March 1294. With David and Llywelyn in Ireland, the rule of Wales and England has fallen to Math and Anna. Unbeknownst to them, however, rebellious barons have tried to assassinate David and thrown Ireland into civil war. When the treachery reaches across the sea and touches Anna, she finds herself at the center of a conspiracy that stretches from Dublin to Edinburgh–and it is only her actions and choices that stand between her family and the destruction of everything they’ve worked so hard to build.
Shades of Time takes place simultaneously with Outpost in Time, the previous book in the After Cilmeri series.
Link to Ebook:
Link to Paperback:
Link to Hardback:
Link to Audiobook:
Click to Read an ExcerptCollapse the Excerpt
19 March 1294
Anna pulled her thick cloak closer around herself, chilled to the bone by the damp air and fog that had enveloped her small company at this higher elevation. The fog also muffled the slight conversation among her companions, which included another midwife, Mair, and five men-at-arms.
The torchlight barely penetrated five feet on any side, and Anna wished she had a torch—or better yet, a flashlight—of her own. She was glad her children weren’t here. Though she was only a few miles from home, it was one of those nights when danger lurked around every corner, and the hollow sound of the horses’ clopping hooves on the hard-packed dirt of the road forebode the arrival of the old Welsh gods.
Anna shivered and told herself she had allowed the latest enthusiasm of Cadell, her eldest son, to afflict her too. At nearly nine years old, Cadell had developed a fascination with ghost stories. In the evenings, he would pester the men for an endless supply of terrifying supernatural tales. All the men knew them like they knew the legend of King Arthur. The Welsh had a strong superstitious streak, coupled with an innate belief in the mystical, so everyone had one tale or another to tell.
Earlier this week, they’d been entertained by a story of the ghost of King Alexander of Scotland, Anna’s supposed great-grandfather, who’d ridden his horse too close to the edge of a cliff one foggy night and died when he’d gone over it. According to the storyteller, the king’s ghost haunted the cliffs to this day. Tonight, the story hit a little too close to home. So far, Cadell hadn’t been visited by nightmares, though she’d told him in no uncertain terms that if he scared his younger brother by repeating any of the stories he knew, he would be writing Latin verb forms until his hand bled.
Hoping Mair wasn’t feeling similarly spooked, Anna put out a reassuring hand to her, but Mair’s smile was genuine in the torchlight, and she appeared to be visited by no such worries. Mair knew as well as Anna, when she was being rational, that Wales was safer tonight than at any other time in its history. They hadn’t been at odds with England since Anna’s brother David had taken the English throne.
Just the other day, Anna’s husband had told her of a conversation he’d overheard between an Englishman and a Welshman as he was passing through one of the taverns in Llangollen, having taken a moment to check in with its proprietor, a former Crusader:
“So, you’re from Chester, are you? English?”
“Yes,” the Englishman had replied, somewhat defensively.
The Welshman sniffed. “Then I’d better buy your next drink. Lord Mathonwy up at the castle says we have to welcome you.”
“I’d be grateful,” the other man said, unbending slightly at this unexpected overture.
“We rule your country now instead of the other way around, so it’s the least I can do.”
Math had gone away laughing and tucked away the story to repeat to David when next he saw him. Anna hoped David would laugh when he heard it. Her brother was far too stiff himself these days—not with self-importance but with the burden of running a country. The two of them had been fourteen and seventeen when they’d arrived in the Middle Ages for the first time. A little more than eleven years on, they’d lived here just long enough for people to treat them as if they belonged—and for young people born after 1282 not to remember the time when England and Wales were constantly at war.
Which was why the road should be safe, not giving her the heebie-jeebies, and the reason they were heading home at two in the morning instead of staying the night back at Heledd’s house. Anna had spent the last twelve hours helping Heledd give birth to a baby boy. The birth had gone well, and both mother and baby were healthy, but Anna was a princess, and one who very much liked her own bed. Thus, she and Mair had left a third midwife with Heledd and chosen to return to Dinas Bran.
The five miles from Heledd’s house to home hadn’t seemed so daunting when they’d left an hour ago, but it hadn’t been foggy then. Anna also hadn’t realized how tired she was. Now that the adrenaline from the delivery had worn off, all she wanted with every fiber of her being was to lie down.
For once, she hoped the boys had stayed up late, even if it meant Cadell might have a new crop of horror stories in his repertoire. Most of their cousins were visiting, so the possibility of chaos and hijinks in the castle was high. If so, there was a slight chance Bran, her youngest, would sleep in and not come into the bedroom and wake her before dawn. If Cadell woke early, he was happy to read or concoct yet another ghostly adventure in his room, or perhaps sneak down to the kitchen for an early breakfast. But Bran wasn’t yet five, and he still came in to Anna every morning, snuggling under the covers and putting his cold feet on Anna’s warm legs.
Not that she would have it any other way.
But in the last five years, she hadn’t woken in the morning more than a handful of times without Bran’s small face peering at her, and she had the fleeting wish that for once the boy would just sleep.
As it was, Anna rarely went out on calls anymore, not with an entire university of healers in Llangollen at the disposal of the residents of the area. But Heledd was special: back at Castell y Bere, she’d been Gwenllian’s wet nurse. After Gwenllian had no longer needed her, Heledd had married a small landowner named Gryff, who settled them a few miles to the southwest of Llangollen.
The two women had spent very little time together since that fateful winter when Anna had led her and Gwenllian, along with the stable boy, Hywel, out of Castell y Bere. With Anna a princess and Heledd becoming a farmer’s wife, there hadn’t been much chance—or much they had in common. But what they had experienced during that cold January had bonded them forever, and Anna had been glad to keep her promise to attend the birth of Heledd’s latest child.
“My lady, do you hear that?” The captain, Adda, held up his hand to halt the small company. His concern was apparent in his voice.
Though she’d been telling herself for the last half-mile that they had nothing to fear, it was unusual for anyone to be riding this late at night without a very good reason. Not just anyone could afford a mount either, and from the thunder of hooves coming towards them from the north, more horses than their seven were approaching.
Anna peered ahead. Despite the torchlight, she couldn’t see past the next bend in the fog-shrouded road.
“Maybe Lord Mathonwy has sent a troop to meet us, my lady,” Mair said. “Your husband does care for you so.”
“He does.” Anna wanted to believe these men belonged to Math, but she couldn’t shake off her concern. Her captain clearly felt the same, since he signaled for two of the men to ride ahead to the bend in the road.
The hoofbeats grew louder, echoing in the windless night. Anna’s horse danced sideways as it waited. As Anna tugged on the reins to control it, she wished she’d chosen a mount that was a bit less rotund, though normally he was exactly the kind of horse she liked.
Then one of the soldiers who’d ridden to the bend in the road shouted a warning. In response, Adda pulled his sword from its sheath, and the other two men with him did the same without needing a command. As Anna steadied her horse, prepared to flee if she had to, a company rode around the bend. Though the two soldiers up ahead held their ground, the oncoming cavalry was unstoppable. Swords raised high, they swept over, through, and then past Anna’s men, tumbling them to the ground as they came. They wore no lord’s colors.
“Ride, my lady! Ride!” Adda pointed at Anna and Mair. “We’ll hold them off!”
Anna wasn’t a warrior and had no pretensions to being one, so she didn’t hesitate or argue, even though she could see as well as Adda that no amount of heroism from her men, no matter how well-trained, was going to be enough to overcome the force they faced. Twenty men had come around that bend, and there would be no holding them off for more than a few seconds.
“Come on!” Anna slapped the reins. The riders were here for her. She wouldn’t dishonor the sacrifice of her men by throwing away her only chance at escape.
Mair had been slower to react than Anna, so her horse immediately fell several lengths behind. But she was a better rider than Anna, her horse fleeter, and the oncoming riders had no interest in her anyway.
“They’re gaining!” Mair screamed the words at Anna’s back.
Behind them, the men following shouted to one another, some orders and some responses. “We need her alive!” These last words were spoken in heavily accented English, as by a Scotsman. If the words hadn’t rung clear, Anna could have convinced herself she’d misheard them, but as it was, her throat closed. She couldn’t think why Scots had ventured this far south seeking to capture her, but it was hardly the time to inquire. She had to get away.
At first, Anna had hoped—if she’d hoped anything at all—that she could lose herself in the fog, but as she glanced back to see how close the riders were, she was terrified to find them only forty yards behind her. Anna had to assume her men were dead. She was incredibly grateful that, unlike the last time she’d been abducted, Cadell was safe in his own bed.
“We have to split up!” Anna said to Mair as the other midwife came abreast. “They want me, not you. I need you to make your way to the castle!”
“I can’t leave you!” Mair’s voice was high and frightened.
“You can, and you will!” She motioned to Mair once again to confirm the order, but Mair had already obeyed, breaking to the left down a track Anna hadn’t noticed, or she might have taken it herself.
Which left Anna alone with her pursuers.
She glanced back once again. The men were gaining, which was no surprise, given their skill versus hers. On the other hand, Anna was a good hundred pounds lighter than any of the oncoming men, not necessarily because she was so much smaller, though she might be, but because they were in full armor. Even if her horse wasn’t fast, Anna had an inkling of hope his greater endurance might save her.
Unfortunately, that hope was squashed a moment later as a second contingent of men appeared out of the fog in front of her, torches blazing. There had been too many hooves on the road for her to distinguish the sound of these newcomers sooner—not that doing so would have done her any good.
She pulled up, knowing she could go neither forward nor back, and in a moment, she was surrounded by grinning men. Though most were English, Anna heard more Scots accents above the general hubbub, as the men spoke to each other or their horses in satisfied tones.
An Englishman with a red plume on his helmet, riding with the initial company, urged his horse closer and looked Anna up and down. “Princess Anna. It is a pleasure.”
He took her hand and kissed the back of it. It was a gallant gesture, but completely out of place in this setting, and Anna was in no mood to be wooed. As his head came up, she pulled her hand away, and in the same motion, caught his jaw with her elbow. To her delight, her aim was perfect. His head jerked backwards, and he came within a hair’s-breadth of falling off his horse.
The men around him laughed, a few in the back with utter abandon. By their dress, these were the Scots she’d heard speaking earlier. On another day, as fellow Celts, she would have viewed them as allies. But not today.
“Who are you? What do you want?” The words came out somewhat breathless because Anna was breathing hard with the effort she’d expended and wasn’t able to modulate her tone. She didn’t mind if the men thought she was afraid. She was afraid—but she was also able to stand outside that fear and evaluate her surroundings. If she was taken to a castle, and there were plenty within ten miles of this position, she could end up alone in a cell for a very long time. And worse, she could be used as leverage against Math or David or Papa. Or all of the above.
“Do you hear that, gentlemen? She doesn’t know.” The man whom she’d hit had recovered, though he rubbed his jaw as he looked at her, making her think that hitting him might have been a mistake. He wouldn’t be underestimating her again. Still, he gestured expansively to his men. “Should we tell her?”
“What don’t I know?” Anna’s horse danced again, and she was pleasantly surprised by his energy. She’d raced him harder than he’d ever run in his life, and she’d assumed he’d be completely worn out. Perhaps, like a small child, the horse could sense the menace in the air, didn’t like it, and it was keeping his adrenaline going.
The leader leaned forward. “Your brother is dead, along with your parents. They’re dead on the floor of the great hall at Trim.”
Anna stared at him. She could tell the man expected her to gasp or weep, but instead she felt herself on the verge of laughter at the absurdity of his claim. “When?”
“Yesterday. The day before. What does it matter?”
Anna’s eyes narrowed. Ten seconds into being told one of the worst things a person could hear, she was torn between a gut-wrenching belief that he might be speaking the truth and mockery that he would tell her David and her parents were dead without knowing the particulars.
“I don’t believe you,” she said flatly. Anna found her stomach settling. She’d spoken the truth. She really didn’t believe him.
“You should.” A black-bearded Englishman, who’d come with the second contingent of riders, clenched his hand into a fist. “Soon the whole of Britain and Ireland will be in our hands.”
“Your hands? And whose orders do you follow?” Still unsettled, Anna’s horse turned in a full circle, prompting the men nearest to her to move farther away in order to give her horse more space. These soldiers were all medieval, of course, so they hadn’t watched any movies and didn’t know you should always secure your prisoner before answering questions or monologuing. Nobody had taken her reins either. It was a rare man who didn’t underestimate women. For once, Anna preferred it that way.
“Are you saying you yourself will be king? Who has these delusions of grandeur?” Anna encouraged her horse to spin one more time, a move that allowed her another complete view of her surroundings. Her horse’s dancing movements had put the men closest to her well out of reach, and while the way forward and back on the road remained completely blocked, nobody had moved to fill the space on her left or right.
The left-hand way involved a ditch and a thick wood and was the way Mair had gone. On Anna’s right, a crumbling stone wall fronted an uneven grassy field.
“Who is it you serve?”
The red-plumed leader scoffed. “You’ll see him soon enough.”
“Why can’t you tell me? Are you so ashamed of this allegiance you don’t dare speak his name or wear his colors openly?”
Before the leader could answer, one of the Scots, who’d spoken earlier, shouted, “We don’t fear to speak King John’s name!”
The Englishman twisted in the saddle, anger in his face, though since he’d been boasting too, and several of the men with him were Scots, it didn’t take a genius to put two and two together and come up with John Balliol, the King of Scots, being behind whatever was happening here. Why an English lord would support Balliol’s plans wasn’t yet clear, but Anna wasn’t going to hang around to learn his name. At least if she survived this, she could tell Math about the Scots.
The thought of what awaited her if she escaped solidified her courage, and Anna took advantage of the leader’s moment of distraction. Her horse wasn’t one to gallop if he could help it, but he could jump, so she took a chance on the field. With a nudge, the horse surged forward, needing only a few steps to get his legs underneath him and leap.
He sailed over the wall, and in a few strides had left the startled men behind.
The fog was thicker over the field, not surprising because that’s how fog formed—when warm ground met colder air—and Anna could see virtually nothing in front of her. She wracked her brain for an image of what this area had looked like yesterday when she’d ridden past on her way to the birth, but she had no clear idea of where she was. In the fog, all fields and forests looked the same. Still, her horse’s hooves pounded steadily on the turf, and though she hadn’t yet escaped completely, she exulted. For the moment, she was free.
Behind her, the leader shouted directions to his men, sending some after her directly while the rest rode east and west in the hope of cutting her off.
“I see her!”
Anna prodded her horse to go faster. She’d gained a few yards in leaping the wall before her pursuers responded, but though her horse could jump, he hadn’t become faster in the last ten minutes, and whatever adrenaline he’d been running on was fading. The rider behind her held a torch, but as sometimes happened in fog, it made it almost harder to see, since the light reflected off the water droplets in the air before her. But then the fog thinned, and she could make out the silhouettes of trees in front of her.
She’d reached the far side of the field. While she could turn left or right in an attempt to evade the riders, she’d heard the leader’s directions to his men. Her best chance of escape was to ride straight ahead into the woods, which would slow her down, but also hinder her pursuers. If she was very lucky, she might be able to lose them entirely. So she urged her horse forward, and he cooperated with a burst of speed. He had to be exhausted, but he kept going, filled with the same fear and urgency she was.
He leapt the equally decrepit wall that bordered this end of the field, bounded between two birch trees, and trampled the scrubby undergrowth. He had barely recovered from the leap, however, before he was faced with a three-foot-high blackberry bramble, beyond which more fog, thicker even than over the field, blocked her vision. Behind her, the torchlight bounced, indicating the nearest rider had leapt the wall too and at any moment might be close enough to touch. There was no time to lose.
“Yah!” Anna snapped the reins, and the horse hitched its step and leapt. Unfortunately, though they sailed easily over the bramble, they didn’t find themselves on another road, which would have been ideal, or in an adjacent field.
Instead, they leapt into nothingness—literally off the edge of an escarpment. Anna’s heart caught in her throat—how could it not?—and she recalled again the story of King Alexander.
He hadn’t been a time-traveling twenty-firster, however. Instead of falling to her death as the King of Scots had done, she felt the all-too-familiar blackness overtake her.