Saturday, January 17, 2009
The afternoon was warm, so I decided to take Arianrhod out of the paddock for her first hosing of the winter. Achmed was pulling on my boots in the kitchen when Madame Boyo came in. She told the boy they'd never suit him, so he slouched off to his kiosk barefoot.
She turned to me, her face pale, pinched and querulous. A vein squirmed from one end of her eyebrow to the other. Her fists bunched like ribs through the pockets of her Mao jacket. Everything was as it ought to be. Then she said:
"Three men are waiting for you in the drawing room. They are all Welsh. I've had to lock the dogs in the neighbours' wendy house."
'Odd. The Rugby Union selectors don't normally turn up until February,' I thought to myself as the allyah-oiled door slid open across our best Bokhara rug. Then my guests rose to greet me - Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen, David Emanuel and the late Leo Abse, who was the first to speak.
"You've heard the news about Sir Dai Llewellyn," he announced without ceremony.
I sat on the arm of the chesterfield. "A sad loss to Wales, and therefore the world," I remarked.
"Sadder than you think," continued Abse. "He was our leading nobleman, hereditary ostler to the Court of Senghenydd, and an under-rated political satirist. All of this is true. But it is truer still that he was the last Cotsengi."
A drink sounded like a good idea. I said nothing, but three hip-flasks of gin were offered up to my quivering lips.
"You mean his brother Roddy, surely?" I murmured through a mouthful of Bols.
"Ha, indeed, an exquisite feint. Typical Dai!" snorted Llewelyn-Bowen.
"If not," I ventured, "perhaps you could bring my readers up to date on the Cotsengi and his ways?"
"An honour," bowed Bowen. "As Edward Longshanks lay on his two deathbeds, legend has it that he was attended by a Welsh monk of the order of Saint David, a Brother Ystlum. Wracked with guilt for foisting a gay English on the Welsh as their prince, he sought absolution from the priest.
"Ystlum said he would guide the future Edward II wisely if, in return, Longshanks decreed that a true Welsh should bed each woman that might aspire to marry into the Royal House of England. The dying King agreed, and the line of the Cotsengi was created."
Emanuel lit a cheroot and took up the tale. "In each generation, the greatest rutters, buffers, boffers and boulevardiers of our mountain race have named one of their number to lie with these ladies, so that no munters or psychoes should taint the sang réal. Fact!"
"From Ystlum himself, through Rhowter Hers, who mounted most of the Plantagenets, Nell Gwyn, the finest female impersonator of the Restoration, and right up to Lloyd George, Ivor Novello, Lord Harlech and then Sir Dai, a Welsh has test-driven every princess, at least two princes and, memorably, Oliver Cromwell.
"The only gap was during the Tudors, when the royals was all Welshes anyway. And the chosen one has borne the august title of Cotsengi - Hound of the Ladygarden." The pride rang ripe in Llywelyn-Bowen's voice.
"I have heard of this," I replied. "But why have you come to me? Do you really want my opinion? Do the words 'Tom' and 'Jones' mean nothing to you?"
Emanuel spat in the fireplace, sending sparks flying across the room. "Tom's been out of it too long, man! He can't handle these new girls. A pierced navel and his head of curls is an accident waiting to happen."
"It's not your views we want, Boyo. It's you," said Abse quietly.
"No." I wandered over to the window and watched Madame Boyo at the pond showing Arianrhod how to fish with a Mauser. "How could I do it to her?"
"Well, not within an hour or so of covering some Sloane, anyway," noted Emanuel. "Even your pods need time to refill, innit?"
Abse laid his hand on my raised arm. "Think of it, man! If the line is broken, Longshanks is freed from his bond. God alone knows what further horrors he might visit on Wales from beyond the grave!"
Llywelyn-Bowen stood beside me, his eyes trained on the watchtower over by the plague pits. "It's Wales. You know that. Nothing is bigger than Wales."
"Except an area of rainforest twice the size of Wales, and most Australian farms," added Emanuel, who had made himself comfortable on the regimental thunderbox.
"I should have realised it wasn't Roddy," I muttered at last. "Armstrong-Jones had already vouched for Princess Margaret."
"We don't need an answer, Boyo." There was a firm tenderness in Abse's voice as he opened a Gladstone bag embossed with the initials D.L. and various teethmarks. On the Ottoman he laid out a garden swing, a pair of stirrups, a doublet and a slate codpiece. "We'll leave these with you. You'll need them."
I watched them walk down the drive towards the waiting Hillman Imp. Madame Boyo emerged from the grandfather clock with a ring of bright snappers in her gloved hand.
"Kannst du diese für das Abendessen kochen?" She wagged the bait back and forth as Arianrhod leapt about her knees.
"Ich dien," I smiled, and led my family to the kitchen.