Check the blog archive on the right for previous chapters....
“The sacred Three to save, to shield, to surround, the hearth, the house, the household, this eve, this night, O this eve, this night, and every night, each single night. Amen."
The prayer echoed throughout the castle as the fire was ceremoniously dampened in the hearth of the great hall.
Outside, the bonfire burned brightly, and according to tradition, come morning, its embers would be used to relight the fire of the great hall, symbolizing rebirth.
Dwynwen watched as the anticipation and the merriment grew among the guests encircling the impressive glowing tower of fire. Her own pulse quickened when Prince Maelon wended through the crowd, making his way toward her.
As he approached his eyes shifted to Dwynwen’s oldest brother Nectan standing beside her. He nodded to him then stood before Dwynwen and took her hand in his.
“Princess.” He bowed, kissing the back of her hand, brushing his moist lips against her soft skin.
Dwynwen breathed in his intoxicating musky scent as he lifted his head and their eyes met. An exhilarating sensation coursed through her body.
She bowed to him and then he turned, continuing to round the great fire, determination in his step. Dwynwen stood trembling as she watched the man she loved approach her father standing twenty paces before him.
After witnessing his fond regard for Maelon, Dwynwen was certain her father would consider the prince a worthy match for her.
Prince Maelon bowed before her father. He inclined his head and Dwynwen saw him request a private audience. Her father looked over at her. Dwynwen was startled when she saw the flash of anger cross his face.
“What have you done?” Nectan whispered when he noticed his father’s reaction.
“I did nothing,” she replied. “Is there fault in finding true love, brother?”
“There is when one is already promised, sister,” he hissed. “You are not at liberty to avail yourself to another. Do not think your actions over these past days have gone unnoticed. Father reigns over this land. Do you not understand he sees and knows everything?”
Speaking with Nectan was like hearing her father’s voice. The heir to the throne shared the same mind as their father. Surely if he knew of Prince Maelon’s intentions, so did her father. King Brychan was just and honourable. Although good-natured and loving, making him angry could be deadly.
“I must go to them!” Dwynwen fled from the feast fires to join Maelon where she would defend their love and intentions.
As she entered the hall, the sound of raised voices came from her father’s council room. Both men were adamantly making their point.
“Father,” Dwynwen stood in the doorway. “Please forgive us.”
The shouting ceased when she entered the room. Her father whirled around, his face flushed, a sure sign he was furious. Her heart was heavy at the sight of him looking so upset.
“What is betwixt us, our love for each other, although sudden, is a gift from above.” She tried to be strong while she defended their love, but as she traveled across the room, tears streamed down her face.
“Please father… Allow me to tell you what is in my heart.” She reached out for him but he didn’t take her hand.
“In this matter, what is in your heart is of no importance. You are promised to a man who is, at this moment, sailing the oceans securing your future kingdom.” Her father could not look at her, his disappointment too great.
“Father, I beg you, please listen to me. I do not love the man of whom you speak. He is a stranger to me, someone who could very well be dead.”
Dwynwen tried to picture the man she had met the day her father announced her betrothal. The very day he had set sail for a voyage on the stormy seas eighteen moons ago. Gone so long, surely she was the furthest thing from his mind.
Their betrothal was the furthest thing from her heart.
“I love the man who stands before you.” Dwynwen kneeled before her father pleading with him.
The Prince could not believe his ears. The thought he would not win the hand of this young woman made something dark surface in his consciousness. Accustomed to taking what he wanted, none dared refuse him.
“Your majesty, although the man you speak of may be great,” he growled, controlling the rage building in his chest. “I assure you there is none greater than the wealth of my family and the prestige attached to our name.” His silky voice held venom in its tone.
In two steps the King stood nose to nose with Maelon.
“You may be representing your father here among us, but you by no means are the same man.” He glared at the young prince.
“Based on his honour, I extended leniency when you were bestowing attentions upon my daughter. I trusted no harm would come from them. A passing fancy. How you have proved me wrong.” He spat. “You do not know your place. Your arrogance astounds me.”
The King swung around and addressed his daughter. “You are promised to Liam apRhys.” He saw the anguish in her eyes.
It almost broke him.
“I have given him my word upon his arrival, you will be wed.” His tone assured Dwynwen these were his final words on the matter.
He turned his attention to the Prince. “A betrothal has previously been made, you understand my situation.” Diplomacy rang clear in the room. “It would be greatly appreciated if you would leave the festivities, immediately.”
All things considered, the Prince was extremely fortunate—graced by God and by the king’s love for his favourite daughter—the verbal exchange with the King had ended as it had.
Although arrogant, the Prince was not daft, so with a bow to both Dwynwen and the King, he left the council chamber.
Unlike his entrance upon his arrival that first day in the great hall, his exit went unnoticed as he disappeared into the night.
Overcome by sadness and with a heart wrenching cry of despair, Dwynwen crumbled to the floor. The King could not console his beloved daughter and so he sent for a servant to aide her in retiring to her private chamber.
“Anwylyd, my darling child…” he uttered the endearment as he gathered her in his arms. “Liam is a good man and he will care for you. Yours will be a most joyous marriage, this I promise you.”
He helped Dwynwen to her feet when the servant arrived, then he returned to the festivities, his expression void of any happiness. The laughter and music rising from the castle grounds ensured him the guests were oblivious to what had taken place within his council chamber.
He exchanged a knowing look with his eldest son as he took his place at the fire. Nectan nodded, trusting his father had everything well in hand.
The king stared into the feast fires and prayed what he promised to his daughter was the truth.
# # #
Dwynwen obediently went to her chamber accompanied by the servant. A kind and gentle woman, she had tended to her and her sisters, since they were young girls.
“All will be well in the morning.” Idelle promised as Dwynwen wrapped herself in the woollen cover she gave her upon entering the room.
She lay down on her bed and willed herself to stop crying. Idelle sat beside her on a stool by the bed. Dwynwen settled and her breathing calmed.
“I thank you Idelle for staying with me,” she said, laying a hand on the woman’s knee. “I wish to rest now,”
“I will stay until you have fallen asleep,” she replied, stroking Dwynwen’s hair, the sensation causing her to close her eyes and lay still.
After a time, Idelle, convinced Dwynwen was asleep, finally left the chamber.
With the door closed and the sound of Idelle’s steps fading, Dwynwen ran to the window overlooking the garden, longing to be in her prince’s arms once again.
She listened for footsteps outside her door and peered out into the corridor. Confident, the festivities had lured everyone outside, she left her chamber, slipping out of the castle by the rear entrance leading into the garden. It had grown quite dark and with no light to guide her way, she carefully searched the paths she and Maelon had walked earlier this afternoon.
Behind the wall surrounding the garden a dense forest loomed. It was the one which Maelon had told her he had crossed to arrive at the castle. Knowing she must find him and convince him she would change her father’s mind she entered the dark woods, spurred by her fear of losing Maelon forever.
Successfully averting the guards’ attention, Dwynwen slipped out into the garden. Moving as quickly and as far from the castle as she could, she called out Maelon’s name.
Deeper into the forest she ran, no longer aware of the shadows around her, only desperate to find her love.
As the moments raced by, she began to feel a pain in her breast and slowed her pace to catch her breath. The snap of a twig coming from behind her spun her around. Someone stood amid the dark shapes looming through the trees. It moved closer and Maelon came into view. Dwynwen’s heart fluttered and she darted toward him.
“Did you not think to tell me of the arrangement you had with this, this, Liam apRhys?” he spat the name as though it left a foul taste in his mouth.
His angry voice halted her steps. “I could think only of you,” she replied.
“Do you play games at the expense of my honour?” Maelon circled Dwynwen. A streak of moonlight across his face, his eyes flashed furious.
“I do not love Prince Liam. I swear to you. I love you Maelon, from the moment I saw you. I wish to be yours.” Dwynwen reached out but the prince did not take her into his arms as she had hoped. He grimaced at her as though she was scarred by disease.
Confused by his hostility, Dwynwen began to back away. No longer the gentle, charming man she had given her heart to, a dark and dangerous man stood before her. Fear crept into her heart.
“I will not be made a fool, Dwynwen,” he spat, his words like venom.
An innocent soul, Dwynwen could not know how well her handsome prince hid the demons deep inside his black heart. She would soon find out as she met them face-to-face.
Determined no other would have her, Maelon lunged at Dwynwen, first shredding her garments, and then ripping the innocence from her body. Repeatedly he thrust into her, pounding her tiny body into the damp forest floor as he crushed her will, her heart, and finally charring her soul.
On the long-awaited night of rebirth, love turned to hate, joyous beginnings turned to violent endings, and hope turned to despair. Denying her the tenderness of his promised true love, he committed a violent and savage act upon her.
Her cries went unheard, her prayers unanswered. Prince Maelon left Dwynwen Brycheiniog broken, her virtue lost in the dark forest of giant oaks. Alone, under the stars in the darkness of the ancient woodlands, she hung on to life by a tiny silver thread.
Gwen didn’t know what to say. Staring into Liam’s eyes, afraid her feelings might be written all over her face, she turned away.
Should she tell him of the dream where he reached for her? Where they reached for each other?
“What’s wrong, Gwen?” Liam’s voice sent a shiver though her.
“Nothing,” she replied, stepping away from the tree. She cast her eyes over the brook, watching the water trickle over the smooth pebbles at the bottom of its bed.
“Gwen, I have to go and see the chapel,” he said. “I need to know why it’s been haunting my dreams.”
“So, you think it exists?”
“I know it does.” He bent down, picking up a dark grey stone out of the water.
“How can you be so sure?”
“Sometimes, we just have to have faith.” He studied the stone, rubbing his thumb against a white vein running down the middle of its smooth surface.
“My mother used to say the same thing,” Gwen mused.
“What about you?” He threw the stone back into the brook. It left a ripple in the water. “Do you have faith, Gwen?”
“I’d like to think I do.”
“Then come with me.”
‘You must follow your heart…’ Her mother’s voice resounded, the words from her letter echoing in her head. Could this be what her mother meant? Was it possible she could have known she’d need a little push somewhere down the road?
Gwen looked into Liam’s warm brown eyes, searching for reasons to doubt.
Follow your heart.
“When do we leave?”
* * * *
The next few hours passed in a flurry of activity. When she awoke this morning, she never would have believed how the events of the previous day would so drastically change her life.
A knock sounded at the front door.
“You’re back already?” she said, opening the door. “Lia-”
“Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick!” Anne flew into the house, her fair skin flushed as she brushed past Gwen. She whirled around, her hands fisted on her hips with her toes tapping an angry rhythm on the hallway floor. Her temper reared its dark Irish head, staring out at her from deep emerald eyes.
“I’m so sorry Anne. I meant to call you. I had to go out this morning. I took a ride to
and stopped in
for a tea at Mrs. Barter’s.” In all the excitement, Gwen hadn’t given thought
to how she was going to explain a trip to Placentia to her over-protective best
! Why…oh, never mind. I thought I’d give
you some breathing room. I understood your going to see Reverend Matthews
yesterday without me, but when I didn’t hear from you this morning I dropped by
to see if you were okay.” Placentia
“I’m sorry. You have every reason to be upset with me. I should have called.” Gwen followed her into the kitchen.
“Yes, you should have.”
“I had some things to take care of, is all.”
“What things?” Anne filled the kettle and set it on the stove. “I would have gone with you.”
“I’ve got some of Mrs. McNally’s soda bread in the pantry.” Gwen said, trying to avoid having to explain. She placed the soda bread on the cutting board and began cutting thick slices for each of them.
“Hmm. Distracting me with food.” A hint of a smile sat on her lips. “All right. I’m just happy you got some fresh air.”
Gwen wondered how long Anne’s smile was going to last, once she found out about Wales. “Yes, the fresh air was good.”
Gwen felt Anne’s eyes on her.
“What?” she asked.
“You look nice,” Anne replied. “There’s something, I don’t know, different about you.”
“No there isn’t,” Gwen turned and placed the soda bread on the table, avoided Anne’s inquisitive regard.
“Ah…yes.” Anne placed her hand on Gwen’s shoulder. “There is.”
“All right. I have something to tell you,” Gwen said, breathing in a breath of courage.. “First, I want to say I’m not crazy…”
Anne turned to look at Gwen, whose brow had narrowed.
“All right, I’m listening”
“Let’s sit down.” Gwen pulled Anne toward the table. “Should we wait for the tea?”
“It must be bad news if you’re stalling.”
“No, it’s not bad news. It’s rather good, actually.” Her mother always said there was nothing better than the truth. “I’m taking a trip.”
“Really?” Anne’s eyes widened. “Where to?”
“Well… this is going to come as a surprise but I’m going to
.” She braced herself for the
impending barrage of questions. Wales
?” Anne shifted to the edge of her seat. Her
eyes as round as saucers. “What’s in Wales ?” Wales
“There are some friends, well no, more like relatives there.”
“Well, which is it?”
“Both.” This was going to be harder than she thought. Anne didn’t like wishy-washy answers. The protective side of her wouldn’t like the idea of Gwen traveling with a stranger, not one bit.
“I had a visit from a friend of my mother’s family yesterday who invited me to visit. Seeing as somebody told me to take some time off to put my affairs in order.” She cocked her head in Anne’s direction. “I thought it could be a great time to reconnect with my family.”
She’d rehearsed her speech several times last night, knowing she’d have to.
“So, when are you going on this trip?”
“I leave tomorrow morning.”
“That’s sudden.” Anne’s protective radar was on alert. “What’s the rush?”
“Well Mr. Pryce had his plans already booked and I decided to join him.”
“Mr. Pryce?” Anne jumped up out of her chair, hands on her hips. “Who is he?”
“Liam Pryce. He’s very nice. I think you’d approve of him; he’s a very sensible sort.” Anne was making her nervous, her words sputtered out of her mouth with lightning speed. “He’s Welsh. You’d like his accent.”
“So… let me get this straight. A Welsh man with an accent came to visit you yesterday, invited you to go back home to
with him and you’re going?” Wales
“When you say it like that, it sounds ridiculous.”
“Well this is rather impulsive of you, isn’t it?”
“I know this isn’t like me, Anne. I don’t usually do things on a whim.”
“No you don’t. Although in the past I have encouraged you to.”
“Well right now I can’t tell if you approve of my spontaneity or not, but it's leaning toward…not. Can you please sit down?”
Anne blew out a breath and shook her head as she plopped down in the chair. “Is he good looking at least?”
Her question surprised them both, making them snort out a laugh.
“Come to think of it, he is good looking.” Gwen admitted. “Does it make you feel better about it?”
“Well, it helps” Anne squeezed Gwen’s hand. “It sounds exciting, taking off and seeing a bit of the world. You and your mother talked about travelling all the time.”
Gwen flinched a little at the mention of her mother. “We did.”
“You know I’m overprotective. I can’t help myself. I am like your older sister.”
“You’re only a few months older.”
“True but I learned a lot in those few months.” Anne chuckled as she lifted the whistling kettle from the stove. “Gwen, you deserve to do something wonderful, something to take your mind off things. What can I do to help?”
“I was about to dig Mom’s suitcase out of her closet.”
“You go get started and I’ll make us a tea,” she said. “I’m having strawberry jam on these gorgeous slices of soda bread. How about you?
* * * *
Gwen found the suitcase on the floor of her mother’s closet. A little dusty, it had been left unused for a long while. It was in good condition and would do just fine.
A wave of grief overcame her as she looked around her mother’s quiet room.
“I’m taking your advice mum,” she whispered. “I just hope I’m doing the right thing.”
Gwen picked up the leather-trimmed Eveleigh by the handle, swept her gaze around the room one last time as she stood in the doorway, and then shut the door.
“Why don’t you bring the mugs up here?” Gwen called down the stairway.
“Good idea, you’ll need my help accessorizing.” Ann quipped from the kitchen.
After packing Gwen’s bag, Anne agreed to a sleep-over, just like when they were little girls. Their giggles drifted off a while later, both falling into a deep sleep.
The pendant glinted in the moonlight atop Gwen’s jewellery box and she didn’t dream.