February, 1293, Meirionnydd, Wales
Madog Ap Llewelyn
The winter was a harsh time at home, the old would walk from their homes in the night, and be found in the morning, their bodies cold, their limbs gone. It was a time when the old and the weak left their homes to be less of a burden to their families. It made for a hard people. Communities would often band together when winter came, rivalries were set aside for the time, and friendships were allowed to develop. Then when winter ended, rivalries continued and the fighting resumed. It had always been that way, and though it might not be the most productive of lives, but it was theirs, it was distinctly theirs, no one else could tell them how to live their life. And yet, the lion was trying to tell them what to do. It was not right, it was not fair, and Madog sensed that his people had had enough. The time was coming for war, and he would not be swayed by anything else, he would have justice, he would have his crown.
His advisors had agreed to meet him within the small hall of the castle that was once his father’s, and was now his. Owain ap Llewelyn, a distant cousin, a tall and serious man was there, as was Madog’s chief vassal the fiery Llewelyn ap Gwndyr. They had gathered to discuss their options, and it seemed right that it was he, Madog, who spoke first. His voice gruff, he spoke simply. “The English are growing bolder and bolder. Trying to force their ways and customs onto us. The time has come for us to throw off their yoke, and resume controlling our own lives.” This was met by a chorus of approval, by the man gathered in the small hall, his men and allies were simple folk, they liked fighting and they liked being left alone. Taking confidence from this, Madog continues. “A bairn sits the throne in Llundain. It is time we took advantage of that and do as our fellows have done elsewhere. We must make sure we are strong and true.” Here he pauses, and looks at his chief constable and asks. “Gruffyd, are the soldiers ready and prepared?”
Gruffyd, a man he knows and trusts, opens his mouth and speaks his words confident. “They most definitely are my lord. They are ready to fight, and are ready to do whatever it takes to ensure that victory is ours.”
Madog smiles, he has seen his men train, he has never seen a better fighting force gathered anywhere in Wales. “Good. That is very good.”
Before he can move onto the formations, Owain speaks, his voice grim. “That is all well and good my lord. But, it is one thing to say that the men are ready to fight and to do whatever it takes to win. It is quite another to say they are ready to fight against the English, with their heavy horse and their lances. We do not have that luxury.”
Even though he knows his cousin is voicing a perfectly reasonable doubt, he still finds himself growing slightly irritated. “The Scots managed to do it. And whilst they might have horse, we have something better. We have the hills and the elements of surprise on our side. The English have grown over confident, they have begun to think that all is right with their little occupation. They have not stopped to think that we are people with back bones.” As he continues to speak, heat is added to his words, as his passion grows.
Owain looks unimpressed. “I do not think you understand my point my lord. We have hills yes, but the English have lords here who know the terrain as well as we do. They know how we might operate and how we might think. They will not be lax, not after Scotland.”
Refusing to accept anything other than acceptance, Madog pushes on. “The English are riding off of their victory in France, they will not think to look to the west. They think we are a broken people, but we are not. We are united in our hatred of their administration, and we shall ensure that they fall.”
His cousin continues probing. “And how are we to do that my lord? Unless you have forgotten Llewelyn’s brother gave up his rights and is for all intents and purposes and Englishman, whilst his nephew resides in a prison, God alone knows where. How are we supposed to fight for a figure who is not here?”
Bemused, Madog shakes his head. “And that is where you are wrong cousin. To assume that the people of Wales would rise for someone who has not grown up in Wales, or for someone who so willingly abandoned his country for some English money. That is naïve. The only way the people of Wales will unite is if they are fighting behind someone who resides in Wales and knows the land and the ways in which the people are hurting.”
Madog thinks his cousin is starting to understand what he is getting at, but instead of merely acknowledging it, he points out. “And there is no one here within Wales that has those qualities and has a good enough claim to challenge for the throne of Arthur.”
Madog laughs at that, a great booming sound that fills out the small hall, forcing everyone to go completely silent and look at him. “You are thinking too small cousin. We do not need some son of Gruffudd here to rally us. Not when we have someone who also has a claim to Arthur’s throne and blood, and is right before you.”
It would seem his cousin has finally caught onto what he is saying, for suddenly he sighs and his shoulders sag. “You mean to claim the crown for yourself then?”
Madog nods. “It is my right. The line of Gruffudd has ended, my time has come. I am the rightful Prince of Wales.”
Muttering fills the hall at this, as various men who undoubtedly remember Llewelyn and his father before him, begin to consider this prospect. Madog can tell that more than a few of them feel distinctly uncomfortable about this, indeed, it is his chief vassal Llewelyn ap Gwndyr who speaks first, to voice his protest. “You would ignore the right of Owain ap Dafydd, and his uncle Rhodri then my lord?”
Madog looks at the man sensing a potential test and merely replies. “Unless they suddenly escape from their treacherous ways and come to their home, then yes, I intend to claim the crown.”
There is more muttering at this, and this time, Cynan ap Moydog speaks, his voice loud over the chorus of voices. “My lord, you would claim the throne of Arthur, and his crown, but I must ask, where is your legitimacy? Where is the proof of this?”
It takes Madog a moment to understand what the man is going on about, and then he remembers. The ancient ritual of a fight for the crown, a search then for the crown, after the opponent was rendered dead. He laughs. “And who would challenge me for the crown of Arthur?”
“I do.” A voice calls out, and as the crowd parts, and falls silent, Madog finds himself looking at a man he has not seen for a long time. A man with fiery hair, and piercingly cold eyes.
“By what right do you claim the throne of Arthur, you traitor?” Madog snarls.
Owen de la Pole laughs, a haunting and chilling sound. “By the right of first blood, you dog. Unless you are too scared to fight?” there is a hint of mocking in the man’s voice.
Madog steps forward, and snarls. “I will accept your challenge, traitor. Bring me my sword.” Quickly, one of his squires hands him the great beast of a sword he wields, that was his father’s before him, and advances cautiously down from the table and toward De La Pole. De La Pole who looks at him cockily, holding a mace. Madog stops before the man, snarling. “You are ready to die?”
De La Pole laughs. “You will die before me, dog.” The man swings at him then, and Madog steps back, watching as the mace hits air, snarling he moves forward and swings his sword, a move which De La Pole clearly expected, and blocks with ease. De La Pole pushes forward then, his mace hitting Madog’s sword, the clanging noise the connection makes, sets Madog on edge. They both push against one another, and then break apart, before coming closer together to hit again and again. Neither one can find much purchase against the other, the hall is deathly silent, as the lords both great and small watch the fight unfolding before them.
Madog swings his sword, finally managing to connect with something other than De La Pole’s mace, smiling when he hears De La Pole grunt with pain. Deciding to push this sudden advantage, Madog, moves forward, swiftly swinging his sword in one arc and then another. This forces De La Pole onto the back foot, his mace swinging frantically as he tries to stop the constant thrum of Madog’s sword against his body, and his face. The man succeeds partially, but he does not always manage to stop the blows that come toward him. Madog stops then, for a mere moment to catch his breath, De La Pole is cut and bleeding in several places, a sight that fills Madog with happiness and a savage glee. However, De La Pole is hard to kill and he moves forward then, his mace a fierce some tool in his hands.
De La Pole swings the mace like a man possessed, and it takes everything within Madog not to buckle under the onslaught. He blocks and misses a few of the swings, his stomach getting a lot of the blows. Winded, his vision starting to blur, he begins wondering if this might be it, if it was a mistake to challenge the fool before him. But then he remembers the crown hiding away, within the walls of this hall, and he decides enough is enough, he will win this fight, and take what is his. With a new found strength, he moves forward. Each step is sluggish and painful, but he keeps going, his sword guiding him through the movements of fight. He manages to knock the mace to the side, staggering slightly he elbows De La Pole in the face, then breaking his nose with a resounding clunk. De La Pole staggers back, Madog follows, sword raised, it is an accident more than anything, when his sword thrusts through De La Pole’s eye, they both fall, Madog just about managing to get up though. He waits a moment, and then another, but then De La Pole does not get up, and he can hear the shouting in the hall, cries coming from his lords, cries for him. The new Arthur.
April, 1293 Bidfield Manor
Rhodri ap Gruffudd
A manor, that was what he had, a manor, it was not an expensive one, it was a simple place. A place where he woke and acted as a lord, with a wife who he cared for, but he was not a lord, he was not welcomed here. Rhodri was a stranger in these parts, and he felt it. He knew that he was, and that the English would not hesitate for a moment to kill him. It was a reality that Rhodri had come to accept, not willingly, but it was just another of the things that had happened to him during his life, that he was not sure how to change. His wife Beatrice was a nice lady, but there was something about her that just didn’t seem to sit right with him, she was not the woman he would have liked to have married. She was the woman he had decided to marry, as he needed a place to stay, a place that would keep him away from many people’s attention, and he had found it at Bidfield manor. The place was quiet, somewhat peaceful, and somewhere he could feel calm. At least that had been the case until the representatives had come.
Scotland’s King wanted to cause more havoc for the English, and it seemed that he had found Rhodri, how he had found him, Rhodri did not know, but he was taking steps to ensure that none else could find him. He would not be caught unawares like that again. The hulking giant Wallace had come and met with him, to discuss something or the other about using Rhodri or even his nephew-how did they know about the boy? - for causing this trouble. Rhodri had been reluctant to go along with their proposal, there was too much risk, too much chance of being caught and killed, making everything he had done a waste. Then he had heard about that swine Madog claiming the crown of Arthur and the title, the title that was his and his nephew’s, and he decided enough was enough. If anyone would hold the title, it would be a member of his family. And that was why he had asked to meet with members of the extended family who were not willing to side with Madog. They had come, as had some Welshmen who were near enough to where his nephew was being kept to be of use.
Rhodri looks at the assembled guests, feeling slightly nervous, he has never been good at speaking in public, preferring to keep his thoughts to himself. Swallowing, he counts to three, then speaks. “We have an interesting and most pressing situation on our hands. Madog Ap Llewelyn has presumed to don the crown that is by rights my nephew’s. It is time we answered this injustice with steel and fire.” He pauses, and then looks at one of the Welshmen who live near his nephew’s prison. “Dawain, you know the land where my nephew is held prisoner. How soon might we get him free from his chains?”
Dawain, a small, beady eyed man, looks at him and then the room at large. His voice is reedy when he speaks. “It will take some time my Prince. They have him in a cage, kept high off the ground, watched day and night since Madog declared his intention. They take turns guarding the Prince Owain and ensure that none are left too long with him. Indeed, it seems they are suspecting that someone of our countrymen might try to break him out from his cage.”
Rhodri considers this, he had expected the English to take Madog’s self-indulgence as a sign that Wales was not going to lie down anymore, that he was not going to lie down anymore. The Ddraig was not going to take being subjected by some foreign enemy. Lions would bow before Dragons. He rubs his eyes wearily, and says. “Well, that might be an inconvenience, but it is not the end.”
At this, one of the Welsh lords who had come to him soon after Madog had declared himself Arthur, Gawain, Rhodri thinks the man’s name is speaks, his voice questioning. “How is that my Prince?”
Considering his answer carefully, Rhodri looks at the man in question, replying sincerely. “We have men here, who know more about the land where my nephew is caged, as well as the guards who protect his cage, than the English do. No doubt those in the south will consider the work done and dusted. Furthermore, Guards will be taken to fight in a war soon enough. We shall have space and time to make a move as we see fit.”
Dawain speaks then. “You mean to send someone to break the Prince out of his cage, my Prince?”
Rhodri nods. “Yes, I fully intend to seat my nephew on the throne that is his by right and by blood. You know the outline of his prison do you not? Tell me, where would you send a party if the need arose?”
Dawain seems to be concentrating quite hard on his memory of the place, he does seem as if he is a drinker, though hopefully that will not impede his abilities. Eventually, the man speaks, a smile on his face. “There is a slight stream that passes near to the castle, the Prince is kept near the inner edge of the castle walls toward the western extent of the castle. The stream runs parallel to this. It is done to mock the Prince, and show him what his father’s supposed folly has cost him. If you wish to retrieve the Prince, then I would suggest waiting until we know more of the guards have left to fight, and then sending new men as part of the guard.”
“What good will that do?” Gawain asks. “Surely that will simply arise suspicion if two new people appear?”
Rhodri sighs, noting how Gawain, though a fierce fighter, lacks some of the more common subtleties needed for a plot such as this. “It might create suspicion, but if a host of men from the lands nearby go to help guard my nephew, then the English will accept it. The lord who lives nearby does not like the regent, but is someone who strongly opposes us, at least in public. He will not be looked down upon.”
He can tell that Gawain is still confused, but Dawain seems to have gotten his point. “A most intriguing plan my Prince. And if it works, then it will work brilliantly.”
Rhodri smiles at this and responds. “Good, you shall be leading the new guards that we send, Dawain. The time has come for us to wake the sleeping dragon, and show the English, that we are not done. My nephew will be freed, and Wales will rise again.” As he says the words, he feels a confidence run through him that he hasn’t felt before.