Young Wynne of Gwernach has no dreams of marriage. Innocent and pure of heart, she believes that love is an illusion. Instead, she devotes herself to managing the great family estate nestled in the raw beauty of Wales, vowing to protect it and her younger brother until he comes of age to inherit.
And then Madoc of Powys enters into her life, claiming his betrothal to Wynne when she was a babe. Madoc is both feared and worshipped throughout the land, for his family’s power is said to stem from Merlin himself. Yet it is a very human desire he evokes in Wynne; his warm gaze makes her flesh burn with unaccustomed fire. Still, she remains firm in her belief that she can never marry, can never be owned.
But Madoc of Powys is a Celt in his heart and soul. He knows Wynne’s reluctance to wed is the legacy of another life. In time she will know everything—for which he is both hopeful and desperately afraid. For Wynne and Madoc have been lovers in another time, another place. But what unfinished destiny lays between them?
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Somewhere in Time
ANGHARAD, QUEEN OF THE FAIR FOLK, APPEARED SUDDENLY in the Great Hall of Dyfed in an ominous cloud of violet mist. Her entry was preceded by a rather portentous thunderclap that shook the carved rafters of the building so hard, those within the hall looked fearfully up to be certain that the roof was not collapsing upon them. The clearing haze revealed to them a woman of uncommon beauty, although Angharad was not as lovely as her sister, Rhiannon, who was wife to Dyfed’s prince. The queen’s gown shimmered with the mysterious iridescence of mother-of-pearl. Her long golden hair was plaited into seven braids, each one of which was interwoven with pearls and multicolored gemstones that glistened with the subtle movement of her head as she looked slowly about her, her silver-blue gaze observing all within her view.
Teirnyon, the lord of Gwent, and his sweet-faced wife, Elaine, stood with the child, Anwyl. Angharad’s eyes softened briefly as they passed over the little boy. They hardened once more as they rested upon Bronwyn of the White Breast who sat boldly next to Pwyll, Dyfed’s prince. There was no shame in Bronwyn. She graced her half of the ruler’s bench as if she actually belonged there, glaring defiantly at the queen of the Fair Folk for being the unwelcome intruder that she was. Pwyll, to give him credit, looked the shamed and broken man he now was.
“Sister.” The voice was gentle, yet insistent.
Angharad turned and embraced her elder sibling. A small smile of triumph touched her lips as she looked at Rhiannon. The Cymri had not destroyed her, although God knows they had tried. If anything, Rhiannon’s beauty had but increased despite the unjust treatment meted out to her over the past four years. The time had come for retribution.
“Be merciful, sister.” Rhiannon had not spoken aloud, and yet Angharad heard her.
“I might have had they shown you any mercy,” the queen of the Fair Folk responded in kind.
“There were some who were thoughtful of me in my distress,” Rhiannon replied.
“I know them, and they shall not feel my wrath,” Angharad said, and turning away from her elder sister, she spoke aloud. Her words were deliberate and carefully chosen. Upon those who had aided Rhiannon she disbursed blessings and unequaled good fortune that would descend down through their families for a thousand generations to come. To those who had calculatingly and purposefully planned deleterious and ruinous hurt to Rhiannon, the queen of the Fair Folk laid upon them a curse of terrible proportions. The silence in the Great Hall of Dyfed as she spoke was so thick it was almost visible.
Then Angharad glared at her brother-in-law, who sat upon his seat of office, his head within his hands. Fiercely she willed him to look up at her, and when he did, she spoke again. The anger was gone from her voice now. Only a deep sadness remained.
“Pwyll of Dyfed,” she began. “When you came to wed with my sister, Rhiannon asked but two things of you. That you give her your complete love and your complete trust. This was all she demanded of you in exchange for the great sacrifices she made in order to become your wife. You have betrayed Rhiannon on both accounts. You could not trust her in the face of your people’s condemnation of her because she was not of the Cymri, and therefore her credence was to be doubted; but even that the Fair Folk might forgive you had you remained true in your heart to her. You have not, Pwyll of Dyfed. Your love for Rhiannon has wavered as surely as your faith in her has wavered. Even knowing the great concessions my sister made for you, you left her helpless, unable to defend herself and caught between two worlds. For this, Pwyll of Dyfed, you will be punished.”
Then Angharad, Queen of the Fair Folk, pronounced Pwyll’s fate; a fate so severe it left all within the hall breathless and in awe of its subtlety. It was a harsh judgment. As the full meaning of it penetrated Pwyll’s brain, his eyes widened with horror, even knowing as he resisted his punishment that he fully deserved it.
Then, before the astonished eyes of the assembled court of Dyfed, the hall began to fill with a silvery smoke. There was another monstrous thunderclap which immediately cleared the haze, revealing to all that Angharad and Rhiannon were no longer amongst them. Bronwyn of the White Breast whimpered, finally fearful, and piteously clutched at Pwyll’s arm. Furiously he shook her off, and opening his mouth, he cried after his wife.
“Rhiannon! Rhiannon! Rhi-an-non!”
There was no answer, and as Pwyll’s voice echoed and died within the Great Hall of Dyfed, a deep, sad silence descended upon all there.
Wynne of Gwernach
WYNNE OF GWERNACH STARED DOWN AT HER FATHER’S grave. A month had passed since Owain ap Llywelyn had met his death in a freak accident. The grass was already beginning to grow and thicken upon the burial mound which would soon look like her mother’s grave. As if it had been there for a hundred centuries. As if there was nothing beneath the mound at all but the earth itself. She felt a tear begin to slide down her cheek and impatiently brushed it away. She had not cried at her father’s demise. Tears were for weaklings, and she could not be weak like other women. Other women did not have the responsibility of a large, productive estate that must be kept safe for its boy heir. Other women did not have the liability for the safety of that little brother or three sisters.
“Father,” Wynne said aloud. “ ’Tis a hard task you have left me,” and then she sighed deeply.
Owain ap Llywelyn had been a tall, handsome man in the prime of his life. Although he held one of the richest estates in all of Morgannwg, there was none who begrudged him it, even the king, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, his distant cousin. In warlike Wales he was regarded as a man of peace, although Owain ap Llywelyn had been known to pick up his sword when the occasion merited it. Still, he preferred his lands and his cattle; his wife and his family, above all else; and he would do nought to jeopardize those things.
For his entire life Owain ap Llywelyn had been considered fortunate in all things. At the age of twenty-two he had taken to wife a girl considered the greatest beauty in all of Wales; Margiad, called the Pearl. She had given him four daughters and a son before dying in childbirth; but even so, Owain ap Llywelyn was still thought to be a lucky man. His children were all healthy, and he could certainly marry again. He was considered a prime catch; but Owain did not remarry. He had loved his wife greatly, and mourned her loss deeply. Those who knew Owain ap Llywelyn best noticed that he did not laugh quite as easily, or as frequently after Margiad’s death. He named the daughter she had died birthing Mair, which meant sorrow in the ancient Cymri language. He loved the baby no less than he had loved her siblings, for he was not a cruel man, but he was never again the same man; the man that he had been before Margiad the Pearl’s death. Now he drove himself relentlessly, as if seeking to escape the reality of his widowhood.
Never an overly prideful man, he thought nothing of picking up a scythe and working in the fields with his serfs and his slaves. Indeed, on the day that Owain ap Llywelyn had died, he had suddenly decided to help in the rethatching of his barn. The spring rains would be upon them, and the winter had taken its toll of that vital structure’s roof. A load of thatch upon his broad shoulder, he had lost his footing and fallen from the roof into a pile of hay below. A pitchfork, left carelessly in the hay, had pierced Owain ap Llywelyn’s heart, killing him instantly.
The heir to Gwernach was ten years old and, although technically the estate was his, he was much too young to manage it. That task had fallen to his eldest sister, Wynne, who was fifteen, there being no male kin available. Fortunately the orphans of Gwernach had their paternal grandmother, Enid, to look after the management of the household, leaving Wynne free to oversee her little brother’s large inheritance. There were other things that needed settling, though, and Wynne feared she was not capable of doing these things.
As the lord of Gwernach, her little brother was a valuable marital catch; but Wynne was not certain it was wise to betroth Dewi ap Owain to a wife until he was considerably older. It was not unusual for boys of ten to be married; but the truth of the matter was that should Dewi not survive his childhood, a child wife’s family could place a claim on the rich lands of Gwernach in the widow’s name. Then what would happen to the rest of them? Standing by her father’s grave, Wynne frowned, for she knew the answer to her question. She, her sisters, and their grandmother would find themselves displaced and penniless. It was all so complicated. Husbands had to be found for Caitlin, Dilys, and Mair. How was she to go about that? She didn’t even have a husband herself.
Wynne turned at the sound of the harsh voice and the noisy flapping of the wings that accompanied it. A great black raven stood eyeing her from a nearby tree. He cocked his head almost as if to ask what the problem was that kept her here on this bleak hilltop in a rough wind that smelt most distinctly of rain. A small smile touched Wynne’s lips. The raven was an old friend. He seemed ageless, having been about her whole life. Her father had always teased her that the bird must certainly be the oldest living raven, for ravens, he said, were not particularly long-lived; but Wynne knew that this bird now looking at her was the same bird she had always known.
“Hello, Dhu!” she called, feeling strangely comforted by his presence. “I’ve no bread on me to share with you today. Sorry.”
The bird looked aggrieved at her words and made a small crackling sound in the back of his throat.
“Ohh,” Wynne said gently, “I’ve hurt your feelings, haven’t I? You didn’t come for bread at all, but to comfort me, old Dhu. Well, my problems are surely bigger than yours today.” Then she laughed softly. “And wouldn’t the world think me mad or a witch to be talking to a raven? And yet we’re old friends, aren’t we?”
The raven appeared to bob his head.
Wynne chuckled, amused. “Well, I’d best be off, old Dhu. I’ll not solve my difficulties standing here chattering to you. Take care of yourself and don’t steal too much seed when we plant next week.” Then she was off down the hill from the grave site, while behind her the raven continued to watch her, perched comfortably on his tree; but then as the first drop of rain began, the bird flew off, grumbling, to seek shelter.