Home > The Forgotten Kingdom (The Lost Queen Trilogy #2)

The Forgotten Kingdom (The Lost Queen Trilogy #2)
Author: Signe Pike

I.


The battle of Arderydd

between the sons of Eliffer

and Gwenddolau, son of Ceidio.

In which battle Gwenddolau fell:

Myrddin went mad.

—Annales Cambriae, entry for the year AD 573

 

 

PROLOGUE


Lailoken

Hart Fell, the Black Mountain

Kingdom of the Selgovae

Late December, AD 573

The snows have come.

The cold seeps into my bones. Winter cuts into the mouth of this steep and dead-grassed valley, and the men huddle closer to the hearth, but no fire can warm us—winter in its bleakness leaves us shut for too many hours within these squat, wattled huts. We cannot escape the ghosts that followed as we fled, friends and fellow warriors. Cousins. Nephews. Brothers.

I wake in the night to the haunting blast of a battle horn. To the sound of a thousand feet rushing toward the fortress through the river below. In sleep, I see bodies piled in heaps, bloodied. Sightless eyes. In sleep, my heels are slipping once more in mud, sliding backward into the muck, spears thrusting at my legs and swords battering my shield as I brace myself in the shield wall. “Hold,” I cry. “Hold!”

I wake to find only hollow-eyed survivors, their eyes understanding in the dark.

When the cavalry charged, the thundering of horses swallowed our battle cry. Never had I seen an army so vast—an angry horde of Britons, my own countrymen. We shared ancestors with even the most despicable among them; cowards who would not join us to fight the Angles came now, to finish us.

We watched from high atop the fortress walls as they crept across our fields like so many fleas. We lit the brush fires. Let the smoke sting their eyes and clog their throats—let them taste our bitter battle fog.

And as we stood, grim-faced in our armor, spear shafts in hand, a moment before the nightmare began, a single red deer fled from the forest below.

A doe.

A shaft of sun caught the glory of autumn leaves and her sleek, tawny pelt, and for a moment I was a boy again, standing with my twin sister, Languoreth, on the banks of the Avon Water as we watched a stag drink in the shallows of the river.

A moment of grace before the horror of destruction.

Now it is Yule, the day of the longest night.

There are twelve days in winter when the sun stands still, and we warriors with our night terrors and our ill-knitting wounds and our bloody-faced ghosts need to conquer the darkness or we will be consumed by it. And so, at sunset, the men stood or propped themselves up as I spoke the old words and lit the Yule log.

The woman who minds the goats had come the day before to take the stale mats from the floor, laying down clean woven rushes that smelled soft and sweet, a distant memory of summer. She brought with her the charred remains of a new year’s fire, an offering to bless our hearth. “For luck,” she’d said, “so far from your homes.”

Her gaze lingered upon the mottled scar upon my cheek that runs from temple to chin, the welt I’d borne now for eighteen winters, half-hidden by my beard.

“Christians,” I’d said.

She’d nodded as if I needn’t say more. Here in the lands of the Selgovae, Christ had not yet taken hold. Perhaps his priests were too frightened by the shades and sharp-toothed creatures that frequent the vast Caledonian Wood.

Now my beard grows long.

I think of my wife and her thick, honey-smooth hair, the way she tilted her head to gather it, sweeping her fingers across the back of her neck. She is yet alive, I can feel her across the distance.

I can feel she is breathing.

She tethers me to my body when my spirit wants to flee, for as the days pass, my mind turns dark. When I sit in contemplation, my mind begins to slip. There is a beast that stalks in the pit of night.

I fear it will take me.

On the bleakest mornings, I climb the icy path up the valley to seek solace at the spring. The trickle of mountain waters is speaking.

Iron in blood, iron in water.

My sister’s husband hunts us with dogs.

Old Man Archer says, “Rhydderch may have dogs, but we Selgovae are wolves. He will never catch you out, not whilst we conceal you here.”

It is true—no one steps foot in the Caledonian Deep without being seen. The Selgovae have watchers who appear and disappear as if made from mist. And we warriors of Pendragon can climb quickly, those of us who are sound. We can slip into the deep chasm of these hills while Rhydderch and his hunters are still specks far below.

And yet one ear is ever pricked for the crow sound of our watchmen.

I do not know whether I fear him or am calling him as I stand upon the boulder, high above the iron salt waters, looking out over the winter hills.

I stand upon the boulder and wait for Rhydderch and his men.

I wait.

I watch.

And I remember.

 

 

CHAPTER 1


Lailoken

Strathclyde to the Borderlands

Kingdom of Strathclyde

Late Summer, AD 572

It was the time of year when daylight stretched long. Travelers were often spied long into the lingering hours of dusk, yet on this day, the moors still blazed hot beneath sun when we stopped to make camp for the night.

We were bound for the Borderlands, two days’ ride from my boyhood home, the fortress of Cadzow. We’d followed the wide and glittering twists of the river Clyde south and east, through lofty patches of oak and ash, past merchants rowing upstream in their currachs and men fishing from little coracles. We passed timber-built grain mills and neatly thatched tenant crofts as we traveled through the villages of my distant kin: men and women yet loyal to me and my sister, the children of Morken. Our father had been a fierce and honorable king. But as the people gathered to greet our caravan along the road, it was not me alone they cheered. They rushed from their huts to catch sight of the man who rode by my side—Uther Pendragon. Though he was not their ruler, he and his warriors had fought for many a winter to keep the Angles of Bernicia at bay.

Gradually, the terrain shifted, and we left the villages behind. Soon hills rose turtle-backed in the distance, where pastures gave way to the wild, boggy expanse of moor. It was this land that spoke to me, for it led into the heart of the new kingdom that had become my home. The kingdom ruled by my foster brother, Uther.

But Uther had not always been my foster brother’s name.

He was a boy of fifteen winters called Gwenddolau when he first joined Emrys Pendragon. Emrys was a leader who’d inspired a brotherhood to rise up against the Angles, invaders from across the North Sea. The Angles had gained footing on our soil as hired mercenaries, but before long, through violence, they’d carved out a kingdom from stolen land and named it Bernicia. In resisting them, Emrys and his men became known throughout our land as the Dragon Warriors. There were battles, and then there was peace for a time. But when Emrys was murdered, war stirred once more. We chose the man best suited to defend Emrys’s lands. In becoming Pendragon’s successor, Gwenddolau became something more than a man. He became hero, protector, king.

He became Uther Pendragon.

The Other Pendragon.

And I…

I’d become more than a warrior, or son of Morken. I was a Wisdom Keeper, trained from a boy to be a king’s counsellor, his most trusted advisor. We defended our stretch of the Borderlands through the vigilance of our scouts and the brunt of our swords. Our tenant farmers were grateful. The Gods protected us. The land produced. All we required, we possessed in bounty.

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