In the forest near Talgarth Castle, Wales
Dwynwen lost consciousness during the last moments of Maelon’s assault against her. She did not see the Prince’s vicious smile as he stood over her twisted body which lay in a heap on the ground.
He looked absolutely pleased with himself.
“You will not forget this night, Princess. My regards to your betrothed…” he sneered, disappearing into the darkness.
Moments later a sudden rush of wind blew across Dwynwen’s breast. Her skin lay bare in the cold night air, and she shivered. Opening her eyes, she looked down at her body and gasped. Her tunic was torn and smeared with blood.
Pulling the fabric closed, hiding her nakedness, she rose unsteadily to her knees. Weeping and disoriented, she tried to stand, desperate to leave the woods and return to the castle, but she ached from the force of Maelon’s violence and she stumbled.
Her heart was ripped to shreds by a man whose soul was black and evil. A man who lusted, and who casted the illusion of love. She wondered if her father had sensed the truth about him, and if that was the reason he had been so angry.
In pain and deeply ashamed, she let out a cry of despair. It would have gripped the soul of anyone who heard it, but Dwynwen lay deep in the thick of the forest, where no one could hear her cries or were too drunk to notice.
Finding strength deep within her, Dwynwen finally rose to her feet. She stumbled her way through the shadows of the forest, flinching with every painful step.
When at last she reached the edge of the garden she saw the guards asleep by the far wall and she slipped back into the castle.
Dwynwen moved silently in the corridors, fearful she would be discovered. A rush of relief raced through her when she pushed open her chamber door and found no one waiting for her there.
She quietly closed the door and leaned back against it, catching her breath. The smell of Maelon’s seed wafted up, sickening her.
Tearing the tunic from her body, she threw the soiled garment into a covered basket in the corner of the room. A basin of water sat on the floor by the window and Dwynwen plunged her hands into the icy water, desperate to scour all traces of him from her body.
Bruises were forming on her thighs and arms. For weeks, to come, they would serve to remind her of the gravest error she had ever made.
As she wrapped the woollen cover around her aching body, she promised herself she would never allow her father to find out what had happened to her, fearful of his rage and of the consequences.
As she lay on her bed, listening to the fading sounds of the celebrations below, she prayed come morning, she would know what to do.
* * * *
It was the break of dawn when Dwywen awoke to the sound of the servant girl entering her chamber. She carried a torch ablaze with the flame of the feast fires.
Dwynwen watched her rekindle the fire in the hearth.
“Will you need anything this morning?” the servant girl asked.
“No. I thank you.” Dwynwen brushed the hair back from her face.
“Are you certain, my lady?” The young girl’s expression made Dwynwen tuck her arms under the cover. She had seen the bruises.
“I am,” she said in the most cheerful manner she could muster. “I am sure you are needed in the kitchen. There will be many mouths to feed this morning.”
“As you wish…” The girl bowed and left, with a worried look sitting on her brow.
Dwynwen did not waste a moment. Bolting from the warmth of her bed, she threw the torn and soiled tunic from the basket straight into the fire.
Angel’s Cove, Newfoundland
“You’ve got everything you need, I’m sure of it” Anne laughed as she watched Gwen struggle to close the suitcase filled to capacity. “Although you might want to bring along a little sun, I’ve heard it rains a lot over there.”
“How would you know?” Gwen asked.
“I read it somewhere,” she replied, lending a hand with the luggage lock.
Gwen smirked. “I’ll pick up an umbrella when I get there.”
“You’ll have to. There’s no room in here.”
A rap sounded at the front door.
“You finish up. I’ll get it.” Anne said, quickly making her way down the stairs.
“Be nice.” Gwen felt a sudden attack of unsteady nerves.
“I will.” Anne replied, then opened the front door.
“Good morning, you must be Miss Reilly. I’m Liam Pryce.”
Anne cleared her throat, trying to hide her surprise at the sight of Mr. Pryce who did not look like the old-uncle type she thought he'd be. The man wasn’t just handsome; he could sell magazines with his looks alone. She stood speechless. Mr. Pryce politely waited for an answer.
“Miss Evans is expecting me,” he prompted.
“Yes, yes, of course. “She’ll be right down. Won’t you please come in?” Anne opened the door, inviting him to step into the house. “I guess Gwen told you she and I are old friends.”
“She told me a little about you, too. You’re younger than I expected,” she said. “Can I get you a cup of tea?”
As she descended the stairs, Gwen could hear Liam decline Anne’s offer, explaining he’d just finished breakfast.
“Bea sent you off with a hearty feast, I’m sure.”
Liam glanced up at her standing on the steps, and smiled. “That she did.”
“Look at you all buffed, shined and dressed to impress.” Gwen teased.
“Did it work?” Liam’s gaze rested on Gwen.
“Definitely a snappy dresser, and she was right about your accent,” Anne said, taking in Liam’s fine suit and shoes. “She said I’d like it.”
“Did she? Well, that’s a start.”
“She also said you’re sensible, and that’s what is most important. Gwen has a keen sense about people.”
Liam smiled, and Gwen felt a rush of warmth color her cheeks.
“That’s good to know,” he said. “I’m happy to hear it.”
“You’re an angel for agreeing to keep an eye on the house, Anne.”
“Don’t worry about anything. I promise not to kill the plants.” Anne’s smile gave way to a look of concern. “You’ll be back in two weeks, right?”
Gwen wanted to share with her the things she and Liam had discussed. She wanted to tell her about her dreams and about the pendant, but a practical girl like Anne wouldn’t understand. She had to keep this one and only secret from her closest friend, or risk worrying her even more. Anyway, how could she explain something she didn’t truly understand herself?
“Yes, and I’ll call as soon as I get there.” Gwen put her arms around Anne and hugged her. “I’ll be sending postcards, too.”
“Always nice to get something in the mail.” Anne quickly wiped a tear away from her cheek. “Have a safe journey.”
Liam picked up Gwen’s suitcase. “Ready to go?”
“I think so,” she replied, sweeping a quick look around for anything she may have forgotten. She patted her handbag where her passport and a few of the photos she’d recently found were safely tucked away in the side compartment.
“I have a cab waiting outside.”
“Goodbye Mr. Pryce. It was very nice meeting you.” Anne looked at the young man intently. “I trust you’ll take the very best care of Gwen.”
“With my life.”
Gwen didn’t miss the note of sincerity in his statement. By the way Anne’s brow arched, neither did she.
As she stood by the cab, Gwen’s gaze was drawn to her mother’s bedroom window. A flicker, like a candle, reflected on the glass. She blinked and it disappeared. Her mind was playing tricks on her, she thought, silently bidding her mother farewell as she slid into the idling
. De Soto
“I need to leave word with Reverend Matthews that I’ll be away.”
“By all means,” he replied, sliding in next to her. “Sir, we’ll be making a stop at the parsonage, just off the main road, before we leave Angel's Cove.”
“Certainly, Mr. Pryce,” replied the driver.
As the car headed down the dirt road, Anne waved from the porch. Gwen raised her hand in reply, confident she’d be waiting for her when she returned.
* * * *
A few minutes later, in hopes of avoiding a potentially difficult exchange with Reverend Matthews, Gwen slipped a brief but detailed note into the mail slot at the parsonage.
Then she slid back into the cab and they veered toward route 100.