Blood Of The Lion

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Bird's Nest

June, 1293, Bristol Castle


Bristol Castle was a towering structure, built before the conquest, it stood proud and magnificent near the city itself, and as Dawain looked up, he swallowed nervously. For a month now he’d been planning this, how to get Prince Owain out of the prison that the English swines had put him in, and out onto the open ground. It had not been easy, he’d had to bribe a guard, or three, and kill their commanding officer, to get himself and his men into the castle and onto the watch, but he’d managed that. He’d spoken to the boy once or twice as well, to reassure him, the boy was gaunt, stick thin, not the man the people of Ddraig would want leading them, compared to his muscular uncle. But, he was the man chosen, and so Dawain would do his duty. Madog’s stupid rebellion could not have come at a better time, English eyes were all on Wales, not Bristol, the Prince had been forgotten about, and so Dawain using his brains had decided to bring his men onto the roster for today. It had to be today, any other day would see them all dead.

His thoughts were interrupted, when one of his men taps him on the shoulder and murmurs. “The watch has changed Sir. What do you wish to do?” the question is asked hesitantly, his men know exactly what he means to do, but for now, they go through with the pretence.

“We move out. Get the others ready.” Dawain says simply, having made his peace with his decision long ago. The man nods, and then Dawain straps on his sword, checks himself over once, and then nodding to himself, he walks away from his post. He moves quietly, the sun is in a position between setting and rising, and so he moves knowing his footsteps are being masked. He draws his dagger, and when he comes to stand behind the captain, he presses his dagger against the man’s throat, and slits it in one motion, murmuring a small prayer. Across the courtyard, he hears similar things being done, he smiles grimly, none will miss the English curs, it is time to move onward. He walks quickly this time, and as some of the guards, English, and traitors amongst them move to stop him and his men, they move their weapons quickly, slicing them down, cutting them into pieces. As he gets nearer to the cage, he is grateful that Maron had had the sense to wheel the cage in.

He walks up the steps, and sees the Prince being helped out, slowly but surely, the Prince takes his first steps onto solid ground, since he was but a babe, and Dawain winces to see how pale and drawn he is. He bows. “My Prince, the way for us to go is clear.”

The Prince looks at him, as if he is just seeing him for the first time, his voice is barely above a whisper when he says. “Lead on Sir Dawain. Take me home.”

Dawain smiles at the Prince, sketches a little bow and says. “Gladly my Prince.” He nods to his men and together they walk down the steps, and down passed the murder taking place, his men are winning the day against these oafs, who know nothing of a true fight. He walks passed a man bearing a Ddraig, but then he stops, leans down and rips the badge of spitting in the man’s face. “You do not deserve that badge.” He snarls, before continuing his walk to where the horses are saddled, ready and waiting.

The Prince asks him a question, murmured amongst the carnage and chaos around them. “What will happen when they learn I am gone?”

Dawain takes a moment to consider the question, considering the Prince as well, seeing how shy and withdrawn he seems, he curses the English for this, but he knows that his people will never accept such a man as their prince, that they’d rather see that sheep fucker, Madog, as Prince than this man. The blood of Llewelyn must sit the throne though, of that much Dawain is determined to see through, and so he smiles sadly and says. “Nothing lad, we will be far gone by that point.”

The Prince does not seem to really believe him, but he nods all the same, and so they move on in silence. Dawain helps the Prince onto his horse, a destrier, that the Prince had had when he was a boy, the Prince seems uncertain for a moment, but then he rides, and in that brief moment, Dawain sees something, and a flash of regret for what must come passes through him. It does not last though, the Prince does not know his people, and his people do not know him. He mounts his own horse and spurs it on after the Prince, they ride through the gates, and through the town, people looking at them warily, allowing them to pass. His heart is thumping in his chest, worried over what might happen should this go wrong, he knows his men are dying in Bristol, that the men coming with him, will die soon enough, but still, should word of this get back to Prince Rhodri, then he is finished. Still they ride, through the town, through into the countryside, they keep riding hard, and then when they come to the designated spot, Dawain calls a halt.

The Prince calls out a query. “Why have we stopped Sir?”

Dawain smiles, dismounting. “We have some business we need to take care of my Prince. If you would not mind dismounting, I can show you what.”

It is a sign of how young the Prince truly is that he dismounts, and follows Dawain to the trees, asking. “What are we looking for?”

Dawain says a quick prayer, turning to the Prince he pleads. “Forgive me my Prince, but this must be done.” Before the Prince has a chance to question him, he unsheathes his dagger and plunges it into the boy’s chest. His men join him soon enough, and they do the same, one man keeping a hand over the boy’s mouth, before lowering him down onto the ground. Dawain looks at his man Gareth, who nods before barking out a command. Dawain turns back to his horse, saying a quick prayer for the soul of a departed prince, before mounting up and riding off. He has a lot of ground to cover, and not much time to do it in.

July, 1293 Denbigh Castle

Henry De Lacy, Earl of Lincoln

The war was moving slowly, that whoreson Madog was branching out, taking his time about where he went and who he hit. He was smart, Henry would give him that, but he was lacking in supplies, that much his scouts had been able to gather. Supplies and morale, his men were suffering from a lack of food, and knowledge that Henry and his fellow earls were hounding them, was doing much to damage their Welsh morale. Pah, the Welsh were breaking apart. It gave him great amounts of joy to know that, and so he planned and waited, drawing them closer, knowing Madog would need to retaliate sooner or later. The men in his solar, were hardened commanders, William De Ros, Baron De Ros, fresh from the wars in France, Roger Mortimer, Baron of Chirk, and a stripling in Humphrey De Bohun, newly liveried into his titles of Earl of Hereford and Lord High Constable. Henry looks at all of them then speaks. “My scouts report that Madog and his mad dogs are coming ever closer, the raids are working my lords. We are drawing that whoreson closer to his destruction.”

“Where exactly are they stationed?” De Ros asks, an impatient man that one, and not one given to great shows of generosity.

Henry, having the superior rank takes his time to consider the question, knowing that as he does so, the man grows ever more impatient. Eventually, he speaks. “They are camped in a village not far from here. A place known as Llanfair, and I do believe their men are losing faith in their leaders’ abilities.”

“Will they desert?” Ros asks plainly.

At this Henry shrugs. “I do not know, the Welsh might well do a great many things, if it meant they could avoid facing us. But Madog has a powerful hold over them, by crowning himself Arthur, he has shown himself as a man willing to take risks, that is something these curs like.”

“How many men does Madog have?” Mortimer asks straight laced as always, a known soldier Mortimer, and someone Henry is glad to have at his side.

“Around five hundred, no more, no less. He has sent men under the command of some cousin of his, to try and attack Caernarfon, and other locations directly held by the crown. Needless to say they shall find certain obstacles within their path.” Henry responds smiling, thinking of the traps set all along the pathway.

“So they have five hundred men. How many of those are archers?” Mortimer questions, and Henry knows the man is thinking of the battle they had fought to get into Wales, of the longbows that had done such damage to their infantry.

Henry takes a moment to read through the reports his scouts had given him, ever since he was a boy, he has insisted on having detailed written reports, written in code only he and a select few know or understand. It is that which he reads now, and that which informs his response. “Around twenty archers, but they are at a disadvantage. We have the hill, they do not.”

“But can we trust the people of Denbigh?” Humphrey De Bohun asks speaking for the first time. “From what we have seen as we ventured through Wales, the people are either ambivalent about us, or they despise us completely. Which way does Denbigh sit my lord?”

Henry considers the question from the young man, knowing that if any other man had asked him that question, he’d have back handed him, but seeing as the Earl is Lord Constable, and senior in rank, if not age, to him, he gives him the benefit of the doubt. “Denbigh is for us my Earl of Hereford. As I am sure you have seen as you walked through the streets, and as you rode here, the people do not like Madog. The man is very much a mad dog, and is someone who cannot be trusted. The people of Denbigh understand that, and they know that they have to gain by remaining loyal.”

That seems to soothe some of De Bohun’s concerns, for unlike his father, he does not continue harping on about something or the other, and instead settles for asking. “Whom will command during the battle then my lords?”

They all know that if he wished, De Bohun could sort them into their positions and none of them could dispute his decision, but it is a sign of his respect, that he is allowing them to discuss this. De Ros speaks first. “I believe the right would be perfect for me. Me and mine can handle the ridge, and shatter the archers before they get the chance.”

“The left will be mine.” Mortimer says firmly. “I have a score to settle with these cunts.”

“And what of you my Earl of Lincoln? What position will you take?” De Bohun asks.

Henry considers the question, and then responds. “I will take the centre if that is alright with you my Lord Constable. There are plans and then there are plans, if you understand my meaning.”

He expects someone to protest this, but instead, there is merely a nod of acceptance, and De Bohun says. “Very well, let us progress from here and move forward.” With that the meeting ends, and they all move to their respective rooms. Henry spends the remaining time, preparing himself for the battle to come. He says prayers in the chapel, he arms himself, then he moves out into the courtyard, his squires and men preparing, as are the others, he nods to them, and they nod back in return. Soon enough the time comes for them to mount up, his heart beats a steady rhythm, as the gates open, he leads the charge out, and battle begins. Henry says a quick prayer to God almighty, for his safe keeping, and for that of his wife and daughter, then he moves, drawing his weapons as the first drums of war are sounded.

August, 1293 Bidfield Manor

Rhodri ap Gruffudd

“Tell me what happened again.” Rhodri commands trying desperately to keep the fear and anger from his voice.

“My Prince, as we were leaving Bristol, we were set upon by men from England, who dared to attack us after being bought by us. They fought us hard, and then they went for Prince Owain. And he…he did not stand a chance.” He hears Dawain say.

Rhodri closes his eyes, trying desperately to not break down in front of his servant, Owain was but a boy, he’d spent so much of his life in chains after Dafydd’s bid for power, and now, now he was gone. Clutching at straws, he asks. “Where were you when the English came for my nephew? For your Prince?”

He senses hesitation in Dawain’s voice and turns round to look at the man, looking at him to try and detect some sort of lie. He sees none as Dawain replies. “I was fighting for my life Sire. I did not know where the Prince was, but I thought he would be in good hands. I was mistaken.”

Rhodri nods, falling silent, he thinks through everything, the English garrison at Bristol had been massacred, as he had ordered, the English were stuck fighting Madog in Wales, and planning for an invasion from Earl William from the north. All of that was going according to plan, but his nephew was dead. The nephew he had sworn he would try and protect, the nephew he had protected from plots and schemes, and from all manner of things over the years, by remaining in Bidfield. His nephew was dead, and his own pride and hubris had allowed for that to happen. Rhodri fears what he will find when he goes to wherever it is his brothers are, will he find them welcoming or scathing. It is not something he wishes to think about. He looks at Dawain once more and says. “So I am now Prince with my nephew’s death. Where is his half-brother?” The girl was beyond his reach now, in some monastery somewhere at the ends of the earth, far beyond his reach or care.

“His son is coming as we speak my Prince. He has brought with him archers, from the Gallowglass.” Dawain says sounding pleased.

Rhodri’s focus snaps to attention at that. “Gallowglass?” his voice is filled with a mixture of awe and disdain, all know of the Gallowglass and their fierce reputation. “From where did my nephew find such men to fight? He has not the income for it.”

At this Dawain hesitates. “He took loans my Prince, from men much inclined to see the English removed from everywhere that is not their own island.”

Understanding what it is Dawain is not telling him, Rhodri merely nods and then asks. “Who has answered the summons to arms? Which one of these men remembers where they once gave their loyalty? Madog, might have crowned himself Prince of Wales, and Arthur, but he is none of those things. So tell me Dawain, who will come and serve their rightful Prince?” the words feel odd to his ears, but he says them anyway, and finds he likes the sound.

“The Barrys are coming, as are the Gunthors, and the Gawains, my Prince. They are all coming and they are bringing their men and their archers with them. With Madog’s rebellion floundering as it is, they are looking to you now. Looking to their rightful Prince.” Dawain responds.

“As they should be.” Rhodri says simply. Then finding his curiosity peaked, he asks. “Tell me, what happened to Madog and his band of traitors?”

At this a certain amount of relish comes into Dawain’s voice, and belatedly Rhodri remembers that Madog killed Dawain’s brother long ago. “The English met Madog’s forces in the shadow of Denbigh, and they fought. Madog’s archers did nothing to the English on the foot of the hill, and they were broken and destroyed before they could ever recover. Madog and his men fought fiercely, but they were sorely outmatched, and they were forced to retreat. But not before Madog’s sons were slain, he is without an heir now.”

Rhodri knows that he should not delight in the defeat of his fellow countryman, knows that Madog’s defeat will make it harder for him to gain ground, but he finds he does not care. He needs this, needs some sort of reassurance from God, that he is doing the right thing, by claiming the crown. “And where has the whoreson fled to now?”

“He has fled to Llanwrst, and is being hotly pursued by the English.” Dawain replies, his voice filled with undisguised glee. “The only good thing the man has done is sending someone to go for Caernarfon. That castle falls the English will be rocked to their very core.”

Rhodri nods, and then says. “You may leave now Dawain, I will summon you if I need you.” The man bows and leaves, leaving Rhodri to his thoughts, and his nightmares. Eventually, he leaves the room, and makes his way over to Beatrice’s rooms, there he finds her, and he holds her. She does not ask, and he does not say, they merely hold one another for a long time, until he whispers. “I will need to leave soon.”

His wife nods and asks. “Your nephew?”

His nephew is a dagger to his heart, but he keeps his thoughts to himself briefly, allowing himself a moment to recover, and then he says. “Dead, slain by English whoresons. But the timing does not matter. I am the Prince now, undisputed, and none can question that. Madog has lost his cause, he has lost his sons, he will have to bend to me, or face destruction.”

“And the Scots?” his wife asks.

“They are coming, Earl William, marches as we speak, with an army thousands strong, filled with men hungry for glory and the chance to destroy England.” Rhodri says, not bothering to hide the relish in his voice.

September, 1293 Midlands

Earl William Wallace

It was a God damned struggle trying to push through these obstacles the English kept putting in his path. It had taken time to gather the men needed to fight a proper war, men had come from Northern England, led by Comyn, Bruce, Dunbar and many others, and men had come from Scotland, drawn by the King’s promise of plunder and loot. The King himself remained in Stirling, needing to oversee other war plans, and so William, as Constable was tasked with ensuring that the war went smoothly. So far however, things were teetering. Arguments were being had between various lords over payment, rights and all other nonsense, but William had the final say on it all and so they had moved forward, later than he had hoped, but still they had moved forward.

They’d faced opposition every step of the way, local English barons, not under the King’s control, were fighting him, fighting him for the English King. They’d fought a great many battles, small ones that had eaten away at his men and his men’s morale, they were to get to Wales, but they would be bloodied before they got there. That was okay for William, he knew he needed to keep moving, to keep pressing forward, but there was something about this, that did not feel right. Something that didn’t sit right with him. It was not their fight, the English had accepted their rule over Northern England, in Northumbria, so why was the King getting involved with the Welsh? It made no sense, but he was not going to question the King, instead he kept fighting. They’d lost William de Keith to an axe to the face at Oldham, and so they were down an Earl Marischal, the man’s son not yet old enough to fight. But they’d pressed onwards, fighting, every bloody inch of the way until they’d come to here.

Where here was he did not know, but the English were here as well, under the command of some Earl or the other, who exactly the Earl was William did not know, one of the other lords in his camp might know, but he was not going to ask. They already scorned him for his low birth, and were envious of him, for his standing with the King. They were fools, truth be told, but he would not say that. He’d trained the men well, and now they were arming up, and lining up to fight the English. They had something akin to five thousand men, the English, six thousand, they would be evenly matched, a fair fight, if the English knew what such a thing was, he doubted it, but they would fight and they would win, of that he was sure. He looks at the field around him, clear skies, clear ground, no mud, no dirt, plain sailing for their horses, and for their men. He gives a nod, and the herald blows the horn, the battles form up into formation. His heart starts thumping as the priest says a prayer for them, for their souls, he hopes he will live to see his way home, to see his way back to his wife and their sons.

The priest finishes speaking, and then William takes a breath, waiting, waiting, and then he bellows a cry, and his men follow suit, they dig their spurs into their horses and off they go. Through the straight ground they go, he can see the English tensing, the sigil of some English noble billowing before him, though it is most likely the force of their descent causing the wind, nothing else. It is a dry day, no wind in sight. They ride hard, and soon the crash comes. William swings his sword with great might, cutting through steel and plate, hacking his way through some armour, on some cunt, he cuts them down, hacking, slashing, swearing as he goes. The English soldiers fall before him and his men, but they come in with replacements, he swings his sword, hacking his way through, his steed is doing well, considering how much blood there is flowing around the campsite. They move, quickly, everything is going quickly, one moment he is fighting someone, the next, that person is dead and someone new is coming toward him.

He sees some poor cunt get his head knocked in by a big axe from Andrew’s hand, and winces, but moves on, glad that Andrew fights for him and the King and not for anyone else. They move through the English, cutting them down as if they are nothing. He feels his body take blows, but he does not feel them. He keeps moving, the blood rushing through him keeps him going, allows him to ignore the aches and sores that he will no doubt feel in the morning after the battle. Death haunts every step, William can see its black cloak unfolding amongst the English and his own men, not caring who or where, men fall, he sees someone with the banners of Murray on their surcoat lying down in the ground. He sees someone with his own lion and sword, lying down in the ground their throats slit, and he says a prayer for them. The fighting continues, and through it all he moves, not thinking of anything else but fighting.

The roar of the fighting echoes around him, it fills him completely, leaving him unable to move properly, unless he rides and swings his sword. He cuts and fights, and shits and bites, but by the almighty it is difficult, to keep going. His arms ache, his body is bruised, and his blood continues to flow, to pump heavily, to keep him going. Another man comes, and another comes and another, he cuts them down and he kills them, but his body aches now. His mind is clouded, and then another, and another. He keeps fighting, his men and the other divisions are all joined in the fighting, the English are being pushed back, he sees them turning, seems them running, and he shouts for joy, the whole army shouts alongside him, then the horns sound.

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