Young Anmair is smart, stubborn and worth more than a marriage pawn in 10th century Wales. Her father, however, has other plans, and gives her in wedlock to a man she’s never met.
She finds her bookish new husband is as averse to marriage as she. In a world of Viking raids, territorial wars, and family treachery, Anmair must both prove herself worthy of true love, and a woman who can hold the Faith Box. She and Cadell must work together to weave a tapestry of peace.
In the best chair -- Father's -- sat a great bear of a man, his dark beard interwoven with silver. A heavy gold cuff of Norse art encircled a wrist the size of her neck. His wind-beaten face was riven with a scar running from eyebrow to ear. Behind his left shoulder, Mother brought a silver-chased drinking horn, serving the honored guest with deference and grace. At his right shoulder stood an armsman with hood drawn far forward, hiding his face. In courtesy to her father's peace, he'd left his weapons at the hall door, as had the others. Anmair suppressed a shudder and forced her feet forward.
Father gave her his usual cheerful grin. "Ah, here she is at last. Sior ap Hywel, may I present to you my daughter, Anmair."
Schooling her features as best she could, she dropped low in a bow, then straightened.
The Bear growled. "She looks younger than sixteen summers."
Anmair opened her mouth to retort, but Mother was quicker. "She is light built, but strong enough." She cast a glance that Father returned, but though a message passed between them, Anmair could not read it.
"Will she breed?"
As the stranger spoke, he eyed her up and down, from the toes of her leather shoes to the tip of her curling loose hair. Under his gaze, insolent and crude, Anmair felt her face grow hot. By the rood, she'd done well not to don her best! His manner made her want to spit into the floor rushes.
Father apparently saw no affront in the question or its unmannerly delivery. Instead, still smiling, he swept an arm about the hall, indicating Bradan and Rhys. Her brothers glanced up from their benches, where they lazed over ale. "Sior, you see my sons. Three elder I have besides these younger cubs, and those already defending their own lands. I have but the one chit of a girl. An she take after her mother, she will breed strong men to follow you."
Anmair saw Gwennan bristle in her corner, but Mother held silence and sent Anmair an imploring glance. Hold your tongue, it said. Less from obedience than from sheer dismay, Anmair neither spoke nor budged.
Behind the stranger lord's shoulder, the tall retainer shifted his stance as if something disturbed him. With the motion, his hood slipped back by a fingertip's breadth, revealing thick hair dark as a raven's wing and a pair of light and unquiet eyes.
His gaze locked with hers. Entrapped, she held the contact for a moment and then, confused, looked away.
The Bear -- Sior? -- shrugged massive shoulders and drained his mazer of honey-mead. Quick as thought, Gwennan hastened to refill it. "It is well. Lady, bid her pack any gear she has. She will suit Cadell well enough. Now, let us settle once for all on the dower."
Anmair's heart quickened its pace. Sold in marriage? This was all it took? A single glance? No word of assent from her own lips?