Over the years there have been many historical novels. The
idea is probably as old as civilization itself. All ancient civilizations
seem to have enjoyed telling tales of heroic deeds from their
past. In our modern era Walter Scott did much to publicise the
Medieval novel with his Ivanhoe and associated historical works.
At the end of the twentieth century film-making has added to the
available audience and indeed to the perception of Medieval history
in modern society. Unfortunately, and probably inevitably, film
makers have their eye mainly on the returns from the box office;
and box office rarely relates to historical accuracy. It seems
to me, therefore, a pity that films like Robin and Marion, which
makes an effort be achieve a historically accurate background
to the fictional plot, are not as successful as the historical
bunkum of Mel Gibson's William Wallace. It is difficult to see
how historical realism can be brought more to the fore in popular
entertainment. Perhaps it is true to say that it never was and
never can be profitably integrated.
The short paragraph above is merely my musing on a subject which often fills me with sadness, that so little of our past is shared with the public at large. In some small attempt to rectify this perceived failing I began writing my own novel some years ago with the intention of it and exciting the interest of the general public in events from long ago. Like many such writing projects this work has lain dormant for some considerable time. However the advent of the Internet may serve to revive this ideal. I have therefore decided to place here an opening section from my novel. This has proved successful for the likes of Stephen King so I thought I might try and do the same. If I get enough email (from different people) encouraging me I may publish other sections of the story at later dates.
Finally I should point out that though the names taken for this novel and the dates and facts used are as historically accurate as possible, as with all historical novels much has to be invented as in the intervening 700 years much has been lost. There is also the continual problem of whether what is reported is truth, partisan bias or just plain rumour or misinformation. Such questions can never thoroughly be answered so all I can say is please spend a while to read the following and hopefully enjoy its content.
Paul Martin Remfry
1 September 2000
A blast of cold wind brought the sleet and
snow billowing through the sights
of the old man's great helm once again. Involuntarily he shuddered. Warm
tears ran down his cold numbed cheeks. The lines of the fluid made an
irregular path through the wrinkles and grey three day old stubble. The tired
watering eyes focused again on the dark iron clad figure opposite him, hunched
forward on his restless destrier. Behind him were further armoured and semi-
armoured men seated on their freezing mounts. Steam blew through the horses
nostrils and hung briefly around the faces of the men mounted upon them. Some
were young untried men in light leather hauberks seated on ponies little
better than sumpters, pack animals. In front of them were the fully armed
knights like Brian himself, seated on great iron clad chargers, the destrier,
the warhorse of Medieval Europe. In the cavalry brigade waiting on the steep
rise of ground above Dinieithon ford were 28 fully armoured knights and 173
troopers with a variety of armour and armaments. They were both cold and
nervous. Cold seemed to have been with them since they set out from the
warmth of their winter homes 6 days before. It had eaten into their bones on
the short ride to Wigmore castle. It had settled into their very fibre during
their cold nights in summer campaigning tents. The luckier ones, those of
greater social standing, had of course commandeered houses for their nightly
rest. The hoipolloi had to look after themselves. Now after 3 days
inactivity at Cefnllys castle, where they had come to repair the damage done
by the Lord Roger's treacherous rebels, word had come that the traitors were
moving against them.
Sir Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore castle, had bade Brian to go out and
deal with the enemy. Hence their 3 hour vigil on this windswept rise. To
call it a vigil was an overstatement for the visibility was down to just a few
yards. Brian knew this district well. He remembered as a child playing in
the river below. That seemed so long ago now, yet he could remember it as if
it was yesterday. He must have been 3 or 4 years old. The water then ran
fast through the rapids, but the river was not deep. His mother and her
friends were gambling along the banks of the river under the shattered ruin
of old Dinieithon castle. He thought back to his mother. A large woman with
long flowing dark hair. She was quite old even then. He was her seventh son
- although he did not know that at the time. All the rest had died soon after
birth. Brian pondered on why he had been spared and of course Margaret his
only surviving sister. He started to turn round to try and make out Hugh
Turbeville, the now long dead Margaret's widower. That was a mistake. His
horse unsettled by the sudden movement shied, the cold clammy chain mail
shifted on his back and a long cold trickle of melted sleet slid easily, but
discomfortingly down his back. He cursed inwardly for the new discomfort.
His restless move also brought the silent knights about him to life.
"What now old man?" the armoured knight in front of him he had been
regarding so intently for the last few minutes asked. The question grated -
he hated the phrase 'old man' nearly as much as he disliked the man who said
it. He was the only one who dared call Brian that, but then again he was his
eldest son and heir. Before Brian could submerge his anger and summon up a
reply a new sound suddenly rent the air - distant at first, but drawing
nearer. Up onto the sleet swept rise thundered a rider - his palfrey rearing,
its breath coming in short panting rasps. The rider upon it, Heilin, his face
blue with cold, his gentle lilting Welsh accent taut with emotion, burst forth
his news. "My Lord, there're coming. There're coming."
Brian regarded the young Welshman through the sights of his helm.
Without speaking he raised the great padded iron load off his head - its
leather fastening straps not having been buckled. Bare-headed he looked
slowly at Heilin and said in carefully measured and slightly forbidding tones
"Who is coming Master Heilin?". Behind his expressionless mask Brian was
happy. Not only had Heilin's unexpected arrival saved him from having to
converse with his son, and no doubt also others around him, it had also made
him appear aware of the rider's presence before the others around him had
sensed it. In a coming battle faith in your leader was at a premium. The
young Heilin swallowed deeply realising his impatience might be considered
impertinence. His father and grandfather before him had fought for the
Mortimers in their wars against the sons of Maelgwn and Prince Llywelyn the
grandfather and Prince Dafydd his son. Now he too was taking his place behind
his lord in this new and exciting war. He looked around at the other knights
who seemed to have jostled in around him on their mighty destriers,
overshadowing the wiry Welshman on his lesser mount. He looked the old man
square in the face summoning up every ounce of his dignity that flowed through
his young body - dignity cradled from a thousand years before when his
forebears had marched to the centre of the world to do battle under the banner
of the Emperor Magnus Maximus - and said calmly and collectedly. "Welsh foot,
Sire. At least 3 or 4 hundred, in line, marching on the ford".
"Three or four hundred you say? Marching in line? What of their
scouts? Did you see the end of their column? Was there any cavalry? How far
are they from the ford?" The old man saw the momentary confusion in the young
man's face. Ah he too remembered when he was that age. So young, so
cocksure, all the world was at his feet. "Well?"
"I don't know, Sire. The sleet was bad and I did not want to be seen.
I rode parallel with them for a way, but did not come to the end of the
column. I met no scouts and saw no cavalry. Just the foot, marching in line
towards the ford some half a league distant."
Brian shook his head slowly and raised a giant iron clad mitt to wipe
the tears from his still streaming eyes. Immediately he wished he had not as
the harsh cold iron chain grated on his numbed flesh. How foolish could a man
get. Marching in a blizzard without scouts towards a waiting enemy. Perhaps
that was it. They expected no resistance until they reached the castle. But
who was this marching army. "Did you see any colours?".
"No Sire", said the esquire.
"Were they in good order?"
"Were they spread out or marching like a trained body?" "Were they spear-
armed, bows or knives?"
"I saw no spears and they appeared sullen, spread out, not well disciplined".
"Humph", said the old knight and sat back upon his mount and thought. Their
own troops marching across the moors a few days ago had appeared a right
rabble he thought, but then when hadn't they? No spears, they probably
weren't Llywelyn's men. Locals then, the rebels, they had come back to the
scene of their crime. That could explain the lack of scouts, but then who
would expect an enemy in this damned weather. If they were local they would
have known of the Lord Mortimer and Bohun's encampment at the foot of
windswept Cefnllys hill. Perhaps they planed to march right up to it and
deploy before the assault. He had heard that Rhys Fychan of Dinefwr had
visited Cefnllys castle and supervised its destruction before the arrival of
Mortimer and his army. Perhaps he had regrouped his men and had now decided
it was time to deal with the Marchers. Brian knew all to well how weak the
Marcher army really was. Perhaps Rhys did too. England was in chaos. Earl
Roger Clare of Glamorgan, the most powerful of all the Marchers, had just died
and what passed for the government of England while Henry III was abroad was
immersed in internecine fighting between the 'royalists' and the 'reformers'
under that French popinjay Simon Montfort. Brian had no time for any of them.
What was the point of their silly paper squabbles if in the meantime Llywelyn
threw them out of Wales? Fools the lot of them! Now here he was leading this
ragtag squadron against who knows what! "Go out and deal with them", Mortimer
had said to him after the rumours were brought in that a Welsh host was
approaching. Deal with whom, Brian thought. Well there was only one way to
"Well father?", came Brian Junior's impertinent voice. Brian just ignored
him. Perhaps his grandsons, Walter and another Brian, would be made of better
"Right Heilin, back down to the ford, keep yourself hidden and back here when
they arrive. We'll be waiting". "Yes, Sire", came the retort as the young
horseman wheeled away, the surrounding knights peeling back from him like a
curtain. Brian turned to his attendant knights. He was now known as the lord
banneret, the most senior knight in charge of the lances, the mounted troops.
How fast times changed. Things were so simple in his youth. Brian started
in his thin even voice. He made a mental effort to keep his voice plain and
level. He did not want the emotion showing to his men as he prepared for yet
another engagement. There had been so many over the years. The old knight
had few illusions now. He often wondered what had spared him for so long when
so many others had fallen by the wayside, death in battle, death from
gangrene, disease, some just dropped down dead, others disappearing without
trace. Yet he was still here. His heart still beat fiercely, he still felt
that strong pride he had first felt all those years ago back besides this very
same river. He remembered in a flash the sudden panic along the river bank.
The ladies running and shouting. The sudden rush of men-at-arms - being
gathered up in his mother's arms - other children crying. Then the sight of
his father, resplendent in his full mail armour, his shields and pennants
gleaming in the gentle mid-summer breeze. The splash of the horsemen crossing
the sparkling river, the cloud of dust and then they were gone. It was only
years later that he discovered that it was a sudden uprising by the men of
Ceri and an assault on Rhaeadr castle that had brought the troops out so long
"You will form the troops into a line two deep and then report back to
me. I want everything done as quietly as possible. They shouldn't see us in
this snow. I want the heaviest troops in line in the centre. Our charge will
break the infantry. They won't know what hit them till its too late. We will
ride them down then the lighter lances will follow on through. The slope of
the ground will give us momentum. Once we have ridden through them we will
wheel about on the other side and charge back through them. Make good use of
your swords then. Scatter them, kill them, take no prisoners except for Rhys
or the lords if any of them be with him. Any questions?". A grim silence
greeted his words. "Good, then about your business". The armoured horsemen
wheeled off along the frozen body of troopers. Harsh words carried brittly
over the howling gale, lost virtually before they were heard. All around him,
as far as his curtailed view could see, men were moving their horses into
position. The whinnies of the beasts, patient in their waiting, but now
disturbed as the buzz of excitement spread through the troops, carried above
the sounds of the storm. Brian wondered distractedly if their advancing
enemies might hear them, before dismissing such thoughts from his head. If
they caught them in the open it would be a slaughter. Even so nagging away
at the back of his head were recurring doubts. Why were there no scouts, was
this really the main body or just an advance guard. Such doubts were quickly
pushed down. What did it matter. They were there, they must be attacked.
After all why else where they there?
The tell tale clink of steel and iron as well as the noises of the
beasts broke the soft silence of the blizzard, but eventually these sounds
stilled as the brigade came to order. The old man thought on. Half a league
distant. The Welsh foot would probably be marching at slightly more than 2
miles an hour. In which case they should be at the ford in less than an hour.
How long had gone by since Heilin saw them and where were his other scouts.
Perhaps one or more had been captured or.... Brian stopped himself. There
was no point in following down these lines, so many ifs and buts. None of
them mattered, all that mattered was that they were ready for whatever awaited
them - good or ill. Once more the troop waited on their rise, but this time
it was different. You could almost cut the noise of the blizzard with a
knife, physically feel the tension. Here they were, 200 cavalry and himself.
This was not the unit he had campaigned with or the men he knew personally.
True some of them were his own retainers, like young John Lingen or old Roger
Aston. But many were missing, too far from the Marches to reach this scratch
force in time. Old retainers he knew well, the Pertworths, Tokehams and
Astons of Wiltshire, the Dispensers of Oxford and the multitude of other
knights of the realm who owed allegiance to Roger Mortimer. Instead he had
under his command too many farm hands, mere boys, ready and willing to come
to his master the Lord Mortimer for this great adventure against the rebels.
But what would they make of real fighting? No glamour, no glory, just waiting
then... Even as Brian's mind wondered on the strength of his lances another
part of his brain was whipping over other matters. Worse still than their
inexperience was the fact that with Mortimer had come Humphrey Bohun, lord of
Brecon, and his retinue. Mortimer and Bohun were not the best of friends at
the best of times. Young Roger Mortimer still coveted the lordship of Brecon
of which he thought the Bohuns had robbed him. Worse still young Humphrey was
an adherent of Simon Montfort, as Roger too had once been. But now Roger was
openly a champion of the king's party. The ill-feeling between the knights
of both parties had yet to show, faced as they were by a common enemy, but
even so Humphrey had only ridden with Mortimer as he had been commanded to do
so by his father, Earl Humphrey, whom Henry III had appointed captain of the
Marches of Wales. The simmering discontent Brian could feel was bubbling just
beneath the surface.
How long had he sat and waited now? Had Heilin got it wrong, or had he
got lost, or even been captured? Suddenly Brian was aware of another knight
close beside him. How long had he been there? As the other knight realized
Brian was aware of him he asked in slight voice made boomingly hollow by the
enclosure of his helm, "How long do you think it will be uncle?". "Not long
now, Henry", the old man replied. This was to be his favourite nephew's first
action and he could tell from his voice that he was full of trepidation. Take
the boy's mind off it he thought and said "Here, help me replace my helm".
The great padded iron helmet had been sat in the knight's lap since his
discussion with Heilin. Now was just as good a time as any to replace it.
The 8 pounds of iron was replaced on Brian's head, and with the help of his
nephew's far more agile fingers the leather straps and buckles were fastened.
If this helmet was to be knocked off the head under it was coming off with it!
For a while the two men sat there in silence. Then Brian said, "When
we get going stay close to me and follow what I do. This shouldn't take
long". "Yes uncle", came the reply. "I hate the waiting, its by and far the
worst time, but... listen...".
Goronwy's feet hurt. Even through the numbing cold and the protection of his worn leather boots they hurt. They had probably marched a little over 2 leagues he guessed since Prince Llywelyn had come to them at Rhaeadr-gwy. He had arrived last night with an immense army, over 20,000 strong it was said. Llywelyn had ridden in with his barded cavalry body-guard in front of his army. "Goddamed Venedotions", murmured Goronwy under his breath. Beside him his friend Meirion turned towards him and in his twangy lilt added, "What's up with you then, would you prefer to be going on your own?" Goronwy returned his friend's stare and looked upon his frozen beard and the sleet and snow settled in his grey shawl. Meirion was about 35, though he now looked twice that age. He farmed the croft just over the valley from where Goronwy had lived out his 33 years. They had played together as children in their remote valley high above the River Wye. They had grown up under the rule of Prince Llywelyn the grandfather, although nominally they still had their own prince, Maredudd ap Maelgwn, the grandson of the great hero King Cadwallon. They had both grown up listening around the fires to the bards sing of their great hero. But now all the talk was of Llywelyn. Maredudd's son, Gruffydd was back, but he was firmly under the younger Llywelyn's power. Goronwy resented that.
"Look at you", the younger man said. "Look at me for that matter. My boots are worn through, my shawl does not keep out the cold. All I have for protection is this knife and all the food I carry is what I ate last night! I'm cold, I'm hungry and I'm fed up! What are we doing here?"
"God's teeth! Keep your voice down. Do you want Prince Llywelyn's men to hear you?"
"I'm not sure if I much care", Goronwy replied, but he knew deep down that he did. It was 17 years ago when both their fathers and brothers had tramped off into the winter, north to the ford of the River Conway. They had gone to aid Prince Dafydd against the king and none of them returned. Many times Goronwy and Meirion had spoken of what had become of their kin, but no-one really knew. All they knew is that many died that year. English, Welsh, Norman, traitor, loyalist, prince, lord, poor man, begger and thief. What did it matter, they weren't coming back. Now it was their turn. They had both talked about it when Prince Llywelyn first arrived back in the wet and stormy December of 1256, six long years ago. They had both gone down to the Prince at Rhaeadr and proffered him their homage as their fathers and brothers had done to his grandfather all those years before. To refuse courted death. Life hadn't been so bad under the Mortimers. True neither of them had known much else, but they had known stability. As long as their taxes were paid no-one much bothered them up in their remote valley. True the English had their funny customs and the Normans their obsession with their rights, but on the whole there was no trouble and the rule of law, their own native law, was enforced. Since Llywelyn came all had changed. The Welsh of their province of Gwrtheyrnion had turned to the great Llywelyn as a liberator, as a restorer of their values and of justice of old. But what were their values and their justice? Why just those that Mortimer had enforced with a will of iron, only now they were no more. Llywelyn's law was Llywelyn's law. It was not their law. He rode roughshod over their customs, customs that Mortimer had upheld. His Venedotion bodyguard took their sustenance as they wanted, no-one dare bid them nay. The taxes were higher than before Llywelyn came and they had less. Mortimer had not taken their ficklety lightly. He had come back the next spring and burned the land, killed those who had opposed him and imprisoned others. When Llywelyn marched against him he simply withdrew to his great fortress at Cefnllys. There the great Hywel ap Meurig had held sway as Mortimer's constable. Goronwy had been told by his mother many years ago that their two families were related and they too were relations of the great Cadwallon, but Goronwy knew that everyone in the old kingdom said that and for all that he knew it was true.
Goronwy knew this district well. The ford was just up ahead, over the rise to Llanbadarn Fawr and then down the slope. It would be no fun crossing the River Eithon in this weather. The thought of how the cold water would freeze him made him shudder involuntarily. How many more felt like him he wondered? A sudden thought sprung into his mind and he pulled Meirion close to him. "Let's make a run for it!", he breathed conspiratorially to his friend. Meirion's eyes glowed wide in alarm, "Quiet you fool - do you want us both dead". "Dead here or dead later, what's the difference? We all have to die sometime. At least lets die for ourselves and not for something that means nothing to us!". Meirion pushed Goronwy away. "No, I'll hear no more of it, speak to me no more of this". Goronwy fell silent and his mind raced back over the past few years. Yes, Llywelyn had come to them with grand promises of independence, of glory and freedom, but what did that really mean. They still lived in pretty much the same way, but it was harder. Was it really better under the Mortimers, or was he just being fooled by the passing of time. He thought of Alan Lingen, the husbandman who had been his friend. The jolly japes they had got up to in Rhaeadr-gwy on market days. The beer, the scrapes, the women, the laughter. Where had it all gone? Alan had been dead these 6 long years. He was killed that December. Llywelyn's men had gone to his tenement and cut down all the men there. Alan his brother and father had been killed and their womenfolk driven off. Goronwy remembered his feelings at seeing their heads sported on Rhaeadr-gwy bridge - that mind numbing sickness. They hadn't been his enemies. Now it was all gone. The farm burnt to the ground by young John Lingen the next spring and the settlers Llywelyn had put in their place slaughtered, men, women and children. Rhaeadr-gwy had been burned to the ground. Even the bridge was now gone - well it wasn't truly gone, but what use were the charred fragments of wood that now marked the site of its passage. To destroy was so easy, but Goronwy remembered the pride of his father when he said he had helped build that bridge. It was all so long ago, all so pointless.
Meirion had been glancing suspiciously at his friend since the sudden cessation of their conversation at his instance some minutes ago. Goronwy glared menacingly at him and all but shouted "Its just not right". The ragged column came to a virtual halt. Other voices joined the sudden babble as confusion suddenly reigned. The rear ranks began to bunch up on the centre which had now inexplicably stopped. The front ranks unaware of the confusion behind, but hearing the noise, continued on its march, odd members of its company looking back over their shoulders and casting inquisitive glances at their compatriots, but they did not stop, having received no orders to do so. Rapidly a gap of some 3 to 4 thousand paces opened up between the lead elements of the local levies and its main force. This gap proved of crucial importance in the forthcoming battle.
Heilin's horse came pounding up the hill.
Brian could hear the approaching horsemen for a short while before
he could see them. Then they were on top of the rise, their horses
steaming as their sweat evaporated in the freezing early December
air. Heilin had learned his previous lesson. His short staccato
bursts firing the required information across at the waiting lord
of Brampton Bryan. "The enemy force is moving through Llanbadarn.
Ifor here, watched them for nigh on half an hour. We think that
there are over 2,000 of them, though they are quite spread out.
There was no sign of spearmen, archers or cavalry, though there
were some horsemen at the front of the force. The lead elements
should be at the ford presently". Heilin stopped well pleased
with his report. Well the lad has learned something, mused Brian
to himself. Now all he had to do was wait. Several things still
worried him though. "Did you see any colours yet?" "None
sire", came the reply "But..", started Ifor. "But
what" said the old man. "I think one of the horsemen
was Madog ap Gruffydd". "Think man, think! What good's
think?" "I'm sorry sire, I could not tell. I just had
a fleeting glimpse of him...". The young man's voice trailed
off. Under his giant helm it was impossible to know what Brian
was thinking. His mind however was working fast. If the force
was led by the aging Madog ap Gruffydd of the commote of Cedewain
north of the River Severn, it meant that this was just a local
force. Even so Brian wished he had some infantry with him. Even
a few score men at arms or even better some crossbowmen, but no,
they were still needed for the repair and protection of Cefnllys
These thoughts took only a matter of seconds. Then the old lord said quickly, "Right to your positions... and Heilin, well done". Heilin, his horse already threading its way past the great man, glanced sideways at him in surprise and satisfaction. He had not expected that. Brian saw the look through the sights in his helm and afforded himself a rare smile. "Yes lad", he thought, "you tell your grandchildren about that". With that the old man's thoughts returned to the present... the waiting foreboding present. As he settled back once more on his great charger he pondered on the battle he was initiating. Beneath him was 200 paces of gently sloping ground levelling out into the plain of the river. In the centre of this plain, about a 1,000 paces across, was the ford. The old bridge above the ford had been burned down several years ago by the Lord Roger to try to ensure that no trade would occur with the rebels to the west. Beyond the river was another flat plain before the ground rose up gently into the devastated village of Llanbadarn Fawr. This would be the scene of battle. Fast moving horseflesh topped with iron against barely armed peasants. It would hardly be a contest, but then again with the numbers against them.... If the horses were exhausted then they might tell. Archers too could be a problem, but Llywelyn had few enough of them and it would seem anyway that he was not here.
Prince Llywelyn shivered. His body ached
and he felt so tired. It had been a bad year, one of the worst.
It was amazing to think that only 3 months before he had been
on his death bed. That aside he still felt tired, worn out and
ill. The snow was blowing remorselessly in his face. Even in
his chain mail, surcoat and leggings he felt frozen. Behind him
and his small escort of cavalry, 10,000 foot of his North Welsh
spearmen followed. He looked at the charred remnants of a building
as he rode past. Sad thoughts filtered through his aching brain.
Was this really all that was left of the house he stayed at only
2 years ago when the proud young nobleman Madog ab Owain of Aberedw
was brought before him. Llywelyn turned in his saddle and called
"Owain!". Even as he did so he regretted his action.
Lord Owain ap Maredudd of Aberedw heard the call of his prince and spurred his sorry nag forward. Lord Owain was not a happy man. Just 2 years ago he was in high favour with the English government as 'their man in the Middle Marches'. His fame in court circles ran high. Here was the noble Lord Owain, the great Lord Owain, the bulwark against the traitor Llywelyn. The infamy he had paid amongst some of his own people was also great. He had heard the rumours that even some of his own household had plotted his death for his daring to stand against Llywelyn. His sacrifice of his own family's standing had been even greater. Within his own living memory his uncle, Gwallter Vychan, had enforced his rule upon Elfael and even the Norman lords had recognised him as an equal, though he did not claim the title of prince as his elder brother, Einion o'r Porth, the friend of the great Lord Rhys once had. In 1245 Owain had survived the collapse of the rest of his family by a timely surrender to the Crown. His coming to terms had also saved the young Owain ab Iorwerth Clud, in whose care the young man then was. The two of them had thus been saved from the terrors of the disintegration of the principality of Dafydd ap Llywelyn in 1246. For this he had been recognised by the king as a tenant-in-chief and by many of his own family as a traitor! Many of them had been hounded into banishment and exile, but he had not killed any, as they would have killed him given half a chance. No it was so easy for them. 'Resist' comes their siren call. 'Resist and all will be well'. Owain knew resistance and what it really meant. The bloodshed, the pain, the loss of anything and everything. He knew the price of such hollow words.
In 1254, eight moderately successful years after the collapse of Dafydd's principality, the homages of the two Owains of Elfael had been granted by the king to his eldest son, the Lord Edward. After the outbreak of the current war the Lord Edward had transferred their service from him to that of the Lord Roger Mortimer. Mortimer had appointed Owain constable of Builth castle and for 2 years the men had continued to work well together to stem the growing power of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in the district. It had been Owain's support alone that had allowed English power to survive in the district - and the occasional appearance of the Mortimer army. And the king and Mortimer had been unstinting in their praise and support. For a while it had seemed that Owain would achieve his ambition of overlordship over all Elfael through royal favour, but now all that was gone.
In mid July 1260 Builth castle had been treacherously surrendered to Llywelyn by 3 of Owain's own men! And clerks at that! His own son, who was underconstable in his own place, had been captured and to buy his son's life Owain had been forced to swear allegiance to Prince Llywelyn, surrender his lands into the prince's hands and pay him £300 for the privilege of having opposed him! Still Owain had consoled himself it could have been worse. As soon as he could he had got word to Roger Mortimer to explain his actions, how his hand was forced. Mortimer had replied he could understand Owain's reasons, but that he had other sons and his allegiance to the crown should have come first. Would Mortimer sacrifice his own son Owain thought darkly? Since then Owain had seen all his own land laid waste with a vengeance. His villages burned, his crops ruined, his kinsfolk and tenants mercilessly put to the sword. His friend and fellow lord, Hywel ap Meurig, Mortimer's constable of Cefnllys, had been instrumental in the attacks upon him, but who could blame him. He had to do what was necessary. Now Hywel too had gone, captured with his entire family in their sleep at Cefnllys castle. How cruel the wheel of fate was. Owain personally had interceded on Hywel's behalf, much to the prince's annoyance. Hywel and his family were now ensconced deep in Gwynedd in Llywelyn's castle of Dolbadarn. And now Llywelyn was here with his army in Builth, the town that had been his, Owain's, the prince of Elfael in all but name. How cruel fate was.
"My liege", Owain said, unable to quite disguise the resentment in his voice. Llywelyn heard it too. "Peace, my friend", he thought, "I know your true feelings. You've made them abundantly clear and we both know where your precious Madog is!"
"How long has it been since I ordered this repaired?", asked Llywelyn hiding his true feelings for Owain. Even before the prince had finished speaking Owain replied, "I am no longer constable here...".
Llywelyn's anger boiled momentarily and cutting off the reply in mid flow the prince countered in an even voice, but with a biting edge, "I know that Owain, but how shall we say, I know you still hold this district dear in your heart and of course my Lord Maredudd's tenure of this district has not been, shall we say exactly happy." "Nicely done", Llywelyn said to himself, "Dangle the bait. Keep them in line." Owain looked at his prince with some surprise. "Yes, I've got you there haven't I", Llywelyn thought. Owain swallowed, momentarily thrown off balance by the comment. Would Llywelyn really grant him such power, or was he just stringing him a line? There was no knowing with this man. Owain looked back at the charred remnants of the house the group of horsemen had now passed. "As soon as you had heard it, and the town, had been destroyed, My Prince. But, it cannot be held against my Lord Maredudd. This district is too exposed to... " Owain stumbled momentarily, stopping himself from saying 'your' and continued "our enemies and as soon as we send people in to begin work they descend upon us and scatter us. Without your army we cannot face the might of England alone".
"Well now Cefnllys is gone we may find it easier, might we not Owain", said the Prince.
"With Mortimer pushed back to Radnor as his nearest base that would be easier."
"You are right, My Lord Owain, Radnor is a nut we should also crack. Your uncle held Radnor did he not?"
"Yes my liege". Owain saw the bait too...
"And how far is it from here to Radnor?"
"About 5 leagues, my liege".
"And to Cefnllys from here is less than half that. Perhaps we will pay Radnor a visit then, after we have finished with liberating Maelienydd exactly as my grandfather held it." The prince smiled. "Perhaps we might be graced by the support of your son in such a venture?" The barbed comment hit its mark directly.
"My son is a grown man, my Prince, he must do as he thinks fit".
"I do believe he would see fit to kill me if he could. Do you not think that is so, my Lord Rhys?".
Rhys ap Rosser had been listening with glee as the prince had put his cousin on the spot. He held little regard for the Anglophile Owain Fychan and would dearly love to have seized his lands when Builth fell, but the Prince would not let him. "Patience my dear Lord Rhys", he had told him, "your time will come". Well it was not here yet and he was the only son of Rosser Vychan, the eldest son of Gwallter Clud, lord of all Elfael. Owain ap Maredudd was of the younger branch who had cow-towed to the French and their English lackeys. Not him, nor his father. They were men. They had fought till all hope had gone, and even then they had not made any craven and cowardly surrender. Buying their lives at the cost of their honour! They had fled to Gwynedd and there they had been nurtured by first Prince Dafydd and now his nephew Prince Llywelyn. They had plotted long and hard for their return and now the time was ripe. The world would hear of Rhys ap Rosser, the bards would sing songs of his prowess as they did of his kingly ancestors. They would all see!
"My good cousin Madog", Rhys said sardonically, "is not a man to disguise the workings of his mind, would you not agree my dear cousin?"
Owain sat back in his saddle. How he would like to tear the gleeful grin of that Rhys' face, but no, subtlety for now. That could come later. "My son is my son. He must do as he feels fit".
By now Llywelyn was tiring of this banter. His head throbbed numbly through the cold. Was it the cold or the remnants of the terrible sweating sickness? "Enough!", Llywelyn looked at the swollen river before him. Up behind him was the wreck of Builth castle, rebuilt by John Monmouth just 20 years ago, and which Llywelyn himself had ordered demolished after its fall just 2½ years ago. The great rectangular keep still showed the signs of the ferocious fire that had eaten the timbers and cracked the stones of its very fabric. The stone battlements lay in a snow covered shroud at the bottom of the breached wet ditch. The great curtain walls, whole chucks of them cast down by the massed ranks of Rhys Vychan of Dinefwr's army, still stood sentinel like so many great teeth on the massive jaw of the bailey. Inside the broken fortress lay the charred timbers of the hall, the chapel, the barracks, the knights' chamber, the stables, the smithy and the other buildings and hovels that went to make a great fortress.
Owain and Mortimer had known them all well. To Llywelyn it had been just a castle, just a fortified place, cold empty walls to be destroyed. To Mortimer it had been the castle of his inheritance the home of the Braose, famed, feared, admired and reviled. They all meant the same thing, success and power. Now they were gone and Mortimer saw himself as the heir to all they had been. And then there was himself, Owain ap Maredudd, lord of Aberedw. Builth had been 'his' castle. Given him to protect for first the Lord Edward and then Roger Mortimer. He had lived there, fought there, at times he wished he had died there too. Yes even that. It had been his home, his pride, his joy. He knew the rooms, he knew the walls, he knew the very stones. Now it lay in ruins so like so much else in Owain's life. "I want it flattened, so no two stones stand one upon the other", Llywelyn had raged in the very room of that house they had just passed by. And Llywelyn had him oversee it. "I will not have that abomination that has obstructed my will for so long stand on my land for one minute more. I will NOT!" Owain had had no option. He had obeyed, but with such a heavy heart.
Owain's thoughts drifted back to the present and what was coming. In front of the Prince of Wales and his army lay the River Wye. The bridge had been destroyed soon after the main fighting began 5 years ago. Well there was only one option now. Fording the river. Llywelyn gave an involuntary shudder and waved two scouts across. The two horsemen ploughed forward into the fast flowing river. Owain watched as the water sprayed up the flanks of the two protesting horses as their riders urged them on, through the flow and then up the other bank. The river was not at all deep here, barely 3 feet at the deepest. Still he would get wet. The men too would be soaked. The snow was still falling and the wind was cold. Llywelyn pricked his spurs into Lion's flanks. The great war horse moved forward and plunged into the river. Behind him the dismayed ranks of his army knew what was coming next...
Copyrightę1994-2004 Paul Martin Remfry