The day of my sixteenth birthday was the day I killed another person for the first time.
They attacked us without warning; riding fast upon us from the south along the valley through which the Afon Gwy flows, the slight rise in that direction hiding them from those working the fields about our village until it proved too late to shout warning to the rest of us. A good number of folk had come from neighboring villages to join ours in celebrating my day and the market was filled with song and dance and copious drink when our world was torn asunder.
A platform had been erected for the festivities by my father, Lord Iorwerth of Llanfredd in Cantref Uwch Mynydd, and it was on there I stood together with him and mother, able to look over the heads of our kinsmen when I saw the horsemen at the fringe of the village. At first I refused to believe that such a group would venture this far from Offa’s dyke but a moment later I recognized them for what they truly were—Norman knights. Their conroi numbered fifteen and wore their distinctive hauberks and conical helmets with the nose guard, and carried the kite shields.
I looked on in horror as they couched their lances. Then came the screams. Until that moment I had never heard so much pain and terror packed into a single cry. Imagine that sound rising from dozens of throats as people, of all ages, attempted to flee the attack only to be spitted on a Norman lance. I swear at one point I witnessed a young child lifted high above the crowd writhing in agony on the end of a knight’s spear before being tossed aside. The slaughter intensified as each knight took up his broadsword, standing high in the saddle for more leverage and freedom to strike at the innocents. Some folk escaped the blade only to fall to the ground to be trampled to death beneath the powerful destriers ridden by the horsemen.
The market became a killing ground; the ground awash with spilled blood and innards, bodies writhing in agony, wounded clawing the earth seeking safety, a father here shielding his boy with his body from a sword that merely cut through them both with a single blow, a mother there holding her child tight to her bosom only to have a lance pierce them both through and through, and a miraculous moment when a babe, crying pitifully beside the body of its parent, is snatched away to safety by someone fleeing the carnage.
All this and far more did I witness in what seemed the blink of an eye, but in fact was many minutes. I must have stood like a damn stump, overcome by the scene unfolding around me, for it took my father’s strong hand to shake me back to my senses.
“Take your mother and any others you can and flee to the woods, son,” he shouted at me. We stood face-to-face and I could see clearly the red rage in his eyes. He shot a glance at my mother. “Go with Cochgam, woman. Save yourselves. Go!” The last he screamed when my mother hesitated.
I knew full well she meant to stand at his side against the horsemen, but Father seized our arms and spun us about and shoved the two of us towards the stairs leading off the platform. Again Mother faltered, but I dragged her along by her wrist as I slung my birthday gift over my shoulder. The last I saw of my father was when I chanced to look back to see him, sword in hand and with a howl of rage, leap off the platform at a horseman. They both tumbled from the horse to be lost amidst the bloody turmoil.