Princess Nest – Chapter 1
Nest ferch Rhys was born around 1085 – the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr (Rhys ap Tudor Maw), King of the Deheubarth, and Gwladys ferch Rhiwallon ap Cynfyn of Powys. At only 13 Nest became the mistress of Henry I before he became king. During her life she bore nine children to five different men, was at one time abducted and generally led an eventful life for a woman of her time. Despite this, there is not a lot of information about her. The following series is based on some essential historical research and our own imagination.
Oh but she was a pretty thing. From the moment she was placed in my arms I loved her. Who could fail to love her?
Called from my bed, my own babe not yet cold in the ground, never to lie in the cradle my husband had made in hope for him, she took to my breast without complaint, looking up at me with eyes that should not have been able to see. She saw me all right. Not even a day old and she saw me and she loved me too.
I swore then that I would give my life to see her safe and I never faltered in that promise, though it took me away from my home and my family and into dark dealings and treachery that I never knew possible in the world.
Ah… but these are the ramblings of an old woman, fit only for sitting by the fire in the kitchen and telling tales to any who would hear them.
Not so then. Then I was a young woman, straight-backed and fair. Brought by fate to wet nurse the princess. Queen Gwladus was too high-born a lady to give suck to an infant and, in truth, too preoccupied with frivolity to care much for the tiresome duties that an infant demands.
The king, Rhys, I recall as a huge, bluff man with a temper. He paid us little heed. The infant was only a girl after all. Another mouth to feed, a bargaining chip maybe when she was grown, some piece of merchandise to be sold off to whomsoever would be most useful to secure lands for her father’s kingdom, when the time came. Such is the way of women.
Though for Princess Nest fate had other plans, and I could not know then of the hand fate would deal us .
She grew strong, this little one. My milk flowed through her and laid fat on her bones and a blush to her skin. I would hold her in my arms and sing to her and stroke her red hair. Oh that shining gloriousness to be that would never be tamed, never in all her life. She was to be all wild curls and bright eyes.
Her first steps took her into mischief, and from the first, she did not walk but ran. Like a wild thing, filled with grace, she sped fleet-footed into the future, laughing, always laughing.
I hear that sound still. It echoes down the years. A memory of a time of innocence. It resides in the wind that comes off the sea and runs fingers of fury in the treetops. It tinkles over the stones of the brook and it comes to me in the mouths of her babes and the babes of those babes, all gone now from my arms.
Of course there were the tears. No life can be lived without weeping, but oh, sweet Jesus, who died on the cross for us, and who must have bowed his head and wept in Heaven to hear, for my Nest, my darling, had more than her fair share of grief and pain.
Ten bright summers and eleven winters, varying in severity as they do, but cold, always biting cold, passed like the tides of the sea. The princess grew taller, but not too tall. I would say dainty, but she barely kept still long enough to take on the habit and decorum of a lady. To sit in the sun and sew was a torment to her, and though she learned the manners she would need to make a good marriage, she was always restless to be about something. More and more I was called to search for her and would find her off with the dogs into the woodlands, or running along the sands down to greet the sea.
Her mother cursed her untidiness. Her father tutted at her stubborn nature. I despaired of her wilfulness, and her clever wit. Too much cleverness in a lady can be a curse, but I was forever defeated by her smile and the touch of her lips on my cheek. Little did I know how the iron she carried in her soul that caused us so much concern in the girl would be the saviour of us all as she came into her womanhood.
And so when news came that the king was dead in battle, there was an end to childhood and running free. Suddenly and without warning, my little lovely was a prisoner truly. I was not of course party to the discussions, but it was soon clear that a hostage was needed to ensure the kingdom would honour its new master, the Norman Lord. That was my Nest. A pawn in the games of men.
To be continued…