Rain pattered at the rooftops. Lighting flashed. There was a crash. A scream of agony. A pounding at the gate. Trees bent under the ferocious onslaught of rain. More pounding. Princess Gwynnevyre shook underneath her silk-and-eiderdown coverlets. Pounding at the gate. Somewhere, someone screamed again. Gwynne scolded herself fiercely, her teeth chattering. You asked for the tower room! It’s your fault! Why did mother listen to me?!? At the gate, the pounding had ceased and there was a sound of flint against steel. Fire! Gwynne thought. Whoever it is at the gate is going to burn us down! Leaping out from underneath her large blankets, she rushed to the window, ignoring her loose black hair. From her window, she got a perfect view of the castle courtyard, the wall tops, and the surrounding countryside. Looking towards the front gate, Gwynne saw a band of about ten score men. She gazed at them intently, peering at their shoulder-length blonde hair, beards and moustaches. The largest man was holding a torch and using it to direct the other men. This man called four men over and talked to them; Gwynne was too far up to hear them, but she could guess at what the man said. Two of the men went around the wall and the other two ran off towards the harbor. Gwynne craned her neck out the window to see where they went, nearly falling out in her impatience to see. Suddenly, she realized that she had been spotted. One of the men going round the wall was jumping up and down while pointing eagerly at her. The other man looked up at where she was and stared at her. The first man said something to the second and they started running back to the leader. When they got there, the leader was told that Gwynne was there. He began to smile, an evil smile that showed crooked yellow teeth. He shouted commands to his men, giving the torch to a man. The man took the torch and flung it at the gates. The gates burst into flame and Gwynne drew back from the window. Rushing over to her door, she tried to open it, but found it locked. She ran back over to the window at the sound of a crash. The gate had fallen, and Vikings--for that was what the invaders were--were everywhere. Screams filled the air and Gwynne’s men ran out of their rooms and homes half-dressed, but armed. Many fell in that first wild rush. The leader was making a circle of dead water around him and two companions. Apparently, slaying came naturally to him. But now Gwynne could stand it no more. She flung herself under her quilts, but not before the leader pointed at her and shouted at his men to come on. Gwynne lay silent for some time, shivering with fear in her thin undergarment, which consisted of a linen skirt that hit at above her knees, and a strip of cloth that wrapped around her chest, for the fall had been unseasonably hot. She froze as many footsteps sounded in the corridor. Someone knocked on her door. She peeked out and heard a rough voice. “Come out, me pretty gel, come to Olav!”
This last word was accompanied by a crash as Olav and his two henchmen, Rolf and Siegfried came in behind him. Olav spotted the lump of bed covers and, flinging himself onto the bed, stretched luxuriously and pulled off the coverlet. Gwynne lay revealed, Olav pressed her to his chest and before she could tear herself away, Rolf caught her hands and tied them together, the rope cutting cruelly into her flesh. Siegfried walked to the door and picked up a window pole. Bringing it over to Rolf, Siegfried tied her feet and slipped the window pole through her bonds. Rolf then exited the chamber, heading over to her dressing room. Olav hauled himself to his feet and grabbed the pole, carrying to the window. Seeing that the window was somewhat small, he pushed one end of the pole through and then the other. In the courtyard, the men were still fighting. “Men of Mercia, I have your lovely princess. If you do not put down your weapons and surrender, I will drop her and she will be either slain on the rocks below or my men will slay her with their swords if she does not die in the fall. What will it be?”
In that fatal moment, in the time in which her fate was being decided, Gwynne’s mind was pounding for an answer. She cried, “Men of Mercia, though I would be dead, the fate of Mercia would continue as before! Remember your duty and do not drop your weapons!”
She would have said more, but the leader of the Mercians signaled to his men to drop their weapons. She moaned as the bloodthirsty Vikings closed in around them and killed the leader, ( )ave captain Ethelmung. She dropped her head and started sobbing uncontrollably. As she was pulled in through the window, Siegfried slapped her face, saying harshly, “Only fools cry!”
“Enough! Take her downstairs. And do not harm or injure my future ( )ide.” Olav commanded. The pair seized the pole and carried her, none too gently, down the winding passageway. Very soon, Olav followed. The four went down to the great hall, in which her father, King Leodgrance and her two ( )others Jacob and Edward sat tied to chairs. The hall was full of Viking men and men captives. While Siegfried and Rolf held her, Olav had two men pile up kindling in the middle of the hall. They appeared to be used to such orders, and soon had a large forked pole standing vertically on either side. Gwynne was carried to the sticks and hung over the pile of kindling. Olav made himself a torch and leered at King Leodgrance. “So, what has started with fire shall finish with fire. If you do not give me what I want, then I will roast your daughter alive and in front of you and the men of Mercia. So what will it be?”
Gwynne looked at her father’s tear streaked face and saw a great sadness. “Father, do not give in!” she cried. “He shall not overthrow the land of Mercia!” Her father tried to get to her, but could not. “Child, they have slain your mother! You must not leave me! Gwynnevyre, I love yo-” His head slumped as Olav hit him hard. “Father! NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Gwynne screamed.
“You see, my little butterfly,” Olav said, turning his back on the limp, still figure of Leodgrance. “This can be hard or it can be easy. I have you and your ( )others in my hand. Take them to the dungeon!” Jacob shouted, “Gwynne, send for Arthur! He’ll save us! Escape!”
His voice echoed down the winding corridor. Gwynne was heart( )oken. She started to weep quietly. Olav took her chin and raised her head. “So beautiful, so young, and yet,” he mused, “your face is a winter garden that shall not yield to spring. Yes, my mind is made up. You shall marry me in a month. I shall send for women to attend you. Untie her and take her back to her rooms.”
Rolf and a young man each sprang to escort her. Olav looked at the young man and gestured to Gwynne. “Aron, you take her. Go.” Aron untied the knots and caught her in his arms as she tumbled down towards the kindling. She looked at him with disgust in her eyes and announced, “I can walk, sirrah! Please put me down!” Aron obliged and set her gently on the marble floor. She immediately dropped. The room exploded in cruel, mocking laughter Olav stood over her with his fist clinched. “Leave her.” he ordered coldly. Aron picked her up and held the limp figure close to his chest. “Father, she needs to rest. You might have easily ( )oken her head with that powerful hit. Do I have permission to take her upstairs?” Olav looked at the motionless girl and changed his mind. “Alright, but you have to be down in a quarter of an hour.”
Aron stood up and carried her to the tower. Olav beckoned a large man over. “Ewen, make sure that Aron stays in the Princess’s room for over an hour. Tell him that this is his father’s express wish. In fact, tell him that he has been promoted to guarding the Princess.”
Ewen bowed and hurried off. Up in the tower, Aron had placed Gwynne in her bed when she started to stir. “Oh… water…please… water…”
Aron took up a tumbler and dipped it in a basin of water. He sat on the edge of the bed and held her head up. “Easy now, isn’t good taken quickly. There,” he said when Gwynne had waked fully and drunk a few sips. “How does that feel?”
Gwynne stared at him in awe. “Arthur?” she said incredulously, not wanting to believe that he was actually here. “I thought you were in Camelot!” Aron looked puzzled. “I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong man,” he said, “I’m Aron, Olav’s son.”
Tears welled up in Gwynne’s eyes. “Please,” she choked out, “Please, leave me for a while. If you can’t, look out the window, or something! Please!”
Aron stood up and walked to the door. As he opened it, Ewen tried to open it also, and they ended up closing the door. Ewen opened the door finally, and said, “Your father has commanded you to stay in the Princess’s rooms. Ye art to be her guard.” He turned on his heel and sped away. Aron was fine with that. He closed the door and turned back to Gwynne. Her gorgeous eyes were closed, with her long, delicate eyelashes wet with weeping. Her exquisite nose was covered by a hand with such creamy-colored skin, that it looked like milk. Her cherry lips were trembling, and great tears were falling onto her soft cheeks. Aron gazed at her dazzling beauty and resolved in his mind to help her in any way he could. Gwynne slowly opened her eyes and looked at him. She got out of bed and went to her dressing room, but was stopped by Aron. “You won’t find anything in there, lass,” he said catching her bare arm. “Rolf ( )ought all your dresses down.” Gwynne was horrified. Most of her dresses came from foreign places, such as Italy and China, and were expensive. “What did he do with them?”
“Nothing yet, but he might burn them.”
“Burn them?!” Gwynne shrieked. “Olav doesn’t expect me to stay in this? And besides, most of my dresses were imported! They were very valuable!” and with that, she heaved Aron to the floor, ran down two flights of stairs and into the great hall, where a battle was taking place. Someone had found the cellar and had opened a barrel of old ale. Someone had offended someone else and soon it turned out to be a knock-down-drag-out fight. Gwynne came rushing in and looked around for Olav. She soon found him, right in the middle of the mêlée. He reached for her, and she pushed him away and sped to the beginning of the tower stairs, where she ran into Aron, who had come down as quickly as possible. He saw the terror and confusion in her eyes and he pulled her close to his chest, hugging her to him, comforting. It was at this moment that Olav emerged from the fight. He happened to look to the tower stairs. He saw Aron and Gwynne. Jealousy exploded and Olav could only see green. His fist clenched over his sword and he charged his son. But Gwynne saw his wild sprint and shrieked, “Aron! Get away! Run for it! He’ll kill you!”
Aron looked up from caressing her and saw his father. He sprang to his feet and drew his sword. “I cannot run,” he said, “I must fight for my honor.”
Waiting till the precise moment, Aron watched his father. When the sword was six inches from his chest, he sidestepped it and the sword buried itself in the wooden door. With a yell of rage Olav snatched another sword and ran his son through the side. “NOOOOOOOOOO!” Gwynne screamed, running to his side. She covered his limp body with her head, looking at his eyes. “You and your stupid honor,” she whispered.
He opened his eyes and said faintly, “Gwynnevyre, send for Arthur, and I …love…you…”
She kissed him. “I realize now, that I love you, too.” She looked at his wound and started to drag him up to her tower. Siegfried made as if to stop her, but Olav felled him with a single blow. “Let the child take care of him if she wishes.” Under his ( )eath, he muttered, “He’ll be dead by the time she gets to the tower.”
Gwynne exerted herself and hoisted Aron to her shoulder. She walked up the stairs, pausing several times to catch her ( )eath. Finally, she got him to her bed, and rummaging in a drawer of her bureau, she found a healer’s bag from when her mother had made her take medicine classes from an old woman. She thanked God that her dear mother had insisted, for now she knew every herb, root and potion and what each did. Now she entered he dressing room, looking for the linen that was kept there. Pulling out enough cloth to make a bandage, she rubbed feverfew, soapwort, and chervil into the cloth and laid it aside to set. She pushed Aron onto his back so she could wrap ground black medick, wild arrowroot and woodbine over his injury. When the poultice had set, she bound the wound. She groped around in her bag and finally found a potion made from rosemary, yarrow, gillyflower, and crushed eye( )ight. She put two spoonfuls into a beaker and mixed it with water. Going over to Aron, she made him sit up and drink some. When he finally woke up, Gwynne was busily sewing a linen dress to go over her undergarment. “Gwynne?” he said. “Are you dead too?”
Gwynne giggled. “No, you silly! We are up in my tower and I am taking care of you. How does your gash feel?” Aron felt the fresh bandage, wincing as he pressed too hard. “It feels fine, thank you. Gwynne,” he said, looking straight at her, “Gwynne, who is Arthur?”
Gwynne laid aside her sewing and plumped his pillows. “Arthur is a, well, I’d better begin from the beginning. Arthur’s father was Uther Pendragon. His mother was unknown, and for a time, his father was thought to be a respectable gentleman named Sir Ector. Arthur was called the Wart, as it stood for ‘ward’ and rhymed with Art, which used to be his nickname. One day, Wart and Kai (Kai was Sir Ector’s real son) went out into the forest with a hawk, and Kai let the hawk escape. Now the hawk was a particular favorite of Sir Ector’s, so Wart stayed in the forest to catch the hawk. When he trapped it, he found that he was lost. So he made his way to a clearing, where an eccentric magician named Merlin lived. Merlin said that he had come to Wart to be his teacher, and they had many magical adventures together.
“When Arthur was fourteen-you’ve heard the story of the Sword in the Stone, right?- he pulled the sword out and became High King. But Mother and Father made an alliance with Uther Pendragon that if his lost son was ever found, he and I(the lost son, not Uther,) would wed, so Arthur and I are…engaged.”
Aron sat up quickly. “Engaged? But you haven’t even seen him! You don’t know what he’s like! How could you marry someone that you’ve never even met?”
Gwynne pushed him down. “Mother and Father had never met him either, but there was a chance that if there was no alliance, then Mercia would be added to the great kingdom of England. Either way, Mercia was to become part of England and Mother and Father wanted a hand in it so they offered me in marriage. Arthur is a year older than me. I am fifteen. How old are you?”
Aron fixed his eyes on a crack in the tower. “I’m sixteen, I think. In Viking cultures, past the age of thirteen is an adult and you stop identifying your age. I stopped around three years ago. Hey, to be on the safe side, don’t tell anybody your age. They think that strange and you ought not to get into anymore trouble than you possibly have to.”
Gwynne sat on the edge of the bed. “Aron, where is your mother? I know that it’s none of my business, but since I’m supposed to marry Olav, then I’d like to know where his first wife is. Please tell me.”
“My mother is dead.” Aron said simply. “She and my father went on a raid together, left me at home and she got killed. Her name was Brünnhilde. My sister had gone with them also, as she was fifteen. My parents had been married for twenty years. I was only two.”
He took a deep ( )eath and continued. “When my father learned that Mother and my sister Helga had been murdered by Mercians, he left, and all the tribe thought him dead. But the men went out hunting one day and found him lying on a rock, moaning for Brünnhilde and Helga. He told them that he had sworn vengeance against all of Mercia.
“That’s why my father is crazy for another wife. He has to drive the thought of Mother from his mind, because if he hadn’t been carousing that night, the ship would have been guarded and the Mercians would not have been able to get on board. It was his fault and he knows it!”
Gwynne looked at his face. It was clouded over with anger. “Aron, I know this sounds astonishing, but I agree with you.”
Aron reach up a hand and touched her cheek. She closed her eyes and felt the hard skin on his palm. His hand left her cheek and moved to her neck. He drew her face close to his and they kissed. Some moments later, someone knocked on the door. They froze. Gwynne ( )oke away and whispered, “Quick, be unconscious!”
Aron’s head lolled, and he looked insensible. But if you looked for it, you could see that his eyes were open a slit. Gwynne seated herself on the windowsill and called, “Come in!”
Olav entered the room. “Hello, my pretty! How’s milady doing?”
Gwynne kept her eyes on her work. “I have reached a decision, milord. I will marry you willingly, on two conditions; that I get my dresses back, all of them, and a new one in addition, white silk decked with pearls, diamonds and carbuncles, fifty of each. And Aron is not to be harmed, but to remain in my care, as my step-son. How is this proposal to you, milord?”
Olav looked at her, thinking of how pretty she would look in white silk. “By Odin, you shall have all you ask for! In our wedding, we’ll have to link arms and drink out of each other’s chalice. Also, you have a—unh!” He fell out of the window, a look of surprise on his face. Aron stood before Gwynne, his face white as chalk. Gwynne looked after Olav and saw his body hit a guard, who shouted and looked up. Aron pulled Gwynne in. She grasped his shoulders. “You have to get away from here! They know that you have been in here! Go!”
They parted with a lingering em( )ace and kiss, and Aron ran for the door, but turned. “Gwynne, I need to tell you something. I am Arthur!”
Gwynne stared at him. “But I thought that you were Olav’s son!”
“I was a spy there. I found Olav after his wife’s death and nursed him back to health. He proclaimed me his son. I was technically a prisoner with the Vikings. Gwynne,” he said, looking deep into her dark eyes. “I should have told you from the moment I met you, I love you.” Arthur raced out the door.
Gwynne gazed after him, astonished. Then she turned around. A rock came sailing through the window and hit her cheekbone. She fell unconscious to the floor. When the mob of men came to her door, they beheld a still figure lying on the floor, blood seeping out of her cheek. The new leader, Ewen, picked her up, tied her hands, feet and gagged her. “Take her to the dungeon! She killed Olav! Put her with her ( )others!”
With that, he tossed the limp girl into the mob. Siegfried caught her and carried her off to the dungeon, two stories below the moat. When they got there, a man named Braun unlocked the cell where her ( )others and the remaining Mercian men were. Siegfried threw her in with a yell. “Here ye go, ye stupid ( )ats. No we’ve got the whole family, or wot’s left of it! Hahaharr!”
Jacob perceived the motionless form and crawled over to it. “Edward!” he said in a hoarse whisper. “They put poor Gwynnevyre in here! Dear God, please, no! They’ve wounded her! Irick! Do you still have your healing bag?”
Irick got up and removed two or three ( )icks from the wall, taking out a leather bag. “Yes, your Majesty.”
By now, all the men in the dimly-lit cell had gathered around Gwynne, and Jacob had set her head on his lap. Irick pushed through and started dabbing the blood away with a small piece of cloth. He started to give orders to the men. “Everyone move back, give the poor girl some air! Cor, get me that feverfew; rub it on her cheek, yes, like that. Garvin! Get me that blanket! She needs it to cover her up; she’s shivering like the dickens. You three make me a curtain out of the other blanket. I need to make sure that when those hooligans threw her in here, they didn’t ( )eak any bones. Thank you that will be all!”
With that, he went behind the makeshift curtain and proceeded to examine her. He came out about a quarter of an hour later with a grave face. Edward and Jacob crowded around him. “Yes?” they said at the same time.
Irick said, “Fortunately, no bones are ( )oken. The cut is actually healthier than we expected. The blood had come down farther than the cut was, and made it look like the cut was bigger. But when I washed it, the cut was on the side of her face, not on her cheekbone. So there’s going to be a scar along the bottom of her ear. It’ll be about two inches long. She’s out cold right now, but she’ll be all right.”
Jacob looked up in relief and was about to say something when, from behind the curtain, there was a slight moan. Edward stared at the curtain and said, “She’s awake!”
Irick rushed over, followed by Jacob and Edward. In the space between the curtain and the wall, Gwynne was laying on a small blanket, shivering. “Jacob? Edward?”
They crowded around her. “Gwynne, it’s okay, you’re going to be fine.” Jacob reassured her. Suddenly, out in the corridor, there was a gigantic crash. Ewen, the new commander of the Vikings, threw open the door and rushed into the cell, followed by sixteen men. They looked about and tossed aside the curtain. They snatched up Gwynne and ran out again. But, in their haste, they locked the door and the key fell out onto the cell floor. Jacob and Edward rallied the men, sneaking out of the chamber quite openly.
Gwynne found herself bound for the second time that day. She was horizontally tied to a stick, hoisted on the battlements. By straining her head, she was able to get a view of a massive army outside the castle. She was overjoyed to see Arthur at the front, though how he’d gotten together an army so swiftly was beyond her. He was yelling up at Ewen who was leering over the side of the wall. “Ewen, chief of the Norsemen. I want to come in peace but if you harm even one curl of Gwynnevyre, then you and all the Vikings will pay! Ewen are you paying attention?”
Ewen gave commands. “Quickly, pile ( )ush, firewood and grass beneath her. Braun, run and get a torch.”
Ewen stared down at Arthur. “I just wish to tell you, ‘sire’,” he said mockingly, “that we are capable of doing anything that we wish to do to this castle and Princess Gwynnevyre.”
Gwynne looked at Arthur. He looked helpless, angry, confused, and hurt. She knew that her story was almost over. Ewen was serious. He would hurt her. This man was desperately trying to hide that he was scared. She spoke to him. “Ewen, I know how you’re feeling.” He stared defiantly at her. “I think,” She continued, “that you need something. No, scratch that. You need many things. You need kindness. You need compassion. But most of all, you need someone to love you.”
She took a deep ( )eath. “Ewen, I remember one time when I had disappointed my mother. She and I had had a great big argument. I shouted at her that I hated her and that I never wanted to see her again. She turned white and said, ‘Alright, Gwynnevyre, you will not see me for a week.’ Then she left the room and traveled to Staffordshire, leaving orders that none of my ( )others were to communicate with me. That was the most miserable week of my life, though this day might exceed it.
“I know that feeling. Ewen, all you need is someone that will make you feel like you are something. Everybody is special, each in their own way. Please, Ewen, you are going to make a terrible mistake! If you hurt me or my ( )others, Arthur will make your life horrific. Please, cut my bonds!”
Ewen looked at her. Something inside him melted, for underneath this hard shell of a man, there was a bit of the feminine. He raised his sword. Braun came running up with a torch. Ewen let the sword fall to her stake. Braun took this as a signal and dropped the torch. Gwynnevyre screamed. Arthur shouted, “CHARGE!”
The battle began.
Gwynne never really knew what happened during the battle and she never wished to know. And all that you need to know is that she found herself whisked out of the fire by a tall person, who was found out to be none other than her eldest ( )other, Jacob. Arthur defeated Ewen’s army and banished him from the land. It was a day later when Gwynne was reunited with Arthur. Her feet had been badly burned in the fire, so women from the nearby town of West York were called in to attend her. On that joyful day, he sat her upon a richly adorned stool and told her they were going to Camelot.
When they arrived, King Uther kissed both her cheeks and gave her an entire suite of rooms to her and both her ( )others. When they next met, Arthur took Gwynne to a remote part of the castle garden. She sat on a stone bench, watching as Arthur knelt, proclaimed his love for her and asked for her hand in marriage. She accepted, little knowing that her story had just begun.