Visit Wales, land of legends.
We called the child Emrys in honour of his Welsh ancestors and in the hope that he would live forever. He lay between us in our bed and we marvelled at his pink perfection.
The feast of the Christian God came and went and so besotted were we with our little man that neither of us wanted to stir from him. It fell to me to bring food and drink back to our rooms and to fend off the well-wishers who sought an audience with the child and his mother.
Nest was protective but within days we could not hold back the women of the court who arrived in their finery and brought their gifts. Nest received them as was the custom from our bed and though she could not prevent them from their cooing and fussing, she forbade them touching our new little prince.
Tightly swaddled he was presented for viewing but as soon as the visitors were gone, she bad me unwrap him and allow his little body to wriggle and stretch.
Nest had sent away the wet nurse who had been called from the village to serve. She was kind and generous, paying the young woman for the task she was determined to undertake herself.
“Not all are like you Olwen,” she told me, adding with a shudder, “Did you see her filthy hands?”
Unsurprisingly, with so much love and attention, our little Emrys thrived but when the priest sent word that the infant must be brought for baptism, she would hear none of it.
I reasoned with her. The Christian custom dictated that the new mother was to remain in her bed for 40 days. Then she would be churched, until that was done she could not go abroad and must stay away from the chapel. The infant could not wait so long. The church feared the devil might claim him.
“Bugger the devil,” Nest muttered furiously, making us both laugh and causing Emrys to startle and squeak.
“None the less,” I reasoned, “it is the custom, and his father will expect you honour the priest with your agreement.”
Nest looked at me long and hard. She knew we had no choice. She made me promise not to let her son from my sight and grumbled mightily about the filthy water in the font and the priests long dirty fingernails and foul breath. To be true, Father Ignatius was not blessed by God in either appearance or manner and his overfond attachment to unwatered wine made him clumsy of both speech and comportment. I watched him like a hawk watches a sparrow and only allowed the old cleric to hold our precious for briefest of moments while he splashed his holy water about.
Emrys wailed mightily, filling the chapel with his protests, and would not desist until he was back safe in his mother’s anxious arms.
I did not dare tell her then of the naming. I waited until she and the infant were calm and content to inform her that her wishes had been ignored. When I told her that I had given the name of the child as Emrys to the priest and that he had brushed me aside, I thought she might explode.
“He told me that the son of the Prince would take his father’s name,” I told her.
I did not add that the priest had spat at the name Nest had chosen for her son, calling it filthy and heathenish.
Nevertheless, she was furious that her wishes had been ignored. While Nest hissed in temper, Emrys began to wail and she checked herself…
“We shall see,” she said, between gritted teeth,
“We shall see.”
So, days passed and, before we knew it, a month and then another came and went. Spring was again rising through the good wet earth. Nest had undergone the Christian churching with reasonable good grace but our real gratitude we expressed to the great Goddess of the earth in the forest, just us three, clothed in moonlight and with stars in our eyes.
Word had come from Henry expressing his pleasure at the birth of his son, and assuring his mistress that she would be honoured upon his return, but it meant little to us. Our lives revolved around the little one who had stolen our hearts.
I could discern his father in him, our little Emrys, enough for there to be no doubt who sired him. In the roundness of his face and the sturdiness of his limbs, he was clearly Henry’s child. Though I loved him with all my heart I could see he would be no beauty, except for his eyes. His eyes were all of his mother and he had only to turn them upon me and smile to melt my very soul.
And so he grew robust and laughing. Nest called him Emrys in defiance of the Priest but I was more wary. In moments alone with him, I whispered into his perfect pink ear the name I knew he would be forced to wear when his father returned,
“Henry,” I told him, in the hope he would not rebel against the inevitable as I feared his mother could not fail to do.
When his father Henry did return it was a glorious spring day and the child was fat and gurgling. We had been told he was on his way, but I was out gathering wild hyacinth for the scent they wear when he arrived. I came upon him in our rooms, mud from his boots trailed across our floor, and the stink of the horse he had ridden hard to be with us, on the air.
He stood in our bed chamber like a great dark shadow, awkward and red faced. Nest’s face was closed and tight but I could not fail to read the reluctance in her eyes as she lifted the child from his crib and placed him into his father’s awkward embrace.
As Emrys wailed, Henry laughed. It was not unkind. He was a soldier and what he heard was the lustiness of his sons lungs. What he felt, as the child stretched and wriggled in the unaccustomed arms, was the strength of his back and the power in his limbs, but Nest’s face grew darker still and I saw her hands reach to snatch her son back, only to be checked by a strength of will that caused her to shake and turn away.
As I busied myself I heard her voice and it was sharper than she realised I am sure.
“ Sir….. our son… I hoped to have him named…”
She did not finish.
Henry was looking into his sons face and the child had ceased to cry. As though some recognition passed between them, our little one opened wide his arms and laughed.
Henry roared with delight. “My son,” he said proudly, “My son Henry.”
“ But sir…”
I tried to attract my girl’s attention. She would not look at me.
“ I hoped to call the boy Emrys; an honoured name among my people. I…”
Henry raised his hand to silence her. I willed with all my might that she would heed him as he spoke.
“Henry,” he said, firmly.
And he handed the boy back into his mother’s arms without even looking at her. I held my breath as he turned away. I felt Nest bristle. The infant squirmed in her arms.
At the door Henry paused. He didn’t look at us. His eyes were fixed awkwardly upon the floor,
“You will come to my chamber later, Lady. After meat.”
And he was gone, leaving only the mud and the pungent smell of horse behind him.
Nest’s face was scarlet. I bade her breathe, but so angry was she that I had to prise her fingers from her son’s protesting body. Freed, she railed about the room until her fury could find no other outlet but in frustrated sobbing.
She would ‘…not go to him, like a dog called to heel.’ She would ‘…name her son as she pleased,’ and so on, and so on.
When her weeping abated, she laid her head in my lap and I stroked her hair. Then I dried her eyes and tamed that hair and helped her dress in her finery for the Prince.
What choices did she have.
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