Time travel to medieval Wales … and embark on a journey that transforms an entire world!
In December of 1282, English soldiers ambushed and murdered Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Wales. His death marked the end of Wales as an independent nation and the beginning of over seven hundred years of English oppression.
But what if Llywelyn lived?
And then there’s the two teenagers who save him …
Complete series reading order: Daughter of Time, Footsteps in Time, Winds of Time, Prince of Time, Crossroads in Time, Children of Time, Exiles in Time, Castaways in Time, Ashes of Time, Warden of Time, Guardians of Time, Masters of Time, Outpost in Time, Shades of Time, Champions of Time, Refuge in Time, Outcasts in Time, Hidden in Time, Legacy of Time. Also, This Small Corner of Time: The After Cilmeri Series Companion.
Keywords: Wales, Prince of Wales, Medieval, Middle Ages, Britain, Romance, Time Travel, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Adventure, Young Adult, Teen, Welsh, Alternate History.
Anna looked back at her brother. He’d followed her to the door, his coat in his hand.
“Okay.” She tried not to sound relieved. “You can hold the map.”
The clouds were so low they blended into the trees around the house and Anna tipped her head to the sky, feeling a few gentle snowflakes hit her face. They walked across the driveway, the first to leave tracks in the new snow.
“You’re sure you can handle this?” David eyed the van. It faced the house so Anna would have to back it out.
“Christopher’s waiting,” Anna said. “It’s not like I have a choice.”
“If you say so.”
Their aunt had asked Anna to pick up her cousin at a friend’s house since she had a late meeting and wouldn’t make it. Ignoring David’s skeptical expression, Anna tugged open the door, threw her purse on the floor between the seats, and got in the driver’s side. David plopped himself beside her with a mischievous grin.
“And don’t you dare say anything!” She wagged her finger in his face before he could open his mouth. He was three years younger than she, having just turned fourteen in November, unbearably pompous at times, and good at everything. Except for his handwriting, which was atrocious. Sometimes a girl had to hold onto the small things.
“Which way?” Anna said once they reached the main road. The windshield wipers flicked away the new snow, barely keeping up. Anna peered through the white for oncoming cars and waited for David to say something.
David studied the map, disconcertingly turning it this way and that, and then finally settled back in his seat with it upside down. “Uh … right.”
Anna took a right, and then a left, and within three minutes they were thoroughly lost. “This is so unlike you.”
“I’m trying! But look at this—” He held out the map.
Anna glanced at it, but one of the reasons she’d accepted his offer to come with her was because maps confused her under the best of circumstances.
“The roads wander at random, and they all look the same,” he said. “Half of them don’t even have signs.”
Anna had to agree. Identical leafless trees and rugged terrain faced them at every turn. She drove up one hill and down another, winding back and forth around rocky outcroppings and spectacular, yet similar, mansions. As the minutes ticked by, Anna clenched the wheel more tightly. She and David sat unspeaking in their heated, all-wheel drive cocoon, while the snow fell harder and the sky outside the windows darkened with the waning of the day. Then, just as they crested a small rise and were taking a downhill curve to the left, David hissed and reached for the handhold above his door.
“What?” Anna took a quick look at David. His mouth was open but no sound came out, and he pointed straight ahead.
Anna returned her gaze to the windshield. Ten feet in front of them, a wall of snow blocked the road, like a massive, opaque picture window. She had no time to respond, think, or press the brake before they hit it.
They powered through the wall and, for a long three seconds, a vast black space surrounded them. Then they burst through to the other side to find themselves bouncing down a snow-covered hill, much like the one they’d been driving on but with grass beneath their wheels instead of asphalt. During the first few seconds as Anna fought to bring the van under control, they rumbled into a clearing situated halfway down the hill. She gaped through the windshield at the three men on horseback, who’d appeared out of nowhere. They stared back at her, frozen as if in a photograph, oblivious now to a fourth man, who’d fallen on the ground.
All four men held swords.
“Anna!” David finally found his voice.
Anna stood on the brakes but couldn’t get any traction in the snow. All three horses reared, catapulting their riders out of their saddles. Anna careened into two of the men who fell under the wheels with a sickening crunching thud. Still unable to stop the van, she plowed right over them and the snow-covered grass into the underside of a rearing horse.
By then, the van was starting to slide sideways, and its nose slewed under the horse’s front hooves, which were high in the air, and hit its midsection full on. The windshield shattered from the impact of the hooves, the horse fell backwards, pinning its rider beneath it, and the airbags exploded. By then, the van’s momentum had spun it completely around, carried it across the clearing to the edge, and over it.
The van slid another twenty feet down the hill before it connected with a tree at the bottom of the slope. Breathless, chained by the seatbelt, Anna sat stunned.
David fumbled with the door handle. “Come on.” He shoved at her shoulder. When she didn’t move, he grasped her chin and turned her head to look at him. “The gas tank could explode.”
Her heart catching in her throat, Anna wrenched the door open and tumbled into the snow. She and David ran toward a small stand of trees thirty feet to their left and stopped there, breathing hard. The van remained as they’d left it, sad and crumpled against the tree at the base of the hill. David had a line of blood on his cheek. Anna put her hand to her forehead, and it came away with blood, marring her brown glove.
“What—” Anna swallowed hard and tried again. “How did we go from lost to totaled in two point four seconds?” She found a tissue in her pocket, wiped at the blood on her glove, and began dabbing at her forehead.
David followed the van tracks with his eyes. “Can you walk up the hill with me and see what’s up there?”
“Shouldn’t we call Mom first?” Their mother was giving a talk at a medieval history conference in Philadelphia, which is why she’d parked her children at her sister’s house in Bryn Mawr in the first place.
“Let’s find out where we are before we call her,” David said.
Anna was starting to shake, whether from cold or shock it didn’t really matter. David saw it and took her hand for perhaps the first time in ten years. He tugged her up the hill to the clearing. They came to a stop at the top, unable to take another step. Two dozen men lay dead on the ground. They sprawled in every possible position. A man close to Anna was missing an arm, and his blood stained the snow around him. Anna’s stomach heaved, and she turned away, but there was no place to look where a dead man didn’t lie.
But even as she looked away, her brain registered that the men weren’t dressed normally. They wore mail and helmets and many still had swords in their hands. Then David left her at a run, heading along the path the van had followed. Anna watched him, trying not to see anyone else. He crouched next to a body.
“Over here!” He waved an arm.
Anna followed David’s snowy footprints, weaving among the dead men. Every one had been butchered. By the time she came to a halt beside David, tears streamed down her cheeks.
“My God, David.” She choked on the words. “Where are we?” Heedless of the snow, Anna fell to her knees beside the man David was helping to sit upright. She was still breathing hard. She’d never been in a car accident before, much less one that landed her in the middle of a clearing full of dead men.
“I don’t know.” David had gotten his arm under the man’s shoulder and now braced his back. The man didn’t appear to have any blood on him, although it was obvious from his quiet moans that he was hurt.
The man grunted and put his hands to his helmet, struggling to pull it from his head. Anna leaned forward, helped him remove it, and then set it on the ground beside him. The man looked old to have been in a battle. He had a head of dark hair, with touches of white at his temples, but his mustache was mostly gray and his face was lined. At the moment, it was also streaked with sweat and dirt—and very pale.
“Diolch,” he said.
Anna blinked. That was thank you in Welsh, which she knew because of her mother’s near-continual efforts to teach her the language, although Anna had never thought she’d actually need to know it. She met the man’s eyes. They were deep blue but bloodshot from his exertions. To her surprise, instead of finding them full of fear and pain, they held amusement. Anna couldn’t credit it and decided she must be mistaken.
The man turned to David. “Pwy dach chi?” Who are you?
“Dafydd dw i,” David said. My name is David. David gestured towards Anna and continued in Welsh. “This is my sister, Anna.”
The man’s eyes tracked back to Anna, and a twitch of a smile flickered at the corner of his mouth. “We need to find safety before night falls,” he said, still all in Welsh. “I must find my men.”
Now that was equally ridiculous and impossible.
Anna was trying to think what to say to him, anything to say to him, when someone shouted. She swung around. A dozen men on horses rode out of the trees near the van. David settled the man back on the ground and stood up. At the sight of him, the lead rider reined his horse. The others crowded up behind him.
They all stared at each other, or rather, the men stared at David. They seemed frozen to their horses, and Anna looked up at David, trying to see what they saw. He had turned fourteen in November, but his voice hadn’t yet changed. Nor had he grown as tall as many of his friends. At 5’ 6”, he was still four inches taller than she, however. David had sandy blonde hair, cut short, and an athletic build thanks to his continuous efforts in soccer and karate. Anna’s friends at school considered him cute in a geeky sort of way.
“What is it?” she whispered.
“I don’t know,” David said. “Is it our clothes? Your hair?”
Anna touched her head, feeling the clip that held her hair back from her face. The bun had come loose, and her hair cascaded down her back in a tangled, curly mass.
“They’re looking at you, David, not me.”
The man they’d helped moaned, and David crouched again beside him. His movement broke the spell holding the horsemen. They shouted, something like “move!” and “now!” and their lead rider climbed the hill and dismounted. He elbowed Anna out of the way, knocking her on her rear in the snow, and knelt beside the wounded man. This newcomer was about David’s height but fit the description Anna had always attributed to the word grizzled. Like all these men, he wore mail and a helmet and bore a sword. He had bracers on his arms—where had she learned that word?—and a surcoat over his chain mail.
He and the injured man held a conversation while David and Anna looked at each other across the six feet of space that separated them. Despite her comprehension earlier, Anna couldn’t understand a word. Maybe the man had spoken slower for their benefit or in a different dialect from what he spoke now.
Then the grizzled man shouted something and other men responded by hurrying up the hill. They surrounded the downed man and lifted him to his feet. He walked away—actually walked—men supporting him on either side.
David and Anna sat in the snow, forgotten. Anna’s jeans were soaking wet, she was stiff from the cold, and her hands were frozen, even in her winter gloves.
“What do we do now?” David’s eyes tracked the progress of the soldiers.
“Let’s go back up the hill,” Anna said. “We didn’t drive that far. There must be a road at the top.”
David gave her a skeptical look, which she ignored. Anna took a few steps, trying not to look at the dead men whom she’d managed to forget for a few minutes, and then found herself running away across the meadow. She veered into the wheel tracks of the van. David pounded along beside her until she had to slow down. They’d reached the upward slope at the far side of the meadow. The snow was deeper here because men and horses hadn’t packed it down; her feet lost their purchase on the steep slope, and she put out a hand to keep from falling.
Anna looked up the hill. Only a dozen yards away, the van tracks began. Beyond them, smooth fresh snow stretched as far as she could see. It was as if they’d dropped out of the sky.
More shouts interrupted her astonishment, and Anna turned to find horsemen bearing down on them. She looked around wildly, but there was nowhere to run. One man leaned down and, in a smooth movement, caught her around the waist. Before she could think, he pulled her in front of him. She struggled to free herself, but the man tightened his grip and growled something she didn’t catch but could easily have been sit still, dammit!
“David!” Anna’s voice went high.
“I’m here, Anna.”
The man holding her turned the horse, and they passed David, just getting comfortable on his own horse. Dumbstruck, Anna twisted in her seat to look back at him.
All he did was shrug, and Anna faced forward again. They rode across the meadow and down the hill, reaching the bottom just as the wounded man got a boost onto a horse. He gathered the reins while glancing at the van. Anna followed his gaze. The van sat where she’d left it. It was hopeless to think of driving it, even if they had somewhere to go.
The company followed a trail through the trees. A litany of complaints—about her wet clothes and hair, about her aching neck and back from the car crash, and most of all, her inability to understand what was happening—cycled through Anna’s head as they rode.
Fortunately, after a mile or two (it was hard to tell in the growing darkness and her misery) they trotted off the trail into a camp. Three fire rings burned brightly and the twenty men who’d ridden in with David and Anna had doubled the number of people in the small space. The man behind Anna dismounted and pulled her after him. Although she tried to stand, her knees buckled, and he scooped her up, carried her to a fallen log near one of the fires, and set her down on it.
“Thanks,” Anna said automatically, forgetting he probably couldn’t understand English. Fighting tears, she pulled up her hood to hide her face, and
Then David materialized beside her.
“Tell me you have an explanation for all this,” Anna said, the moment he sat down.
He crossed his arms and shook his head. “Not one I’m ready to share, even with you.”
They sat unspeaking as men walked back and forth around the fire. Some cooked; some tended the horses staked near the trees on the edges of the clearing. Three men emerged from a tent thirty feet away. Their chain mail didn’t clink like Anna imagined plate mail would, but it creaked a little as they walked. Someone somewhere roasted meat and, despite her queasiness, Anna’s stomach growled.
Nobody approached them, and it seemed to Anna that whenever one of the men looked at them, his gaze immediately slid away. She wasn’t confused enough to imagine they couldn’t see her, but maybe they didn’t want to see her or know what to make of her. Anna pulled her coat over her knees, trying to make herself as small as possible. The sky grew darker, and still she and David sat silent.
“Do you think we’ve stumbled upon a Welsh extremist group that prefers the medieval period to the present day?” Anna finally said.
“Twenty miles from Philadelphia? Bryn Mawr isn’t that rural. Somehow I just can’t see it.”
“Maybe we aren’t in Pennsylvania anymore, David.” Anna had been thinking those words for the last half hour and couldn’t hold them in any longer.
He sighed. “No, perhaps not.”
“Mom’s going to be worried sick.” Anna choked on the words. “She was supposed to call us at 8 o’clock. I can’t imagine what Aunt Elisa is going to tell her.” Then Anna kicked herself for being so stupid and whipped out her phone.
“It says searching for service,” David said. “I already tried it.”
Anna doubled over and put her head into David’s chest. Her lungs felt squeezed, and her throat was tight with unshed tears. He patted her back in a there, there motion, like he wasn’t really paying attention, but when she tried to pull away, he tightened his grip and hugged her to him.
Eventually, Anna wiped her tears and straightened to look into his face. He tried to smile, but his eyes were reddened and his heart wasn’t in it. Looking at him, Anna resolved not to pretend that all was well. They needed to talk about what had happened even if David didn’t want to. How many books have we all read where the heroine refuses to face reality? How many times have I thrown the book across the room in disgust at her stupidity?
“What are you thinking?” she asked him.
He shook his head.
“We could leave right now, follow the trail back to the van,” Anna said. “It couldn’t be more than a few miles from here.”
David cleared his throat. “No.”
“Why not?” she said.
“I want to climb to the top of the hill we came down and see what’s up there,” she said. “I know the tracks of the van disappeared, but we had to have driven down that hill from somewhere. We couldn’t have appeared out of nowhere.”
“Couldn’t we?” David sat with his elbows resting on his knees and his chin in his hands. When Anna didn’t respond, he canted his head to look at her. “Do you really think we’ll find the road home at the top of that hill?”
Anna looked away from him and into the fire. No … No more than you do. “You’re thinking time travel, aren’t you?”
“Time travel is impossible.”
“Why do you say that?”
Anna’s abrupt question made David hunch. Then he straightened. “Okay. If time travel is possible, why don’t we have people from the future stopping by all the time? If time travel is possible, all of time itself has to have already happened. It would need to be one big pre-existent event.”
“That doesn’t work for me.”
“Not for me either,” David said. “It’s pretty arrogant for us to think that 2010 is as far as time has gotten, but these people’s lives have already happened, or else how could we travel back and relive it with them?”
“So you’re saying the same argument could hold for people traveling from 3010 to 2010. To them, we’ve already lived our lives because they are living theirs.”
“Exactly,” David said.
“Then where are we? Is this real?”
“Of course it’s real,” he said, “but maybe not the same reality we knew at home.”
“I’m not following you,” Anna said.
“What if the wall of snow led us to a parallel universe?”
“A parallel universe that has gotten only to the Middle Ages instead of 2010?”
“You’ve read too much science fiction,” she said.
David actually smiled. “Now, that’s not possible.”
Anna put her head in her hands, not wanting to believe it. David picked up a stick and begin digging in the dirt at his feet. He stabbed the stick into the ground between them again and again, twisting it around until it stuck there, upright. Anna studied it, then reached over, pulled it out, and threw it into the fire in front of them.
“Hey!” David said.
Anna turned on him. “Are we ever going to be able to go home again? How could this have happened to us? Why has this happened to us? Do you even realize how appalling this all is?”
David opened his mouth to speak, perhaps to protest that she shouldn’t be angry at him, but at that moment a man came out of the far tent and approached them. Instead of addressing them, however, he looked over their heads to someone behind them and spoke. At his words, two men grasped David and Anna by their upper arms and lifted them to their feet. The first man turned back to the tent, and their captors hustled them after him. At the entrance, the man indicated that they should enter. David put his hand at the small of Anna’s back and urged her forward.
She ducked through the entrance, worried about what she might find, but it was only the wounded man from the meadow, reclining among blankets on the ground. He no longer wore his armor but had on a cream-colored shirt. A blanket covered him to his waist. Several candles guttering in shallow dishes lit the tent, and the remains of a meal sat on a plate beside him. He took a sip from a small cup and looked at them over the top of it.
The tent held one other man, this one still in full armor, and he gestured them closer. They walked to the wounded man and knelt by his side. He gave them a long look, set down his cup, and then pointed to himself.
“Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.”
Anna knew she looked blank, but she simply couldn’t accept his words. He tried again, thinking that they hadn’t understood. “Llywelyn—ap—Gruffydd.”
“Llywelyn ap Gruffydd,” David and Anna said together, the words passing Anna’s lips as if they belonged to someone else.
Llywelyn nodded. “You understand who I am?” Again, he spoke in Welsh.
Anna’s neck hurt to bend forward, but she made her chin bob in acknowledgement. She was frozen in a nightmare that wouldn’t let her go.
David recovered more quickly. “You are the Prince of Wales. Thank you, my lord, for bringing us with you. We would have been lost without your assistance.”
“It is I who should be thanking you,” he said.
Anna had been growing colder inside with every sentence David and Llywelyn spoke. Llywelyn’s eyes flicked to her face, and she could read the concern in them. Finally, she took in a deep breath, accepting for now what she couldn’t deny.
“My lord,” she said, in half-remembered and badly pronounced Welsh, “Could you please tell us the date?”
“Certainly. It is the day of Damasus the Pope, Friday, the 11th of December.”
David’s face paled as he realized the importance of the question.
Anna was determined to get the whole truth out and wasn’t going to stop pressing because her brother was finally having the same heart attack she was. “And the year?”
“The year of our Lord twelve hundred and eighty-two,” Llywelyn said.
“You remember the story now, don’t you, David?” Anna spoke in English, her voice a whisper, because to speak her thoughts more loudly would give them greater credence. David couldn’t have forgotten it any more readily than she could. Their mother had told them stories about medieval Wales since before they could walk—and tales of this man in particular. “Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was lured into a trap by some English lords and killed on December 11, 1282 near a place called Cilmeri. Except—” Anna kept her eyes fixed on Llywelyn’s.