I had practiced the carol, Myn Mair, for the Plygain for weeks; singing in the lower barn where Ifan and I had spent such a sweet summer. The weather was frosty now and the mist hovered in the ravine behind our home. My voice was sharp in the forsty air as I sang of a gift of offering for the return of my cariad ; pleading for Mary the mother of mothers to intercede. Nhad was disapproving of this old Catholic song. “Why sing Popish nonsense?” He had growled. “How can I, a deacon, allow my own daughter to sing carols associated with a corrupt church and immoral drunken clergy? Do you not understand, girl, how it was for your grandfathers?” Luckily, Martha intervened. “Hisht, man! And was not that the song sang by Elin the night you fell in love with her? Angharad is only following in her mother’s footsteps.” She glanced at me shrewdly and I shivered wondering if she had guessed my secret.
Truthfully, I had not thought of my mother. Rather, I had prayed and prayed that Ifan would be released from gaol — every Sunday, three times a day, with Nhad’s voice booming from the Set fawr. But the autumn weeks had turned to mud and frost and Dillwyn Llywelyn, the magistrate, was no closer to ending the trials. So Myn Mair became a prayer of sorts, my personal prayer, that God would intervene to save Ifan and to save me.
Nhad prayed each night, on his knees for Ifan’s release; offering penance for the scandal he had brought on the family and the chapel. Not everyone saw it that way. We were shocked that the rioters had killed the old woman, but they were The Mob. They were not local men with justified grievances against local issues. Our young men were armed with a ceffyl pren and they would not subject an old lady to its indignities. This mob had been armed ready to fight the redcoats who swarmed from gate to gate across the turnpikes; often arriving to find it already burned or dismantled, with no trace of the men in nightclothes who had become like ghostly bandits. But the magistrates, the landowners and the soldiers were becoming dangerously frustrated. Tensions had been high. The old men denounced the younger men as rabble; the young men raged against lower wages, increasing rents and the toll fees, and directed their ire at the landowners and the turnpike trusts.
Thankfully the winter brought some respite from fighting. Nhad was grim faced in the mornings and white faced with fatigue at night trying to eke a living with no extra help. Hams and dried mutton hung in the eaves above the chimney sweetened by the smoke from apple wood logs and by the herbs from Martha’s garden. She eked out our winter provisions with bara ceirch and bara planc. There were still potatoes, swedes and onions. And over the fire a saucepan of porridge flavoured with a pinch of salt and honey comb warmed us in the mornings. Nhad gave thanks for these each morning, but it was a long time until spring planting.
On Christmas Eve before the plygain, Nhad and I were invited to Plas Mawr along with the other tithed workers. Martha was glad of llonydd – peace- to sit , although I knew that she would not sit idle for long as she made the spiced frumenty that would warm us when we arrived home. Neither would she attend the plygain. “I’ll make Christmas here in my own heart.” She said to Nhad once, when I was a child. “No men telling me what to think and how to pray or which carols are right or wrong. Which prayer is the best prayer and blind obedience to masters who are fools!” Unusually, Nhad was silent about God. He had simply cwtched Martha and said, “I miss her every day!”
Martha had been secretive for days, hiding her work basket when I came into the room. Before we left that night she pulled me to one side. “ Here. An early Christmas present.” A blue dress rippled over her arm. “Martha mae’n hyfryd! It’s beautiful.” I said. The dress was third hand, after aunt Megan who as a housemaid was given hand-me-downs at the plas. But even Lady Thomas wouldn’t recognise the dress now. Martha had inserted cream panels to expand the sleeves so that they puffed above the elbow. Then they fit snugly to my wrists edged with tiny buttons. “I had been saving those for a special occasion. They were from your mother’s wedding dress. I sighed looking at the dress wondering how long before I grew out of it. Martha hugged me. “Paid becso. Ddaw pob dim yn ei amser!” Everything comes in its time. How little or how much did she know?