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Authors: Sarah Woodbury

Tags: #romance, #suspense, #murder, #mystery, #historical, #wales, #middle ages, #spy, #medieval, #prince of wales, #viking, #dane

The Fallen Princess

BOOK: The Fallen Princess
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A Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mystery

 

The Fallen Princess

 

by

Sarah Woodbury

Copyright © 2014 by Sarah Woodbury

Cover image by Christine DeMaio-Rice at Flip
City Books

 

The Fallen Princess

 

Hallowmas 1144
. With the harvest
festival approaching, Gareth has returned from fighting in the
south, hoping for a few months of peace with Gwen before the birth
of their first child. But when an innocent foray to the beach turns
up the murdered body of Prince Hywel’s long lost cousin, a woman
thought to have run away with a Dane five years earlier, it is
Gareth and Gwen who are charged with discovering her killer. The
trail has long since gone cold, or so Gareth and Gwen think, until
their investigation threatens to expose dangerous truths that
everyone from king to killer would prefer to keep buried.

No secret is safe, and no man, whether lord
or peasant, can escape the spirit of Hallowmas in
The Fallen
Princess
, the fourth Gareth and Gwen medieval mystery.

 

To my Taran

The Gareth and Gwen Medieval Mysteries:

The Bard’s Daughter (prequel)

The Good Knight

The Uninvited Guest

The Fourth Horseman

The Fallen Princess

The Unlikely Spy

The Lost Brother

The Renegade Merchant

 

The After Cilmeri Series:

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

 

The Lion of Wales Series:

Cold My Heart

The Oaken Door

Of Men and Dragons

 

The Last Pendragon Saga:

The Last Pendragon

The Pendragon’s Quest

 

www.sarahwoodbury.com

 

 

A Brief Guide to Welsh Pronunciation

 

a
‘ah’ as in ‘rah’ (Caradog)

ae
‘eye’ as in ‘my’ (Cadfael)

ai
‘eye’ as in ‘my’ (Owain)

aw
‘ow’ as in ‘cow’ (Alaw)

c
a hard ‘c’ sound (Cadfael)

ch
a non-English sound as in Scottish
‘ch’ in ‘loch’ (Fychan)

dd
a buzzy ‘th’ sound, as in ‘there’
(Ddu; Gwynedd)

e
‘eh’ as in ‘met’ (Ceri)

eu
‘ay’ as in ‘day’ (Ddeufaen—this
would be pronounced ‘theyvine’)

f
‘v’ as in ‘of’ (Cadfael)

ff
as in ‘off’ (Gruffydd)

g
a hard ‘g’ sound, as in ‘gas’
(Goronwy)

i
‘ee’ as in ‘see’ (Ceri)

ia
‘yah’ as in ‘yawn’ (Iago)

ieu
sounds like the cheer, ‘yay’
(Ieuan)

l
as in ‘lamp’ (Llywelyn)

ll
‘shl’ sound that does not occur in
English (Llywelyn)

o
‘aw’ as in ‘dog’ (Cadog)

oe
‘oy’ as in ‘boy’ (Coel)

rh
a breathy mix between ‘r’ and ‘rh’
that does not occur in English (Rhys)

th
a softer sound than for ‘dd,’ as in
‘thick’ (Arthur)

u
a short ‘ih’ sound (Gruffydd), or a
long ‘ee’ sound (Cymru—pronounced ‘kumree’)

w
as a consonant, it’s an English ‘w’
(Llywelyn); as a vowel, an ‘oo’ sound (Bwlch).

y
the only letter in which Welsh is
not phonetic. It can be an ‘ih’ sound, as in ‘Gwyn,’ is often an
‘uh’ sound (Cymru), and at the end of the word is an ‘ee’ sound
(thus, both Cymru—the modern word for Wales—and Cymry—the word for
Wales in the Dark Ages—are pronounced ‘kumree’).

 

 

Cast of Characters

 

The Living

Owain Gwynedd – King of Gwynedd (North
Wales)

Rhun – Prince of Gwynedd (illegitimate)

Hywel – Prince of Gwynedd (illegitimate)

Cadwaladr – Owain’s younger brother

Gwen – spy for Hywel, Gareth’s wife

Gareth – Gwen’s husband, Captain of Hywel’s
guard

Taran – Owain’s steward

Cristina – Owain’s second wife

Mari – Gwen’s friend, Hywel’s wife

Evan – Gareth’s friend

Llelo – Gareth and Gwen’s foster son

Dai – Llelo’s younger brother

Meilyr – Gwen’s father

Gwalchmai – Gwen’s brother

Iorwerth – Prince of Gwynedd (legitimate)

 

Ifon – Lord of Rhos

Gruffydd – Castellan of Dolwyddelan

Sioned – Gruffydd’s wife

 

The Dead

Tegwen –Hywel’s cousin, Cadwallon’s
daughter

Ilar – Tegwen’s mother

Bran – Tegwen’s husband, Ifon’s older
brother

Marchudd – Ifon’s eldest brother

Cynan – King of Rhos, Ifon’s father

Gwladys – Owain’s first wife (mother of
Iorwerth)

Prince Cadwallon – Owain’s elder brother

King Gruffydd – King of Gwynedd, Owain’s
father

Chapter One

Gwen

 

“T
his won’t be a
pleasant sight, my lady.” Rhodri helped Gwen dismount. He’d come to
Aber Castle to find Gareth, but Gwen’s husband had risen from his
bed long before dawn, leaving to ride with Prince Hywel and his men
on patrol.

“It never is,” Gwen said.

Rhodri set her gently on the soft sand, its
usual yellowish-brown color turned to gray in the pre-dawn light.
The cart intended for carrying away the body rumbled to a halt
behind them, and another soldier, Dewi, jumped off the seat,
leaving the stable boy who’d been driving the cart to wait with it
and hold the horse’s head.

The tense expression in Rhodri’s face didn’t
ease, so Gwen added, “I’m well, Rhodri. Truly.” Many women
struggled with their health during pregnancy, but other than an
annoyingly strong sense of smell, Gwen hadn’t had any difficulties
so far beyond a few unpleasant mornings, particularly in the
beginning, and an increased need for sleep. Even at this late
stage, with the baby due at the end of January, some people still
didn’t notice right off that she was carrying a child.

While the men shooed away the crowd of
onlookers, Gwen circled the body, trying to disturb the scene as
little as possible. She considered the corpse from all
angles—though as it was well wrapped in a cloak, there wasn’t much
to see. From the closeness of the weave, the cloak had once been
very fine. It was dirty now, of a color that she thought should
have been blue. The hood half-covered the face, implying that one
of the onlookers had drawn it back and then, when death had been
definitively determined, hastily thrown it over the face again.

Gwen braced herself for the need to see who
this was and bent to lift away the cloth.

At the grotesque appearance of the face,
Gwen’s breath caught in her throat. Then a hand touched her
shoulder, and she jumped a foot. “By all that is holy—”

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Llelo said. “I
didn’t mean to startle you.”

Gwen let out a burst of air. “What are you
doing here? Is Dai here too?”

“He’s a laze-about,” Llelo said, answering
her second question first. “I came for the clams. Are you all
right?”

“Why does everyone think I’m not well? I’ve
seen dead people before.”

Llelo frowned, staring past her to the body.
“Not like this one, I don’t think.”

Gwen deliberately hadn’t looked again at the
dead woman’s face. Instead, she gestured towards a group of
children looking anxiously in their direction. “They shouldn’t be
here.”

“They’re the ones who found her,” Llelo
said.

Gwen inspected her young charge. He’d grown
four inches since he’d come to live with them and loomed over her.
If she were to stand, he’d be taller than she was.
Thirteen
years old going on twenty
, as Gareth had said privately to her
more than once. Upon the death of his father, Llelo had needed to
grow up quickly in order to care for his younger brother, Dai.
Gareth had discovered both boys in an English monastery last May
and taken them under his wing.

The boys had spent most of the summer with
Gwen on Anglesey while Gareth was in Ceredigion serving Prince
Hywel, but they had all gathered at Aber this week to celebrate
Calan Gaeaf
, what the Church called All Saints’ Day. It
was the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. In
the traditions of her people, at this time of year the veil between
the next world and this one thinned. Tomorrow night,
Nos Galan
Gaeaf
, or Hallowmas, the spirits of those who’d died would
walk the earth. Gwen shivered to think that this poor soul could be
among them.

“Since you’re here, you might as well help,”
Gwen said. “The children will talk to you. Find out what they know
while I see who this is.”

“You can tell it was once a woman,” Llelo
said, with all the morbid fascination of the young.

Gwen waved her hand at him. “Off you go.”
Asking Llelo to help her might turn out to be the worst idea she’d
had this month, but since he was here, it was better to keep him
busy.

Gwen turned back to the body, no longer able
to avoid looking at it. As Llelo had said, it was that of a woman,
but beyond this simple observance, Gwen didn’t know that she’d ever
seen a stranger circumstance. For starters, the woman’s body wasn’t
bloated with water like it should have been had she drowned.
Instead, her skin was dried out, leathery and brown like an old
apple, more bones than flesh, though flesh still adhered to the
bone. The woman could have been dead for months, if not years. The
cloak that wrapped her wasn’t wet either, which Gwen would have
noticed earlier if she hadn’t been so distracted.

On the ride to the beach, Gwen had conceived
two scenarios that would have put the body here this morning. One
would have been a drowning, though the sea had been calm last
night, despite three weeks of solid rain. The second and more
complicated possibility had been that the body had been buried in
the sand somewhere—a dune or a cliff face near the water’s edge—and
over time, wind and tide had worn away the sand that covered her
grave until it was fully exposed and the body fell into the
sea.

In that case, the body could have washed up
here because of the way the water moved in and out of the Menai
Strait. Both possibilities would have involved a recent death,
because that was the only way the body would have remained intact
enough to wash up on the beach in the first place.

And if the body had washed up on the beach,
even many hours ago, it would have been wet from head to toe. That
wasn’t the case, which meant that someone had placed it here.

With these thoughts spinning in her head,
Gwen put her hand flat on what remained of the woman’s belly. The
fabric of her dress was damp, like laundry left out on the line all
night, but it wasn’t sopping. Gwen looked up, meeting the eyes of
several villagers, who gazed at her with expressions ranging from
curious to revolted to worried. She, herself, was among the
worried. She didn’t know who this was, but she knew nobody was
going to be happy when she discovered the woman’s name. Somewhere,
sometime, someone had lost a daughter. It would be Gwen’s task—and
Gareth’s and Hywel’s—to find out who that was.

“Who found her?” she said.

Llelo lifted a hand to gain Gwen’s attention
and brought the group of children closer. “They did, all
together.”

“Did you touch her?” Gwen studied the
children’s faces as they shook their heads vehemently in turn. She
ended up looking intently at a medium-sized boy of about nine with
a mop of dark hair and dark eyes.

“No, my lady.” He shook his head too.

Gwen looked sideways at him. “Not even a
little?”

“It was I who pulled back her hood, Lady
Gwen.” A burly villager stepped forward. “Once I saw that she was
dead—long dead from the looks—I went to find Rhodri, there.” He
gestured to where Rhodri guarded the pathway between the body and
the cart.

If he’d come to the same conclusion Gwen
had—that the woman hadn’t drowned—he’d realized that it was along
that trajectory that evidence, if there was any evidence, would be
found. All of the men-at-arms at Aber, whether they served Prince
Hywel, his brother Rhun, or King Owain, knew from experience that
Gareth would want to inspect the entire area personally and would
be displeased if it had been marred by the curious and the
careless. Beyond Rhodri, Dewi had gone back to the cart and was
talking to someone, though since the man had his back to her, Gwen
couldn’t tell who it was.

She glanced up at the sky. The sun was
coming up over the hills to the southeast, revealing a cloudless
sky, unusual for so late in October. A warm breeze was blowing into
her face from the south. She’d woken to dozens of mornings like
this on Anglesey over the summer, and for a moment she wished that
she was back at her little cottage, wiggling her bare toes in the
warm sand instead of on this windswept beach crouching over a dead
body. “When is low tide, Llelo?”

BOOK: The Fallen Princess
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