Returning with a couple of coneys and a faggot of firewood, Gower saw that Captain Llewelyn had been busy. A frame of hazel poles, covered with woodland debris and insulated with moss, had materialised in the clearing. Whistling a piercingly melancholy tune which, had it only survived the centuries, would have been recorded by John Fleagle, Llewelyn was threading a chain of flowers through the shingling.
Gower dropped his burdens. ‘Blimey. That’s a bit elaborate. Is it necessary?’
‘You know―I mean, it’s a fairly cushy detail, securing and patrolling this bit of terrain. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have it any other way―’ Gower didn’t want to tempt fate: the last time he’d suggested aloud that his narrative was getting a touch sentimental, the Author had only gone and got the sodding Osprey Guides out of storage: English Longbowman 1330-1515, Agincourt 1415: Triumph Against the Odds. No, bugger that for a game of―
‘―but, you know,’ he continued hazardously, ‘daisy-chains. That’s a bit much.’
‘Corn marigolds, actually, though sometimes the vulgar call them daisies, that is true,’ said Llewelyn, still intent upon them. Gower bristled; the name gentleman didn't mean much when all you had to show for it was a heap of rock and goatshit halfway up a Welsh mountain and had to hire out your sword-arm to eat, but Llewelyn had nonetheless a fine unconscious way of drawing attention to the difference in their estates.
‘Pretty, I think,' Llewelyn rattled on obliviously. 'And there is the song, of course. Rather crude and rustic, like all lyrics in your infant language, but charming:
There is a flower in my father's garden,
The name o’ marigold, sir,
And he that would not when he might,
He shall not when he wold, sir.
'Quite a troublesome weed in Scotland, so Captain Jamy tells me: you can be fined for not grubbing them up. But what do you mean, a bit much?’
Llewelyn turned with the sweetly patient look that heralded a laborious and syllogistic explanation of Cymric mores.
‘It’s a Welsh thing, isn’t it?’ Gower conceded.
‘All right. You skin and gut those little blighters, and I’ll build the fire. You can tell me all about it over supper.’
He had to admit, he liked the way Welsh poems sounded. Like small birds or sweet bells. And Llewelyn’s poetry face, which would have been embarrassing in the company of other Englishmen, seemed stirring, exciting, and right when it was just the two of them and the campfire. He finished the recital and looked over at Gower, smiling shyly. Gower licked rabbit grease from his fingers and applauded. Llewelyn swallowed both audibly and visibly.
‘Go on, what does it mean, then?’
‘The poet―who is Dafydd ap Gwilym, by the way, the greatest verse-maker of of the generation of our grandfathers―he visited my grandmother once, look you, and made a cywydd in her praise―’
‘As in visited her visited her―’
Llewelyn pursed his lips. ‘That is not a decent enquiry, Captain Gower.’ He laughed. ‘But yes, I like to think so―’ He took a deep breath. ‘But anyway. The poem. It’s not very profound. The poet builds a deildy, which is to say a bower, a house of leaves―and wishes his beloved―might come and lie with him there.’ He waited.
‘Oh. You mean―Jesu. But―whatever gave you that idea?’
Llewelyn self-consciously straightened and lowered his shoulders. In the firelight his profile was dignified, resolute, and absolutely, devastatedly bereft. ‘I fear I have made rather a fool of myself, Captain Gower. It would be best if we do not mention this matter again, and look you―I should be obliged―’ His voice shook and cracked.
‘Hang on―I didn’t say no, did I? A bloke doesn’t expect―we’re just pals, aren’t we? Good pals, but―’
‘Until it is pointed out we are as you say.’
‘When someone goes to the trouble of pointing it out,’ Llewelyn said in the loud, clear tone suitable for horses and Frenchmen, ‘that Captain Gower and Captain,’ his lip curled as he delivered a wickedly accurate impersonation of a bungled Welsh ll, ‘―Fluellen―are,’ he cleared his throat, ‘in love, everyone agrees, see?’
‘What, like Jamy and Macmorris and―not peasants like Bates and Court and Williams, surely?’
‘Well, yes, probably them. Including the peasants. But I mean Everyone.’
‘You mean―’ Suddenly aware of the gathering shadows, Gower lowered his voice, ‘The Author?’
‘The Author and the Audience and the Actors.’
Gower hugged his knees and rested his chin on them. This conversation seemed to be drifting in the direction of what he thought of, a little inchoately, as Philosophy, or maybe History. Like the time they were on leave in London and had gone into that tavern in Eastcheap (horrid low dive) that, as rumour had it, the King used to frequent in his dissolute youth. A seedy decayed gentleman wearing tight boots and grubby pinkish hosen had explained how it was that Prince Henry had time for youthful riot when he had also been solidly and earnestly devoted to the work of war and state from his middle teens onward. Then he had done something perfectly revolting with a candle-end and, bumping into Gower on the way back from the jakes, made a very obscene suggestion concerning eels. Or like Macmorris’s explanation, entertainingly fuelled by blasphemy and saliva, of how they came to be fighting King Henry’s battles in France with an army structured on principles current in the reign of Elizabeth. Gower, dozy pillock that he was, had made the mistake of asking was it Elizabeth of Poland he meant, or Elizabeth of Bohemia. It had been a pretty good scrap, though. He’d won, of course; or rather, Macmorris had scarpered and carried on the campaign using distinctly irregular and unsoldierly tactics, which just went to prove Gower’s point.
The last thing he wanted to do now, however, was have one of those conversations. Not when they could be―God’s teeth, Llewelyn was right.
‘Well―’ he said slowly. ‘When you put it like that―it would be flying in the face of public opinion not to, really―’
‘But you―you have to want it as well, see―do you?’
‘Goes without saying. Come here and give us a kiss, you daft Taffy bastard.’