Free Book - Part 17
William Fleming and William Berkerolles sat opposite Hugh Despenser in the castle at Cardiff as he told them of their task for the morrow. Berkerolles was silent as Fleming asked to see the death warrant. Despenser looked at them quizzically, asking them if they would disobey the word of the King and doubt him in this hour. Fleming retaliated as he questioned Despenser further, asking again to view the warrant.
‘My Lords!’ Despenser shouted as he rose to his feet. ‘I have my orders and you have yours. I need to hear nothing further. The deed will be done tomorrow without further delay!’
Despenser turned his back on the two men who looked at one another with fear in their eyes, and as he turned to them again they looked down at their hands in silence.
‘You have my orders, now leave my table and be ready at sunrise!’
They rose to their feet and left him standing in front of the huge fire. He watched them leave with a smirk on his face, evil in the firelight that filled the hall.
Berkerolles turned to Fleming as they left the castle tower. He spoke quietly as he voiced his concern over whether or not what they did was the right thing to do.
Fleming reached out and touched the other Norman’s shoulder as he answered him,
‘Take heart, Berkerolles, for orders are orders and we have been given them.’
Berkerolles stammered as he addressed his fellow Norman,
‘I owe him my life, you know, for the battle at Caerphilly. He could have killed me but he let me escape when I reminded him of better times, when we broke bread at the same table. What if he reminds me?’
Fleming turned to him.
‘Berkerolles, the man is a rebel. He has killed many. It was a figment of your imagination that he left you go, man.’
Berkerolles took heart from his words, although the task he had been set for tomorrow would not let him rest this night. They parted company knowing that the blood on their hands tomorrow would be of Despensers spilling not theirs, for were not orders orders? And when the orders were from the King himself, who were they to lose their heads for the sake of a vagrant Welshman? This Welshman meant nothing at all to them. He had killed so many of them with his bare hands that he deserved to die.
Luci rode at dawn with Humphrey de Bohun and the remainder of his men at arms, numbering over fifty. Her three sons rode behind her and de Bohun as they set off in the early morning mist, which hung over the mountains like a shroud.
Eleri stood on the battlements, watching them leave. She would not leave her Rhys until he was buried and she would stay with the children, for they were her life now. She felt new life quicken in her belly and this life stirred the feelings of her love of Rhys. She would have a son, he would be called
after his father and she would teach him everything that she had learned of her Rhys. She would make him see his father through her eyes. For as long as she lived, Rhys would never die.
Go quickly, My Lady, she called silently from the battlements in the drizzle drifting over the castle. Go quickly to him before it is too late and may God go with you and protect you, as I shall protect your children for you, My Lady Luci.
They rode without rest from the mighty mountains of Brecon down the valley of Neath and turned to pass the lands of Rhodri, lands that he would never see again. Luci thought of Rhodri’s family then, deep in their valley, not knowing of his fate.
They rode through the flat lands hugging the coast, many of them praying that they would find Llewelyn Bren alive in time. They rode towards Cardiff, toward the huge castle where Humphrey de Bohun was sure they would find him alive.
Luci felt doom invade her as she cried to the wind in her face, ‘Wait for me, my love, I am coming to you. Please do not let me be too late.’
Llewelyn Bren was dragged from his black cell in the dungeons of the castle to the gibbet, built especially for him. The carpenters had worked through the night on the orders of the Despensers, the sound of wood being sawn and nailed into place echoing through the castle and the surrounding town.
The dawn was breaking as he felt the light hurt his eyes and invade his very soul.
‘Luci,’ he cried, ‘I love you. Be strong for me. Protect my sons and your daughters, my love. Be strong for me!’
They placed the rope around his neck. He squinted to see and glimpsed the white face of Berkerolles in front of him.
‘Forgive me, My Lord Llewelyn,’ Berkerolles whispered, ‘for I have no choice.’
Hugh Despenser sat on his horse and told the gathering crowd of the decree of the King; here was a warrant to put to death the Welshman known as Llewelyn Bren.
Llewelyn felt the rope rough around his neck, chafing the open knife wound. They hauled his body up into the air by his neck and William Fleming stood in front of him as they hauled him up, ripping his clothes from him with his knife to expose his belly. The knife ripped into his stomach, disembowelling him instantly, and Llewelyn Bren screamed the scream of the warrior that he was.
As his guts spilled onto the floor under him and the rope tightened around his neck, the screams would not escape his body. The pain turned inside him as his eyes opened to the light. And the light left them. His life blood drained into a pool with his innards, as his soul left his body, as he hung outside Cardiff Castle.
The death of Llewelyn Bren at the hands of the Normans, in the way that they had engineered for the disposal of his ancestor Dafydd, brother of
Llewelyn II, was complete.
The people watching would wait for his quartering, in which his head would be severed from his body and his torso cut into four pieces, to be scattered to the four corners of this land, so that his soul would never rest. Then they would leave as silently as they had come.
The deed was completed as Humphrey de Bohun entered the outskirts of the town of Cardiff with Luci and the three sons of Llewelyn Bren at his side.
They made for the castle of Hugh Despenser with the hawks – the carriers of souls – flying over their heads, mewing into the morning sun.
Their horses started to get restless as they moved through the throng coming from the direction of the castle. Luci felt her heart sink as she watched the faces pass her, her head held proud, as were those of all around her. Humphrey de Bohun rode alongside Luci with a fear in him for what they would find. Not one of them would ask the people passing where they had been for fear of knowing. Their silence was enough for the dread that was in them to be brought to the surface in spilling emotions and panic.
They walked on silently as the castle loomed before them. De Bohun raised his hand and halted them.
The gibbet stood stark before them in the distance with the remains of a rope dangling, cut and swaying in the drizzle and breeze. No one breathed as Luci craned her neck to see more. De Bohun turned his horse to face Luci but she would not look into his eyes. He called Griffith and John to him as he spoke to her.
‘My Lady, you are not to go further.’
‘My Lord,’ she answered in a strong yet trembling voice, ‘I have more right than any to move further.’
‘My Lady, rights are not in question but you will stay here until we come for you.’
He called his men at arms to move forward as Luci held her pawing horse. They encircled her. De Bohun looked then at the stricken mask of her beautiful face before he turned from her, calling Griffith and John to follow him as Meurig broke from behind his mother to join them. De Bohun accepted his presence and did not indicate for him to stay.
Ten men at arms with them, they moved on silently as the remainder watched and held Luci in their midst, controlling their horses that whinnied and sniffed the air, nostrils flaring at the scent of the blood that made them uneasy.
Luci prayed as she strained to keep her horse still, she pulled on his reins tighter than she was used to as his head reared up to her and she watched the whites of his rolling eyes. He was as confined as she was in a wall of horses and men, watchful of the slightest movement around them, wary of everyone that passed.
John started to cry as they moved in solemn procession to the gibbet, the congealed blood being washed down the hewn steps of the wooden platform, running into the ground at their feet.
De Bohun called a hawker to them, leaned down and asked what foul deed had been done that day. The hawker looked up at him and asked if he would buy some meat pies as De Bohun reached into the pouch at his waist and produced a gold coin, tossing it to the hawker and telling him that he did not want food.
The man looked up at him and answered, ‘It was a Welshman, My Lord. Not much sport as he was half blind and dead before they strung him and gutted him. Of royal blood, they proclaimed, but it looked just the same to me as it spilled, My Lord.’
Humphrey de Bohun felt sick, as sick as a woman as he moved away from the gibbet and motioned to the men and boys to follow. They moved to the huge wooden gate and looked up as the head of Llewelyn Bren, ghastly in its severed form, was raised up over the battlements, his golden crown askew on his bloodied hair.
The grief that was in the sons of Llewelyn Bren took hold as they turned away. Meurig, John and Griffith cried the tears of the battered and the heartbroken. As their horses were held by the men at arms they slid to the ground and walked to the gibbet, where John fell to his knees and started to pray. Meurig threw himself on the steps and Griffith laid his hands in the sticky wet blood and swore vengeance to his father’s head protruding above them.
‘Forgive me, my father, for having deserted you,’ he cried. ‘In your hour of need we were not there. My father, I love you!’
John took the grieving Meurig in his arms and nursed him, rocking him back and forth and hiding his head in the chain mail of his breast to save him from looking again at the grizzly sight of their father’s head. He could not drag his gaze from it as he tried and tried to see his father as he was, tried to see him laughing, tried to see him smile, tried to banish from his mind the sight that compelled him to look. But his father would not come back to him. As he closed his eyes the horror stayed there in his brain, his eyes indelibly etched in his very soul.
The demented screams of Luci took Griffith running to her as he fought his way through the horses surrounding her. He caught her as she fell into his arms, rending her clothes at her breast and pulling her own hair as a mad woman would. He held her arms, he pulled her to him, and he tried to fight with the demons in her as she swore, as she cursed, as she hammered at his chest with the strength of a man.
He held her, he cried to her, he called to her, but in her grief she could not hear.
‘Mother, do not leave us now, we need your strength!’
She broke from him as his grief took over and he fell to his knees in the dirt, weeping. His mother ran to the castle wall, desperately reaching up to her husband’s severed head. As she screamed her contorted face changed into something that her sons and de Bohun did not know existed.
John reached for de Bohun, his arm around Meurig, still supporting him as best he could.
‘Carry her from here, My Lord! Save her from her grief, for pity’s sake, for our strength has gone!’
De Bohun moved towards Luci and dragged her onto his horse as she lunged at him, fighting and kicking. It took all the strength of the powerful man to get her face down before him as his horse reared and kicked, and he dragged her back from the ground again and leaned on her heavily as she bit the horse.
He rode away from the castle as John, Meurig and Griffith mounted the beasts held for them by the mounted men at arms. They were led behind de Bohun, away from the torturous sight that they would never erase from their minds.