Song Of The Mountains/Anne Ireland
Coming From Eternal Press in November
They were swimming towards her, racing each other and calling out excitedly in the way young men will, reminding Morwenna of her young brothers who sometimes swam in the lake near her home at Bala. As they came nearer, she saw their shoulders were naked and realised they must have removed much of their clothing before plunging into the water. One of them had reached the bank a short distance from where she was sitting. He had not seen her because of the reed bed that partially obscured her and them.
She had a clear view of the man, who hauled himself from the river and stood shaking his long hair like a hound, the droplets sparkling in the sunshine as they flew around him. He was completely naked. His strong, muscled body open to her curious gaze as he stood laughing at his friend, clearly unashamed of his unclothed state and pleased to have won his race.
He was beautiful! Morwenna drank in the sight of his power and grace. The colour of his skin seeming to indicate this was not the first time it had been exposed to the elements, gleaming wetly like pale copper in the sun’s rays.
The sun had risen over the Black Mountains these three hours or more, sweeping through the valley, reaching the gloomy old manor house built of stone into the ridge at the far end, but scarcely penetrating its thick walls.
The house was always cold, had been cold ever since she was brought here as a bride, Maire, Lady of Gruffudd thought, shivering and pulling her shawl about her shoulders.
She was thin and beginning to stoop a little, though she had not yet passed her thirty-fourth summer. She had been fourteen when she was wed to Dafydd Gruffudd, fifteen when her son was born–the only son to survive though she had borne three more and a daughter, all dying in infancy. In the end, her husband had named her a barren cow and sought his pleasures elsewhere.
Walking into her son’s bedchamber, Maire’s nose wrinkled in disgust. The stench of sweat, stale urine, and ale made the air thick in this tiny cell, which was separated from the Great Hall by a curtain of leather. She looked down at the man snoring on his straw pallet for a moment, before taking the pitcher she had brought with her and dashing icy water into his face.
The effect was instantaneous. He spluttered and jerked, starting up with an oath as his hand went instinctively to the sword lying on the floor by his side. Anger sparked in the bright blue eyes as he saw the reason for his rude awakening.
"In God’s name, Mother! Why did you do that?"
"The day is wasting while you snore abed, Morgan Gruffudd. ‘Tis time you rose. Besides, there’s a messenger come from Owain Glyn Dwr himself. Will you show discourtesy to Owain?"
"Owain has sent a messenger to me?" The expression in Morgan’s eyes was suddenly wary, suspicious. "Why should he bother after all this time?"
They had expected to hear something from Maire’s kinsman after the death of Dafydd Gruffudd. The two men had not been exactly enemies, but it was accepted within the family that they had had no love for each other. Had it been otherwise, Morgan might have been sent into the lord of Glyndyfrdwy’s service long ago. He was now almost nineteen years of age, and apart from trips into the mountains and forests that bounded his home. To his mother’s knowledge, he had never been further than Tintern Abbey, Chepstow, or to the Eisteddfod with his father. They had both hoped for a summons after Dafydd died, but the word had not come in two long years. Two years, Morgan had subsequently spent drinking, fighting, and whoring in the neighbouring valleys with his friends.
"How should I know why he sends his messenger?" Maire asked, though she was well aware that Owain Glyn Dwr’s man had come in response to her plea for help. She had despaired of her son, known throughout the lordship of the Brecon as Morgan the Rogue, realising that she had no hope of curbing his wild ways. The small manor was falling into ruin through neglect. Morgan promised always to do whatever she asked the next day and did nothing. If, as she hoped, her kinsman had exercised his rights to take Morgan into his service, the care of the manor would be left in Maire’s capable hands. The land in this southern valley was fertile and sweet; left to her management it would yield a good living for Maire and her dependants. "I suggest you make yourself decent and discover his purpose for yourself."
Morgan had risen from his bed. Despite his indolence of late he was a fine figure of a man, over six feet in height and broad in the shoulder with strong, muscled thighs and a mane of dark hair about his face, his chin dark for want of a shave this past week. A week that Maire suspected he had spent in the bed of some whore.
"If Glyn Dwr has sent a messenger to me I’d best not keep him waiting."
"You’ll not go like that!" Maire pulled a face. "He’ll think you a barbarian!"
"Would you have me dress like an English jay, Mother?" Morgan scowled at her. "You must know that ‘tis said across the border, all Welshmen are barbarians. Why should I be different?"
"You could at least put on a clean tunic and hose."
Maire shook her head as Morgan ignored her and walked into the hall, scratching beneath his armpits. Her son’s habits did not come from her, for she was a clean, industrious woman and had done her best to raise Morgan as a good Christian. There were many in the valleys to listen to the bards sing of the old mythology, but Maire was not one of them.