Be sure to click on The Book Shelf Link Above to find more great books to read!
Last week's Featured Author is Sarah Woodbury, author of
And her newest: Daughter of Time
The Last Pendragon: A Story of Dark Age Wales (historical fantasy)
$2.99 Amazon link: HERE At Amazon UK: HERE
Footsteps in Time: A Time Travel Fantasy (historical fantasy/time travel fantasy/YA)
After Cilmeri Book One 99 cents
At Amazon.com: Footsteps in Time Amazon UK: Footsteps in Time
Prince of Time (historical fantasy/time travel fantasy/YA)
After Cilmeri Book Two $2.99
At Amazon.com: Prince of Time
At Amazon UK: Prince of Time
Daughter of Time: A Time Travel Romance (After Cilmeri) or buy it at Amazon UK
Read an Interview with Sarah on the Chair to Chair Page
Part of the After Cilmeri Series
Daughter of Time
A Time Travel Romance
* * * * *
My husband’s body lay cold on the table in front of me. A sheet covered all but his face, but that didn’t stop me from imagining the damage to his body—from the car accident and from wounds inflicted long before tonight.
The chill in the room seeped all the way through me, nearly as cold as the January air outside. The morgue was just as I’d imagined—feared—it would be. A classroom-sized box with fluorescent lights, sanitized metal tables, sinks and counters lined against one wall, with implements whose function I didn’t want to know. I tried not to look anywhere but at Trev, but as I began to struggle against the rushing in my ears and the narrowing of my vision, I had to glance away, my eyes skating over the rest of the room. The police officer took my right elbow and spoke softly in my ear. “Come sit, Mrs. Lloyd. There’s nothing you can do here.”
I nodded, not really listening, and pulled my winter coat closer around me. The officer steered me out the door and into in the hall, to an orange plastic chair next to the one in which my mother waited. It was the kind of hallway you could find in any public building: utilitarian, sterile, with off-white tile flecked with black, off-white walls, and thin, metal framed windows that wouldn’t open, holding back the weather. I met my mother’s eyes and we shared a look that needed no words.
What the officer didn’t understand—couldn’t understand—were my conflicting emotions: horror and sadness certainly, anger, but overlying all that, relief. Relief for him, having had to live for six months with increasing despair, and relief for me that he had self-medicated himself into oblivion, releasing me from living with a man I no longer loved and couldn’t like.
“It’s nothing to do with you,” Mom said. I turned to look at her. Her face was nearly as white as her hair, but her chin jutted out as it always did when she was determined to get her point across and she thought I was being particularly stubborn.
“I know, Mom. I know that.” I leaned forward and rested my head in my hands. The tears I’d controlled in the morgue finally fell, filling my eyes and seeping between my fingers.
My mother’s voice came softly. “He made his choice, cariad. Even he could see that this was a better end.”
“I know that too.”
I stand on the porch of my mother’s house, my hands on my hips. Anna is napping in her room and I’ve been enjoying a quiet hour alone. The bright sunlight of the August afternoon heats my face. I shield my eyes with one hand, wondering where I left my sunglasses, as Trev parks his car and gets out, coming around the front to stand on the sidewalk, his arms calm at his sides. I brace myself for his plea. He’s going to ask me to come back to him. I’m ready to say no; strong enough now to say no as I should have been the first time he hit me.
It’s been three months since I’ve seen him. Three months which I spent reveling in my new-found independence and planning the rest of my life, and as always, thankful that I had somewhere to go—that my mother had been willing to take us in. I’ve already started at the community college; I’m going to get myself back on track to the future I’d had before Trev had interrupted it.
“I need you, Meg,” Trev says.
“No you don’t. Or only as a punching bag.”
“You don’t understand,” he says, taking a step forward.
I hold out one hand. “Don’t come any further. You need to stay on the sidewalk or I’ll call the police.”
He knows now that I’ll do it and takes one step back. He raises his hands, palms out, as if in supplication, except that he’s never asked me for anything in his life, never stooped to saying please. This time he does.
“Please come home, Meg,” he says. “I’m dying.”
I gape at him. “What?”
“It’s the reason I’ve been unstable recently. The reason I’ve lost so much weight.”
“The reason for that is that you’ve stopped eating and opted only to drink straight scotch,” I said. “That or bourbon.”
Trev shakes his head. “It stops the ache,” he says. “I’ve just come from the doctor. He says I have a chance to live—chemotherapy and medicines that will make me even sicker. I can’t do this alone. I need you.”
So I’d gone with him, out of guilt and obligation and pity. Trevor Lloyd: my husband of two years and the father of our little girl, Anna. It was for her that I’d initially stayed with him, and because of her that I’d left him. Returning because he had stage-four pancreatic cancer at twenty-three may have seemed the right thing to do at the time, but it had been a mistake, one to which the bruising from the black eye he’d given me only the night before testified. How he’d even been able to stand I didn’t know, nor why I’d not been smart enough to get out of his way. That had always been my problem. I’d let him go, incapacitated as he was, strung up on who knew what cocktail of medications and alcohol, thankful that he was leaving me alone.
And now he was dead. Was that my fault?
And now he was dead and I was free.
* * * * *
I tossed my purse on the floor of the living room, pulled off my coat, shoulders still dusted with snow from outside, and plopped myself onto the couch next to Anna and my sister, Elisa, who’d been reading her a book. Elisa, two years younger than I, was home for Christmas from her freshman year in college and would soon return to school.
It was three days since Trev’s funeral; a week since he died. A week wasn’t a long time to mourn, Mom said, but I’d been feeling his loss for months already, if not years, from the first time he’d slapped me across the face and sent me spinning around the kitchen table. His death had only been the final note in a long, mournful tune.
“A guy at the community college just asked me out on a date,” I said.
I gave Elisa a glance and a half-smile. “Do I have three heads or something?” I said, and then confessed before she could answer, “I was just surprised. It’s been a while since I thought about myself that way.”
“Since you stopped nursing and lost some weight, you look really great, actually.”
What could I do but laugh? Elisa had a way of getting straight to the point. “Well, thanks,” I said. “I think. I feel more like myself. Like I’m waking up from a long sleep, or as if I’ve been wrapped in Styrofoam and I’ve finally broken through it.”
“So you really are okay?” Elisa said.
“Yes. I think, finally, yes.”
“No more losers,” she said. “Any guy that you meet and start to date, you have to run through both Mom and me before you get serious. Bring him home and he has to submit to twenty questions before you get any further.”
“That’s pretty strict!” I said. “What if I just want to go to a movie with him?”
“Nope.” Elisa shook her head. She was very serious. Admittedly, she was always serious but I could tell she really meant it and it touched me.
I smiled at her. “You are what I want to be. I’m so proud of you.”
“Me? You’re the one who’s had to deal with all this stuff.”
“I’m the one who chose the wrong dream to follow. Is it too late for me?”
“Of course not!” Mom bustled in. “You’re going to be fine. You’re only twenty.”
“I’ll be twenty-one soon.”
Mom shook her head. “You’ve just made a small detour. Besides, look what we got out of it!” She leaned over the back of the couch to kiss the top of Anna’s head. “Cyn wired â'r pader.”
Elisa and I rolled our eyes in unison. ‘As true as the Lord’s Prayer!’ Mom had said. She knew enough Welsh to get by, as she said, and she’d diligently taught it to us. That just happened to be her favorite phrase. She’d emigrated to Pennsylvania from Wales as a girl, settling in Radnor with an aunt and uncle (long since dead). She’d grown up in Cardiff, a city in south Wales, and one anglicized enough that she’d never quite become fluent in the language.
Yet, she’d found comfort in the Pennsylvania hills that reminded her of home and in the remnants of the Welsh language that she found along the Main Line. She’d never been back to Wales, though, and Radnor, where we still lived, was as close as she’d gotten to living in a Welsh community.
After working for twenty years as a housekeeper, she married Evan Morgan. He’d been ten years older than she and delighted to find himself with a wife—and within a few years of marriage, two daughters, long after he thought himself an established bachelor. Mom had already been forty when they married so they hadn’t had as long as they would have liked together; she blamed my sojourn with Trev on grief at my father’s death.
Unfortunately, none of us knew any more Welsh than Mom . . . and what had Elisa and I learned in high school? French, and confounded our parents with our grasp of the language. Sitting on the couch with Elisa and Anna, I recalled that I used to be good in school. A lifetime ago. Maybe I could be again.
“Can we go, Mommy?” Anna said.
I smiled down at her and tickled her under her chin. She giggled. She had curly, dark hair, almost black, and her dark eyes looked at me with an intent expression. Her little legs stuck straight out in front of her as she held the book on her lap. She was only two and a half years old but already talking in long sentences. Sometimes I was the only one who could understand what she was saying through her little two-year-old lisp, but at least she was saying it. I didn’t need her to articulate “ice cream”, however, to remember my promise.
“Yes,” I said. “Let’s go.”
“What about dinner?” Mom said. I stood to look at her, not wanting to argue in front of Anna. Mom met my eye, and then nodded. “Dessert first, then dinner. Sounds wonderful.”
“Thank you, Mom.” I leaned forward to put my arms around her plump waist and my head on her shoulder. “Thank you for everything.”
“Dw i'n dy garu di.”
“I love you too.” I held out a hand to Anna. She turned over on her stomach, letting her legs dangle over the edge of the cushion, slid down from the couch, and ran to me. I bundled her into her coat, put her on my hip, and reached for my purse again. “We’ll be back.”
“Bye,” Elisa and Mom said in unison.
Anna waved as she always did, her little fist opening and closing. “Bye.”
Once in my little blue Honda, with Anna buckled into her car seat in the middle of the back seat, I allowed myself a deep breath. I leaned my head against the seat rest. We’ll be okay. I buckled myself in, started the car, and headed away from my mother’s house.
It was only four miles to the ice cream parlor. I took the turns carefully, reliving again, as I did in my dreams, what must have happened to Trev that night. Halfway there, I realized we were approaching the spot where he died. I’d been avoiding it the whole week. How could I have forgotten to take a different route this time? The intersection lay ahead of us. My stomach clenched.
I come home from my job at the library on campus. I’d been able to put Anna in bed before I left, but as I push open the kitchen door at midnight, I can see through the space between the kitchen counter and the cupboards into the living room, which is dark except for the flickering light from the television. There she is, lying on the couch with her eyes open, watching something that looks like Jaws 17. I set my books on the kitchen counter and Trev twists in his armchair. He has a beer in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other.
I just stand there, staring at him, anger, recriminations, and hatred boiling up inside me. There’s a moment when I try to stop them, knowing it’s pointless to complain, trying to make allowances for the crappy upbringing he had that led him to this moment. But then they spill out. “Trev,” I say, trying to keep my voice down and reasonable-sounding. “I’ve asked you not to smoke in the house. It’s bad for Anna.”
“It’s fucking cold out there!” he said, hitching himself higher in the chair. He’s lost so much weight, his body doesn’t have the mass to stay fixed in the seat anymore and keeps sliding down it. “I’ll fucking die if I go out there.”
“Trev,” I say again. “You’re smoking.”
“And I’m fucking dying anyway. Shit,” he says, getting angry between one instant and the next. He reaches beside him and throws the pillow in his chair across the room like a frisbee. It hits the television, which fizzles out. We’ve never been able to afford a better TV and in that moment, I’m glad. But Trev is mad.
He pushes out of his chair and approaches me, taking small mincing steps. He changes his voice to something whiny and high, a supposed imitation of my own. “Trev,” he says. “Trev don’t smoke. Trev, you’re keeping Anna awake. She needs her sleep. Trev, you shouldn’t be drinking while you’re on your meds.”
I back away, glancing at Anna to see how she’s taking this. Her eyes are closed. I hope that she really is asleep, now that the glare from the television is gone, but I don’t see how she could be.
“Trev,” I say, one more time. “Don’t.”
“Don’t fucking say my name!” He backhands me across the face before I can get out of the way. I fall against the kitchen table and onto the floor, and then crab-walk backward, hurrying before he can hit me again. He stumbles forward and leans down, getting right in my face, his hand fisted. “I’ll do what I please in my own house!”
Then he straightens. He’s breathing hard; this has taken more out of him than it used to. He staggers as he makes his way to the kitchen door and opens it. I don’t say anything and neither does he as he walks away from me, into the night.
When the police officer came to the house, he told me that Trev hadn’t braked at a stop sign where the road teed. Instead of turning right or left as required, he’d driven straight ahead into a tree. Facing that same junction, I eased up on the gas. My eyes blurred as we approached it and I fought back the tears, wiping at my cheeks with the back of one hand while the other clenched the steering wheel. I pressed the brake hard, as I knew he had not—but then . . . I’m not stopping!
“Anna!” Her name came out a shriek as the car skidded sideways on the black ice I’d not known was there. I swung the wheel, struggling to correct our course. I managed to alter it enough to avoid the tree on which Trev had lost his life, but slid instead toward the twenty-foot high roadcut to its left which was fronted by a shallow ditch. Time hung suspended during that half second before impact, stretching before me. My hands whitened on the wheel, my throat tightened from unshed tears, and Anna cried in the back seat, frightened by the panic in my voice.
Then everything speeded up as the car slid into the cut and then through it.
An abyss opened before me—a yawning blackness that gave me the same hollow rushing in my ears I’d felt in the morgue. A lifetime later, we were through it or across it—whatever it was. I registered gray-blue sky and sea before the car bounded headfirst down an incline and skidded into a marsh. It came to an abrupt halt as the world flipped forward. Instinctively, I threw up my hands to protect my head but the steering wheel rushed at my face. I tasted plastic and blood—pain, and then nothing.
* * * * *
In the year of our Lord, twelve hundred, and sixty-eight. May God go with you. The priest’s parting invocation for the close of evening mass echoed in my head as I took the steps two at a time up to the battlements of Castell Cricieth. Darkness was coming on and I was looking forward to seeing the sun set over the water to the southwest. They say that we, the Welsh, are always caught between the mountains and the sea. On a day like today, with the wind whipping the sea into a froth and the snow-covered peak of Yr Wyddfa—Mt. Snowdon—towering above the castle, both tugged at me.
I breathed in the salty air, feeling its humid scent. In truth, I loved it all. It was as if my boots had been planted in the soil of Wales and no power in heaven or earth could move me from this spot.
My small corner of Europe had been threatened, encircled, and enslaved by kings of many nationalities since Caesar first crossed the channel into England over a thousand years before. Throughout it all, we Welsh had, in turn, fought and run, thrown ourselves upon our enemies, and hidden in our mountains. Each foreign king had eventually discovered that our resistance to his rule was as inevitable as the rain, and our place in Wales as permanent as the rock on which we stood.
And now King Henry of England knew it too. The triumph of my ascendancy was like a fire in my belly that would not go out. Every month that passed allowed me to more strongly grasp each hamlet, each pasture and village in Wales as my own.
As I stood on the battlements, the wind in my hair, the words my bard had pronounced at the New Year’s feast rang again in my ears, each stanza crashing over me like the waves that hit the shore below: There stands a lion, courageous and brave . . . Llywelyn, ruler of Wales. Was I too proud, too full of hubris, that I heard these words in my head, long past the ending of the feast?
The sun was reddening as it lowered in the sky and I turned my back on it to look up at Yr Wyddfa, its snowy peaks now pink from the reflected light. It had been a sunny day, unusual for January, and this was a rare treat. I was just turning to look northeast again, when a—what is that thing!—surged out of the trees that lined the edge of the marsh abutting the seashore to the west of the castle, beacons shining from the front of it, and buried itself headfirst in the marsh.
Stunned, I couldn’t move at first, but the unmistakable wail of a small child, faint at this distance, rose into the air. Afraid now that the—thing? chariot?—would sink into the marsh before I could reach it, I ran across the battlements to the stairs, down them, out a side door of the keep, and into the bailey. I spied Goronwy ap Heilin, my longtime counselor and friend, just coming into the castle from under the gatehouse and I strode toward him.
“My lord!” He checked his horse, concern etched in every line of his squat body. He was dressed in full armor, his torso made more bulky by its weight. His helmet hid his prematurely gray hair.
I hesitated for a heartbeat and then threw myself onto the horse behind him. Goronwy gathered his reins and chose not to argue, even though he had to know that his horse couldn’t carry the two of us for long.
“We must hurry,” I said.
Goronwy spurred his horse back the way he’d come, out the gate and down the causeway that led from the castle to the village. We trotted through the village and turned left, trying to reach the point where the vehicle had gone in.
While Castell Cricieth itself was built on a high rock that could be reached by a narrow passage, the marsh associated with it was legendary. The pathway fell off dangerously into a sucking swamp, fed by an unnamed underground stream that seeped its way to the sea. I’d not lost anyone in it recently and didn’t want to lose anyone now, but as we came to a sudden halt along the road as it turned, I wasn’t sure what to do.
The wail of the child was more evident the closer we got, though it was no longer constant but punctuated every now and then by silence. Perhaps he was tiring, too exhausted to maintain his cries. I could imagine him gasping for air between breaths as a child does, especially when he is unsure if anyone is coming to help.
“By all that is holy!” Goronwy said, seeing the vehicle for the first time. “What is it?”
“I don’t know. A chariot of some kind, carrying two from the looks.” It had four wheels, as wagons do, two of which spun slowly, high in the air. The vehicle had moved so fast and without any visible means of propulsion that I couldn’t imagine what had thrown it out of the forest and into my marsh in the first place. It was coated in a sturdy material that wasn’t wood, and was, unaccountably, blue in color.
Goronwy took in the situation in a glance and gestured to the point where the chariot had driven into the marsh. “By the trees, my lord,” he said. “It looks as if the ground is more solid there.”
“Yes. Keep going.”
We continued on the road until it reached the trees and then along their edge until we stopped only a few yards from the chariot. The sun was nearly down now and I cursed myself for forgetting a torch. We dismounted and I took a step toward the chariot, but my foot immediately stuck a few inches into the mud. To put my weight down further would ensure the loss of my boot.
“Careful, my lord,” Goronwy said.
I stepped back. “We’ll find another way.”
Goronwy spied several fallen logs in the woods that edged the marsh and we lugged them towards the marsh to act as a bridge between us and the chariot. Urgency filled both of us so with me in the lead, we stepped carefully across them to the chariot. I touched one of the side walls of the vehicle, hesitant, noting that it curved away from me, smooth as the water in my washing basin.
“Now what?” Goronwy said. “Do you need my help to get them out?”
Goronwy was concerned because the narrow bridge we’d built was sinking into the marsh under our combined weight. For us to stand together on one end might doom the both of us. I peered through the clear glass that separated me from the baby in the rear of the vehicle and from the woman in the front seat. The light of the setting sun reflected off the glass and I could see fingerprints smudging the window. The sight struck me as so commonplace that it gave me confidence.
“No. Stay where you are.”
I surveyed the expanse of incredibly worked metal of which the vehicle was composed. As I studied it, I realized it was not all one piece as I’d first thought. It had been put together in sections, and then the pieces of metal attached together. Still, except for two black elongated objects aligned with each other half way down the sides, there was nothing to hold onto. I grasped one of them, hoping it was what it looked like: a latch.
I pulled on it and miraculously, the door to the chariot opened. I had to duck into the doorway since the chariot had a roof that was two feet less than my height. The girl slumped over a wheel affixed to the wall in front of her. I pulled her back into her seat and frowned at the line of blood across her forehead. Except for the one wound, I couldn’t see any other injuries. Her eyes were closed, however, and she was unconscious. It surprised me, in that half a second it took to look her over, that she was an ordinary girl, admittedly dressed strangely and half my age, but there was nothing about her that told me why she would be driving this incredible chariot.
A black strap of yet another material unlike any I’d ever seen held her in her seat. I fumbled to find its ties, grateful for the bright light coming from the ceiling of the chariot. I was ready to pull my knife to cut through the straps, but almost as an after-thought, noticed the strap ended in a large red square near her waist. I pressed it. The strap released and the woman slumped sideways. I slid my arms around her back and under her knees and pulled her to me, lifting her out of the chariot. Then, carefully balancing on the logs, I cat-walked back to Goronwy and transferred her to his arms.
He had waited patiently, as if this task was the most normal thing in the world for us to be doing. He held the woman, but otherwise didn’t move, since his position on the end of the log allowed me to balance near the chariot. “She’s beautiful,” he said, checking her from head to toe as her head lolled back on his forearm.
I gave him a quelling look, though it wasn’t like I hadn’t noticed. Her long hair was shot with every shade of brown imaginable and though her long lashes were down-turned in sleep so I couldn’t see her eyes, I had no difficulty imagining them gazing at me. She was slender as an unwed girl, but she looked so much like the girl behind her, she had to be her mother.
“So’s the little one,” I said. I moved back to the chariot, sliding one foot forward and then the other, but as I did so, the pressure in the marsh shifted and a sucking sound pierced the silence. The chariot sank another foot, tipping forward so now it lay only a few degrees off vertical.
“Is there time, my lord?”
“I will not leave that child to die,” I said. “I don’t think the risk to me too great.”
Afraid that movement near the front of the vehicle would upend it further, and at the same time worried about getting caught in the chariot’s draft if it did sink into the marsh, I pulled on the latch to the rear door, which opened just as had the door in front. Although the child appeared to be in some kind of special seat designed expressly for her small size, a red circle sat in the center of her chest. Hoping that there was a system here, I pressed it and as in her mother’s case, the straps released. The rear wheels were so high in the air now that the opening in the vehicle was at chest height—making it easy for me to reach into the chariot, but forcing me to lift the child from her seat with only the strength in my arms.
“Come, cariad,” I said.
Her eyes were wide as she reached for me, but she appeared unhurt. I pulled her to me and she wrapped her arms around my neck, swiveling her head to the left and right as she took in her surroundings.
“My lord.” Goronwy’s voice sounded a warning behind me and I took a step back, away from the chariot, and then another, my arms clutched around the little girl.
The pounding of my heart at last began to slow as Goronwy and I backed off the logs. “How do you want to do this?” Goronwy said, the woman still in his arms. “She’s not a sack of turnips, but she’s heavier than one.”
I set the baby on the ground, pleased she’d stopped crying and was willing to stand sturdily on her own feet. I crouched to speak to her. “Stand here. I’m going to take care of your mother.”
All I caught of the girl’s reply was one word, similar to Mam: Mammy, I surmised, though I didn’t know of any children who called their mother that.
I mounted Goronwy’s horse and Goronwy passed me the woman. I settled her across the horse’s withers. Because the girl wore breeches, I could rest her directly in front of me, with her back leaning against my chest, and her head tucked under my chin. While her clothes were entirely too provocative, in this case I was glad she was wearing them. Otherwise I would have had to cradle her in my arms or hike her skirt up past her thighs, which might provide us with a pleasant view, but was even more immodest.
I wrapped one arm around her waist and grasped the reins with the other. Goronwy bent down for the child, who allowed him to pick her up, her little arm wrapped around his neck as she’d wrapped it around mine. She said something to Goronwy that I didn’t catch and he answered in an undertone.
Then I saw his face. The look was one of pure panic, but he revealed a hitherto unknown adeptness with children and shifted her to his hip.
“I’ve got her, my lord,” Goronwy said. “Though I’m not sure she understands the words we’re saying.”
“She’s very young.”
“She spoke to me just now in a language that was unfamiliar,” Goronwy said. “I couldn’t even begin to tell you what it was.”
“No,” Goronwy said. “At least no sort of English I have ever heard, even lisping from the mouth of a child.”
“When her mother awakes, we’ll have some answers.”
“We certainly have many questions. Most pointedly, what is that vehicle?”
“I would add, “How did you fall into my marsh? What are those strange materials, metal, and clothes?”
“Could they be English?” Goronwy said, leaping ahead to the most crucial question. He strode along beside me, he and the girl finding a rhythm to his walk as she continued to take in her surroundings. “Returning crusaders have brought many new discoveries to Europe from the east. When I was last at Dinas Bran, I met such a man—he opened his own tavern, of all things—who told me of a glass through which one could see far distances. I very much would like one of those.”
“I will look into it,” I said. “Right now, our concern is somewhat more mundane. We need to get these two to the castle safely tonight, but come daylight, we must return to the vehicle with the woman. She has much to explain, both what it is and how it works.”
I directed the horse towards the causeway, aiming for the road we’d left and anxious not to stray into the bog. Since Goronwy was unhorsed, I rode more slowly than I might have otherwise. I was never outside the castle without my guard and felt strangely vulnerable, almost naked, without them.
We’d reached the road when Goronwy suddenly stopped and spun around. I reined in, and then heard what had gained his attention: another sucking sound, louder than when we’d stood on the logs. I looked back. It was as if the vehicle were in a tipped up wheel barrow, sliding its cargo even deeper into the marsh. In three heartbeats, the light in the interior was extinguished, and then in a rush, as if a giant mouth had opened beneath it, the chariot disappeared.
It was almost a prayerful moment, though my priest certainly wouldn’t have liked me saying so. Goronwy, more aptly, cursed. “By the arse of King Solomon, now we’ll never discover its mysteries, beyond what the woman can tell us.”
“I’m glad we weren’t close to it,” I said soberly, clicking my tongue to get the horse moving again.
“Any delay and the woman and her child would have died,” Goronwy said.
“It was only by chance that I was on the battlements. I was thinking of other things and watching the colors change on Yr Wyddfa when it appeared.”
“Chance, my lord? I think not,” Goronwy said, but anything further he thought to say was cut off by shouting in the distance. A company of my men galloped out of the village and into view.
“Prince Llywelyn!” One of my captains, Hywel ap Rhys, called. Another soldier held a torch in his hand as they trotted up to me, eyes widening at the girls in our arms.
“All is well.” I held up a hand to my men and Hywel closed his mouth on his questions. All of my men knew better than to disobey, but there would be no stopping some of them later. Hywel himself was a son of a noble house and believed himself all but my equal, though I was a prince and he a mere baron. Many times, I cursed the independence of the Welsh nobles, even the ones who fought by my side. Especially the ones who fought by my side.
The men fell into formation around us. We certainly formed a strange company. Goronwy and the girl continued whispering to each other and finally Goronwy spoke up. “I believe her name is Anna.”
“Well, it still isn’t clear what language she’s speaking. She appears to understand bits of what I’m saying, but I understand nothing of her words except ‘Anna.’ I have reassured her, to the best of my ability, that her mother will be well.”
We filed through the village, quiet now that it was full-dark. A few heads poked out of doorways. Hywel nodded at the blacksmith, who stood under the eave of his shop to watch us pass. We trooped up the hill to the castle and along its circuitous road to the gatehouse.
The bailey, once we reached it, was in turmoil. “You surprised us all, my lord,” Hywel said as he dismounted. He was tall, even for a Welshman, with the biggest feet any of us had ever seen. From the moment he joined the company we’d called him Boots. Half the men had probably forgotten his real name.
He reached for the woman, whom I allowed to slide off the horse. He was more than capable of bearing her weight, but when I got down myself, I quite deliberately took her back from him.
As we’d ridden up the road, I found myself going over the sudden arrival of the girl and her child in my head, and agreeing with Goronwy that what others ascribed to chance, I was willing to view as a gift from God. Or the devil, I supposed. It wasn’t something I would ever mention, not even to my closest advisors, but in the thick of the moment it wasn’t always easy to tell the difference between the two.
All I knew was that I didn’t want to let her go. The feeling was a new one, and yet, I’d learned to trust my instincts and knew myself well enough by now not to fight them. I’d had many women over the years—more than I could count, truth be told, which I’m sure had kept my confessor busier than he’d liked. But I’d not welcomed one into my bed in several months and hadn’t truly cared for any woman for much longer than that. I’d attributed my disinterest to my advanced age—and a natural evolution toward more circumspect and judicious taste.
With the girl in my arms, I strode toward the inner bailey which housed my private apartments, my men parting before me. Goronwy matched his steps to mine as we entered the great hall. Tudur ap Ednyfed Fychan, my steward, stepped toward me and bowed.
“Shall I have a room prepared for her, my lord?”
“No,” I said, hearing the flatness in my voice and knowing he would obey it. “She stays with me.”
* * * * *
I opened my eyes to a candle, guttering in a pottery dish on a small wooden table beside the bed on which I lay. It took only half a second for me to register that all was not as it should be.
“Oh, my God!” I reared up from the pillow. A man sat in a chair by the fire, reading a book the size of a coffee table dictionary. He looked up and smiled, and the smile was so disarming I just gaped at him, mouth open, knowing that nothing about him or the room was right, but unable to articulate why it wasn’t.
The room was built on a grand scale. A long table surrounded by chairs sat near a closed door, twenty feet from the foot of the bed. The bed itself was a massive four-poster, with thick, crimson hangings all around. Only one side was open—the side on which I lay. The floor was comprised of wooden slats set tightly together. Rather than polished, it was faded and worn with what could only have been years of use. I took it all in, flicking my eyes from one item to the next, before returning them to the man in the chair.
He shifted and then stood to walk to a bookshelf on the other side of the room. He laid the book flat on top of several others, taking a moment to align them neatly one with another. While his back was turned, I looked around the bed, more panicked than ever because I realized that I was wearing nothing but a nightgown—and a gorgeous one at that, with embroidered lace and puffy sleeves; that my clothes were gone and my hair was braided in a long plait down my back.
By the time he turned back to me and spoke, I’d scooted up the bed until I was sitting upright, the covers pulled to my chin.
“ . . .” he said.
I had no idea what he’d said. Confused because his words were completely unintelligible, even as they tugged at my ear with familiar tones, I didn’t move or saying anything, just stared. He tried again. I shook my head, uncertain.
He stayed relaxed, his hands at his sides and walked toward me, speaking a little louder, as if somehow that would help. I was desperately trying to make sense of what he was saying, but as he got closer, my breath rose in my chest until it choked me. He must have seen the fear on my face because he stopped, about three feet from the bed. I finally found my voice.
“What?” The words came out as little more than a squeak. “Who are you?” I dragged my eyes from his and flashed them around the room again, seeking somewhere to run but not seeing anything but the long distance to the door and the man standing between it and me. He didn’t answer my question but again tried one of his own.
“Beth ydy'ch enw chi?” he said.
“Meg dw i,” I said, then gasped. I’d answered automatically. ‘What is your name?’ he’d said in Welsh. ‘My name is Meg.’
I stilled myself and studied him as he stood, still calm, two paces from me. Had what he’d spoken before been in Welsh that I hadn’t understood, perhaps too fast, and too complicated compared to what I’d learned from Mom? Through my foggy brain, I focused with an effort. Who is he? He still hadn’t told me.
He was a large man in his late thirties, thin but muscled, nearly a foot taller than I. He wore a cream-colored shirt with a dark blue jacket, brown pants, and brown leather boots. He had a long nose and black hair, close in color to Anna’s. Anna! Fear rose in me again and twisted to see if she was on the bed.
“She’s asleep by the fire,” the man said, reading my mind. He followed this statement by more unintelligible words, except for, “You say, ‘Meg’, but you mean, Marged?”
I nodded. Marged was my formal name, though I never used it. Now more afraid for Anna than afraid of him, I swung my legs to the floor and ran to where he pointed. Anna was indeed asleep in a cradle set against the far wall, with large rockers on the bottom to keep a child asleep.
Someone had changed her clothes too. She wore a white nightgown that was a match to mine and was covered by a brown woolen blanket that was incredibly soft to the touch. Though my arms ached to hold her, I was afraid to pick her up in case I needed two hands to fend off the man, and was loathe to wake her needlessly. Instead, I stroked the hair away from her face.
I sat back on my heels, still watching her. As I settled there, my surroundings seeped into my consciousness more clearly: the tapestries on the walls; the handmade chair and table between the bed and the fire; the clothes we wore. All forced me to face the no longer ignorable questions: Where am I? What is this place?
“Who are you?” I asked again in English, and at the man’s look of puzzlement, repeated his words back to him. “Beth ydy'ch enw chi?”
“Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Tywysog o Cymry,” he said.
Both hands flew to my mouth. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales, he’d said.
Every Welsh child ever born had been told stories of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales, a man who’d died on a cold, snowy day in history, lured away from his companions by the treacherous English. Why was he telling me he was a thirteenth century Prince of Wales? I glanced around the room again. Had he constructed a thirteenth century house to go with his fantasies? Why had he brought Anna and me here?
“You can’t be.” I dropped my hands to my lap as reason reasserted itself in my brain.
“Englisch?” His face suddenly reddened. He took a step towards me but I hurried to forestall him, leaning forward with one hand on the floor and the other held out to stop him.
“No! No!” I said, then switched to Welsh at his fierce expression. “Na! Na! Os gwelwch yn dda!” Please, no!
Llywelyn stopped and I took in a shaky breath, the fear of before filling me more than ever. I knew enough of violent men to see it in him. My heart raced, but he studied me, not raising his hand or making any more threatening gestures, and gradually it slowed. I glanced at Anna, unsure if I should pick her up to keep her safe, or if it would just draw his attention to her and put us both at risk.
I dropped my hand, eased back onto my heels, and let out a steadying breath. Llywelyn took his chair, both of us more composed. My plea had diffused whatever emotion had been about to explode in the room, and for the first time I was glad I’d had Trev to deal with all those years. At times, I’d been able to say the right thing to calm him down, and weeks where I’d managed to tiptoe around him without upsetting him.
Unfortunately, there’d also been those days when Trev hadn’t listened whether or not I’d held silent or begged him to stop, allowing his own inner demons to overcome him without regard to me. Now, with Llywelyn settled, I wanted to ask him more about where I was, but didn’t know how to begin, and was afraid to set him off again. In a way, the fact that he was pretending to be a centuries dead Welsh prince didn’t even matter. He could think he was a purple hippopotamus for all I cared. I just wanted to get out of the room in one piece.
Llywelyn, perhaps trying to be helpful, tried again. “Français?”
Relief flooded through me. “Oui!” If he refused to speak English and I didn’t know enough Welsh, at least we could communicate in some fashion. It struck me that his fantasy was remarkably consistent, in that the historical Llywelyn would also have spoken French since it was the primary language of the English court in the thirteenth century, as well as the French one.
Llywelyn smiled too. “You may not remember,” he said, now in strangely accented but intelligible (to me) French, “but your chariot ran aground in the marsh below the castle. Moments after I retrieved you from the wreckage, it sank and disappeared.”
“Marsh? Castle?” I said. A befuddled fog rose again to drive away my moment of clarity. “I was driving my car to buy ice cream . . .” I stopped at the look Llywelyn wore on his face—a look that said, ‘your what to buy what?’
“My vehicle,” I amended, hoping that the word existed in medieval French.
Llywelyn stood abruptly. “I won’t question you more tonight. You must be hungry.” He strode to the door, opened it, poked his head out, and waved one hand. Immediately, a man hurried into the doorway and saluted.
“Mau Rhi?” the man said. My lord?
Llywelyn spoke words I couldn’t understand, but I was only listening with half an ear anyway because this time I was staring at the man who’d just appeared. He wore mail armor, the little links catching the light with every shift of his body. Over that, a white tunic adorned by three red lions decorated his chest. He wore no helmet, and like Llywelyn, was clean shaven. He’d clearly bought into—or was humoring—Llywelyn’s delusions.
I crouched next to Anna’s bed, uncertain what to do. It didn’t look like the door would get me very far, not with a guard outside it. I checked the room for windows. It had two, both covered with wooden shutters, though a light flashed every now and then through the chinks between the wood and the frame. In watching for it, I missed the rest of the men’s conversation. Llywelyn shut the door. He returned to his chair, but not before gesturing to me to sit again on the bed.
“You must be tired,” he said, back to French. “You can eat and it will make you feel better.”
I couldn’t bear to just obey him. Yet, I looked at my baby Anna, still sleeping, and didn’t dare disobey. She lay quiet and desperately beautiful, a hostage to my good behavior. Not knowing what else to do, I stood and walked past him to the bed.
I sat on its edge, more awkward than ever. Neither of us spoke. I smoothed my nightgown over my thighs. Even as I shivered, my palms sweated. I reached behind me to tug at one of the blankets, wanting more warmth. Llywelyn leaned forward to pull the blanket over my shoulders, before settling back in his chair with a nod.
“I’ll stoke the fire again before we sleep,” he said.
A sickening lump formed in my stomach and it wasn’t because I was hungry. A rushing in my ears threatened to overwhelm me and all I could think was oh my God; oh my God; oh my God. My worst fears were abruptly out in the open. I could only gape at Llywelyn without trying to contradict him, as if my mind had gotten hung up in overdrive and was revving with the clutch out and nowhere to go. He seemed so utterly unconcerned, sitting as he was with one ankle resting on the opposite knee, his hands folded across his chest. What was I going to do?
The soldier from the hallway returned with food and drink. I stared at him blindly while Llywelyn indicated that he should set the tray on the table beside the bed. Llywelyn moved the candle to the mantelpiece above the fire to give him room.
When the man left, Llywelyn gestured to the food. “It isn’t much, but should tide us over until morning.”
I nodded, stone-faced, the lump in my throat preventing me from speaking. Llywelyn poured two glasses of wine from the carafe and handed one to me before taking the second for himself. I didn’t want to drink it, not only because I was afraid to take anything from him, but because I normally didn’t drink wine at all. It had never seemed like a good idea with Trev around—either because it would tempt him or because I didn’t dare lose control over myself. I also wouldn’t be twenty-one until April.
I took the cup but simply sat on the bed with it in my hand. Llywelyn raised his eyebrows at me then lifted the cup as if in a toast and took a sip. “There’s no poison in it, if that’s what you’re afraid of.”
Under his curious gaze, I didn’t dare refuse it any longer, even as I cursed myself for being so passive. I took a sip. It tasted bitter on my tongue—far more than the cheap, sweet wine Mom usually drank. I set the cup on the table and Llywelyn handed me a hunk of cheese and bread he’d cut with his belt knife. I drank and ate while Llywelyn watched. He seemed so believable in his stillness. He took the moment when my mouth was full of food to begin asking the questions he’d said he wouldn’t earlier.
“Who’s Anna’s father?”
I took a swig of wine and swallowed hard. “He’s dead,” I said, glad that in this at least I could tell the truth.
Llywelyn nodded, accepting my words at face value. “And your father?”
“He’s dead too,” I said.
Llywelyn made a ‘tsk’ noise through his teeth. “I was asking their names.” I didn’t respond and he began work on cutting up a small apple. “My man included the apple only after I told him that you possessed all your teeth.”
His words were so incongruous to the fear I’d been feeling, I choked on the next sip and barely stopped myself from spewing the wine across the floor. I coughed and then found hysterical laughter bubbling up in my throat. I could barely see him through streaming eyes as I fought it back. His mouth quirked as he started to smile too, though I didn’t think he knew he’d made a joke at first—it probably hadn’t been a joke to him. Then he laughed outright.
I took his half-second of inattention to lunge for the knife.
I rammed my shoulder into his arm and overbalanced him, getting my hand on his knife as he released it in surprise. I had intended to take the knife from him and hold him off with it, but instead, he spun with me, grabbing my arm as he went down and pulling me off balance too. I fell sideways, stunning myself by landing hard on my left hip and then clonking my head on the floor, my legs tangled up in my long nightgown. Llywelyn recovered more quickly than I and threw himself on top of me, pinioning each of my wrists to the floor with his big hands, the knife skittering away from me into a corner of the room.
He loomed over me, his nose only inches from mine and the full weight of his body resting on my torso, holding me down. “Who sent you?” he hissed into my face. “What devil’s bargain did you make?”
I stared up at him, my vision blurring from the pain in my head as the ache from before roared back and darkened my vision around the edges. I knew what was going to happen next because it had happened once with Trev. Only once, and then I’d taken Anna and left.
“Please, don’t hurt me,” I said, my voice little more than a whisper. “I just want to go home. My mother will be worried about me. I wasn’t going to use the knife. I wouldn’t even know how.”
Llywelyn studied me, the urgency in his eyes lessening, though he didn’t loosen his grip on me at all. Tears welled in my eyes and trickled down the side of my face to get lost in my hair, much of which had come loose from its braid. Though his eyes never left mine, he eased away, got to his feet, and retrieved the knife. He straightened his chair and sat. When his weight came off me, I rolled onto my side, curling my knees up to my chest and pressing my face into the cool of the floor.
Llywelyn sighed. “Did you think I would force you?”
I lifted my head to look into his face. He rubbed his eyes with his fingers and then rested his elbows on his knees and put his chin in his hands. “I’m too old for this,” he said.
Then he stood suddenly and took one stride toward me. I almost managed to hold in a shriek before he crouched beside me, got one arm under my neck and the other under my knees, and hoisted me in his arms. He brought me over to the bed and dropped me, unceremoniously, onto the spot I’d been before.
“I’ve never taken a woman against her will and I don’t intend to start with you.” He grunted as he straightened the pillow under my head. Then he grabbed a blanket from the foot of the bed and threw it over me. I curled up, cradling my head in my hands. I’d been so sure he would hurt me and that I wouldn’t be able to stop him. I was having a hard time understanding he was leaving me unharmed.
“Where’s your mother?” Llywelyn demanded, his feet spread wide, hands on his hips.
“R-r-r-radnor,” I said.
Llywelyn’s eyes narrowed. “That’s days away. How did you plan on getting there?”
“I . . .” I couldn’t continue, at a loss for an answer.
Llywelyn tipped his head to one side and relaxed his arms, letting them fall loose at his sides. “Where did you come from, Marged?”
It seemed like he wasn’t asking for the town I lived in, or how far I’d driven today, but something else entirely; something to which I had no more answers than he did.
I shook my head. “Nothing is clear to me right now.”
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “How’s your head? That’s twice you’ve cracked it today.”
I put my hand to my forehead where it ached, feeling a large bump where my hairline started. “It hurts to touch, and I have a bit of a headache.”
“I asked also for willow bark to mix with your wine,” he said. He took a twist of cloth that I hadn’t noticed on the tray, and dumped it into my cup. It didn’t seem possible, but it appeared as if he thought it was possible to return to a time before I attacked him, to normal interaction.
He sat on the edge of the bed, his weight making it sag, and I rolled onto my back to counter it. Once again, Llywelyn hooked his arm around my neck but this time he lifted me so I could sip the wine. I looked into the deep red liquid with little bits of bark floating in it, not liking the idea of drinking something so unfamiliar. As before, however, his will was impossible to defy and I didn’t feel I had choice.
“You must sleep,” he said. “We’ll talk more in the morning. I swear to you that I will not hurt you.”
I gazed up at him. Somehow, I believed him. “I’m sorry about the knife.”
Llywelyn gave me a hard look but I was too tired to think about what he might mean by it. Mom and Elisa definitely wouldn’t have approved of him. Elisa had already given me a lecture about bringing a guy home before I went out with him. What would she call this? A date? Not exactly. But my head hurt so badly I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I couldn’t fight him anymore. Even Elisa would have to agree that whatever Llywelyn was, he was unexpected.
He picked up the blanket that I’d dropped to the floor when I’d gone for the knife and tucked it around me.
“Sleep,” he said.
I closed my eyes. And then I opened them again when I realized there was no way I was going to be able to sleep with Anna on the other side of the room. I sat up. Llywelyn watched me, his hands on his hips. Out of bed again, I hurried to where Anna lay and crouched to grasp the rockers. With gentle tugs, I got her bed moving across the floor.
“Marged,” Llywelyn said. “Don’t do that.” His voice held a definite exasperation this time, but still, he nudged me aside and bent to the cradle. With a slight exhale of air, he lifted the trundle bed, his arms under the rockers, and carried it across the room.
“Please put it there,” I said, pointing to a spot on the floor beside the bed. He set the cradle down and I climbed back under the covers. I reached out and found that the tips of my fingers could just touch the rail of her bed. I rocked her gently. Anna sighed and rolled onto her side. I looked up at Llywelyn. “Thank you.”
He canted his head in acknowledgement, and despite my fears and uncertainties, I finally closed my eyes and slept.
* * * * *
“I must speak with the Prince!”
I swam awake, fighting through a strange fog of half-remembered dreams and conversation from the night before. Someone was pounding on the bedroom door and shouting in a confused mix of French and Welsh. Or, at least confused to me since I couldn’t make out every word. The intent, however, was clear.
Abruptly, the pounding stopped and a stern voice cut through the commotion on the other side of the door. “The Prince is . . . busy.”
“Stand aside! I must speak with him! Wake him for me!”
“My brother, Dafydd, is a bit intemperate.”
My breath froze in my lungs. I turned my head and found myself looking into Llywelyn’s face. He was lying on the bed—and admittedly it was a big bed because he was at least three feet away—with his elbow on his pillow and his head propped up on one hand, looking at me, clear amusement in his eyes. He had an almost impish expression on his face that told me he was enjoying himself enormously.
“It seems my brother seeks an audience with me. I suppose I ought to let him in before he wakes Anna.”
Llywelyn’s chest was bare and as he threw back the cover, I sure hope he has something on his lower half! had barely passed through my head before he straightened, wearing—
Oh dear God! Absolutely nothing!
I must have squeaked because Llywelyn shot me a look of amused condescension. He reached for his breeches, which he’d left at the foot of the bed, and pulled them on. Didn’t medieval people wear underwear? And if they didn’t, did he have to make this whole thing so authentic?
Stirrings and bangs came from the other side of the curtain and then Llywelyn appeared on my side of the bed, fully dressed, his finger to his lips. He tugged the curtain closed so it hid me. He left a little gap, however and through it, I could see Llywelyn stride to the door and open it to reveal an agitated man, his hair flattened to his head and his helmet under his arm. Despite that, he was extraordinarily handsome, younger than Llywelyn, shorter and not as lean.
“My lord,” the man said. “Brother.” He bowed his head.
“What is it, Dafydd?” Llywelyn said, in French. “I was sleeping.”
The man dismissed his words with a shake of his head. “I’ve already breakfasted.”
“Good for you,” Llywelyn said, his voice dry.
“Not all of us are lay-a-beds,” Dafydd said. This was so patently unfair I wondered that Llywelyn didn’t correct his brother, but he didn’t, just let the silence drag out until Dafydd filled it with his news. “Clare is on the move. He knows that Gruffydd ap Rhys has returned from Ireland with your support, and that you have plans to give Senghenydd to him, along with Castell Morgraig. Clare has begun work on a new castle at Caerphilly.”
“Damn the man!” Llywelyn said. “That is my land. He knows this will bring me out. Doesn’t he care?”
“Perhaps that’s his plan. Perhaps he intends to thwart you with open battle or with treachery.”
Llywelyn eyed his brother. “Thank you, Dafydd, for your news. I submit it could have waited until I was awake.”
“Yes, brother,” he said, “but then I wouldn’t have had the chance to glimpse your lovely new lady.” His eyes met mine through the gap in the curtain and he smirked.
“She’s mine, Dafydd. Do not forget it.”
“Yes, brother.” Dafydd stepped back. Llywelyn shot a glance at me and then followed Dafydd into the hall, pulling the door closed behind him.
I lay there, feeling alternately horrified, sick, extremely vulnerable, and then angry. Why was this happening to me? Who were these lunatics and what were they going to do next?
The door opened and Llywelyn stalked back into the room, headed towards me. He jerked open the curtain and leaned forward, his fists resting on the bed on either side of my hips, his face only inches from mine, just as we’d been the night before. This time, while he looked just as fierce, his eyes had a glint of something else—amusement again perhaps, or mischief.
“I must meet with my counselors,” he said. “A maid will come with clothes for you and Anna. I journey south within the next two days. You must prepare, for I intend to take you with me.”
“South?” I asked, feeling stupid again. “Where?”
Llywelyn didn’t answer. Instead, he threaded his fingers through the hair at the back of my head, lifted me up and kissed me, hard, before letting me fall back onto the bed. “Remember what I told my brother.”
Speechless again, all I could do was watch him go.