Cedric Juggins of Brynbuga awakened slowly to the soft September dusk. He had been dreaming of twilight and his footfalls into the real world from that of dream were uncertain. Stars had begun to shine on both sides of the gateway and he gently called to the creatures of the Otherworld to follow his passage. They did not, save one. He found himself alone on the flat stone whereupon he had slept since sunset. The surrounding fields seemed empty but the song of a blackbird remained with him although he searched the sky in vain for the shadows of its wings.

Bryant, his father, called him Cedric the Singer. Plans of a strong son to take oxen to plough and follow his sire’s furrow upon his own land had not fallen on good ground. The valley was moist and harvests plentiful but work was needed, as was a knowing of the way things are. Cedric, in truth, would do his share of cultivating, however it seemed as if he were but half there. His language and song were gained from the old ones who spoke of faery influence. Bryant had little patience with this. Faery was gone, if it had ever existed. The Church was here now, it set the beliefs, said pagan ways were wrong. Besides, the Abbot paid him to till and help with the herd. No inhabitants of the Otherworld came running to put coin in his purse.

“His mother’s doing,” thought Bryant. His wife’s blood he believed to carry her mother’s madness but, despite their foolishness, their doings patterned daily events as the wind moves the waves ashore. Women had always woven the family fabric. Their cradlesongs spoke of hinds, not bulls, and following them through the woods. Not to hunt for food but to find paths to enchanted places. These stories may have lingered long with girl children but the heat of manly contact soon burned them from the hearts of growing boys to make way for truer tales.

Except Cedric, who followed the woodland paths, seeking roads that none other could find, directions not known to the sun and moon. His one interest in things practical was his friendship with Anyon, the smith, who would instruct him at the forge. Cedric’s features came alive in the glow of hot coals, his gaze intent on the red metal’s resistance, release and reshaping. Anyon, whom God had not blessed with a son, was content with the help and companionship. Bryant was grudgingly pleased with the benefits that this companionship brought to his tack but wondered whence came Cedric’s skill. He seemed not stout in shoulder yet Bryant, for all his strength, could not conform iron to his will as could this willowy youth.

Anyon was also a storyteller; his family for generations had kept and passed the old tales.

The first harvest had been gathered early this year, fruit of a blessed summer. This evening had no urgent call to tasks so Cedric, as was his wont, could wander under the emerging stars and pause by a calm dew pond. Cowcombe Pool was a black mirror in which the waning moon and Arthur’s plough were reflected. Cedric sat motionless beneath an oak and pondered the seasons to come. Would he bear fruit like the trees and fields of this summer past or be stripped like those in the year of his parents’ marriage? He was on the cusp now as he had been at his birth.

Suddenly a reflection moved in the pool, the branch of a December tree come too early; the surrounding birch held yet their leaves. It was the antler of a stag that had emerged to drink. Even in the low light the fullness of his rack and heavy throat mantle bespoke the power that comes at this season of rut. This is the time of new beginnings the effects of which would be seen only with the greening when winter fled the hills.

Cedric watched the magnificent beast slake his thirst then look, open –mouthed toward him as if sensing his presence, before passing through the portal of birches toward the point of the sun’s departure. This was surely an omen, a sign of good things to come, a time for engagement and advance. But what the deeds and in which direction?

The waters of Cowcombe Pool exited gently by the beck to join others, flowing eventually into the channel at Stoor Sound. Anyon had told him that none could fathom the depth of the Sound and old folk spoke of a dragon that lived in its most profound regions. Its rare appearances brought to the surface elements of the deep that could be scented in the sea wind.

In the long unused boar track a lone frog sounded a note of longing. The first frost would soon chase away this song and the marsh would be silent until the many voices of spring echoed from water and earth to sky. This note blended with the chord sounding in Cedric’s heart. He knew now his labor if not his creation, his direction if not his path. He rose and returned home, knowing what winter would bring.


In the shed the churn stood empty of milk. The guardian frog had gone and Bò had stopped giving milk nigh on six weeks now. Samhuinn was not far off and she would not be among those that would winter in the valley this year but be led to slaughter.

Bò might not be the only one from the household not to see Spring arrive.

‘Tis seeing the path of the adders I am. ‘Tis passing through their rock, I’ll be.

Are you so sure, Mother?

I feel the weight of the stone within me.
Your father formed it.
His clay was once fine but now it has hardened and cracked inside.
Sharp edges are everywhere.
Pieces fall when I move.
Dust is in my mouth when I breathe.
Soon dust is all I’ll be.

I’ll bring you water from the willow spring where I saw the three frogs at Beltane
You’ll not be angering the priest with the olden ways. I have his water to sprinkle and his words for a guide.

His mother was right; the priest angered easily. She had been so often canny in seeing the approaching death of others. Was she as certain about her own?

Grandmother had been certain about hers, walking out on a Winter’s night and being found on the morrow in Jacob’s pond.

Is there anything that you want before I go to the loft?

The wraith-like figure did not move on the cot. Her eyes stayed closed but she moaned softly.

I’ll be needing nothing tonight. Soon I’ll be needing even less.

May your night be peaceful.


The loft was a hawk’s nest to Cedric. From here he could see the roundness of the hills, covered with snow and bathed by rain, clothed in maiden green and draped in crone’s brown. It seemed as if all life’s directions were in view, those that had been and those that were yet to be.

He ate some cheese and a loaf given by Anyon after the yoke had been completed this morning. The shape of the formed iron stayed in his mind. The wrought piece was strong, noble, looking as if it had been thus from the beginning of time. And yet before the fire, it was dull and indistinct. But the fire, reddening, purification, softening, becoming – this was the art.

Latches and bolts, deftly beaten and inscribed with animal shapes, hung from the rafters in his loft. These would be sold in due course. One horseshoe, the first he had ever made, was nailed over the lintel for good fortune. Oh, to have a white horse with stout shoes to travel the land, meet the townsfolk and hear their stories.

The nobles would gird themselves with fine armour and bear trusty steel. One skilled with fire and hammer might make his way on many roads and see valleys other than this. An idea was forming like a rod on the anvil. It had been heated in the forge of longing, beaten with the hammer of courage which was held in the hand of compassion.

The glow faded as Cedric drifted to sleep but there was a direction to be taken in the coming year. His dreams were of Gofannon, combining earth’s elements, making tools for persons yet unknown and wandering to the blackbird’s song.


Suspicion and fear hung like smoke under the low cloud of Moel-bryn. Gilbert de Clare was disputing landlines with the Bishop of Hereford and his Norman cohorts had little respect for those whose roots grew deep in this land. Llewellyn was seen as the natural chief by those whose families had always made their lives in these hills. Those with the new language and new ways initially had remained close to the towns but now their influence was being felt throughout the land.

Into the town, early in the morning, Cedric drew his cart, a payment from Anton for extra work during the cold weather. This was his furthest wandering and he asked the few persons he passed on muddy paths where a smith might ply his trade in this region. The replies were not encouraging until the horse of a well-dressed gentleman with a different manner of speech crossed his path. To Cedric’s polite and tentative question the rider responded that one who worked in metal might find a place at the Castle by Shire Ditch. He gave directions that Cedric gratefully accepted and immediately followed.

The Angelus bells could be heard in the distance as Cedric drew closer to the battlements. Never before had he seen a building this imposing. The slowing of his steps on the hill toward the gate was due not only to the mud, but also to a sense of trepidation. Confidence that had been securely contained in Brynbuga seemed to leak away in this new landscape.

The guardian at the gate questioned him in a manner that made him wonder whether his journey might go no further in this direction. But a recounting of the conversation with the horseman resulted in a call to a young man sitting in the shadow of the gate.

Take this apprentice to George and tell him that he is here by direction of Sieur Marc.

This way.

The gate, massive of stone, led to a courtyard. Against the high stone walls stood several wooden outsheds, most with thatched roofs. One had a roof of slate and a tall chimney from which smoke was rising. To this shed the young courier brought Cedric. An enormous man, thick of black hair and beard, and clad in darkened leather was loading coals within.

The Squire says that Sieur Marc sent this apprentice here.

Ah! And what be your name and place, lad?

Cedric Juggins of Brynbuga.

And what be your business here?

A smith’s trade I have been learning and seek a chance to serve.

So be it! ‘Tis not large you are but we’ll see what these hands can do. Have you eaten this morn?

Thank you. Some bread I took on the path mid-morning.

A little more’n that will be needed if you’re going to work here, lad. Boy, take Cedric Juggins of Brynbuga to Mary in the kitchen and say that I want him to have a full belly so he can do a day’s work.

Mary provided a steaming bowl of stew on the dooryard step and Cedric ate, realizing his hunger was greater than he had allowed on his walk. Having eaten his fill, he returned to George, eager to prove himself to this wooly giant.


The glowing heat of the forge was a first homecoming to Cedric, a warmth and attraction he had not found in the hut where he was raised.

Smaller man, smaller metal, smaller hammer, smaller kettle.

George laughed like the lowing of a bull but there seemed to be no malice in his outlook. With a chortle he handed Cedric a long, slender iron spike and a lump that was the size and shape of a goose egg.

What might you be making with these, lad? Show me your art.

Cedric hauled the bellows until the coals shimmered. The dried leather made the sound of the owl he had heard on his rest the night before his arrival. Among the whiting redness of the coals, two cooler spots regarded him like the knowing eyes of the owl, the penetrating stare of the crone, she who must be appeased.

With the tongs he held the spike to heat until it wore a cape of light and was ready for change. The tip he inserted into a small hole in the stonework, close to the edge of a block. It bent sharply and he held it firm with other tongs while he bore pressure on the far end. With repeated heat and pressure the end gradually circled the center until a spiral emerged. A sharp blow with a small spike opened the top to make way for a lanyard before the object was thrown into a water bucket. A hanging spiral of death and rebirth came to the surface.

Without looking up, Cedric seized the egg-shaped iron and plunged it into the coals. Repeated twisting and beating with a sharp-edged poker produced a cap on the slender end. Cedric was unaware of the passage of time as he encircled the object with ridges like hair and a beard framing a head. Again he worked the small spike, this time on the smooth surface. Four or five passes only were necessary to manifest the dead man’s head. The top of this offering too was opened for the lanyard before it plummeted into the water bucket.

Cedric strung the cooled metal with leather strips and hung the two offerings on a branch over the door. Only then did he turn to face George who had been watching in silence.

Blessed Blood! ‘Tis a magician you are, not a smith. You’ll stay here to work with me but it’ll be tools and armour you’ll be making. You’d best be careful with these offerings for the old ways. The masters and mistresses here don’t take kindly to things outside Rome’s teachings. Owls be nailed to the stalls now as the Devil’s bird.

I’ll serve as you wish.

Mind you, there be some who might be taken with votives not bound for the saints and martyrs.

George turned with a wink and a question to a maiden clad in fine skin who arrived and placed on his bench a basket of small blades. Pointing to the newly fashioned hangings, he asked,
Would you hang these on a branch outside your window?

Offerings to Cailleach from the castle forge? Take them I shall with gratitude and a little surprise.

‘Prentice Cedric here may go cross-eyed, one eye looking to the new way, t’other to the old life.

The young woman, turning to leave, gave Cedric a smile and a questioning look. He, unsure of the person and the response sought, said nothing, simply inclining his head as she left.

That was Olwen, daughter of Llewellyn, my lad. You have done well to impress her. But now take your mind from faery and remake that broken chest-plate. You’ll be doing summat useful for someone in this world. Ha!

The chest-plate was fixed flawlessly as would be all items that were placed in Cedric’s hands.


Cedric learned of the community not only from George but also from the gossip of those who visited the forge and those who supped with him on the kitchen step.

Llewellyn was revered by all who had no Norman affiliation. He had lost his wife after the birth of their first child. Although he eventually remarried, having no elder son, he taught Olwen traditional ways and wisdom in dealing with the occupiers. She was his ears and tongue among the outlying villages and his eyes upon the Normans among whom she could pass without the suspicion elicited by his presence.

The surrounding villages had farmed and kept their flocks for as far back as memory extended, even before the time of the Romans. Now the newcomers grazed their many livestock on the common lands until the soil showed through the grass. They also exacted payments in produce in return for “protecting the land and keeping the peace”, a phrase that was spat contemptuously from the lips of the locals.


Tell me of yourself, ‘Prentice Cedric.

Olwen was making one of her regular visits and George was absent, having injured his hand while holding a horse.

In truth, there is little to tell. I am but a simple fellow from Brynbuga who is here to ply his trade.

And still have contact with the Otherworld?

I know only that when I hear the creatures, feel the wind and see the stars, my way becomes clear.

Are you not Christian?

Aye, I had the pouring of the water as a babe and attend the Mass but the anger of the priest robs my calm. I dare not tell him that I believe that the relics of his saint bring little blessing to Brynbuga.

Olwen laughed.
Bones are more blessed while they still have their mantle of flesh.
Tell me of your parents.

My father is a ploughman who works the lands of the Abbey. My mother . . . The Winter storms blow through her soul . . . she has not long.

I am sad for you, ‘Prentice Cedric. I feel that your mother’s eyes are your door to the Otherworld. I hope that it swings not closed when your mother’s eyes look upon this world for the last time.

I know not my future.

None does. But your heart is true and your hands reach out to those of your people. Stay strong, ‘Prentice Cedric, your heart and hands may soon have much work to do.


There came a night when shouts of the guards and the sound of horses’ hooves awakened Cedric. He lay still upon his straw-covered shelf. It was yet dark. What was the turmoil?

Caution born of George’s admonitions kept Cedric abed. Often a villager was better absent when the Normans caused a commotion.

But then George strode through the door accompanied by one of the castle guards.

They have need of clamps, lad. My hand is yet unable to hold the hammer. I told them you could perform the task.

George’s countenance was difficult to read but his usual composure, which never seemed far from a hearty chuckle, was gone. The guard approached.

Let’s go boy! If you’re the one to work for us, look lively.

Some deep coals had remained hot and the forge was still glowing. As Cedric worked the bellows, both George and the guard watched silently until the elder smith explained the task at hand.

The leg-irons and manacles attached to the north gate column will hold a man and they want a clamp that none can open.

The guard spat.

That swine, Llewellyn, will no longer feed his peasants with our livestock. Caught red-handed. When others see him rotting in the stocks, they’ll not step hastily into his thieving shoes.

Cedric felt an icy stab in his gut. He had heard in kitchen conversation of Llewellyn and his men poaching from the newcomers to feed those they had dispossessed of their lands. The thought of Olwen seeing her father starve tightened his throat but, remembering the vision of the blackbird and the stag, he addressed the two observers in a strong voice.

‘Tis four stalwart clamps I’ll be making for you.

See that you do, boy. No key will be needed. A sword will suffice for removal when he becomes food for ravens.

The forge glowed that night and Cedric moved back and forth from the irons, measuring and forming cylindrical clasps. Llewellyn had been placed in the irons, bound temporarily with thongs and was surrounded by a dozen armed guards. He was large and proud, his eyes inscrutable to Cedric on the few occasions when he glanced up from his work.

A jug was passed among the guards and their attention turned to insulting their captive. Cedric completed his task without the weight of their watching eyes and he was thankful for that blessing. The final turnings were completed by the gate, using coals brought near in the scuttle.

The last clamp was placed and cooled. Cedric stood aside. A guard came and looked closely at the fixings.

What’s this?

He ran a fingernail down an undulating, serpentine mark on each cylinder.

Cedric had anticipated the question.

Tis the sign of the adder. Among his people it stands for death. They will understand your sentence when they hear of this and respect your power in using this mark when a life is taken.

You are a canny lad. There’ll be a reward for your labours tonight. Ye may leave for now.

Cedric returned to his shed by the forge where he found George waiting to speak to him.

I was watching you tonight. Your ken is fine but if your plan is successful ‘tis you that will break the ravens’ fast instead of Llewellyn.

They think to let him freeze or starve?

Aye. By the gate to be seen by all who pass to trade here. He is not the first to be thus punished for theft or acting against their control. But they are glad for an excuse to remove Llewellyn. He speaks against them and the people listen.

From within his satchel Cedric drew a small iron tool, a stout tapered handle overlying a thin, crosswise serpentine blade.

This edge, the sign of the adder, fits within the fissure on the clamp. Although the iron feels true to the touch, a sharp downward blow on the handle should split the cylinder.

‘Tis as I thought.

How might I get this to Olwen?

Mary will be sending David to the village for supplies. He is trustworthy and his journey will not risk notice. These outsiders know that Llewellyn is revered. They will be on the lookout for trouble


A morning conversation with David brought assurance to Cedric that the serpent on the handle would be delivered with instructions to Olwen. Cedric felt a sense of purpose within, turning like a coracle in the fast stream of anticipation.

Three cold, rainy days passed. In travels across the courtyard, Cedric found his gaze drawn to the dark figure at the foot of the far gate. Villagers entering the castle averted their glances, knowing that the guards were watching.

On the third afternoon George was at the forge, his hand again becoming useful.

Tomorrow morn at the Angelus bell it will happen. The guards must be distracted. A few of these coals in the straw shed should serve our purpose.

Cedric reached for the lid to cover the scuttle.

It shall be done.

Then you too should pass through the gate and not return. The outsiders will not be gentle with anyone they hold responsible for the escape.

Where shall I go?

There is a cluster of huts by the stream that exits Marymede one league past the chapel. State your name; you are already known. ‘Tis sorry I’ll be to lose you from here but there is much valuable work to be done out there.


Two wagons approached the castle gate as the Angelus bell rang midday through the Monday mist. One guard only was stationed at the gate but several who had been arguing on a nearby bench fell silent and stood in response to the call to prayer.

A woman in the front of the first wagon stepped down and called to the guard, pointing to the shawled bundle that she held to her breast.

After the prayer, Sir, if I could approach the prisoner, Sir, before we deliver to the kitchen. You see, Sir, this is his grandson and I pray God to reward you if you will be merciful and let him touch the boy once more before he dies. I see you are kind and . . .

Shouts of “Fire, fire!” from within the court interrupted any further entreaty. The guards by the bench, prayers forgotten, ran toward the shed where smoke was billowing. The guard at the gate turned toward the excitement and, as he did so, from the bundle that should have been the baby emerged a blade.

Olwen’s arms were strong and her aim true. The guard’s last exhalation through his severed throat sounded like reeds on a windy day.

Two men sprang from the wagons and ran to the nearly inert figure in chains. Four sharp metallic sounds pealed. Olwen worked quickly to drop the traces of the horses and left the wagon blocking the gateway as she emptied the contents of a metal container into the back of each cart. Flames rose from the straw-covered decks of the wagons and smoke curled through the fog, circling the arch of the gate, as yet unnoticed due to the conflagration within the castle.

One of the men holding Llewellyn parted on the first horse, Olwen and the other mounted the second.

The splash of departing hooves was heard by the lone figure that had passed the empty chains, the dead guard and the burning wagons. He had paused only to pick up and place in his satchel parts of four split iron cylinders.

By the time guards discovered the loss, cleared the gate and mounted their horses, Llewellyn was on his way to the hills where his followers awaited. Cedric was on foot in the foggy meadows, hearing the blackbird’s song, headed for Marymede and a future unanticipated in Brynbuga dreams.

* * * *

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