Garanwys was beautiful from the day that she was born, a lovely child who grew into a stunning woman, a woman who was only too aware of her power over men. She was Garanwys of the red-gold hair and green-gold eyes, Garanwys whose lissome body and secretive smile turned strong men’s knees to water, Garanwys about whom visiting bards made songs and poems, Garanwys whose own father could deny her nothing.
Even before she reached full womanhood, the calculating beauty looked about her for a suitable husband. Her eye lighted on Owen Smith. He was a handsome man, a man as strong and dependable as an oak tree, and a man of considerable wealth and influence. Oh yes, Owen Smith would be almost deserving of the gift of her beauty.
And that might have been the end of the story, except that Owen Smith did not admire Garanwys in all her rose gold glory. He had an entirely different woman in his eye, and, instead of waiting for Garanwys to reach her fourteenth birthday, he married Llys. Llys, round-faced and capable, and the only daughter of Eudric Clothmerchant.
Garanwys ground her perfect white teeth in anger. How could she have been passed over in favour of a creature as plain as Llys? Llys of the nut-brown hair and mild blue eyes. Llys who employed no arts to attract. Llys who had probably never had a flirtatious thought in her life. Garanwys fumed, and vowed vengeance. She would make Owen Smith desire her, and ruin both his marriage and his life, she vowed.
While Garanwys was biding her time and learning certain things at the knee of her mother, who had begun life in a whorehouse in Flanders, Llys and Owen were settling into a contented life together. Their marriage had begun auspiciously, even when the new husband disclosed precisely what he had paid Eudric for the pleasure of his daughter’s body and mind. To Owen’s delight, Llys lifted a smooth-skinned shoulder and smiled ruefully.
“He’d not have allowed thee to take me from the loom for naught…”
They laughed together and the pleasure of his experienced hands on her skin soon distracted Llys from any thought of her father’s meanness.
This obvious contentment was fuel to the fire of Garanwys’ resentment, but it was not destined to last. When the winter was at its coldest Owen was called to the castle to shoe the castellan’s destrier. What happened that day is still shrouded in mystery, but what is known is that there was some sort of accident.
They brought Owen’s body home to his young wife on a hurdle.
If Llys cried, nobody saw it. She squared her shoulders and faced life. Moving the young blacksmith who had worked under Owen into the house behind the smithy Llys returned to her father’s home, wealthier but alone. Rubbing his hands together at the thought of managing another goodly chunk of wealth, and at regaining the services of his daughter at the loom, Eudric kissed her on both cheeks.
“Thou hast always a home here, my daughter” he said floridly.
As for Garanwys, she turned her resentment from Owen Smith to his widow, and began a series of pinpricks designed to cause Llys discomfort. Tales of Llys’ shortcomings as a wife, and hints about how Owen desired Garanwys began to circulate among the young women of the town. If Llys heard any such stories she gave no sign, even when she was being called barren by the worst gossips.
Her mother looked at her daughter’s serene face and wondered what went on behind those soft blue eyes, but she was powerless to help so she kept her council.
About a year after Owen’s death, Llys’ twin brother, Llyd, returned from his term of service to the king. He had left as a child, but returned a man: a broad-shouldered, open-faced, handsome, guileless giant of a man, who had the prospect of being very wealthy one day. Garanwys cast her gold-green eyes his way, and within a very few weeks she had him hooked. She played him like a great fish, dropping poisoned comments about his sister and mother whenever the opportunity arose, whilst all the while pretending the modesty and virtue she knew would bring him to his knees.
Understanding that Eudric would have other plans for his son, the lovely Garanwys set about charming him as well. She sat in his lap and performed certain acts for his delectation, all the while moistening her perfect lips with the tip of a pointed pink tongue. Eudric weakened, and gave permission for Llyd to press his suit.
The first time he offered for her hand, Garanwys refused him, casting down her eyes and saying his mother and sister hated her.
Llyd went home in a rage. He roared at the womenfolk that they had stolen his chance of happiness, and even went so far as to strike his sister – bruising her smooth brown cheek with his big fist. His mother, Lyonette, faced him with a cold anger he had never seen before. “If the wench thou hast set thy heart on thinks we like her not, it is no more than some girlish fancy on her part.
Thou shouldst be ashamed to so strike thy widowed sister.”
For a moment Llyd glared into his mother’s broad, homely face, then hung his handsome head.
“Why doesn’t Llys defend herself then?” he muttered.
“Why should she? She has done naught.” Lyonette spat on the floor. “Leave us now. I will have no more of thee.” He went, kicking his heels like the overgrown boy he would always be.
“She means to have him, though” Llys said sadly. “Unless something better turns up.”
The two women looked at each other in genuine sorrow.
Two moons later, Garanwys accepted Llyd as her intended husband, and they became formally betrothed. The women of Eudric’s household sighed, and prepared themselves for trouble.
It was not long coming.
Llys was working in the herb garden when her mother came out of the kitchen and sat herself on a stone bench in the spring sunshine.
“We have a problem, dear heart” she said without preamble.
“Yes. She now says she will not marry Llyd while thou art still living in this house.”
“And shall I stay here forever, then?”
“There is naught that would please me more. But. She has thy brother and thy father pixie-led.”
“I know it. So I am to go.” Llys dusted off her hands and came to sit beside her mother, who looked into her only daughter’s calm features and sighed.
“Why does she hate thee so?”
“Because Owen Smith wanted her not.”
Lyonette regarded her daughter in a puzzled manner.
“Why would he want her when he had thee?”
“All men must want her. Thou knowest that, Mother mine.”
“Aye. I do know. And should one not, it seems her spite follows him even unto death.”
“Him and his widow.”
Lyonette patted the hand that lay on Llys’ lap.
“Sadly. And now I must press thee. Thy father asks what thou wouldst do.”
“I know not, Mother. Do I have choices?”
“Thou dost. There have been two offers for thy hand in marriage. There is one offer of a place as a housekeeper. Or thou mayst have a cottage of thine own in the village.”
“But I must, indeed, leave my childhood home at the behest of a spiteful woman.”
“Then tell me of these offers.”
“The priest requires a housekeeper. The fat innkeeper offers for thy hand in matrimony, as does Aled Sheepherder.”
“I would not live alone for the rest of my days, so I must choose one of the other offers.”
“I’ll not warm the lustful priest’s bed.”
“Quiet child. He is a celibate” Lyonette spoke sharply, then looked into her daughter’s intelligent eyes and lifted a work-worn hand to her cheek. “Or perchance not…”
“Not,” Llys was scornful. “Remember, I lived beside his house while Owen and I were man and wife. So.” She wrinkled her smooth forehead. “I’ll not take the fat innkeeper neither. He has already worked three wives into their graves. But I like Aled Sheepherder, he was a friend of Owen and he is a kind, good man. Will thou tell my father I will take his offer gladly.”
“Aye. I will do it with a glad heart and grudge my husband naught. You might also tell Father that I neither cried nor bemoaned my lot. He could have spoken with me himself.”
Lyonette smiled sadly.
“Not so dear heart. The hurt in thy eyes would have made him uncomfortable.” Then she heaved herself onto her feet and made her way back into the house.
Llys returned to her weeding.