November 1288. Bereft of a king or rightful heir, England hurtles towards civil war for the second time in a generation. When David, Prince of Wales, and his wife, Lili, travel to London to attend the wedding of William de Bohun and Princess Joan, they have no intention of involving themselves in local politics.
But as infighting leads to murder, David and Lili find themselves at the center of a far-reaching conspiracy. Trapped between history and legend, they must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice to save not only their own country, but the people of England as well.
Meanwhile, back in Wales, Llywelyn and Meg discover that time is no barrier to either adventure or trouble …
Children of Time continues the story of Prince Llywelyn, Meg, and their children in the medieval kingdom of Wales.
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15 November 1288
“You know what you need to do, don’t you?” Llywelyn said.
In the growing darkness, Llywelyn and David faced off on the balcony that overlooked the Wye River, while Goronwy and I watched from a few feet away. The sun had fallen behind the castle, not that we’d seen much in the way of sunlight on this gloomy November day.
I glanced at Goronwy, looking for help, but he refused to meet my eye, knowing better than to get involved in this argument. Llywelyn and David had come to a blessed agreement since Llywelyn had agreed to David’s marriage to Lili. Especially now that Lili was pregnant, Llywelyn approached life with a certain smug satisfaction. But sometimes their conversations still gave me a tickling sensation in my stomach that wasn’t my baby kicking or fluttering its hands. It told me that neither man quite trusted the other yet. It was as if the memory of those bitter months of estrangement, even if the original disagreement was resolved, continued to hover over their future.
“I need to see William and Joan off to a good marriage,” David said. “That is why we’re going to London. That’s the only reason.”
“We could do more,” Llywelyn said. “Even with marriage to one of the royal daughters off the table, all is not lost. You could be more, and by doing so, protect Wales from a time when England again has a strong king. You could be that strong king.”
Dreading the repeat of this argument, I glanced towards the water roiling below us, heading towards the Severn Sea. Chepstow Castle had been built on solid rock above the Wye River. The storms of the last week, coupled with the tidal surge that had churned upriver in the last hour, had caused the water to run high.
At that moment, it lapped only forty feet below the bottom of the castle wall, instead of the usual seventy. England lay on the opposite bank. It was something that nobody at Chepstow Castle could ever forget, even if, at present, England and Wales were at peace.
What hurt my heart most was that Llywelyn was right. I knew what the future might hold for Wales once England found itself a strong king. We had been lucky that England had lost King Edward at the very moment of our ascendancy. In my old world, the few times that Wales had managed to overcome or withstand English invasions had been when it had a strong leader, like Llywelyn, and when it had the support of England’s enemies. The last Prince of Wales, not Llywelyn but Owain Glynd?r, had fallen in the end because once his allies had deserted him, the English king proved stronger and more agile, with better access to men and munitions. Wales hadn’t stood a chance.
David folded his hands in front of him and rested them on the wall. I wanted to reach out, to touch him, but stopped myself. He was a grown man, and this was his decision.
In order to reach the balcony on which we stood, we’d come through the kitchen, down a set of stairs, and into a wine cellar. The reason Roger Bigod, the original owner of the castle, had installed the balcony in this location was not for the beautiful view, or the quiet, but to allow fortification and provisioning of Chepstow from the river in times of war.
We used it now to speak in absolute privacy and had gone so far as to clear the cellar and stairs of companions and guards. David had even excluded Evan, who shadowed him everywhere he went since David had promoted him to captain of his teulu. Only Goronwy stayed with us, silent in the shadows.
“I know what you want, Dad,” David said.
“Do you?” Llywelyn said. “Why can’t you see how a claim from you to the English throne could change the course of Wales’ future forever?”
“I can see it,” David said. “But on what basis would I make such a claim, and who would I have to betray in order to make it? Humphrey and William? The Norman barons who have allied themselves with us?”
“It wouldn’t have to be that way,” Llywelyn said. “Everyone knows that the English crown is in doubt and the kingdom in disarray. None of the barons has the support of enough of his peers to make an outright claim, and even those who ally with Valence can’t envision him—or one of his lackeys—on the throne.”
Valence was the Norman lord who had incited the war against us in August. He hadn’t gone away in the intervening months, despite a loss of face at his stunning defeat in the Severn Estuary. Both David and Llywelyn were in agreement that they couldn’t count on that same luck a second time were Valence to contrive another plot against Wales. Thus, Llywelyn’s entreaty that David throw his name into the hat for the English crown.
“I have no royal blood, Dad. On what grounds could I possibly rule?”
“As High King—”
David gave a mocking laugh, not letting Llywelyn finish. “But I wouldn’t be High King. We’re not talking about uniting England and Wales under my rule—at least not today. We’re talking about a claim from me to the throne of England.”
Llywelyn tried again. “I admit that’s true for now—”
“Even if a claim to the English throne held any water at all with the people of England, how would my rule of them be any different from what we’ve suffered for centuries under the Norman boot?”
“You can’t seriously be comparing your potential rule to King Edward’s,” Llywelyn said.
“In the mind of the English, how would I be any different?” David said. “Welsh rulers who have reached too far, who have stretched their hand over the lowlands of England, more often than not have died fighting in wars to the east, over land none of our people have cared about since the Romans left.”
“Those lands were ours, once.” Llywelyn said.
“They were,” David said, “but this isn’t the dark ages and I am no Arthur, no matter what the people say.”
“And I say you are. It isn’t about the blood in your veins,” Llywelyn said. “You are the rightful High King of Britain—”
“Please don’t say that—” David stepped closer to his father, his hand out.
“—and it is Arthur’s spirit that runs in you, even if half your blood comes from another world.”
David made a disgusted noise in his throat. “Dad—stop—you know talk of Arthur makes me feel like a fraud.” David scrubbed at his hair with both hands and then dropped them.
“I know,” Llywelyn said. “I’m sorry if it makes you uncomfortable. It shouldn’t.” Llywelyn glanced at me.
I interpreted his look as a request for support and closed the distance between us. “It’s an explanation for your difference that the people can understand and accept,” I said. “That’s why we haven’t discouraged it. It’s been to protect you.”
“It doesn’t feel that way to me,” David said. “I’ve long since given up on letting my people know about where I came from, but I’ve striven to be myself, regardless of how odd it makes me.”
“It’s not that you’re odd, son,” Llywelyn said. “You’re different from everyone else because it is that difference that Wales needs. That’s why you came to me six years ago. That’s why your family is so special. England needs you now, too, to prevent a civil war from tearing the country apart for the second time in a generation.”
Llywelyn was talking about a repeat of the Barons’ War, which for a time had deposed King Henry in favor of Simon de Montfort, his brother-in-law. Llywelyn had allied himself with Simon, and ultimately married his daughter, who had died while birthing their daughter, Gwenllian.
It had become clear to us in the last three years, since England had relinquished its claim to Wales, that the Norman barons were awash in disunity. A given baron might have his supporters, but none had enough to overcome an alliance of his enemies. The regency had been a temporary measure, a compromise until one baron gathered enough power to himself to take the throne outright. The alliance of Bigod, Valence, and Vere had been such an attempt.
Although that attempt had failed, how many barons had thought to implement something similar until Valence’s defeat had forced them to reconsider? Clare had been waiting for Llywelyn’s death to launch his own assault on Wales. He had viewed David as weaker than his father. Victory would have given him the upper hand over the other barons. But now, even he supported David.
David looked away. As I’d feared, the old argument threatened to consume them again. Between two equals, there was no tie-breaking vote, not even if it was mine. Wanting to diffuse the tension, I put a hand between David’s shoulder blades and rubbed gently. It was a mom’s attempt to cut through the discord that I couldn’t stand to feel between him and his father a second longer. While I fought for what to say to him—anything that would ease the premature lines of care that had formed around his eyes—David bent his head to mine and sighed.
I didn’t know that I’d ever get used to having a son eight inches taller than I was, but my heart still melted when I looked at him, as it had when he was a chubby boy of three. He would be twenty tomorrow. I had to shake my head in disbelief when I thought about how much David had grown since the day he came to Wales with Anna. It was a man who looked down on me now.
I put a hand to either side of his face. “What I wish for you, more than anything, is for the burdens you carry to wear on you less, and that you could learn to live more lightly. That’s not fair to ask of you, because you carry all of Wales on your shoulders, but we used to have fun, remember?”
“God—I know, Mom.” David touched his forehead to mine. “I’m no good for Lili half the time. More like a bear than a husband. And now with the baby—”
Llywelyn reached across me and gripped David’s shoulder. “Son—” he said but then didn’t finish his thought. Instead, the skin on his knuckles whitened and he held on more tightly.
“Llywelyn! What is it?” I touched his arm.
The muscles in Llywelyn’s face tightened and the tendons in his neck stood out. “Cariad—” Llywelyn clutched at his chest with his right hand. Then his knees gave way and David and I staggered with him, striving to hold him up as our hips hit the wall behind us.
“My lord!” Goronwy, who’d been watching without interruption while we talked, sprang forward.
“Help me—” Llywelyn clasped my hand and fought for breath.
I tucked my shoulder under Llywelyn’s arm while David took his other side, and between us we settled him on the ground at the base of the battlement.
“What’s happening, Mom?” David said.
“I-I don’t know for sure,” I said.
“I’ll get Aaron.” David sprinted for the doorway that led to the wine cellar.
I huddled beside Llywelyn, who continued to clutch at me.
Goronwy crouched in front of us. “It has to be now, Meg. We have to do this now.”
“I know, Goronwy, I know.” Tears pricked at my eyes, but I blinked them back. This wasn’t a time for weeping. In my head, a mantra repeated itself over and over again until I feared I would scream it instead of bottling it up inside me so I could be strong for Llywelyn: Oh God, don’t let him die. Don’t let him die. I can’t live without him! “Help me get him up.”
“What—what—what are you doing?” Llywelyn spoke in a breathy whisper. His eyes didn’t seem to see me, even as he swallowed hard and repeated his question, his voice strengthened this time with indignation.
“It’s time to go, my love.” I pressed my cheek to his, feeling the rough scruff of his beard on my skin.
“No!” Llywelyn tried to push me away. “I won’t let you.”
“We’ve talked about this,” I said. “It’s this or you die.”
“It’s not worth the risk,” Llywelyn said. “Not to you. Not to the baby.”
“Isn’t it?” I looked to Goronwy. “Help me hold him up. We’re lucky this happened right here, near the low wall, instead of in the hall or our rooms, or I’d never manage it.”
“You’re not strong enough to do this by yourself, you know,” Goronwy said. “No more than Llywelyn would, I won’t let you go alone.”
“Of course I’m not going alone. I’m taking Llywelyn—”
I broke off as Goronwy lifted Llywelyn in his arms as if he weighed no more than a child. Llywelyn had been ill off and on since the battle in the Estuary in August. He’d tried to hide it, but I was his wife, and I knew. He’d lost weight, no matter how much he tried to deny it to David. I wouldn’t have said his weight loss was so much, however, that Goronwy could carry him.
I gritted my teeth. Llywelyn was wrong. It was long past time we went, whether he liked it or not.
With a grunt, Goronwy used a fallen rock as a step up and climbed to the top of the waist-high wall that overlooked the Wye River. He glanced down at me. “Are you coming? It’s not as if this will work if I do it by myself.”
“Yes, yes, of course I’m coming!” I lifted my skirts so they wouldn’t hinder my legs and scrambled to stand beside Goronwy. I looped the fingers of one hand around Goronwy’s sword belt and found Llywelyn’s hand with the other. Llywelyn no longer protested. With a rush of terror, I realized he had lost consciousness. We had so little time.
“Mom! What are you doing?”
I looked back at my son who stood in the doorway to the balcony. My beloved son. I smiled, even as tears returned. “I love you. Give my love to Anna.”
And with Goronwy at my side, and my arms around Llywelyn, I jumped.