Authors: Kathryn Loch
By Kathryn Loch
To my editor and friend,
She not only catches my mistakes
but her creativity matches mine.
Cover image by
The first stock image website specific to the romance novel industry.
Cover Model Jimmy Thomas.
Licensed RFWPU 2013
Cover Art Design
©2013 Kathryn Loch
All Rights Reserved Where Applicable
If you downloaded this ebook anywhere but Amazon
or Smashwords, it is an illegal copy.
I write because I love it, I publish to pay the bills. Illegal copies make it that much harder for me to continue producing creative works.
If you have received a copy through other means but enjoyed this work, please consider making a donation at my blog or website.
And check out my other works on Amazon.com
Brynmor ap Powys approached Llywelyn’s great hall with his head held high, his shoulders straight, and his stride resolute, but his heart thundered in his chest. He stared up at the massive stone structure. Staring back at him were the carved faces of the Welsh rulers who had come before. Their enduring countenances were as unyielding as the rock that formed them. Brynmor entered the great hall, Llywelyn’s guards flanking him. He wore his finest mail and silks, with highly polished steel plate at his elbows and knees, his clothing and attitude reflecting his station and the power of the massive Welsh holding he governed, even though it might not be reflected in his heart.
elyn ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Wales, sat stoically on his large, simple throne, regarding Brynmor with a stern, but unreadable expression. In his early fifties, he was a strong man, shorter than Brynmor, but that did not lessen the air of respect his very presence commanded. Brynmor’s stride brought him quickly before the throne and he dropped to one knee, bowing his head.
“I bid thee fair greeting from Powys,
Your Highness,” he said softly and clenched his teeth against the burr of the commoner’s tongue so prevalent in his speech.
Llywelyn remained silent and unmoving.
Brynmor’s thoughts raced and sweat trickled down his chest. Why had Llywelyn summoned him for this meeting? Why had the missive lacked the courtesy of formal greeting, instead amounting to nothing more than a terse order?
“Brynmor ap Powys,” Llywelyn
’s voice was soft, but it echoed through the hall with undeniable power. “Though you are the son of a freeman farmer, you govern a great principality through right of bastard lineage as recognized by Welsh law.”
Brynmor’s head shot up. What the devil?
Brynmor had gained the right of legal title to his holdings when old man Powys married his mother and adopted Brynmor as his heir. Brynmor scowled, his thoughts tripping over themselves. Old man Powys had been allied with King Henry III at the time, and had proclaimed himself openly as an enemy of Llywelyn. He had set in place legal standing for Brynmor to be recognized under English law. But old man Powys was no fool when it came to scheming. Had Powys, knowing Welsh nobility would not have recognized the claim, set in place a premise for Brynmor to be recognized as an heir among his own people? Brynmor’s thoughts continued to spin in confusion and he swallowed hard.
“Rise, Powys,” Llywelyn growled. “Stand on your own two feet and tell me true why you sought to have me murdered.”
Brynmor stood, but Llywelyn’s words landed like a physical blow to his gut, almost sending him back down. Murdered? Brynmor had no idea what he meant. “Your Highness?” he whispered.
Llywelyn’s brows collided in the middle of his fo
rehead. His steepled fingers tapped his chin as he regarded Brynmor intently.
Brynmor fought not to fidget under his gaze.
“Owain ap Gwenwynwyn,” Llywelyn said softly.
Brynmor curled his lip and only just stopped himself from spitting on the ground. “Owain
has tested me mightily in the past,” he growled, his hands clenching into fists. “He does not recognize my claim to Powys.”
you allied with him and my brother, Dafydd, to have me assassinated?”
A bolt of fear shot through him and his gut twisted into a sickening knot. “Nay,” he said softly but firmly, fighting against his thickening burr, “I know of no plot against you.”
continued to study him. Brynmor held his gaze unflinchingly, even though everything within him coiled in fear. He had no idea why Llywelyn would make such a claim. Then the answer blossomed in his mind. Owain hated Brynmor and the fact that a farmer controlled such a powerful Welsh holding. His treachery matched that of old man Powys, and Brynmor had defeated Owain’s political scheming in the past, which had been all the more difficult because his benefactor was Dafydd, Llywelyn’s brother. Yet what better way to see that Brynmor lost everything than to falsely embroil him in a plot to assassinate the Prince of Wales.
“So you claim to know nothing of this plot?” Llywelyn asked. “Even as my brother and Owain have
run like cowardly dogs to Longshanks, seeking his protection, as soon as their scheming came to light.”
Dafydd had betrayed his brother so many times Brynmor had lost count. Yet every time Dafydd had worked himself back into Llywelyn’s good graces. How he had managed it and still had his head attached to his shoulders, Brynmor would never know.
“On my honor,” Brynmor said, his burr finally fading with his conviction. “I did not participate in this plot against you, Your Highness. My people, our independence, and avoidance of the English yoke are too important.”
“Yet you are allied to House Montgomery, a powerful English earldom.”
“And you know the facts there too, Your Highness. My adopted sister, Gwen, is married to the earl.” Add to that the fact he had rescued the earl’s eight-year-old daughter, Rose, from her abductors when Brynmor was naught but eight and ten. Brynmor had returned Rose safely to Talon Montgomery’s keep, and that fact alone guaranteed the earl would regard him favorably.
“Aye,” Llywelyn replied,
jerking Brynmor from his thoughts. Llywelyn’s body seemed to grow more coiled as he sat in his chair. “And were it not for that backing, you would find yourself dead.”
straightened Brynmor’s spine. He may have governed Powys because of luck, despite his lack of culture and breeding, but over the years he had learned not to allow anyone to bully him.
“What say you?” he growled. He curbed his tongue as he had been taught
, but steel sharpened his voice.
Llywelyn hesitated and
, just like a warrior might hesitate with his sword, it proved his undoing, and Brynmor capitalized on it.
Your Highness, what evidence do you have against me?”
“None but the words of my brother and a traitor.”
Brynmor raised his eyebrows and drew a deep breath. “Then I shall take my leave, if there is nothing more, Your Highness.” He turned on his heel, striding resolutely toward the door. His entire body tensed, waiting for men to seize him, waiting for a guard to try to intercept him, waiting for Llywelyn to order him to stop.
But the only sound
s he heard were that of his own heartbeat thundering in his ears and his boots landing solidly on the stone floor.
Brynmor left Llywelyn’s court knowing he had just made a very deadly enemy. One he never intended to
make. But Brynmor also recognized that if he panicked and gave the accusations any more validity, he would give Llywelyn even greater cause to believe them. Brynmor had to remember what was truly at stake. The people he governed and his nation. Llywelyn had far greater things to worry about than false accusations.
The newly coronated English k
ing, Edward, cast a long shadow, looming like an ominous storm over the Welsh—a storm that grew in power with each passing day.
The Welsh/English Border
March 1282 AD
“My son, please don’t send me away,” his mother whispered as he escorted her from his keep to the enclosed wagon awaiting them in the bailey.
Brynmor gritted his teeth and summoned the resolve that had strengthened him in the past. “Ye know why I must do this, Mother,” he said softl
y, not bothering to restrain his commoner’s burr. His mother was the one person who allowed him to be himself, for her speech carried the same burr.
She stared up at him and her eyes filled with tears.
Brynmor clenched his teeth and refused to listen to the voice in his heart, for another within him shouted louder. His mother aged, but it was her health that prompted him to send her to safety. “My scouts have reported. Dafydd marches against English holdings in North Wales, and that will only bring the wrath of Longshanks.”
“But Powys Castle is strong, much stronger than the holding you are sending me to.”
“Powys Castle will be a target, Mother,” he said tightly. “We discussed this. The holding I am sending ye to is minor but defendable. Longshanks and Llywelyn will ignore it, unlike Powys.”
“Then send word to Montgomery—”
“Nay,” Brynmor snapped then took a deep breath to gentle his words. “Mother, I will not beg aid from an Englishman.”
“From family, ye mean,” his moth
er said, her voice just as sharp.
Brynmor felt his lips tug upward despite his worry. He knew exactly
from which parent he had inherited his temper. “Aye, and ye know why,” he said and winked at her.
His mother chuckled
, but to his dismay, she started coughing again. The spasms racked through her slight form with a disturbing liquid flux. He wrapped his arm about her shoulders and pulled her to him, holding her tightly as the coughing fit threatened to send her to her knees. This was the exact reason why he was sending her away. The danger of her traveling was far less than what she would face if Powys came under siege.
The cough subsided, thankfully, but Brynmor’s grip did not ease on her. “Ye are all I have left in this life, Mother,” he whispered, pressing his lips to the top of her graying head.
She pulled away enough to look up at him again. Her fingers touched his cheek. “Ye have more, but ye refuse to see it. Reach for it, my son, it is within your grasp.”
He frowned at her. “What mean you? Only the Lady Fortune has granted this,” he nodded at the giant keep before him. “And we
both know she is a fickle mistress.”
Her wrinkled brow furrowed and she studied him intently. “
Ye are a strong young man, Brynmor. Life has dealt ye a hard blow, I’ll not disagree, but do not reject the blessings offered simply because ye fear they will be taken from ye.”
Pain clamped around his
heart and threatened to stop it. He lowered his head and closed his eyes. Everything had been taken away. His family in his childhood and then the death of his baby sister when he was a young man. Now he was forced to send his mother away. “Cease,” he growled.
“Cease!” He shook himself and drew a cleansing breath. “Forgive me,” he said, his voice gentling. “I’ll not part with hostility between us.”
“Forgive me, son,” she whispered and pressed a gentle kiss on his cheek.
He mastered his heartache and mustered a smile. “Be well, Mother.” He helped her into the enclosed wagon and shut the door.
The drover snapped his whip over the horses and the heavily guarded entourage turned in the bailey and left his gates.
The entourage may have left, but his mother’s words did not.
Brynmor slowly trudged up the stairs to his keep.
As he walked, he stared at the giant stone structure. Indeed, few Welshmen could boast of such a holding. The massive keep was the crown in the center of a giant bailey. The bailey housed stables with fine war horses, coursers, and palfreys. The list fields, where he and his men honed their fighting skills, were large and open. Not far from the list fields, a talented blacksmith practiced his trade, keeping armor and weapons in good repair and horses shod. Hunting dogs bayed in their kennels and falcons screeched in their mews. The sheep pens were empty now, the beasts grazing in the fields, but June would see the bailey filled with the bleating creatures as the shearing began. Chicken and geese wandered freely, younglings minding them and searching for eggs.
Massive walls over ten feet thick surrounded
Brynmor, with a huge barbican protecting the gate and impressive towers soaring overhead. In between the large, open area of the bailey and the just as impressive curtain walls, travelers and merchants traded and sold their wares. The makeshift market was small but growing, much of it extending through the smaller barbican in the curtain wall and into the village that had sprung up in the protective shadow of Powys Castle.
Brynmor sighed heavily and continued up the narrow stairs to the door of the keep.
As fickle as the political winds blew, at times Brynmor, son of a freeman farmer, held more power than that of Llywelyn himself. He remembered his last meeting with the Prince of Wales and shivered. Brynmor had no idea where he stood now with Llywelyn or with Longshanks.
He entered his keep and continued up the stairs to his solar. Pausing before the bureau, he pulled
a small box from its hiding place. Opening it, he gently moved a piece of undyed silk aside and stared at a dried white flower, still perfect in its bloom. Despite his melancholy, his lips lifted. It was the one memory he could cling to, a success that bolstered his resolve.
“Rose,” he whispered. But the flower was not that grown in royal gardens, instead it was a common weed. Yet it held more value to him than gold or land.
He closed his eyes, the memory still perfect in his mind’s eye. He found himself returning to it more often as of late. He had rescued Rose from her French abductors but had made the mistake of telling her his adopted name. Powys had long been an enemy of Montgomery. Eight-year-old Rose, fearing she had escaped one enemy only to find herself in the clutches of another, had drugged him with a sleeping draught on the trail and had tried to escape. Brynmor had awakened with the flower stuck between his fingers. To this day, he did not know if the flower had been an apology or a farewell, or both. But it had been that day he had saved her again from those who had wished to harm her and had earned her trust. The day she had first called him her knight.
, beautiful Rose. He remembered every moment of his last visit to Montgomery, although it had been several years ago. Because of the political intrigue against him, he had not dared to leave Powys very often or for very long. What a lady she had become. His smile grew and he sat at his desk, remembering the vibrant woman he had come to know since that time. Her pale blond hair glistened like gossamer in the light and her blue eyes reflected the beauty of the sky above her. She was not only beautiful but graceful in bearing, yet a part of her remained defiant to the core. She had a strength of soul he had never encountered before.
A sharp knock on his door broke his reverie.
“My lord,” his steward called. “A herald from Llywelyn enters the gates.”
Brynmor’s gut curled into a sickening knot and he quickly tucked the flower safely away. “What goes?” he snarled as he moved toward the door and opened it.
His steward stood before him, his face pale, and he twisted his wool cap in his hands. “I know not, my lord. Shall I summon the guard?”
“Does the herald boast a guard?” Brynmor asked, striding toward the stairs.
“Aye, six heavily armed men.”
“Match it, but they shall flank me
, and by the Rood I will have the head of any man who draws steel without my command.”
“Aye, my lord.”
Where is my knight?
Rose Montgomery wanted to scream the words. Instead, she smiled politely at yet another noble suitor escorting her through Montgomery’s gardens.
The man may have matched her in age
, but he barely matched her in height. Unlike another knight she knew who towered over her.
The man’s hair was a sandy blond, curling at his collar. Did it matter that she wished it was long and black, with the sheen of a raven’s wing and silky to the touch?
Perhaps it wasn’t important that the man had dark eyes rather than the deep blue-green she had come to admire. It shouldn’t be a qualm to her that he walked with his back ramrod straight and his chest puffed up with his own self-importance. Completely different from a Welshman she knew who carried himself with the confidence of a warrior trained and tested.
She sighed miserably as the noble prattled on about his own feats of skill. What was his name again? Oh dear, she had never been that rude, but for the life of her, she couldn’t remember it.
“My lady,” the nobleman said, scowling down at her. “Have you heard nothing I said?”
“Forgive me,” she said honestly. She had no right being so awful. “Rumor flies that war is on the horizon. I find that quite distracting.”
He patted her hand in a fashion Rose found infuriating. “There, there, do not vex yourself. Leave the matters of war to men.”
Rose gritted her teeth
; her own father had taught her better than that. She forced herself to smile sweetly at him. “And if I did such a thing, what would happen if I were to manage your holdings as your wife if you were called away to battle?”
gave her a mere stretch of his lips, revealing his teeth. His smile did not light a room or cause butterflies to riot within her.
“My lady, my lands are extensive. I daresay I have no need to ride into battle. I have money enough to pay others to ride into battle for me.”
Rose barely bit back her sharp retort. Her father had explained well that he was doubtful over this man’s holdings. The man was in debt up to his neck and hoped his marriage to a strong household might cure that particular ill. Her father allowed him to visit only to gauge his merit as a man and knight.
Much of that her father
would glean from Rose, and this man was failing miserably.
She took a deep, steadying breath; there were two men she believed in, one of which was her father. He had promised she would not marry outside her choosing
, and thus far he had upheld that promise. But she was growing older and her father more concerned. She had not yet found her match.
“Tell me more about the battles you fought in,” she said, knowing it would result in more
prattling. Unlike another warrior she could name, who appeared as strong as a bull and born to wield a blade, she wondered if this pompous arse could actually heft one.
“Ah, perhaps I should tell you of the first Welsh uprising in 1277. I accompanied my father as we led armies to support Mortimer. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, Mortimer had been routed by the fool peasants.”
“Peasants?” she asked, startled.
“Forgive me, my lady, for I do not wish to tarnish your ears with what I think of the Welsh. They are a pox on this land and deserve to be exterminated like the vermin they are.”
“Oh, really?” she asked, her voice deadly and she locked him in her gaze.
“Of course, lady,” he said, completely missing her warning. “They are a foul blood.”
“My mother is Welsh,” she growled.
That caught his attention and he frowned at her. “Not your birth mother,” he said. “All know you are of true English blood, my lady Rose. Few understand why your father chose a Welsh woman when he decided to remarry.”
The sharp retort rose to her lips but she bit it back. Nay, few would understand her father’s choice, even though it was the perfect one for him. Rose clearly remembered her father being so lost and alone during her childhood—until he found Gwen and his happiness. Her father had become a new man, one who had found love in his marriage and one unafraid of demonstrating his caring and devotion to his family.
“Rose,” her father’s voice sounded behind her, as if summoned by her thoughts.
She turned and smiled at him, but her smile faded when she saw the look in his amber eyes. He glared at…oh, what was his name again?
The nobleman bowed.
” her father said and held his hand out to her.
She stepped forward and accepted his embrace gratefully. He kissed the top of her head then glared at the young nobleman. “I should demand satisfaction,” he snarled.
“Papa?” Rose whispered, looking up at him.
“I heard his words,” her father growled. “I heard his slight against not only my wife but her people, Rose. I shall not abide it.”
His entire body tensed.
My lord, I meant no—”
“I know what you meant,” her father snapped. “Leave.”
The fool took a breath as if to argue.
With a huff, and his nose held impossibly high, the nobleman left the gardens.