Hostage of the Heart
1066: the Welsh Marches. Rhodri ap Hywel sweeps down the valley to reclaim stolen lands, taking the Saxon Lady Dena as a battle hostage. But who is the more barbaric: a man who protects his people by the strength of his sword-arm, or Dena’s kin who swear fealty to a canon of lies and refuse to pay her ransom? Dare she place her life in the hands of a warrior-knight shielding secrets of his own?
Length: 8 hours, 12 minutes
Author: Linda Acaster
Narrator: Susan Anderson
Dena felt her heart turn to stone. Dear God, her instincts had been right. He’d come to kill her. Her leaden heart began to slip from its appointed place, dragging muscle and fibre, flesh and bone, deep into the wastes of her echoing belly, subduing terror and fight before either had gained a chance to be born inside her. Yet, from within the crushing desolation, an inner peace flickered. It grew at a rate beyond human understanding, gaining strength and power, filling her body, her limbs, the very tendrils of her loosened hair. It was the calming power the holy men spoke of, the power of angels, and of martyrs.
She looked at Rhodri anew, watched him swallow down his consternation, and rub his palms along his thighs. His lips quivered as they parted, and when he spoke, the sound was nothing more than a hoarse whisper. ‘I called you,’ he said, ‘but you didn’t hear me above the noise of the water.’
‘There’s no need to lie, Rhodri. I understand your position, the loyalties that bind you. I’d hoped that leaving me here would be enough, but a warrior’s conscience guides a warrior’s hand, and I have—’
‘Wait! Wait!’ He flashed his open palm across her eyes as one would across a blind man’s face. ‘What words are these? They can’t be from the Dena I held so tightly in my arms, the Dena who offered her lips to mine in the darkness of the night.’
Where his incredulous tone could not touch her, his choice of words punctured her inner tranquillity. How could he speak of what they’d given and shared, when all he wanted was to deny its truth?
He rocked back a pace as the full implication of what she’d said came to him. ‘You think I am going to kill you.’
Dena’s inner strength was ebbing fast now, pouring from the chink he’d created. Her hands began to tremble. She clasped them together, willing herself to remain in control of her resurgent emotions.
‘Can you deny that I am the cause of bad blood between you and Gwylan, that your esteem has diminished in the eyes of your men because of me?’
Rhodri raised his arms in a gesture of hopeless assent. ‘No, I cannot deny that.’
‘And can you deny that if I were dead, all would return to the way it was?’
She hardly saw his hand reach for his sword. The movement was so swift, so fluid, as to be almost invisible. One moment his dark eyes were staring into hers, the next the singing blade was slicing the air between them. It arched high above her head to be plunged, blade first, into the soft ground at her feet. He withdrew his grip with a flourish, leaving the hilt to rock back and forth under its own momentum. Dena gasped, releasing the breath caught in her lungs, but before she could drag her widened eyes from the swinging hilt, Rhodri reached for it again, not as a man would a sword, but as a priest would a blessed crucifix. His voice was full of fury.
‘As the Lord God is my witness, I have not come to kill you, Dena!’ His tone and stance eased a little. ‘Though Hell, alone, knows what torments you are putting me through.’
He unlocked his fingers from the cross-guards and retreated a pace, looking this way and that in agitation before he stared at her.
‘If I didn’t not know better, I’d swear you had bound a charm round me!’
He turned away from her, lowering his head and lifting his hands to push his fingers through his damp raven hair.
‘Of all the maids who crave my heart, I allow it to be stolen by a Saxon! It’s unthinkable.’
An excitement began to bubble inside Dena, lifting her own heart, filling it afresh with all the surging emotions she’d experienced in Rhodri’s arms during the long, rain-soaked night. She edged towards him, cautiously at first, then with a determination born of truly held beliefs.
‘Is it so unthinkable?’ she asked.
You might also like