Authors: Mark Noce
And all my enemies are dead. This will take more than a few days to properly sink in. The year 599 has brought us much pain, pleasure, and promise all at once. God gave me a son, but also took many loved ones from us in the defeat at Bloody Fords. Yet he ultimately delivered us from evil and has given us peace in our day. The Lord truly works in mysterious ways.
Across the castle stables, a boy gives a bucket of feed to Merlin, my stallion limping from the spear wound he received from the Saxons. The horse will recover, but will bear the scars of this war for the rest of his life. Perhaps all we can do is thank God for the life we have, and do our best to live well with the days we've been given.
After thanking the priest, I return to the festivities. By now, many of the villagers have joined dancing circles, sloshing drink and porridge along the grass. Mingled voices, laughter, and song fill the meadows beside the castle and the woods. Wrapping my good arm around Artagan's neck, I kiss his clean-shaven cheek while he pours himself another drink. He cackles with glee.
“Can you believe the wonders God has bestowed on us? A fortnight ago, all seemed lost. Look at us now! And we all have you to thank for it, Branwen. You truly are an amazing woman, you know that?”
“One thing still puzzles me. With such a meager harvest, how did you manage such a banquet?”
“Did Una not tell you? Her cloister shared their grain stores with us. In exchange, I've offered them protection and patronage.”
“Una arranged that? That will prevent us from starving this winter. And I thought she'd forgotten about us.”
“Who could ever forget you? Everyone loves you! And I most of all.”
His lips travel down my throat. It takes me a moment to playfully push him away. Women and men alike throw us knowing looks, smiling at their King's friskiness with his wife. I plant a long kiss on Artagan's cheek, whispering a few vivid scenes from our bedchamber that ought to tide him over until nightfall. He beams at me with the eagerness of a young stag in season. I cannot help but grin back at him.
The joyfulness on everyone's faces reminds me much of our wedding night. Like that festival, many more children will doubtlessly be sired tonight. And why shouldn't it be so? We've had enough widows and orphans to last a lifetime. The hills and dales of Wales will fill with the laughter of children once more, and the steady heartbeats of men and women in love.
Looking out over the rolling downs and verdant woods beneath the mountains, the vale has never seemed brighter. Green dragon banners fly proudly over Aranrhod's towers. A good castle, my castle. How far I have traveled from that long-ago day when I was a scared girl living by the sea, betrothed to a man I had never seen. Now I have my true love by my side, my husband and my child. I have many guises, yet within me they all coalesce into one.
Wife, mother, lover, friend, and, of course, queen.
Thank you to my family and friends, whose support and love continue to inspire me. A special eternal thanks to my wife, my muse. I love you.
I have to thank my agent, Rena, for first seeing the potential in my book, and giving me the wings to give it flight. Thank you a hundred times over, Rena. I will always be indebted to you.
I'd also like to thank everyone at Thomas Dunne Books and St. Martin's Press, especially Pete, Emma, Annie, Elizabeth, and Elsie. Your hard work and dedication helped make this novel what it is today.
Thank you to my beta readers and fellow bloggers, too numerous to count, but all valuable friends who offered their precious time and advice out of the goodness of their own hearts. I am truly humbled by your generosity and kindness.
Finally, I'd like to thank God. You really do work miracles.
writes historical fiction with a passion. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he has been an avid traveler and backpacker. He earned his bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he also met his beautiful wife. By day, he works as a technical writer, having spent much of his career at places such as Google and Facebook. He also writes short fiction online. When not reading or writing, he's probably listening to U2, sailing his dad's boat, or gardening with his family. You can sign up for email updates
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This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS.
An imprint of St. Martin's Press.
BETWEEN TWO FIRES.
Copyright Â© 2016 by Mark Noce. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Cover design by Elsie Lyons
Cover photographs: woman Â© Sandra Cunningham/Trevillion Images; knight Â© Stephen Mulcahy/Trevillion Images; Celtic knot Â© Triling Studio Ltd./Shutterstock
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Names: Noce, Mark, author.
Title: Between two fires / Mark Noce.
Description: First edition.|New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2016.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016002481|ISBN 9781250072627 (hardback)|ISBN 9781466884434 (e-book)
Subjects: LCSH: NobilityâWalesâHistoryâTo 1063âFiction.|Great BritainâHistoryâAnglo-Saxon period, 449-1066âFiction.|WalesâHistoryâTo 1063âFiction.|BISAC: FICTION / Historical.|GSAFD: Historical fiction.
Classification: LCC PS3614.O33 B48 2016|DDC 813/.6âdc23
LC record available at
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First Edition: August 2016