Authors: Anna Markland
Sons of Rhodri~Book I
Cover Art by Kate Sterling
What readers are saying...
What a wonderful escape into history. This is the first book I've read by Ms. Markland and it won't be the last. I truly enjoyed being in her story world. She knows how to make history come to life with fantastic, realistic details and characters you can't help but love and root for. I also enjoyed her writing style!
Vonda Sinclair, author of
My Fierce Highlander
I really liked the characters and the writing is excellent... loved the 'historical' feel and the dialogue helps to define the people and their lives. I want to know so much more.
Night Owl Reviews
A note to my readers,
This is the first book in a series entitled
Sons of Rhodri.
These stories grew out of
The Montbryce Legacy Series
. If you have read the Legacy books you will already be familiar with many of the characters and events in this book. If not, you will meet them for the first time. This is the story of the conflict between the Celtic Welsh and the Norman invaders told from Rhodri and Rhonwen’s point of view.
At the end of this book you will find a glossary of characters and a lexicon of foreign words and phrases used in my books. There is also a helpful Family Tree (but don’t peek yet!)
If only my heroes and heroines had revealed their stories to me in chronological order, it would have made life so much easier for you! If you prefer to read sagas in chronological order, here’s a handy list.
1066—If Love Dares Enough
1087—A Man of Value
1097—Dark Irish Knight
1100—Passion in the Blood
1106—Dark and Bright
1107—The Winds of the Heavens
1107—Dance of Love
1120—Sweet Taste of Love
1124—Wild Viking Princess
I hope you come to love my characters as much as I do!
When a nation is filled with strife,
then do patriots flourish
~a daughter is a little girl
who grows up to be a friend
Wales, Autumn 1066
The nightmare came again. The keening lament of the dispossessed. Gaunt faces of hunger and desperation
Rhodri sat up abruptly, drenched in sweat. He shivered, running his hands through his matted hair. Had he cried out? A deer hide separated his niche in the hall of the mountain fortress from the communal sleeping area of his men, but sounds travelled. He was their leader now after his father’s untimely death. He must never show weakness. They looked to him, despite his youth.
He stretched his arms around his bent legs, and pressed his forehead to his knees, willing his body to cool and his heart to slow. Hasten the day the fortress would be completed, then he would have his own chamber, as he did in his comfortable home in Powwydd.
He held his breath and listened. The wind moaned through the timbers in its relentless descent from the surrounding crags. The sounds of men deep in slumber filled the air. They slept the sleep of the dead after long back-breaking hours spent erecting this impregnable fortification in the mountains of Wales. It had been no easy task, but they needed a secure, hidden base for their attacks on the arrogant English. Cadair Berwyn was the perfect location, tucked away where no one could find it.
Here they could speak their native
without caring that the hated Anglos called it
. It might be foreign to them, but to Rhodri’s people it was part of the identity they had fought to protect for hundreds of years. Here they could be the children of
Rhodri lay down on his side and pulled the
over him, the late October air chilly on his naked skin. The amber beads around his neck shifted. He fingered them lovingly. His mother had crafted them. “A memory of me,” she had whispered. “After I’m gone.”
Now his whole family was indeed gone, swept away by a pestilence that had scythed down many. Had Rhodri not been at Cadair Berwyn, he too might have succumbed to its merciless march though the villages of Powwydd.
The aroma of frying food wafted into his nostrils, though the stone kitchens were some distance away from the wooden fortress. The cooks must be up and about. Dawn would break soon, bringing another day of challenges as the champion of an oppressed people.
Rhodri did not lack for courage but felt keenly the solitary nature of his position as Prince of Powwydd. It was a lonely life. No woman wanted to live with a rebel chieftain, hidden away for months in the mountains after raiding forays into lands they had once called their own.
At the funeral for his family, his father’s ally, Morgan ap Talfryn had raised the possibility of a betrothal with his daughter, Morwenna. She had been present at the rites in Powwydd. She was but a girl of eleven, eight years his junior, but he had been reluctantly drawn to her promising breasts and long blonde hair. Her smile had been—suggestive.
Restless, he pulled the
off his arms and settled it round his waist. The wool irritated the knotted designs newly etched into his biceps—symbol of his chieftaincy. He turned onto his back and stretched, cursing that his thoughts of generous breasts had aroused him. He cupped his
and shifted his weight to relieve the ache. Perhaps he should take Morgan up on the offer—but there was something about Morwenna made him hesitate.
He could not put off rising much longer. He must not be the last abed. He was reluctant to rise this day, a foreboding hanging over him they would receive bad tidings. His premonitions were not often wrong.
Messages had come two days before with news that the newly crowned king of the English Saxons, Harold Godwinson, was on his way back to the south with his army. They had won a hard-fought battle at Stamford Bridge, in the north of England, defeating the Norwegians. The Viking king, Harald Hardråda had been slain in his bid to steal the throne of the English. Now Harold Godwinson journeyed to face another threat on the south coast.
Informants had told Rhodri that William of Normandie waited with a fleet to invade England, intent on seizing the throne which he claimed his cousin, Edward the Confessor, had promised to him. The wind had only to change.
Rhodri scratched the stubble of his morning beard. The consequences for his people of either side being victorious weighed heavily on his mind. Harold’s army would be tired after the battle and the long trek back to the south. But the Saxons were a formidable fighting force, their shield wall impregnable, battle axes lethal.
From what Rhodri knew of William, Duke of the Normans, his strength lay in his mounted knights. He had a reputation as a brutal man who brooked no opposition. Heaven help
if the Normans won! But how could the Normans get their horses across the Narrow Sea? In any case, a horse was no match for an axe.
Better the enemy you know!
Rhodri clenched his jaw. So many greedy men. Would his people ever be left in peace to live their lives in their own country, or would they be driven further into the wild mountains?
He thrust the
to the floor, pulled on his tunic, leggings and boots and strode off to break his fast with whatever it was that smelled so good.
Rhonwen Dda had never met her father, and her mother, Myfanwy, never spoke of him. Everyone in the Welsh village where she was born was aware she was the natural child of a Saxon lord. The shame had driven her mother to take her skills as a healer and her babe to Ellesmere, in the border Marches, where they weren’t known. Rhonwen had no memory of Wales.
Over time Myfanwy’s reputation spread, and she was sought after for her knowledge. People spoke in hushed tones of her mystical healing powers. As Rhonwen grew she often assisted her mother with the preparation of herbs and salves. She longed to master the secrets of healing and observed her mother closely.
Myfanwy was a patient teacher who delighted in her daughter’s wish to follow in her footsteps. “It’s glad I am you’ll be a healer, Rhonwen. I’m getting old, and the day will come when you’ll need to take care of yourself.”
The meagre brazier flickering in the centre of the hut where they prepared cures had melted the November frost, but their breath still hung in the air. Rhonwen’s shoulders stiffened as she shivered. She slid her hands from the warmth of her sleeves and touched her mother’s arm, stilling the grinding of dried herbs. “You’re not old, mammie.”
But her mother had not been a young woman when she had conceived. The arm Rhonwen held was thin and boney. She shivered again. Her mother was her protector, her teacher. How could a girl of ten fend for herself?
Myfanwy’s face was grim. “There is danger everywhere in these uncertain times, daughter, and healing skills are what will protect you, give you standing. We must hope these victorious Normans will appreciate our talents when they come to the Marches.”
Her mother resumed her task. Rhonwen’s heart fluttered again. She took a deep breath. “How do you know they’ll come?”
Myfanwy put aside her mortar and pestle and took Rhonwen’s hands. “They will come. This William of Normandie will be as greedy as the Saxons. Now he has slain King Harold, he will want to control everything and everyone in his path. I pity the Welsh who have struggled so valiantly against the English Saxons. I fear life under the Normans will be much worse.”
Rhonwen threw herself into her mother’s arms. “Can we not flee? Where can we go to be safe?”
Myfanwy hugged her tightly and whispered, “Nowhere will be safe. We must make sure we are needed. Good healers are highly prized by warriors.”
Rhonwen inhaled her mother’s scent. It was the comforting aroma of healing herbs and potions, the smell of hope and freedom from pain. She nestled her head into her mother’s breast and Myfanwy rocked her, crooning a soothing Welsh lullaby.
Rhodri had forewarned his men this latest foray into the Marches would be dangerous, but they needed the grain—the farms near Ruyton were the likeliest place to find it. They did not expect to encounter Saxons. According to rumour, most of the English nobility had been massacred by William of Normandie at Hastings, the rest at Dover, Canterbury and Wallingford.
The Normans would come, but it was not likely they had reached the Marches yet. From all reports, William seemed to be concentrating his merciless campaign in the south, and Rhodri and his men had carried out several raids without encountering any opposition. He hoped Ruyton, the furthest point they had travelled from their hideaway, would be the same.
Taking the grain went without a hitch. The terrified farmers offered no resistance. Rhodri was careful to leave them sufficient for their own families and they were grateful. They had no overlord to satisfy now. He hoped the Woolgar brute who governed Shelfhoc Hall was one who had perished at Hastings. It was probable, since the man had been a housecarl of King Harold. It was said they had fought to the death rather than surrender to the Normans.
They loaded the surefooted ponies that would carry the grain safely back to Wales. This raid would be the last for a long while. Rhodri tarried with a handful of his men, sharing ale with the farmers, trying to coax what news they might have about the Norman invaders. They confirmed Caedmon Woolgar’s death at Hastings.
“I pity the Lady of the Hall,” one of the farmers said. “Lady Ascha is better off without her brutish husband, but ‘tis no time for a woman left alone, especially with them Welsh—”
He stole a glance at Rhodri who snickered and slapped the man on the back. “I don’t attack defenceless women. Besides, Shelfhoc is a difficult place to assault with its ditch and rampart. Much better to prey on farmers!”
They smirked, then looked at him strangely. Rhodri thought he’d best leave! “I thank you for your hospitality, and your grain. Were we treated like men we could farm our own land, but as it is—anyway, fewer will starve now.”
He mounted his pony and led his band at a gallop westward across the plain.
They had not gone far when Rhodri sensed they were being pursued. He turned to see a group of what might be Norman soldiers bearing down on them, led by a tall knight. He alerted his men. They increased their speed and split up. The tall knight followed Rhodri. The moorland terrain was rugged. One false move could result in a hoof plunging into a pothole in the rolling landscape. The chase went on for miles until the border village was in sight.
Suddenly, the Welsh pony lost its footing, and the animal went down. Rhodri’s shoulder slammed into the ground, but he forced his body to stay loose and roll. It was not the first time he had fallen from a horse. He came to his feet quickly, drawing out his dagger. Panting, he gripped the weapon firmly and clenched his jaw, blocking out the pain in his shoulder. The distinctive armour of his pursuers was indeed Norman. One charged him, his spear poised like a lance. Rhodri braced himself, half crouching. He waited until the attacker was upon him then slashed him across the belly with a backhanded swipe. Agony roared through his arm. The soldier fell forward on his horse with a bone-chilling scream then dropped like a stone. He had almost severed the lad in two with the power of his thrust—another ghastly memory to haunt his nightmares.
The Norman knight reined in his snorting horse and shouted in a foreign tongue to his men, who carried on in pursuit of Rhodri’s band. The invader dropped from the saddle, drew his sword and tore off his helmet, throwing it to the ground.
He means to face me alone! These Normans are more arrogant than the Saxons.
Rhodri was at a disadvantage with a dagger against a sword, but the Norman had seen what Rhodri had done with his dagger. He would be wary if he had any sense.
The two warriors squared off—the tall Norman knight trying to make the thrust with his sword that would disarm Rhodri, who in turn looked for opportunities to plunge his dagger into a momentarily unguarded part of the other man’s body. It occurred to Rhodri he rarely came face to face with an enemy who matched him in height.
“I am Rambaud de Montbryce, Earl of Ellesmere. On the authority of King William, I command your surrender,” the Norman declared with calm assurance in his own language.
Rhodri found the arrogance laughable. “I am Rhodri ap Owain, Prince of Powwydd. I didn’t know Ellesmere had an Earl,” he drawled. “The Norman bastard isn’t my king, not anyone’s king yet, so I cannot and will not surrender to you.”
The Norman arched a brow, appearing surprised his adversary understood and spoke his language. He sneered and thrust again, but Rhodri deflected the blow. Sword and dagger became braced together as they struggled, their intense gazes locked. Suddenly Montbryce pulled away from the deadlock, taking Rhodri unawares, and the Norman’s sword flicked the dagger out of his hand. His enemy advanced, again offering him the chance to surrender.
Rhodri sneered. “You don’t understand, Norman invader. Welshmen do not surrender.” He lunged at the Norman, knocking the wind out of him, and his sword out of his hand. Montbryce staggered backwards and fell, slamming his head against a rocky outcrop. He tried to stand, but his knees buckled and he collapsed to his hands and knees. He looked up at Rhodri then his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he slumped to the ground.
Rhodri exhaled, retrieved his dagger and whistled for his horse. He thanked his ancestors for the intelligence of Arial—the loyal pony had known enough to stay close. He remounted with difficulty and rode west like the wind, filled with a dread he had not seen the last of the arrogant Rambaud de Montbryce. Earl of Ellesmere indeed!