THE LAST PRINCE OF LYONESSE

By

Frances Evlin

20 March, 1066


Early morning sun gilded the boulder-strewn promontory. With narrowed eyes, Tamsin watched the old man who had appeared of a sudden, without sound or word. He was not a manor resident, nor did she know of a guest who resembled him. White hair curled to his shoulders and a wooly beard covered his upper chest. Over garments of brown wool common to the men of Lyonesse, he wore a long, red velvet cloak that spoke of England. Reason enough to be wary of him, even though he carried no weapon. Tamsin’s fingers curled as if they closed around the staff she had left in Mam’s hut. 

She resented the whitebeard’s presence in her place of solitude. Thus, although she rose from the boulder upon which she had been seated, she did not retreat as he approached. When he stopped an arm’s length away, she queried him with firm voice. “What brings you to Breyer Manor lands, who wears a Norman cloak over Saxon kirtle and breeches?”  

“A Norman cloak?” The man’s voice, deep-timbred and strong, belied his appearance of age. He smiled. “Nay, Tamsin, I wore this cloak long before the Conqueror set foot on English soil.” 

Tamsin made an impatient gesture downslope toward the manor buildings. “I shall reprove whoever told you my name and where I might be.” 

 “I need no one to tell me your name, or where to find you. I know, and have always known, since the day you were born.” 

“That is impossible, since we have never met.” The whitebeard was obviously addled. But, although he appeared to be harmless, Tamsin saw no reason to be cordial to him. “Who are you, sir?” 

“At this time, in this place, I am called Carmarthen. In days to come, I shall be remembered by another name.” As he spoke, he fingered a silver medallion, etched with the figure of a merlin with outspread wings. 

Tamsin looked askance at him. “You speak of days to come. So, then, you wish to pass yourself off as a prophet?” 

“Some have called me that.” 

“And I suppose, last eve being Samhein, you slipped through the barriers and came here from the Other World.” 

He smiled. “I come to you by the grace of God.” 

 “It is well that you do,” Tamsin said tartly. “I am a Christian.” 

She felt a growing sense of familiarity with the old man and wondered if, after all, she might have met him when she was a child. In his eyes, she read entreaty and anxiety, and the mixed emotions piqued her interest. “So…if you have always known my whereabouts, Prophet Carmarthen, why do you seek me now?” 

Fanning his red robe over the boulder where Tamsin had sat, he sank down and looked up at her. She flipped her dark braid over her shoulder and waited for him to answer. 

Instead, he asked, “What know you of reincarnation?” 

Nonplussed at the question, she gave a mechanical response. “That the Church declared it anathema more than five hundred years ago.” 

“And you? Have you also declared it to be such?” 

Folding her arms, Tamsin gazed down upon the manor house. She had lived at Breyer Manor all her life and attended the manor chapel, presided over by Friar Edmond. She thought she understood his teachings and her own convictions. But she saw no reason to answer the prophet with nay or yea. 

“Reincarnation is a belief of the pagans,” she said. 

“Ah, Tamsin, you evade my question.” Carmarthen was quiet for a moment, then asked, “What know you of King Arthur?” 

With a shrug, Tamsin returned her attention to the old man. “What everyone knows. He was a great warrior king who lived in the sixth century. It was he who kept peace for fifty years among the folk of the West Country after the Romans left.” Memories of stories about the fabled king rushed forth. “Young he was, when he took the crown. And fair handsome. Even unto his death at the battle of Camlann. A nobler, braver man has not lived in England since his time.” 

Carmarthen stroked his mustache. “Hmmm. And what think you of Alfred?” 

Irked by yet another seemingly unrelated question, Tamsin spoke sharply. “King Alfred, do you mean?” At the prophet’s nod, she said, “I have not yet read his biography. But he has been called an able leader. It is said that he prevented the Danes from taking England in the ninth century.” 

“Aye. And Alfred’s abiding interest in literacy and learning brought about the gathering of facts for the Chronicles. Which interest, in turn, eventually made it possible for men such as Friar Edmond to teach anyone who truly wants to learn.” 

The words implied the whitebeard knew the monk tutored her. Tamsin fluttered her hands. “Where is all this talk leading? What has Alfred to do with Arthur?” 

 “They were one and the same.” 

“Alfred descended from Arthur? Well, I suppose that is possible. I have heard that said of our own King Maccus. Arthur did rest on Lyonesse between battles.” 

 “I do not speak of descendents. I speak of reincarnation.” 

 “Pagan!” Tamsin took a step backward. “I will listen to no more of this!” 

Carmarthen’s dark eyes flashed, but if he took offense at her words, that was the only sign. In fact, his voice held a note of pleading when he next spoke. “Tamsin, please, sit down and listen to me.” 

“No! I am tired of this conversation. I am not a simple-minded, uneducated peasant woman. Friar Edmond has taught me many things, and one of them is to pay no heed to the coaxing lies of men!” 

“It was not Friar Edmond who taught you that.” 

Tamsin caught a quick breath. “What else do you know about me?” 

“That the scar on the base of your throat is more than a birthmark. You acquired it when you lived another life. In the camp of Arthur, the Pendragon.” 

“What fol!” Tamsin turned away from him, her long skirt swirling. “Pendragon! I do not believe you!” She circled the boulder to get to the path. 

Carmarthen made no move to stop her. “Seek out Friar Edmond tonight,” he called after her. “I will speak to you about this again on the morrow.” 

“You will not!” she vowed to herself. She ran down the hill. Where the dirt path broadened to a stone-paved walk and approached a gateway, she paused, breathless. With a trembling finger, she touched the fine white line on her throat, just above her breastbone. Of course it was a natural birthmark! How foolish of that strange old man to suggest otherwise. She looked over her shoulder. The November sun lighted no figure on the rocky promontory.

*** 

Selwich clenched his folded hands tighter, the only outward sign of his irritation with King Maccus. The advisor sat on a bench opposite the king, regarding him across a wide, document-laden table. He drew a slow, deep breath before resuming his argument. 

“You pay me to advise you, Maccus, and I say it is time we expanded our trade. To do that, we need a better harbor than the rock-bound pool here at Porth Listri. You own the hoh at Ennoer. It is an ideal location for a new castle, and the bay could accommodate today’s larger trading ships—” 

“Selwich,” the king interrupted, holding up one hand, “I know the geography of Lyonesse.” He rose, crossed the room, and, hands clasped loosely behind his back, stood looking out the arched openings that led to the wall walk. 

The advisor glared at the king’s back. Yes, you know the geography of Lyonesse, but do you know what is best for your country? I remember a time when you did not care. 

A day’s walk beyond the wooded hills and green fields that rimmed Porth Listri’s shallow harbor lay Porth Ennoer. Could Maccus envision the hoh, and the scattering of farm huts below that flat-topped hill? Nearly level land, already cleared of furze and fern, sloped to a half-moon harbor. Nearby, a sweet-water spring flowed strong enough to supply a city and a castle. And a manor. 

Moments passed before Maccus turned away from the window. “No. Increased trade would draw attention to Lyonesse. I cannot risk that. You consider William the Second not to be a threat. I do. He has been busy putting down Risings, but when those are controlled, he will look elsewhere for lands to conquer. He is not called William Ruthless for nothing.” The king returned to his writing table. “We will continue to honor the Cornish Agreement.” He gave his advisor a wry smile. “Even though it may be one of the strangest in history.” 

Selwich got to his feet. You may call it strange, asking people of another country to deliberately disparage yours. I call it foolish and unnecessary. But he did not speak his thoughts. It was Maccus whose head bore the scar from his encounter with a would-be assassin during the Wreckers’ Rising of 1087. If the king wanted to put his life in peril again, let him do it. 

Trusting that his expression revealed disappointment and not anger, Selwich said, “The Plover has come into port. I will check on her cargo.” 

As he entered the corridor, he caught a glimpse of movement. Two boys were about to enter the library study room beyond the king’s apartment. At this distance, Selwich could not distinguish Prince Aneurin from his companion Dermot. Both were sturdy lads with golden hair. 

God, how Selwich envied their fair coloring. Except for them and Maccus, all the inhabitants of the islands of the kingdom of Lyonesse had hair and eyes in shades of brown. So how could anyone help but notice—indeed, almost revere—those with golden hair and blue eyes? Some Saxon lords conjectured that Maccus must be a descendent of King Arthur, implying that Lyonesse should belong to Cornwall. Nonsense, of course. The royal family’s coloring derived from a long history of brides who had been brought from Eire. 

As for Dermot, no one knew. The sole survivor of a shipwreck, he was thought to be about the same age as Aneurin, who had turned twelve three days ago. In the ten years Dermot had dwelt at the castle, he had learned to mimic the prince’s bearing. 

But the look-alike could not mimic inherited royal presence. Selwich lifted one hand in a brief salute. One of the boys nodded; the other turned away. The common folk of Lyonessse never noticed such trivial differences between the two boys when they appeared in public. Selwch did. Pleased with himself, he continued toward the staircase to the kitchens.

*** 

That evening, after they had supped in the king’s apartment, Dermot went to his own quarters, and Aneurin stayed to converse with his father. At fifty years of age, the king’s golden hair was tinged with gray, and his blue eyes were not as bright as they used to be, but Aneurin saw himself as a younger Maccus. 

Dermot always left immediately after dining with them. Sometimes, Aneurin felt sad to see him go, but mostly the prince felt satisfied that no one else shared this time with the king. Tonight, instead of setting out a board game, Maccus went to his bed and settled back against his pillows, gesturing for Aneurin to join him. The prince sat cross-legged on the foot of the big bed and waited for his father to speak. 

“I heard that you surprised Leofnoth with your assessment of the battle of Hastings and truly astounded him with your alternate strategy.” 

“Yes. He said it was ‘commendable’. And he was surprised at my answer because he thought he had caught me daydreaming.” 

Maccus tilted his head. “And were you?” 

Pursing his lips, Aneurin considered what to tell his father. Finally, he said, “Yes. I was thinking about how the boys on the quay are free to run and chase gulls and not worry about lessons.” 

“But the boys on the quay will not be king one day.” Maccus’ voice sounded so melancholy that Aneurin felt a prickle of fear. Was it only because tonight he grieved anew over the death of Aneurin’s mother, or did the king’s anguish run deeper? 

Head down, plucking at a feather escaping from the coverlet, Aneurin sneaked a look at his father. In the dim light from the fireplace and the candletree on the mantle, the king’s face appeared drawn and tired; his eyes were half closed. 

But he must have observed his son’s attempt at a sly assessment. “Come now. Do not look at me like that. I will not leave you anytime soon.” Maccus adjusted his pillows to sit more upright. “Now then, tell me about this wonderful bit of deceit you would have used to defeat William the First.” 

Aneurin grinned. “William the Bastard.” 

“Just so.” Maccus returned the grin. “Now, tell me.”