us together, and your father and Rhys will show you the proper use of the knife – to whittle wood and to make music, my son. Now go to your bed, for it is getting late and you need your sleep. I shall keep Bethan with me tonight and I do not want you to worry about her, for she will survive, but ifI were you I would stay out of her way for a while as when she recovers from her fright I am sure she will get her own back.’
She smiled at him then and led him to his bed, tucked him in and turned to Eleri, who sat there silently rocking her little daughter with tears streaming down her face. She took Bethan out of her arms as she sat there and went next door into her bedchamber, where she laid the sleeping Bethan under the furs of her bed, kissed her warm cheek softly and returned to Eleri.
Luci knelt at her feet and took her cold hands into hers as she looked into her stricken eyes. ‘Tell me, Eleri,’ Luci asked quietly, ‘what did you see?’
Eleri looked into Luci’s eyes as she spoke.
‘I saw the blood, Luci, I saw the blood and the fire.’ She started to sob quietly as Luci took her into her arms and comforted her, as Eleri had done for her so many times.
She stood and took her hand, raising her to her feet and taking her from the bedchamber into the great hall where they sat in front of the fire and watched the sparks fly together. They sat there for a while, Luci afraid to question Eleri more as the cold feeling from her friend’s face seeped into her body like a wreath of mist, chilling her very bones.
That Eleri had seen something she had no doubt, but what she had seen she could not or would not ask, for the feelings in her friend were as intangible as the mountain dew but as strong as the rays of the morning sun, running from her into the air around them.
She held Eleri’s hands and chaffed them to warm them, took her into her arms time and again, as her body warmed and she softened again and her haunted expression gradually faded.
Humphrey de Bohun walked into the hall and came to the fire to join them. Luci looked up into his face as he peered quizzically at Eleri, sitting there being comforted by her. He said nothing, knowing better than to ask of women like these anything he did not know, for their tongues could be as quick as their minds sometimes, as he was learning rapidly.
He called for hot mead to be brought to them and Eleri drank with them as the colour returned to her face slowly. She looked into Luci’s face then and asked if she could leave them and retire.
‘Eleri,’ Luci spoke, ‘we shall go together, as always, but first let me know that you are well.’
‘My Lady,’ Eleri spoke formerly in front of de Bohun, ‘I was afraid for my Rhys.’
Luci looked at Humphrey de Bohun with an unanswered question on her mind.
‘They will not be back for two more days, Lady Luci,’ de Bohun spoke. ‘It is two days there and back at least.’ She continued to look into the flames and shuddered as he continued. ‘I shall send men to meet them tomorrow, My Lady, if it would ease your mind. But have no fear, they will be here soon. My guard were hand picked and would protect them with their lives, as they were ordered to do.’
Llewelyn Bren was thrown into the dungeon of his own castle, still bound, and he lay there seeing nothing in the darkness, just hearing the sounds of the night as his body ached. The congealed blood on his neck, where the knife had scraped his throat, felt red hot as the sight of his beloved friends’ deaths invaded his very soul.
He wept long into the night as he lay on his side, moaning to the stone floor and walls. He was hurting inside so much. The long, cold night would allow him no sleep and the visions in his eyes and soul would not leave him be. He longed to be in his warm bed with Luci’s arms encircling him.
He cried for Rhys, he cried for Rhodri and he cried for himself and what awaited him. He cried in frustration, anger and pain for the life that was leaving him no way out yet again. How could he fight now, bound like a dog and with the strength of a kitten only in his aching, hurting body?
He did not know when the dawn came, he could not see any light, he could not hear any sounds until the heavy door at the entrance to the dungeon opened. He knew the sound of it scraping along the floor having opened it so many times himself.
He turned his neck in pain as he heard feet move towards him. He felt the kick in his ribs like a firebrand into his flesh as Despenser spoke to him.
‘My Lord Llewelyn, not so mighty now!’
Llewelyn spoke then into the dirt below his face. ‘You have no right to keep me thus, I am a free man!’
‘Free man, My Lord Llewelyn!’ Despenser spat.
‘Why, I have here your death warrant, signed by the King himself! And you will not wait long for it. It will come soon, Llewelyn Bren! Though I doubt whether it will be a swift death, as you well know!’
Llewelyn screwed up his eyes to shut out the voice but it hammered into his very soul as the sneering Norman Hugh Despenser read out his death warrant. He was dragged to his feet then and up the steps, hands tightly bound behind him, legs and feet bound together and his breath shallow as he fought for air through his parched mouth. He was set on his horse and his legs were untied and leashed to the horse’s sides as they rode from his home, towards Cardiff and towards his end.
By the time the soldiers of Humphrey de Bohun returned carrying the bodies of the fifteen men, it was four days since their death.
Luci and Eleri held one another as they watched from the ramparts of the castle, the wind whipping through them. They were ashen faced and soulless. They had known deep in them what to expect when their men had not returned in the time that they should, but to see bodies being brought over the drawbridge and into Brecon Castle was a sight far beyond comprehension.
They clung to one another as the men ran around the courtyard beneath them. They watched as the bodies swathed in cloth were untied from the horses and laid in a row on the floor of the courtyard. Humphrey de Bohun
and his men walked among them, uncovering face after face and placing the cloth back over them as they moved on.
De Bohun came to them on the battlements as they clung to one another for support like two ships’ figureheads in the wind, two pairs of vacant eyes staring at him as if for the first time ever. He looked and saw no light in the eyes of Luci, nothing shone from them, only defeat and hatred, while from those of Eleri came resignation and hopelessness.
‘My Lady, your husband is not among them.’
Luci did not move as she whispered to him, holding Eleri close to her, ‘ Rhys, My Lord, is he missing too?’
‘I think not,’ de Bohun spoke. ‘But it is hard.’
Eleri spoke then in flat tones, as from her throat came the choking words, ‘Fire, My Lord. He has been burnt. I saw the fire.’
De Bohun looked down at his feet as he answered her, ‘Then he is among them, for one body is badly burned and cannot be recognized.’
‘Rhodri,’ Luci whispered.
De Bohun looked at her, wishing his life to have been different, wishing he had been born a peasant rather than perform tasks like these as he looked deep into her eyes.
‘He is dead, My Lady. His body lies below you.’
‘Then where is my Llewelyn?’ Luci cried.
‘Where is he? For I have no body to grieve over, My Lord. There is hope still.’
She took the shoulders of Humphrey de Bohun then and looked deep into his eyes. ‘Help me to find him, My Lord, he is in pain and I must go to him!’
Eleri walked towards the steps, down to the centre of the castle and the waiting bodies, drawing her to them. Luci turned from de Bohun then and followed her, not leaving her to do this alone. They stood as the cloth was drawn back from faces twisted to grotesque masks in death, men who had left with warm, ruddy complexions, looking nothing like that on their return.
Rhodri – the handsome face replaced in death by a caricature of himself; lifeless, unanimated, cold. Rhys – the smiling, loving, happy Rhys had no face for Eleri to touch. He had no flesh for her to remember. He was but a hideous, blackened mass of burnt flesh and bone as Eleri turned into Luci’s shoulder, burying herself in the folds of her cloak, biting the cloth to quieten the screams that rent her body in two. Her grief was felt by all present as her legs gave way, and hands helped to carry her into the great hall, to the heat of the burning fire.
Luci paced the hall with vengeance in her heart. Her eyes flashed at Humphrey de Bohun as she begged him to let her ride to find her husband.
‘Please, My Lord!’ she begged. ‘Let me go now for I must find him if he is still alive!’
‘But, My Lady Luci, where will you look?’
She gazed into his face as she answered,
‘Everywhere! Until I find him, My Lord.’
‘It is growing dark. We will ride at first light to Cardiff, My Lady.’
‘Why Cardiff?’ Luci asked warily.
‘Because they would not hold him anywhere else and the Despensers hold the Castle of Cardiff. It was granted to them by the King, who has such a lot to answer for in his weakness, My Lady. And, as you know, his weakness is but another’s power, is it not?’