Literary Agents and Chapter One

Well, I took the plunge. I sent a query letter to a literary agency, and they want to see my book! Cross your fingers for me, Diaryland. I could use some good news right about now. Thanks to those of you who offered encouragement. I think your encouragement coupled with the sheer joy of discovering Harry Potter have both been positive influences. That means you made me get off my rear.

I am so tired. No sleep. We ran lots of errands this morning.

To celebrate the fact that my query letter evoked some interest, I am posting the first chapter of my novel below. Cheers!

Chapter One — May Day
Gwenllian opened her eyes and blinked in the blue dawn light. God’s teeth, another May Day, she thought, rubbing her eyes. She heard the far-off crow of a cock. Gwen pulled the wool blanket over her face. It was a tradition in her village, as in so many others, to arrange marriages on May Day. Gwen’s poor uncle Iorwerth had tried — and failed — to arrange a marriage for Gwen these past three years. Gwen sighed. Best to rise and meet the day.

Gwen glanced across the room at her uncle’s empty straw pallet. Of course he would be up and about his business long ere now. Gwen threw off her blanket and trudged out the door. Nervously, she peered down the way. Good, no one in sight. She scampered down the way and broke a few wet, flower-laden branches from the hawthorn tree in front of Huw the miller’s cottage, then rubbed the dewy flowers over her face. She knew it was a silly tradition, bathing in hawthorn flowers — as though May Day dew might bring color to her pale eyes or give her silky, flaxen locks like Tangwystyl had.

Gwen tore a green shoot from the small hazel tree that grew near the cottage and methodically began cleaning her teeth with the twig. One thing Iorwerth always told prospective husbands with pride — “She does have all her teeth.” Once inside, she dressed hastily, grabbed her small harp, and set off for her rock by the lake.

In the middle of the village stood the brightly decorated maypole, mocking her, the symbol of her failure. Gwen scowled as she thought of last year’s disaster. She was to announce her betrothal to Owain the Shepherd. She had had no particular objections to the match, aside from the notion that Owain was about as intelligent as one of his sheep. Still, she had little enough hope of catching another husband. She was seventeen, and the oldest maiden in the village. She had no dowry to offer. But her chief drawback was her temper, or so her mam used to say, and because of her temper, Owain had married Angharad at Lammastide. Angharad was now great with child. And she is a full two years younger than I am, Gwen thought. Gwen shook her head as if to rid herself of the memory.

Soon the maypole dance would begin, but Gwen still had time to practice at her harp. Gwen’s harp traveled everywhere with her. She thought her small harp finer in tone and more beautiful in craftsmanship than many of the larger harps played by the bards. Iorwerth had given it to her after her parents had died. She often invented excuses to come to the lake, her favorite place to play.

Gwen had never been far from Llangors, but she could not imagine that a place more beautiful than Llangors Lake existed. Her favorite spot was the massive moss-covered rock, which lay beneath an apple tree, fragrant with apple blossoms and honeysuckle vines. The tree’s limbs seemed to spread across the sky like arms outstretched to the heavens. Soon the water lilies and buttercups would be in full blossom and the dragonflies would be darting among the reeds.

It was hard to believe a full year had passed since last day last spring. It had been so rainy that day, Gwen thought, as she began to play her harp. The village had been coated in mud. Owain had plodded toward Gwen as she drew water from the well.

“Gwen, I have a request,” he had said cheerfully, taking the bucket from her hand.

No, do not think on it any longer, Gwen told herself. But the image of Owain sprawled across the ground refused to be pushed from her mind so easily. She had shamed him, unmanned him, and he had said … he had…

She should have cut out his tongue for what he had said. No, the song, she thought. She concentrated on making her fingers pluck the strings. She closed her eyes and there was nothing in the world except her fingers and the sound. In time, Gwen thought she heard the dreamy, faraway strains of a pipe. It must be the maypole dance, she thought with a sigh. She opened her eyes and dropped her harp with a start. There was a pipe, right in front of her, attached to the mouth of a young man with green eyes. No, sage. His eyes were more of a sage color — gray-green with specks of brown. They turned down slightly in the corners, making him appear somewhat sad. His long golden-brown curls shone like honey with the sun behind him. He looks like one of the Tylwyth Teg, the Fair Folk, Gwen thought. A dusting of fine, unshaven hairs covered his cheeks and chin. He was dressed as a traveler, in a coarse tunic and breeches. His boots were worn and dusty. Though he was crouching, his long limbs disclosed he was a man of considerable height. He was no fairy — he was real.

“Pray continue. I should not have intruded,” he said, his lips curling into a faint smile.

He was familiar. Gwen shaded her eyes and looked more closely. Then she drew her hand to her mouth in shock. It was Owain’s cousin, the minstrel. “I thought you played the harp, Elidyr,” she blurted.

“So you do remember me,” he said with a smile. He reached for her hand and kissed it softly. Gwen felt a blush creep over her cheeks. He had grown taller since she had seen him last.

“Why have you come to Llangors?” Gwen asked. “Surely not to see our pitiful little festival.”

“Why, I came to see you, of course.”

If he does not stop smiling at me, I shall melt in a puddle at his feet, Gwen thought.

“Why did you not come to Owain’s wedding?” she asked.

“I was still under the mistaken impression that he was wedding you — and I hated to see such a beautiful, charming creature wasted on Owain,” Elidyr said with a wink.

He had not changed, thought Gwen. Curse his silver tongue. “You have not been seen about for some time. Where have you been wandering?” Gwen asked, changing the subject.

“All over Wales. I have been playing with a troupe of minstrels. Have you made your garland yet?”

Gwen shook her head. “I intend to stay here until the revels are over. I want no part of them.”

“What? You would miss the maypole dance? Who will they choose for Queen of May if you will not dance? Come, now, Gwenllian, let me help you.” Elidyr began picking wild purple orchids.

“What are you doing?” asked Gwen.

“You need a garland, do you not?” Elidyr said with a smile. Gwen could only nod dumbly in reply. “Well, help me find some flowers.”

Gwen pulled a vine of honeysuckle from a low-hanging branch. She inhaled deeply. How she loved the scent of honeysuckle. Gwen wove Elidyr’s orchids around the honeysuckle vine. She held the finished product at arm’s length and examined it for flaws. She brushed the leaves and stems from the skirt of her kirtle. Elidyr took the garland and placed it atop Gwen’s mass of unruly, red curls. His fingertip brushed Gwen’s ear. Gwen blushed.

Elidyr grinned broadly. “Tell me why my foolish cousin did not wed you.”

Gwen stood abruptly and grabbed her harp. “I would rather not discuss it,” she said.

Elidyr laughed. It was not possible he knew … was it? “You served him justly, Gwenllian. He should never have made such a request,” Elidyr said.

“I should not have shamed him so,” Gwen said quietly. Owain’s jaw had hardened and his neck grew red. “You’re to be my wife,” Owain had said quietly. “And you will obey me. You’ll do as I ask, you stubborn wench!”

And then she had done it, in front of the whole village, she had done it. It was as though her hands had moved of their own accord, colliding violently with his chest. Before Owain could collect his wits, he was sprawling in a manure pile, bravely trying to ignore the giggling maids at the nearby well. She had turned on her heel and stalked off, water sloshing from her bucket. And then he called after her…

“Gwen? Hello,” said Elidyr waving his hand in front of her face. “Did you hear what I said?”

“I am afraid my mind was … elsewhere,” Gwen said.

“I was saying that Owain should never have asked you to sell your harp. And for what? More sheep?”

Gwen smiled. “You understand,” she said. “My uncle did not. He told me it was such a simple request and that I should have done as Owain asked.”

“We must hurry. I hear music,” Elidyr said. He bounded off toward the village. For a moment, Gwen watched his honey-colored curls slap against his back, then followed him.

Most of the villagers clustered around the maypole. Gwen scanned the crowd. Owain was alone. Angharad must be near her time, thought Gwen. There was Tangwystyl, the miller’s daughter. The signal was given and everyone scrambled to grab a ribbon. Gwen anxiously wiped her clammy palms on her skirt and picked up the nearest ribbon. The music began and Gwen half-heartedly skipped around the maypole. The others sang, but Gwen was silent. Gwen searched for Iorwerth as she passed the minstrels. Elidyr had joined them and was playing his pipe. He winked at her. Startled, Gwen dropped her gaze to her feet, but it was too late. She stumbled, yanking her ribbon in a desperate attempt to keep from falling. Her harp slipped from her shoulder and she lunged to catch it before it fell into the path of the dancers.

“Gwen, mind your ribbon — you’re upsetting the pattern,” said a small voice behind her. It was Tangwystyl. Gwen glanced at the pole. There was a widening gap in the braid of ribbons. God’s teeth, I’ve fairly mangled it, Gwen thought. It was too late to repair the damage. The braid puckered around Gwen’s ribbon. Gwen heaved a sigh as the dance ended. Elidyr was laughing. Curse his eyes, thought Gwen, and a pox on this whole festival. Gwen slipped through the trees and made her way to the lake.

She sat down near her rock and watched the swans silently float across the lake. Gwen had heard stories about Llangors Lake all of her life. It had been the home of the ancient kings of Brycheiniog, and it was said that the rightful ruler of the land could command the birds to sing. Now, Brycheiniog was in the hands of the Norman March, formed on the border of Wales to protect the English borderlands from raids by the Welsh princes. Gwen’s favorite tale of the lake took place in the days of Old King Henry, when the birds ordained as Gruffydd ap Rhys their rightful prince. Of course, men do not listen to birds, Gwen thought with a sigh, and so it made no difference. Gwen unslung her harp and began to play. Her voice ranged low and full beneath the strains of her harp.

At Llangors Lake in Brycheiniog
The rightful lord
Can order the birds to sing.

At Llangors Lake in Brycheiniog
Three lords came
To determine who was rightfully prince.

At Llangors Lake in Brycheiniog
Milo of Hereford called,
“Hear me, I order you to sing.”

At Llangors Lake in Brycheiniog
The silent birds
Ignored the words of their current lord.

At Llangors Lake in Brycheiniog
Payn FitzJohn called,
“Hear me, I order you to sing!”

At Llangors Lake in Brycheiniog
The silent birds
Rejected Payn as their prince.

At Llangors Lake in Brycheiniog
Our Lord Gruffydd
Sank to his knees in prayer.

“At Llangors Lake in Brycheiniog
Lord, if you will,
Ask your birds to declare me prince.”

At Llangors Lake in Brycheiniog
The birds began to sing,
“Hail, hail, Master Gruffydd, rightful prince!”

“Not too bad.”

Gwen glanced over her shoulder. It was Elidyr.

“I haven’t heard that song before.”

“I don’t suppose you should have. I composed it,” Gwen said, staring across the lake.

Elidyr whistled through his teeth. “Very impressive indeed. Will you teach it to me?” Elidyr sat down next to Gwen.

“Why do you ask me to teach you my song?” she asked.

“Gruffydd was my grandfather,” Elidyr said softly. “He died before I was born, but my mother spoke of him often. He was her father, you see. She told me how he defeated the English at Crug Mawr. He died the next year, I think.”

Gwen turned to look at Elidyr. His curls brushed against his cheek in the breeze. His eyes were trained on the lake. Gwen impulsively reached over and brushed a lock of his hair behind his ear. He bolted to his feet. Recovering his composure, he casually folded his arms across his chest. Gwen stifled a smile behind her hand.

“Did you know his wife was named Gwenllian?” he continued.

“Yes, I know,” she replied.

“Have you heard the story, then? About how she led the army to Cydweli?”

“Who has not?”

“She had her head cut off in the end,” Elidyr said brusquely. “They called the battle Maes Gwenllian.”

“I know. My mother named me for her,” Gwen said quietly. Elidyr turned to her and smiled. Gwen laughed softly. “I had no idea I was acquainted with a son of the house of Deheubarth.”

“Ah, not so,” said Elidyr with a wave of his hand. “That’s my uncle.”

“The Lord Rhys?”

Elidyr nodded. “I have never met him. My mam was disowned when she married my tad.” Elidyr scratched his head thoughtfully. “I should have liked to meet my uncle. Now that my mam and tad are dead, I don’t suppose I shall.” There was a long silence.

“But you are Owain’s cousin,” Gwen ventured.

“His tad and my tad are brothers,” Elidyr said, nodding. “What about your mam and tad?”

Gwen lay back and gazed up into the trees. “Dead these five years,” she said flatly. “There was a fever. Many died.”

“It would seem we are both alone in the world,” he said ruefully.

“Not so. I have my uncle, Iorwerth.”

“Ah, yes, the carpenter. I hear he is a fair hand with musical instruments.”

“He made this for me,” said Gwen offering her harp to Elidyr. He ran his fingers along the finely carved edges.

“Very fine,” he said handing the harp back to Gwen. “You know, you do play well. You have a most remarkable voice — so deep for a woman.”

“Which puts me of mind — what became of your harp? You were such a fine harper yourself.”

“I still play it. I like to play the pipe. It is easier to carry with me when I travel. I wander where I will and I pipe for my supper,” he said with a laugh.

“I would like to do that, but Iorwerth won’t have it,” Gwen sighed.

Elidyr’s eyebrows knit together. “And he is right. It is no life for a lady. There are highwaymen, robbers — the roads are not safe. And I think it unseemly to tell you about some of the taverns.”

Gwen repressed the urge to tell Elidyr she could take care of herself. “If it be such a dangerous life, why do you choose to be a minstrel?”

“The only answer I can give is that I never chose my life — it was chosen for me.” Elidyr said softly.

“Would you prefer to settle, to marry?” Gwen tossed a pebble into the lake.

Elidyr shrugged. “I do not think I should make a happy shepherd.”

“Would you make a happy husband?”

“Perhaps,” Elidyr raised one eyebrow. The corners of his mouth curled slightly. “But I am twenty now, and fairly set in my ways.” He sauntered over to Gwen and sat next to her.

“What of you, then? No prospects for marriage?”

Gwen shook her head. “Owain saw to that,” she said softly.

“How so?”

“After I shoved him into the — well, after that, he called to me, ‘I don’t know why any sane man would want you, you bitch! You have no dowry, your mother was a witch, and your father was a bastard Scot.’”

“Why should the ramblings of an embarrassed fool deter other suitors?”

Gwen shrugged her shoulders. “No other men have looked at me since. I know not what he said in the tavern, but Iorwerth had heard that Owain had claimed my virtue was not intact. He had said that was why he would not wed me. So of course, no other man would be interested.” Gwen folded her arms around her knees. She turned to look at Elidyr. He was gazing at her. She found his expression impossible to read.

“Will you play your song for me again?” he asked, taking his pipe out of his satchel.

Gwen did not answer, but she set her fingers to her harp and began to pluck the strings. Her voice was clear and strong. Elidyr listened for a moment, then began to play the harmony. His notes were like butterflies on the wing, alighting on her own sounds, then flitting off in another direction.

Gwen played every song she knew, savoring the woody, mournful cries of Elidyr’s pipe. It seemed only minutes passed by, but the sun was setting, sending ripples of fire across the lake. She knew she had been missed long ago. Iorwerth was surely past irate by now. I should go back now, she thought.

She sat in silence, contemplating Elidyr’s nearness. He smelled like the damp earth after a gentle rain. If she leaned slightly to her right, her shoulder might graze his arm. If she stretched out her legs, her foot might brush against his own. His palm lay flat against the ground between them. His long fingers stroked the soft grass. If I happened to move my hand, it might touch his, she thought. Elidyr pulled himself to his feet and the spell was broken. He reached down and helped Gwen to her feet. His hands were warm.

“Would you take your feast with me, my lady?” Elidyr asked.

Gwen smiled broadly. Her prospects for this May Day were beginning to look bright. They walked back toward the village in silence.