His destiny was to be the greatest king to ever rule Wales - or to die, defending all he valued in the world.As he waited in the late autumn sunshine for the riders to approach, the king felt a stab of regret.His father had proudly named him Gwayne, the white hawk, the future defender of the people of the Gwyn. He had always known he would one day take his father 's place but was completely unprepared when it happened so suddenly, so brutally.Gwayne had sworn an oath to avenge his father and keep his lands safe, at any cost.
Gwayne 's kingdom now extended over the whole of the south, from the most westerly point of Wales in St Davids, all the way to the border with the English and half way to the north. While the people of the north had clung to the old tribal ways, those in the south had done well through trade with their neighbours. Saxon merchants had safe passage by boat up the channel to and had brought wealth, trading pottery and fine cloth for Welsh livestock, grain and the black coal.The last year had been good and the royal treasury was richer than ever before.Most importantly, the Gwyn had a plentiful supply of finely crafted armour and weapons, as well as new ideas on the strategy of war.
He had personally over1seen the building of the Royal Llysoedd at Pennard on the Gower peninsula, a site he had chosen years before. As well as being ideally placed to reach the garrison outposts at Pembroke and Caerphilly, Pennard was beautiful, with sweeping views to Three Cliffs ay and the sea.His plan was to rebuild it with the local stone, but for now the palisades and curtain wall meant it could be defended well.The only entrance was through the gatehouse and it was here he stood, looking out at the small settlement growing around the Llysoedd.The year had not been without its challenges but the news they were waiting for could mean the hardest challenge was yet to come.
The king was dressed in the English style, with his dark hair and beard trimmed and a heavy engraved silver buckle fastening his fine white cloak. He had the confident manner of a king but would never be mistaken for a Saxon, as he spoke with the distinctive deep accent of south Wales.His bare arms had the firm muscles and scars of a battle hardened fighter, yet his eyes flashed with the sharpness of a well educated mind.The tough exterior hid a sensitivity that made him vulnerable, however, as he tried to live up to the legacy of his father and the legend he had become.
On his left was Sir Padrig, his loyal and trusted Knight. They had grown up together, drinking and gambling at St Fagans, the home he had given to Padrig with a knighthood for saving his life.It was a hard debt to repay but formed a special bond between them.Padrig was putting on weight but still moved like a fighting man and was dressed as one, with a flowing white cloak the sign of his nobility. He had a coarse sense of humour that went down well in the taverns, where he would challenge all comers to arm wrestling and always win.His keen eyes now scanned the distance as they waited for the visitors.Padrig enjoyed the friendly rivalry of his fellow knights and was glad to have the advantage of arriving early.
To the king 's right was the love of his life, the youngest sister of the Anglo Saxon King Athelstan and now his queen. His marriage to Elvina had not been for love. It was arranged to turn the uneasy truce with the English into a permanent alliance.He noticed she 'd chosen to wear her best white dress to greet their visitor. She smiled mischievously at him and desire flashed through his mind as he remembered the first time he undressed her. She looked beautiful as the autumn sun shone on her golden hair, tied back with blue silk ribbons.Gwayne caught his breath at the delicate scent of an expensive perfume reminded him that he was married to one of the wealthiest women he had ever known.
He wore his father 's gold ring on his right hand and had a habit of turning it round on his finger when he was thinking. He did that now.
Please don 't be hard on him, ' said the queen, softly so only he would hear.
The king tensed as he remembered how Sir Gwynfor had amused his wife. He always felt their age difference an irrelevance until he saw her laughing with the handsome champion. He had thought long and hard about what he should do and decided that the smiling knight would pa1y the price for his disloyalty.Not now though.The moment would come and the queen would never know. He looked into Elvina 's deep blue eyes and was saddened to realise he could no longer trust either of them.He is ambitious. You would do well to remember that. '
Before she could answer him the group of riders galloped into view, the hooves of their heavy war horses thundering noisily on earth hardened by a long summer.They brought their horses to a controlled halt and dismounted with practised ease.As well as the young knight there were two soldiers and an older man the king recognised as a mercenary, from the other side of the Welsh border.The soldiers carried silver lances with flowing white pennants, the battle standards of the people of the Gwyn.
Greetings, my lord, ' said Gwynfor, unbuckling his sword and handing it to one of the soldiers. His voice was clear and strong, with a trace of a West Wales accent.Gwayne missed his glance at the queen but she did not.Neither did Padrig, who was skilled at pretending not to notice things which may be turned to some advantage.
The knight was looking well from his travels. He was wearing fine new armour made by skilled craftsmen and was tanned from the long summer.His hair was fair for a Welshman and he was clean shaven, a rare sight that drew attention to his good looks. Gwynfor had become champion with ease and was their best hope for finally defeating the northerners.He was a master of the deadly longsword, having spent seven years in The heavy weapon needed strength to swing but could He was also a skilled horseman, tested in battle many times.Now he had been assessing the readiness of the men encamped along their northern border. He had built a strong following, a natural leader.
King Gwayne smiled, Welcome, Sir Gwynfor. We must talk, in private. '
You 've been busy since I was here last, ' said Gwynfor, noting the palisades of freshly cut timber that now defended the entire estate. He grinned at the king.Let us hope your work has been wasted. '
The king shook his head. The threat is not just from the north, we must be on our guard against raiders from the sea. 'On his sign, two servants opened the heavy wooden doors to reveal the inner courtyard.Come in, there is much to discuss. '
The soldiers led the horses to the stables and the queen discreetly left them, but not before exchanging another meaningful glance with the young champion. The knights followed the king to one of the oak beamed rooms of the Royal Llysoedd, where a log fire was already blazing. There was a strong smell of wood smoke but it was much warmer than any of his castles.Light flooded in from the windows,1 which had thick but precious leaded glass, with the pale blue-green tint that showed its Saxon origin. The lime washed walls were decorated with the antlers of stags and above the fireplace was a battered but elaborately crafted shield, once used in battle by the old king.It served as a reminder of the great man and of the need to protect their people. In the centre of the room was an oak table laden with food and wine.
King Gwayne sat at what Queen Elvina called his throne ', a high backed wooden chair, intricately carved with his emblem of the hawk gripping a crown in its talons. He gestured for them to sit and dismissed the servants, who had poured them each a goblet of wine.He studied the warriors. His kingdom was in their hands, as it was only a matter of time before they would have to defend their lands again. The two men were so different in character but bonded by their craft and worked well together.Padrig had experience and strength, Gwynfor youth, education and cunning.
Gwynfor took the seat facing the door. We are preparing well. Our men are ready from the coast at St Davids to the border at Chepstow. 'He watched the king, waiting for some sign approval but none came.We have plenty of bondsmen but need more leaders, ' he continued. I have chosen a few of the best for battle training.Some will go to the garrison at Pembroke and the rest are on their way to Caerphilly. '
King Gwayne nodded but looked deep in thought.He was remembering how the last men he had singled out as leaders had died.Brave and loyal, they had given their lives for the Gwyn and the burden of responsibility weighed heavily on him.
What news of the north? ' asked Padrig, taking a large swig directly from a wine flagon, ignoring the now empty goblet in front of him.
Our scouts report that the Du have not ventured from their lands, ' replied Gwynfor. Yet we keep a close watch. '
I don 't trust them, ' said Padrig.
The king grinned, then looked serious.It is just a matter of time before they invade, we must be sure they don 't take us by surprise. '
Or we could take the battle to them, ' said Gwynfor, watching the king closely.He was confident of their strength. King Gwayne wanted to keep the peace but there had never been a better time to drive the Du from the north and take the whole country. The men were preparing for battle and he was ready to lead them.At the very least, success would mean a share of the spoils of war but the real prize was the chance of succession. If anything were to happen to the king there was yet no heir, so the people of the Gwyn would look to a strong leader.
We wait, ' said the king firmly. Send scouts north and prepare a chain of beacons to warn of any attack. '
There is another way, ' said Gwynfor calmly.I have with me a mercenary who knows the ways of the Du.He will spy for us in the enemy ranks, ' he said. Pay him well and we will know their every move. '
Padrig laughed and clapped Gwynfor hard on the back.The good wine was starting to take effect You had this planned all along! '
Only if the king bids it, ' replied Gwynfor.For the first time he saw Gwayne look impressed.
Bring him here, Sir Gwynfor, I think I know the man. 'He walked over to the fire and threw on another log, sending a shower of small sparks into the air.
Gwynfor left the room and Padrig took the chance to speak to the king, his apparent drunken state forgotten. Mercenaries have no honour, ' he scowled.It is a clever plan but feels wrong. '
The king nodded. You are right, as ever, Padrig. You will have to watch Sir Gwynfor and his accomplice as best you can. '
The heavy wooden door banged open.It was Gwynfor and the mercenary.
King Gwayne looked up as they entered. What 's your name man? '
Cadell, my lord. I am a freeman of England. 'He was an imposing figure, well built with dark eyes that held the king in a confident gaze.He had the heavy leather jerkin of a soldier but wore an ornate dagger at his belt and in different times could have passed for a nobleman.What struck Gwayne most, however, was his rich West Country accent, rarely heard in Wales since the border disputes.
The king looked thoughtful. What do you know of the northerners? '
I have travelled through the lands of the Du for many years, my lord. '
But where are your loyalties? ' asked Padrig.
To the coin of Athelstan, ' grinned the mercenary without hesitation, I make no secret of my trade, pay well and you will find no more loyal servant. '
Good, ' said King Gwayne, I like your honesty - and I know you from King Athelstan 's court? '
You do sir. I am surprised you remember me. '
A king has to be sure of who is at his back. 'Gwayne gestured towards the door. Tell them you are to have food and lodgings in the barracks, we have plans to make. ' They watched the mercenary leave.
Padrig help himself to an apple from a bowl on the table and half of it disappeared in one bite. How did you find him? '
It took a while, ' said Gwynfor.I also saw him when we visited the English Court and marked him as a mercenary. '
How will he get messages to us? ' asked King Gwayne.
He travels freely in the north, ' said Gwynfor. I will tell him to wait until he has information of real value, then find a horse and come south as fast as he can.He is a skilled rider and has the makings of a knight. '
What is a knight after all, ' laughed Padrig, but a soldier who can ride a horse? '
The king smiled.Gwynfor resented that he had trained long and hard to reach his position at King Gwayne 's side but Padrig had won his place easily.The truth of the matter was never spoken.His friend Padrig would do well not to make sport of the young champion, however.
Gwynfor stood and turned to the king. I have ridden long today, my lord.I need to tend my horse and get some rest. '
King Gwayne nodded. We will talk in the morning. You have done well. '
Gwynfor left and started heading for the stables when he saw an attractive young servant girl, one of the queen 's handmaidens, lighting candles to brighten the dark hallway. She recognised him and smiled.He stopped and stared deep into her eyes, making a judgement.
The queen, ' he said quietly, Take me to her. '
Archbishop Renfrew was at prayer in his pr
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