TWM SIôN CATI*
THE COOKING POT
It was market day in Llandovery.
Everybody was there.
You could hear the noise from half a mile away:
The bellowing of cattle;
The honking of geese;
The nervous bleating of wild-eyed mountain sheep.
Twm Siôn Cati crouched behind a roadside hedge; his black leather bag lay on the ground beside him.
He peered through a gap in the tangled branches, watching and waiting.
He was hungry and cold and anxious to join the stream of travellers washing along the narrow lanes into the main square.
But he had to be careful.
He had to chose his moment.
After all he didn’t really know which of these weathered faces he could trust.
He didn’t want to draw attention to himself. He didn’t want to look as if he had spent the last two weeks, living like an animal, in a damp cave.
Twm picked up a stick and tried to scrape some of the caked mud off his leather
boots. After all he was a wanted man. There was a reward for ‘information leading to the capture of Twm Siôn Cati, alias Tomas Jones, the notorious outlaw.’ There would be sheriff’s men in town and although Twm was fairly sure none of the local farmers would betray him, he certainly had enemies. There were one or two greedy merchants and ruthless landowners who had cause to hate him and would be only too glad to see him swinging from the end of a nice thick rope!
Eifion Jenkins had been walking since just after sun rise.
It was six miles from his little stone house to town.
Six hard miles over fields and along the rutted tracks and drover’s roads that led to the market square.
With a sigh of relief he lifted the heavy sack off his aching back and propped it against the wall of the Black Ox inn.
The muffled squarks and protests from the trussed-up hens inside, were drowned out by a sudden burst of laughter from the bar.
Eifion licked his dry lips.
What wouldn’t he give for a drink!
The Black Ox was famous for the sweetness of its home brewed ale. Just the job for clearing dust from the throat.
But first of all he had to sell something and get some money.
Reluctantly he picked up his sack and made his way towards the cobbled market square.
Inside the Black Ox a gaggle of farmers were clustered round the huge fire warming their backs.
It was obvious that none of them were suffering from dry throats!
The beer was already working its magic.
The talk was of good bargains and bad winters; of foxes and crows and stolen lambs and greedy landlords with stone hearts.
After a few more pints had disappeared, they pulled their chairs closer together and moved onto the latest exploits of Twm Sion Cati, master of disguise, champion of the poor. Some spoke of his skill on horseback, others of his cunning and wicked sense of humour.
And as they were speaking their rough male voices seemed to soften with pleasure and a certain brightness danced in their eyes.
They would have been very surprised if they had known that the subject of their wild tales was elbowing his way through the crowded square not ten paces from where they sat!
Twm turned into Stone Street and wandered down the middle, stopping every now and then to examine the contents of the stalls and tables set up on either side. So far so good. He had food in his stomach. There was a loaf of warm bread and a good hunk of cheese in his bag. And so far he had seen no sign of the sheriff’s men. All he needed now was some salt and oats and he could return to the safety of his hideout in the hills.
Meanwhile Eifion had joined two women standing in front of a stall with a large painted sign that read ‘Dai Morgan - Finest Iron and Metal ware .’
The red-faced man behind the counter was doing his best to sell one of his overpriced milk pails.
‘Look at that handle’ he insisted. ‘Real quality! Last you for years that will. Guaranteed. Go on try it. Not too heavy for a lovely strong girl like you!’
In the centre of his stall there was a gleaming display of knives stabbed into a rough wooden block. Next to the knives there were measuring jugs, ladles and frying pans. Hanging up behind Morgan there were scythes and axes, bill hooks and spades. Arranged along the front of the counter were wooden boxes full of different sized nails, but the thing that had attracted Eifion’s eye was a handsome, three-legged, cast iron cooking pot.
He reached over and picked it up.
You could make enough stew in that to last a family for a week. It was exactly what he needed to replace the chipped and cracked rust-bucket that they had to use at home.
Eifion opened his purse and looked gloomily at the contents.
Sadly there was no need to take out the coins and count them.
He knew it wasn’t enough.
If only he had got a better price for his birds.
If only he had waited and bargained a little, instead of just accepting the first offer
that came along.
Eifion was an excellent farmer but a hopeless salesman.
He just didn’t enjoy the cut and thrust of dealing with the public.
His wife, Mairwen, would certainly have done better.
Not only did she love meeting people but she was a magician with words.
When she sold butter she made it sound as if you were buying happiness and
long life. She would probably have got three times the price. But it wasn’t to be. She was at home nursing the new baby. And he was here. And that was that!
Reluctantly he put down the pot and, head bowed, shoulders drooping, drifted away from the stall.
And that was how they, literally, bumped into each other!
Twm Sion Cati, outlaw, renegade, walking up the street, keeping a crafty eye open for the sheriff’s men.
Eifion Jenkins, husband and father, dreaming of cooking pots and the smile on the face of his beloved Mairwen.
‘Hey! Look where you’re going man!’
But it was too late.
And then - when the two men had picked themselves up off the ground, and apologised and dusted off the cabbage leaves and sawdust - they introduced themselves and before many minutes were out, they found themselves in the back parlour of the Black Ox. After a jug or two, the shy farmer found his tongue loosened enough to tell his new friend about the cooking pot. Twm listened with growing interest as Eifion described the tale of the cheap chickens, his new-born daughter and the miserable rust bucket that dangled and dripped over their fire in the hills
Now Twm knew Dai Morgan the ironmonger very well.
He was a miserable, sour faced man, notorious throughout Carmarthen for the low quality and high cost of his metal ware. Unfortunately he was the only ironmonger in town so it was usually a question of paying up or doing without!
But, as Eifion continued with his tale of woe, an idea began to sprout in Twm’s head.
By the time he had finished the idea had grown roots, put out branches and leaves and produced fruit!
Twm clapped his new friend on the shoulder and smiled.
‘Don’t worry, ‘said Twm. ‘Trust me! That pot is as good as yours.’
He leant over and whispered his plan to Eifion.
Then the two men finished their drinks and made their way out into the sunshine.
As soon as they were outside Twm bent down and picked up a handful of small stones. He passed them over to Eifion who dropped them into his purse.
A little further on Twm leaned over a garden wall and grabbed a handful of mud.
He daubed some of it on his own face and the rest on Eifion’s.
When he’d finished he stepped back to admire his handiwork.
‘Well,’ laughed Twm, ‘It’s not pretty but it’ll do. I don’t think your own mother would recognise you!’
Then they made their way back down Stone Street towards the unsuspecting ironmonger.
Now the afternoon was drawing on and Dai Morgan hadn’t had much trade that day so he had started to pack his wares into boxes.
However as soon as he saw Twm and Eifion approaching his stall, he stopped. He noticed Eifion’s bulging purse and filthy face and thought he saw an opportunity to make some easy money.
‘Good afternoon Gentlemen!’ said the ironmonger. ‘How may I help you?’
‘Well,’ said Twm ‘We is looking for a pot, isn’t we?’
‘That’s it’ said Eifion, ‘a nice, solid, iron pot.’
The ironmonger rubbed his hands with glee.
‘You’ve come to the right place,’ he said.
He reached down under the table and pulled up two black pots.
‘There you are!’ he said. ‘Real quality that is. See for yourselves.’
The two men made a show of examining the pots carefully.
They tapped them.
They turned them upside down.
They looked inside.
They held them up to the light
Then they put them down again.
‘Yes indeed ’ said Twm “Not bad it is. But I think we is looking for something bigger.’
‘Bigger’ he grinned, ‘much bigger.’
The ironmonger folded his fat arms and looked suspiciously at the two grubby men in front of him.
But in the end he was reassured by the sight of Eifion’s bulging purse.
‘Right!’ said Morgan.
He went to the back of the stall and started searching among the neatly stacked boxes until at last he found what he was looking for.
‘Big enough?’ he inquired, as he lifted a huge pot out of its box and lowered it carefully onto the counter.
Twm took the heavy pot and, as before, the two men proceeded to examine it.
They tapped it.
They weighed it.
They turned it upside down.
‘Oh dear,’ sighed Twm
‘Oh dear,’ echoed Eifion.
‘What a shame.’ said Twm.
‘Isn’t it!’ said Eifion.
Shaking their heads they put it back onto the counter.
‘Well?’ demanded the puzzled shopkeeper. ‘Isn’t it big enough for you?’
‘Oh it’s big enough’ replied Twm, ‘But it’s no good.’
‘No good?’ roared the ironmonger. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well,’ smiled Twm, ‘It’s got a hole in it!’
‘Hole!’ spluttered the furious ironmonger. ‘Impossible! These are the finest pots in the whole of Carmarthenshire; they don’t have holes in them!’
‘This one does.’ said Twm.
‘Rubbish!’ roared Morgan
‘See for yourself said Twm.
The furious shopkeeper lifted the heavy pot from the counter and examined it.
‘No holes in there!’ he said slamming it back down. Eifion and Twm looked at each other.
‘O Yes there are!’ they chorused
‘All right.’ he challenged ‘Show me!’
So Twm lifted up the heavy pot and turned it upside down. ‘In there!’ he pointed.
The shopkeeper bent forward and peered up into the dark mouth.
‘No hole!’ he said triumphantly.
‘Big hole!’ insisted Eifion.
‘Big as your head.’ added Twm
And so saying, he pulled the huge pot down over Morgan’s head!
Then before anyone realised what was happening, Twm grabbed the three legged pot; stuffed it into his black bag and the two men ran away into the crowd.
A very angry Dai Morgan
And a leather purse
Full of small hard stones!
Copyright Jonathan Shipton 2015
*Twm Sion Catti (pronounced 'Tom Shone Catti') is Wales' answer to Robin Hood.
He lived near my home town of Llandovery.