Chapter Five: From Rags to Riches

Arwel began his tour by showing me around the public rooms in his house, and I marveled at what I saw. The dark furniture was beautifully carved, and the embroidered wall hangings were colorful and busy with hunting and festive scenes, all of which were bright with red and gold thread. In the dining room, there was a table that could easily accommodate some twenty people, and a young servant girl stood at a sideboard polishing many gleaming silver cups, bowls, and platters. She did not look up once as we walked through the room, and Arwel behaved as if she was not there at all. Not knowing what else to do, I followed suit, though I felt hot with discomfiture at my discourtesy. As we made our way out of the house, I saw a staircase leading up to the second story of the house. The wooden banister was carved with lions that galloped up the stairs with manes flowing and teeth bared.

In the stables, I admired many fine horses, beautiful animals with bright eyes and strong necks and legs. Arwel also showed me around the gardens – there were several – and I was charmed by the knot garden with its complex design that was made by training neatly trimmed herb shrubs to create a pattern.  At the center of this garden there was a large stone statue of a strange looking creature with long pincers. Arwel explained that this was a scorpion. The sight of the primitive and menacing looking animal made we feel quite cold inside. Its tail end was armed with a long barb that was raised in a threatening posture. What a dreadful image to place at the center of a lovely garden. Why would anyone choose to admire such an alarming looking beast?

After looking at the fruit trees in the large orchard, we went back into the house, and sat by the fire in Arwel’s library. When I walked into this room I gasped. I had never seen so many books in one place before, and walked around the walls admiring the red and buff leather-bound books with their gilt titles. A servant brought us cups of warm cider, and when he left, closing the door behind him, I was finally able to ask Arwel how it was that such a young man, a bard, was able to own such a home. Arwel smiled as he sipped his cider. “I perform for the gentry, dear fellow, for those in the land who have great power and wealth. Indeed, my most generous patron is none other than Queen Elizabeth herself.”

I could not believe my ears. “But how is it that you are favored by such powerful people?” I asked. “Who introduced you to such elevated personages?”

“When I was a boy, a poor orphaned and homeless boy, and man called Dr. John Dee heard me singing in the market square in the town of Bala. The doctor was riding through the town on his way to visit a friend who lived nearby, when he heard me singing a plaintive ballad.  He was so moved by my songs and by my pitiful appearance that he arranged to adopt me, making me his ward.”

I had heard of Dr. Dee many times because my uncle Caradog had met and conversed with him on several occasions. The learned man was said to be a skilled astrologer, and the queen herself relied on him to advise her. Uncle Caradog thought that Dr. Dee was very wise to be sure, but he also felt that the man was not to be trusted. Uncle said that Dr. Dee was a “master manipulator,” and there were even rumors that the man dabbled in dark magic. Many people said that his partiality for dark magic was not surprising when one considers that his last name derives from the Celtic Welsh name ‘du’ which means black.

Arwel lived with Dr. Dee in his house, and he was taught how to conduct himself like a proper young gentleman. Tutors were found to educate Arwel, and he was also given instruction in music, recitation, and dancing. Dr. Dee had every reason to be well pleased with Arwel because the boy took to his new life like a duck to water. Then, quite by accident, Dee discovered that Arwel had another gift, one that was even more interesting than the young man’s ability to sing, play musical instruments, tell stories, and recite poetry.