Interview with Marcus ap Iorwerth from A Land Beyond Ravens by Kathleen Cunningham Guler
When I arrived at the small hillfort called Dinas Beris, I expected little more than a rough warlord in residence and an even rougher response to my request for a night’s hospitality. Of course, as a bard, I should be welcomed to sing for my supper.
To my surprise, Marcus ap Iorwerth, the lord of this small, remote stronghold in the mountains of the kingdom of Gwynedd, is actually a minor prince and a gracious host who offered good wine and a warm guesthouse all to myself. At somewhere past sixty winters now, he enjoys a daily walk, and before I performed my obligatory duty of singing, he treated me to a fine stroll through much of his lands that face the highest and most spectacular mountains of this wild kingdom.
Now I knew from the endless gossip of courts of higher ranking noblemen and even some of Britain’s kings that Marcus ap Iorwerth was at one time a spy for King Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon. Twenty years ago, Arthur claimed the crown of high king, and talk of how Marcus had something to do with that successful ascension continually resurfaces. Thinking I was being clever, I asked Lord Marcus, “You’ve had quite a life, so I’ve been told.”
“And you want to know if I had something to do with how Arthur became king, don’t you?” he said without hesitation in his deep voice.
I also knew he had a reputation for being blunt. So he is, though overall he’s a bit quieter than anticipated. “Would make fine material for us bards,” I offered.
“You’ve enough fodder from Arthur’s exploits,” he countered.
“Why not you as well? It’s said you are also a master of disguise and a master swordsman.”
“Old news. No, I’m content to live out my days here in the quiet.”
“You don’t miss the danger? The adventure?”
He gave a mild grunt at this, tilted his head back and watched a golden eagle soar across the pass that lay between his lands and Yr Wyddfa, the highest mountain.
“Is it true you’ve been imprisoned, tortured, left to die, spent decades trying to align the kings of Britain against the Saxons? Cleared your name of the false accusation of murdering a high king? What of the battles? I could go on.”
He lifted an eyebrow at me. “Isn’t that more than enough?”
“I suppose so.” I found a smile, admiring this man for his calm lack of pretension. “But is all of this true?”
“You forgot the five years of exile.” Marcus gave a tired sigh and began to walk down the hillside towards the river. “Where did you hear all this?”
“Your nephew, Glinyeu.”
“Ah, my best admirer. Where did you come across him? With Arthur’s armies?”
“If you want to know for the sake of a song, I have nothing to tell. If you want to know for the sake of learning a few lessons, I will talk with you.”
“If I say the latter, how will you know if I’m lying?”
He stopped, turned to me with his arms folded, and pierced me down to my soul with his black eyes. I have never seen eyes like that in all my life. He would know if I lied. And I knew then all of it was true.
“There will be no songs of me,” he said and stared up at a wide meadow behind his stronghold.
I guessed that was the place his nephew had also spoken of, dubbed the high meadow, where Claerwen, the Lady of Dinas Beris lost her life a few years ago. I noticed Lord Marcus had deliberately avoided that area on our walk. Glinyeu had said she had been ill for some time and had insisted on spending a day in that meadow in spite of potential thunderstorms rolling through. Lightning had struck her down. I could only imagine the grisly way they’d found her. Lord Marcus had never been the same; Glinyeu said that his hair had turned from black with a salting of grey to completely grey within weeks of her passing, and that he grieved without end.
“Is that the place it happened?” I asked with caution.
He stiffened. “Glinyeu told you that as well?”
I nodded. “Forgive me, I do not mean to pry. Perhaps…I could make a song for her? But only for you to hear, no one else?”
“My nephew is a good man but he speaks too freely. Come, I will gather the clan. They will make you a fine audience.”
We neared another meadow, down by the river that runs through the mountain pass northward to the sea. Houses clustered here—the bulk of his people lived in this part of his lands.
He stopped again. “What did you say your name was?”
“Emrys,” I told him.
He scrutinized my face. “No, couldn’t be,” he muttered.
“Couldn’t be…what?” I could barely contain a smile. “I remind you of someone?”
Again he studied my face. “I am named for my grandfather,” I hinted.
“Myrddin Emrys,” Lord Marcus breathed. “Merlin the Enchanter. And your grandmother?”
“Nimuë. Aye, ’tis true.”
“Then it wasn’t only my nephew who told you about me,” he said and began to laugh. “The Enchanter had a family. Well, I’m a bloody old fool.”
He gathered his people and saw that everyone was comfortable while I gave my performance. After that I didn’t speak more with him. Perhaps he’d already known of my connection to the Enchanter and his surprise was one of his classic diversions. He seemed to have busied himself elsewhere, and I wondered: had he truly given up the danger, the adventure? Straight, trim, even muscular for his age, he looked to be still in good health. Except for the grey hair and the broken heart for his wife that made his eyes look like those of a dying man. Perhaps he’d returned to the high meadow to listen for her spirit instead of my song?
Whatever role he played in Arthur’s ascension, the result has given us all a chance at peace and prosperity. Aye, it’s been quite a life indeed.