Historical Fiction Suspense Drama

TW: gore, murder

Emyr was dying. Cedwyn had been his slave for as long as he could remember, his father had been a slave and so had his mother. They had been taken when Emyr and his men had invaded and sacked their land, the land under the mountain. Cedwyn’s father had been a good slave, as good a slave as any man could be when a knife was held to the throat of his wife, or son. And yet, Emyr had grown fond of him and had said, that upon his death, all kin of Dafydd ap Rhys, shall be free. 

   Cedwyn held Ceri close to his chest, her face gently rising and falling with every breath he made. Her dark brown eyes stared off across into the dark of the room, a tear ran down from the corner of her eye to settle in the wisps of hair. Cedwyn pulled a black curl from in front of her eyes and sighed. 

   ‘I’ll be back for you, I promise,’ he whispered. 

   Ceri turned her face away so he couldn’t see her tears, though he could feel their warm touch upon his skin. 

   ‘I love you,’ she whispered. 

   Cedwyn could feel his vision blur, he wiped at his cheek, leaving the back of his hand wet. 

   ‘We’ll have forever,’ whispered Cedwyn. ‘Under the mountain.’

   ‘Will we?’ whispered Ceri.

   Cedwyn leaned his head back on the rush-covered floor and looked up at the beams above. 

   ‘I promise.’

A cough came from across the room. 

   ‘It’ll be morning soon, we should sleep,’ whispered Cedwyn. 

   Ceri turned to face him, tears ran down her cheeks and across her face from two large eyes. Cedwyn held his breath at her beauty. 

   She reached up with her head and kissed him. 


   It wasn’t long till morning, Cedwyn woke to a boot in his side, then another. He jolted upright and looked up to see Owain. A brute of a man, his face scarred by battle, or what could be seen of it from under a great black unruly beard. He reached down and pulled Cedwyn to his feet. 

   ‘Emyr’s not dead yet- there are fields to be plowed.’ 

   Cedwyn glanced across the empty room, Ceri had gone and so had the rest of the slaves. He staggered forward and out of the door into the crisp morning air and looked across the small yard of the compound. 

   Nia, a short girl, plump in figure and round in the face crossed and headed towards the kitchens, a steaming bucket of milk clutched to her bosom. A cockerel cawed far in the distance. 

   Beside the kitchens the hall could be found, home to Emyr, his sons and the few men at arms that could be bought.   Then across from that lay the stables and the slaves’ quarters, that had been Cedwyns home since his birth eighteen winters past. 

   ‘If you are wondering where your bitch is, she’s being humped by Cai,’ said Owain with a wide grin as he beckoned for Cedwyn to follow him to the gateway. Blood gushed through the veins in the sides of Cedwyn’s head as he clenched his hands into fists. 

   But this was normal.

   When Cai had first taken Ceri to his bed, Cedwyn had gone to hit him. He had landed one clean punch across Cai’s ugly face before Owain and his men had beaten him to the ground. Then he had been lashed, his hands bound to stakes and flogged until the skin from his back peeled away and blood streaked down across his naked flesh. It had only been an intervention by Emyr, returning from Mathrafal that had stopped him from being killed. And even then in the following weeks, he received a regular beating, anytime he even motioned rage at his Ceri being taken to Cai’s bed. 

   And now, he cowed like a beaten dog. 

   Two guards heaved open the wooden gates as Owain and Cedwyn approached, trudging forward through the thick mud underfoot, that had been thrown up and churned by the stamping of hooves. 

   A low mist hung across the valley, as they came to its top, looking down from the high perch from the gateway of Emyr’s hall. 

   The Kingdom Of Powys. 

   Down a slight slope, lay the valley’s bed, fields ran along the banks of a shallow stream. In a field sheep grazed, their white coats speckled across the murky brown. 

   ‘You can pull the plow, Elis can help. A few of the children from the village will scare the crows,’ said Owain as they ambled down a narrow path that clung to the side of the hill. 

   He looked back at the hall, the two guards had closed the gate.  Cedwyn still found himself in awe as to how whoever had first built here had managed it. A huge wooden palisade of sharped stakes stretched precariously around one side, that overlooked a steep slope and above the compound, a cliff face loomed. There were caves in the rocks, but very few dared enter them, no one seemed to know how far back they stretched. There had been whispers over the many years that they lead down and out to the back of the hill.

   ‘Stop dreaming, there’s work to be done,’ shouted Owain as he cuffed Cedwyn across his skull. 

   They found Elis at the bottom, joined by two children from the village. Cedwyn had always liked Elis, he held a calm demeanor, one that would put others to rest. But some took this as stupidity, and that would often end with a beating from Cai. Cedwyn noted the black bruise under one of his eyes. 

   ‘Morning Elis’, said Owain as he landed a fist into Elis’s stomach, who bent double and fell to his knees. He gasped and inhaled and looked up resentfully through his long locks of brown hair. 

   The two children laughed.

   ‘Cedwyn, you pull the plow, and Elis you sow the seed.’

   Cedwyn lifted up the plow and heaved it across to the start of a field, he looked out to see that it was fairly narrow, edged on one side by stones and on the other by the stream. This was poor land. 

   ‘We’ll have to be careful beside the water, the ground may be boggy,’ said Cedwyn.

   Elis nodded and picked up the sack of seed.

   The two children stood beside Owain and watched. 

   They began, Cedwyn pulled, his knuckles white and his teeth clenched as the plows blades slowly began to till the soil. Clods of mud began to rise and fall, as behind Elis followed scattering the seeds in the furrows. The two children, known as Iwan and Alys began to jump and shout. A crow in a nearby tree cawed and flew up and off over the top of the trees. 

   It was a long and hard day, showers of rain harassed them, as were they at times blessed by a break in the clouds. Nia at noon bought them down a loaf of bread to break, then after a few minutes, Owain shouted at them to get back to it. 

   As the light began to fade, Owain called a halt, they had plowed eight fields, that stretched across the valley’s floor. Cedwyn looked down at his bloody and bruised hands, open callouses covered his palms. Owain dismissed the children, with a promise of a chicken for their mother as Elis and Cedwyn staggered back up to the compound. 

   Cedwyn leaned back against the wall of the slave hut as Elis placed down beside him a bowl of eel soup. 

   ‘You did well today,’ mumbled Elis, sitting down heavily beside him. 

   ‘Now both of you eat your food. It’ll go cold.’ said Nia.

   Cedwyn looked down at the lukewarm slops in the bowl.

   He had always loved eel soup. 

   ‘How is Emyr?’ asked Cedwyn, through a mouthful of eel, that squelched as his teeth pressed down.

   ‘Not good, I spoke to Beca in the kitchens today, and apparently, he has lost consensus, I can’t imagine it’ll be long,’ replied Nia.

   A dog barked from somewhere in the compound. 

Cedwyn placed his bowl on a stool and stretched out his body and lay. His eyes frantically watching the door for Ceri’s return. 

   Elis and Nia both knew the cause of his unease. For it was the same every night, Cai would not let Ceri leave his side until he had got all he could take. But Cedwyn knew that this night was different, she was normally back by now, or at least she had never been this late.

   Cedwyn tried to stay awake, around him Elis and Nia snored. He could feel his eyes closing, a heaviness slowly creeping and taking hold of his eyelids forcing him to shut them. But where was Ceri?


   Cedwyn knew Cai’s laugh, and it was that, which woke him. He stood towering over him, his long blonde hair falling down across his shoulders, his dark brown eyes, so wide and full of hatred. 

   Beside him stood his brothers, Aled and Jac, both as ugly and just as stupid as Cai. They laughed as they bent down and took hold of Cedwyn’s ankles and pulled. 

   ‘I fucked your whore,’ said Cai as he kicked open the wooden door and dragged Cedwyn out into the night. If Elis and Nia had heard anything, they had decided it was best that they had not. 

   Cedwyn came to a stop in the center of the compound, he lay cold and shivering, his body covered in mud and dirt. Cai kicked hard down across his head, sending him in a daze, to fall on his front. 

   ‘Get a horse Aled,’ said Cai. 

   Emyr must have died thought Cadwyn as another boot struck his stomach. He gasped as the air was cast from his lungs. 

   Jac pulled off Cadwyns trousers 

   A foot pressed down onto his cock. 

   ‘He won’t be needing that anymore,’ said Jac as he slid a small knife from its sheath. 

   ‘Let him keep it, he’ll need it to fuck the animals of the forest,’ shouted a voice. Cadwyn had not noticed Owain so far, but now he was grateful that he was there to offer some mercy. 

   A horse was brought out from the stable, it kicked and stamped its hooves as Cai lifted himself up onto the saddle. A rope was bound around Cadwyns legs and its end handed up to Cai who kicked his horses’ flanks and galloped forward out of the open gates. 

   Cadwyn’s world went black. 


The gold and red lions of Gwynedd fluttered in the wind. 

Cadwyn had never seen it before, but it was as his father had described. The banner of his people. 

   ‘He looks dead- no wait he’s awake,’ said a voice. 

    Cadwyn looked up to see a helmeted face staring down at him. 

   ‘Water,’ whispered Cadwyn faintly. 

   ‘Ale will have to do, I’m afraid,’ said the man.

   A mailed arm lifted up the back of his head and another poured ale into his mouth. Cadwyn could feel the life returning to his body. 

   ‘Who is he?’ came another voice, deep and demanding in its tone.

   ‘I don’t know my lord king,’ said the man. 


   Cadwyn could see him now, a tall man, dressed in a shirt of polished mail and a red cape dashed around his shoulders. A beard protruding out from his chin. A crown of gold atop his head. 

   ‘I need to save Ceri,’ whispered Cadwyn. 

   ‘Who’s Ceri?’ asked the king.

   ‘The girl I love,’ replied Cadwyn wearily. ‘I promised I’d take her home, below the seat of the giants.’

   ‘Cadair Idris?’ said the man. 

   ‘Yes’ replied Cadwyn. 

   ‘Where is she?’ asked the King.

   ‘At Emyr’s hall on the hill,’ replied Cadwyn. 

   ‘Ah,’ replied the King. ‘Steffan, get him some trousers.’ 

   ‘Yes Lord,’ replied a voice further back. 

   Cadwyn slowly got to his feet, his legs were cut and bloody. He looked up to see the mass of an army marching through the trees, hundreds of men. Some on horseback, men carrying longbows of ash, then men who held proudly shields and spears that glinted in the morning sun that broke through the canopy above. 

   ‘Who was that?’ asked Cadwyn to the helmeted man who had given him the ale, they both looked after the King as he got on a horse and motioned his arm forward for the army to follow. 

   ‘Rhodri Ap Merfyn, King Of Gwneydd and Powys,’ replied the solider. Cadwyn gaped in awe at his savior. 

   ‘Of Powys?’ asked Cadwyn. 

   ‘Your king, Cyngen has died and now the throne is ours,’ said the soldier. 

   ‘He was no king of mine, that is now my king,’ said Cadwyn, as he nodded towards Rhodri as he rode away through the trees.

   Trousers were found, that luckily fit and a spare pair of shoes, Cadwyn was hurt, but he could still walk. He wondered to himself how in God’s name had he survived Cai’s wrath. But he had and now he followed an army. Cadwyn soon realised the direction in which the army was marching, at first they followed the stream up the valleys floor until the army poured out onto the newly plowed fields. 

   Cadwyn could make out men atop the ramparts of Emyr’s hall, then he realised that it was now Cai’s hall. The banner of a bear billowed in the wind-down from the compound’s gateway. 

   A man on horseback weaved his way through the throng of men towards Cadwyn and stopped abruptly. 

   ‘The King wishes to speak to you.’ 

   Cadwyn hesitated, around him the men at arms and archers looked on with baffled expressions. 

   ‘To me?’ asked Cadwyn. 

   ‘Yes, follow me,’ replied the rider. 

   Cadwyn followed. 

   Rhodri stood his mailed arms rested on his hips looking up the steep slope at the wooden palisade. He turned to see Cadwyn and smiled. 

Two guards, dressed in fine mail stepped forward, their hands on the hilts of their swords as Cadwyn approached. Rhodri waved them back. 

   ‘I am glad to see that my men have found you some trousers,’ said Rhodri, evidently pleased with himself. 

Cadwyn dropped to one knee and bowed his head. 

   ‘My Lord, I thank you- I wanted to say that I am not of Powys but of Gwynedd, my father and mother were taken as sla-’ began Cadwyn.

   Rhodri stepped forward and placed his hands on Cadwyn’s arms and lifted him up. ‘I am pleased that you are of my people, but now I need your help.’

   ‘My help?’ asked Cadwyn, his mouth wide. 

   ‘The Kingdom is rightfully mine, but there are those who do not agree,’ said Rhodri as he pointed up the hill to the hall. ‘You came from here? Before we found you?’

   Cadwyn nodded. 

   ‘I was born there, I have lived on the hill for eighteen winters,’ replied Cadwyn. 

   ‘A slave?’ asked Rhodri. 

   Cadwyn paused, ‘Yes, but I was freed.’ 

   ‘The men up there now freed you?’ asked Rhodri. 

   ‘Yes and no, my old master died and it was on his wish that I be freed, but his son Cai wished me dead-’

   ‘-So he left you to die in the woods, I think I get the picture,’ said Rhodri. He began to pull at the hairs on his chin, as he looked up towards the men that now crowded the palisade. 

   ‘It would save a lot of lives if you could get me inside,’ said Rhodri.

   Cadwyn scratched his head, ‘When I was a child, there was talk of a girl, a slave called Sioned, who had found a way through the caves at the back of the hill to escape, but I don’t know what happened to her.’ 

   ‘Then we shall look,’ said Rhodri. ‘Steffan take-’


   ‘Take Cadwyn and some of the men and see if you can find an entrance at the hills far side. 

   Steffan nodded, ‘Yes Lord,’ and motioned for Cadwyn to follow. 

With twenty men they made their way across the fields, through the woods, and over the leaf-covered earth until they came to the back of the hill. It was a sharp incline, scattered with grass and large boulders. The twenty men, all clad in mail and tunics spread out. 

   Cadwyn made his way high up the bank to where he guessed the cliff face was level with the hall. Then he saw it. A small gap in the rock face, big enough for a small man to squeeze through. 

   ‘I’ve found it,’ said Cadwyn to the nearest man. 

   They reported back to Rhodri who set the plan, Cadwyn and two men were to sneak into the compound at dusk and attempt to open the gates to let the army in. Cadwyn felt the insides of his stomach churn at the thought of confronting Cai and his men, but he knew he had to do this for Ceri.

   Dusk fell, the lights of the army’s fires glowed dully under a blanket of clouds as Cadwyn led the two men, Tomos, and Rhys to the hole in the rock. With suppressed grunts, they managed to slide sideways through and out into a wide chamber. It was dark, but Cadwyn felt confident that he could guide them out. 

   It was slow progress but eventually, they heard the low laughter and shouts from the hall. They edged ever closer, then they saw a glint of light at the end of the passage. Cadwyn recognised the stacked barrels and crates of the kitchen storeroom. He knelt and crept over to hide behind one of the barrels. The room was empty, a fire burning in the hearth of the room. The three of them crossed to the kitchen doorway, Cadwyn picked up a slice of ham from the table’s top and ate it hungrily. Tomos creaked open the door. 

   ‘There’s the gate,’ whispered Cadwyn. 

   A guard stood pissing to one side of it as another sat dozing. 

   ‘You’d think that they would be more alert, with an army on their doorstep,’ whispered Rhys. 

   ‘Ready?’ asked Tomos. ‘Stay back Cadwyn, but help us with the bar.’

   They nudged the door open wide and walked towards the gateway. 

Rhys buried a knife into the back of the pissing man, his hand smothering any cries of death. Tomos plunged his blade into the dozing guard’s heart, his hand cupping the blood that flowed from his mouth. Laughter came from the hall.

   Cadwyn ran over and began to lift the bar, it was heavy but he could just about manage it. Rhys helped him heave it clear and pull the gates wide. Then they came, the men of Gwynedd, slowly at first and hidden by the shadow of the cliff above but once the gate had opened they flooded through like an unstoppable wave. 


   Cadwyn stooped and picked up a sword from one of the dead guards as Rhodris warriors swarmed past. He joined them as they crashed through the doors to the hall and began the slaughter.  Owain stood, but a sword’s edge took off the top of his head splashing brains to the rush-covered floor. Then Aled was next, a swords point protruded from his back as he hugged his killer. Jac lay dead, the entrails from his stomach sloshed out across the table. 

   Then Cadwyn heard Ceri scream. 

He ran to the back of the hall, to where Cai slept, he lay dying on the floor, his hands clutching frantically to a gaping bloody hole in his throat. His eyes looking up pleadingly for help. Cadwyn stepped over him and dragged a man, drunk on killing off Ceri. Cadwyn held up the sword and pointed it at the enraged man. 

   Rhodri entered the room. 

   Ceri looked with wide eyes from her Cadwyn to Rhodri. 

   ‘Go with god Cadwyn, take her, and be free.’ 

   He hurled a purse of coin to Cadwyn, who caught it and nodded.

   ‘Thank you, Lord.’

Cadwyn didn’t hesitate, he bent down and took Ceri by the hand, and went. He still held the sword in his hand as he walked into the yard, past the bodies of Elis and Nia. He did not stop. He did not look back.  As the flames rose from the halls thatched roof, he took Ceri in his arms. She leaned up and kissed him.

   ‘Are we going to the mountain?’ 

   ‘Yes, my love.’





June 09, 2021 13:14

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