Dear readers, tonight we print an interview carried in an alchemist’s shop, in an alternate history where the Arthurian legends are real.
The woman strode into my shop, head and back erect. Dressed in light green woolen dress of an early medieval cut. The sleeves and neck were embroidered with the swirling points of Celtic patterns of olde. I waved her to a chair.
“Toss your cloak on the rail, milady,” I said, giving the cauldron a final stir and taste before I raised it another notch above the coals and left it to simmer.
The woman’s cloak was a dark forest green, embroidered with the Celtic Tree of Life symbol. The cloak seemed to shimmer and dance. That’s when I realized the fabric was of the finest wool I had seen, and the design was not embroidered but woven as part of the cloth.
My guest seated herself, still formal. Almost regal. Her blue-grey eyes sparkled in the dim light of the shop. Her silver-gold hair danced with reflected colors from our surroundings.
“May I offer you a potion, or spell after your travels? Your home in Penllyn is far is it?”
“Tea would be preferred,” she said. “But whatever you have about is appreciated. No, Penllyn isn’t far when one have magical means to travel.”
I busied myself getting the water poured and the leaves steeping. I passed her a cup a few moments later.
“Diolch,” she said. “Thank you in my native tongue.”
“Do you take anything with your tea?”
“This is perfectly fine, and appreciated,” Lady Gwen said. “I understand you’d like to learn more about me and my story. Please.” She waved a hand in invitation.
Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?
My early years were in my father’s kingdom, north of the Humber River, though on the west side of our island, in what you would know as Strathclyde, part of Britain. This would have been in the period of time you refer to as the Dark Ages.
What do you do now?
I am first disciple to The Lady, Goddess of Sovereignty of Britannia.
Goddess of Sovereignty?
She rewards the leaders of the land, giving them sovereignty over the people and land, as long as they fulfill the mission of protecting those lands and the people. The goddess is the land, and Britannia is her. The goddess’ concern is that her people thrive and prosper.
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
The goddess sent me to find her second disciple. This woman would become the new champion of the land. When I found Maria dead, along with the corpse of two Witch Hunters, I couldn’t understand why the goddess needed her, that creature she was, to be the new champion of Britain–
The new champion of Britannia? You mean like King Arthur
My former husband was…
Wait! You’re THAT Guinevere?
They are pronounced in similar ways, but let your scribe know that the proper spelling of my name is Gwenhwyfar. I am Cymry, and we use the language your people would know as Old Welsh. But my titles died with my husband. The goddess sent–
A moment please! You are the former queen of all Britain, and this adventure is set in the Dark Ages. What about Lancelot? Did you and he ever…?
There was no Lancelot. He was invented centuries later when the romantics in the Norman lands got hold of the Bardic stories about Arthur’s court. If you read though the works known in your time as the Mabinogion, you’ll find some of the earliest stories of Arthur’s time. The goddess was very active during his reign. I didn’t realize at the time I was to serve her. A century later, when Maria finally arrived on our shores–
I know I shouldn’t ask this, but how old are you?
You may ask. Your readers will decipher it soon enough. Though my century plus may seem old, I am a mere child compared to Maria’s six-hundred year life.
You just called Maria a “creature,” then said she’s six centuries old? What is she?
My confidant. The other side of my heart. My sister in service to the goddess. The best swordswoman ever to walk this earth.
What type of “creature…”? You’ve implied she’s not human.
Your readers would call her vampire, though that word wasn’t invented yet. The closest we had was Boabhan Sith, or Banshee in your tongue. Unfortunately, her enemies had found her before I did. She lay dead. With dead enemies around her.
What sort of enemies?
The Witch Hunters, a guild sanctioned by the Roman Church, seeks to destroy her and all creatures they deem “unholy.” Maria fled to Britannia to escape their clutches. Little did she know they were here too.
Why a blood drinker? Isn’t there a skilled fighter among the British who could be the new champion?
The goddess is being challenged. Another entity wants her power. Throughout time, this shadow of our enemy has been present at the death of each of Britannia’s champions. Even Mabon, first of the protectors, son of the goddess herself, had fallen due to this shadow’s twists.
To fight death, the goddess chose an undead hero. As for skilled fighters… there are none more skilled with the blades than my Maria. I can sit and watch her dance her blade dance for hours. The poetry in her soul, when she holds swords… is indescribable.
So there is a romance there, but this doesn’t seem like the kind of romance one usually finds in an Arthurian story. What is different about you and Maria?
The life of the daughter of a lord or a king is not to find love. We marry for power, for political influence. My marriage to Arthur was that.
I’ve only loved three people in a romantic fashion. Maria is the third. The story she is telling to our scribe, though, is anything but a romance.
She was tortured and held captive. I found her dead, and had to use my own blood to bring her back. That was a very difficult fortnight. I bled myself dry, giving her cup after cup of blood as she lay raving. With every cup I held to her lips, I fell deeper and deeper in love with her. The goddess does that –
The goddess makes you fall in love?
Not exactly. She rewards her faithful. When we walk the path she needs us to, she finds the best companions, the best rewards for us. We can take them or not. The choice is ours.
Maria is my reward. She fill the empty hole in my heart. I seem to have done the same for her. I hope. She is full of indecision, and longs to flee to safety. These Witch Hunters hurt her badly. They have weapons and cords of silver that can harm her kind. The ones who held her captive tortured her. I have no qualms with what she did to them in her bid to escape.
You and Maria are going to save Britannia by yourselves?
Fortunately, the goddess has been calling others to help us. My role for the last century has been to nurture certain families, and show them the path the goddess needs them to walk.
These are the folks in Penllyn?
Of course, Lord and Lady Penllyn are amongst those called to serve, as are their son Cadoc and his wife, the heiress to Lord Meirionydd. And Lady Seren, sister to Lord Cadoc.
Her role is important, but not revealed right away. Our scribe has told her story in one of his later tomes.
Others who have been called include my friend Ruadh, for one. And Lord Emlyn. You’ll why see in the second tome.
You mentioned Ruadh. That name doesn’t sound Welsh.
Ruadh is one of the few men I call friend, outside of the Penllyn family. He aided me when I fought for the goddess. Unfortunately, it was when I went into the highlands, what you call Scotland, to guide his steps away from his murderous kin. He and his family are shifters, and can take the form of bears. It was one of his brothers that began killing kin in order to take the Clan Chief’s chair. The goddess offered Ruadh safety in Penllyn.
You, first disciple and a druidess, needed the aid of a werebear?
On a journey, many years before I met Ruadh, we encountered another blood drinker. A Boabhan Sith. She killed all but myself and one of my father’s guards who had sworn to protect me in my retirement from courtly life. It was to protect him that I accepted the role the goddess had set for me. I drove Murdag off and saved us both. From that day on, I knew my role with the goddess, and have walked the path she laid before me ever since.
Back to your time helping Ruadh? I assume this Murdag had some impact on your return?
Yes. Our scribe has detailed the story in an earlier tome. Ruadh showed his true character and helped me time and again when he could have run and spared himself. He has been by my side, ready to aid wherever the goddess leads us.
Whom (or what) do you really hate?
Hate is such a strong word. Though, after seeing what these Witch Hunters have done to Maria, and others, I reserve any strong feelings for them. Britannia would benefit greatly if they left our shores. I have little qualms with any other religion as long as the priests and monks support the people, and aid them in times of need. The Witch Hunters guild, however, is often the cause of that need.
What does the future hold for you?
Our journey for the goddess has already filled five tomes, as well as the early Penllyn stories. I’m fortunate that Maria enjoys sitting up most nights talking to our scribe. It’s her voice he writes with. But, I fear that the next tome or two may end our story. The enemies of the goddess are pushing us toward an end game that is likely to cost us many friends, if not the goddess and Britannia. There are dark times ahead.
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
With both the Celtic and Roman churches active, as well as the Witch Hunters Guild, some secrets are best kept quiet. Your readers will need to read our stories to see who comes to aid us in our deepest time of despair.
Troy is the author of The Cup of Blood and the Penllyn Chronicles series of Medieval Urban Fantasy stories. An American by birth, he has strong Anglo-Saxon and Scottish roots, but chose to write about Dark Ages Wales. When he isn’t sitting on the balcony of his Los Angeles California apartment making up stories about Maria and Gwen, he can be found giving historical walking tours of the Santa Monica Pier, or playing with little toy soldiers (both historical and fantasy based games) at the local gaming clubs. He even edits NoDiceNoGlory.com, a blog about table-top wargaming.
You can find Lady Gwen on the pages of the Cup of Blood series.
Keep an eye out for further mid-week SPFBO specials! Join us on Friday to meet a girl who ran away from home to discover a world of strange creatures and dark magics. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.