Chapter Five. Salthouse
Gwilym and his boys left two days after Fred, timing their arrival in Huish for the morning of the wedding. The twins were full of questions.
“Can I dress in my bishop’s clothes?”
“And me as a knight?”
“Will we see Heulwen there, too?”
“Which was my milk mother? Heilin or Heulwen?”
“What’s the name of my milk sister?”
“Will we marry our milk sisters one day?”
Gwilym laughed and hugged his boys tight against him.
Then Jac asked, “Why can’t we stay in Huish?”
Gwilym’s smile faded, replaced with a frown of concern. “We need to stay out of sight of that knight, Palomides.”
“But Da,” asked Jac. “I thought you said he couldn’t see us for five years?”
“Only if we stay out of his way. He has spies in Huish, looking for us.”
They spent the evening before the wedding in Brycgstow and left before dawn. They arrived at Fred’s family home in the lake country east of Huish two hours before the wedding was scheduled to begin. Descending to the shores of the lake, they saw thatch roofs scattered randomly round below them, some on the water, others a distance from the shore. Jac and Llawen looked at their father with questioning faces. He told them to be patient and they’d see for themselves how this worked.
As they drew closer to the level of the lake, they saw that the houses were all round wicker-walled homes raised high on stilts. Those whose roofs were above the water had wooden ramps leading to the shore. Stone paths led between the homes. Jac walked deliberately underneath one to inspect its underside. It was woven wicker like the underside of a chair.
“What do they do here, Da?” asked Llawen. “They can’t farm the marsh.”
“I expect they fish the lake,” he replied. “There’s plenty of food in the water.”
“Why are their houses up on poles, Da?” asked Jac.
“This lake rises and falls depending on the rain and sun. The stilts let the houses stay dry.”
Gwilym led them to one house standing above the dry land. One of the poles had curved rungs nailed to it made of antlers. The pole looked like the backbone of a fish. Fred scrambled down this ladder, wearing a new set of clothes. He greeted them with smiles and hugs “We will ride to th’church in a few minutes. Tha will stay by my side, right, Gwilym?”
“We’ll be with you the whole time.”
“You’re marrying my milk mother, Fred,” said Llawen with a serious expression. “Are you Iola’s father now?”
Fred kneeled down to meet Llawen’s eye. “In a couple of hours, lad. And I will take very good care of your sister.”
“Can we dress up in the clothes given us by the king for your wedding, Fred?” asked Llawen.
Fred put his arm around the boy. “I’d love to see you all dressed up, lad. But maybe only wear th’robe and not all th’fancy stuff like th’hat and stole and staff. Th’priest might get confused and expect you to perform th’wedding.”
“I could do it! I know the prayers and everything.”
Fred gave Llawen a serious look. “I’m sure you would do a great job, Llawen. But Heilin wants a legal marriage. For that we need a priest who has taken his vows.”
A few of the lake folk and most of the town attended the wedding. Gwilym stood up front with Fred, facing people Gwilym assumed must be Fred’s family. They were short and dark like him.
Haern brought Heilin up the aisle to Fred and the ceremony began. She was wearing a new dress and her hair was newly washed and decorated with flowers. The smile she wore today showed a level of deep contentment on top of her usual good humor.
Few of the lake people participated in the Mass and even fewer took communion. After the priest pronounced Fred and Heilin man and wife, Fred presented her with a shiny new short-sword. Heilin took a cup of mead from her mother and said, “Fred, take this cup.” Fred looked deep into his new wife’s eyes as he drank from the cup, the villagers cheered and they all went outside where the feast was spread. Gwilym noticed the look of disapproval on the priest’s face at this use of old customs and was happy he said nothing, probably because he was still new to this parish. Too bad Father Drew was gone. He had been inclusive of the old ways.
The feast was held outside Haern’s smithy where boards set up on trestles groaned with a quantity of food and drink. Fred introduced Gwilym to his father, who looked just like an older version of Fred. There was no mention of his mother and Gwilym didn’t like to pry so he continued meeting the rest of his relatives and neighbors from the marshlands. There were ten times as many lake people at the celebration than had attended the ceremony. What religion do they practice on the lake?
Bleddyn presented the couple with a wedding gift that he had carved. It was a perfect miniature rendition of the Huish tower. Fred was speechless and tears came to his eyes. Jac spoke up. “We carved our names in the sides, see?” Fred looked over the sides, seeing a name carved in each of three sides. In the fourth side were carved Fred’s and Heilin’s names with the wedding date and place. Heilin oohed and aahed over it and pronounced it the best piece of carpentry she had ever seen. Fred found his voice. “Tha have a talent, Bleddyn. A God-given talent! Use it well. I love th’gift. I will treasure it always.” He hugged all three boys.
Gwilym stepped up with his gift: A bound book with a set of fine quills and ink. Fred’s eyes grew wide and he opened the book. He looked up in surprise when he found it empty. “To write down your song, or practice your writing, or keep a journal, or whatever you want. Your life now is an open book, Fred. Fill it up for your children.”
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