Please note that this story is my best story at the moment and the one that is being edited and continued. Check here regularly for updates. By he way, this is completely different from the original draft published.
I woke up with the sun flooding into my room. I was in a daze, sleepy and warm. I was curled up in my bed clothes, cosy and with wandering thoughts. Life was good as the 15 year-old son of King Gwynne Maddock, Lord of all the Welsh Kingdoms. The land was peaceful and prosperous, no early bugles sounding. I yawned. It was the 5th November in the year of 1090, my father’s 5th year in office. Not so long ago, Rhi Bran ruled as the Lord over all, after ridding our land of the foul Norman oppressors.
Wales was split into 6 Kingdoms ruled by one King in each; each Kingdom was made up of many cantrefs. A Supreme Lord was set from one of these seven over us. They were chosen by vote of all the Kings every tenth year. God, we believed, presided over us as a higher being than even my Father. The kingdom I myself lived in was named Powys. The other 5 were Deheubarth, Gwynedd, Brycheiniog, Morgannwg and Gwent.
The latter was ruled by King Ithael. He was the previous Lord of the Cantrefs and if my father, God forbid, were killed, he would resume control of the 6 Kingdoms until a successor could be voted in. A long pause ensued as I dozed. King Ithael. . .was he bad or good? Rumours were flying around. At the time I had thought he was a little over-bearing but overall just a good ruler, just like my Father. Oddly, it seemed, no rumours flew around about my Father.
My father was a hard man, quick to anger and not slow to speak as his holy man would often remind him. However, he ruled fairly and would never harshly punish. But he was hard on me, saying that I was no knight, which was quite true, but he thought that it was a failing of the worst kind. I was an archer, as was my mother in her prime. People saw not the use for the Longbow, forgetting that a certain Rhi Bran, the first Lord of Wales, used one to drive the Ffreinc from Wales back to England. I could hit an apple at 200 yards with ease or when I sailed down the river past the border of Brycheiniog I could send a message through the window where Aerona Ceannadach lived in her Father’s castle. I liked her a lot. She was all-right for a girl. And she liked me yes, but we saw too little of each other for our friendship to flourish.
And now to my mother. An archer of real worth in her time and the one who taught me the way of the bow when Father’s back was turned. Father gave me the strictness I need to be brought up well, but my Mother the love and care. I wish my Father had shown me more attention as he did to my brother Garran, my Father’s champion at the time. He was a great soldier, I could not deny him that, but like my Father he saw my love and skill for the bow as a disgrace and preferred to ignore me rather than acknowledge pitiful me as his brother.
“Flynn, classes now!”my Mother’s voice called that morning interrupting my train of thought.
“Of course Mother!”I replied in a perhaps too charming voice, for she gave me a quizzical look.
The rest of that day was spent in classes, poring over Mathematics and other such studies. But this was not for me. I loved the great outdoors and wanted nothing more than to be in the woods hunting with my horse, with the breeze blowing through my short cropped hair and the sun brightening the path in front of me. But that was not to be for the rest of that day. The next day, however, was to turn out quite differently.
– – –
I woke at dawn as normal and quietly at that. I did not like to bother my servants at this hour, paid little as they were, they deserved their sleep. I was not the prince who lounged around while my servants did everything from making my bed neat to brushing my hair. Unlike my brother I did too often remark.
My bedroom was in the heights of one of the four towers of Castell Caerdydd my residence. The tower was where I and my family made leisure and sleep. From the window of my richly furnished room, I could see the green grass of my father’s fields. Later in the day I could see the serfs ploughing the fields with their trusty oxen. Sometimes I could see the blue river Taff swirl on a curly path over the horizon. On a clear day I could see Castell Coch, in which resides Aerona. A visit to my Father’s room is a scarce commodity but when I do so I could see just to the border of England where many a skirmish had been fought between my Father’s men and that of Red William, the son of great William The Conqueror. Red William was not as influential as his predecessor but he has barons who supported him with mighty armies. Thankfully the Ffreinc had not invaded with a big force for nigh on 10 years, at that time. I always thought that my father had the hardest Kingdom to control because of its size. That and the fact that he had to fend off occasional brave Ffreinc raiding parties who dared step over the border. Maybe that added to my father’s stress. Oh yes, and he was Lord of 6 Kingdoms of course.
Anyway, I was dressed in a fine tunic which I used for hunting. As I passed my brother’s room I could hear his snores resonating around his room. I always felt intimidated by the long corridors of Castell Caerdydd. I always preferred our home of respite in Caernarfon, the main city of Powys, bustling with life, although I could not hunt there. It took me a fair few minutes to walk down the cold stone stairs of the castle. Then I went down another portrait lined corridor to the castle’s great hall. I noticed my father’s seneschal Siarles preparing for his Lord to break his fast. He looked up with a forced smile as I entered.
“What is it you are doing Your Highness?”his smile flickering as he noticed my plain tunic, which I considered fine material.
“Fetch and saddle my horse, my bow and a sheaf of arrows!”I commanded. His face turned disdainful as I said this. But he did as I said. This was the only servant I was lazy with because I disliked him. He returned with my horse clattering over the cobbles of the courtyard where I had decided to wait. I slung my bow over my shoulder and clipped the sheaf of arrows to my belt. The seneschal looked despising at this and as I mounted my horse he turned in disgust.
“Let him. . .”I thought.
The gates were opened as I rode out on to the paved road leading from the castle. On my left loomed the forest of Caer Ffing. I always felt free there, so there I went to hunt. I spurred my horse on into the trees, my eyes darting around for life. My horse was a sturdy one, a gift of my late grandfather Llewelyn. It was a fine mare, the lightest of all horses, perfect for hunting. I cherished its beauty and fine brown skin. I had called her Lynne after my ageing grandmother. My grandma was one of the finest seamstresses in the whole Kingdom and possibly in Wales. Some I knew, boast of her skill as they used to in times past of Rhi Bran, my hero of archery. Most of my clothes then, although not fancy like my mother’s are made by grandmother. Aye, she was a fine master of her art.
Anyway, I had just noticed a set of tracks leading off into a dense thicket to my right. It was a deer, I had thought but then I remembered what Owain, my Father’s favourite tracker and my best adult friend, had said. A deer has prints much like that of a wild boar. The distinguishing feature between them, he had told me, was the smudge which came after the print. A deer moves lightly but a boar drags its feet as it runs. It was a boar, then, I realised. I was told by father not to tackle a boar on my own but I disregarded this as it was a small print and set off after it.
After a while I heard scuffling from a bush and saw movement amongst the leaves.
“Ah, there it is!”I thought, eagerly nocking an arrow to my bow. Aiming at the spot where I saw it move, I waited to see if it would appear. All of a sudden a fat brown nose poked out of the bush. A small one I noticed, glad that I hadn’t tackled something too big. I was about to let loose when I got the biggest shock since Garran pushed me into the castle’s freezing moat. There was sound coming from a different bush. A deeper grunting sound. I steadied my arrow on the bush and waited, aware that the smaller animal had scurried off. I moved my horse back, fearful of what might come out.
And I was right to be scared as the biggest boar I had ever seen charged out of the undergrowth. I knew I should have run but I loosed an arrow instinctively. It flew well wide of the mark. There was nothing for it but to leap with my arrows and bow off the horse onto the ground as the boar’s huge tusks punctured Lynne’s side. Regardless of the danger, no doubt I was furious at the ill-treatment of my beloved horse, I charged forward at the turning boar having discarded my bow. All I held was an arrow and my small hunting knife which was less than half the size of the boar’s tusks. It was foolish, what I did and the boar avoided my hurling body and turned to regard me on the floor helpless, my dagger lying feet away. I had been stupid and now I was going to pay. The board reared its ugly legs to finish me and then suddenly froze in mid air. It dropped dead. Two arrows protruded from its side. I saw Owain and my Father standing over me, clutching bows, Father evidently ashamed of having to resort to feathered death!
I don’t remember much else because of the thunder that erupted from my father at my foolishness. I tried to explain that I was tracking a small boar and the big one had just appeared. But he was having none of it, curse him!
I discovered later from Owain that a messenger had arrived at the castle with news of a huge herd of wild boar on the loose in the forest. I suppose I should be grateful for them coming after me.
Well. . . anyway, they confiscated my bow and suchlike, just waiting for an excuse they had been, all that month.
I went to bed very distraught and angry but acknowledging my stupidity.
I was deep in a dream about the Knights Tournament I had witnessed only the month before and as Aerona Ceannadach daughter of respected King Brychan I was expected to attend, and I had not regretted it. Some regarded Brycheiniog as a weak Kingdom because of its brilliance in the line of industry and in particular agriculture. It was true, that we did not like to fight and did not have a war host. However we had a Mobilization law meaning that everyone owned a weapon which could be called upon in times of war.
I am sorry to say that in my fifteen years of life, my father, the honourable Brychan, had had many a dispute over things with King Ithael. Not a war dispute but disagreement over simple things like travelling through the territory of Gwent, Ithael’s Kingdom. Handsome though he was, there was something most mysterious about him.
But enough of him. The six Kingdoms of Wales were ruled by six Kings and one over them all, that is King and Lord Gwynne of Powys. Aye, he had a charming son, Flynn. Many despised his talent with the bow, most of all his father. But they did not know what his bow might do in the future. Yes, he could be a little foolish, but he never failed to entertain. Aye, and he had a fine mare, so named Lynne after his dear grandmother, who was the most renown seamstress in Wales. Oh yes, many of my clothes were spun by her ageing hand. Having said that she was Flynn’s grandmother, his clothes were dire. I liked my clothes a lot. Often as I listened to my parents discussing the finer parts of harvest I gazed up at the carefully woven tapestries of the great hall and dreamt about a new dress I desired or the wish to see Flynn in garments better than a beggar.
Anyway, that day was a good day in the way that it was not raining but I also had a chilling experience. I woke late as usual to my servants tidying my room. They did it on a strict rota without fail, whether I was asleep or not. Sometimes I pretended to be asleep when they came in I could check their hands didn’t go anywhere they shouldn’t. I watched them dust the fine wooden chest-of-drawers and tie back my luscious pink curtains. I looked on in pity as dirty hands emptied my chamber pot out of the window in to the moat. Then occasionally they slipped on the polished wooden floor and I would stifle a giggle, remembering that that is not what a future queen would do. Future queen. If my Father died I would become the ruler of Brycheiniog. And my Father’s death was not altogether unlikely, due to his old age, although I by no means wanted him to pass away. The thought of being queen astounded me. What would it be like to have to discuss politics with your advisers? Or to entertain boring unknown Lords from other areas, from the cantrefs which made up the Kingdoms. I could not do it. Not then. But maybe one day.
As usual, that day I did my sleeping act and waited for the servants to go before I stretched, yawned and heaved myself out of bed, sleepily. However after splashing some water on my face, from the basin the servants had laid beside my bed, I felt much better, refreshed and ready to face the bleating of my seven year-old younger brother Aidan and the calm collected manner of my sister Marged.
Not long later I was at the great hall where Father entertained guests of all kinds. From nobles to serfs, anyone who needed a meal may pay a little and be granted food. Today, it seemed, there was a special group, with men-at-arms and several knights. There were no peasants merrily lining the wooden tables, downing pints. No frivolity, no travelling jongleur playing cheerful music. The soldiers at the tables were silent, tired looking, as if they had been walking all night. I went to find my Father. At that time of the morning, he would usually be in his dressing quarters with Mother. I proceeded to that place and knocked on the door. I hear my Mother’s voice from inside, well brought up rich voice calling,
“Is that you Aerona dear? Come in.” I pushed open the door and stepped inside, glad to see the familiar figure of my Mother, rather than any of those drowsy soldiers.
“Good morning, Mother. How are you on this fine day?”I said.
“Very well ,dear. Now what is it you want? If you’re looking for your Father, he is in an important meeting with someone!”she said, telling me what I wanted.
“With whom?”I asked.
“That is not for you to know, but you understand that he must not be interrupted?”she questioned me, her steely eyes boring into me.
“Of course, Mother.”I replied sweetly and hurried away, shutting the door loudly behind me. Then I hurried off to the meeting room where my Father would be with his guest. Contrary to my mother’s wish of course.
The meeting room was behind a solid oak door and solid wall so I had no hope of seeing the visitor but after many years of eavesdropping I knew what to do. Looking, each way down the long corridors, past the inbuilt crevasses in the wall, I checked that no one was coming. Satisfied I bent down and placed my ear next to the small crack in the bottom of the door. I could hear faint voices.
“I cannot. . .”my Father’s voice.
“But my Lord Brychan, surely you can consider. . .”
“Never!”roared my Father again, “You are asking me to side with the. . .”Then a different voice, spoke in a sickly tone. A shiver ran down my spine as I pressed closer to the door.
“You know things will go badly with you if you don’t.”it said. Then my Father’s voice,
“Is that a threat? It’s all very well asking me to make a new. . .”
“You have been warned!”came the horrible voice again menacingly. I wanted to push the door open and attack the man who had behaved this way in my father’s castle.
“The answer is still no. . .”said my Father. “If you come one more time, on this matter, I will tell King Gwynne. You can make this move into the fog yourself and see what happens, I am perfectly hap. . .” The sickly voice interrupted again,
“In that case, that is all. Goodbye. It seems that I have failed.” But the voice sounded the opposite of someone who had failed. There was something knowing in his voice. Then I suddenly realised my predicament. I was outside the meeting room eavesdropping. There would be no other way to explain it. What other reason would I have had for being down here. I gathered my skirt and fled for the nearest inbuilt crevasse and flattened myself against the wall. They would not be able to see me here. I prayed that they would go the other way, to the great hall. The door opened, and I risked a quick glance round the wall. Two guards stepped out and stood either side of the door. Then I saw my father emerge flanked by four of his men. Then more soldiers and finally someone else, but I couldn’t make out who it was in the jostling of the guards as my father said some more words to the man I couldn’t see. To my relief they went the other way down the corridor. I craned my neck to try and see the man with the sickly voice but all I could make out was occasional flashes of a black cloak and a ruby encrusted sword hanging at his belt, glistening in the fire light of the torches on the wall. They rounded the corner and that was the last I saw of the mysterious sickly voiced stranger.
Thinking back to the conversation later that evening I remembered the veiled threat in the stranger’s statement, my father’s anger at it all and the commanding presence in the assured way he concluded his “failure”. I would have liked to ask my Father about the visitor, but there would be no way of concealing my presence outside the door if I had, and my father would be inexplicably angry if he learned of this. So I let the matter drop. It slowly slipped out of my mind until the evening and as I went to bed that day I pondered over it.
Narrator: 1 Month Earlier-Bristol Castle
Bristol Castle stood proudly in the rising sun, its moat reflecting the brilliant light onto the four cylindrical towers which punched the sky on each corner of the castle. Their red roofs seem to highlight the magnificence of the great castle. Recently built it had served the Normans brilliantly in defending the surrounding region from barbaric Welsh pillagers from the west. The red roofs blinding colour seemed to have intensified that morning. Maybe that was because of the presence of Red William, King of England. The castle had been in a state of feverish preparation since word had reached the Baron of this castle that the King was arriving. Now he was here.
High above the great hall where the Baron and the King were feasting, on one of the towers balconies, Baroness Gabrielle frowned and gazed over the beautiful landscape. She wondered what the King had come to see her husband about. The Baron reckoned it was to do with setting new taxes on the land and as one of his most trusted advisors the Baron thought he would consult him first. Gabrielle did not think so. Why would the King give only a couple of days notice of his arrival unless it was something important. Something very important. And very important things meant, possibly, days of travel for her husband or the deployment of his troops into battle. Maybe it would be a full scale assault on Ireland, or even an attack on the barbaric Scottish from the North. Both foolish ideas, the Baroness men’s Team Tabknew. But there was something different about this. There was not the usual glamour that a King would travel with. Just a small band of him and some knights. Nothing else. When he had arrived, the King had actually been disapproving of the fuss made over his arrival by her husband.
Suddenly the Baroness’s train of thought was abruptly halted when the wooden door behind her opened, which directly followed on to a spiral stairwell. A brown haired servant poked his head around the door and suddenly remembered who he was talking to, bowed and waited for leave to speak.
“Speak.”said the Baroness.
“The Baron requires your presence to bid farewell to our important visitor.”he said in a well educated voice. The baroness sighed and announced her compliance
“I will be down in a minute.”she said. The servant disappeared and the Baroness was alone once more. She took one more look at the bright shining sun and reluctantly followed the servant’s footsteps.
The Baroness arrived in the courtyard to find her husband looking tired but managing to hold his pompous-looking poise while the King, Red Willam climbed onto his horse and made ready to leave with his entourage. It was a very unusual way for a King to travel this way but such was the nature of the visit the Baroness supposed. The King looked over towards the Baron and his wife and nodded towards the latter and said,
“Farewell Lady Gabrielle.”The Baroness looked up in surprise at this compliment. It did not literally mean that she was a Lady but it was a praise of the highest kind. Charmed by this, the Baroness curtsied and said,
“Farewell Your Highness, may you have a speedy journey.”
“Goodbye Bernard and remember what I have told you. Convey the details to your wife, but no-one else. Thank you for your. . . warm welcome.”he smiled and grimaced and then he rode off out of the gate and back to London.
When the Baron and Baroness had entered, the fire had been burning nicely, sending a warmth around the room. Now, a chill seemed to have descended, as the Baron told his wife the reason for the King’s visit. Baroness Gabrielle was stunned,
“Go to live there? It was bad enough living here, but there?”the Baroness was livid. “Bernard, what the King asks of you is too much. You would leave the Castle wide open and live in that dump, just to get money? You are rich already, why risk everything for a small amount of extra money? If you were caught making negotiations there, they would kill you.”
“What the King is offering me, is not a small amount of money. And anyway, I do not have to make any negotiations. There is our ally, doing that for us. He is paid well enough not to get scared at the last, and he doesn’t seem like that sort of person either. . . But anyway, all I have to do is kick start it all by making my presence known to our ally. He will do the rest and when it is safe we will go with our army and rid ourselves of the tiresome ally and we will have our own. . .”
“NO!”the Baroness interrupted angrily. “Thousands of our men will die. Never can we go. . .”
“There will be no battle. The plan is well thought out and none of those foul. . .”the Baron was cut off as soon as he cut off his wife’s comment,
“Believe me, they’ll skulk around in the shadows until they think of a wa Englandy to get you out of. . .”
“THERE IS NO ARGUMENT! I have agreed to do as the King says. In a few days time, I will go and discreetly give our ally the all clear to start the plan. Then very very soon, we will take control. They will never stand up to our mighty armies. Our ally thinks he will have control and we will be overseers, after it all, but in fact we will be in control and the King our overseer! Imagine having fifty castles under your control instead of one!”the Baron’s violent outburst was enough to send Baroness Gabrielle into tears and it did. Why did they have to do this?
So far in my life, the 9th November was probably the worst day I had ever had at that point. That day I woke up early at about five and waited for several minutes to make sure no-one else was up. Hopefully, at seven, when the servants rose, I would have had my bow back. But I wasn’t stupid enough to hope Father would not realise that I had reclaimed my bow. Getting the bow back from the cellar would be a challenge, but do-able. But Father checked the wine cellar, where he left the bow, every day and he would be sure to notice its absence. So I decided to find a bow which looked like it. This was harder than I thought : it seemed that as my bow was of a high quality, none of the castle bows would do. They looked different. I decided that I had to make one. So from dawn to evening, the day before, I had carved a bow. It would not have worked very well, but it looked like my real bow enough to fool my father’s keen eyes. I also re-painted a spare quiver I had to look like my real one. And by the time I crept down to the wine cellars this morning, I had equipment suitable to fool anyone.
There was always a guard on duty outside the cellar’s single door as valuable items were kept down there, not to mention the castle’s gold. I had devised a simple way to get inside. With my bow and quiver slung over my back, I grabbed a couple of stones out of my pocket. There was a long corridor stretching past the entrance to the cellar with a little passage leading to the door. I crept up to the passage and satisfied that no-one was looking either way; I peeped around the corner. There was the guard, pike on the ground, leaning against the wall, day-dreaming. I pinged one of the pebbles at him, hitting his fore-head and causing him to look-up, astonished. Then I made tapping noises to draw his attention, and was rewarded with a sleepy,
“’Oo’s there?” Then I coughed loudly and the guard grabbed his pike and walked up the small passage. I then made running noises loudly and crept off in one direction and hid myself in an in-built crevasse. At that point I was wondering whether I had bitten off more than I could chew. In a last ditch effort to get him away from the cellar, I hurled the other pebble down the corridor. It clattered noisily, echoing eerily. The guard swung round and started walking away from me. I seized my chance and hurtled out of hiding into the small passage-way leaving the bewildered guard wondering what the source of all the weird noises was. I felt slightly sorry for him, but I slipped through the cellar door gleefully, glad that the door was not jammed. Just as I shut the door I heard the guard returning and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Once inside, I looked around. I had not often been in there at that time and I marveled at the way the ceiling seemed to curve upwards and out of sight. It had to be some sort of optical illusion because I could never really see it clearly. Castell Caerdydd is renowned for its architecture, but living there all my life, it had not seemed all that special. But there was something about this room that was amazing. It made you stop still. . .
Years on I was to realise that it was a wine cellar and stank accordingly. There was a big stack of wine bottles about twenty metres high. I wondered how I could be transfixed by this. Then I saw it. My bow. It hung from a wooden rafter along with my quiver. Joyfully I ran towards it, forgetting that there was a guard outside and he would be startled by sounds from an apparently empty room. And that was when I made my mistake. Taking my bow down, being on tiptoes, I slipped and fell headlong into the wine stack. Oops. No laughing matter. My head knocked a bottle of fifty year old wine onto another bottle and another and another until five or six bottles lay in a smashed red heap on the cobbles. I froze. I was petrified. Had the guard heard? A yell! He had. I grabbed my bow and quiver and sprinted towards a huge pile of chests of gold and dived behind them, just as the door opened and the guard looked in, pike raised.
“What the____”he said. (Example of foul language). The guard was gazing at the mess of broken glass and expensive wine. I ducked my head as the guard scanned the room anxiously.
“This is beyond me!”he muttered. He turned and hurriedly left the room, obviously going to look for someone high up to deal with the situation. I took my chance and fled the room, and ran up the passage, in the guard’s footsteps. I saw him just reaching the end of the left corridor. Not good. That was the only way back to my room. If I went after him I risked being caught. Turning the other way I sped off like a lightning bolt. I ran until I reached the courtyard and then I turned off down another passage-way, knowing that this would at least take me back to the living quarters, where I could wait until this fiasco was over. I slumped down on a wooden chair and thought. They had no way of the knowing it was me. They would probably just say that it was the guard, meddling with the bottle, trying to take a sip and then knocking the bottles off, I had thought, wrongly.
Anyway, I was glad I got my bow and quiver back. Bow and quiver. BOW AND QUIVER! I had forgotten to plant the fake bow and quiver. Yes, there were two bows on my back, and two quivers. I-was-doomed. Desperately I looked around, trying to think of something to do. Maybe my Father won’ have seen that the bow and quiver had gone yet, I thought desperately to myself. Praying silently to myself, I ran as fast as I could, back to the corridor. There didn’t seem to be anyone about. I stole down the cobbles to the turning to the cellar. The door was shut. Maybe they hadn’t seen fit to inform Father at this early hour. After all, it was only a few bottles breaking. The most expensive bottles of wine I had thought grimly to myself. I walked cautiously down to the door and pushed it open.
“Flynn, I believe we have something to talk about!”someone said in a stern voice.
It was my father. I gulped.
What happened then, I do not like to say. But the long and short of it was that they burnt my bow, real and fake, along with the quivers and I was sent to bed early (very early- eight in the morning) after a strong lecture on “How a Prince should behave” and “Bows are for girls”.
Not the best day. I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to shoot a bow again. I went to sleep more dejected than ever Hopefully tomorrow would be better I had thought probably rather optimistically..
My siblings and I shared a tutor. A month ago he had fallen ill. It was apparently something to do with food poisoning. Anyway, he obviously could not teach us because of this, so we had no lessons for a while. This was no hardship as Elocution, Court Behaviour, Mathematics and Reading and Writing were not my favourite subjects. However I had missed Weaving and the long afternoons spent drawing the surrounding country-side. Aidan of course missed none of this (he still got to do swordsmanship)but Marged was bitterly disappointed, as she was more the intellectual type. One year younger than me, she would always say,
“Oh Aerona, how can you stand doing that boring weaving? You must indulge yourself more in the fine arts of Mathematics and Reading. I really don’t get what you see in gazing mournfully at the hills and drawing them.”To which I would tell her to shove off (very un-future-queenly) and she would slink off in a sulk. I sometimes think that she had designs on the throne and bemoaned my hatred of Elocution and Court Behaviour, which was, she would say: “Tremendously important”. Enough about my siblings (in particular my sister).
So, the tutor was ill and everyone generally had nothing to do. There would often be arguments and rows, ending with a dark air hanging around for days to come.
So, for a month, we had no tutor. Until the 8th November. Father had hired one from Gwent, a man called Euan Evans, saying that our old tutor would not be coming back. We had lessons that day. At least it relieved our boredom.
Evans was a proud man. He preferred to teach us the history of Wales, rather than anything like Mathematics or Reading. Occasionally he did those but very rarely. He was thinly built with mean lips, always in a sneer, when he saw me. Yes, he disliked me because of my don’t-carish attitude over the history of Wales but he also had a grudging sense of awe about me, because of my royal heritage. He seemed to like Marged a lot because of her love for studying, but he did not have much time for Aidan. Why it was only the morning after he came that he snapped at Aidan for merely forgetting that Rhi Bran lived in the forest all his life rather than on an island in a river.
So that day was fairly tedious. Ten minutes into tutoring I had forgotten that it was a new teacher and settled into the monotony of lessons. It was that boring.
The next day was not that different except he kept going on about his glorious home Kingdom of Gwent.
We sat in a small room on the ground floor of the castle, listening to his dull voice for several hours. His shaggy grey beard bobbed up and down as he gesticulated. His bald head shined in the light of the lamp above us as Marged listened intently to him. He always wore a brown tunic, all his garments were plain. All except the beautiful shiny ring which was on the fourth finger of his left hand. It was a sign of his marriage to his wife and he wore it grudgingly, almost as if he would rather wear dark colours all the time.
However, as I said, on the 10th he talked about his Kingdom Gwent and for the first time he said something of interest. It was about Rhi Bran, the master archer who used to live in the forest for years and finally came out of hiding with a large army and drove the Ffreinc from our land. The odd thing wss that Euan spoke of the Normans in scared awe, rather than in disgust. He read a passage from an old book written by a Ffreinc monk who had converted to Rhi Bran’s side. It read like this:
Of all the forest’s wonderful creatures, none other than the legendary Rhi Bran captivates my mind. Surprisingly it is not the red squirrel or the black and white badger that holds a place in my heart, despite my years in the greenery, but the archer, who rid Wales of my race the Ffreinc. I realised the atrocities they committed in the beautiful country, Wales. I am glad to this day, that I chose the right path. Thus I was allowed a place in Gwent alongside Rhi Bran in his final years. I was not made to follow my fellow country-men back to England where they retreated but was given a place beside him. To me, it felt like I was no longer a Norman, but in my part of the rebellion against my race’s rule I gained Welsh blood. Rhi Bran died four years ago and I fear that I will soon go. But I fear not as those who terrorized the simple Welsh farmers. For their afterlife will be unpleasant and they will pay for their crimes. I myself, sacrificed pleasures on this Earth, to live a life scurrying from place to place, sleeping in hedges and meadows, drinking unclean water. But I know my reward will come when I die. And as I, my friends, Tomas, Iwan and the rest die, those who read this manuscript will learn the lesson. I do fear that one day others will try to gain Wales, namely the Ffreinc, my own people. When they attempt to, remind them of the battles that Rhi Bran won, and let them know that the Welsh people will never lie down and let them maraud over their beautiful countryside. Stay in England, where you still do not belong, but never try to conquer Wales. Every last one of them will go down fighting. They will hide in the forests, you will never have rest, you my countrymen, if you conquer Wales. This is my warning. I will die soon but I have no fear. Goodbye.
Marged was not moved by this at all. She had a discussion with Euan for half an hour debating the validity of this. They both came to an agreement that this monk was a fraud. I however believed differently. There was something that rung true about his account. And it reminded me of someone. Flynn.
The man moved cautiously down the corridor glancing from left to right occasionally as if fearful of being seen. Maybe he was fearful of being seen. He reached a door and listened intently for a moment. Nothing stirred apart from a small noise. Deep breathing. It was a girl, made obvious by the way she breathed. She was asleep, and deeply at that. The man pushed the door open carefully and stopped again to check he had not woken the sleeper. Satisfied, he walked across the room and brought something out of the pocket of the long tunic he was wearing. He nudged the girl gently. She did not move. Then harder he pressed down on a pressure point in her neck. She sat up with a start and was evidently about to scream when a hand clamped over her mouth and the man whispered
“Shh! Make a noise and I’ll use this.”he indicated the object in his hand. A knife. It gleamed in the moonlight peeping through the curtains. The girl was terrified. The man said in a low voice,
“Get up! You will walk in front of me the whole time and you will not make a sound. Do you understand?” The girl nodded hastily, afraid of incurring the wrath of the knife. Silently they walked out of the room together, the girl still in her nightgown, trailing across the dark corridor. Minutes later they were at a door. It was opened by someone from the outside. The man with the girl whispered,
“I’ve got her here, well behaved she’s been, my Lord. . .” The man outside interrupted angrily,
“How dare you use my name, you fool. Imbecile. I came here specially tonight and you go blathering. I could have got my servants to come, but no. I, in one carriage came with but one servant, my bodyguard who I can trust and you nearly wreck it. Imagine if someone was listening.”There was silence for a moment and then the girl piped up,
“What do you want with me? Who are you?”
“All in good time, my dear.” The moon light glinted off the sheaf of his sword. It was a reddish gleam, of a ruby. The girl gasped in shock and horror.
“You!”This was too much noise for the liking of the first man who slapped his hand round her face,
“Shut up!”Then he changed his tone of voice to talk to the man with the ruby encrusted sword. “Er, I was just wondering about my payment. . .”he said.
“You have already been paid.”replied the man with the sword. His voice was monotonous but in its own way angry.
“Ah yes, well you paid me for the job but my silence is another matter.”he replied. The man with the sword simply replied:
“I’ll see what can be done.”The first man looked pleased at this.
“Can I have a look at your dagger for a moment? It looks high in quality.”said the swordsman. The kidnapper looked mystified at this as it was a simple kitchen knife. But he complied nevertheless. The swordsman turned the dagger in his hand and then in a sudden swift movement he twirled the dagger above his head and punctured it into the kidnapper’s forehead. There was only a look of shock on his face as he realised. And then he died. The swordsman grabbed the girl’s arm and pulled her along with him into the night leaving the dead man with blood seeping down his head into the ground. Moments later a carriage clattered off down a cobbled road towards the Kingdom of Gwent.
The 10th November was the day when my life changed in ways I did not know were possible. I woke up bright and early and went down to breakfast and much to my surprise I discovered my Father already up and around, in the great hall having a conference with his advisors. Now, this only happened when there was a crisis in the Kingdom so I knew something big was up. I soon discovered. And I was shell-shocked. Nothing could have prepared me for this news. The previous night, it seemed, Aerona had been kidnapped from the castle and taken away to places unknown. No one knew who had done it. But it was not a straight-forward tale of abduction. There was an unanswered question on everyone’s mind. The tutor of the children of King Brychan., Aerona’s father, had been found dead with a knife wound in his head. Some were arguing that he had heard the kidnapping taking place and had gone out to see what was wrong. It seemed he had been killed by the abductor, obviously panicked that someone might raise the alarm. However, contrary to this view, the majority found it most mysterious that the tutor was found outside the castle rather than in it. Also, his rooms were on the other side of the castle. So why was he up and about? There was heavy belief that the tutor was involved in the kidnapping but no one could prove this and if he was part of the plot why was he killed? But all tiny details aside, the princess of a Kingdom had been kidnapped and was presumably being held for ransom.
There was an air of doom and gloom around the whole of Wales that day. My Father had sent horse riders to comb the country but by that evening nothing had been found. The only clue to the whereabouts of Aerona, were tracks leading to Gwent but they could have been anyone’s. Now, we did not know at the time, but those tracks were the right ones.
I went to bed that evening still in a state of despair. I slipped in and out of sleep, touching blissfulness and then being snatched away by my thoughts. I was just finally getting to sleep when my door creaked open and because of the day’s events I was quite touchy I sat up quickly and grabbed my dagger but it was only my Father. I heaved a sigh of relief and asked,
“What is it Father?”
“Flynn? Something had just happened. It means that we have to go fairly early tomorrow to King Brychan,”explained Father. So make sure you’re ready!” My heart soared at this news! No sitting around all day, but possibly chasing after the vagabond who took Aerona. I had assumed it was about Aerona.
“Is it to do with the kidnapping, Father?”I asked.
“No. Now get to sleep now. And make sure you’re up early!”The door shut. So it was not about Aerona. I thumped back down to Earth. I had imagined fighting hordes of enemies from Aerona or going on a daredevil attempt to get her back. But no. I was tempted to run after my Father and demand to know what had happened. His face had certainly looked grave but it could have just been the flickering light playing tricks in my mind.
The next morning the 12th November I woke later than I had wanted, I suppose it was to do with the late night talk with my Father. I hurried around putting on a new tunic which had been laid out for me by the servants. I did everything so quickly that I did not notice that it had snowed last night. Finally, once we were ready to leave-Father, Garran and I and my Father’s usual retinue of servants and soldiers-I noticed the snow. It was beautiful. The early morning Sun shone down on it making it sparkle like thousands of people winking at me from the ground. Icicles hung from trees, melting even as I watched.
“Let’s go!”I heard my Father’s voice sound, muffled because of the snow. We thundered off down the cobbles and then onto the dirt tracks, now coated in white fluffy snow. It was fun at first, riding in the snow, your horse flinging it up in the air. But then halfway to the castle, about two hours later, the jolly chatter which had buzzed through the group turned into the chattering of teeth and cloaks being drawn more tightly around oneself. Also, the snow had melted further and every now and then a horse slipped sending a cascade of snow in the air only to annoy a rider behind him. My Father had to silence several arguments which if had happened in the guard’s mess room would have ended in a free for all on the floor. At last we arrived at the castle where King Brychan lived. I noticed all the journey that Garran had pretended not to feel the cold, but it showed soon enough as he huddled round the fire like everyone else, shoving me viciously out of the way.
My Father had gone off to speak to King Brychan in a meeting room. I gathered the news from titbits of what the soldiers were saying. King Brychan wanted to separate his Kingdom from the other Kingdoms and be independent for no apparent reason. My Father, great friends with King Brychan and also being Lord of all the Kingdoms decided to try and dissuade him. But so far it was not working at all. They had two meetings. The first when we got to the castle and the second in the afternoon. Meanwhile, Garran and twenty soldiers sat merrily draining casks of beer but I sat in the corner on my own. Did they not know that what was taking place was sensational. For the first time since Rhi Bran was Lord of all, a King wanted to break away from the rest of Wales. It was unheard of. And all they could do was sit there and drink beer, for goodness’ sake. I was frustrated. First Aerona disappears and then someone we all thought a trustworthy man demands independence. I gathered later from my Father that King Brychan had been very certain that he wanted to have independence but he had not looked too pleased about it. It was very strange.
Just before the second meeting started and my Father was sitting gloomily discussing the situation with his advisors (the negotiations had not gone too well) the great halls door’s swung open and a gust of snow blew in. King Ithael marched in surrounded by his guards. Everyone looked up. My Father said,
“Ah, King Ithael, how good to see you!”however his face betrayed that it was not good to see him.
“Good day, my Lord, I’ve heard that there is some business going on with old King Brychan. Something about making independence.” He looked enquiringly at my Father who was about to reply when another door opened and King Brychan entered,
“Lord Gwynne, are you ready for our meeting, I assure you that my mind cannot. . .”he stopped as he saw Ithael.
“Ithael.”It was said with no emotion but it was quite clear that he was not wanted. There was a cold look in his eye which seemed to want to say something but that there was something in the way. Something stopping him saying it.
“I thought I’d join the meeting, some tosh about inde. . .”he was interrupted by my Father,
“Not here. Lets go. . .”he indicated the door and he, King Brychan, King Ithael and all their advisers went out. The hall erupted into a babble of voices, suddenly everyone was interested.
The meeting room was warm and cosy. It consisted of a large wooden round table with three chairs around. A fire was burning merrily in the corner. But somehow, above the warmth of the room, a cold chill hung like a sheet of ice ready to break at the slightest movement. King Brychan sat, sullen and foreboding, daring someone to contradict his desires. King Gwynne sat, despairing, and distressed. But in contrast, King Ithael had his feet up on the table, his cloak hung on the back of his chair, looking quite at ease with the situation. King Gwynne spoke first,
“Now, look here Brychan old boy, I’ve always given you a special place at my table and the first choice of my Kingdom’s girls for your knights but this is just too much. After all we’ve been through together. Surely you remember the Battle of Cochelli where we fought side by side. And now this. Perhaps you are unsatisfied, thought I can’t think why. But if you are please voice your. . . opinions and we may be able to rectify the problem.” King Brychan merely glanced at Gwynne and spoke,
“I’m telling you, I want independence and I only asked you so this can happen without bloodshed. . .”
“You do realise,”came a cold voice, Ithael, “that the combined armies of Wales would crush your army immediately and your pitiful. . .”
“ENOUGH, Ithael!”roared King Gwynne. “Your opinion is valued, but to threaten someone here, is a crime. I ask you to keep a lid on your emotions. . .despite the circumstances.”he glanced at King Brychan.
“Of course, my Lord. I am deeply remorseful!”said Ithael in his silky unnatural voice. “I only wished to convey my. . .disappointment at Brychan’s decision. For we have always been good friends.” This was obviously not true because suddenly all the servants lining the room shuffled their feet and coughed nervously. Gwynne stared straight into Ithael’s eyes and rebuked him soundlessly. The uncomfortable silence was broken by the voice of King Brychan,
“Can we please just get on with this. Some of us do not wish to sit here all day.”
“Well, I’m not sure, really this should be put to vote. . .”said Gwynne but he was hurriedly and surprisingly interrupted by King Ithael,
“My Lord, I suggest we allow dear Brychan here to have independence, although I don’t doubt that he will come back to us in good time, after finding that farming won’t keep the Normans out.”he grinned around the table nastily. “Possibly he finds the handling of his daughter’s kidnap rather. . . inadequate, I wouldn’t blame him. . .”
“HOW DARE YOU?!”shouted Gwynne angrily. “How dare you suggest such a thing? This meeting is cancelled. As High Lord of all of Wales, I decree that the Kingdom of Brycheiniog is now independent. All trade routes will be cut off until a diplomatic treaty can be arranged. That is all.”
– – –
I was so bored. King Ithael’s arrival had been the last interesting thing to happen and that had been four hours ago. In the time between the soldiers had got drunker and drunker and Garran had fallen asleep in a haze of wine, very un-princely. Therefore I decided that I could go for a wander. Besides, there was no chance of me getting in any trouble because everyone was asleep or slouched over the wooden benches in the great hall. I left by a sidedoor and found myself in a sloping stairwell, evidently leading down to a wine cellar. I was about to go back when I heard voices. My natural instincts told me not to go away but listen. I don’t why my instincts told me this but it was probably was because the voices were both in a deep rich strange language. Then suddenly I realised that it was French! It immediately struck me as odd, because we Welsh hated the Normans, who spoke French, and that they would not be allowed anywhere near our country let alone inside a King’s castle. I carried on listening for a while and I picked up occasional words which I happened to know, but I did not know enough to make sense of it. Then I heard one of them address the other as Baron Neufmarche, because Baron is the same in French as it is in the language I speak. So, I thought, not only are there French in the castle but one of them is high ranking. I had heard the name Neufmarche used with great contempt by my Father. I knew that he was an important Baron in England. I was just creeping down the stairs to get a glimpse of the two Ffreinc but suddenly I heard them start to come up the stairs. Quickly, making far to much noise I hurried up the stairwell, but they heard me and shouted,
“Ei, who there?!”in broken Gaelic obviously not wanting to be noted as a foreigner. But I did not wait to be discovered and I rushed away through the door and into the hall, where my brother, Garran was sleepily pulling on his cloak and he said drunkily,
“Where on Earth ya’ been, we’re going. Father’s lost the discussion, he’s getting ‘is independence!” All around me were soldiers mounting their horses, and I could see my Father riding around commanding the men to hurry. Then I noticed him address a few words to King Brychan, and they were evidently not happy ones, because my Father had a sour look on his face. At my father’s words Brychan turned away angrily. Then I saw Ithael. And for some strange reason he was grinning. But it was an evil grin, not a happy one. Something had gone his way.
We left soon after, and a very subdued party headed back to Castell Caerdydd. There was no joyful chatter as we headed homewards, the snow melting beneath our feet. But none of this seemed to bother me. I was more preoccupied with the two French men I had heard talking in the wine cellar. Why were they there. How could Normans possibly, these days, get into Wales unnoticed, without inside help. And then it hit me. What if they had something to do with the kidnapping of Aerona. These thought were swirling around me, and I wanted to let it out to someone. I decided on Garran. I think it was probably not the best time to do this, seeing as he was still feeling the affects of the wine and he had a thumping headache. But I sidled up to him while we were riding and I said,
“Garran?” he looked at my,
“Yeah, what is it, can’t you give me a moment’s peace?”he replied annoyed as our steady canter continued.
“I’m sorry, but it’s important”I said.
“Really, can’t it wait until we get back to the castle? I’m. . .”he complained.
“No, it can’t, it’s basically like this. . .”and I told him all I had seen and heard from the Frenchmen, not including my suspicions about them being involved in Aerona’s kidnapping. He then looked at me with something like anger on his face,
“What kind of rubbish are you coming out with these days. It’s probably just some fantasy you’re made up in your silly head and made it big and real. I’m telling you now, no Ffreinc could get within a mile of Wales without been spotted, let alone into Wales. Besides, surely you aren’t thinking of telling Father? What with all the troubles he’s got at the moment. Aerona’s kidnap, Brychan getting independence. Do not worry him with your cock and bull stories about imaginary Normans in Welsh castles.” And with that, leaving me speechless, he rode off to join his friends. I was paralysed with anger. I was tempted to tell father about the Ffreinc just to spite Garran, but deep down I agreed with him, Father had enough on his plate at the moment. It would not be wise to tell him. Besides I did not know if he was still smouldering over the wine incident. But deep down, I knew something very serious was up, but I could not quite place my finger on it.