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Authors: Flora Speer

Tags: #romance, #medieval

Castle of Dreams




Castle Of Dreams



Flora Speer




Smashwords Edition

Copyright © 2013, 1990, by Flora Speer


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Cover Design Copyright 2014 By Laura Shinn







Whoever loved that loved not at first

Christopher Marlowe

Hero and Leander, 1598







I first came to Afoncaer in the Year of Our
Lord 1103, when I was thirty-four. I soon became so fond of this
untamed green borderland between Wales and England, and so
fascinated by Afoncaer itself, that during the long winter nights,
while others drank and talked or loved the dark away in quiet
corners, I began writing the story of the great river fortress and
of the people who have lived here.

I had a good deal of help in this project. I
was not surprised that those who lived at Afoncaer would so freely
tell me their stories, or recount tales they had heard in their
youth. I long ago ceased to wonder at the things folk will tell a
man in a cleric’s robe, even one not ordained priest. I remain a
lay brother, and these tales I repeat here were not confessions in
the usual sense, though I have no doubt they served that purpose in
several cases, and one or two told me secrets they ought not to
have spoken aloud.

What did surprise me, and astonishes me
still, was the honesty of the women who spoke to me. The daughters
of Eve, members of that sex said to be devious, willful, stupid,
and dangerous to men, have opened themselves freely to me, until I,
who have had no carnal knowledge of women since I entered clerical
orders at age eighteen, and who have in all the intervening years
burned for only one woman, and she loved another and never guessed
at my feelings – I, Reynaud the architect, have come to know and
admire, to love in the purest sense, and sometimes almost to
understand, the women who have revealed their lives to me. And so I
have set down those tales as though they were happening before my
own eyes.

Sir Guy fìtz Lionel, second baron of
Afoncaer, the dearest friend that ever I knew, used to tease me
that my eyes, pale blue and chronically watery from wind, dust, and
dirt, and from too much squinting against the sun, were in fact
weak from too much reading and writing. He could do neither himself
– most noblemen in those days were unlettered – but I knew the
words were said in friendship, not envy or contempt. Sir Guy was
always a kind man, too kind perhaps in his treatment of Lady
Isabel, considering all she had done. And as for his punishment of
Sir Walter fìtz Alan…But I am ahead of the story I wish to tell. I
should begin at the beginning with the outlaw knight, the brigand
who was the first Norman at Afoncaer. And when I look backward,
recalling what I have been told of that time, my weak eyes see all
too clearly the pattern of ambition and betrayal that was to
persist for so many years, until Afoncaer was nearly lost.

Part I



Wales, A.D. 1085

Chapter 1



Branwen was fourteen when Normans came to
Afoncaer for the first time. She knew, for everyone knew, that they
had already conquered parts of South Wales and had established
fortified outposts in Gwynedd and Powys, but until now they had
ignored Afoncaer. Her distant cousin, the Wise Man Rhys ap Daffydd,
had been driven from his home in Powys and had vanished into the
thick forests east of Afoncaer. Some said Rhys had made himself
invisible and would remain so until the Normans went away, but
Branwen, who had been his pupil for several years, did not believe
the story.

Branwen had been taken from her childhood
home the year before, when her mother died, and had been sent to
live with her aunt and uncle at Tynant. Her brother Griffin, older
by six years, had gone to Afoncaer, half a day’s walk away from
Branwen’s new home, to serve their grandfather as a warrior.
Branwen was none too fond of Griffin. He was too violent for her
taste, which, thanks to Rhys’s teaching and gentle influence,
favored learning and the compounding of herbal medicines, and
included a deep affection for all living things. She did like her
cousins at Tynant. Whenever their household chores were finished
they roamed together in the forest or rode her uncle’s ponies, and
once they even discovered an unknown, hidden entrance into the
storage cellars of the house. They told no one about it, keeping
the knowledge as their own private secret and making the tunnel
passage a part of their innocent games. Branwen was not unhappy,
despite her half-orphaned state.

She could not understand why anyone would
want to live at Afoncaer. It was only a wooden hall built on the
bluff overlooking the river, with stables and a small stone chapel.
It was always full of rough, sweaty men who were sworn to her
grandfather, the ruler of Afoncaer. Branwen thought the place was
ugly. She much preferred Tynant, which lay in a flower-filled
meadow in the forest where a clean, wide stream ran over ancient
rocks, or, if not Tynant, then the green peace of the forest
itself, which Rhys had taught her to love.

The Normans appreciated what Branwen did not.
Afoncaer guarded one of the most important roads into Wales, and
they were determined to conquer Wales, as they had earlier
conquered all of England. They took Afoncaer, with great loss of
life among the Welsh defenders, including Branwen’s own father and
uncle and grandfather. When it was over, her brother Griffin sent
for her to join him at the fortress.

“I don’t want to go. I hate Afoncaer and I
despise the Normans,” Branwen said. “What can Griffin be thinking

“Perhaps he’s going to marry you to a Norman
lord,” giggled one of her younger cousins.

Branwen stared at the speaker, aghast, cold
fear pouring through her veins.

“If that’s what he wants, I won’t do it,”
Branwen declared.

“We don’t know what Griffin wants,” her aunt
soothed with great reasonableness. “Griffin is now your nearest
living male kin. You can’t refuse his summons without a serious
reason, and you have none. Perhaps he only wants you to use your
healing skills among the wounded.”

“You must be right,” Branwen said with
relief, not wanting to think any more about the suggestion her
cousin had just made. “I ought to take along a goodly supply of
herbs to ease the pain of battle wounds, and others to help the
injured to sleep.”

“You’d help Normans?” cried a young male
cousin. “If I had the chance I’d kill them all.”

“Rhys has taught me,” Branwen told the
eight-year-old would-be warrior, “that if a person is ill or
injured it matters not which side of a dispute that person favored,
or whether I like or dislike my patient. I must put what skills I
have at the service of anyone who needs them. Besides, if I care
for the Norman wounded their leader may be willing to let me tend
to the hurts of the Welshmen who were taken prisoner, and thus I
will be able to help our own good people.”

Branwen chose the necessary herbs from her
supplies and packed them into her saddlebags along with as many
linen bandages as her aunt could spare. Then she mounted her horse
and, accompanied by the armed guards Griffin had sent for her, left
Tÿnant and went to Afoncaer.

The place showed all too clearly how bitter
had been the battle to take it. The chapel still stood, and the
tiny priest’s house beside it, but the log palisade surrounding the
fortress had been pulled down and burned by the Normans during
their assault, and the great hall was badly damaged by fire.
Branwen dismounted, looking around in stunned horror. She was about
to order one of the guards to attend to her horse when she saw her
brother striding toward her.

“Griffin, I’m glad you are safe. I’ve brought
my herbs,” she began, pulling her saddlebags off the horse. Griffin
silenced her with a laugh.

“It’s not for that I ordered you here,” he
told her.

Wondering what he did want of her, Branwen
turned to stare again at the devastation the Normans had wrought.
She flinched at the sight of those cruel foreigners swarming over
her grandfather’s domain, searching for whatever loot they could
find. Griffin made an impatient gesture, calling her attention back
to him.

“It could have been worse,” he said in answer
to the horrified look she cast upon him, “had I not surrendered
when I did.”

“Surrendered?” Branwen flushed with shame and
anger. “Our grandfather would never have surrendered. Or our

“But they were both dead by then, and our
uncle, too, which left me as leader of the defenders. Unlike the
other men in our family, I have enough sense to make certain I
survived.” Griffin smiled at her. It was not a pleasant smile. “Now
Afoncaer belongs to Sir Edouard, but he will let me keep our
father’s lands, for a favor. You are to help me, little

“What can I possibly do?” Branwen did not
believe the bestial Normans would ever give back anything they had
once taken, not even some unimportant forest or farmland. She said
so, and Griffin laughed at her again.

“You know nothing of such matters. I have
made a pact with them. I have given my word and Sir Edouard has
given his. He is their leader, and you will marry him.”

“Never! I’ll die first!” Branwen gaped at her
brother as if she had never seen him before. So, her cousin had
been right. She had not thought even Griffin could be so
insensitive and heartless toward his own kin. “These Normans have
killed half our family and you expect me to marry one of them?”

“That’s right.”

“You’re mad. I won’t do it. I’m going back to
Tÿnant.’’ As Branwen started to remount her horse, Griffin’s cold
words stopped her.

“You can’t go back there. It was attacked
just after you left. Tÿnant belongs to Sir Edouard by now.”

“Our aunt, our cousins, what of them?” She
could hardly speak for fear for her loved ones. Griffin merely
shrugged, and suddenly Branwen remembered that one of her male
cousins was old enough to be a serious rival to Griffin in the near
future. There had already been talk within the family about the
competition between the two.

“How can you side with these Norman brutes?”
Branwen cried.

“Your skin is too thin, Branwen. You are too
particular. I,” Griffin told her, “am now Sir Edouard’s liege man.
He will grant me our father’s old lands as my fief, and one day
soon, if we are both clever and keep our wits about us, I shall be
lord of Afoncaer. It is what I have always wanted. Had the Normans
not come I would have had to wait patiently for years while our
grandfather ruled here, and then our uncle and father, before my
turn. And at some point I would have had to fight our cousin Owain
of Tÿnant, whom the Normans have today conveniently removed for me.
I saw my chance and I took it. And now you, sister, will do as I
tell you.”

It was insane. The entire world had gone mad.
There was not even time to grieve for her dead. Sir Edouard,
Griffin told her, was eager for the marriage and would waste no
time on unnecessary preliminaries. There were no respectable women
at Afoncaer to attend her. They had all fled or had been killed
when the fortress was sacked. The only women there now were camp
followers, and even Griffin would not assign one of them as his
sister’s maid.

“You will have to dress yourself,” Griffin
told her, taking her arm and pulling her toward the priest’s house.
“You are to wait in here until Sir Edouard is ready for you.”

“Where is Father Conan?” Branwen demanded.
She had known the elderly priest for years. He was close to her
grandfather’s age and much respected. Perhaps he could make Griffin
see how wrong it was to treat her this way.

“He’s burying the dead,” Griffin said,
forcing her through the doorway into the dim outer room of the
little dwelling. “You won’t see him until it’s time for him to
bless the marriage. Leave your saddlebags here. You won’t need your
herbs in the chapel. Save them to bind up your beloved husband’s
wounds on some other day.”

Moving into the second, smaller room, which
served Father Conan as bedchamber, Griffin picked up a garment that
had been draped across the priest’s narrow bed.

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