(I’m reasonably confident I didn’t just butcher Welsh in the title, but if someone who speaks Welsh happens to read this and I did … I’m sorry, I’m just a West Coast American who has recently discovered a love for Wales. I’m tryin’!)
That’s right, ladies and gentlefolk, we’re talking about WALES AGAIN.
If you’re new here (or maybe you just forgot), I wrote a fantasy novella about a year ago that is loosely based on Welsh Fae. It’s got some Welsh words, a roughly Welsh landscape, Welsh names – you get the picture. It’s “Wales but not Wales” in the way 98% of fantasy is “England but not England.” I believe I did post some chunks of it on here … (I did. 1, 2, 3, 4).
My obsession with the world, characters, and ideas I had explored had only just begun. I’m laying the groundwork to write a multi-book series in that world with Dwynwen & Co., and right now I’m in the “lots and lots of research” stage. I’ve been digging up Welsh lore wherever I can find it, learning some of the language conventions (!pronunciation!! Don’t even get me started), and generally obsessing over Wales for the last several months.
My brother even got me a TOME called Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx, by John Rhys, for my birthday. It is massive, it was written at the turn of the 20th century (like, right at the turn – original publication 1901), and it is BEAUTIFUL. I wish John Rhys was still alive, I want to marry him. He is a) a delightfully-voiced author and b) gives SUCH excellent research fodder. Annotating the folklore and giving genealogies and tracing the difference of details in the same oral-history stories. He’s the love of my life.
ANYWAY. Since the current name of the game is research, not even worldbuilding or plotting yet, I’ve been missing my characters. Chiefly Dwynwen, as she is the main character and the one who started this whole marathon off by popping into my head unbidden.
Well, she popped up unbidden again today while I was sitting at the entry booth at work. I was thinking about some of the folklore stuff I’ve been devouring, and there she was. I decided I need to write a vignette. She and I were sure it wouldn’t be long at all, maybe three pages? It’d take me 15 minutes, easy. Dwynwen was very insistent about it.
Well, do you know what ELSE she was insistent about? That the novella I wrote about her would be “just a short story,” and “probably no longer than 20 pages.”
GUESS WHO HAS A 70 PAGE NOVELLA MANUSCRIPT NOW? That would be me.
Well, she struck again. It’s distressing to me that I know she’s a lying scoundrel, and she still dupes me*. My 3-page, 15 minute “vignette” currently sits at 7 pages and is only half done.
It’s to a good halfway point, so I intend to share the first half with you now and the second half later.
In it, we see Dwynwen when she’s nine years old. She is terribly ill-behaved, largely unrepentant, and very upset about being caught being bad. Do enjoy.
“Stop right there, young miss! What do you think you’re doing?”
The voice was shrill and demanding, and almost certainly directed at her.
Dwyn winced, but didn’t stop walking, turning the plum – perfectly ripe, between softness and firmness – over in her hand, concealed in her pocket. Her mouth turned downwards in a slight frown. It wasn’t like her to get caught.
But if her nine years had taught her anything, it was that feigning ignorance can get one a long, long way. Especially if you happen to be stealing plums from Matron Afan’s produce cart in the middle of a crowded market.
Ignorance wasn’t enough, this time, however; the shrill voice said, “Dwynwen Driscoll! You get back here right now, I know you took something!”
Dwynwen quickened her pace just slightly. Of all things to get caught stealing, a plum. It put her out of temper.
“Tybiau! Go get her!”
Now Dwyn broke into a run, a quick giggle escaping her. She hated getting caught, but she did love a chase; and Tybiau, just between being a lad and being grown, was much, much bigger than her – making the chase that much more thrilling.
Her small stature shortened her stride but opened a whole knew world of escape routes, and as Dwyn flew through the market, she never once slowed. She ducked under a counter and darted through the curtained back of a stall, turned sideways and squeezed between two farmers talking jovially, leapt over a small dog. As she ran, cries of dismay and tuts of weary disapproval followed her.
The road was dirt, dusty from several days’ worth of summer heat, and it was soft on Dwynwen’s bare feet, dust puffing up around her with each footfall. She skirted around group of children, all around her age, and paused – just a moment – to hook her ankle around Brăn’s, causing him to stumble. She looked over her shoulder as he turned, yelling after her, red in the face.
“DWYNWEN! I’m gonna tell my momma!”
“Only ’cause you can’t catch me yourself!” Dwyn shouted back, flashing a devious grin. Brăn was shaking and his face was approaching purple, but he didn’t go after her. Dwyn laughed again, but her mirth was short-lived. She ran smack into a tall, broad frame, and was soundly knocked her on her backside in the dirt.
When she looked up, scowling, she was met with the smug, sun-reddened face of Tybiau. He hadn’t tried to follow, he’d gone around the whole market and cut her off at the entrance.
Even as Tybiau hauled Dwyn roughly to her feet by her left arm, she took note of his strategy so she could avoid being caught the same way in the future.
“Come on, you little imp,” grumbled Tybiau, a little out of breath. “You’ve got some thievin’ to answer for.”
As Dwynwen was half-dragged back into the marketplace, Brăn laughed as she passed. Dwyn locked her gaze with his, widened her eyes, and smiled slowly. Brăn stopped laughing.
“Stop it, Dwyn!”
She merely held the gaze, smiling and never blinking, as far as her head would turn. She laughed as quietly as she could, small frame shaking, when she finally couldn’t keep craning her neck over her shoulder. He just made it so easy.
“Diawl bach,” muttered Tybiau, giving her a firm shake. “You stop that, now, you’re already in enough trouble without getting that lad’s mum after you.”
It seemed a long journey back through the market to the Afans’ cart, mostly due to the smug looks that followed Dwynwen as she went. She wasn’t often publicly taken to task for her mischief making, and it was collectively satisfying for Pentref o Gwenith whenever it happened.
If anyone caught her eye, Dwyn gave them the same treatment she’d given Brăn.
When they arrived back at the Afan’s cart, the matron was waiting, looking like she’d stepped in a dog’s dung that morning.
“Come on, we’re going to see Master Afan,” she said sharply. Tybiau handed Dwyn off to the matron, and her grip was much tighter than his had been. Her nails were sharp, and they dug into the soft skin of Dwynwen’s upper arm painfully, though she didn’t give any sign of it.
The Afans’ home was in the center of town, and not a long walk from the market. Dwyn was pulled through the front door and into the main room. The Afans, as the village’s wealthiest family, had a large home. As far as they knew, Dwyn had only seen this main one – with chairs, a hearth, and a small table, meant for receiving. It was where she was brought when she’d gotten into deep trouble.
Really, though, she knew about the two bedrooms, private sitting room, kitchen, dining room, and large pantry that made up the rest of the house. She’d helped herself to a tour more than once.
Dwyn noticed that the two windows, one on either side of the room, were open to let in whatever breeze might blow through.
Matron Afan never let go of her. “Sîon!” The matron barked. “Come out here at once, there’s a matter to see to.”
Master Afan emerged from the back of the house at a leisurely pace, and the drawn look he always wore tightened with irritation when he saw Dwynwen. She smiled sweetly.
“Good day, Master Afan,” she said.
“What have you done now, girl?”
Dwyn blinked slowly. “I don’t know,” was her reply. “The matron sent Tybiau after me in the market today. I was just playing.” Dwynwen knew it wasn’t from lack of believability that Master Afan’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, but rather nine years of experience with Dwyn’s lying.
Matron Afan had no patience for it. “The girl stole out of our fruit cart.”
“Where’s the fruit, girl?” said Master Afan.
Dwyn lifted a shoulder in a dismissive shrug.
“You haven’t taken your hand out of your skirts since I’ve seen you!” Accused the matron. “Show us what you’ve got in there.”
Dwynwen fought down her wince and dropped the plum so it rested in the bottom of her pocket before pulling her hand free, displaying her empty palms before the Afans. She knew it wouldn’t work even before the matron said:
“I can see it in your pocket! There! Get it out now before I do it for you!”
Dwyn no longer fought the wince as she pulled the plum out of her pocket.
“There!” said the matron triumphantly.
“I hardly have to tell you stealing is wrong,” said Master Afan down his nose at the girl. “Do I?”
Dwyn raised her own nose back at him, declining to answer. Master Afan held out his hand, palm up.
“Give me the plum.”
Dwynwen’s grimace slowly morphed to a smirk, and, for no reason other than petulance, she pitched the plum out of one of the open windows. She did commit the act with a slight twinge of regret; she’d really wanted to eat it.
Master Afan’s hand closed into a tight fist, and he ground his teeth so clearly it was nearly audible. “Alright,” he snapped. “Matron, the switch. This all could have been avoided if you’d just returned it,” Master Afan said menacingly as the matron finally released Dwyn, exiting the house briefly before returning with the thin switch in her hands.
Dwyn knew he was lying. This is how it would have ended, regardless.
The matron handed Master Afan the switch, and he swished it through the air a few times, letting it whistle close to the young girl. The threatening nature was wasted on her. What, did he think she didn’t know that a switch hurt?
“Hold out your hands.”
Dwyn quickly weighed the humiliation of compliance against the humiliation of having her hands forcibly held out for her, and held out her hands, palms down.
“No,” said Matron Afan acidly. “Other way.”
Dwynwen spared her a shocked glance. She’d never been switched on the palms before; the skin there was more tender, it could really hurt and take a long time to heal. They didn’t do that to children. Children only ever got whipped on the back of their hands or their backside.
“Yes,” said Master Afan. “The other way.”
Dwyn looked quickly over her shoulder. There was no one else there; just the Afans and her. If she didn’t, the matron would just hold her in place and it would be worse. She fought back her trepidation and slowly turned her hands over.
Master Afan wasted no time. The first blow was decisive and left a long welt, stretching across both palms. Dwyn couldn’t keep down the yelp. The next crossed the first, and still didn’t break the skin. The sixth finally broke the skin, small droplets of blood welling across the most abused part of her hand.
Dwynwen couldn’t keep her eyes from watering, it just stung too bad. She was angry, now, too – she hated giving them a reaction. Her hands started to sink, and the matron roughly pulled them back into place.
Just as Master Afan was raising his arm to land the eighth strike, footsteps pounded through the door.
“Sîon, what are you doing?” thundered Dwyn’s father. Dwyn’s head snapped around, moved by equal parts relief and shock. He’d take her home, which was a relief; but Goewin Driscoll never thundered.
Master Afan lowered his switch calmly. “She stole from me, Goewin. I’m providing the child a life lesson: actions have consequences.”
Goewin only stopped when he was nose-to-nose with Master Afan. “You’ve authority in this town, Sîon Afan, and I’ve accepted your reactions to Dwyn’s mischief ’til now.” He spoke quietly, but every word thrummed with anger. “But whipping her palms? The lass is nine! Over a stolen piece of fruit?” Goewin took Dwyn by the elbow, more gently than everyone else who had taken her arm that day, but still with firmness. “Leave the parenting of my girl to me, mochyn brwnt.”
Dwyn’s eyebrows shot up at the insult even as fat tears rolled down her face, and her father turned her around and marched her to the door. Dwyn stumbled into a short table covered in trinkets on her way out, making them tremble with a twinkling noise, but none fell.
“Sorry,” Dwyn hiccupped, and then they were on the road back through town and toward their cottage.
It wasn’t until they were out of sight and earshot of anyone but each other that Dwyn finally let her sobs make noise. She didn’t exaggerate them, just let them come as they pleased. She held her hands stiffly by her sides.
Goewin was silent until he closed the cottage door behind them.
“Fy melys,” he said gravely. “What have we talked about?”
Dwyn threw herself dramatically on her bed, not answering.
“It’s not right to do a wrong turn by people, especially when they’ve done nothing to goad you on,” Dwyn recited it like a dirge.
“What are you doing stealing from the Afans, then, my girl?”
Goewin sighed heavily. “You just … you stay there for now. How’m I supposed to get by with you making the whole town frightful of us?”
Dwyn tilted her head up slightly to look at him. He’d turned his back on her, worrying at a scratch in the table.
“Sorry, Papa,” she said. And she meant it – she was sorry for causing him trouble. But that was it.
“I’m going over to the smithy,” her father said. “You’d best not move while I’m gone, understand?”
The door shut behind him with a dull thud. When she heard the smithy door open and shut and the clanging begin, Dwyn gingerly put her hand in her pocket. When she pulled it back out, she held a gold thimble, delicately wrought with a design of vines. It was from the trinket table in the Afans’ house. Small, purely decorative, and totally unnecessary.
Not as tasty as a plum, but infinitely more satisfying in value.
Dwyn pried up the loose board by her bed and dropped the thimble into her ever-growing collection, wincing at the pain it caused her raw hands, before laying back on her bed to stare at the ceiling.
She decided the thimble wasn’t enough.
Dwynwen didn’t mind being confined to her bed; it gave her plenty of time to plan a suitable counterstrike against the Afans.
* I’m not crazy because I’m personifying my character as though she were real. Look, lots of people do it. It’s not weird, I promise.