Chapter 1: Mama Tad
It was the month of August in the year of 1509 AD, just over 500 years ago today, Ty Ardwyn stood on the side of a hill at the foot of Snowdon Mountain in Caernarfonshire, North Wales. The Tutirs lived there, Mam, Tad, Alfie, Aneira, Euron, Elliew and Tad’s friend from the Army Morgan Ap Rhys. There were an elderly Horse, some random cats and two sheepdog pets Cadfael and Enfys and their three remaining Ci~Bach from a litter of five. Two beautiful Ci~Bach were presented to Lady Seren Tutir and her daughter Mabli in Llangefni, Anglesey, both cousins of Alan Tutir, Tad of the family Tutir in Snowdon.
Elliew wanted to wear her blue dress that she wore to Caernarfon on that special day two months ago, to play in the field behind the house but Mam said “No” so Elliew sat on the floor and wailed. After a short while Mam brought cakes and steaming hot black bread from the fire~oven and placed them in the centre of the kitchen table to cool. Butter, dripping, buttermilk, milk and honey and a small wooden barrel of Nain’s strawberries preserved in runny honey were brought from the cool slate larder and Mam said not a word. Elliew was used to having cakes as soon as they were cool enough but today, time passed with no offer forthcoming from Mam. Aneira came in and helped herself but Elliew, silent now, sat looking on. Aneira knew straight away what the situation was as she had had the same treatment growing up so she went out without a word to Elliew. Black Bread was cut, spread with dripping and honey for the men but still Elliew waited. She stood, walked over to the table, moved around closer to Mam and wiped her face. Her beautiful smile could melt a Mothers heart but Mam waited another moment. Smiling, Elliew said, “Maaaaam? am I a good girl?” “Of course you are cariad”, then, “Maaaam? Can I have some bread? “Mmmmm?” asked Mam, “pleeease Maaam”? “Of course my sweet child”, another moment and Elliew smiled her most winning smile as her Mam reached out for the loaf and bread knife. Euron ran in out of breath in time to qualify for a slice with dripping and strawberry preserve and they both sat on the front door step and tucked in. Euron was never happier than when he had the company of his little sister. He loved Aneira and admired and respected both Alfie and his Mam a Tad and thoroughly enjoyed time spent in their company but Elliew was “his favourite person in all the world!” there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her except that he wasn’t allowed to take her near the river. He wanted to go but he wanted to be near her and he bit his bottom lip as he pondered the problem. The river beckoned his soul whilst Elliew held his heart and his heart usually won.
There were now 8 horses at Ty Ardwyn, Gla’n who was their own horse, they knew well and the 7 horses (two stallions and five mares) which had arrived from Plas Menai Fair. For the benefit of Euron and because it was still a novelty Mam a Tad indulged them in giving the horses names, “But remember,” said Tad, “They won’t be here for long and then new ones will come to take their place.” This is how it came out;
Brenin. The King. Huge and totally black.
Tirion. Kind and gentle.
Tirion was favourite with Euron and Elliew while Alfie preferred Brenin and Aneira fell in love with Glew. Mam a Tad reserved their affections for Gla’n who was first to move into the first newly built stall near the stable door before it was completely built by Alfie, Tad and Morgan, ably assisted by Euron and Elliew who provided Black bread and dripping on demand. 8 stalls made for a nice symmetrical stable with four stalls on either side and a Tack~room at the rear for making, repairing and storing saddles, reins and harnesses.
A small forge stood out back where horseshoes could be made and shaped and fitted to the horses’ hoof. Tad slept in the unfinished stable for security, to protect the horses from predators both human and non~human so, naturally, Euron slept in the stable and Elliew demanded her own place on the floor where Mam would hang around for most of the night to keep an eye on her. Straw was everywhere so the smell became captivating, that is until Alfie cleaned it up to lay fresh straw, then it wasn’t so captivating. The horses settled in immediately and Gla’n was delighted with the company as he demonstrated in the Paddock out front. Tirion might become a mother before long. Ceffyl and Awyr were first to leave to be replaced by;
Glas. Blue. &
Awyr returned to Elliew’s delight but the novelty of naming horses wore off, especially as when the riders found out that they were naming horses they started telling them the real names of their horses.
Sunday was a special family day with an early morning Mass in the Llanberis chapel with flowers and greenery collected and arranged by Nain Aelwen, breakfast with special Sunday foods gathered from the surrounding countryside by Nain and Morgan with eggs from their own chickens and dinner of a roast and vegetables with Mam’s special gravy and especially Mam’s cake or sometimes pudding, with everyone including Nain Aelwen sat around the kitchen table. Sunday clothes were important and now they all had their Caernarfon clothes so they presented a pretty picture for their neighbours and the curate, who travelled to the chapel every Saturday evening, brightening up the chapel somewhat.
Morgan often made himself scarce after Sunday Dinner although not always, finding many tasks requiring his personal attention out near the Ale shed where Ale sat fermenting or maturing in barrels now since Mam a Tad owned the King Henry VII Ale House. Now there was wine from traveling wine merchants but it was expensive and drunk sparingly.
Everyone else including Cadfael, Enfys and their three remaining Ci-Bach, Star, Cai and Bran were in the habit of sitting talking, as close to the fireplace as was possible, with a small fire in Summer, Autumn and Spring and a blazing log in winter. Kettles and pots hung over the fire and water boiled or kept hot over the fire. Mam made regular pots of nettle and mint tea and crushed acorn brew with honey and milk ably assisted by Aneira while Tad and Alfie maintained the fire and kept watch outside the house. Mam liked a drink that she brewed with dandelions and honeymead, and drank from one of the few remaining glasses that Tad had brought home from a visit to Liverpool Port some years before. Tad drank small amounts of Ale from a clay pot mug he had made as a Boy in Penmynydd, Anglesey. The children drank water or buttermilk and relished the cosy chats with Mam a Tad.
Mam asked with her slightly Irish accented voice, “OK? Who is going to tell me what kind of person you want to be when you grow up?” The fire blazed comfortably in the grate while they sat around in their own usual seats. “I want to be nice!” said Elliew, “Strong!” chimed in Euron. Mam looked encouragingly at Aneira, “I would like to be an important Lady! Like Lady Seren” she responded. Alfie answered slowly and deliberately, he had had this conversation before a couple of times growing up and he had obviously given his answer some thought. “Honest and Brave!”. “Tad?” asked Mam with a smile on her face, “A good husband and a loving Father!” he declared confidently, Mam cast a long glance at Euron and declared “Strong! I’d like to be a strong wife and a strong mother!” “You are!” Tad said and the children all nodded in agreement. Peace settled over the family as they sat in reverie as the sun faded on this Winter Sunday. “Who would like to say how they hope to achieve their ambition?” asked Mam, “I’m going to ride Spirit a lot and work hard at becoming strong! I’m going to do what Tad and Morgan tell me and listen when someone talks to me. At least I am going to try” answered Euron. Mam was satisfied. For the moment.
“How is Glew faring now Alfie?” asked Mam, “I think his fetlock will improve by Monday or Tuesday” replied 14~year~old Alfie confidently, Both Mam a Tad smiled at each other in approval of their eldest child’s growing abilities. “Mam, do you want to see my picture of Padarn Lake?” asked Euron, Aneira leaned forward “I would!” she declared whilst Mam smiled and nodded at Euron. He produced it from behind his chair as if it were a secret hiding place, he showed artistic promise, but only to his family.
Tad knew an artist in Caernarfon and wondered aloud if he might like to see it too, Euron looked doubtful at that before he realised that Tad was really asking him if he could show his friend the picture, Euron became suddenly very shy, biting his lower lip, his face glowing red in the firelight. He didn’t reply but kept his council, staring at his foot circling something on the floor in embarrassment. Elliew, sensing something she didn’t understand in Euron’s attitude, moved to stand in front of him, fiddling with her fingers and staring into his face, she frowned and he grabbed her up and almost ran to their spot on the front step where Euron could see his river. “Look!” he pointed to a bird flying above them and they sat in the silence of a special companionship. Alfie saw the bird that Euron referred to and a look came over his face that, if anyone there had seen it would have caused them some small concern.
Their trip to London was fast approaching and even though it was hardly ever mentioned, they all felt a sense of anticipation, all that is except Elliew who didn’t know what it meant to travel to London. Euron had told her that it was far away but that was about all he understood himself really. Caernarfon, the Bangor Place and Plas Menai Fair were the only places he knew beyond home.
For the next four days, Alfie rose at dawn, stayed out till after dark and spoke to no one. On the fifth day, around noon he returned home with a flapping sack hanging from his right hand “Helo! Yn y Ty” he cried “Helo!” he strode over to the hay barn and closed the large wooden door behind him. Euron was first to follow him in. “Be careful how you open the door, and close it after you!” Aneira came next followed by Morgan. When they saw what Alfie had caught they stood with bated breath and watched him. Alfie carefully held a Hawk between his hands, securing both wings as he did so. Gently, he placed it under a wooden crate and placed a stone on top. Looking around he found some wall wattling and some nails and secured it to another crate opening so he could place the Hawk inside and see it and feed it through the slats of the wattle. Tad arrived as Morgan handed Alfie a Piece of leather for use as a wrist bracelet to protect Alfie’s wrist from the Hawks talons.
The large number of cats around the place frequently left small prey on the back step in appreciation for food and milk left out for them, these now came in extremely handy as food for the Hawk. Morgan asked “What name will you give it?” Aneira asked “Is it a boy or a girl?” “Nehmestark! I think that’s a boy’s name” Morgan nodded in approval.
Shortly thereafter there appeared a stand for a bird to perch with ties and hoods and leather bracelets and leg ties for Nehmestark.
Uncle Gavin Tutir was Tad’s younger brother and Emlyn was his 12~year~old son and cousin to the Ty Ardwyn children. They were coming in through the door of the Ty calling out, “anyone alive in this ty?” Elliew was first to respond, running straight towards her uncle with arms raised. Euron was close behind and all at home greeted them cheerfully. Grabbing up Elliew and patting Euron on his head he went on “Alan, do you fancy a visit with Mami? (Alan and Gavin’s Mam),” Alan shook his head sadly, catching Gavin’s wink and the shake of his head, “How about Mam?” Mam shook her head too, “Aneira?” no! “Alfie?” no! “Morgan then?” no! responded Morgan sadly, “Oh well, I shall have to go on my own then” went on Gavin, Emlyn played punching with Euron who resisted as he realised that he had not been invited to visit Naini. “Can I come?” he asked almost silently lest he was refused, Elliew nearly strangled Gavin as if to remind him that she was there. “Oh well! If no one wants to come.” Gavin backed away to the door, Now Euron and Elliew were beginning to panic, they didn’t want to miss an outing to Naini’s and they really did not want to miss an outing with Gavin and Emlyn as these were usually fun. “Bye then!” said Gavin, “Bye!” said Emlyn, “Nooooo!” cried Elliew and they all burst out laughing. Mam produced cooking bowls and dishes as if from the air and Gavin took them from her with a smile, Elliew was NOT amused.
Naini greeted them with a plate of homemade biscuits in her hand as she bent down to kiss them, her backdoor was propped open so they all trooped out into Naini’s back lot. Fruit grew in Naini’s yard like nowhere else, at least that was what Alfie had said. And fruit there was. Apples, blackberries, grapes, limes, pears, plums, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, there was also parsley, mint, rosemary and thyme. Naini had mushrooms in a shed but the children were not allowed there just now. When she was much younger Naini took her produce to Caernarfon on market day to sell and had become famous in the county and had also made a lot of money by her own labours but now she felt she was too old to do the work or travel so a young girl called Tegan from down near Lake Padarn did it for her for three days a week. The girl’s sister Aniera cooked and tidied Naini’s house on two days of the week, Aneira made a delicious stew when the ingredients were available. Elliew and Euron liked Aneira a lot, she gave them treats thinking that Naini didn’t know but of course Nainis always know such things.
Gavin loaded his trap with strawberries, apples, Rhubarb and rosemary plus a secret cache of mushrooms that the little ones were not allowed to see. Naini’s mushrooms were a special treat for everyone. The children were black and blue and red from all the fruit they had eaten and they were worn out from the excitement so, late on, Gavin took off to Ty Ardwyn house to deliver the goods whilst Naini, Aneira, Euron, Elliew and Emlyn sat down to Naini’s table and tucked in to Aneira’s apple pie, black bread with dripping and honey and buttermilk from the Jones’s cows. The Jones’s lived down by the Padarn, the lake that provided the freshwater fish for all of Llanberis and the road to Caernarfon, it was also a source of fun and amusement on special days when Caradog, a local bearded fisherman, took children out in his boat. The sun was going down.
It got quite dark and the children felt sleepy and Naini thought to put them to bed in her house but Elliew reacted first to the sound of her big brother Alfie calling out their names in the distance. He sounded excited. Elliew was first to the door closely followed by Euron then Aneira followed by Naini. “What’s all the fuss?” asked Naini. In the shadows they could barely make out Alfie on Gla’n’s back but what was it they could also see. Trotting along beside him was the most wonderful sight. With a rope harness over its head was a magical thing.
The smallest and, yes! Without a doubt most beautiful foal anyone ever saw. At least that’s what they thought. They ran, tripping over themselves as they went and rushed at the foal like mad things. “Whoa!” shouted Alfie, “don’t scare her!” he continued, “she’s only a baby!” “Who? What? When? Where? How?” they couldn’t put the words together in their excitement. “Whoa!” went on Alfie, “May I introduce Spirit of Autumn, 3 weeks out of Tirion by Gla’n and just arrived in Wales from England.” He went on, “Tirion is up at Ty Ardwyn with Tad and I brought Spirit of Autumn to meet her greatest admirers Euron and Elliew.” Not so slow Euron asked, “what is Spirit of Autumn?”, “Hydref Ysbryd,” answered Alfie, her name is English because she was born in England but you can change it if you want to”. The children looked at each other in thought and Euron answered “Spirt!! I Like Spirt!”, “Spirit” replied Alfie emphasising the second I in the name. “Spiritttt!!” cried Elliew and she put her hand up to Spirit’s muzzle when Alfie held her hand protectively lest baby Spirit bite her. “Who’s baby is she?” asked Euron “I mean which rider?” “Do you recall David Carpenter who went away with Tirion about a three months ago?” he asked and they did, well he is staying overnight at Henry VII and he brought Spirit for someone local” “Who?” two voices sounded as one. Alfie busied himself calming Spirit and didn’t reply straight away. Whoooo?” cried Elliew thinking she might know who it was and she would visit her, still Alfie didn’t answer, but turned instead to Naini and winked, “Do you know the farmers in Betws called Gethin?” “Yes” replied Naini, “well, they live near the old mill don’t they?” “Yes!” declared Naini, “But if you don’t answer the child’s question I’ll take a switch to your backside” she declared with a grin. “Spirit’s new owners are (long pause) Euron and Elliew Tutir of Ty Ardwyn House” he sang out in glee. “Mr Carpenter said he couldn’t think of a better owner” the two small children were shocked into a moments silence, though not a long moment, Euron Cheered loudly while Elliew screamed with delight which startled Spirit momentarily which in turn distressed Elliew. They wanted to ride Spirit immediately but Alfie stopped them saying she was much too young and anyway, she hasn’t been trained to the rope, a harness or a saddle yet. Euron’s wisdom kicked in but Elliew was a little sad but she cheered up when Alfie asked, “I’m taking her to Ty Ardwyn, does anyone fancy coming with her?” all tiredness and thoughts of sleep were well forgotten by now and both children volunteered to accompany her home for her first time. They discussed on the way which stall would be best for Spirit but Alfie said “She’ll be with her father for a while until her mother can be accommodated in the stable. “Hooray!” they both cried out. They slept in the stable again that night but this time it was sufficiently secure that Mam only needed to stay long enough to feel tired herself.
David Carpenter was around Ty Ardwyn at first light with Tirion to see her daughter Spirit. They greeted each other happily which delighted Elliew and satisfied Euron. David enjoyed Tutir hospitality, and breakfast, and entertained himself with the company of the children who kept up an inexhaustible supply of questions about Spirit, Tirion, where they were from, what Spirit’s, birthday was. To be honest David didn’t know when it was exactly but, to please the children he gave a date three weeks ago to the day so that became Spirits official, unquestioned birthday for all time whether it really was or not. David was to leave on Greystone the medium sized stallion that Alfie had been grooming all morning. They departed just before sundown and the children ran off to prepare for another night’s vigil but Mam insisted that, as her Mam a Tad were now looking after her she would be perfectly happy with them and they should get to their own beds. Reluctantly they finally agreed. Sunrise saw them grooming Spirit and feeding her carrots. Morgan made them really happy by measuring Spirit for a harness, reins and saddle, and started making shoes for her feet ready for when she was big enough. The harness was to tie Spirit to the trap beside her father Gla’n so they could be together. They petted her like Morgan showed them, so that, when the time came they could reward her, calm her, settle her for the night etc.
Aneira stayed around for most of the day to see Spirit and to pet her and to hear Elliew prattle on about her and Euron boast about his horse. Aneira worked a lot with her Mam and sometimes she helped Aniera at Nain’s and sometimes she helped Nain when Aniera wasn’t there but she was beginning to show an interest in something more challenging. Like Alfie she was good with horses, she was very good with children, cooking, sewing, gardening, caring for clothes but, what was really beginning to niggle was the recollection she had of Plas Menai Fair and in particular, the young housemaid Alyshia who had travelled from somewhere called Cardiff. Actually it was a small village near Cardiff called Penarth near the sea. She lived all year at Plas Menai Fair and took her time off there as well and Aneira was thinking that she would like to do the same. She really liked and admired Lady Seren and was looking forward to the visit to London to attend her investiture to Baroness so that she could maybe spend some time with her and put her idea to her. She confided as much to Spirit in what she thought was complete privacy however, she was very much mistaken as Morgan overheard her and reported it to Alan. In great secrecy a conspiracy was set in motion to try to accommodate Aneira’s wishes without her knowing. A rider, from Glasgow had three nights’ stopover at King Henry VII when Alan commissioned him to take a letter to Lady Seren who all of the riders knew personally. This fact came as a big surprise to Alan as he thought of himself as quite alone in his dealings with her but THAT is another story.
The rider returned three days later with a letter for Alan and Katie to the effect that Lady Seren would be delighted to accept Aneira into her household as her personal assistant, (She had one other personal assistant, an elderly lady). This would happen when they all returned from London after the investiture. Before long at Ty Ardwyn only Aneira and Elliew did not know about the preparations on Aneira’s behalf as it was to be a surprise for her and because no one would expect Elliew to keep such a secret from her beloved sister. Indeed, Euron had great difficulty keeping quiet but Alfie kept telling him how grown up he was being and that filled his six~and~a~half~year~old heart with pride. The rider delivered another letter, also a secret communication to Aneira from Lady Seren reminding her of incidents at Plas Menai Fair, asking about Spirit and mentioning Alyshia, passing on her best wishes and a small message about a young stable lad. Aneira felt obliged to keep this communication a secret from everyone else so the scales were quietly balanced. Aneira’s life took on a whole new meaning as she secretly wrote a reply to Lady Seren thinking to hand it to her during their London journey. As plans do, they changed considerably before long. Time passed somewhat faster after that for Aneira.
Tad was scraping at his face with a seashell from Castle Ditch when Alfie rounded the corner, saw him and turned on his toes. “Here!” called out Tad, “see how it’s done! You need it yourself now” “Nooooo!” said Alfie thinking ‘that looks painful!’ “I don’t need it Tad” he went on. Morgan chimed in, “You certainly do young Alfie, becoming a man has a little price you know! Here!” Morgan caught hold of a leather strap and a shell and began to strop the leather to sharpen the shell. Euron watched from a safe distance while Alfie learned how to shave his face. Later both Aneira and Mam stroked his cheek and murmured appreciatively.
A stone cracked very loudly in the stable fireplace from the heat and terrified the horses. It was cold now and Christmas would soon be on them. Snow had been playing around the mountain tops all around Ty Ardwyn House for some time and now the sky looked ready to drop some somewhere. Naini had moved into Ty Ardwyn and everyone was in a pre~Christmas mood. Chestnuts in the outhouse. Wey in cans, cheeses, buttermilk, butter. Black bread, Dripping, Strawberry, Gooseberry wine and Elderberry wine, bitter ale, dark ale, smoked lamb for the winter, smoked pork, beef, fish from lake Padarn. Tad had caught some carp and some flounder and, most significantly Devil was caught and eaten though no one really enjoyed it, and lots of butter and Rosemary was added to it to make it tastier. Winter looked less bleak when the larder was full. The sheep had come down from the tops and were mostly sheltering somewhere or other. The horses were at home in the stable and Spirit had become firm friends with Euron and Elliew. She was very comfortable with everyone and consequently was a very nicely tempered horse. She had been ridden only by Euron and Elliew and Alfie was saying maybe Euron was too heavy for her at the moment. “She’ll get stronger and then we can all ride her but at the moment she’s not big or strong enough.
Nuns called from Bala convent around Christmas time looking for alms for the poor at Christmas. They also enjoyed Mam’s fare well enough. They stayed overnight in Alfie and Aneira’s rooms whilst they slept with Euron and Elliew, a circumstance which delighted them both. Tirion was going back to duty in the new year and everyone was sad about it. Gla’n was looking fit and healthy, mostly from all of the attention he had been having from the family and his own family as well. Yes, Christmas was looking like a good prospect this year. Tad had more money at Christmas than he had ever had before, and on his last trip to Caernarfon he returned in a jolly and secretive mood. He stopped off at the King Henry VII before going home but said nothing about it, he didn’t drink much so Mam puzzled about his visit. Brett had seen him both going in and the coming out some long time later. Some thought that there was something strange about Tad’s secret visit but none spoke about it.
The curate came for his usual Christmas visit with gifts for the Children and Mam. He ate supper with them then fell asleep in the chair in front of the blazing fire. Next morning, he received Christmas gifts for himself and the Caernarfon parish priest and then found himself ensconced with Tad in a room he kept for the conduct of whatever business he got up to. Euron had explored the room many times and finally found a corner where he could hear what went on without being discovered. He hid there now in play as he thought but then he heard something strange. Earl Llewellyn Madoc was the Sheriff of Caernarfon at that time. He was a protégé of Henry VII and people like the Tutirs only ever said his name in hushed reverent tones. Now, as Euron listened, he heard the name spoken in a normal voice which was tantamount to shouting it out loud. The curate sounded like he didn’t like the Earl or didn’t like something he was doing. Tad said something about having to let someone know and said goodbye to the curate and showed him out of the room. The curate said his farewells and left and Tad left his room to go to his bedroom so Euron got out of the room and stood nearby at the kitchen table when Tad returned to the room and locked the door behind him. Euron thought something was upsetting Tad but remained curious until something more important distracted his attention.
A rider knocked at the front door and Tad answered letting him in to the room. Euron caught sight of this too and wondered anew what might be going on. Then Christmas preparations intruded into his concentrations and riders and curates and Earls were soon forgotten.
Spring brought lambs, small and loveable, the entire household and friends were caught up in the fun of the season and other questions were shelved. Some few lambs were hurriedly spirited away by Morgan, Tad or Mam and never talked about it and Spirit romped in the pasture in delight. Over a thousand sheep had to be cared for and later sheared of their winter coats. Wagons headed off to Caernarfon every two or three days loaded with wool or sheep. Rams settled into the barn with Nehmestark so they could be inspected before being returned to the hills and Cadfael, Enfys, Star, Cai and Bran ran themselves silly herding and cutting out and chasing off, Sleep came ever so easy for that month and food eaten in the fields went down especially well. Euron grew strong, working with the men and resting with his darling sister in the shade of a large tree, eating Black bread and drinking a watery Elder drink with honeymead. Elliew became carer in chief for every little lamb who needed help. Alfie’s riding skill made everyone else’s work that much easier while Mam and Aneira made the off~time go with a bang. Everyone had their place and loved it.
Life was certainly changing for all of the Children of Dragon Mountain, the young and the not so young Children.