To celebrate Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee Discovering Diamonds is hosting a series of excerpts or articles written by our wonderful review team. For our author reviewers: the theme is an excerpt from one of their novels portraying royalty - or an equivalent leader-type character. For our non-writer reviewers: a favourite monarch and/or novel about Royalty... In other words, an enjoyable mix of entertainment to acknowledge Queen Elizabeth II's longest reign in British history! 70 years!
God Bless you Ma'am.
(say ma'am to rhyme with 'jam' not 'farm')
An excerpt from Helen Hollick's first novel
(originally published in 1994)
Uthr Pendragon is dead, leaving, it is believed, no heir - but Cunedda, Prince of Gwynedd, reveals the truth about a boy...
With ringing triumph Cunedda finished his speech. “There is another Pendragon – still young, I grant, we need wait for him to come of age. We, Uthr and I, had hoped we would not need to reveal him until he was ready, but that was not to be.” Cunedda chivvied Arthur before him and shouted above the rising excitement, his voice ringing out almost to the watching mountains. “Here, before the hallowed sanctity of our Stone, I give you your next king. I give you the Pendragon – Arthur!”
He stepped back leaving Arthur to stand alone as a great clamour rose up into the sky. The lad smiled now, the pain and sorrow fading with that great roar of acclaim. Cunedda was wrong: five had known Uthr had his heir. Arthur had known, all these years in his dreams and thoughts, he had known Uthr to be his father. Why else had he loved the man so, and the man been so fond of a lad? All the doubts and fears planted by Morgause fell away. He grinned, broadly, triumphantly, at the pride in Cunedda’s face, the unexpected pleasure on those of his sons. Arthur winked boyishly at the exultant Gwenhwyfar.
Unexpected, Cunedda knelt before the lad, offering his sword as a token of his loyalty. Few heard the words he spoke, above that tumult of approval raised by those watching men. It did not matter, all knew the oath of allegiance.
“To you, Lord, I give my sword and shield, my heart and soul. To you, Lord, I give my life, to command as you will.”
Arthur could not hide his consternation at so great a man kneeling at a boy’s feet. With shaking fingers, he touched Cunedda’s offered sword then, impulsively, he raised the man and embraced him as a friend. If it were possible, the roar increased. Men of Gwynedd yelled their delight at seeing their lord accepted by the new Pendragon, and men of Uthr, heartsore and bruised, shouted and cheered, relieved to have their anxiety and uncertainty so splendidly lifted.
One by one the sons of Gwynedd stepped forward to follow their father’s example. Etern too knelt. “I am not yet come to manhood, I cannot swear oath to you. But this I can swear, Arthur, when the time comes you will not be wanting for a more loyal sword, for mine shall be yours, whenever you have need of it.”
Arthur choked, almost unable to speak. He clasped his friend’s arm and stammered, “Then I shall indeed be blessed with a greater fortune than I deserve.”
As Etern stepped aside, Gwenhwyfar, with her head high, strode forward. The sun burst through a low covering of misty cloud, making her hair and jewels sparkle with dazzling brilliance. She knelt solemnly before Arthur, her grace and hint of woman’s beauty showing clearly through the lankiness of her child’s body, catching every watcher’s attention. The noise abated. No woman took the oath of loyalty. What was this girl-child about?
She held Arthur’s gaze and her voice, young though it was, carried clear and bold. “I too am of the blood of Gwynedd. Were I born male I would swear my oath, but I am woman-born. I have no shield or sword.”
Arthur took her hands in his. Like a fool he felt a sudden urge to weep. Looking down at her earnest face, his dark eyes seeing deep into the hidden secrets of her tawny flecked green, he realised how much he wanted her for his own.
Tremulously Gwenhwyfar said, “I have something else to give, Lord.” Her heart was hammering. “When I am woman-grown I shall have a greater gift to pledge. I offer you, my Lord, Arthur Pendragon, to use how you choose, my unborn sons.”
The family, ranged behind the Stone, roared delight and approval along with the excited host. Cunedda almost burst with pride as he shouted with the rest of them. Aye, his only daughter was as fine a woman as the one he had taken in marriage. Had he not always known it would be so?
Arthur gripped Gwenhwyfar’s hands and raised her to her feet. He spoke quietly, words for her alone, not trusting the emotion to lie easy. “I accept your pledge, my Cymraes fach – only, before you take him, ensure your future husband agrees also.”
Gwenhwyfar tossed her head, a little annoyed. “I told you: I will not wed with any but the best.”
Arthur grinned, suddenly confident, emboldened. “Would you consider a Pendragon the best?”
The men of the war host were jostling forward, eager to take the oath. Gwenhwyfar found herself swept aside, her answer lost to Arthur’s ears.
“I will not bear my sons to anyone less.”
About the author:
Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales (Amberley Books) and Life of A Smuggler (Pen & Sword).
She lives in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon, runs Discovering Diamonds, and occasionally gets time to write...