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Angharad laughed as Pirion tried to keep up with her. “You won’t win my hand that way,” she taunted, golden curls trailing behind her as she ran.
“How are you so gods cursed fast?” Pirion asked, panting from the exertion.
“I do not choose to spend my time caged by the conventions that govern most women,” Angharad said. “And my father approves.”
Pirion swore as she pulled even farther ahead. “If you keep this up the fae will come claim you as their own.”
Angharad smirked. She had heard that threat so many times in the past three years it no longer bothered her. She was the swiftest runner on the Verdant Isles, and many were the suitors who’d fallen in her wake. She wanted no man who couldn’t keep up with her in any challenge she gave him, and this was only the first of three.
Angharad reached her father’s keep before Pirion. She leaned against the apple tree that was the finish line, happily eating one of the ripe fruits dangling from it. Pirion finally stumbled up to her, gasping for breath. “You are not fit to be my husband,” she said, tossing the core into the bushes. “I will so tell my father.” She turned on her heel, ignoring his spluttering, and went inside.
“Could you not give him a chance, daughter?” Lady Moirea asked, giving her eldest child an exasperated look.
“No. He is a sniveling coward who can’t hold his own against a woman,” Angharad said, sipping the mead in her mug.
Lord Idwal sighed. “Angharad, I may have to take away your right of choice if you don’t pick soon. You have four years before you pass the age of inheritance. If you aren’t married by then, the estate goes to your younger brother.”
All three of them shared a sour look. Angharad’s younger brother was a drunk and a womanizer. He would ruin the family’s name and fortune if he got hold of the property.
“Very well, father,” Angharad said with a sigh. “I’ll remove the footrace from my requirements. But my other two challenges still stand.”
“That will have to do,” Lord Idwal said.
“Angharad, the archery challenge is just as difficult as the running challenge,” Lady Moirea said. “You are the best archer in your father’s lands.”
“Yes, but I must know my husband will be physically able to protect me and our children. I will not put a lord with no military skill in charge of our lands,” Angharad said. “Father knows what happened when his great-grandfather chose that fate for his own daughter.”
Lord Idwal nodded. “Moirea, it is only by the grace of the gods that my family still holds these lands because of that mistake. Angharad has the right of it.” Lady Moirea sighed and bowed her head in acquiescence. Angharad finished her drink and left her parents to discuss the business of the lord’s demesne.
Pirion left the next day, glaring at Angharad and her father as he went. Angharad sighed. Pirion was a good looking young man. If only his wits were as sharp as his tongue. She turned to go inside when her father put a hand on her arm. “It appears we have another guest, daughter. You will wait and greet them.”
Angharad turned back to the front gate. Three riders approached her father. They stopped their horses at the prescribed spot. One rode a midnight black horse. The other two rode a pair of matched silvery gray ones. The two guards – for that is who the ones on the gray horses were – dismounted and went to the lead horse. One held the reins while the other put his hand on the hilt of his sword as his master dismounted.
The man on the black horse, who also was clad in black, approached Lord Idwal. “Lord Idwal, I have come to claim the hand of your daughter Angharad,” he said. His voice was deep but melodious.
“I will not consider any man who does not show his face,” Lord Idwal said.
The man pushed back his hood. Lord Idwal paled but Angharad was intrigued. The man bore many scars, showing he’d been in several fights. “You are a warrior, my lord?” Angharad asked.
The man smiled, the scar on the left side of his lips puckering. “I have fought in every war the Mad King has called. My liege lord saw to that. But now he has died in one of those battles, and those who were sworn to his service are free.”
“Why did you choose to come here?” Lord Idwal asked.
“I have heard that Lady Angharad is a strong willed woman, whose skill as a warrior would match my own,” the man said. “I will wed no woman who cannot at the very least defend herself and our children should I be called away to battle once more.”
“I am pleased with the way you have presented yourself,” Lord Idwal said. “What is your name, good sir?”
“I am Eridan.”
“Be welcome, Eridan, and enter,” Lord Idwal said.
“My two companions – they are the only reason I yet live – are weary from our journey. Might they take rest with your guards?” Eridan asked. “They will cause no problems. They know they owe their freedom to me.”
“My captain will see to their comfort, for it’s obvious they are veterans as you are,” Lord Idwal said. The relief on the two men’s faces made Angharad smile. One of Lord Idwal’s guards called for the stablehands, and the guard captain escorted the other two soldiers away as Angharad and her father led Eridan into the manor.
To be continued…………..