This excerpt from my novel is about the Christmas attack made by Harold Godwineson on the Welsh palace of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn in 1062, who was mysteriously warned at the last minute and barely managed to escape by sea:
Ealdgyth took Walter’s vague warning seriously. Sensing that they had little time, she hurried back to the feast hall. She slipped into the room unnoticed, and hurried to her husband.
Gruffydd was emptying a large goblet when his wife bent over his shoulder.
“Oh, there you are,” he said, grabbing her around the waist. “And why did you desert me, without a by-your-leave?” Smiling, he pulled her onto his lap.
Ealdgyth allowed the frivolity, because it would bring her closer to his ear. “My husband,” she whispered, “we are in grave danger.”
“Eh?” He pulled back, looking at her face. “What is it you say?”
“Tonight I received a warning to leave this place. I think we should heed a message given by such a source.”
Gruffydd shook the muddle from his head. “Stop, woman, with your riddles. Speak plainly. Who has given you this warning?”
“Pah. The bastard seeks a reward.”
“Will you stop it? Can’t you see, he came to save his mother? He didn’t know she was dead.”
“So why would he warn us?”
“I followed him.” Ealdgyth looked around, half-expecting the doors to burst open. “For once in your life, give the boy credit. He is already gone; he wouldn’t take a reward from your hands.”
“Wife, I think this is foolish, but I can’t afford to take any chances. Let me up.”
Sobered by Ealdgyth’s words, Gruffydd stood; the room immediately quieted.
“The festivities are over,” the Prince announced. Hearing groans of disappointment, he became angry. “You will do as I say! We have been given a warning: there is a threat to our safety this night. We can either stand and fight, or flee. But since we are ill prepared to fight, I suggest you leave this place. We don’t know the extent of the danger. Gather your families and go. Now.”
Motioning for some of his favorites to follow, the Prince gave orders to ready the boats.
It took very little time to load the boats, always ready docked below the archway of the palace. Gruffydd didn’t take the strange warning too seriously; though nervous enough to suspect treachery at every turn, he little expected to be attacked during the most sacred holy festival. But he trusted his wife’s good sense and intuition, which had helped him in the past. And she was so certain that something was amiss.
They launched the little vessels, making their way to the mouth of the Clwyd and into the sea. The cold wind blasted into their faces, and Gruffydd silently agreed with the grumbling of those who regretted leaving the warmth of the feast hall.
“This is colder than a witch’s teat,” one man mumbled, pulling a blanket around his shoulders. The boat pitched, nearly throwing him overboard. “Damn it, man!” he shouted at the rowers. “Can’t you control this thing any better?”
“They’re doing the best they can,” the man’s wife retorted. “The poor men are no more sober than you are, never expecting to be dragged away from their drinks in the middle of the night.”
“Aye, and for what?” someone else shouted over the wind. “Are we to be startled into flight at the least rumor of trouble?”
That was enough to get a reaction from Gruffydd. He turned angrily. “If I say as much, you will jump into the river on my command!” He was about to add more but he hesitated, confused. No one was looking at him; rather, they were staring over his shoulder. He turned back, following their gaze.
At first, Gruffydd could only distinguish a reddish glare on the shore – the kind of glow that meant only one thing. He watched, frozen like the rest of them, while the glare turned into distinct flames. He listened as the silence of his friends gave way to cries of horror.
Perhaps, amongst them all, Gruffydd’s mute grief was the most bitter. He watched his splendid palace burn, and saw the last beacons of violence light the sky from the remainder of his precious fleet. They were still close enough to hear the screams of his peasants, murdered in their homes.
Gruffydd sat motionless in the stern of his boat, his mind’s eye seeing Harold pacing disappointedly back and forth before his pillaging troops. He, Gruffydd ap Llewelyn ap Seisylt, had been outsmarted by this cursed Saxon. He had barely escaped, thanks to the timely warning from his bastard grandson.
But the Earl was having his revenge. The Prince of Wales would never see his beloved Rhuddlan again.