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Gwenllian - His-Fic (1800 words)


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Whilst researching some medieval Welsh history, I came across the tale of something that happened in south Wales in 1136CE. Inspired to no end, I set about writing my own interperetation.


Hope you enjoy!






Gwen rolled her eyes at the amusing sight of Daf backing away, bowing his head as he went. Every time she so much as hiccuped, Daf would panic and ready himself to proclaim her as dead. He was a worrier, which did him no good at his age. She’d told him too many times to count that he’d be dead before her if he didn’t calm his poor heart.

She lifted her foot to have a look at the underside. There was no blood drawn, but the thorn sat quite happily sunken in all the way. She suspected it was likely proud of itself for the feat and would no doubt cause her a nasty festering in time.

She picked out the thorn with her fingernails and lifted her head to look upon the marching army. They moved across the land like a great lake, their weapons and their armour glistening in the sun with a cloud of pale dust rising up into the clear, blue sky—and all of it accompanied by the thunderous rumble of countless footsteps. It was glorious.

From her spot on the hill, she could just make out their destination only a few miles distant with a dark blemish upon the land lay before it. She wondered if the enemy were now waging war on the world itself, destroying the land and tearing its very face away.

She caught Daf’s eye and ordered him to send another scout forth. He bowed and jogged on ahead...

* * * * *

Milady!” cried Daf as he rushed Gwen’s way, “the scout reports a vast host gathered between us and the castle!”

Gwen felt her mouth opening and face running cold. She’d not expected this. The reports had claimed the nearest Norman army was engaged with her husband’s campaign three days to the east and that she’d be able to take the castle with ease. Someone had lied.

“Your orders, milady?” said Daf with his usual look of panic, only this time quite appropriate.

She rubbed her face, accidentally scratching her nose with a damaged link in the chainmail. It hurt, but her mind wasn’t interested and she didn’t react. She looked over to her army, heartbroken. If she led them forth, they’d certainly be crushed. If she ordered a retreat and cancelled the campaign, they’d lose faith in her resolve and never follow her again.


“Yes,” she said, trying to hide her thoughts, “a moment please, Daf.”

“Of course, milady. But please don’t dally, the enemy closes.”

She turned to look him in the eye and found herself unable to. He expected the same greatness in her as the men did. “A horse, if you please, Daf,” she said.

“A horse, milady?” Daf looked quite puzzled by her request.

“Yes!” she barked, “a f***ing horse I said! Now!”

Daf shuddered and her bodyguards looked to each other with surprise. Never before had she raised her voice with anger. She’d always been the calm one, cool-headed and wise.

As Daf headed-off to fetch a horse as fast as he could, she closed her eyes and swallowed a lump in her throat. She felt guilty for it. The man had a heart of gold and he’d not deserved her rage.

He returned very quickly with a tan-coloured destrier, caparisonned with unknown arms of yellow and white. Noticing the horse was quite unsettled by being snatched away from his master, she gave him a reassuring stroke of his nose and hushed softly into his ear before climbing onto his back.

She brought the horse about and reached her hand down to Daf’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, good friend,” she said. “My rage is not towards you. I hope you can forgive my outburst.”

Daf smiled warmly and he placed his hand on hers. “I’ve already forgotten it, child,” he said. “Now, to where do you ride?”

“I need a moment in my own council. Alone. I shan’t be long.”

“I understand. The guards and I will watch over you from afar.”

Gwen brought the horse to a gallop in the direction of some nearby woods...

* * * * *

It would have been silent, if not for a stream springing from a rock and into a pond, right in the middle of the woods. Gwen realised she was thirsty and removed her armour, dismounted the horse and tied him to the branch of a nearby sycamore.

As she came near to the water, she removed her head-wear and shook loose her long brown hair. The shade from the trees was quite pleasant and the cool air washed over her scalp and the tops of her ears.

She sat down on a large rock at the water’s edge, sinking her dirty, bare feet into the crystal-clear pool. The filth of the marching came away from her skin as light-brown clouds when she wriggled her toes, fizzing gently on the surface. It felt wonderful, especially around the wound underneath her right foot. She wet her hair and rinsed her face and neck, followed by a handful or two to drink.

She lay beside the pool for a moment, resting her head onto her arms and gazing up at the treetops. The peace was exactly what she needed...

* * * * *

The Normans were in gathered in great numbers and, despite their size, were moving very quickly. She was impressed, no matter how much she hated them. They knew the ways of war like no-one else, executing campaigns with a precision and perfection unheard of before that fateful day at Hastings. Her grandfather was there, allied with the English for the good of the land. He’d survived and returned home to tell tales of terrifying horsemen with madness in their eyes, crying out all manner of insults and promises of harm to the families of every man who stood before them. They lived for war, lived for the slaughter and lived for the conquest, caring not for the innocent nor the weary. Their most terrifying warriors were the nobles themselves, trained in the art of death from childhood and equipped with the finest weapons and armour that money could afford. Some folk claimed they were destined to conquer the world, to enslave its peoples and destroy their cultures. Others claimed they were the armies of Satan himself, destined to clash with the gathered armies of God at the world’s end, their very coming signalling the beginning of the end. Gwen didn’t believe this herself, she thought it quite fanciful. To her, the Normans were but invaders with blackened hearts—and it was her destiny to unite the Britons and stop them, once and for all.

She’d resolved to battle. Several miles earlier, they’d passed over a hill with swampland at its foot, flanked by thick woodland and rocky ground. They’d position themselves defensively atop the hill and the Normans would be forced to engage on foot, denying them of their dreadful cavalry charge.

That was Gwen’s plan, at least. For it to work, they’d need to reach the hill before the Normans reached them. But if they moved too fast, her men could be too tired to fight and the Normans would hold the advantage of fresh legs, having travelled mostly by horseback.

She told Daf to execute the order. Daf jogged ahead and a moment later, horn blasts echoed around the army, spreading the word to turn back. She took a deep breath and looked to God, hoping he’d forgive her if she was leading the men to doom...

* * * * *

Clouds had begun to gather above as they approached the hill and by the time they reached it, the sky was dark. It was surely an omen, but to whom did it signal? Before Hastings, it was said a curious star appeared in the sky, signalling the doom of England. Gwen told herself that today was hers and that the omen, if it was indeed an omen, was for the Normans.

The bowmen lined the top of the hill and the shieldmen formed a tight wall half-way up the southern slope. At the foot of the hill, some twenty paces from the edge of the swamp, three ranks of armsmen waited to cut down any Norman who’d make it so far. They were sure to win, the terrain was absolutely in their favour and they’d exploited all the tactical advantages it offered. They were sure to win, she told herself yet again.

As the Norman force began to assemble their ranks at the far side of the swamp, she readied herself to give a speech for the men...

* * * * *

Brave warriors!” cried Gwen. She’d gotten herself another horse and thanked its master this time. Over the horse she’d thrown one of her husband’s banners as a makeshift caparison. She’d tied her hair back tightly into a single, thick braid, with thistles and daisies tucked under the sides of her delicate, wooden crown. Over her shoulders she’d draped another banner to wear as a cape. She looked every bit the princess she was, wife of the prince of Deheubarth, lady of the brave warriors before her, bringer of vengeance and freedom for her people.


“In the skies above,” she continued, “the clouds gather to darken the day. I’ve heard the whispers and rumours amongst you, claiming it’s an omen to warn us of our doom. My brave warriors, I’ll tell you this: the omen is in our favour.


“The Norman raiders have pillaged your homes. They’ve defiled your sisters, they’ve defiled your daughters, they’ve defiled your mothers and your mothers’ mothers. Today our vengeance will cast them back across the channel from whence they came, daring not to tread upon our island ever again!”


The army cheered, raising their swords and clanging their shields. Gwen’s horse flinched and tried his best to back away from the noise, but she tightened the reigns and stroked his mane to calm him down.


When the cheer settled down, she looked into the eyes of every soldier she could, smiling and succumbing to the great feelings of pride welling in her throat. “Today’s victory will be sang of for generations to come—the song of the brave men who stood firm atop this hill; the song of the brave men who stood firm before great odds; the song of the brave men who brought forth sixty long years of vengeance and won freedom for their people!


“Fight them with all your heart, my brave warriors! Let them feel every last ounce of your vengeance! Let their children feel it! Let their childrens’ children feel it! Let every single one of the bastards feel it! Win the day! Win your vengeance! Win your freedom!”


The army cheered again, louder than anything she’d ever heard in her life. “Gwenllian!” they cried. “Gwenllian!” they cried again. She raised her own sword and looked over them, sobbing with pride as her army cried out her name, over and over again...





Footnote: What happened after the events in this tale?



Unfortunately, there's not a happy ending. Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd's forces were utterly crushed in the battle and herself and one of her sons were beheaded in the fields right afterwards.


At the spot where she fell, there is said to be a spring that still flows to this day!


More truthfully, for centuries afterwards, as late as during the revolt of Owain Glyndwr, Welsh troops would cry out before battle, "revenge for Gwenllian!"


She is the only woman known to have led a Welsh army into battle. Ever.


She also participated in a series of "lightning raids" with her husband in the years leading up to the battle.


One hell of a brave lass in my eyes and, despite all her warrior connotations, she was reputed to have been strikingly beautiful!


Please note that she is often confused with another princess Gwenllian (Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn) who lived about a century later.



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