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Stuart, Elizabeth

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Where
Love Dwells by Elizabeth Stuart

 

In
her captor's gentle embrace, she would fight her heart's fiercest rebellion...

In
an age when duty was sovereign, the highlands of Wales resounded with the clash
of arms as Welsh lord and English knight met in bloody conflict. And amid the
rage of battle, two fiery spirits surrendered their enemy hearts to an
unquenchable passion...

LADY
ELEN OF TEIFI—Last in a proud line of Celtic warrior lords, she would seduce
her dashing English captor into a last, deadly betrayal—until her impassioned
heart would betray her secret yearning...

SIR
RICHARD OF KENT—King Edward's liege knight of storied bravery and wisdom, he
would vanquish a dreaded foe by luring him with the defiant lady captive—but
lose himself in her scorching, scheming, sapphire eyes...

Knight
and Lady—adversaries in a conflict they did not create—parried in a perilous
duel of treachery and trust. For she held the secret to his campaign's
success—and he the promise of peace. Together they forged an invincible love
that would burn eternal and endure all treasons...

 

1989-90
RT Reviewers' Choice—Medieval Romance

1990
Rita—Single Title Historical

 

 

WHERE
LOVE DWELLS

Copyright
© 1990 by Elizabeth Stuart.

St.
Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

ISBN:
0-312-92358-9

Printed
in the United States of America

St.
Martin's Paperbacks edition/September 1990

 

Life
is more than taking the easy road. For my husband, John, who shares the
laughter and tears, and who makes each step an adventure not to be missed.

And
for my own Welsh ancestors whose lives were the inspiration for this book.

CHAPTER ONE

Middle Wales, December 1282

Against
the oppressive gray of a leaden sky, the swirling snowflakes settled softly to
earth, carpeting the frozen ground. In the deepening twilight, the sharp, angry
bark of a fox sounded from the growth of birch wood and spruce lining the
narrow pathway.

At
the sound, a slender female figure slipped from the trees, hugging her arms
tightly against the boy's wool tunic she wore. The girl ignored the cry of the
fox. Animals had never frightened her, at least not the four-legged kind. But
it would be dark soon and the men of Teifi should be coming home... if they'd
been successful.

The
girl strained to see in the failing light, studying the trail ahead with rising
anxiety. But there was nothing—no movement, no sound, nothing save the hushed
fall of snow and the chill brush of wind against her cheek, a chill that
penetrated her rough clothing, adding to the tight knot of fear gathering in
the pit of her stomach.

She
began to pray as she had never prayed before. "Holy Mary, Mother of God,
bring them home safe," she whispered earnestly. "Please,
please,
bring
them home safe."

***

The
small group of bedraggled men, scattered through the forest, followed in the
wake of a single horseman. The rider's head was bent, his broad shoulders
sagging with defeat. It was over. All was lost. The only reality was that of
keeping his mount headed in the right direction, of keeping the wounded going
until they reached Teifi.

Home,
but then what? That refuge was good for a few hours at best.

The
grizzled old soldier half turned in his saddle, glancing back at the men
following on foot. Scarce two dozen men, he thought bitterly. Naught but a
handful left from the eight score that had followed Lord Aldwyn so eagerly into
battle. And how was he to take care of them?

Acid
bile rose in his throat as the searing memory of the last few hours surged over
him. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales, was dead, run through by an English
broadsword in an unexpectedly early skirmish that took them by surprise. In the
blink of an eye Llywelyn was dead, and the hope of every loyal Welshman would
be buried with that brave prince.

Turning
back to the trail, the horseman stared straight ahead, scarcely noticing the
snowflakes melting against the blood-soaked rags that wrapped his arm. His
horse picked up its pace, reassured by the firm hand still gripping the reins.

Yea,
Llywelyn was dead, Owain told himself dazedly, and with him the only other man
with the wisdom and power to unite the jealous, squabbling Welsh lords against
the English devils invading their heartland. In that same evil hour that had
taken Llywelyn, his own dear lord, Aldwyn of Teifi, had been struck down in the
fierce skirmishing about the fallen prince.

And
not Aldwyn alone. Aldwyn's only son, Lord Rhodri, had been lost too, and Lord
Enion, the Lady Elen's betrothed. The young lords had been fighting shoulder to
shoulder, struggling to reach their prince when they fell, hacked down before
Owain's eyes by the swarming Englishmen.

A
low groan sounded, and Owain realized dimly it had come from his own throat.
The memory of that nightmare hour was a crushing burden his warrior's heart
could scarcely bear—Rhodri and Enion, inseparable since early childhood when
Enion had fostered at Teifi. Young lords yes, but dear to him as if sprung from
his own body.

And
Elen. Christ, have mercy! How would he tell Elen?

Suddenly,
his chest heaved with greater anguish than any he had known in his near two
score years as a fighting man. Tears of pain and hopelessness gathered in his
gray eyes, trickling slowly down his proud, furrowed cheeks to drip unnoticed
onto his gloved hand. Better to have ended his life on that field with the pride
of Wales. He'd have taken a good half-dozen of those haughty devils with him,
he thought with a bitter smile. Maybe even more.

But
Aldwyn would have none of it. "Elen..." the old lord had murmured as
Owain knelt, cradling Aldwyn's dying form in his arms. "Take my men... as
many as can break free...." His words had trailed off as he had struggled
to maintain consciousness. "Elen... get Elen and Gweneth to safety,"
he had rasped. "Owain... there's no one else. Elen... you must... you
must...." Slowly his blood-soaked body had gone limp in Owain's arms.

Lord
Aldwyn was right. There was no one else. And God alone knew how he would manage
to fulfill his pledge to see his lord's wife and daughter to safety. In less
than an hour, these woods would be crawling with ravening English-soldiers
drunk with a blood lust nothing but time and more Welsh blood would appease. At
the thought, he prodded his weary mount into a trot.

The
dull thud of horses' hooves beat a rhythmic accompaniment to the ideas churning
in his brain. Llywelyn was dead and his brother, Dafydd, was a treacherous
hothead who would never succeed in uniting this wild country. Owain smiled
grimly. At least Dafydd would be repaid for his plots to betray his royal
brother. The English would never rest until the last male of Llywelyn's blood
was dead.

But
with their prince dead, the people would need a rallying point, something to
keep their hope of freedom alive else they would be crushed beneath King
Edward's oppressive heel. Owain's eyes narrowed thoughtfully, his cold-numbed
fingers gripping the reins in sudden excitement. Elen! Was that what Aldwyn had
meant? She might be naught but a girl of sixteen, but she was the descendant of
a proud line of warrior lords, a line of fighting Celtic princes claiming
lineage to King Arthur himself. And she was a distant kinswoman to Llywelyn.

As
if conjured by his thoughts, a slim, boyish figure stepped unexpectedly from a
screen of trees lining the frozen creek. Despite the concealing knee-boots and
archer's cap, the drab tunic of brown wool and the light sword resting in its
sheath at the youth's elbow, Owain recognized his young mistress at once.

"Lady
Elen!" he exclaimed, jerking his mount to a halt as the girl stepped into
his path. "What in God's name are you doing here alone?"

Great
blue eyes, heavily lashed and anxious, stared up at him from a face pale with
cold. "Waiting for Father," she said calmly. Her eyes left his,
moving over the men, quickly assessing the injuries. "I see you've brought
the wounded home. Mother's taken to her bed with worry, but I have everything
prepared in the hall. Tangwen and I will see to them."

Her
eyes returned to his. Her full lips trembled slightly, but her voice, when she
spoke, was steady. "I suppose Father and Enion and my brother stayed
behind to secure the field?"

Owain
motioned the men behind him to move up the path toward the keep. This was the
moment he had dreaded most and he wasn't prepared. He stared into Elen's
lovely, heart-shaped face. He had known Aldwyn's beautiful daughter almost from
the moment of her first lusty cry in the midwife's arms. He wasn't deceived by
her calm mien.

"You're
going to have to be strong, little one," he whispered, using a nickname
her willowy frame had outgrown years ago.

Swinging
down from his mount, he took one step toward her, wishing there was something
he might say to ease the blow. "The field was secured some time ago—by
Edward's knights." He halted before her. "Our men won't be coming
home, child. Lord Llywelyn is dead and most of the rest slaughtered about him.
What you see is all that's left of us—these and a few bowmen who fled to the
forest afoot."

Her
eyes widened in disbelief. "It's not true! The prophecy... Merlin's
prophecy! Llywelyn will wear the crown of all Britain. It's been promised for
hundreds of years!"

She
lifted a beseeching hand, her eyes searching his desperately. "It's not
true," she repeated. "It can't be! You must have left before the
battle was done. Father must be looking for you now. How
dare
you leave
him!"

Owain
caught her slender shoulders and gave her a rough shake. "Listen to me,
Elen, and listen well for there's little time. Merlin's prophecy obviously
wasn't meant for our Llywelyn. The battle is done and all are lost save a few
miserable bands that managed to fight their way into the forest. Your menfolk
are dead. All dead," he repeated with characteristic bluntness.

With
a strangled sob, Elen tore herself from his arms and stumbled away a few feet.
"I... I don't believe you. I
won't
believe you!"

"I
saw your brother go down with two English lances through his chest," Owain
said harshly. "Enion fell at the hand of that hellspawn, Richard of Kent.
And Lord Aldwyn died in my arms," he added, his rough voice hoarse with
emotion. "Never tell me it's not true, Elen, for I'll see that sight so
long as I live!"

The
girl turned back toward him, her great eyes luminous with unshed tears.
"Enion..." The cry trembled with anguish and she broke off abruptly.
"You're sure?" she whispered at last. "All are dead?"

"Aye."

Bowing
her head, she clenched her gloved fists before her face, battling hard for
self-control. Owain watched her painful struggle, his own heart near to
breaking. He longed to reach out a comforting hand, but nothing could ease this
pain for either of them.

The
girl's shoulders convulsed with several shaking sobs before she mastered
herself. "How far... how far are the English behind us?" she choked
at last, lifting grief-stricken eyes to his.

"An
hour at most. They'll come through these woods slowly, though, fearing an
ambush."

She
moved toward him, nodding in agreement. The snow was falling faster now, the
woodland sounds silenced by the eerie stillness of the storm and the
approaching night. They stood together, shoulder to shoulder, listening intently
for any sound of pursuit.

Suddenly
the wind picked up, tugging a long strand of dark chestnut hair from beneath
Elen's cap. It whipped across her face and she dashed it back, wiping
impatiently at her tears. "Let's give this Richard of Kent an ambush he'll
not forget!" she cried out. "For my father and Rhodri... for Enion!
By God, we'll make him pay!"

Resting
a hand on her sword hilt, she turned toward him, her unusual height placing her
glittering, angry gaze on a level with his own. "I'll need five of your
best men to see my lady mother to safety. Once they're away, we'll secure the
keep. We'll teach these English dogs we Welsh sell our lives dearly!"

BOOK: Stuart, Elizabeth
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