especially as the eldest son, but he was hot-tempered and
injudicious, and had lost everything he owned in fighting his
I nodded, finally, at my friend. “You’re
right. We can’t return or they’ll take me too. That wouldn’t serve
either my father or my uncle, don’t you think?”
“ No, my lord. I reckon not.”
I turned back to the village, Goronwy beside
me. I wore a bow and quiver, and my new boots my mother had given
me for my sixteenth birthday. Other than that, all I possessed was
what I stood up in. Sometimes, finally facing what you most fear
turns out to be no more difficult than putting one foot in front of
With Goronwy, I stumbled
into Aber, my Uncle’s seat in Gwynedd on the shores of the Irish
Sea. The day could not have been more opposite from today—sunny and
hot, early September instead of January. Though I’d been a favorite
of my grandfather, my Uncle Dafydd had been wary of me—and me of
him. He had feared that I would lay claim to Gwynedd in the name of
Yet, even in my novice
days, I knew to do so would be foolish; knew that I would have to
earn the right to lead our people. I did learn, and learned well,
everything he had to teach me, both good and ill. I was beside him
when he died of that hideous, wasting disease, and was ready to
stand in his stead from the moment he laid his hand in mine and
passed his kingdom on to me—his father’s kingdom, along with his
vision of a united Wales.
In Wales, a boy legally becomes a man on his
fourteenth birthday. Yet I knew, for me, it was the day I walked
away, defying my parents, my Uncle Dafydd, and the King of England.
Goronwy and I made our way to Aber and my uncle’s court, finally
putting my feet on the path to destiny.
As I faced my counselors in my office, the
consequences of that day reverberated still, beyond my own thoughts
and dreams. Because I’d refused imprisonment, it was I who stepped
into my uncle’s shoes upon his death. And while it was Dafydd who’d
been most harmed by my decision to abandon my family, it was I
who’d paid the price for his resentment.
Perhaps what irked me more than anything
else was that Dafydd, as it stood now, was my heir. No matter how
strongly I held the reins of Wales, no matter how great my power,
no woman had given me a child—any child. Every hour of every day I
faced the fact that my line died with me if I was unable to sire a
son. I clenched my fists but then relaxed them, noting the look of
curiosity on Goronwy’s face. He, of all my companions, knew me
best—and himself had articulated our mutual fear.
But I was only forty years old—true, most of
my people died before the age of forty, but I was still vibrant and
strong, my hair as dark as it had ever been, my back straight.
True, I didn’t look forward to sleeping on the ground amongst my
men as much as in my younger days, but I could do it.
“Dafydd aside,” I said, “I would like to
hear your thoughts on the news he brings. I’ve never met this young
heir to the Clare line, but I’ve heard that he has ambitious plans
for himself. What kind of threat does he bring to us?”
“He wears his earldom well,” Goronwy said.
“Why do you think King Henry tried to keep it from him for so
Tudur slapped his fist into his palm. He had
little patience for those who couldn’t keep up with his fast brain
and faster tongue. “We can’t allow him to build a new castle. It
violates our agreement with King Henry and puts your entire rule
into question. If one Marcher lord can do it, any of them can.”
“They all will try,” Goronwy said. “You know
“It is much as it was with your uncle,”
Geraint added. “The moment your back is turned, each man looks to
himself and his own patrimony, with no thought for the future of
“The Marcher lords have never concerned
themselves with anything but their own power,” Tudur said. “They