Introducing ... The Uninvited Guest! - Sarah Woodbury

Introducing … The Uninvited Guest!

My second Gareth and Gwen Medieval Mystery is now available!

It is the winter of 1143 and all is not well in the court of Owain, King of north Wales. His future in-laws are untrustworthy, the Norman lords on his eastern border are restless, and among his wedding guests lurks a cold-blooded killer.  Gareth and Gwen have marriage plans of their own, but their love will have to wait while the pair race to separate truth from lies, friends from foes, and unravel the mystery before King Owain—and his new bride—fall victim to their uninvited guest. 

The Uninvited Guest is available at Amazon for Kindle:

And at Smashwords for Apple/Nook/Sony (and international) readers:

It is coming soon to the other outlets as well as in paper form at Amazon.  It can be purchased now in paperback here:

Here’s the first chapter for your reading enjoyment 🙂


Chapter One

November, 1143 AD



Gwen’s pulse beat so loudly in her ears, the sound drowned out the rumble of voices in the hall.  He was here!  And he still loved her!  All day, she’d been thinking of Gareth, unable to contain her wish to see him, to talk to him.  And she’d been terrified of it too.  What if he didn’t have feelings for her anymore?  What if he’d found a good woman in Ceredigion?  When she’d stood on the top step to the courtyard and he hadn’t even seen her, her heart had fallen into her shoes.

But she’d swallowed her pride and gone to him and was glad she had.  It would have been terrible for her to have turned away with hurt feelings.  Better to let him know up front that she still loved him and see if he would respond, than to sulk in silence, punishing him for something he hadn’t known he’d done.  Admittedly, from her observations, Cristina, King Owain’s betrothed, treated King Owain like that with some frequency and it hadn’t driven him away.  But that wasn’t Gwen’s way.

She’d been hoping to see Gareth sooner.  Days sooner.  She’d paced the battlements looking for Prince Hywel’s company every free moment, until yesterday when her father had yelled at her to come in out of the rain.  She’d half-given up on Gareth ever returning toAberCastle.  What if he’d died in the fighting in the south?  She might not have heard the news for months.  In some of her less sane moments, she’d convinced herself that Prince Hywel wasn’t going to come to his father’s wedding, and if he did come, he’d leave Gareth behind in Ceredigion.

For Gwen realized that Hywel might think she and Gareth together could present a threat to him.  Hywel had to know that Gwen would speak to Gareth of last summer.  Gwen didn’t know what Gareth would do when she told him that it had been Hywel who had murdered King Anarawd, not Prince Cadwaladr, King Owain’s younger brother, for all that Cadwaladr had wanted the deed done.  Gwen had hoped that by now Hywel would have told Gareth about it himself, but when she’d brought up the events of last summer in the courtyard just now, Gareth had given no indication that he knew the truth.

“He’s back!” Gwen stopped next to her younger brother, Gwalchmai, who crouched beside their trunk of instruments with his friend, Iorwerth, one of King Owain’s many young sons.

“Who’s—”  Gwalchmai looked up at her and at the expression on her face, didn’t finish his question.  “It’s about time he came home.  He’s left you here alone far too long.”

“It’s not his fault,” Gwen said.  “Prince Hywel needed him in the south.”

“And how long before he returns to Ceredigion?”

Gwen shook her head.  “Gareth’s not going without me, not this time.”

Gwalchmai turned back to Iorwerth, mumbling something under his breath about their father and Hywel having a say in that.  But if Gwen and Gareth were married, her father, at least, wouldn’t have a say in her life anymore.  Gwen practically skipped to the top of the hall where the high table lay.

Already on the dais, Hywel clasped hands with his brother, Rhun.  Hywel’s black hair, deep blue eyes, and broad shoulders drew the eyes of every woman in the room to him—and had done so for as long as Gwen had known him.  His charms no longer worked on her, however, and her mouth tightened into a thin line.  She forced herself to relax.  What was done was done.  She’d made her choice, as had Hywel.  It would do her no good to think too hard about it.

Hywel kissed Cristina on the cheek, and settled himself two seats from his father, whose chair stood in the center spot at the table.  Prince Cadwaladr occupied the last chair on one end, as far from Hywel as he could get, and didn’t even look up.  As Prince Hywel often reminded her, families were complicated.

Gwen found a place against the back wall, behind and to the right of King Owain, which meant she was directly behind Rhun and just to the left of Hywel.  The kitchen door was a few paces to her left.  Owain Gwynedd kicked out his chair and stood in front of it, effectively blocking her view of half the hall and forcing her to peer around his bulk.

Next to the king on his left, Cristina’s father, Lord Goronwy, twisted in his seat to look up at the king, while still holding tightly to his daughter’s hand.  For all that Cristina had lived at Aber for the last six months, it wouldn’t have been proper for her to sit next to Owain at a formal dinner until after their marriage.

Owain remained standing, waiting for the hall to settle.  It didn’t take long for neighbor to nudge neighbor into silence.  At least two hundred people filled the cavernous space, squashed cheek by jowl at the tables.  Gwen watched the people who faced King Owain (all she could see of the king was his back).  They represented every sector of Gwynedd, high and low:  men in mail, leather, or padded cloth armor, or no armor at all, women in fine wool dresses, others in thick homespun, maids with long hair down their back, and old grannies with wispy curls.

There was her father, scowling as always, his arms folded across his chest, though what concerned him today, Gwen didn’t know.  Maybe he’d heard from Gwalchmai that Gareth had returned.

And there was Gareth.  He pushed through the front door and elbowed his way along the side wall.  He must have washed, as his face was clean and his close-cropped hair wet.  When Gwen had seen him last, in the summer, Gareth’s hair had been long.  She couldn’t decide which look she liked better.

He hadn’t changed his clothes, however, and the mail underneath his travel-stained cloak glinted in the torchlight.  When he reached her father’s position, Meilyr actually had the grace to stick out his hand, which Gareth shook.  They spoke a few words before Gareth moved on.  By some miracle, their exchange had been civil.

Gareth edged further down the hall, making for her (Gwen hoped) or at least trying to get closer.  Her heart warmed with every step he took.  Although it wouldn’t be seemly for him to stand behind the high table or to wait on it with her, he deserved a seat above the salt if he could find a space to sit.  He was a knight in Prince Hywel’s company after all.

Waiting on the high table wasn’t usual for her either, but the serving girls had been run off their feet just keeping up with the lower tables this week, and today was the last feast before the wedding.  Taran, King Owain’s steward, had hired more workers, but Cristina had asked specifically for Gwen to serve her.  How could Gwen refuse her future queen?

At the time, Gwen had been somewhat put out that Cristina would expect such a service from her, but now Gwen was glad, since it meant she’d taken special care with her appearance.  Serving Cristina meant Gwen would have to spend the evening on the dais, and thus be visible to everyone in the hall.  Knowing this, Cristina had given Gwen permission to wash in the bath room, with its elaborate tiles and sunken pool, a legacy of the Roman nobleman who had built his manor long ago on the very spot on which Aber now stood.  Gwen wore her second-best dress which happened to be Gareth’s favorite color—a deep blue.  She was saving her finest dress (which she actually liked less well) for the wedding tomorrow.

The room quieted, and after an appropriate pause, Owain Gwynedd lifted his glass.  Gareth halted, having advanced to a position thirty paces from Gwen.  The servants had arranged the tables to leave a gap between the dais and the three long tables that stretched the length of the hall, parallel to each other and perpendicular to the high table.

Gareth glanced at Gwen, his eyes lit with good humor and a smile. Several men of the garrison shifted to make room for him and he settled back against the wall.

“Welcome to you all.”  King Owain raised his glass higher and the diners followed suit.  Those without glasses, Gareth and Gwen among them, put a hand to their hearts.  “Tomorrow, you will witness an event that has been a long time coming.  Tomorrow, I will be joined forever with my beloved, Cristina.”

At these words, Lord Goronwy stood to clasp King Owain’s forearm in an expression of solidarity.  When King Owain released him, he moved to stand behind his daughter’s chair.  Owain then reached across the space Goronwy had vacated and touched his glass to Cristina’s.  They both drank, Cristina looking at King Owain over the rim of her cup with a smile in her eyes and on her lips.

It was a smile Gwen had seen before, and one that she trusted just about as far as she could throw her soon-to-be queen.  That Cristina cared primarily for herself was a certainty.  That she saw marriage to King Owain as a pinnacle of achievement—which it would be for any woman—was unquestionable.  Gwen wished her well.  For all that Gwen was thankful to find herself in the good graces of both bride and groom, she wouldn’t have wished marriage to King Owain on anyone.  For her part, Gwen had her hands full with a certain young knight.

One of the serving men, a youth of less than twenty, came through the door to the kitchen with a tray of food to replenish the dishes at the tables.  He stopped short at the solemnity of the diners and shifted from one foot to the other.  Gwen didn’t know him—Aber’s steward had hired many men for the week whom she didn’t know—but she motioned for him to stand at the wall so as not to interrupt the ceremony.  The man set his tray on a small table next to the door and took his place beside her.  He dipped his head to Gwen.  “Thanks.”

Cristina and King Owain faced the room again and Goronwy retook his seat.  Cristina tipped her head characteristically to one side as she gazed at her future subjects.  From her relaxed shoulders and folded hands, Gwen could tell that she was pleased.

King Owain put down his glass and spread his arms wide in an expansive gesture.  “First, thanks to you all for coming to witness this blessed day.  I would especially like to extend my appreciation to my long-time companions who will stand with me tomorrow:  Lord Goronwy,” Owain dropped a hand to his friend’s shoulder, “Lord Taran, my brother Cadwaladr, and Lord Tomos, a true friend if there ever was one.”  Taran, seated on Hywel’s right, raised his glass and both Cadwaladr and Tomos lifted a hand in acknowledgment of the King’s words.

Gwen smiled as she recognized this final friend.  Tomos was one of the few barons in the hall who was consistently polite to all, baseborn, royal, or somewhere in between.  He nodded to the king from his seat one down from Cristina.

The crowd in the hall raised their glasses and everyone drank.  Before the noise level could rise, King Owain lifted his hands again.  “Tonight I also wish to announce the first of many gifts to my bride.”

Cristina’s head whipped around so fast to look at the king it was a wonder she didn’t strain herself.  And then she recovered, facing forward and straightening in her seat.  She hadn’t known the time had come for gift-giving, for all that Owain must have made her and her family promises when Lord Goronwy signed the papers of betrothal.

King Owain continued his announcement: “The moment we are wed, I bestow upon Cristina ferch Goronwy my estate of Rhuddlan in the cantref of Tegeingl.  It once belonged to her grandfather and it is my pleasure to return it to her family.  Many thanks to my friend, Lord Tomos, who has kept it well these many years.”

King Owain lifted his glass in the direction of Tomos.  What King Owain didn’t say, and this was why the Church was opposed to his wedding, was that Cristina’s grandfather was also Owain’s grandfather, and the man for whom he was named.  His mother (who had died last spring) and Cristina’s father had been siblings.

The control of Rhuddlan was a plum appointment, one that Tomos had to regret losing.  Cristina, when she took over the estate, would want to bestow the stewardship of it on someone of her own choosing, probably a family member.  Such was the way of kingly largess.  Gwen wouldn’t have expected Tomos to cheer at this announcement, but as he raised his glass to Owain, a huge smile spread across his face.  Then King Owain explained the reason for Tomos’ pleasure:  “In thanks for the fulfillment of his arduous duties for so many years, I have given Lord Tomos the estate of Nefyn in Arfon, for himself and for his heirs.”

A communal gasp blew around the hall.  That was friendship indeed.

Cristina rose to her feet.  “Thank you, my lord.  You have given me more than I deserve and have been generous beyond all expectation.”

Cristina gave the king a deep curtsey, her head bowed in apparent submission.  Owain stepped past her father’s chair to reach her for her hand and raise her up.  Cristina tipped her cheek for a kiss.  Applause echoed throughout the room.  Owain seated Cristina again and went back to his chair.  Gwen turned to smile at the young man next to her, to comment on how lovely the scene had been, only to find him unsmiling.

And then he pulled a blade from the sheath at his waist and started forward.





2 Replies to “Introducing … The Uninvited Guest!”

  1. I’m so glad I stumbled onto your website! I’m a huge fan of Wales! I’ve only been there a few times, but I fell in love. I’ve read all of Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh books, and now I want to read yours.

    But what’s even more interesting is that I am currently in the process of writing a story set in medieval Wales.

    I write young adult fiction–mostly contemporary (my first novel will be published in 2013). But my current WIP is Welsh. I wouldn’t call it historical fiction because it borders more on the lines of a fairy-tale. But I’ve been browsing your site and found lots of great information.

    Anyway, I think it’s cool that we both write similar stuff in terms of setting. 🙂

    See you around.

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