Chapters:

Chapter One

                The Roman Villa                 

‘When a realm is engaged in a perennial struggle for survival and the Armageddon of all battles approaches; it is mandatory for the leader of that realm to prepare its people in the study, exercise, and in the training in the art, tactical analysis, and strategy of warfare.’ 

First Day of March 563 AD

1

 Ieuan after training is tired– A feast in the great hall - Rhobert the bard tells A history - a messenger arrives raiders are attacking his realm

Non climbed the steps of the keep at Iscennen Castle. She picks up the pace on the second fifty steps just to increase her heart rate and to test her fitness. Her heart thumps ahrd, she is breathless, she keeps at it until almost the last ten steps, then she has to rest. She waits for a few minutes to recovers and then proceeds. She’s eager to see Prince Ieuan out on manoeuvres with his regiments on the moors below the castle. She joins a group of women on the battlements. Princes Rhiannon stands centre with Marie, her lady-in-waiting. Selena, the castle housekeeper, stands with Cadi, her serving maid, alongside the princess and her lady-in-waiting. Non greets them and joins the rear of the group.

  A pennon of Ieuan appears they start, as a group, towards the parapet to see better, a chorus of approval breaks out.

   ‘It won’t be long, milady,’ Selena addresses the princess.

   ‘Yes, they’ll be back soon with their aches and pains. They’ll will be worn out tonight,’ laughter follows. A gusting wind tears at the bulwarks. A green and white flag snaps in the wind with the red dragon passant guardant of Macsen Wledig. A flight of rooks shoot between the castle towers. Black arrows from a bow, thinks Non. Their aucous kaah-kaah-kaah calls echo among the battlements.

The first day of March lit with bright sunshine broken with flurries of rain at times, a storm tossed tempestuous day. Rain created by a warm current from some far-off tropical ocean that washes up on these peninsular shores. To the east, a panorama of rolling hills draws the eye to follow a line of dry stone walls running from the valley floor to the tree line.

A gusting wind whistles its way through cracks in walls and scattered sheepfolds arranged like halfway inns, protection for shepherds and their flocks. It rustles last year’s leaves that carpet arboretums of beech their smooth trunks rising majestically a hundred feet and more. It ruffles the loam of the forest floor, home to wood anemones, orchids, sprouting mushrooms, toxic candle snuff fungus, and chanterelle that thrive on the decay of the forest. Plants that embrace the shadows and the shade: lichens, mosses, and ferns. A host of birdlife to feed on beechnuts ripened from last autumn. Roebuck deer join them picking at the spiky shells, their reddish-brown fur blending in with last year’s fallen leaves in this temperate land.

This roars through gullies along the way, ripping at soldiers’ jerkins, tearing at capes, whipping the coats of mountain ponies. It strikes the lone and cloud dashes its contents onto men below. It drives along stirring the corries, black glacial pools leftover from frozen ages past. It scurries around the cromlechs, moss coated stones from the Preseli Mountains.

     It skirts the grass-carpeted tumuli, tombs of ancient kings. It blows white chariots of cloud over the Black Mountains of Brychan, a land peopled by the Silures in the great western peninsular of the Isles of Pretan; this bastion of high ground free from sais.

A column of mounted troops follow a winding track through the heathland towards the castle. Prince Ieuan allows his pony to lead the way. Ieuan would love to settle by a fire right now. The training had gone well, the men were fit for the first day of spring, and they had trained hard.

    He rides on his thoughts drifting to the benefits of mounted cavalry, they are invaluable in a fluid battle, but the core fighting man in these hills, will always be the bowman who had the advantage of cover and high ground, providing ample opportunity for an ambush in this difficult terrain.

   His commanders had sent out officers to check food and weapon caches, clear the tracks to them and to mark them. They will be invaluable if the enemy comes this year. For as long as he could remember, the enemy had come every other year. In some decades, they had experienced continuous attacks. Those were the hard years, the lean years when the harvest lay uncollected in the fields. Hard because winter killed off the wounded and the weak succumbed, and in dying, leave even more hardship to those that survived. Every able-body man and woman needed in the time of war.

    Ieuan feels a clutch in his bowels. I wonder will I stand the test? What if I fail? He shakes his head; he had not chosen this task. Originally, it had been planned that he lead an artistic life, his mother, Queen Nest had made sure of that. She had singled him out, the youngest of three brothers for a life as an ambassador, a life of diplomacy. He would have preferred that life, but now his brothers were dead, killed in endless battles. His father, King Mouric had to choose who would defend the Eastern Approaches, the back door to Glevissig and hence to Gwent. Mouric preferred Lord Hywel as Prince of Brychan, but Nest had stood up to him,

   ‘It is Ieuan who is the rightful heir.’ She’d insisted. ‘He will grow into a fine ruler, he will inherit Ceredigion and Dyfed one day and they are mine to give. If Ieuan is not made Prince of Brychan then Dyfed and Ceredigion will go to the Rhun the Tall, King of Gwynedd. Should anything happen to me, Ieuan will inherit.’ She’d slammed her hand down of the table. Mouric knew there was no changing her, and the law was on her side. He could not interfere with her own property, even though married it would be always hers to give. If Ieuan has to rule somewhere, it may as well be in backwoods of Brychan.

Nest had told her son of the conversation, ‘Ieuan, please try to impress Tad, He needs to be sure of you. Prove yourself worthy to lead Brychan.’ Ieuan had listened. His mother knew Mouric better than anyone, she knew what drove him, his passion for the land of his fathers.

‘Enough!’ He says. His pony stops, Ieuan pushing Ieuan forward towards the pony’s head; he grips tightly and laughs aloud. Gwilym looks at his master quizzically. Ieuan needing time to think gets rid of Gwilym and his interruptions by ordering him upfront,

   ‘Gwilym, ride up to the castle and see if the way is clear.’ Gwilym digs his heels into his pony and canters off to make a report on an empty road. He sighs quietly to himself.

   His pony pricks up his ears, recognising the slope leading up to the castle. It towers above them, impressive with its watchtowers of cut stone, its ramparts and its arrow-loops. Ieuan knows he is being watched, his pony breaks into a trot, he can smell cooking odours from the castle kitchen. Ieuan restrains him,

   ‘Easy boy, easy.’ Ieuan murmurs. He sees handkerchiefs wave from the top of the keep and he waves back. The Castle stands on a vertical rock face one hundred feet high on its southern side. It has no moat, but one hundred paces away is a ditch, man-made that is difficult to cross over without the use of the bridge. Ieuan’s men dug a culvert to feed this ditch from a nearby spring so the ditch.

   Iscennen is  Ieuan’s main residence, much preferred to Brycheiniog Castle which is set over its town and the monastery of Abbot Illtyd. More and more Ieuan is ignoring Brycheiniog; it’s too busy for him with the noises of the town, the hawkers and cries from its market held every Saturday. He prefers the smell of the countryside and enjoys watching the wildlife from the castle heights. Iscennen is not a large castle, but it has everything he needs for comfort and defence. He can look down from his room on the valley spread out below and see every farmer that he knows by name, working the land, and what time they start and what time they finish for the day. And in the depth of summer, he can see that some work late into the evening until the sun sets over the Celtic sea as late as one hour to midnight. He knows when a farmer loses a cow, when his lambs are born, which of them takes his sheep into the barn for lambing and which leave them out in the chilly wind.

Mam suggests I placate my father, but he is implacable, I just have to outlive him, and hold on to Iscennen. I will use the best that I have, my commanders and those who are coming from behind to take their place. They are my sharp instruments of war. I cannot rely on Mam for everything. Non is the true queen of my chessboard. I will use her skills, she will make the difference. Non and Idris the blacksmith, Einion I’m not sure about; he is a dark horse. Illtyd is transparent, wrapped up in theology and his church. Hywel is a brilliant strategist, and Tudur solid as the rocks at Marcan, his hideaway. Rhys is the jewel in my crown. He controls the bowmen, all ten thousand of them, my brilliant weapon. All I have to do is to bend with the winds of change and outlive Mouric. At the end of the road, wherever it takes me, there is the beauty of this blessed land and Non.

Ieuan enters the castle beneath its portcullis; he sees Idris standing outside the works area in front of the buildings housing the forges, blast furnaces, and the workshops. Ieuan waves and calls out,

   ‘Prynhawn da – good afternoon Master Idris, how is the weapon production going?’

   ‘It’s going well, Sire, the best we’ve done in years, we have three million arrows flighted and and five million forged arrowheads ready. We’ve met your Autumn targets and more. We have sufficient coal for our present needs, but if there’s war?’ Ieuan knows he’ll need more.

   ‘Well done, that’s much better than I’d thought.’ He knew how hard Idris had worked that winter. Every day the furnaces had bellowed fire long after the normal hours, smoke billowing into the great hall to dismay of the diners. In meetings, Idris had often been terse and sometimes irritable. His men too showed signs of stress.

   ‘Idris don’t forget to close early tonight.’

   ‘We have much more work to do, Sire.’

He needs this man, but needs to impart authority too. Idris is much older than he and needs a gentle reminder who rules. Idris waits for a moment, looks at the ground, and thinks, to be honest, we all need a break from this daily grind. The men are overtired, but we have the rhythm going now and I don’t want to break it. I’m pleased too, to see the improvements we have made to the working practices and it so good to be ahead. Ieuan had asked for my advice in the autumn, he’d listened to all my demands. He’d left me to get on with the work, supplying labour to dig out coal. Black gold I call it, he thinks.

    ‘Yes, Sire,’ Idris gives way. Ieuan relaxes and straightens up from the saddle,

   ‘Well done, Master Idris, will you join us in the hall tonight.’ He laughs and Idris laughs with him. They shake hands, and Ieuan bids Idris adieu.

Idris wanders back to the workshop; the five forges are operating, bellows blowing the flames, a boy on each, the blacksmith with an assistant or an apprentice working in tandem to heat the metal to the desired temperature to a bright white-hot glow. As the smith places the shaping tool, the assistant strikes a hammer blow as the smith nods his head, and for extra heavy blows extends one arm out from the shoulder. They work at a steady pace, unhurried, every move neat and curtailed, exuding a sense of suppressed energy and stamina. Skilled and strong, men and viewed as magical men, making from wrought iron wondrous tools and artefacts. Their tools hang on the walls of the castle; hundreds of shaped tools and scores of shaped hammers. Every forge with its own anvil, with a score of different sized tongs. Every tool special to its maker. A soft haze of dust and smoke hang in the air. Idris watches as the boys water down the cinder and ash floor and roll out with an iron roller. The smiths take down their tools, place a drop of oil on working joints and hang back on the wall. He takes up a metal rod and shakes it in a triangle of metal. The smiths look up and stop working.

‘We have an invitation to dine with our prince this evening.’ The men answer with a roar of approval.

   ‘Tidy up the workshops and pass the word around boys, he says, looking at the boys on the bellows. We finish in half an hour.’ The other workshops will want to come too, he thinks to himself, the millwrights, carpenters, bowyers, fletchers, wheelwrights, the iron founders, coppersmiths, patternmakers and other associated trades. Idris rules them all in his own inimitable style, benign and outwardly gruff. He sits at his desk on the high stool contentedly chewing a twig, cleaning his old worn teeth. A small window allows him to see out into the courtyard. The light is fading as hundreds of men stroll into the castle, tired from this training day, wanting warmth and food and entertainment. Idris grins in anticipation. He has been to many such feasts in his life and this new prince gives them heart. Idris sits watching his men clean up the workshops, putting it in order, a spring in their step. Tonight many would eat too much, drink too much and carouse too much. Some would become entranced with the pageantry of it all, some attending for the first time would never forget the occasion.

   A boy approaches; he tries to hide his excitement,

   ‘What is it, Twm? What have you got for me?’ Idris ask, speaking gently to the young lad. Twm stands before the great artisan and holds out an arrowhead, keen to show off his work.

   ‘I made it myself, Id.’

   ‘You did, boy? Well isn’t that grand?’ Idris takes hold of the workpiece, his large hands turning it slowly while examining.

   ‘Um, not bad, how long did you take on this then?’ The work was fair, and acceptable for a first attempt.

   ‘It didn’t take long, Id.’ Idris knew differently, but wanted to encourage the boy. The works is warm during winter months, making armaments was exciting to boys, a mysterious art. We need many men in the field as Bowmen, and as soldiers of every kind.

   ‘Now, I’ll tell you what I’ll do to start you off right. You hang this up over your bench and make me another one. But better than that one mind and in your own time. If you make me a better one I’ll give you another job to make, all right?’ The boy beams and takes the work piece back again, holding it tight. ‘Now then, you keep making pieces and do a good job, and next year I may take you as an apprentice, what do you say to that then?’

   ‘Oh, that would be fine, Id.’

   ‘Right, it’s a deal then, now work hard, but the work must improve mind, I don’t just take any boys for an apprentice, no, I’ve plenty of boys asking me for apprenticeships’ Twm nodded his head,

   ‘I will, Id, I’ll work hard.’

   ‘I know you will, Twm, but remember I only take the best boys, and if you don’t make it I’ll find another job for you, all right?’

   ‘I want to be like you Id, I don’t want another job, I want to work like you.’

   ‘We’ll see, boy, we’ll see, be off with you now, and get ready for tonight.’

Idris watches as Twm runs away, clutching his arrowhead, he sighs. So many boys want to stay on in the forge, but most can’t handle the monk-like discipline or the aptitude needed temperament was important too and the will to succeed with the ability to learn. The work attracted the boys because they grew up watching through the open doors as the smiths worked and they found it fascinating; which it was. I keep only the best, sadly only the best will do. It’s no use having a bunch of less-able lads working on intricate work. I have to lay so many off, and if they love the work some cry. Young Twm may make it as he displays eagerness not usual for a boy his age. Time will tell. Meanwhile, the men finish their work and acknowledge him as they leave their stations. Fine men, he thinks, yes, I’m glad to have men like this. He looks through the window, something he had experimented with a long time ago, it lets in light, but the view distorted by the roughness of his work, he could see that darkness had descended and that the courtyards were lit with oil lamps, time to go. He heaves himself up and gets ready to do his rounds, making sure all fires are controlled and important workshops locked and valuable storerooms. He takes another half hour before he can think of walking over to the banquet room; the smells from the kitchens have tempted him from late afternoon. Now he was hungry. He speaks to a guard and gives instructions before setting off.

Ieuan, Prince of Brychan, Marché Prydain, Lord of the Marches commander of the Eastern Approaches, slips quietly into the Great Hall. Soft sealskin slippers mask the sound of his entry. Reaching out he takes from the hanger his old worn cloak, and in one movement throws it over his shoulders and wraps it around his body as he strides over the cold slabs to his throne. Ieuan is cold, his feet are numb, and his bones ache after long hours in the saddle. His hair, wet from the rain, hangs across his brow. He pulls leather gloves from his stiff hands and throws them to the floor. His dogs lying on the floor, next to the hall fire, awake, rush to greet their master with whines, rubbing and prancing, making a fuss of Ieuan. He gazes around quickly surveying the room before sitting; he stands for a moment to allow his guards to realise his presence among the shadows. The servants have yet to place lanterns around the tables. His guards imperceptibly stiffen. Ieuan relaxes as the warmth from the hall permeates his cold body. A maid catches sight of the dogs rushing to Ieuan’s chair and brings a warm drink of mead to him. She places a small buttered roll onto a wooden stool next to the chair. He waves his thanks to her and murmurs,

‘Thank you, Cadi,’ she curtsies and retires. Ieuan is taller than the average man. Heavily built in the shoulder with a slim waist and a tight stomach his hair is a dark brown and curled slightly at the fringes of his neck, with a lighter shade of brown around his sideburns. His eyes are hazel brown. His face clean-shaven except for a small moustache; his hair is long. He has a slightly olive complexion, hinting of a warmer clime. He has fine hands, long and strong. His features are regular with white teeth; his nose is straight despite the attention of a few blows from training. He has achieved a high level of fitness. He is twenty-six years of age, and in his prime, but he feels the trials of winter in his bones. As demanded by his rank he spends two days in the week honing his skills and in physical exercise.

   The dogs settle around Ieuan’s feet; he enjoys the warmth from their bodies by squeezing his feet under their thick coats. The servants are busy preparing the evening meal. A boy bastes an ox mounted on a spit near the chimneybreast. The aroma of the roasted beast infuses his sense of smell, mix and blend with other cooking smells as food is brought in from the kitchens below. Pans set around the ox catch the dripping fat, and the boy scoops up ladlefuls and pours them over the ox. Occasionally wisps of smoke drift into the great hall from the outside cooking house, adding to the heavy mixture of aromas. Kitchen staff slices pieces of beef from the flanks, and lay on platters of flat bread and store near the fire to keep warm. Soon the hall will fill with tired and hungry Bowmen from the hills. Ieuan senses rather than hears Gwilym behind him. Gwilym rests his hands on the chair and nods a greeting to the guards. He checks the galleries and notes the six bowmen on duty and that they are alert. Satisfied, Gwilym moves over to the ox, turning his back to the servants and smiling, faces his Prince. He draws a knife, cuts a slice from the ox, proffers a mock offering, and before Ieuan can reply, scoffs the morsel. Ieuan allows Gwilym his momentary familiarity. Nodding in reply with a hint of a smile on his lips, he drifts into a doze, despite the clatter. He dozes off whilst watching and musing on the day’s events.

   ‘Alarm!’ The cry drifts up the hill, faintly tapering off on the wind, which takes it off to others on the slopes above. They hear it too. Ieuan waits, sitting on his pony expectantly; he is enjoying this exercise in his own territory. He loves these hills. He loves the rich green grass that covers every hill, the clusters of oaks along the valleys, the groves of trees that cap every hilltop, ash, rowan, birch, sycamore, aspen, oak, horse chestnut, hazelnut and wild blackberry. Ieuan looks at his three commanders, Hywel, Tudur and Rhys.

   ‘Now it begins.’ he shouts. They smile back, expectant and eager, and return his greeting,

   ‘Sire!’ another voice intrudes; Ieuan gasps, a woman’s voice, slowly he realises he has beenday- dreaming over the day’s events, reluctantly he answers,

   ‘Yes, what is it?’

He keeps his eyes closed, not wanting to waken.

   ‘Sire, ‘tis time to eat,’ It’s Selena. Ah, Selena! What would I do if Selena wasn’t around, she kept the castle running so well and arranged everything for his convenience. He stiffens his entire body into a long-drawn-out stretch and eases each muscle. He has worked hard this training day and basking in the hall’s warmth had caused him to drop off in slumber.

   ‘Princess Rhiannon is here, Sire.’ He turns to see her seated near him.

‘Good evening,’ he says. She returns his smile, returns his bow with a nod.

    ‘Have you slept well, Sire?’ Not waiting for a reply Rhiannon asks, ‘Did the training go well?’ Ieuan pleased at her interest notices her peculiar Breton intonation, at odds with the local accent, but endearing. He replies gently, enunciating carefully so she will learn and understand.

   ‘Yes, ever so well.’

   He allows his eyes to traverse the room to rest them on the great and antlers fixed above the fireplace an adornment that can surprise visitors to this winter palace come-castle for the antlers measure twelve feet across and weigh around eighty pounds. It stumps his mystics and his physicians when asked, “Where comes such a beast?” and “Is it a kind of dragon that ate men?” For no such animal has ever lived in this land nor in any other land in the greater part of Pretan. Some say it belonged to a dragon, some say it is a gigantic elk, a species that had died out or been over-hunted. Others claim that man is responsible for its demise when man cut down the forests and other argue that such an animal could never have lived in a forest. Its antlers would entangle in the greenery like Absalom, King David’s son of bible fame. Einion paid the man who dug it out of the bog two shillings and told him there was more if he came to him, which he did a year later, with a skull. Einion found it not to be the skull of a dragon, as it has no canines. And so it was settled and Einion, who was and is much respected for his learning, pronounced it ‘Magno Hibernica Alces’–‘The Great Erin Elk,’ and of which everyone thought clever and Einion smirked, such a little learning that can go so far. Then distant Erin relatives who visit do not show surprise to see such an abundance of antlers and say such antlers are common in their land and that they are regularly dug out of peat bogs to the annoyance of the peasants who dig for fuel, as they have to start another line to go around such hindrances.

   Idris and is pleased to see his men are here. Abbot Illtyd has joined the assembly. Ieuan’s physician and counsellor, Einion, stands there too his hair cut in the style of a dryw, coated with lime, which makes it stands up stiff. Streaks of lime have run down from the hair, which gives him a ferocious look, his eyelids blackened with a powder, standing out in contrast with the blue woad on his face. Monks stand by dressed in dark robes, their heads tonsured in the Greek tradition; their haircut and the scalp shaved from the front of the head from ear to ear. Non stands by her master, Einion, a maiden of twenty one years. She 5’-10” tall with blond hair clipped short, unadorned with jewellery and is dressed plainly. She is attractive in her  and has been an apprenticed to drwys when just a teen when her remarkable intelligence had been noted. Her father, Idris is also of a dryw, viewed as a magician of metal. Einion is more a philosopher, Non skilled in healing and augury, some say in time-travel. Men follow a beautiful woman around a room with their eyes, such is Non.

   The three commanders, gwledig - rulers and ulchwrs - landowners, sit below Ieuan and to the side, Hywel army commander, Lord of Buellt and Elfael, Lord Tudur of Margam - garrison commander and Lord Rhys of Gŵyr, archery commander. Ieuan salutes them and they stand and bow.  

   Rhobert, a bard, strides forward dressed in a short robe, reaching to the knees, wearing thick short woollen socks and wooden clogs. He sits beside the great harp and begins to play. Rhobert strums for a while, settling the hall down, and chants out “Ode to the Ancients”

    ‘At the dawn of history, we of the People, entered these Isles from the continent of Europa, we moved around and settled wherever we willed, no one could meet us as equals, not body stopped us, we conquered Rome, they asked for clemency, we travelled as far as Greece and conquered there too. We moved many times, and settled in new lands and built our mountain fortresses and as the great cold winter retreated we crossed the land bridge to these isles to find them virtually uninhabited and now, the waters have come back and we are separate from that great landmass. We moved inland and met ancient men, men wiser than us who inhabited this place before us: civilised men, measurers of the path of the sun, builders of stone, with knowledge of the paths of the stars, the planets, and the times of the seasons. They were different from us, yet we cherished them, and left them alone to live freely. We took uninhabited the land, we lived in peace with them. When they lived in a valley, we inhabited the next valley. Where there was a dispute over pastures we deferred to them because they were ancient, more honourable. So grew a wonderful friendship of two peoples, the old, and the new. We learned from them the working of stone, and of the procession of the heavens, the times of the seasons, and they learned from us the art of smelting bronze, the making of iron from the earth, the working of metals in fine artisanship. Our artisans admired them for their knowledge, and they loved us as children. There was no enmity, God saw to it we behaved as civilised people, and honour flowed between our peoples, and we became the greater for it. We respected them for being ancient, they existed before us and God made them for His purpose, we helped them with our new tools, but eventually, they went the way of all ancients and were seen no more.’

Rhobert pauses for effect, and the hall utters one long, ‘Ah.’ He continues to strum the instrument, warming up his audience. The servants move among the tables, setting out platters loaded with pancakes rolled thin and stacked high. The serving staff queue as the boy slices up the ox and piles onto their serving boards. Rhobert speaks again,

‘Of the Celts, we are the Cymreig - the people. We came from countries around the Mare Nostrum, and from the Danube basin, there were our beginnings. We came from a great people, the continental Celts, we, a people who inhabited the continent of Europe, from Galatia in the east to Iberia in the west. We inhabited the great snow-covered Alps down as far as Italy and traded with all the nations around the Inland Sea. It was a sea highway for us, enabling us to travel to all the countries around that sea, including Pretan. We bought incense from the Phoenicians of Tyre, the great walled city of biblical times. We traded with the Egyptians, the Romans, the Greeks and the Galatians of Asia-Minor. They coveted our gold and our ironworking skills, they wanted our tin ore, our bronze and craft worked metals. We are renowned for our ferocity in battle, our art, our culture, our storytelling and for our ironworking, bronze and gold artisanship; we are the people from a land of dragons and magicians. We are also the land and people of the saints . . .’

The south porch door open and closes after letting in a gust of cold damp air. One of Tudur’s captains hurries to the door. The door opens again and closes again, the curtains move with the draught. Gwilym touches his Prince briefly on the shoulder. Ieuan lets out a quiet sigh. He watches the messenger tell his story.  They move out to one of the ante-rooms. The captain reports to Hywel, he nods to Ieuan before moving off to question the messenger. After, a short period, Hywel reappears and strides over to the throne.

   ‘Sire, there is grave news,’ he whispers.

   ‘What is it, Hywel?’

   ‘It’s best you come and speak to the messenger yourself, Sire.’

Ieuan steps forward to the anteroom where Dewi, a young lieutenant of Rhys, is debriefing the messenger. A coal fire has warmed the room. It has died down to a smouldering heap of red coals. Hywel is recapitulating when Ieuan walks in through the iron-studded door,

    ‘So, Sir Roger gave you the message personally?’

     ‘Yes, Sire, Sir Roger heard the news from some survivors who had hidden from the sais; they took four hours to get help after dawn, and the raids started just before sunset last night, and went on throughout the night. Fifteen farmhouses attacked and children taken,’ Hywel grimaces at the news of the children.

    ‘Yes, Sire, reports have come in of another raid, Y diawi bach - the swine.’ Dewi’s voice falters, the tension ebbs away replaced by silence. Dewi looks grim,