Princess Nest: Chapter 6

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. This series is based on some essential historical research and our own imagination.

(See previous episodes)

Later, when the King sent for my girl, I followed and, hiding myself behind a column, watched the courtiers part for her. The court was humming. The stink of much perfume, overlaying unwashed flesh was powerful and unnerving. These people were not keen on water, that was sure, but what they lacked in this they made up for in finery.

The youths peacocked, flicking back their long hair, strutting in their strange embroidered pointy-toe shoes, trailing lace and glorious silks. The women simpered and shone in whatever jewels they had that day released from boxes and chests, blowing off the dust and polishing into a gleam. My Nest outshone them all.

Her curtsey was full and deep. She had been taught well by the young men who had befriended her. When the King addressed her in halting Welsh, she answered clearly in his native Norman tongue so he laughed and caused her to sit with him where they talked for a while. Later she told me he had asked about her accommodation. Was she comfortable? Had she enough to eat?

Had she asked of home? She shook her head, her cheeks flushed. He had talked, she told me. She had not been required to speak but only to answer his questions. It was only minutes it seemed to her before a young man approached from the court and the King had dismissed her declaring that there would be a feast that night.

My impression of the King from my hiding place was of a man in middle years with a great red beard. He was not over tall, his belly round and his legs stout in the thigh and well-muscled in the calf. He laughed loudly and with much pleasure, so I hoped he would prove better-natured than I had feared.

Nest was full of excitement. “Did you see, did you see?” She babbled while I stripped her of her finery and dressed her in more workaday apparel. “He touched my hand and he smiled at me. He has awful teeth,” she giggled. Her mind and her tongue raced on. “Did you see his hands? They are quite surprisingly small but meaty, like a bear.”

“Oh Lord,” I teased her, “And when did you see a bear, leave alone feel its touch?”

Unabashed she went on: “His feet also… quite small… but…” and she paused to giggle, “his weight is in front.” And she puffed out her cheeks , pushed her hips forward, and made to stride about the room in the manner of a fat man who has just quit his horse after many days in the saddle.

I shook my head but I was laughing too. After the tension of the day, relief that we seemed to be safe, at least for now, flooded through us making us giddy.

“Perhaps he will marry you, “ I teased, “and you will be a queen.”

Nest stopped and came back to me with a smile. “He will not,” she told me, most matter of fact, “He will marry no woman. Have you not seen how the priests shake their heads at him. He will not marry as he does not enjoy women.” And she submitted herself to my unlacing again.

I was shocked. I had heard talk of this King but to hear it from my lady’s lips made speech leave me. Perhaps I presumed more innocence from her. As she stepped from her gown and put on the simple shift I held out for her, she seemed to return again to the child I knew, at least in appearance. However the shocks of the day were not over.

“But you are right that I must marry someone.” she said thoughtfully.

I tutted and scoffed, but my heart was heavy: “Silly goose. Not out of childhood and thinking of wedding and who would have such an untidy, wilful creature such as yourself, that is what I would like to know?”

Nest turned then and took my face in her hands. Her face was deadly serious, her eyes flashed with determined fire. “They are old and ugly and they smell and I think I hate them all, but if we are to be safe, a protector is what I need. Like it or not, Alwen my dear, that is the way of it.”

Then she danced away from me and went out before I could stop her.

I sat by the fire for a moment, surrounded by the finery she had discarded, knowing what I had always known, knowing that the seed of that knowing had begun to put tendrils of roots into the cold earth and was seeking a place to begin.

My Nest was correct in her assertion. She did need a protector and it could no longer be only me. From now on as she blossomed into womanhood there would need to be a man. As I sat and grieved for the passing of time, which robs us all of what we hold dear, I prayed we would find a good and loyal one who would not break her heart or her spirit.

To be continued….

Kitty Parsons

Kitty has forgotten how long she has been here now but she loves Pembrokeshire for its beauty and it's people. She spends her time searching out stories for pembrokeshire.online, swimming in the sea , drawing and painting as Snorkelfish and eating cake. She says "Pembrokeshire.online has been an opportunity to celebrate this beautiful county and its people. Keep the stories coming. We love to hear from you."

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