At the moment Saber’s sheathed his sword, but his long fingers strangled the hilt. Saber had plundered far too much of Rhys ap Llewellyn’s wealth to feel at ease in Caernarvon. He had taken every precaution he could imagine, yet he figured it would be
worth nothing for him to drop his guard. If his presence became known to the wrong people, he might well need to make a hasty retreat to his good ship Saint-Esprit as the quarry of the coastal overlord’s ravenous armed guards.
Saber had taken great pains to remain anonymous while he finished his business in this little Welsh town. Not even the ravishing fairy woman, the enigmatic lady whom he would now pursue for his bride, knew his Christian name. She did not know who or what he was, not yet.
He cast a careful eye out over the crowd gathered in the main square. Within moments he concluded none of his crew were present. He supposed the Springtide festival had bored them, and they had found revelry in ale and female companionship for
themselves elsewhere. Saber had given them full leave in this port, with the admonishment to use extreme caution. While most of the Welsh people secretly welcomed the French pirate and his crew, the English had been pressing their influence too much for Saber to consider Wales friendly territory. Saber did not want any English axes swinging down on the necks of his good crew men.
He swept his hand over the smooth marble of the fountain basin, and found it still warm with the lingering body heat of the fairy woman. She had departed just moments before, giving him a hasty farewell kiss on his cheek. Where her lips had touched him now tingled in the memory. She asked if she would ever see him again. Saber promised her she would indeed.
His fairy woman was a harpist of remarkable skill who had contributed her magic as part of the festivities. Her hypnotic music and her bewitching song put Saber in a trance, a spell of wonders and dreams, and lured him into the village square. A large crowd had gathered around to hear her. Saber subtly elbowed his way to the front to have a look at the woman of the exquisite voice. He discovered that the voice paled in comparison to her majestic beauty.
When she had finished, Saber took a ladle of spring water to her, so she might refresh her voice. She thanked him, the sensuous curve of her full pink lips tripling the speed of his pulse. Roses caressed her soft cheeks, and with a wave of warmth sweeping through his body, Saber understood that his gesture had touched her. Speaking in English, Saber eagerly praised her performance. English sat on Saber’s tongue like last night’s bad ale, but he could not have grown up in the conquered lands of Aquitaine and not know that crude tongue.
But the fairy woman recognized his French accent, which was almost too thick for him to be understood. To his surprise and delight, she began to speak to him fluently in his native tongue.
That had been many hours ago, hours of conversation and inviting glances and discussing the peculiarities of the world around them. Saber progressed through the many stages of affection, from admiration to infatuation. She shivered in the brisk wind, for her gown had been crafted of a delicate material, and Saber gladly parted with his own cloak to keep her warm. Sometime as they supped together, as they shared the fruit and
popovers she had brought to the festival, Saber concluded this woman, this fairy harpist, was the lady promised him by the Virgin Mary. He was in love with her.
Now, how to make her his?
With one tender, parting glance at the place where they had sat and talked for all those hours, Saber moved into the crowd in search of information. Who was the fairy woman? What father’s daughter did he seek to make his wife?
He passed through the crowd. These people of Caernarvon thought he was a French merchant, no more. Saber enjoyed his masquerade. Seven generations of noble blood were concealed under tanned skin and the rough, lusty-smelling garb of a ready and able sailor. Fifteen years of pirating and infamy remained disguised by a charming smile and a courteous demeanor. Saber realized he hid his piracy much better than his nobility, and that was fine. No one would hang Saber for being a nobleman.
After crossing the square at a measured pace, Saber stood a short distance from an ale stand. A young man Saber had heard called Owein tended the stand, trading full tankards for shiny coins. Saber had noticed Owein’s eyes upon him as he had sat with
the fairy woman, and now wondered what the ale stand keeper might be able to tell him.
He dropped the required coin onto the counter. Owein filled a tankard with an amber- colored draught. Saber raised the tankard into the air, toasting nothing in particular, and took a hearty
sip. He felt his approval rush into his face. “You serve a good brew,” he said to Owein.
“Thank you, sir. I only sell the best.”
“Indeed.” Saber drained his ale, and then turned his attention to his quest. He made certain to look into the young man’s eyes before laying another coin on the counter. “You seem an affable lad. I wonder if you might help me.”
Though Saber’s words had been mangled by his thick accent, Owein understood him and his bribe. “Perhaps.”
Saber rubbed his upper lip, continuing the gesture into a subtle point across the square. “You saw me over there, did you not? By the fountain? I was supping with a young girl.”
“Aye, I saw you.”
“Do you know her?”
Owein chuckled heartily, letting his manners slide for the moment. “Of course, sir. Everyone knows her.”
“Obviously not everyone. Who is she?”
Stunned into a moment of silence, Owein poured ale for another customer and then turned back to Saber. “Well, it’s a bit like this. This is the coast of Wales and a first line of defense for the English king. And if it’s important to the English, you can be sure the
defender and ruler of this coast is also of great importance. Our warlord basks in the favors and bribes of King Henry. But I’m long here.” Owein laughed at himself. “Our overlord is Rhys ap Llewellyn. It was his daughter Tarian who shared the noon meal with you.”
His daughter! Saber could already feel the noose tightening around his neck. No Frenchman in his right mind would go near Castle Caernarvon, let alone seek an audience with the overlord. He sat far too comfortably on a throne supported by the English to look kindly upon any man flying the fleur de lys. Saber imagined ap Llewellyn would be especially discourteous to the pirate who had plundered so much of his wealth.
“Indeed, she is no other man’s daughter, and well we all know it.”
“But the lady—Tarian—she obviously has been gently reared and carefully educated!”
Owein shrugged. “My friend, this is Wales. We value such things in our women and in our wives. Who seeks to pass a cold winter’s night with naught to discuss?” Saber seemed to stare off into the distance, lost in thought, and Owein asked, “You’ve taken a
fancy to her?”
“You could say that.”
Owein coughed once into his closed fist. He was clearly amused, and Saber began to grow irritated. “Well, I can tell you, Lady Tarian is ap Llewellyn’s only daughter and has never married. She has not yet seen twenty years and is all but a spinster, but nor will her father allow her to enter the Church. But ap Llewellyn is seeking in earnest to marry her off to his own advantage as well as to benefit of King Henry’s quest for power and lands.”
This infuriated Saber, but he successfully controlled his emotions. “And have there been any suitors?”
“More than I can count,” Owein said. “Seems there’s no man worth ap Llewellyn’s consideration."
“Is it so?”
“Oh, any one of these men you see here today, they would court her. Any Welshman worth his salt likes a woman who has a spirit to her. And then, well, Tarian is not at all hard on a man’s eyes.”
“Not in the least.”
“But ap Llewellyn, he wants to find some man of power who will also serve his alliance with the English.”
“Perhaps going to him in a suit of armor would best complement his mood.”
“I wouldn’t laugh at the idea.” The young man contemplated Saber for a moment, obviously thinking something through in his mind. “Well, if you’re wanting to court Tarian, your biggest help is standing right over there.” He tipped his head in the direction of a
group of young men, who were enjoying the festival and talking vivaciously. “The tallest one among them is Drew, Tarian’s brother.”
Saber took one look at Drew and quickly decided this was not the kind of man with whom he would want to try conclusions. As a man who had not been blessed with great height, Saber found the towering, red haired man just a bit intimidating. “He looks like he
could eat me alive.”
“Nay, sir. Drew’s a kind heart. Burly as Samson, no doubt, but a tender soul. And far easier to negotiate with than their dragon father, if negotiating be in your plans.”
Skeptical, Saber carefully eyed Drew for several moments. He could hear Drew’s deep, bawdy laugh carrying over the din of the crowd. Drew smiled a great deal and treated everyone around him with open friendliness. Maybe he would even be kind enough to help a lovesick Frenchman woo his sister, Saber thought.
“Hell’s doors, I’d face a real dragon if I could just look on her face one more time,” Saber said aloud.
“Beg your pardon, sir?”
Saber caught himself, and smiled at Owein. “Nothing. You have been most helpful.”
Owein chuckled, shrugging his thin shoulders. “I’m not one to listen to evil tongues. Lady Tarian’s a willful woman, but she’s always been good and kind to me. It would make me happy to see her with a good, young husband.”
“I hope she would like one, herself.” Saber tipped his head in farewell. He slipped back out into the crowd and moved towards Drew, praying that fortune might favor the lovesick.