Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fantastic review of Valley Of Shields!

This was a lovely review from Newtown Review Of Books:

This fast-paced epic fantasy has plenty of Machiavellian twists and poses some deeper questions.
Book Two of Duncan Lay’s Empire of Bones trilogy opens with an emotionally devastated Rhiannon trying to deal with a series of powerful shocks. She has found that the men closest to her, Huw the Velsh bard, and Sendatsu, the elf banished from his home, have both lied to her. She has also found that she can use magic powerfully and that she has just killed her father, the manipulative Hector, in a spectacularly extreme way. As well, the use of untrained magic has depleted her energies. She feels fragile and alone:
She walked around Hector’s body till she could see his face. His last expression was agonised, his pain frozen for all time. His eyes bulged and his mouth was full of blood, his beard thick with it. She so much wanted to say something to him, but the words would not come, only tears. Rhiannon fell to her knees and sobbed for everything, starting with her lost childhood.
Sendatsu uses this moment to urge that she come back with him to the elf realm of Dokuzen. He sees that he has a chance to reunite with his children and his love, Asami, and he knows that Rhiannon needs tutoring in the wise use of magic, so in this book the focus moves from Vales to Dokuzen. Huw also insists on coming to Dokuzen, although, at present, Rhiannon will have little to do with him.
In Dokuzen there are three power centres. Sumiko, with her magic-weavers, and Jaken, Sendatsu’s arrogant scheming father, both wish to rule Dokuzen and depose the third power Daichi the entrenched elf Elder. Lay reveals their betrayals skilfully so that the reader is always intrigued and unsure of what to expect. Unexpected liaisons and tricky alliances occur in the face of a well-planned attack from King Mark of Forland.
On one level the story is fast and pacy; there are battles and skirmishes well told, and the way Lay uses conversations between the main characters to move the tale along and reveal the deviousness of some of them is very deft and pleasing. However, there are also philosophical depths lurking in the narrative. For example, the old question of when it is OK to lie is aired; and, interestingly, Asami’s and Rhiannon’s problems raise issues to do with the gender wars; they are both struggling with the patriarchal values surrounding them. When to trust is also an extremely important aspect of the story, and in the telling of the age-old battles between elves and humans we are led to ask who owns knowledge. The chance to play with these ideas adds enormously to the quality of the narrative:
Huw had translated more words from the book found in the Velsh church. It alternately horrified and delighted him. He was horrified by what had been done to his people – and to every other human in these lands – by the so-called elves. But he was delighted to learn that there had been humans with magic, humans worshipping Aroaril, humans with the knowledge to build and farm and heal. The future was not set in stone – magic did not have to be just for elves. Knowledge did not have to be just for Elfarans.
King Ward, the ambitious Forlish leader, also has designs on the treasures and skills of Dokuzen and he aims to breach the barrier that keeps elves in and gaigin humans out. So a great deal is happening in the forests of Dokuzen; both magical and military events move the story along. There is also a degree of humour to be found in the talk of foot soldiers discussing their desire to see elf maidens and other aspects of their fate as soldiers.
There is no summary of the first book at the beginning of this one: I think it would have been useful; however, the main thrust of the story can be understood, although I would recommend that the reader find a copy of the first volume to enjoy the slow build up of characterisation that underlies events here. The vibrantly presented characters and the ways in which they are made to play off each other are among the main attractions of the story.
Often the second instalment of a trilogy can be a little flat, in a holding pattern and not able to resolve problems because the next volume is looming. This is not the case here: a fast-moving narrative and very clever Machiavellian developments ensure that our interest continues throughout, and bode well for Book Three.
Duncan Lay Valley of Shields: Empire of Bones Two, HarperVoyager, 2013, PB, 560pp, $29.99



Readers of my original series know that, often, there are scenes and/or characters that are cut out of early drafts. Sometimes these are removed because they are not working, sometimes because their sub-plot is slowing down the action and sometimes because I need to get back under my 180,000 word limit!

Now, when you buy a DVD, you get to see extra scenes that were left on the cutting room floor.

Here, you get the DVD extras from Bridge Of Swords. These scenes may give you some extra insight into characters, or you may well judge that it was a good thing I cut them out!



He did not have long to wait. The sound of footsteps made him run to the door, so he could see who was coming. To his relief - and also his anticipation - it was Rhiannon. He checked she was alone and, before she could even get to the door, he had thrown back the bolt and rushed out to meet her.

`Huw!’ she stopped in her tracks. `What are you doing here? Is everything all right?’

`No, it’s not,’ he grabbed her arm and hustled her into the room, kicking the door shut and locking it.

`What is going on?’ she demanded.

`We don’t have much time. You need to come with me,’ Huw said carefully, urgently. He had rehearsed this a couple of times, trying to anticipate any problem areas and where she might ask questions.

`What? Why?’

Huw held out the signet ring. `Do you recognise this?’

Rhiannon reached out an picked it up. `Father’s ring! What has happened?’ She could feel her heart beating, like a frightened bird. She had walked back expecting to have nothing more than a comforting bath and a fine supper for her evening - now she had an clearly agitated Huw in her room and she knew him well enough to see he was genuinely upset.

`Rhiannon, I am sorry, but your father is dead,’ Huw said carefully. `You have to be brave now and listen to the rest of what I am going to say.’

`What? No! How?’ Rhiannon felt the first tears pricking at her eyes.

`I came here because I am leaving for the north tonight and I hoped to say goodbye to you. But when I got here, I heard an argument outside in the sitting room. King Ward was here, with his guards, and your father. Ward was demanding you.’

`Me?’ Rhiannon felt as if she could not breathe properly. Her heart was pounding and she did not know whether she was going to burst into tears at any moment. She tried desperately to focus on what Huw was saying.

`Your dancing has inflamed his brute passions. He means to take you, by force if necessary. Just like he would with a country. He will force you to his bed. He came here, wanting your father to help persuade you to submit to his lusts. But your father refused, he vowed to protect you while there was life in his body. There was a fight, I could not see what happened but, next thing I knew, he was being carried away by the guards - and his ring rolled under the door. I do not think he would take it off while he was alive …’

Rhiannon clutched the ring in tight, unable to stop the tears now.

`He wouldn’t ever take it off. They must have done something to him,’ she cried.

`I am so sorry,’ Huw eased an arm around her shoulders and patted her head gently. `I wish I could make this easier for you. But we cannot let his sacrifice be in vain. You must come with me now.’

Rhiannon tried to think, her head was just a whirl and she could not hold onto anything beyond her father’s signet ring.

`Go with you? Where?’

Huw took a deep breath. `Well, you remember me saying that I am Velsh? We need to go to the Vales …’

`I can‘t go there!’ she gasped.

`We have to! It is the only place that might be safe - if we go anywhere in Forland, Ward will find us. And going to the southern countries is not going to be safe either - he has his armies fighting down there. No, we need to go north. None will suspect that - you are the only one who knows that I am Velsh.’

`But, the Vales? There is nothing up there! There’s no towns or cities, nowhere for me to perform - and Ward is sending men up there to raid and terrorise the Velsh. I need to go somewhere better …’

`There is nowhere else!’ Huw snapped. `And by going there, we can stop what Ward is doing. It is the only safe place for us - trust me…’

`This doesn’t make any sense!’ she cried.

`I know,’ Huw agreed. `It is madness. But we have both seen enough of Ward to know that …’

`No, none of this makes any sense! Why did Ward come here, why did my father fight armed men - why were you here?’

Rhiannon was struggling to come to terms with what Huw was saying. Her life had always been so ordered, so controlled. She had known what was going to happen, had been told exactly what she had to do. Now her father, the one overwhelming guiding light in her life, was gone. She felt like a ship being blown by the wind, unable to steer or take control of its passage. And the thought of leaving not just Crondon but Forland itself was just horrifying.

Huw could see the conversation was heading down a dangerous route. Worse, this was all taking too long. Her father could return at any moment - and that would only be the start of his problems. He knew she was used to being told what to do by her father - he had to tap into that

`Listen!’ he snapped, and her head jerked up.

`We don’t have time for explanations, or even to cry properly. If we are to escape, we have to do it now. Now, I am not your friend?’

`You are,’ she agreed.

`Your only friend in this castle?’

`Probably my only friend anywhere,’ she admitted.

`Then you have to trust me. We need to get out of here before Ward and his guards return. They are probably looking for you even now. Time is slipping away. Take my hand.’

Rhiannon did not want to. She wanted someone to slowly and carefully explain what was going on. Even better, she wanted everything to go back the way it was. She had been happy this morning. People applauded every performance she did, her father said he was proud of her work, and she had Huw as a friend, to sneak out into the city and enjoy a little freedom, the only freedom she had ever tasted. This story of Huw’s, it did not quite sound right to her. She had the feeling there was more to it than what he was saying. But, against that feeling, was the cold, hard reality of her father’s signet ring in her hand. She had never seen him take it off before. Something had to have happened for it to be here, rather than on his finger.

`Rhiannon! We have to go now!’ Huw barked at her, and the habit of obedience was too strong. People had always known what was best for her. Her father had always known what was best for her but, if he was truly gone, the next person she looked to - the only other person she really knew - was Huw.

Dumbly, she took his hand and followed him.

`That’s right. Come with me and we can get to safety,’ Huw promised.

He did not know if that was true, he did not know if she would stay with him. Worse, he was struggling to maintain the story he had made up - only long years of practise on the stage was enabling him to keep his emotions hidden. He felt terribly guilty for tricking her like this, and worried what would happen if she ever found out the truth. But he was also excited by the thought of running away with her, and the two of them being alone together tonight.

Rhiannon only dimly registered as he made her take a large bag stuffed full of clothes and helped her exchange her soft dancing shoes for a pair of stout leather travel shoes. But, in a way, it was also strangely comforting. What Huw had told her was shocking in so many ways, not least because it threatened to force her to think for herself, make her own decisions. She had no experience of doing anything like that. Sinking back into blind obedience was far more reassuring. Trying to unravel the riddle of what he was saying, trying to make sense of it was a daunting prospect. Far easier just to do what he said, go along with what was being arranged for her.

Together, they raced down the servants’ corridor.




Readers of my original series know that, often, there are scenes and/or characters that are cut out of early drafts. Sometimes these are removed because they are not working, sometimes because their sub-plot is slowing down the action and sometimes because I need to get back under my 180,000 word limit!

Now, when you buy a DVD, you get to see extra scenes that were left on the cutting room floor.

Here, you get the DVD extras from Bridge Of Swords. These scenes may give you some extra insight into characters, or you may well judge that it was a good thing I cut them out!



`You are a lucky dog,’ William said.

`Are you talking to me, or to one of the pups?’ Huw asked with a smile.

`You of course! The whole court watches Rhiannon dance and lusts after those legs but you are the one who has been gently prying those open these past few days …’

`You have a filthy mind,’ Huw told him. `I most certainly have not been doing anything with Rhiannon - we are more friends than anything, although I admit I would like it to be more ...’

`And yet I doubt her father would be impressed that you are even talking to her!’ William interrupted.

Huw shrugged. The truth of that was indisputable. At another time he would have been happy to chat with William but his guilt and worry about delaying his departure to the north had been growing by the day and even his feelings for Rhiannon could not outweigh it. He had to go. Even the knowledge that such a delay would throw off any connection between his departure and the attacks on the Vales was not enough to hold him any longer.

`Listen, I didn’t come to swap bawdy stories and lewd suggestions with you. I need to leave Ward’s court and Crondon…’

William goggled at him. `Are you mad, man?’ he managed to splutter. `You have it all in your hands - why would you throw that away?’

`There are things you do not know about me. The truth of that is why I must leave …’

This time William was much quicker to stop him. `Don’t tell me anything,’ he said gently, leaning forwards to grasp Huw by the shoulder. `If you are about to do something to anger the King, it is better that I know nothing. Because if he so much as suspects that I knew something and did not stop it, or at least warn him … well, even my mother-in-law might be horrified by what he will do to me. I am fond of my skin, and would like to keep it attached to the rest of me.’

Huw nodded. `Good luck my friend. I have to go and tell Rhiannon now. She does know …’

`Well, she is safe enough. And all she has to do is flutter her legs at the King and he will forgive her anything else,’ William grinned, then his smile faded. `Good luck. I hope to see you again. Any time you are in Winterbourne, come in and see me. Unless, of course, you are a hunted outlaw, in which case …’

Huw patted him on the shoulder and left then. He had his bag packed - he planned to duck through the castle passages to see Rhiannon for one last time and then purchase a couple of horses and head north. He was sure he could make good time and, of course, the King would go looking for him in Browns Brook, to the south. He had looked it up on the map once, and it was more than a hundred miles to the south of Crondon, so he would easily beat any pursuit to the Vales.

Keeping an eye out for guards, he slipped into the servant passages and then hurried down the now-familiar route to Rhiannon’s bedroom. He knocked softly but, when there was no reply, he eased the door open and stepped inside. Instantly he felt a pang of disappointment - she was not there. For a wild moment he thought about trying to find Thomas, or one of the other officials, and discover where she was. Then he sighed. He could not take the risk of running into a noble who wanted him to perform somewhere in the castle. Disconsolately he wandered around her bedroom, brushing his fingers over one of her dresses, laid over the back of a chair. He was about to turn back to the passageways when the sound of voices made him freeze. His legs refused to work for a moment, as he imagined what would happen should Hector walk into the bedroom with Rhiannon, then his keen ears recognised the King’s voice. Curious, he eased up to the door and pressed his ear up against the wood. That seemed to do little but there was a small peephole at head height and he carefully eased it open. Peering through, he could see Hector and King Ward settling themselves down in the room outside, a pair of guards, facing the other way, watching the door into their apartments.

But, better than being able to see, the removal of the wood plug meant he could hear them, almost as if he were in the same room.

`Your majesty is too kind to honour us with a visit such as this,’ Hector said quickly. `I am sorry that my daughter could not be here - Rhiannon is performing for several Lords and their ladies in the west wing. She will be back soon …’

`I know where she is,’ Ward interrupted. `That is why I commanded you to meet me now.’

Hector inclined his head. `What can I do for your majesty?’

`You can do what I believe you planned to, all along. Your daughter is like a fire in my blood. From the first time I saw her dance, I have desired her. Everything you have done, the dances she has performed, the clothes she has worn, all has been designed to catch my attention.’

`That is but a happy coincidence, your majesty …’

`Save me the sugar coating on top of the cake. What is it you want?’

`What is it you want, your majesty?’ Hector asked politely.

Huw felt as if he were holding his breath.

`Your daughter,’ Ward replied simply.

Huw had to stuff his fist into his mouth to stop himself from making any noise. The thought about Rhiannon in Ward’s bed made him feel physically sick. On top of everything else, Ward was married and his Queen was notorious for making sure unpleasant things often happened to those who took her place in the marital bed. Surely Hector, with his over-protectiveness and insistence that men were only interested in Rhiannon for her body, would refuse!

`I thought your majesty might say that. It is, of course, a delicate matter …’

`Get on with it. Your price?’ Ward demanded.

Huw shook with anger. How could they barter over her like this? It was revolting and he was tempted to storm out there and tell them so - except for the fact that it would almost certainly result in his imprisonment, and probably his death.

`You see, your majesty, I have trained the girl well, in more ways than one. You do not want a simple conquest, an unwilling girl taken against her will. You are all-powerful, so that would of course be possible, but why would you settle for just that? You have seen what she can do with her legs - things no other woman can. Her flexibility, her suppleness - this is something that no other can possibly offer you. You want her to bring all those willingly to your bed chamber, do you not?’

Huw was torn between a desire to be sick and an even stronger desire to punch Hector in the face. How could the bastard do this to his daughter? She trusted him, she believed him, and all the time he was planning this! It was no better than fattening a calf for slaughter at the market!

`You have planned well, Hector. Yes, I do want that,’ Ward said gratingly.

`Then my price is two-fold. Firstly, I want a proclamation from yourself, to be sent out to every town and village under your sway, to say that Rhiannon of Hove is the greatest singer and dancer you have seen in all your years on the throne, and that Hector of Hove made her that way.’

`Easily done,’ Ward agreed.

`She comes to your bed for a month - no more - and at the end, sire, her contract is paid out in full and we shall return to Hove.’

`Interesting. Why so?’

`I know that … things … can happen to those women who share your bed who are not the Queen, your majesty. I would not wish that on Rhiannon.’

Ward paused for a moment and Huw wished there was something he could hit in anger, which would not give away his position.

`Your concern for your daughter is touching,’ he said drily. `Your price is agreeable to me.’

`Excellent! Now, I took the liberty of having these contracts drawn up, to that effect. We can both make our mark at the bottom and then I can begin working on Rhiannon, getting her ready for your majesty.’

`You have planned this out well. I respect that in a man,’ Ward chuckled. `Well, if you can deliver what I want, this will be a bargain.’

Huw felt like he was burning inside. Even if he had not been so attracted to Rhiannon, the thought of a friend being sold off to that bastard Ward was more than he could stomach. He could not understand how anyone could do that to their child. And the Forlish said everyone else were barbarians!

He watched, furious, as Hector warmed a stick of red wax over a candle, before dripping it onto the bottom of a long piece of parchment. Ward leaned forwards and pressed his signet ring into the warm wax, leaving his official seal, then Hector leaned in and pressed his own ring next to it.

`That is a very fine signet ring,’ Ward said conversationally.

`It should be - it was a gift from your majesty, near on 20 years ago!’ Hector oiled. `It has been my treasured possession since then and I have never been without it.’

`May I?’ Ward asked.

Hector obediently tugged at the ring, but it seemed stuck on his finger. Smiling at the King, he hauled at it with all his strength - and it flew off into the air, curving a perfect parabola towards Huw’s terror-stricken eyes. He willed it to stop, to bounce away, but he heard it ring on the flagstones, then begin rolling. He offered up a silent prayer but, before he had finished, it rolled underneath the door and nudged against the toe of his boot.

Horrified, he backed away, as footsteps rushed over to the door. It was already too late to attempt to make the safety of the servant’s passage and he was desperately thinking what he could do to explain himself when the door’s handle rattled.

`Locked! Curse it! Rhiannon must have locked it when she left for her performance!’ he heard a furious Hector shout.

`Leave it, my dear Hector. It is not going anywhere. I was merely asking, because I was going to offer you a new one, with more gold and jewels. Now, I need to meet with my Castellan, so I cannot tarry here. Accompany me and we shall talk a little about the past and a great deal about the future.’

`Of course, your majesty,’ Hector let go of the door handle and Huw heard him walking away.

Weak with relief, Huw sank into a nearby chair and thanked Aroaril he had visited the privies before coming on this little expedition. But what was he to do now? Instinctively he knew he could not just walk away, knowing Rhiannon was to be auctioned off to Ward, groomed by her scum of a father to be the willing bedfellow of a brutal King, then to be discarded by them both when they had what they wanted from her. It made his blood boil. Just telling her would not be enough, either. He was sure that Hector would use every bit of trickery he had to persuade her to do this - even a warning from Huw may not be enough to get her to turn away.

The signet ring caught his eye as it lay on the floor and he picked it up, feeling the weight of the thing. It helped him think. The only way was to get Rhiannon to go with him. It was the only way to protect her. He told himself it was for her, not for him, although the thought of the two of them alone together, her dependent on him, grateful for all he had done to help her, sent a frisson of excitement through his lower belly. He was going north, when they would think he was going south - they could escape easily.

The only trick was getting Rhiannon to believe him. It was a strange tale - and she would be reluctant to accept that her father had been lying to her all these years, and that all he wanted was to use her to make his fortune. Huw was under no illusions as to how much such a proclamation was worth to someone like Hector. The hopefuls who turned up every year to try and win a place at Ward’s court would pay richly for the privilege of being coached by Hector.

But would Rhiannon doubt his tale and refuse to go? He feared the habit of obedience was too strong and, by the time she discovered he was speaking the truth, it would be too late.

He gripped the signet ring, a rising tide of excitement within him. Of course! The answer was to make up a story that she would believe, that would get her out of there and travel north with him.

Thinking swiftly, he weighed up several ideas hoping that she would return before Hector. And just in case it was going to be a close thing, he hurriedly packed a bag for her, leaving the expensive powders on a table and most of her impractical performance outfits, but choosing her travel cloak, and other more sensible items.



Readers of my original series know that, often, there are scenes and/or characters that are cut out of early drafts. Sometimes these are removed because they are not working, sometimes because their sub-plot is slowing down the action and sometimes because I need to get back under my 180,000 word limit!

Now, when you buy a DVD, you get to see extra scenes that were left on the cutting room floor.

Here, you get the DVD extras from Bridge Of Swords. These scenes may give you some extra insight into characters, or you may well judge that it was a good thing I cut them out!


Huw packed, in a daze. Even though he had heard the words, he could scarcely believe them. How could Forland decide to crush the Vales? For as long as he could remember, his father, and others, had declared that the Vales were not worth the trouble of a full invasion. They were right, in a way. But this was worse. He could well imagine the havoc a few hundred Forlish warriors could create among the Vales. He had seen enough of them over the last few weeks to know that they thrived on battle and slaughter. Even the toughest Velshman, without weapons or training, would be unable to stop them. And to have their freedom taken away, to give up their pride and bend the knee to Forland … it was monstrous. As soon as he heard it, he knew he had to return, and warn everyone.

But then he paused in his packing and thought again. Realistically, what could they do? There was no army, little leadership and not even the semblance of unity. Villages traded with each other, to a degree, but were just as likely to feud with the villagers on the other side of the hill they both lived on. And even if, by some miracle, the Velsh could come together to drive out Ward’s bandits, what then? With Forlish pride on the line, Huw knew full well that Ward would not let the Velsh enjoy their victory. He would bring his armies north - the armies that had never been defeated.

No matter what, the Vales were going to come under Forlish rule. Huw knew what that would mean, and how he and his father would need money if they were to survive. Those who were rich flourished under Ward’s rule, while everyone else suffered.     

And the reality of packing also drove home the fact this was the end of his dream. He had money now, but hardly enough to buy a farm. What was he going to do in the new Forlish-ruled Vales? He doubted they would want to listen to a Velsh bard, especially one that had left the King. While he was living here, he was under the King’s protection, enjoying the King’s favour. But that would all stop the moment he left and headed north. The King’s men would make sure that nobody would hire a bard that had insulted Ward. If he stayed, if he spent the whole year here, he would be able to miss the worst of the takeover of the Vales, could arrive home with enough money to make sure his father was able to live in comfort and be able to take care of him.

Perhaps it would be better if he stayed. He could not stop what was coming, but he might well be able to do more to help by being here than by going home. After all, it was not as if he was any good with a sword, or knew how to organise a defence of the Vales.

He began to swiftly unpack, pulling clothes back out of his bag and laying them again on the bed. The more he thought about that, the more it made sense. Staying here might be the best course of action, although he should still send a message to his father, warning him. He toyed with the thought of asking Ward to ensure his parents were protected but dismissed that. With Ward’s eye already turning north to the Vales, he could imagine being asked to help the King’s soldiers choose their targets. He could not bear to think he had anything to do with the burnings, terror, rape and murder that would follow.

Imagining that caused his thoughts to turn again. What would his father say if he knew Huw had sat back and let that happen? He could not bear to see the look in his father’s eyes when he saw him again. He had to go back and do the right thing. Slowly, reluctantly, he began to pack again, putting back the clothes he had taken out. 

He almost did not notice the knock at the door.

`Hugh! What are you doing in there?’ William’s voice made Huw jump.

Guiltily, he bundled up his bag and clothes that he had been packing, and hurled them into the wardrobe, before racing over to the door.

`Sorry, I was miles away,’ he said with a shaky smile, opening the door just a crack.

`Aren’t you going to let me in? What, have you got a woman in there, you lucky dog?’ William winked.

`What? No, there’s nobody else in here,’ Huw insisted, opening the door further.

`Really? Oh, well then, I’ve got no interest in coming inside,’ William shrugged. `But that may change later.’

`Why?’ Huw was still on edge, his mind already halfway north.

`I have a note here from your friend. One Rhiannon of Hove. She slipped it to me while patting my dogs. And by that I mean the small fluffy ones in my act,’ he finished with a leer.

`That might be hilarious to the King’s court but I don’t find it funny,’ Huw told him, reaching out for the note that William was gently waving at him, held between two fingers.

`Ah, ah, ah!’ William whisked the note out of reach. `Details, man, details! How did you get a note from the King’s favourite? What went on in that meeting?’

`Nothing!’ Huw tried to look as though it was all innocent, and he cared nothing for what was in the note, when inside he was burning to get his hands on it. `Her father could not attend, so I looked after her.’

`Very well, from the looks of this. I shall have to keep my eye on you. It is always the quiet ones that surprise you!’

`May I have the note now - it might be something important, something from the King,’ Huw held out his hand.

`And I might be magically attractive to women,’ William sniffed, but he handed it over anyway.

Huw took it and broke the wax seal then read it quickly, holding it carefully so that a peering William could not see what was inside.

It was only a few words, but it warmed his heart and fired his imagination.

`My father thinks I am resting this afternoon. He shall be meeting with several of the King’s nobles between now and the dinner bell.’

`What is it? Show me!’ William demanded.

With a grin, Huw turned the paper around.

`Is that it?’ William snorted. `I expected something a bit more obvious, like: I shall be naked between now and dinner, so pull on your shagging boots and get down here fast!’

Huw shook his head. `You only have one thing on your mind! Is there no romance in you?’

`I have been married for near on eighteen years, and have six brats that lived to be children. I don’t have the energy for romance! Besides, I live with my mother-in-law. One look at her and all thoughts of romance wither and die. But, seriously, what sort of love note is this?’

`It’s one that can be read by anyone, and denied easily,’ Huw said absently, his mind racing. `But we spoke about this earlier. I can get her out of here and we can go and see the city. Now excuse me, I need to change.’

`Good idea. Have fun - and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. On second thoughts, you shouldn’t do anything I would do. Seriously. A lot of women don’t like that. Believe me!’ William opened his eyes wide and then winked.

`You’re not on stage now! Get out and let me get dressed!’ Huw laughingly pushed his friend away and shut the door.

All thoughts of leaving were gone. A couple of days could not make any difference, he told himself. Ward’s men have to be summoned from far south and then march all the way to the Vales. He had more than enough time.