The House of Clun
Reaching the top of the hill, Lord Owain of Clun reined in his stallion, drawing to a halt as he surveyed his lands. Years of constant raiding and bargaining had expanded his domain threefold, both within Wales and reaching across the border into England. Earl Huntingdon kept resisting any advancement into his estates, but other lords had nor proven quite so stubborn, nor so capable.
One of Owain's few regrets in life was not to have killed that insolent young man when he had had the chance. He should have, if only for the insult of trying to abduct Owain's bride on the day of their handfasting, but at the time, it had seemed enough to defeat and humiliate the boy, slaughtering his men and sending him back to his father with his tail between his legs.
As if knowing he was thinking of her, the aforementioned bride rode up to him astride the magnificent grey Owain had stolen for her. Although she wore a fine dress, as befitting of her station, his lady also sported leather hose like Owain himself, allowing her to ride as his equal, not restrained to side saddle like some milksop Norman wench.
The years had not dampened her fire, the thing that had drawn Owain to her all that time ago, nor had it lessened her beauty and her bearing. There may have been flecks of grey in those flaming tresses, but the passion burned just as brightly in her eyes as it had then.
At first, Owain had wondered how well Gulnar's spells would last on her, whether he would wake one morning to find her gone, fled back to her oh-so-noble father (just one of the reasons Owain had had the man killed, tiring of his attempts to raise an army and rescue the daughter that no longer wanted to be rescued), but it appeared that a once-yearly renewal of the ritual that bound her to Owain had sufficed.
There had been a few times, in those early years, when he had caught her staring out into the forest with a faraway look in her eye, as if chasing a memory she couldn't quite catch, but he found that sweeping her into his arms and taking her to bed was enough to remind her whose wife she was.
And then the arrival of their sons had put his mind at rest; strong, healthy boys like their father, and the apple of their mother's eye.
He could see them now: Llewellyn, the eldest at seventeen, galloping madly across the plain below, pursued by his younger brothers. Rhydian, a youth of fifteen, permanently angry and in constant competition with his elder sibling, kicked his horse again and again in an attempt to catch up, leaving young Taliesin trailing behind. Just twelve, red-haired like his mother, he was her favourite, a master archer already, he loved to bring his fresh kills to her, shot from horseback to win her pride and her favour.
Owain had been disappointed at the time that the youngest had not been another boy, but Aeronwywas the image of her mother, not just in physical form, and he found he had grown fond of her. Only nine years old, she rode, hunted and shot like her brothers, and would surely make a fine marriage when she was grown, bringing her father more land, alliances to strengthen his power.
"A fine brood, my lady," he remarked, watching young Aeronwydeterminedly galloping after her brothers on a fat pony that had no chance of catching up.
"They make me proud."
His wife smiled, an arch expression crossing her lovely face. He noticed a trace of blue paint had remained in her hair, a survivor from the castle's celebrations the night before, and he remembered how they had made their own celebrations in the bedchamber after. Amazing he had not tired of her after all these years; she continued to surprise and entice him. And her breeding had not cost her her looks nor her figure.
"Then I may have yet more reason to make you proud, my lord," she told him.
Owain, never keen on hints and insinuation when direct bluntness would do, did not follow her words, so she leaned over and whispered in his ear.
"Another brat, eh? Well, let's hope it's a boy this time. One girl is enough."
There had been other children, once. A sickly brat that had lasted no more than a few months. Owain couldn't remember what name they'd given him now; it hardly mattered anymore. The loss of the boy he'd gifted his own name to, through a fever that had killed many on his estates, that had been harder to bear. His death had set his mother weeping for days, and when she finally stopped, she had been cold and distant for far longer. Only the birth of Taliesin had made her herself again.
But if she bore him another healthy son now, he would be pleased with her, gift her with something women liked – jewellery, a new dress perhaps.
Owain's wife was unlike other women he had known – perhaps it was her Saxon blood, the Crusader's heart within her – but for all that, she was still a woman and Owain had no interest in their ways.
She had done well, and not failed in his expectations, as he had known the moment he saw her, dancing in the Great Hall of Huntingdon Castle. She still had that same grace about her now, even when she had stood at his side in battle - her skill as an archer was something he had never expected, but he had come to appreciate it. Owain had no time for Norman squeamishness about noble ladies. A woman needed to be able to fight, to defend herself and her family as much as the menfolk.
Pulling on the bridle of her mount, Lady Marion turned away and galloped back down towards her children, red hair streaming out behind her.
Owain beheld his family, his lands and his heart swelled with pride. Should he die anytime soon, his family, his blood, would survive; sons to succeed him, a wife who could manage his lands in his absence. He would never admit it, not even to her, but abducting Marion of Leaford and making her his bride had perhaps been the best thing that Lord Owain of Clun had ever done.