The Red Hand of Chirk
Lord Myddleton became a proud man when he learned that his beautiful young wife was with child. He had married late and needed to sire an heir to inherit his castle and estate before his ardour declined into old age. Lord Myddleton was a popular Baron and the news of his wife’s confinement was greeted with celebration in the towns and villages of the Marcher Lands. His castle at Chirk was a happy place with noble visitors arriving each day to offer their congratulations to the old man and his pregnant wife.
The weeks passed and the Baroness started to show. Her belly grew quickly and her anxious husband, for this was his first child, summoned the doctors. They prodded and pushed the young Baroness and consulted at length.
“My Lord. There is nothing to fear. Your wife has healthy lungs and a strong heart. She will bear your sons and be a fine mother,” they reported.
“My sons?” cried the Baron.
“Aye my Lord,” replied the doctors. “Your wife is with twins.”
The Baron was overjoyed with the news. But would they both be sons he wondered. If there were two sons which one would inherit his estate? The Baron asked his friends.
“Don’t worry,” they said. “One is sure to be a girl, then you can marry her off.”
The Baron started to worry. He needed to be sure.
“Perhaps the midwife can advise you,” suggested a squire.
“Fetch her at once,” commanded the Baron.
The midwife was a common woman, stout in frame and calm in nature. She listened quietly while the Barron explained his problem.
“If there are two sons how will I know which should inherit my lands and title?” asked the Baron. “They cannot both be Baron of Chirk.”
The midwife considered her lordships question carefully before she replied.
“My Lord. Have no fear. The answer to your problem is plain enough. Is it not true that the first born son should inherit?” asked the woman.
“That is so,” replied the Baron.
“Then, when the time comes I will tie a ribbon to the first baby that emerges to identify your first born child,” said the midwife.
The Baron liked the midwife’s simple suggestion and agreed to her plan.
The Baroness continued to grow bigger as the months went by until; at last, the time arrived for the birth. A room was prepared and the Baroness withdrew. The midwife issued instructions to the women of the castle. The fires were built up to keep the birthing room hot. Boiling water and towels were fetched. The Baron and his squires waited for news in the great hall.
The contractions started. Slowly the top of a head began to emerge and then a tiny arm appeared. The midwife swiftly tied on a red ribbon. Her hands were slippery with blood.
“Push now, with all your might,” cried the Midwife.
The Baroness screamed and pushed. Then she stopped, tired and wanting it to end.
“Baroness. You have a son,” yelled the midwife and held the baby up by its legs. The child spluttered and began to cry. Its lungs were hearty. Hearing the sound, the Baron ran to his wife’s chambers.
“Keep out, my Lord. Our work is not yet done,” called the midwife.
“Do I have a son?” demanded the Baron, through the closed door.
“Aye, you do my Lord,” replied the midwife returning to her work.
She saw a tiny leg and a head appearing. The second baby was twisted and needed help. The midwife took her knife and cut the Baroness. The second baby was delivered. It was a boy. The little body was covered in blood and on its arm was the tiny red ribbon. The midwife did not see the ribbon as she wrapped the child in a towel.
The Baron could contain himself no longer. He burst into the room.
“Well. Is it done?” he cried.
“It is my Lord. You have two fine sons,” replied the midwife.
She handed him the little bundles.
“Which is first born?” asked the Baron as he gazed at the babies.
“The one with the red ribbon on his arm,” replied the midwife, content with her reply.
As the boys grew, no one, not even their mother, could tell them apart. They were identical in size and feature. To tell the difference the Baroness sewed ribbons into the sleeves of one of her son’s clothes. It was he that was to become the next Baron of Chirk.
The years passed and the old Baron grew frail and weak. His sons grew strong and fit, competing in everything they did. They became clever and ambitious men but one was more ruthless than the other. As the old Baron’s health failed he took to his bed. Feeling his life slipping away he sent for his sons.
He turned to the eldest.
“You are first born and my rightful heir. When I am dead you will be Baron of Chirk,” he said.
“How can this be so father for we are twins?” said the second son.
“The ribbon on your brothers sleeve shows he was born before you. There cannot be two Barons. You must leave and make your own way in the world,” said the Baron, feebly.
The first son was pleased but his brother grew angry. This was unfair. Why should his brother get everything while he has to slink away with nothing but the clothes on his back? Slowly a plan took shape in his head. The next morning the second son woke early, dressed in his brothers clothes and went to his fathers rooms. The old Baron was dozing as his son entered.
“My Lord. I must speak with you,” said the son, rousing his father.
The Baron stirred.
“We cannot send my brother away with nothing. He is your blood. You must change your will to provide for him,” said the son.
The Baron smiled at his son.
“I cannot change the will. It is the law. You are the first son. The title and my wealth will pass to you,” whispered the Baron.
“Very well father,” said the son. “I will obey your dying wish.”
At that moment the other son burst into the room.
“Why are you dressed in my clothes,” he demanded.
“They are my clothes. Look here is my ribbon,” replied the son that had woken the Baron.
“Usurper. You have stolen my clothes,” cried one son.
The argument grew loud and the Baron’s servant came, drawn by the raised voices. They separated the sons and held them. The Baron lay back weary. He looked at his sons through misty eyes, dilated with death. He knew he was passing away. His time had come.
“You must decide my Lord. Which of us is your true heir,” shouted one of the sons.
The Baron beckoned his squire to come closer.
“Carry my bed to the gardens,” he whispered.
The squire ordered the servants to lift the Baron’s bed and take it to the garden. They propped the dying man up with pillows.
The sons stood by their father’s bed.
“My sons, truly I do not know which of you is my heir but there can only be one. I cannot decide so you will race around the castle. The first to return and touch my bed will be the next Baron,” said the old man softly.
Without a word, the sons ran from the Baron to the corner of the castle. One was just ahead as they turned the corner but his brother tripped him and he fell. The second son ran on but his brother recovered and chased after him. They pushed and shoved as they ran both determined to win the fateful race. As they entered the garden one brother pushed the other into a yew tree. The fallen son, seeing that the race was lost snatched a sword from a nearby guard and with a mighty blow cut off his own hand. He seized the bloody hand and threw it towards the Baron’s bed where it landed and won him the race.
From that day the coat of arms of the Baron’s of Chirk has included a bloody red hand.
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