Book 2 of the Sons of Rhodri series. (29,000 word novella)
Overview: His brothers are sentenced to die. Rhys must marry to save them. Annalise is a Norman noblewoman determined not to marry a Welsh barbarian.
“This is the third book I’ve read by Anna Markland, and I enjoyed it just as much as the other two. She really has a gift for describing the time period. From the first paragraph, I was immersed in the world. Rhys is the son of the Welsh prince, Rhodri, but he’s a peacemaker rather than a warrior. I really liked, Rhys. He is a decent and honorable man, determined to live in peace with his Norman neighbors and to learn from them to improve the lot of his countrymen. To rescue his two warrior brothers Rhun and Rhydderch (the heroes of The Winds of the Heavens) he takes Annalise, the niece of a Norman Earl, as his wife. Dark and Bright is a lovely story of how Rhys and Annalise come to love each other. It was also wonderful to see more of characters from the other books, especially Baudoin and Carys. Great for all lovers of historical romance and anyone who enjoys authentic historical fiction.”
– Helen Scott Taylor, author of Oceans Between Us
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Powwydd, Wales, 1106AD
Rhys ap Rhodri was not a warrior. Not that he lacked courage. As a youth he had accompanied his father, the legendary patriot Rhodri ap Owain, on forays against Norman holdings, both in England and against the expanding Norman presence in Wales itself. But his passion was not for rebellion. He would leave that to his father and brothers. His longing for Welsh independence from foreign control was no less than theirs, but he was his mother’s son and had inherited Rhonwen’s love of peace. He believed that diplomacy and the making of strategic alliances was more likely to achieve what they all sought.
Gradually his reputation as a peacemaker grew in the Marches, the contentious border area between England and Wales. Certainly the Norman Earls of Ellesmere, father and now son, recognized his talents. The first Earl, Ram de Montbryce, had favored negotiation over confrontation. He had developed a healthy respect for Rhys.
When Rhys’s sister, Carys, expressed a desire to marry Baudoin de Montbryce, now Second Earl of Ellesmere, Rhys foresaw the power it would bring his family. He encouraged the marriage, unlike his brothers, Rhun and Rhydderch.
Now, dire news had arrived that Rhun and Rhydderch had been apprehended by a Norman Earl. Henry Beaumont, Earl of Warwick, had been granted Lordship of Gower in south Wales by King Henry and was building a castle at Abertawe. The redheaded twins were caught during an attempt to interfere with the construction. Condemned for rebellion, they were to be hanged at Warwick Castle in a few days.
However, Rhys saw an opportunity in this disaster to build another alliance. His father was aging. As his eldest son, Rhys would become Prince of the commote of Powwydd on his father’s death. He would need to marry and provide heirs.
Having learned long ago the importance of contacts in high places, he had recently been made aware that the Earl of Warwick had become responsible for his late sister’s daughter, Annalise de Vymont. She was of marriageable age and the Earl would thus be expected to provide her dowry, since his brother-by-marriage had died penniless several sennights before.
Rhys had no desire to marry. He enjoyed his bachelor life. He was more than familiar with the story of his parents’ meeting and falling in love at first sight, and of Baudoin and Carys’s passion for each other, but doubted the same would happen for him. Better to spend his life working towards the freedom of Wales through his efforts as a diplomat than to be distracted by love.
However, duty demanded he marry. He resolved to make the Earl an offer for his niece. She would give him the sons he needed and he would provide a secure home for her in the llys at Powwydd.
He dispatched messengers to Warwick to request a meeting. The Earl no doubt expected it. They had negotiated before. As the imposing castle came in sight, perched atop a sandstone bluff around which the River Avon swept in a gradual curve, he thought about the arrogance of William the Conqueror who had demolished four houses belonging to the Abbot of Coventry to build it.
Rhys had dressed in his finest clothes, as befitted his status. He had chosen the bright red woolen tunic that came down to his shins. His mother always said red became him. It was his father’s favourite color. The slits in the sides revealed a black undertunic. His knee length hose were also black, tied with embroidered ribbon, a gift from Carys. He wore them for luck. His tasseled boots were of the softest leather. He hoped his appearance would emphasize the seriousness of his overtures. He felt comfortable. But it would not be a good idea to underestimate Henry Beaumont. The Earl had become so obese he could barely walk.
Rhys did not expect to be greeted warmly as he entered the private sitting room. Though he was confident the Earl respected his abilities, a Norman would always consider a Welshman his inferior. He was given a polite welcome, as nobility obliged. Rhys thanked his host, then came straight to the point. “Milord Earl, I request the honour of becoming betrothed to your niece, Annalise de Vymont.”
The Earl, clad all in black from his boots to the jaunty hat perched precariously atop his bald head, arched his brows, the folds of his fat forehead doubling. “Hmph! I’d expected you’d want to discuss your outlaw brothers. I won’t free them.”
Rhys waited. The Earl had not invited him to be seated. He tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword in an effort to control the urge to shift his stance. Better to be still. He inclined his head a smidgen as a sign of respect, but not defeat. He had shot the first bolt—had it hit its target?
Warwick fidgeted, running his pudgy fingers over the intricately carved arms of his massive chair, eyeing Rhys.
He wonders what I’m up to!
He did not want to give the impression he was staring, though such obesity did tend to draw the eye. He let his gaze wander over the opulent solar. The llys at Powwydd was well appointed, but here he was surrounded by extravagant luxury. Rich tapestries softened the lime-washed wooden paneling. Two ornate oaken chests sat against the walls. Glass filled the frames of the ornate window slits. Wolf skins warmed the floor. Perhaps that was not a good omen. The Normans had made life comfortable for themselves.
The Earl coughed and shifted his considerable weight. The chair groaned. The pageboy squinted as a foul odour filled the air. “My niece? What do you know of her?”
Despite the reek of flatulence, Rhys resisted the urge to grimace. He had gambled Warwick would not pass up an opportunity to hear more about the offer. “As you’re aware, I’ve never met her, milord, but she’s of marriageable age and I’m confident she will make a good wife. As the future Prince of Powwydd I’m not without noble standing and can offer her a comfortable life.”
The caressing of the carvings became a drumming of the fingers. Suddenly the Earl gripped the chair and struggled to rise. The startled pageboy rushed to aid him but Warwick waved him away, eventually coming to his feet, albeit shakily. “You know she doesn’t speak Welsh, or English for that matter? She’s only recently arrived from Normandie after her father’s death.”
Warwick was swaying, holding on to the arm of the chair. It was imperative for success that Rhys not betray his nervousness. “I’m aware of it. I’ve made it my business to learn Norman French. I believe in communication. I’ll teach her my language. I’m sure she can learn, can’t she?”
The Earl slumped back into the chair as abruptly as he had risen. Rhys breathed a sigh of relief and hoped the beads of sweat on his upper lip were not visible. The Norman’s leg twitched, but the man looked directly at Rhys. “Annalise is a beautiful, intelligent girl. She’s also very independent—had to be, growing up in the household of my wastrel brother-by-marriage,” he explained, bitterness in his voice. “Her mother died when she was born and her father never got over his wife’s death. He didn’t give Annalise much tendresse.”
Rhys squared his shoulders and cleared his throat. “I can’t offer her love, but I can offer fidelity and honesty. You know me as a man of integrity.”
The Earl’s leg twitched faster, the fingers drummed incessantly. “She’s not a wealthy woman. I will have to provide her dowry. What would you expect?”
Rhys did not hesitate. “The release and pardon of my brothers.”
The drumming stopped. The Earl smiled. He stared at Rhys. Rhys waited. Finally, the Earl said, “I can’t release two brigands bent on attacking my lands. What guarantee do I have they’ll cease their raids?”
Again Rhys answered directly. He had always found that the best approach. If one dallied in responding, your adversary doubted you. “You have my word. They will never again attack the lands of the Earl of Warwick.”
He held his breath, expecting the Earl to demand more—the cessation perhaps of all hostility against any Norman territory—but all he said was, “And the only thing you would get out of the bargain is a wife?”
Rhys smiled inwardly, confident he had won. “A wife who is of your family, my lord Earl. Surely such proud Norman connections can’t harm my family and will only further the cause of peace? My sister is already married to the Earl of Ellesmere.”
The Norman chuckled. “I see merit in the proposal. I’ll have my steward prepare a chamber for you to stay for a few days. On the morrow we’ll draw up the betrothal contract and you’ll meet Annalise. Welcome to my family, Lord of Powwydd.”
He held out his hand and Rhys strode forward to take it. The two men clasped hands to seal the bargain and Rhys inclined his head once more. “And I bid you welcome to mine, Lord Earl of Warwick. What of the arrangements for my brothers?”
The Earl turned to the pageboy. “Send a guard to the cells. Have them brought here.”
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