Alditha crouched down at the door.
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"Caradog, you can come out now, your father has gone."
The boy opened the door. Their eyes met, and in that moment they, 18-year-old Alditha and her 9-year-old stepson recognised each other as a kindred spirits.
"Are you sure my father has gone?" he asked.
"Yes. I wouldn't be telling you he had if he hadn't, would I?" she replied
"No." he answered, then added candidly "Do you miss England?" surprising her by speaking in her own tongue.
"Yes." She said, speaking in English this time, now she knew he could understand it.
"And your brothers?"
"Edwin, no. Morcar, yes I do."
"And your parents?"
"My mother left us when I was eleven. My father, I hate."
"Like I do mine." Caradog riposted. "Do you like my father!"
"No!" Alditha asserted, "And I certainly wish I didn't have to be married to him."
"Well, why don't we go to the library?" he asked. "You like books, no?"
"Yes, I do. But you'll have to teach me some more Welsh."
"Oh, don't worry about Welsh. I've got my own library and I've managed to sneak quite a few English books in."
"You are very good at English."
"I've been learning since I was four. I bribed an English merchant at court to teach me."
"Why did I bribe him? Because English and English books are banned at court and I want to be able to get out of here when I'm old enough."
"What would your father do if he found out?"
"Hang Athelstan, cut my tongue out and burn the books."
"He'd do that to his son?"
"Do not question it, err… Stepmother, He'd do it alright."
"Oh, and Caradog, if you find it easier to call me by my name, you can."
"It's Alditha, is it not?"
"Well don't doubt, Alditha, that my father would do it, because he wood. You know they say that blood is thicker than water? Well, for my father, I would even say at times that water is the thicker of the two."
"It would be the same for my father, Caradog. You are not alone with having a horrible father you know."
Caradog nodded and halted outside a door. Pulling a key out of his pocket, he unlocked the door and pushed it open. Once they had both stepped inside, he locked it again.
"Cannot risk leaving it unlocked, even when I am in it." He explained and Alditha nodded.
"Have you read Confessions of a Merchant?" he asked.
"Yes, but I haven't read the sequel."
"Here we are, Confessions, Confessions…" he said, handing a leather bound book to her. "Do not take it out of here though. It is took much of a risk. I'll get another key made for you." Alditha nodded.
"Have you read Herbert the Norman's tale?" she asked.
"I've got a copy if you want to read it."
"You had better put it in here. Much safer."
"I will later." She said.
"Come and find me when you're ready.
Alditha followed Caradog out of the room, waited until he locked it and then went down to the palace grounds.
She was the daughter of Ælfgar, the exiled English Earl of Mercia, and had been married by her father to Gruffydd, Prince of all Wales and Caradog's father. However, in Wales, Gruffydd was called King, and so in effect, though not in the eyes of her fellow Englishmen and women, Alditha was Queen of all Wales.
She did not like Gruffydd. She could believe that he was capable of cutting his own son's tongue out just for speaking English, and she was terrified for Caradog.
The Welsh landscape and her cheerful stepson made up for what she had to put up with about her husband, and she loved to sit in the palace grounds, for they were in effect, just part of the rolling valley around Rhuddlan which belonged directly to Gruffydd.
About an hour later he spotted Caradog coming down the hill towards her. She got up and went to greet him.
"You never guess what our fathers have done now?"
"They have gone and raided Herefordshire."
"King Edward is having none of it. He's offered your father his earldom back if he promises to never communicate with my father again."
"My father will accept the offer."
"And leave you high and dry here?"
"He doesn't care about me. The only people he cares about are himself and Edwin."
"Do not worry. I have coped with my father not giving a jot about me for the last eighteen years, I did not expect it to change now."
"I know you do lad. Shall we go for a walk?"
"Yes. It will be a nice change from the stuffy air of the palace."
Caradog and Alditha must have walked nigh on ten miles.
"I feel as if I've walked all the way around Rhuddlan." He confessed when they arrived back at the palace.
"I know that I feel the same as if I had walked all the way round Coventry." Alditha said.
"My father cannot stop us enjoying ourselves. We've proved it this afternoon." He replied and Alditha nodded.
"I think we should swear a blood oath to that." She said, nicking her thumb with a knife, doing the same to Caradog's and pressing them together.
The sunset was just beginning, and with the sunset sky behind them, there began a bond stronger than many a mother and son had had in a lifetime.