The King of Wales
Bryn Davis stood waiting patiently, his small figure framed in the back door to the loading dock at the rear of Morgan's green grocers. The smell and sound from the blacksmith's forge next door merged with the vaguely aggressive scent of fruit, old and new. This is where he waited every afternoon after school until Mrs. Morgan noticed him, nodded and waved at him and usually said, "Be with you soon, Bryn boyo," if she was serving, or, "I think there's a couple on the floor in that corner," pointing. And, "How's school, Bryn, how's your first year?" A tiresome question, but what other conversation could an adult have with a small lad? Bryn always answered with, "Fine, Mrs. Morgan, really good", even though he was struggling at school and he guessed she knew that. In a village the size of Llanybyther, isolated in South Wales, everybody knew everything that was happening, right down to the small details. Bryn didn't care. He would say anything to Mrs. Morgan to get the damaged apples.
"And how is that horse of yours Bryn boyo? How's Wilson? Mind he doesn't get fat on all those apples." The customer had left and Mrs. Morgan, an expansive rolling sort of woman, moved closer to Bryn, looked around over her shoulder for her husband, then produced a fine red apple from her apron. "This one's for you. Mind you eat it on the way home. No one's to know." She moved a warning finger in front of his face.
Back at home Bryn put his satchel on the floor in the kitchen and greeted his mother who was standing at the sink, her slim form bent slightly, graceful arms working. She moved her slender neck to look at him, her flowing hair falling across her arms. When she and Bryn walked down the street he would see men turning to look in her direction. She seemed not to notice, but she always dressed very carefully for any excursion and fussed when she got mud on her shoes.
Bryn went out to the stables with the apples. Sometimes they were so rotten he had to cut away the shoddy bits but, after a careful inspection, he decided these two were passable. As Bryn opened the stall, Wilson snorted and nuzzled Bryn's neck, then attended to the proffered apple, smacking at the smooth skin with his lips before plucking if off the boy's hand. It was gone in a second. "Good boy Wilson," said Bryn, petting the wide nose. Bryn kept the other apple in his pocket for later. He clambered up the stall door and stepped on to the horse's back, slid his legs down over the base of the neck so that he was firmly seated on Wilson's withers and took a grip on his mane. Moving his heels gently against the shoulders, he whispered, "Com'n Wilson." The horse ambled out of the cover of the stables and turned into the back paddock. This paddock was part of Bryn's father's small property and it was a fair length but narrow. Bryn kicked again and tugged on the coarse hair of Wilson's mane. The horse broke into a trot and then quickened his pace from there. Bryn felt the breeze, felt exhilaration from the power of Wilson underneath him. Near the back fence he leaned to the right across the animal's broad back and pulled at the mane, suggesting a turn. Wilson galloped to the right along the fence, the bond between him and the boy having more influence over his actions than the faint tugging of small hands.
They had hit it off straight away, Bryn and this powerful dray-pulling beast. At age three Bryn had been taken down to the stables by his father to watch the horse being fed and had shown no fear of being close to an animal that towered so high above him. Wilson became Bryn's main interest in life but his father did not allow him to be with the horse by himself or open the stall door, "Until you're a big boy, Bryn, a school boy going to school." And now he was. And Wilson was there most of the time because his father had replaced Wilson the year before with Strider, a younger gelding more capable, Gareth Davis judged, of hauling the dray on the rounds in the summer heat. Wilson had become the spare horse, which suited Bryn just fine. He now regarded Wilson as his horse and most people in Llanybyther did as well.
In the evening Bryn sat at the kitchen table with his school books open, but paying scant attention, wanting to go to Wilson restless in his stall. His father sat across from him studying a Cardiff newspaper that was more than a week old, hissing to himself through closed teeth until Bryn's mother asked, with exasperation, what the matter was.
Mr. Davis jerked his head up. "Could be trouble, Bronwen, real trouble on the Continent."
"In Sarajevo. A Serbian nationalist has assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand."
"So? Who's he?"
"Well..." Gareth Davis scratched the side of his head, pondering what to tell his wife. He considered himself a student of the world but he knew his wife held no interest for politics. If he tried to explain the tensions that had been building up in Europe early in the century, tensions that now in the summer of 1914 had turned the Continent into a tinderbox, he would be wasting his breath. "Well... in the Austro-Hungarian empire he's a big knob. Was, I should say. This could really start something."
Bryn's mother dumped a tea towel on the open book in front of Bryn and tapped him on the shoulder, then turning to her husband said: "Won't affect us though, we're way over here. Out of the road."
By the end of the year Bryn began to notice there were a lot less young men in Llanybyther and his father was even more withdrawn in the evenings spending long hours reading what newspapers came his way. Some afternoons he was home early — his rounds were getting shorter. Bryn's school teacher disappeared one day and was replaced by a young woman Bryn had never seen before. He still waited at the back door to Morgan's green grocers and Mrs. Morgan still gave him Wilson's apples but sometimes it was only one and some days nothing.
In winter Bryn wore a cap to school and some old shoes his mother had gotten from a cousin. They were worn and ill-fitting and he always shed them on the back porch along with his school bag before going down to see Wilson. This afternoon the ground was wet and cold at the entrance to the stables. Someone had watered Wilson. The stables were silent. The door to Wilson's stall was hanging open. He went back to the kitchen to see his mother.
"Is Wilson on the rounds today? Is Strider sick?"
His mother told him to sit at the table. She put a piece of bread in front of him with some jam spread thinly, then she stood at the sink with her back to him.
"Now listen Bryn, Wilson ... has gone away on a holiday. We thought he was getting a bit old and it was time he went ... on holiday."
Bryn couldn't speak. He really did not understand what his mother was saying. She turned to the table and laid a thruppence close to his hands. "Now take yourself off to the baker and get yourself some fresh buns, or something else you might like."
Bryn looked at the small coin. It was new, glinting in the weak sunlight from the kitchen window. He was being given a thruppence, money of his own. This had never happened before. He still fought for comprehension.
"But Wilson's not old. He doesn't need to go away on holiday. He's happy here with me. And ... where do horses go on holiday?"
Mrs. Davis turned back to the sink. "Anyway, he's gone now. Mr. Llewellyn came and took him away this afternoon."
"How long will he be gone?" Bryn had started to cry and sucked at the air as he talked.
"Well... not sure Bryn. We'll see."
Bryn rubbed at his wet nose. "Can we visit him?"
"No. He'll be too far away. Now off to the baker with you. And if you buy buns save one for your father. Now off you go, I'm busy."
Bryn walked slowly down the street holding the coin in his hand. He didn't feel hungry. He realised he should feel excited about the money but he felt empty. At the corner he turned and continued with a weary step. There was some business in the main street. People gathered. And horses. Bryn quickened his step. As he got closer he heard Mr. Llewellyn in loud conversation with the blacksmith, his voice strident.
"I'm telling you that's all you'll get for that horse and that's all I'm offering. The government's only paying me so much you know. I'm not making a fortune out of this. And our boys are battling in France. They need that horse. You should be giving me the horse."
"Indeed to Goodness, you're making my heart bleed," said the blacksmith, folding his arms. He towered over his opponent. Michael Llewellyn ran a general agency business from stores at the end of the main street. He had taken over the business as a young man when his father died and he worked hard at it making more money than his father ever had, but the people of Llanybyther put a big question mark against his ethics and kept him at a distance.
Now he held out his hand. "Well that's it." Bryn was now close enough to see fresh-minted coins glinting in the open palm. He made his way through the legs of the assembly to where a number of horses were standing at the back of the brightly painted Llewellyn Agencies dray. And there was Wilson, tethered by a piece of thin white rope. Bryn brushed past the front of the other horses and patted Wilson on the muzzle.
Wilson snorted happily. The boy pocketed the three penny piece and used both hands to pull himself up on to the dray. "Come on boy. You don't need to go on holiday. You can stay with me." He took his shoes off, untied the rope, swung himself on to Wilson's neck and slid into position on his back. He made wet bubbling noises with his tongue against the roof of his mouth and pressed his ankles to the horse's sides. "Back up Wilson. Com'n boy." Wilson backed up. Several people moved to make room.
Bryn found himself dashed to the ground. He'd been swept from Wilson's back in a single violent motion.
"Horse thief, hey? They hang horse thieves in some places, boy." Michael Llewellyn stood over him.
Bryn got to his feet and put his cap back on. "No, Mr. Llewellyn. That's Wilson. He doesn't want to go on holidays. He wants to stay with me."
Someone in the crowd chuckled. Others murmured.
Llewellyn grabbed hold of Bryn's braces. "Listen Bryn boy, I've a business to conduct. This is my horse now. I've paid money." He delivered a slap across Bryn's face that sent his cap flying and sat him on his behind with a bump sending a shock of pain up his spine. Mrs. Morgan rushed forward scooping the boy up off the ground.
She shouted at Michael Llewellyn. "You're a tough man Llewellyn. The lad's only trying to save his pony. And if I was a man I'd sit you back in the dirt like that. See what you think of it. See how you feel." She looked around at the others. None met her gaze. One made a show of holding Wilson's tether. The horse was getting skittish. Llewellyn waved dismissively, turning away from Mrs. Morgan. He grabbed at the rope. Wilson reared, tearing the rope from Llewellyn's hands. Wild hooves slashed at the air above the man's head before crashing down. Llewellyn dived for safety, knocking over several spectators. He leapt to his feet, brushing dust from his britches, his face bright with fear and indignity. Pointing at Bryn he yelled, "You curb your horse boy, calm him down."
Bryn took the rope and reaching up ran his hand along Wilson's quivering neck. "Steady Wilson, steady." Wilson's hooves pawed the ground then stilled.
Llewellyn shoved at the hind quarters of one of the tethered horses to get the animal to move over then turned to Bryn. "Now tie him back in here."
Bryn looked at Mrs. Morgan. She held his eyes for moment, answered with the smallest of nods, then looked away. Bryn stood motionless. He felt trapped. Something inside him told him he should flee with Wilson, fast and far, but he didn't know how or where. He looked around seeking help or guidance but all avoided eye contact. Mrs. Morgan stepped closer. "Bryn, there's nothing ... Mr. Llewellyn ... Wilson has to go with him now." Bryn nodded, feeling the wetness on his cheeks. He manoeuvred Wilson into the gap and fastened the rope to the dray talking quietly to the horse all the while. Then he hugged his broad long nose and kissed him hard, tasting the horse hair. "Good boy Wilson, good boy. You'll be back home soon." He stood himself in front of Michael Llewellyn. "Wilson likes apples as well as his ordinary feed, Mr. Llewellyn." Then he ran to Mrs. Morgan who clutched him to her wide apron and wiped at his wet face.
The blacksmith shouted, "And that's all you'll have from here, Llewellyn. Now git."
Without a word Michael Llewellyn climbed on to the seat at the front of the dray and flicked the reins. The crowd began to disperse but Bryn, with Mrs. Morgan's powerful arm around his shoulders, stood watching, through a blur of tears, Wilson's rump and twitching tail as he trotted along behind the departing dray. Then Bryn realised he had forgotten his shoes and his mother would be angry.
He returned home without the buns. His father was home early, sitting in the kitchen drinking tea. When he saw the marks on Bryn's face and learned that his son had been publicly slapped he was outraged and leapt to his feet with talk of action. His wife pleaded with him to stay calm, ignoring her son, hunched over, sobbing into his arms.
"We still have to buy feed and other supplies from Llewellyn Agencies. There's nothing you can do about it. Just let it be."
When Bryn brought his crying under control there was silence. His father sipped away at the tea now cold in the bottom of his cup and stared out of the window.
Bryn broke the quiet. "I don't think Wilson is going on holiday."
His mother got up and busied herself at the sink. His father took Bryn's hands in his. "Look son, there's a war on in France. Our men are over there fighting. Everyone must do his bit, even Wilson. There's lots of equipment and supplies to be hauled around."
"How long will it be?"
"I don't know, son. It's hard to say. Our gallant lads are much better than the Hun. It shouldn't take long. When our boys are home it will be over."
"And then Wilson will be home too?"
Gareth Davis took a ragged breath. "I think so, son. I hope so."
"Can we visit him?"
"No, son. France is a long way away. Across the water, on the other side of the English Channel."
The bitterness of the Welsh winter disappeared into Spring. Bryn did have a pair of new shoes to replace the ones he had left on the dray the day Wilson had been taken away but he stopped wearing them as soon as winter departed. He didn't ask where the money had come from and he stopped asking when the war would be over as his father's answers had gotten shorter and snappier. Some of the children his age came to school proudly displaying letters written personally to them and delivered all the way from France. David Lloyd was the first, walking regally into the classroom one morning, waving the letter above his head, fanning the excitement in the room. Bryn was caught up as well.
He grabbed David Lloyd by the arm. "Has he seen Wilson?" All Bryn got was a curious look. He never asked again and felt none of the excitement when letters were waved around. Every older brother was a hero. But, in time, there were children who cried at school and were taken away by the teacher.
Summer brought temperatures higher. Bryn thought about Wilson over at the war a lot and wondered what he was doing on any given day. This day-dreaming put him further behind with his lessons. One hot Friday he headed slowly home with a note from his teacher that he knew would upset his parents. Along the main street he kept his eyes on the ground. When he did look up he saw a khaki uniform and soldier's cap approaching.
David Lloyd's older brother came along the footpath. Before he went away he was a bulky, jovial older brother who usually swept young lads, Bryn included, off their feet, turning them around in a powerful one-arm hug and tickling mercilessly with his free hand. Now, when he reached the boy standing, staring, his only greeting was a nodding head, his eyes touching Bryn's for the barest moment before sliding to the left across the street and back to the right. He continued on. Bryn noticed he didn't lift his feet very high as he walked and he kept nodding and nodding and turning his head from side to side. His uniform hung slack, empty looking, from his back, his shoulders held stiff as he moved. There was something very different about him. But Bryn had no time to think about that, the main thing was David Lloyd's older brother was home. The war must be over.
Wilson would be home now as well.
Bryn bolted down the footpath, his bare feet raising dusty statements as he thumped his way to the corner, almost knocking Mrs. Krane over as he changed direction, taking a bee-line diagonally across the street to his front gate. He leapt the gate, ran down the side of the house, hurled his satchel on to the back porch, shouting to his mother bent over the kitchen bench, "The war is over! The war is over!" And then, "Wilson? Wilson?" as his feet, never pausing for a moment, carried him to the stables. No snort of welcome greeted him. He jumped lightly to the top of the half door and looked into an empty stall. "Wilson?" Of course. It was still afternoon. His father would have Wilson spelling down in the back paddock as soon as Mr. Llewellyn brought him home. He walked slowly down the length of the stables, letting the anticipation build in his breast but fear started to fold in on his excitement. At the corner of the building he leant against the rough planks. The open paddock stretched out before him, tufts of spindly grass, the four shade trees along the eastern edge, the old broken dray with wheels missing, wire fencing loosely strung marking the boundaries. "Wilson," he whispered into the emptiness.
By late in the winter of 1916 Gareth Davis took to reading his papers deep into the night and stamping around the house shouting and talking to himself. After a series of discussions and arguments with his wife his sense of duty took him to France. When the first letter arrived Bryn's mother sat him down at the kitchen table to read it to him. He sat fidgeting with anticipation. Surely his father had seen Wilson at the war. Before his mother could finish smoothing the thin sheet onto the table surface he burst out, "How's Wilson? Has he seen Wilson?"
"Be still Bryn. Of course he hasn't seen Wilson. It's a big war."
His mother read the letter testily. Bryn listened in silence, wiping at his eyes from time to time.
One morning he arrived at school to find excitement in the air. There was to be a picture show next Friday night with film from the war. Bryn knew his mother would refuse him money to see the show, but he had to see it. Surely if the film was long enough he would see Wilson and his father. On Friday evening it was easy to simply walk quietly out of the kitchen door, along the back porch and out to the street. His mother didn't miss him. At the theatre he watched the ticket collection process carefully then blended with a family pushing and shoving at the door. He chose a seat right up the front and settled in to the curved canvas.
The black and white images flicked and jumped. Men appeared to move stiffly. There was a well dressed officer type walking in front of a long line of soldiers all dressed the same and with rifles on shoulders. The camera moved back to reveal row upon row of men. Bryn couldn't believe there were so many of them. Then pictures of big guns blasting smoke and rocking back on huge wheels, twisted ditches with men huddled over rifles, the ones closest to the camera waved and grinned, the ones further back sat still with hollow eyes. Then men running, all in the same direction across a stark landscape of treeless chopped up ground. They all looked the same to Bryn. He couldn't see his father. Now a road with trucks like the ones Bryn sometimes saw chugging down the main street. His heart leapt. Two horses hauling a carriage passed across the screen from left to right. Not Wilson, but they were obviously filming where the horses were. Now another road, the camera following a truck packed with soldiers, some waved. Bryn sat up sharply — he thought he saw a horse lying beside the road. Yes, more of them, some half on and off the road, one clearly had limbs missing. Now the camera let the truck go to pan over a mound of horses piled grotesquely, forming a small mountain of bloated stomachs and wide open mouths. And then another obscene mound, even bigger. Bryn stopped breathing. His temples pulsed. Real horror reached from the dancing screen to strike at him. He sank back into the canvas, shaking to his core. The images jerked on but he didn't see them any more.
The lights came on. Chatter broke out instantly. People moved. Bryn got to his feet and held on to the timber frame of the seat to steady himself. He had to get out, to run down the street, to try to think. He shuffled with the departing patrons down the aisle and out to the footpath. Here some older boys yelled at each other excitedly. Several held imaginary rifles to their shoulders, shooting down the street. When Bryn appeared they gathered around him.
"Did you see Wilson there Bryn? I'm sure I saw him. He was the one on the bottom of the pile with his tongue hanging out." And another boy. "No, no. He was the one on the top without the legs." They all laughed and jostled each other.
Bryn yelled back. "No! that wasn't Wilson!" He swung at the closest boy but his rage made him easy. The boy dodged back and punched him on the side of the head. Two others grabbed him as he spun with the momentum of his missed punch and bundled him into the gutter where he fell into the mud. He chose to lie there sobbing with anguish. Mrs. Morgan came forward and attempted to pick him up. His body was limp and difficult to manoeuvre. She sat down on the footpath, shoes in the gutter, and cradled the shaking form in her arms, unmindful of the soiling of her dress. Mr. Morgan hovered nearby, glancing at the encircling audience with embarrassment.
"Come on woman. Leave the boy be. He'll want to be going home now."
Mrs. Morgan didn't answer. She rocked back and forth and whispered to Bryn. "Hush now boy, hush, settle."
Bryn's shaking continued. Grief and loathing flooded his mind. He knew he would never see Wilson again. And sitting deep in his breast like a physical pain was the memory that with his own hands he had tied his best friend to the back of the Llewellyn Agencies dray and let him be taken to the war. In Mrs. Morgan's strong arms his movements fell to a quiver. The storm in his mind settled, calmed, then left him ... and took something with it as it departed. Like a battle standard that has been raised too many times in shot and shell, carried too many times over open wind swept ground, his mind still flapped and turned but part of it had been taken away with the emotional wind.
Mrs. Morgan walked him home. His mother was asleep. Mrs. Morgan was hesitant but in the end she left him at the kitchen door with: "You come and see me, Bryn."
He walked machine-like to his bed and fell on top of the covers.
Thereafter he rarely spoke and then mostly in monosyllables. In school he stared at his desk. The teacher quickly gave up on him and left him alone. He barely acknowledged his mother's presence in the house and she seemed not to care. She even stopped reading his father's letters to him and when he enquired she just handed them over. One afternoon, close to Christmas, he came home to find his mother in bed. When he asked if she was sick she turned her head into the pillow. Later that night he awoke to find her sitting on his bed crying, a piece of crumpled yellow paper in her hand. She didn't say anything and after a few minutes she went away. There were no more letters from his father. Now that Bryn knew about war he understood what that meant and images of Wilson and his father blended into an amalgam of pain that often found him awake and crying in the small hours.
Within a year Bryn began to notice that Mr. Llewellyn was a regular visitor, often staying for meals. The man tried to engage Bryn in conversation but the boy refused to talk to him. One night Bryn awoke, cold and clammy from his usual nightmares, and found his bedroom door locked. The room was small with a single high-level window, and now it closed in on him in the darkness. He called to his mother and then bashed on the door, shouting to be let out. His mother shouted back, telling him to go back to sleep. He kept calling and knocking on the door and eventually his mother came to the other side of the door and thumped with her fist, hissing wildly at him to go back to sleep. He retreated to his bed and lay in a ball, hugging his knees in misery. The next morning Michael Llewellyn sat in the kitchen eating porridge.
The celebrations at war's end came to Llanybyther in the form of a small parade led by an even smaller marching band. Bryn stood on the footpath as the meagre display trundled past. Onlookers cheered and waved and children ran across the street and back. Most of the marching soldiers didn't seem to notice and those standing on the footpath in uniform didn't move. It was soon over.
The next year Bryn's mother told him he was to get a new father and move into a much bigger and better house. Bryn was unmoved. When they shifted to the Llewellyn house Bryn found two sets of stables set on a rolling acreage. And eight horses. It pained him to look at these horses but he soon found himself spending more and more time in the stables and gradually took to helping with the chores. The stable hands didn't mind. Most were lazy and the more work that got done meant the less they got shouted at by Mr. Llewellyn. Bryn found each horse had its own personality and eventually he grew to love them. His life brightened but he still didn't do or say much, preferring to talk to the horses and help with their care as they came back with their drivers in the late afternoons.
Once Bryn ventured down the main street and was subjected to the taunting reserved for the simple minded. He was going to visit Mrs. Morgan but turned back. He never tried again. For the next ten years he spent most of his time in the stables and in 1928, when he was almost twenty, he set up in the loft and only came into the house to eat. His mother protested weakly but this was just fine by his stepfather who told her to be quiet. The next year the Great Depression began its march of destruction around the world and eventually came to Llanybyther. Llewellyn Agencies scaled down, firing stable hands and shop attendants but no horses were sold; Michael Llewellyn knew they were central to keeping his business going. Bryn's workload increased considerably. There was never any mention of wages and Bryn never knew to ask. Even in troubled times the Llewellyns still lived better than anyone else in Llanybyther, but it was tight and several times over the following decade Michael Llewellyn made the journey to Carmarthen to talk with bank managers. By 1938 he could report that business was improving slightly, but there was competition coming in from other areas, some of it motorised, and he knew it was going to be a close-run thing.
There was now only one stable hand for Bryn to help. Alwyn was a few years younger than Bryn, a diminutive but wiry man who came from Lampeter, a town the same size as Llanybyther, lying a few miles to the north east and across the Teifi River. He knew horses well and had been around. He had worked in the markets in Carmarthen and swept his arms about in the air as he told Bryn of the thousands of people who came there and the produce and animals on display. He had even been to see the ocean in Cardigan Bay way to the west and held Bryn fascinated with stories of the open lands and mountains to the west and north across the Teifi from Llanybyther and Lampeter.
"Not many people but all manner of things there, Bryn boyo: goats, sheep, and even wild horses."
Bryn was incredulous. "What stables do they go to at night?"
"No stables for them, boyo. They run with the wind, eat off the land, live in the mountains." Bryn shook his head in wonderment.
September of 1939 found Michael Llewellyn listening intently to his radio and waving at his wife to be quiet as Neville Chamberlain's measured tones told him Great Britain was at war. The next day Alwyn came to tell him he was going to Cardiff to join up. Llewellyn asked him to sit in the chair beside his desk, a most unusual gesture.
"But Alwyn, you can't leave here. There are eight horses to tend. There's no one as good as you."
"Mr. Llewellyn, there's Bryn."
"Now Alwyn, you know he's ... slow. I only keep him on as a favour to his mother. Those animals are valuable."
"But Mr. Llewellyn, Bryn loves those horses. He would never let anything happen to them. And he knows as much about them as I do."
"Alwyn you must stay. Please. There'll be some more wages. If I lose even one of those horses, it'll be ... Well, you have to stay."
It was the first time Alwyn had heard Michael Llewellyn use the word ‘please' but his resolve remained. He got to his feet. "I'm sorry Mr. Llewellyn. I'm going to Cardiff."
Down in the stables Bryn was surprised to see Alwyn in his best clothes and carrying a small leather travelling case. Alwyn signalled for him to sit on one of the wooden stools and then sat on one himself.
"Bryn, I've got to go. And I'll probably be gone for at least a year. You'll be all right here. You know what to do to look after the horses."
"There's a war on in Europe, Bryn. Everyone must do his bit."
Alwyn stood and patted his friend on the shoulder. "I'll come back and see you when it's over, Bryn."
He didn't notice that the blood had drained from Bryn's face, didn't notice Bryn straining to stop his hands shaking.
For the rest of the day Bryn prepared. He secretly brought food and clothes from the house and packed feed into bags. When the horses came back at the end of the day all the drivers were occupied with talk of war. They took little notice of Bryn.
The hours dragged. Bryn couldn't sleep. Near midnight he decided he had waited long enough and setting his lamp to low, saddled up Bundy, the horse he knew to be the lead animal, opened the main stable door and herded the horses out. A thin night mist had gathered and Bryn thanked God for the cover it afforded as he turned them into the bottom paddock.
Up in the house Michael Llewellyn had been unable to sleep as well. Now the future looked bright. Some people would make money from the war and he wanted to be one of them. He stood staring thoughtfully out of his bedroom window over the bottom paddock, saw the lamp light, heard the gathering of hoofs. Cursing the mist, he grabbed his breeches and hurried downstairs.
Unused to such nocturnal excursions, the horses were hard to handle in the vastness of the bottom paddock and Bryn was having trouble, needing to circle them on Bundy several times before he got them pointed. He thought he heard someone call out.
Down at the gate the mist was thicker. Llewellyn tugged at the top rail to close the gate but there was no time, the horses were heading at the gap and picking up pace. He leapt at them waving his arms. In the fog and the dust Bryn thought he heard a shout, thought he saw a flash of white.
The first horse knocked Llewellyn off balance, the next had him on the ground, hoofs smashed his face, his liver, his neck, blood filled his lungs.
Night travel was difficult but Bryn found a place to ford the Teifi and dawn found him and his charges out on the open land with the mountains beckoning. By late afternoon, with the westering sun in their faces, they were closer. Bryn watched clouds change the colour of the upper slopes and trail away horizontally from the higher peaks.
Years later, with the war won and the nation looking to milder things, a reporter from the Swansea Herald went north to investigate a local myth about a wild man who lived in the mountains and ran with the horses. The locals didn't know who he was. They said he ruled the high country, they called him "The King". The reporter didn't actually see the man, and he couldn't find anyone else who had either, but the legend persisted.
Bryn's flight to the wild lands of southern Wales was unnecessary. Some horses were used in the Second World War. For instance in June of 1941, at the beginning of the push into Russia, the German army had some 600,000 horses in service, but this is a comparatively small number. Death and suffering did occur but the carnage was nowhere near the obscene levels of the First World War where horses died in countless numbers. Wilson was but one of them.