Recently I watched a UK film, "Centurion," which depicts the Roman conquest of the Britons (specifically the Picts). I realized that I knew very little about the Britons and their tribes. So I decided to do some independent research on the ancient tribes of Britain. Since I have Welsh ancestry, I particularly focused on the the Votadini tribe (or in Welsh: Gododdin or Guotodin), who came under Roman rule in 138-162 AD. The Votadini became a buffer tribe for Rome and other tribes within the walls of Hadrian and Antoninus. An ally of Rome, they became a very wealthy people, for archeology has uncovered Roman silver, plates, and silverwear in the region. With all this in mind, I was inspired to write a short story on the legacy of the Votadini people.
Rhian Bleidd was the daughter of Bleidd, which meant wolf or hero in the language of the Gododdin Tribe, a native people of Britanica. Many of their tribesmen called her Bleiddwen, meaning she-wolf, for she was born of a woman named Penarddun, which means most fair. Penarddun used her beauty and wiles to seduce Bleidd, for there was a prophecy in Gododdin that a great woman warrior and queen would come from the line of Bleidd. Penarddun wanted more than anything to produce that queen. Her greed would kill her at the birth of her daughter Rhian Bleidd.
At the time of Rhian Bleidd’s birth, her father Bleidd was out with the warriors defending their land from the vicious Romans. When he returned to the village he was handed Rhian Bleidd from the old priestess Adara.
“The prophecy will come from she and a man of foreign blood,” Adara whispered in Bleidds’ ear as she walked away to prepare the body of Penarddun.
Bleidd watched the old woman limp away, her white hair trailing down her back. The child moved and whimpered in his hands, and for the first time he looked at the infant girl. Her skin was so fair he could see the blue veins beneath, and her hair was as white as snow. When she opened her small eyes, they were as blue as a lake.
He took the child to his sister, Olwain’s hut, pushing the child into her arms.
“Feed the bleiddwen,” he said with disgust. It was at this moment that the Gododdin would begin calling Rhian Bleidd she-wolf.
Bleidd wedded Angharad, the daughter of the Gododdin chief. There was rumor, however, that on the last breath of Penarddun she cursed any other woman who would lay with Bleidd, in order that no other child would fulfill the prophesy. Angharad was barren. Any child she did conceive ended in blood and bones. In her grief, she beat Rhian Bleidd until she bled and casted her out of their family hut.
Rhian Bleidd found solace in the arms of Adara, the old priestess. Each time she returned to Adara, she would ask to hear the prophecy again and she found comfort in the words, for it gave her hope.
When Gododdin was defeated by the Romans and became trapped within the walls of Hadrian and Antoninus, Rhian Bleidd had lived a decade. Bleidd was becoming an old man and at the death of Angharad, left the village, taking Rhian with him south. He did not tell where they were traveling to as much as she asked him. They traveled through the woods and valleys for thirteen days.
On the fourteenth day Rhian Bleidd awoke to the sound of horses and men. She lay silently within her wolf fur robe and opened her eyes. The fire was black and smoked, and the place where her father lay was vacant. She sat upright and looked around. There was no sign of her father, their belongings, or their horses. The men on horseback sounded closer. Their words were foreign to her ears. She began to panic. Quickly gathering her wool blanket, her robe, and her leather pouch, which contained her few personal belongings, she ran and dove beneath the shrubbery of a hedge tree. Branches and rocks obscured her vision, but she saw as the horses approached the camp, and men dismounted, walking around where Rhian and her father had slept. She could hear her heart pound in her ears and she covered her mouth in hope that her breath would not give her away.
These strangers were neither Caledoniis nor Brigantes, for they wore strange leather shoes and wool pants beneath leather and iron armor. She remembered stories of the Romans and she feared her father had been taken captive. Suddenly, hands gripped her ankles and she scrambled to hold on to rocks and branches in horror. The hands pulled her out from under the bush and her struggle was in vain. The hands were far stronger than her own.
“What do we have here,” said the strange man.
She could not understand their words; in paralyzing fear she found that she could not scream like she willed.
“A girl of the Votadinis,” said another.
The stories were true. These men stood tall in their iron armor and horsehair crested helmets. She could not make out their faces, but their sneers were evident within.
Another, who wore a red cape with his armor, which was decorated with medallioned cuirass, approached Rhian Bleidd.
“What’s your name?” he barked.
Rhian Bleidd stared at him in fear.
“The little bitch is without a tongue,” the one who held on to her said.
“Quiet Batiatus!” he yelled. Then more serenely, “Child, what’s your name? I am Quintus Varus,” he said pointing at himself.
Rhian Bleidd swallowed her fear and hoping to scare the strange soldiers, she told them what her people call her, hoping to incite fear in them. “Bleiddwen,” she hissed.
The three men did not falter at her words. Instead, they went into action, as Quintus barked orders to the other two. With speed and efficiency, they had Rhian Bleidd’s feet and hands tied and thrown over Quintus’ horse. Finally she began to scream, hoping if her father was near by he would hear her and come rescue her. The horse startled, throwing Rhian Bleidd off its back. Her scream caught in her throat as she hit the ground, tears stinging her eyes. She struggled on the ground, until Quintus picked her up and placed her before the front pummels so she could not fall off. She screamed again, but this time, Quintus hit her skull with the handle of his puggio, silencing her.
She awoke at nightfall, yet her vision was filled with dim light and a starless sky. As her vision adjusted she realized she was underneath a dark tarp, furs piled on top of her and an oil lamp beside the mat she lay upon. Soon upon waking Quintus entered the tent, said some words she did not understand, and was then handed a plate of bread and goat cheese. He barked an order to her, and when she did not respond, he repeated the order, putting his hand to his mouth in demonstration to eat.
Scared that he may repeat his barking order, she began to eat. But as famished as she was, she feared the food might be poison, so she ate slowly, hoping to stop if symptoms occurred.
She remained at the camp near Hadrian’s wall for four years, as Quintus’ slave girl. She came to understand the language of the Romans, yet at night she whispered the welsh of her people in fear that she would forget. Quintus did not abuse her, for he treated her as if she were the daughter he left behind in Rome, renaming her Lupa.
Very few soldiers remained at the garrison at this time, for many were North at the Antonine wall. Life at the garrison was inactive. The soldiers that remained continued their patrols of the region along the wall, and drank and gamed with their free time. Quintus kept Bleiddwen from the troops and beat any man who made inappropriate advances toward her. One time she was caught in a crowd of drunken soldiers and she was passed around the group to be groped and petted. Upon hearing this, Quintus raced to her aid, and beat the men with a vine branch past submission until they were bruised and bloody. After this incident all men stayed clear of Quintus’ Lupa.
Five years after her capture, Quintus received orders from Antonius Pius to move to the Antonine wall. His replacement, Legatus Trogus Avienus, arrived at the garrison with his young wife Varelia. Trogus, upon seeing Bleiddwen, was succumbed with lust. Varelia, knowing her husband’s veracious appetite for the flesh, she wished more than anything for him to be distracted by a female other than her self, for she was disgusted with her wifely duties. Quintus, who was a centurion under the legatus, was ordered to leave the garrison without the slave, for she was a slave to the legion, not to himself.
Bleiddwen, who only knew the kindness of Quintus and was attached to him for protection of herself and her virginity, cried with horror at their separation. Quintus, a man of great pride and will-power, pulled Bleiddwen’s gripping hands from his arms. He swallowed the building lump in his throat and placing the helmet on his head, walked away to the screams of his Lupa, knowing he would never see her again.
That night, Trogus and Varelia, conspired to bring the girl out of Quintus’ abandoned tent with gifts of grapes, wine, and olives. Without any progress Trogus ordered Varelia to go coax the she-wolf from her cave, hoping the sugary words of his wife would soften Bleiddwen in their favor. Beneath the sugary words of Varelia was vinegar, yet Bleiddwen, who knew nothing of Roman women, believed her lies and followed her to the corridor of the legate.
Trogus and Varelia showered her with food and drink, and when Bleiddwen was happily drunk, they led her into the antechamber where they undressed her and Varelia put her in a purple Roman tunic.
“Now you are suit for a legatus,” she said, pleased with herself.
Varelia placed her on the chaise and showered her with rose water and petals. And departing into the shadows, Varelia watched as her husband did as he pleased with the Votadini girl.
In the early hours of the dawn, Batiatus, Quintus’ right-hand man, found Bleiddwen bleeding in the ditch between the garrison wall and the palisade. Batiatus washed her, put her in a tunic and fur robes, and placed her on a horse.
“Go back to your people, Bleiddwen,” he commanded. “Go as far away as you can.”
For fourteen days she traveled the land, but she did not remember how to get back to her people’s village. On the fifteenth day she came across a woman, who was scavenging for roots, who spoke the Gododdin language. Filled with joy she spoke to the woman of her circumstances and her name. The woman was revolted by her name.
“Are you a faerie or a witch?” she asked, for she was told Rhian Bleidd was dead.
“No, I am she. I have been alive all these five years, as captive of the Romans.”
Bleiddwen showed the woman her Roman military issued tunic and she came to believe her.
The woman’s name was Ulrica and she said, “Come to my village. My people are your people. They will welcome you.”
With that, she allowed Ulrica, to accompany her on her mount, and they rode back to the village.
They did not welcome her as Ulrica had said. As the sun descended on the fifteenth day, a meeting was held with the chief and all of his warriors to discuss the girl. They did not like that Bleiddwen was in their village. They believed she was a curse and they feared that the Romans would come looking for their captive. At the moment they were at peace with the Romans, and often an ally on the battlefield, so they did not want to incite violence.
“If she wants to be with her people,” said Brynmor, the chief, “let us send her to her people. Tomorrow at dawn we will escort her to Bleidd and his clan.”
Brynmor and a group of his warriors, rose Bleiddwen at first light, and they traveled across the hills and dales to the village where she was born. Her own people were not pleased to see her either and as her old father came out of his hut to greet her, she saw the frown on his weathered face.
“You have returned with a curse on your head, Bleiddwen,” he said. “Your mother spoke a curse at her death and you were brought in the world with those words in her mouth. Death follows you.”
Ceridwen, the daughter of the deceased priestess Adara, came out of her hut and rebuked Bleidd. “Are you deaf, old man? Have you never heard the prophecy?” Ceridwen was a dryw, or seer.
“The prophecy has been revoked by her mother’s curse,” he defended.
“A prophecy always overcomes a curse. She is the hope of Gododdin. She knows the way of the Romans. Only from her will we find freedom from the Roman irons,” Ceridwen said.
“Come Rhian Bleidd,” she said, gesturing for her to follow.
Bleiddwen told Ceridwen all that had happened in the Roman camp.
“If you are pregnant,” Ceridwen explained after Bleiddwen told her of the rape by the legatus, “then it is the will of the goddesses.”
“I have no desire to be pregnant with a Roman child!” Bleiddwen cried.
“Hush! The prophecy demands a child of foreign paternity.”
“That could very well mean from another tribe. Maybe the child would be from a Pictish warrior.”
“Unlikely. You must be prepared for whatever is your legacy.”
Resolute, Bleiddwen accepts her fate. Months later she gives birth to a son with a shriveled hand. Together Ceridwen and Bleiddwen take the child to a faerie hill, for the faeries to exchange the changeling for Bleiddwen’s child. Ceridwen recited the proper rites and left the necessary food offerings. They would return in one day’s time to find Bleiddwen’s child. The following day they returned to find the place barren, with no child in site.
“There is no rightful child, Rhian Bleidd,” Ceridwen explained. “You gave birth to a changeling. Therefore, the fated child is yet to come.”
Bleiddwen accepted this explanation, although she felt a hole was left in her heart by this changeling. Now her will and devotion required her full belief that the prophecy would come true.
Three years passed, then another three years. Near the summer solstice the warriors, led by her elderly father, went out to patrol the south region of their tribe. The Romans had sent word for help to assuage some villages in the southeast, near the Antonine wall, in exchange for silver. Many have accepted Bleiddwen and as Rhian Bleidd, she is given a rank as warrior. Trained since her return to the tribe in archery, she is now a skilled warrior.
Painted in woad root and hair combed with clay, they went with their horses prepared for battle if necessary. Listening to their surroundings they rode and stopped, rode and stopped, until they reached a camp of Domhnain warriors, which held five Roman prisoners. They all came to a halt when the Domhnain took up arms.
“What is the meaning of this?” one Domhnain, who appeared to be the leader said, seeing Bleidd and all of his men and women dressed in war paint.
“We came to squelch any rebellion,” Bleidd said.
“In the name of Rome, I presume, traitor of Briton,” he said, spitting at the feet of Bleidd’s horse.
Bleidd leveled his sword at the man. “Release the prisoners!” he ordered. “You will be paid handsomely in return.”
“By Roman incentive,” he humphed. “I think not. I would rather die than accept the patronage of Rome.”
“I’m sorry to hear that Domhnain,” Bleidd said, wielding his sword. “Archers!” he yelled.
A cry like banshees pierced the air as the Gododdin warriors released arrows into the camp. Exhausting arrows, Bleiddwen dismounted, drawing her sword with the metal singing in exaltation. She saw only blue paint and blood as she slashed through the warriors that came at her. As they broke through the lines of Domhnain warriors, Bleiddwen could see the Romans tied to a tree. She ran toward them, continuing to slash warriors as she reached them.
“Lupa!” she heard her Roman name and she fell to her knees before Quintus.
Without words, for she had none in her surprise and rush of battle, she cut their ropes freeing the Roman soldiers.
“Dagger!” Quintus yelled, grabbing the dagger from Bleiddwen’s belt as she helped free the rest of the Romans.
In one quick motion, Quintus dug the dagger in the side of Domhnain, whose breath was caught short and fell in a sputter of blood.
Side by side Quintus and Bleiddwen slashed and stabbed the onslaught of Domhnains. Suddenly, as soon as it had all began, a quiet emerged from the scene, which was only pierced by short gasps as they canvassed the area for survivors to help them into the otherworld.
That night they camped at the place of the slaughter in order to burn the bodies in the rites of their people. Alight by the fire, they all sat quietly in small groups. Bleiddwen and Quintus sat together beneath a great pine tree, watching the funeral pyre burn, and silently saying prayers in their languages to their gods.
Together they lay down beneath their robes and studied each other, for both had changed within the last six years. Full breasted and wide hips, Quintus marveled at how much she matured. Bleiddwen in turn, marveled at the graying hair at his temples and his sun-burnt face, lined with age, yet he was still a solid muscular man, who appeared at the peak of robust health. Beneath their robes they acquiesced to one another and he called her Lupa and she called him paternus of the future warrior queen.
Rhian Bleidd, Lupa, became the mother of a line of warriors in the Votadini tribe. The son of Quintus Varus was named Julius Quintus Varus. A long line continued the Varus name, until a daughter named after an ancient grandmother Lupa Varus, also known as Bleiddwen to her people, married another Roman named Tacitus two hundred years after the death of Rhian Bleidd and Quintus Varus. Tacitus had a son who was known as Paternus of the Scarlet Robe, or Padarn Beisrudd ap Tegrid. Padarn continued the line with another son, Edern or Eternus, who in turn fathered Cunetacius, or Cunedda, the Good Hound, who established the Kingdom of Gwynedd in the 5th century. Cereticus, also known as Ceredig, established the Kingdom of Ceredigion in Hen Ogledd. Ceredig had a son named Seisyll, who established the Kingdom of Seisyllwg in the 7th and 8th centuries.
Gwgon, king of Ceredigion, drowned with no heir, leaving the kingdom to his sister, who married Rhodri Mawr of Seisyllwg. In the 9th century, Rhodri the Great, split his kingdom between his two sons, Anarawd and Cadell. Anarawd received the Kingdom of Gwynedd and Cadell received the Kingdom of Dyfed and Seisyllwg. Cadell had a son named Hywel Dda, who united the kingdoms to form the Kingdom of Deheubarth. In the 11th century, from the line of Hywel Dda and his wife Elen, came Rhys ap Tewdwr, who fathered the Prince of Wales, Rhys ap Gruffydd. In the 12th century, the Norman-Saxons conquered Wales.
Descended from a granddaughter of Rhys, in the 15th century, Owan ap Maredudd ap Tewder, or Sir Owen Meredith Tudor, married Catherine of Valois. Owen and Catherine gave birth to the 1st Earl of Richmond, Edmund Tudor who married Lady Margaret Beaufort. From their union came Harri Tudur, the first Welsh monarch, Henry VII of England. Due to Henry Tudor’s War of the Roses, the unification of England and Ireland brought a peaceable reign and succession of his son Henry Tudor VIII, King of England and Ireland. And from the she-wolf of the 16th century, Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII bore the warrior queen of the prophecy of Bleiddwen, Queen Elizabeth I of England and Ireland.
There is also a myth, that the changeling of Bleiddwen, carried her line to Constantine III of Britain, father of Uther Pendragon, and grandfather of King Arthur ap Pendragon. Whether this is true or not has never been founded.*
*I was able to trace the line of the Tudors back to the Kingdom of Deheubarth. Names are all historical figures, however, I used some liberties here to strengthen the fictional prophecy. The line between historical facts and myths are often blurred. However, I do believe there is always some basis of fact in myth. Whether King Arthur is an actual historical figure is heavily debated, but I wanted to use this to blur (or define—based on your own perspective) the line between history and myth.