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Authors: Gillian Bradshaw

Hawk of May

BOOK: Hawk of May
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Copyright © 1980, 2010 by Gillian Bradshaw

Cover and internal design © 2010 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover design by Pete Garceau

Cover illustration by Ryan Pancoast

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

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Fax: (630) 961-2168

Originally published in 1980 by Simon and Schuster.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bradshaw, Gillian.

Hawk of May / by Gillian Bradshaw.

p. cm.

1. Gawain (Legendary character)—Fiction. 2. Knights and knighthood—Fiction. 3. Arthurian romances—Adaptations. I. Title.

PS3552.R235H38 2010




Parentibus Optimis

“Siquid adhuc ego sum, muneris omne tui esi.”

Author's Note

The historical background of this novel is partially but by no means entirely accurate: I have used some anachronisms and made some complete departures from what little is known about Britain between the Roman withdrawal and the Saxon conquest. My worst offence is in the Orkneys, where I have antedated the Irish conquest, invented places as well as persons, and described a situation completely unlike anything that actually existed there. But it is barely possible, if improbable, that some of the Britons whom the Emperor Honorius instructed to organize their own defences viewed these organizations as continuing the late third-early fourth century “Empire of the Britains,” and could have maintained an increasingly Celtic Roman empire into the sixth century.

For the legendary background I have drawn first on various Celtic sources, second on everything Arthurian written up to the present. Some of the poems are loosely based, anachronistically, on Celtic originals: the one on pages 66–67 on a fifteenth-century Deirdre poem; on page 84, an earlier Irish poem; on page 92 on the eighth-century “Voyage of Bran.” The song on pages 249–250 is, in fact, the sixth-century (or earlier) hymn known as “Patrick's Breastplate” or “Deer's Cry.” A version of it beginning “I bind unto myself today” is still sung, at least in the Anglican church, and has a lovely tune. The poem on page 314 is also Irish; but later. The others are my own, but represent the sort of poetry current in Old Welsh and Irish—except, of course, for the
passage, which is book VI. 125–9.

On pronunciation, Welsh looks more intimidating than it is (Irish is best left unmentioned); “w” is usually a long “u,” except in a few cases such as after “g” and before a vowel, when it is the familiar consonant; “y” is usually a short “u” sound: “Bedwyr” is thus three syllables, and comes into later legend as “Bedivere”; “ff” is as in “off,” but “f” a “v” sound as in “of”; “dd” is the soft “th,” as in “bathe”; “ll” something like the sound in “little”; “si” is a “sh” sound—“Sion” is the equivalent of Irish “Sean” and English “John,” and has nothing to do with mountains. The other letters are not too different from their traditional values: “ch” is as in Scottish, German, or Greek; “r” is trilled, and the vowels in general are pure, as in Latin. Accent is usually on the penultimate syllable.

I have used modern Welsh forms, on the whole, as I was uncertain of the old Welsh ones. Place names are in complete confusion, but I imagine they were at the time as well: I have used Celtic forms when these are recorded. Sorviodunum/ Searisbyrig is modern Salisbury (or rather, Old Sarum); Ynys Witrin is Glastonbury; Camlann, South Cadbury where the excavations are. Caer Segeint is Carnarvon; Ebrauc is York; Din Eidyn, Edinburgh; and Yrechwydd a name from poems which might be several places but which I have relocated to suit myself. This should be enough to give the reader some orientation, but, since the novel is only partially historical, geography is not that important.


When my father received the news of the Pendragon's death, I was playing boats by the sea.

I was then eleven years old, and as poor a warrior as any boy in my father's realm of the Innsi Erc, the Orcades Islands. Since I also was a very poor hunter, I had little in common with the other boys, the sons of the noble clans of our island, with whom I lived and trained in the Boys' House; and I had still less in common with my elder brother, Agravain, who led the others in
making my life difficult, almost as difficult as my father's plans for me did. To escape from the insistent world of warriors and warriors-to-be, I went sometimes to my younger brother, but more often to a secret place I had by the sea.

It is about an hour's ride south of my father's fortress of Dun Fionn. A small stream falls down the cliff that edges our island on the west, carving a gully into the rock. At the bottom, trapped by a ledge of harder stone, the stream forms a deep pool behind a gravelly beach before it escapes into the ocean. Overhanging cliff walls make it invisible from the cliff-top, so no one but myself ever discovered its existence. As it was also very beautiful, this made it mine. I gave the place a name—Llyn Gwalch, “Hawk's Stream” in British—and considered it to be a world apart from and better than the Orcades and Dun Fionn. Sometimes I took my harp there, and sang to the waves that came pounding at the beach, flowing into the pool at high tide and hissing in the gravel at low tide. Sometimes I would build fortresses of gravel and mud, and plan battles by the stream as though it were a great river, the boundary between mighty kingdoms. I would picture myself as a great warrior, good at every art of war and sung of in every king's hall in the western world, admired by Agravain and my father. But my favorite game was to build boats and to set them sailing out of the dark pool into the wild grey sea that pounded at every shore of the world at once. I sent my boats west: to Erin, from which my father had sailed years before; and beyond Erin, to that strange island or islands which druids and poets say lie west of the sunset, invisible to all but a few mortals, where the Sidhe live in eternal happiness.

I loved my Llyn Gwalch dearly, and jealously guarded it against any intruders from the outside world. I told only my younger brother Medraut of its existence, and then only after swearing him to secrecy. So, when I heard the clatter of a stone from the path above my head, I drew back hurriedly from the curragh I was building and began to clamber up the gully. I had left my pony tethered at the top, and I did not want anyone to come down looking for me.

“Gwalchmai?” The voice from the cliff-top was Agravain's.

“I'm coming!” I called, and scrambled faster.

“You'd better hurry,” said Agravain. He sounded angry. “Father's waiting for us. He sent me to find you.”

I reached the top of the cliff, shook my hair out of my eyes, stared at Agravain. “What does he want?” I didn't like the sound of it. My father hated to wait, and he would certainly be angry by the time I got back to Dun Fionn.

“It's no business of yours what he wants.” Agravain was, indeed, angry, tired of looking for me, and probably afraid that some of our father's anger would spill over on to him. “By the sun and the wind, can't you hurry?”

“I am hurrying.” I was untying my pony as I spoke.

“Don't answer back to me! You're going to be in trouble enough as it is. We're late, and Father won't like you appearing in front of the guest like that. You're a mess.”

“Guest?” About to mount, I paused. “Is he a bard or a warrior? Where's he from?”

“Britain. I don't know what kingdom. Father sent me out to look for you as soon as he'd spoken with the man, and it's a good thing Diuran saw you riding south, or I'd still be looking.” Agravain kicked his horse and set off across the cliff-top at a gallop. “Come on, you little coward!”

I swung on to my pony and followed him, ignoring the over-familiar insult. I must be a coward, anyway. If I wasn't, I wouldn't ignore the insult. I'd fight with Agravain, even if I did always lose, and we'd be friends afterwards. He was always friendly after a fight.

A guest, from Britain, and an urgent summons. The Briton must have brought some important message. My father had many spies in Britain who reported to him regularly—but they sent their messages by indirect means, never coming to Dun Fionn themselves. A messenger from Britain meant some important event, a major victory over or defeat by the Saxons, the death of some important king, anything which my father could use to further his influence in the south. The Saxons had suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Pendragon's young war-leader only a year before, so it couldn't be that. Some king dead, then, and my father about to make a bargain with his successor? A bargain which had some part in it which Agravain and I could fulfill? I urged my pony faster and passed Agravain at a gallop, anxious and miserable now. My father always made plans for me, but I fulfilled very few of them. The sea-wind and the wind of my speed dried the salt in my hair, and my pony's hooves echoed the beat of the surf; better to think about these than about my father. It would be good to get the confrontation over quickly, as quickly as possible. At least, I thought, looking for some good, Agravain hasn't asked me what I was doing at Llyn Gwalch.

The thought of my brother made me look back in alarm. He was a good hundred paces behind me, struggling with his horse on the rough path and scowling furiously. There were two things I could do better than he: riding and harp-playing. He liked to forget this and, as he was infinitely the better at fighting, I tried not to remind him. Now I had done so. I cringed, knowing that he would pick a quarrel with me on a pretext later in the day, and slowed my pony to a trot.

He passed me without saying anything and rode in front of me, also at a trot. That was Agravain. He wanted to be first, and nearly always was. First-born, first choice to succeed my father as king, first among the boys of the island who trained to be warriors. My father was immensely proud of him, and never stayed angry at him for long. I stared at my brother's back and wished that I could be like him.

We rode on to Dun Fionn in silence.

The fortress is built from a very light stone, from which it takes its name, “White Fortress.” It is a new stronghold, completed in the year of Agravain's birth, three years before my own, but already it was as famous and powerful as any of the other, older forts, Temair or Emhain Macha in Erin, or Camlann and Din Eidyn in Britain. It stands at the highest point of the cliff, overlooking the sea, ringed by a bank and ditch and its thick, high walls. Two gate-towers, copied from old Roman forts, flank the single westward-facing gate. The fortress was designed by my father, and the power and fame were the result of a myriad of schemes and manoeuvres, political and military, carried out with unvaried success. If it was my mother who was the ultimate source of the schemes, it was my father, King Lot mac Cormac of the Innsi Erc, who had carried them out in such a way as to make himself one of the most powerful kings in either Britain or Erin. As Agravain and I rode in the gates, I wondered nervously what he wanted me to do.

We left our horses in the stable and hurried to our father's room behind the feast Hall. The room was small and plain, and the dusty sunlight filtered in through the space left between wall and roof for the smoke. My father had evidently been waiting for some time: the messenger must have left the room long before, and the air had the tense, still feeling of a conversation interrupted. My mother sat on the bed, studying a map, a goblet of imported wine on the lamp table beside her. Another goblet on its side—Lot's—lay near it, abandoned. When we entered, my father turned from pacing the floor to face us. My mother glanced up, then fell to studying the map again. The air tingled with expectation: my father was angry.

He was not a tall man, yet unmistakably he was king, radiating arrogance and command. His thick yellow hair and beard seemed almost to stand out from his head, unable to contain the energy of his lean body, and his hot blue eyes could scorch anyone who crossed him. My ancestors come from Ulster, and they say that Lugh of the Long Hand, the sun god, had many sons in my father's line. All who spoke with Lot for any length of time came away at least half convinced of it.

He ignored Agravain and glared at me. “Where have you been, these two hours?”

When I fumbled for words, Agravain answered. “He was down by the sea, collecting oysters or some such thing. I found him a good hour's ride from here.”

Lot glared harder. “Why didn't you stay here and practice your spear-throwing? You need the practice badly enough.”

As always happened in my father's presence, all my words were dried in my throat, and I stared unhappily at the floor.

Lot snorted. “You'll never make a warrior. But you could try, at least, to learn enough not to disgrace your clan.”

When I still found nothing to say and would not meet his eyes, he clenched his fists angrily; then, giving a liquid shrug, turned and began to pace again. “Enough of that. Can either of you reason out why I called you?”

“You got a message from Britain,” Agravain answered quickly, eagerly. “What's happened there? Did the Saxons defeat someone and do the kings want your aid now?”

My mother Morgawse looked up from her map and smiled, and her eyes rested for a moment on me. My heart leapt. “Have you nothing to say, Gwalchmai?” Her voice was low, soft and beautiful. She was herself beautiful: very tall, dark where Lot was fair; her eyes were darker than the sea at midnight. She left breathless anyone who only looked at her, and drew eyes as a whirlpool draws water. The legitimate daughter of the High King Uther, she had been given in marriage to Lot when she was thirteen, the seal of an alliance she had since worked constantly against. She hated her father Uther with all her soul. I worshipped her.

Lot paused, glanced towards her, realizing that she had decided something about the map. He nodded to himself, then glanced back to me.

“There…there's an important king dead, isn't there?” I asked, taking my courage in both hands. “Is it Vortipor?”

My father gave me a surprised look, then smiled fiercely. “Indeed. There is a king dead. But not Vortipor of Dyfed.” He walked over to the bed and stood, looking at the map, tracing Dyfed with his finger, then following the line of the Saefern river up through Powys, then tracing the sea coast of Elmet and Ebrauc up to Rheged, down again along the east border of Britain. Morgawse's eyes were glowing with a deep, dark fire, with triumph and silent joy. I knew then who was dead, and what my parents were planning. There was only one king whose death would bring such joy to my mother.

“Uther, Pendragon of Britain, lies dead at Camlann,” said Morgawse, very softly. “The High King is dead, and of sickness.” Her smile was softer than snow-flakes falling from a black winter night.

Agravain stood in silence a moment, then gasped, “Uther!” in wonder.

Lot laughed, throwing back his head and clapping his hands together. “Uther, dead! I had thought the old mare's son had more years left in him than that!”

I looked at Morgawse. She was rumored a sorceress through all of Britain. I wondered if Uther had suffered, how long the sickness had lasted, if she had done the thing…no, how could anyone in the Orcades kill a man in Dumnonia…and I was glad that the man she hated was dead.

“…that is not all,” my father was saying. “There is a debate over who is to succeed him.”

Of course there was a debate. I had heard it
debated often enough even in the Orcades. Uther had no heir, only many bastards. There would be civil war in Britain, as there had been thirty years before at the death of Vortigern. My father, who had made three of the kings then reigning in Britain, would have a chance to try his hand at making a High King.

Lot went on, talking out his own plans now, back and forth across the floor, the dust swirling in the sun-beam. “…Docmail of Gwynedd claimed the High Kingship at the council, saying that the kings of Gwynedd ought to be High Kings because they are descended from the Roman High King Maximus, but Gwlgawd of Gododdin opposed him…Docmail made alliances with Dyfed and Powys, and he has sent messages to Gwlgawd telling him to renounce his claim to the Pendragonship. Gwlgawd is afraid and seeks to form an alliance of his own. He has sent messengers to Caradoc of Ebrauc…and to me.” Lot smiled again, triumphantly, and stopped short by the bed, looking at the map. “Caradoc may join or not, as he pleases. I will come. With my warband and supplies from Gwlgawd, we can sweep Docmail into the sea! And Gwlgawd…he will be easy to control.” He snapped away from the map and again began pacing, his eyes blazing, fists clenched as he reckoned kings and kingdoms, loyalties and enmities. “If we arrive in the North in force to join Gwlgawd, Strathclyde will probably join Docmail, and Urien of Rheged may claim the Pendragonship for himself—a force to be feared, Urien—still, he is my brother-in-law, and must try negotiations before he declares war; we can spin out negotiations…”

“Be careful,” snapped Morgawse. “The alliances will be unsettled, and one can never rely on any alliance in Britain. There will be other claimants to the title before this war is ended, and too many kingdoms have not yet declared themselves.”

Lot nodded, without breaking his step. “Of course. And we must separate the kings as much as possible; and see that we divide the spoils evenly with our allies—Diuran can help with that, and Aidan. And then there must be time and a blind eye to blood feuds, at intervals, but we cannot let the Ui Niaill begin fighting or there'll be no stopping it.” He fell silent, considering how to control blood feuds. In the end, he would ask Morgawse, and she would tell him what she had long before thought out, and it would work.

Feeling very nervous, I managed to stammer, “W-what about Arthur?”

BOOK: Hawk of May
4.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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