Thursday, March 29, 2018

Free short story for Women's History Month: The Legend Rises

Five years ago this month, I had the privilege of participating in the HerStory anthology with a group of more than twenty female authors. Each of us submitted stories of women with extraordinary courage during varying periods of history. My contribution was The Legend Rises, a story of Gwenllian of Gwynedd, who fought against twelfth-century Norman invaders alongside her husband Gruffydd. She was a remarkable woman with the strength to face nearly insurmountable odds and her final stand at Kidwelly Castle inspired generations of Welsh freedom fighters and earned her nickname, the female Braveheart.

Since the anthology was not continued, I'm pleased to share this story for free with visitors to my website. A sample follows here. For readers who want to know more of Gwenllian and Gruffydd, the full novel detailing their lives will be available in March 2020, Lady of Legend; my HerStory contribution will NOT be included in the book so here's a chance to read that missing chapter. 

About The Legend Rises:

Gwenllian, a Welsh princess of Gwynedd and the wife of the dispossessed lord of Deheubarth faces the greatest trial she has ever known. Brutal English invaders have ravaged her beloved country and forced her into a meager existence, hidden in the forests of her husband’s homeland. While he seeks a new, strong alliance against the enemy, Gwenllian prepares herself and her children for the fight of their lives. Strength and honor alone cannot win the battle. Her family must unite for their survival.

The Legend Rises

Parting: Winter 1136 AD
At Caeo, Cantref Mawr, within the old kingdom of Deheubarth

As the morning of Gruffydd’s departure from Caeo dawned, no tears tainted the exchange between brothers, a father and his sons, or a mother divided from a portion of her brood. If Gwenllian held the little lord Rhys for too long, at least her youngest son did not wriggle away. She buried her face in his pale-yellow curls, kissed his ruddy cheeks, and released him. On pudgy legs with mud-splotched shoes, the child scrambled to join Rhain Llwyd in the rearguard. Gruffydd’s best archer hoisted the boy into the saddle. At five years old, was Rhys ready for his own mount?

Rhain met Gwenllian’s pertinent stare. She sighed and offered him a resigned nod. Her simple gesture conveyed more than trust. She offered thanks for his stalwart loyalty and bloodied sacrifices of the past. Rhain would never allow any harm to come to the boy.

Anarawd approached and extended his hand to her. When she clasped his arm, her ragged fingernails dug into the leather tunic. Wiry muscles tensed beneath the sleeve. A man stood in place of the squalling, red-faced infant Gruffydd had deposited in her arms over twenty years before. In the absence of their eldest brother, Maelgwn and Morgan would resume their lessons in weaponry under their mother’s tutelage. She looked forward to a demonstration of Anarawd’s tactics later.

She whispered to him, “Have a care for Rhys.”

His brow furrowed beneath a dark forelock of hair, so like his father’s own. “I always do and even if I didn’t, Rhain would. You can rely on us both. Why do you even ask?”

She ignored the slight irritation in his gruff tone. “Don’t let your brother become a nuisance at Aberffraw. My father and mother may delight in the frolicking of my youngest, but Rhys can be a trial for his aged grandparents.”

“He is for everyone else here. Why should he behave otherwise at court in Gwynedd?” He met her sudden scowl with a wink and a final kiss on her cheek.a “Be well. Don’t worry for Rhys. I know how much you love him, Mam.”

Didn’t Anarawd know she felt the same for him? She would have hugged him as close as she did Rhys if her maudlin state would not cause the young man some distress. Instead, she swallowed the ache in her throat. “Have a care for yourself and your father too.”

He made no promises, only bowed and turned away. Was he so eager for his part in the adventures to come? If Gruffydd succeeded in forging a new alliance against the English, Anarawd would take up the battle cry beside his father, uncles, and grandfathers. She would not be able to stop him or keep all of her or Gruffydd’s children safe. She scoffed at the idea. Security, freedom, and a life without worry had never existed for any of them, would not be theirs until they rid their homeland of the interlopers.

Mist cloaked the frost-covered earth, the dragon’s breath of her former nurse’s tales from childhood. Gruffydd coughed while he took deliberate steps, lingering with various members of his teulu gathered in the clearing. Dawn’s golden-pink glow revealed the weather-beaten faces of each man. The retainers numbered three hundred strong, with a third on the surefooted ponies taken in last summer’s raids. A few among the riders even donned the chainmail of their fallen adversaries, worn over threadbare tunics and trews, with swords at the waist and shields at their backs. The rest of the men, each bearing a sheaf of arrows and longbows of elm, would follow the cavalry on the long trek north to Aberffraw with her husband. Another two hundred would protect Gwenllian in his absence.

Gruffydd neared the end of the line, where Rhain ensured Rhys maintained his balance. The boy’s father distracted him, rumpling his hair until Rhys giggled. Rhain kept a firm grip on his charge before he and Gruffydd clapped each other’s shoulders. The ageless bond between them reflected in mutual, silent stares.

Behind them, burly Arthfael Llwyd awaited Gruffydd’s withdrawal. Hanks of unwashed hair fell over the aged warrior’s furrowed brow. He supported his ruined right side on the crutch Anarawd had carved for him from a yew tree. His gray beard almost concealed the thin line of his mouth. For the first time in their lives, only one of the twins would ride out under their lord’s banner. Since Arthfael and Rhain first escorted Gruffydd to Aberffraw, Gwenllian had never seen the brothers apart from each other. This morning would encompass more poignant farewells than those shared between Gruffydd’s children.

Huddled in the doorway, Gwenllian leaned on the rough oak post. Wood scraped her cheek. Bledri snuffled and nosed into her open hand. She spared a smile for the aging wolfhound and scratched behind his ears. Three generations of the breed had lived and died since her father’s wolfhounds first trailed her across the fens teaming with peat, east of Aberffraw, or through gorse-covered moorlands. The dog’s muzzle pressed alongside her thigh. He sat on his hindquarters and kept a watchful though rheumy-eyed gaze on the activity in the clearing.

A breeze ruffled Gruffydd’s graying hair and swept his mantle off his massive shoulders, exposing the tunic and trews beneath. No outsider would have distinguished him from his men. His footfalls lacked their usual vigor. Stiff movements warned of the dull ache in his muscles, for which he would never complain. He also did not need to speak of the battle raging inside him. Only a swift need to counter the English urged him from the comfort of their family. He dreaded this undertaking more than she did. The selfish core of her heart, which still found its refuge in Gruffydd’s care, thrummed with a fervent wish to keep him at her side. Her mind pleaded for the host from Gwynedd to ride out with Gruffydd and confront this latest English threat. Only her husband could convince her father and her remaining brothers Owain and Cadwaladr of the need to unite....

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