November 1291. Meg and Llywelyn gather their family at Rhuddlan Castle to celebrate their seventh anniversary and David’s twenty-third birthday. But the joyful reunion goes grievously awry when an old enemy raises the banner of rebellion, followed immediately by an even more catastrophic betrayal by an old friend.
Meanwhile, facing war at every turn and still haunted by his decision to leave Cassie and Callum in the modern world, David chooses a dangerous path forward, one that will either change the course of the future forever–or burn his world to ashes.
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Searching for the twins when they didn’t want to be found was a thankless task and one Meg had been at for the last ten minutes. The inner ward of Rhuddlan castle was a maze of wooden buildings built three stories high along the inside of the stone curtain wall and included a chapel, two kitchens, sleeping rooms, and the great hall on the opposite side of the inner ward. The outer ward contained many buildings too, among them two stables and a forge.
In the inner ward, narrow passages ran between the rooms and the curtain wall, and circular staircases in the towers connected the levels to one another. Up ahead was the castellan’s office, which doubled as a receiving room. Llywelyn had taken it over for himself while he was here. Meg thought she heard the giggle of young voices farther along the passage through which she was walking, but they faded before she could catch up to them.
If someone had told Meg ten years ago that she would give birth to twins at the age of forty-two, she would have laughed. If that person had prefaced the statement with the assertion that Llywelyn would be the father, Meg probably would have cried. By thirty-two, she’d already spent ten long years without him. It would have been a relief to know she had to spend only five more.
Meg walked into the receiving room just as Lili said, “Stewing again?” Meg’s daughter-in-law perched on the table behind David, her hands going to the muscles in his broad shoulders, and her thumbs pressing hard. Arthur, their son, played with a wooden horse at their feet, his blonde head bent as he focused on his toy.
“Did you sleep at all?” Meg said.
“A few hours,” David said, which Meg thought might not be a complete untruth. She’d woken up in the night herself and passed him in the corridor.
David handed her a letter.
“What’s this?” She took it, scanning it with a dubious expression on her face. It was from Tudur, Llywelyn’s counselor at Chepstow Castle. After reading the first page, she passed the paper back to David. “Really? Madog and Rhys challenge us now?”
“They want more land—or in Madog’s case, his father’s land back,” David said. “Rhys resents Dad’s interference in Deheubarth and feels that he favors his cousin, Wynod.”
“Of course Papa favors Wynod.” Lili’s blue eyes flashed. “Which one of them has stabbed him in the back a dozen times, and which one has always been loyal?”
“Tell that to Rhys,” David said. “He wants Carreg Cennan.”
“He can want it all he wants,” Meg said. “He isn’t going to get it. That he still retains Dryslwyn is bad enough.”
“According to Tudur, Rhys is telling himself that Dad’s hold on Deheubarth isn’t as strong as it once was, especially with the new reforms he’s introduced,” David said.
“At your urging,” Lili said.
“At my urging,” David agreed. “This is my doing, more than Dad’s.”
“Nonsense.” Llywelyn looked up from what he was writing, entering their conversation for the first time. He ran a hand through his still dark hair, which had less gray than Meg’s own brown locks, and looked at his son with amusement and pity. “You have enough to trouble you without taking on the petty politics of Wales.”
“It will be my problem if Rhys gets up to his old tricks,” David said, “and brings Madog along for the ride.”
“Your mother tells me that in your other world Rhys was sold to King Edward by his own men and then executed for treason.”
“When was this?” David said, looking at Meg, who’d come around the table to hug her husband from behind as he studied the papers in front of him. The man was as ridiculously handsome as he’d been when she’d first met him.
“Rhys betrayed Edward—after betraying your father long before—in 1287.” Meg straightened, her hands resting on Llywelyn’s shoulders. “Edward finally caught up with him in 1292.”
“So you’re saying that what Rhys is doing now is in his nature?” David said. “Since King Edward is dead, he naturally rebels against you instead?”
“I’ve been dealing with that old sot since I took my first steps to the throne of Wales.” Llywelyn leaned back in his chair, twisting his torso and stretching his arms to get out the kinks after sitting too long. “To tell you the truth, I’ve been expecting something like this from him for years. Tudur knows that.”
“So I guess you don’t need my help after all,” David said.
“Son—” Llywelyn dropped his arms.
David waved a hand. “I’m sorry. I’m feeling melancholy.”
Lili pushed at David’s shoulder. “It’s the lack of sleep. Besides, your only job this afternoon is to sit at the head of the table and eat!”
Arthur looked up at the excitement in Lili’s voice, abandoning his horse to tug on his mother’s leg and ask to be picked up. Lili lifted him up and kissed his cheek. Then Arthur put out his hands to Meg, which was a rare gift since he didn’t always condescend for her to hold him, and she took him in her arms.
“This democracy thing isn’t easy,” David said, taking Meg’s place at his father’s side and peering over Llywelyn’s shoulder to look at the papers he’d spread before him. “We should alert your allies that we might have to act without Parliament.”
“Already done,” Llywelyn said.
“It would have been nice to enjoy our anniversary in peace without rumors of war—” Meg broke off as Cadell, Anna’s eldest son, hurtled into the room, his small sword raised high.
“Arthur!” Then he caught sight of the adults arrayed in front of him and pulled up. Sheathing his sword in his belt, he sauntered towards them, an insouciant grin on his face and an irrepressible sparkle in his hazel eyes. “I have something to show you!”
Arthur instantly squirmed to get down, abandoning Meg for his six-year-old cousin.
Then a horde of small children—three-year-old Catrin, of the brown curls and green eyes; Bran, a black-haired, blue-eyed miniature of Math, even at only two; and the blonde-haired twins, Elisa and Padrig, who’d been born shortly after Bran—surged through the doorway behind Cadell. The decibel level in the room rose to that of an airplane engine. In other words—deafening.
“Dear God, Llywelyn,” Meg said. “What have we done?”
Llywelyn laughed. “I prayed my whole life that such a fate would be mine.” He stood to put his arm around Meg’s shoulder, kissing her temple as they watched the children.
Last to enter was Gwenllian, Llywelyn’s nine-year-old daughter by his wife, Elin, who’d died giving birth to her. Gwenllian shot Meg a rueful look as the children circled the room, shouting. Meg was glad to see that in preparation for the meal Gwenllian had already changed into her finery without being asked, pulling her blonde curls back from her face in a band.
Gwenllian had spent far too much time with nannies as a small child, but in recent years she had grown into her own person, which sometimes meant not doing as she was told. She and David shooed the children out the door again.
“When’s dinner?” Llywelyn said.
Even after all these years, Meg made a motion to check her wrist for a watch. Of course it wasn’t there. “Soon. I’ll see to it.”
David’s brow furrowed. “Marty hasn’t arrived yet, has he?”
“No.” Meg headed for the door, tipping her head to Gwenllian to indicate that she should come along.
“Aren’t you looking forward to seeing him, Mom?” Gwenllian said in perfect American English.
Meg had been frowning, but she hastily cleared her expression. She hadn’t been thinking about Marty at all, but about Rhys’s and Madog’s rebellion. Meg’s son and husband were soldiers. More than that, they were leaders of men. If Meg allowed herself to think for too long about what could happen to either of them, the sick feeling that formed in her stomach took a sleepless night to conquer. They faced danger every day. Meg never got used to it.
“I don’t know,” Meg said to Gwenllian, forcing herself to answer the question as if nothing at all was the matter. That was another aspect of being the mother to one warrior and married to another: pretending that all was well when it wasn’t. “The last time I saw Marty, he was flying his airplane out of sight while I cooled my heels beneath Hadrian’s Wall.”
“I can’t believe he abandoned you,” Gwenllian said, stoutly supportive. Marty had crashed the airplane in the Highlands of Scotland, so he hadn’t fared as well as Meg. She’d forgiven him, since it was years ago now.
Cassie and Callum had reported that Marty had adjusted well to the thirteenth century, and the weapons he’d made from the remains of the airplane had saved them in Scotland, but Meg hadn’t forgotten what he’d done. She didn’t know if she could really call him a friend, or if she was truly looking forward to seeing him after all these years.
Part of Meg had hoped that Marty might have managed a visit sooner. But despite repeated invitations, not only from Callum but David and Meg too, he had declined up until now, citing the burdens of a wife and small child as his excuse. Meg secretly thought that he was afraid to face her. And for good reason. He’d abandoned her to her fate. It was hard to trust a man who could do that.
“It was a long time ago, sweetheart.” Meg put her hand on Gwenllian’s shoulder, banishing her unease as best she could.
Meg and Llywelyn had sat down with Gwenllian a year ago and told her as much of the truth about Meg, David, and Anna’s origins as they thought she could bear and understand. They probably shouldn’t have been surprised at how calmly Gwenllian had taken what they’d had to say. An eight-year-old child with an active imagination could accept ideas that adults fought.
When they told her that David and Anna had been born in another world and that Meg and Llywelyn themselves had traveled to and from it, she’d been happy. The explanation had merely clarified what she’d eavesdropped to hear for years.
Gwenllian and Meg found Anna and Bronwen standing together in the castle’s second, smaller hall near the southwestern tower, arranging the table for dinner. Known as the queen’s hall, it had apartments above and below it and its own kitchen. It was accessed by four doors: one at the southwestern tower stairwell, two doors that entered through the west and south corridors that followed the curtain wall, and an exterior door that led down to the inner ward via external stairs.
The inhabitants of Rhuddlan would eat well tonight—as truly they always did—but the family’s meal would be for them alone, more reminiscent of an eighteenth century dinner in a manor house than the typical raucous medieval meal in the hall. Here in the queen’s hall, they would be isolated from the rest of the castle and win an hour’s peace from the pressures of their positions. David had managed to leave the bulk of his court—counselors, ministers, and hangers-on—at Chester, though he’d still brought many of his men and attendants with him. As had Llywelyn.
They were celebrating a combined anniversary dinner for Meg and Llywelyn and a birthday party for David, though not on the right day for either. Whether or not the medieval people they lived with appreciated their need for privacy, Meg had made sure that today was just for the family.
Anna was counting chairs. “I’m going to separate the kids to try to cut down on the chaos.”
Bronwen smirked. “Good luck with that. They’ll sit quietly if Cadell or Gwenllian tell them to. I don’t know what’s come over Catrin. She listens to me at home but somehow not here.”
“She’s three,” Anna said. “You have to expect a few tantrums. I’d like to keep Bran’s to a minimum, but I make no promises.”
It was odd being a grandmother to children older than Meg’s own, but that was the Middle Ages for you. “Elisa and Padrig can sit with Arthur,” Meg said. “He doesn’t talk, and they only talk to each other, so they’ll get along fine.”
“That puts Cadell, Bran, and Catrin together,” Bronwen said.
“Gwenllian, can I put you and Catrin between the boys?” Anna said. “That ought to cut down on the fighting. I swear, they pick at each other all day long—Cadell’s fault, mostly.”
“When you and David fought, I charged you a dollar for every incident,” Meg said.
Anna’s face lit. “I remember that! David and I would sometimes hit each other anyway and then swear to each other not to tell you.”
Meg laughed. “I’m glad I didn’t know, though I can’t say I’m sorry to hear it. Better united in crime than not united at all.” She pursed her lips. “Bran’s a little young for that, though, and it isn’t like you give your children gold for their allowance.”
“Cadell and I need to have a sit-down,” Anna said. “I’ll have to think about what to threaten him with.”
“Here they come,” Bronwen said as the sound of children shouting echoed outside in the corridor. The troop stormed into the room.
Anna put up a hand to Cadell. “Stop!”
Cadell pulled up short and instantly all the other children stopped too.
Anna bent down, her hands on her knees, to look her son in the eye. “You will sit quietly for this meal, or I will take away that sword and you won’t have it back until we leave Rhuddlan. Is that clear?”
Cadell nodded, for once subdued, maybe less by his mother’s authority than by the decorated room. The girls had gone all out and the hall looked more like Christmas than a birthday party, with evergreen boughs and candles everywhere. But everyone would be together and that was the most important thing.
And within the hour, they were together, the table was laden with food, and the doors closed. Everyone sat quietly while Llywelyn said a prayer. Tears came to Meg’s eyes before he was halfway through it as love for all of them filled her.
Bronwen, Ieuan, and Catrin; David, Lili, and Arthur; Anna, Math, Cadell, and Bran; Llywelyn, Gwenllian, Elisa, Padrig, and Meg. Only Cassie and Callum, who should have been with them, were absent. As Llywelyn’s prayer finished, Meg looked at David, who’d been gazing around the table as she had. He leaned across the three little ones on the bench between them and said, “We’ll get them back.”
“I hardly knew them, and yet I miss them too,” Meg said, not surprised that he’d read her mind. Meg knew that Callum, in particular, was often in David’s thoughts. During Callum’s absence David had personally overseen his earldom of Shrewsbury. “I can’t believe it’s already been two years since you had to leave them there. I hope we see them again one day, though I can’t say I want to be the one who goes to get them.”
“Cassie and Callum are both survivors,” David said.
Then he paused. Everyone started spooning food onto trenchers, but David raised his cup and looked down the table to where his father sat. Llywelyn responded with a silent toast, and then David rose to his feet. “I have something to talk to you all about.” He gestured with one hand. “Feel free to keep eating.”
“We weren’t going to stop,” Ieuan said to general laughter around the table.
Meg looked up at David and realized that he’d grown serious. After a moment, the other adults realized it too. David glanced at Lili, who nodded her encouragement for whatever he was about to say.
David cleared his throat. “It’s weird to say I have a dream, but I do. For a while now, I’ve been thinking about what we’re here for and what we’re doing all this for.”
He paused again. He had everyone’s full attention, even the children. Arthur, his little wooden horse clutched in his fat fist, crawled onto his mother’s lap and stared up at his father.
“Please don’t laugh, but I’d like to talk to you about—” David took in a deep breath, “—about working towards a United States of Britain.”
“Thank God!” Bronwen set down her cup. “It’s about time.”
“I was wondering when you were going to get to that,” Anna said.
Bronwen held out her hand, palm out, and Anna half-stood to reach across the table and slap it before dropping back into her seat.
David gaped at them both. “But—”
“I didn’t say anything earlier because I knew you had enough on your plate,” Anna said. “The whole women’s rights thing has been difficult enough without me bugging you about a bill of rights for everyone.”
“Well.” David sank back into his chair. “I was afraid to talk about it because I thought it sounded romantic and foolish, even to me, but I guess not.”
Bronwen leaned forward, her face intent. “It’s off in the future, I get that, but just to say it and to have it as our ultimate goal is important.”
Anna laughed. “I thought his ultimate goal was world domination?”
Bronwen grinned at Anna but then waved her hand, dismissing the joke and gesturing around the table. “None of us are in this just to survive. This isn’t about us. Not anymore, if it ever was.”
Anna nodded. “It’s about changing the world.”
“You’ve already started by creating the pillars that can support true democracy: universal education, economic independence—” Bronwen ticked off the items on her fingers, “and an impartial government, which includes a system of courts and laws. In England and Wales, all three are in place, if nascent.”
Ieuan elbowed Math, who was sitting next to him, and said in an undertone, “That’s my wife.”
Llywelyn had been gazing at David as the women had been speaking, his expression disconcertingly noncommittal, but now he nodded. “You’ve talked of this before to me, son. A constitution and this—” he waved one hand as Bronwen had done, “bill of rights. We already have something like it in Wales and have had since the time of Rhodri Mawr.”
“And in England too.” David rose to his feet again, leaving the table to pace before the fire, as was his habit. Ever since he’d learned to walk at nine months old, his brain had worked in conjunction with his feet. “Though what England has is very rudimentary—and like the initial ideas produced by the American founding fathers—doesn’t include women or men who don’t own land.”
Meg, of course, had been on board with his idea before he’d finished his first sentence but now said, “Before we get ahead of ourselves, what do you mean by a United States of Britain?”
David hesitated in his pacing. “A confederation of states, probably a loose one initially, founded on democratic principles. Probably more along the lines of a parliamentary democracy than the tripartite division of the United States government. I’m not even proposing the elimination of the kingship, though that should be on the table too.”
“What’s the biggest challenge we face in creating it?” Anna said, ever the practical one.
David mouthed the word ‘we’ and shook his head. “I was an idiot not to have talked to you all earlier.”
“You’re not in this alone,” Anna said. “You never have been.”
David cleared his throat. “I see that now.”
“One of the barriers has to be the Church,” Bronwen said, getting the discussion back on track. “David is fighting a rearguard action, trying not to undermine the Church’s authority but not being much swayed by it either. As long as Peckham is the Archbishop of Canterbury, he’s in good shape, but if David didn’t have the personal authority he does, he’d have been excommunicated by now. You know he would have. Imagine if they knew he’d never been baptized in the Catholic Church? His only saving grace is that England is flourishing economically and that means income for taxes is higher, for him and for the pope.”
“The Church wants David to let them prosecute heretics. But other than that, the separation of Church and State in England might be easier to accomplish now than after the Reformation,” Meg said. “Peckham has stood by our acceptance of the Jews.”
“That’s only because we’ve become the banking capital of the world,” Anna said. “It’s hard to argue with success.”
“That may be,” David said, “but Aaron is keeping his ear to the ground nonetheless. He’s heard frightening whispers among his kin in recent months.”
Aaron, a Jewish physician, had befriended Meg when she’d come to the Middle Ages the second time and had helped her to return to Llywelyn. Through his contacts among his co-religionists, Wales—and now England—had become a haven for Jews wishing to practice their religion in peace.
“I would have said my biggest problems today—not necessarily in order,” David said, “are the ongoing unrest in Ireland, for which my Norman barons are much to blame; the barons themselves, who own the vast majority of land and resources in England; and the inquisition.”
Anna nodded. “The Church, like I said. Heretics and Jews aren’t welcome here.”
“Well,” David said, coming to a halt and facing Anna, “both are welcome here.”
“Which is going to cause you more problems than you already have if your enemies use prejudice to incite unrest,” Meg said. “Look at Germany.”
In 1287, a wave of anti-Semitism had swept across Germany, resulting in the murders of hundreds of Jews in a hundred and fifty different towns. In that other world where David wasn’t the King of England, King Edward had expelled the Jews from England in the year 1290. David was hoping that because that expulsion hadn’t happened, other European countries wouldn’t expel their Jewish people either. David was particularly worried about France where the medieval inquisition had its strongest hold.
This inquisition, however, wasn’t so much about Jews as about heretics—people who didn’t abide by the doctrines of the Church. David and Llywelyn had welcomed people of all religions and beliefs into Wales and England, and it was driving the Pope crazy that David refused to allow his minions to arrest them.
“Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Bronwen said.
The Americans around the table nodded. They lived and breathed that quote. Even if America had yet to be colonized, and somehow it might be their descendants rather than their ancestors who would do it, they could never allow themselves to forget where they’d come from.
Though not as economically and technologically advanced as nineteenth century America, England—with a population of only three million—had room to spare if people were willing to work. And people could work here as well as in France, Spain, or Germany. Recent immigration under David’s benevolent eye had made London a sprawling capital of freewheeling mercantile expansionism.
Llywelyn lifted a hand. “It may be, then, that this rebellion we’re facing is a blessing in disguise.”
“How might that be?” Meg didn’t see how war could ever be a blessing.
David answered for his father, “If my dream is to create a peaceful, united Britain, then fighting a little war now—putting down a small rebellion now, maybe even before it has a chance to gain a real foothold—could send a clear message to every other baron who might be entertaining the idea of fostering a similar revolt.”
Llywelyn nodded. “You made an example of Valence. We may have to make one of Rhys and Madog too.”
Before anyone could add to his comment—or in Meg’s case, protest the very idea of a ‘little war’—a knock came at the door to the inner ward. Since Anna was already standing, having risen to retrieve Bran and plop him back into his place on the bench, she went to open the door.
Meg craned her neck to see who was asking to be admitted, but she couldn’t see around Anna. Her daughter stood in the doorway for a second, one hand on the frame and the other on the edge of the door, not moving.
“Who-who are you?” The panic in Anna’s voice had every adult at the table rising to his or her feet.
“An old friend.” The voice came clearly from beyond Anna.
She stepped back, holding out her hands in front of her, her posture stiff. Something wasn’t right. Meg still couldn’t see past Anna to whatever was the problem, but she moved with everyone else to find out.
As Anna took another step backwards, her hip hit the door, opening it wider and enabling Meg to see beyond her to Rhuddlan’s steward, Alan, who had fallen to his knees on the landing. Meg’s breath caught in her throat as a second man—the tardy Marty—grabbed Alan by the cloak, tugged him to his feet, and shoved him so that he stumbled through the doorway past Anna and into the room. Alan collapsed against the wall a few feet from Meg, bleeding from a gash in his belly.
And then, the bloodstained blade flashing in his hand, Marty grabbed Anna, dragged her with him into the room, and kicked the door shut behind him.