“What do you think, grandmother?” Urien turned to her as he had always done when he needed counsel. With his sword in hand and the crown on his head, he reminded her of Barthoor. But his eyes were Tanwen’s, his hair was her own, and something in his expression was pure Myrddin. She was just glad there was none of the old wizard in his heart. Or at least she had seen no sign of it in the first twenty-three years of her grandson’s life.

“I do not like it; I think it is a trap. Penrose cannot be trusted,” she replied.

“But what if he speaks the truth, we could stop the rebellion, end the war.”

Swanhild sighed, “I would like nothing more. And, by Woden, I know it is what your great uncle would have wanted. But I have seen too much treachery in my time to believe Penrose has truly changed his mind. If you enter that tent, it will be the end of you, I am certain of it.”

Urien frowned, putting his hand to his chin. He looked down, shaking his head, “What to do, what to do. It is a difficult choice. There may be a chance for peace on good terms, or it could be a costly mistake that would lose us the kingdom.” He looked up at the men standing beside Swanhild, “What would you advise, my lords?”

“The dowager queen is right; it is almost certainly a trap. I think we should attack, finish Penrose while we have the chance. The other rebels will surrender once he is dead,” said Lord Gwavas.

“And what do you say?” Urien looked at the other member of the group.

“If we attack a party who have come to negotiate under a flag of truce, we will have lost our honour, we would be no better than savages. While I agree it may be a trap, I also know how much you desire peace, sire. I know how much it would pain you to walk away tormented by the thought you could have ended the war here, without bloodshed. But it is too dangerous for you to go alone, as Penrose demanded. I think you should send an envoy instead,” the lord got down on one knee; “I offer myself. Let me go in your place.”

Swanhild stepped forward and put her hand on the lord’s shoulder, “No, you cannot, Penrose will kill you, please do not do this. We should withdraw, seek battle on the open field; avoid this trap.”

“But the king is right; we must not forsake a chance to end the war at the negotiating table. If I go to Penrose alone, we risk only one life; if we go into battle, we risk the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of soldiers.”

“Yes, but it is your life we risk.”

“My life is nothing next to the many lives that could be lost in battle.”

“Do not say your life is nothing, it means everything to me.”

“I am sorry, mother, I must do this. With your permission, sire?” he looked up at Urien.

Urien nodded, “Go with my blessing, Lord Wulfgar, and... take care, father.”

Wulfgar stood up and turned to leave. Swanhild clutched at his arm, “Please Wolfie, no, you cannot, it is suicide.”

He turned back and smiled, “I am grateful to you for teaching me to always do what is right, mother. This is right. You must let me go. Look after my son, and look after yourself. I love you both.”

Then he was marching towards his horse and Swanhild fell to her knees, wringing her hands in despair. She watched her son ford the river and ride across the meadow on the opposite bank. In a few minutes, he had reached the enemy tent nestled beneath the hills on the far side of the valley. He dismounted and walked up to the soldiers guarding the entrance. In the dim, fading light of dusk, she saw him surrender his sword and walk inside.

Darkness fell. Swanhild paced anxiously up and down outside the royal tent.

“Get some sleep, grandmother,” urged Urien; “there is nothing we can do.”

“I cannot sleep while my son is in peril.”

“Do not worry, grandmother, your son is one of the strongest, bravest warriors in the kingdom, a veteran of countless duels and battles, all of which saw him victorious.”

“He’s still my son; I still remember holding him in my arms, suckling him at my breast. I will always worry when he is in danger.”

Urien sighed, “And I am worried too. He is my father, I do not sleep either. Come, sit with me. We will keep watch together.”

Swanhild sat beside her grandson, the king. “Tell me about my other grandmother again,” he asked.

She smiled, “Tanwen was the best warrior in the kingdom. Her courage knew no limits. She would face any foe, tackle any obstacle, nothing could stop her. Nothing could ever have beaten her, except when Mordaut tricked her, used her love for her daughter against her. It was terrible... I... I...”

Urien jumped to his feet, cutting Swanhild off mid-sentence. “Look, something is happening,” he pointed at the enemy tent, far in the distance. There were torches moving around. One of them started coming towards them. From the speed of its approach, it appeared to be carried on a galloping horse.

“Lord Wulfgar returns,” exclaimed Urien; “oh, what joy. By Christ and Woden united, let it be peace.”

Swanhild squinted at the returning figure. She frowned. Something about the horse’s gait did not seem right. It was out of control, panicked, not the way an experienced horseman like Wulfgar would be riding. The horse plunged into the river and she realised the ‘torch’ was not what it seemed. Horse and rider were on fire. She turned to Urien, “Mount your horse and go. Now, my beloved grandson, get out of here while you can.”

“But, grandmother, what...”

“We have been deceived; it is the trap I suspected. You must go now. Save yourself.”


“Do not argue, go now,” Swanhild screeched.

Suddenly, the hillside above them lit up with hundreds of torches. They heard the shouting of enemy soldiers as they charged down the slopes towards them.

Urien stared at the enemy hordes, “I cannot just run; I am the king.”

“That is why you must run; you must save yourself and save the kingdom. You will return and avenge this treachery, but now is the time for retreat. Go, Urien, go!”

Urien leaped on his horse. He looked down at Swanhild, “Grandmother, I...”

“I know,” she nodded; “now ride hard. I will keep them at bay, give you safe passage.”

She watched her grandson gallop away. The enemy soldiers were converging on the track ahead of him. She walked over to a device she had set up next to the tent earlier that evening, when her instincts were already screaming at her about the trap they were walking into. She pulled a small sack from the satchel she had slung around her neck. She placed the sack into the device and made a small adjustment. Then she pulled the lever on the side of the catapult. Her little bag of black powder sailed over Urien’s head and landed in the midst of the enemy soldiers that were blocking the road ahead of him. The powder exploded, scattering Penrose’s troops.

Twice more, she used the catapult to send her sacks of powder into the enemy, carving a path for Urien’s escape. After the third explosion, she watched him gallop away into the distance. She nodded in satisfaction.

Behind her, Wulfgar’s faithful mare had brought her master home. He fell from the saddle, his eyes staring up at Swanhild from his blackened face. She turned towards him and started rushing to his side. She was half way there when an enemy arrow hit her in the abdomen. The sharp, stabbing pain flooded through her belly. She fell to her knees, but she crawled on. When she reached Wulfgar, she cradled his head in her arms. His breath was rasping through his burned lips. “Do you want the black, my son?” she asked.

He shook his head, “No, I would stay with you a little longer. I am sorry, mother. You were right about Penrose’s treachery. But I had to try. You know I had to try.”

She nodded, “I know. You did the right thing, you had to try. But the sacrifice is so great, my son.”

“Worth it,” he hissed; “did Urien...”

“Yes, he got away.”

“Then all is not lost, Urien will lead us to victory.”

Swanhild gasped. The pain in her belly was coming in waves, and it was getting worse. “He will, my son, he... aaagh,” she exclaimed, as the pain shot through her abdomen.

Wulfgar’s eyes rolled upwards. He exhaled for the last time, his final breath. His muscles relaxed and he fell limp in Swanhild’s arms as the life left his body

“My son, my son...” she cried. The pain came again, stronger than ever.

“Aaagh,” she screamed, the agony was unbearable.

“Please, my son,” she closed her eyes, unable to take the pain anymore.

Someone mopped her brow with a cool, damp cloth. She opened her eyes and saw a familiar face smiling down at her.

“Da, tovarishch,” said Xenia; “we must get you to med lab double quick. It is time; your son is coming now.”