Driven by Duty
is with those she's willing to fight for...
A warlord's daughter has responsibilities. No one knows that better than Gwen, only daughter and political pawn of her father, Uthyr.
But with her husband banished and her brother gone after him, Gwen isn't leaving her fate in Uthyr's hands one moment longer. She has a plan and needs an accomplice she can trust.
Luckily, her lover Elain is the most courageous, loyal, honest woman she knows.
Elain has a secret, and helping Gwen run away will only bring them closer to exposing the truth: that Elain too is the daughter of a powerful warlord—and his only heir.
Now her best chance to give Gwen a secure future is to reclaim her birthright. But doing so would mean confronting the father she fled years ago.
And risking the fragile bonds of the new family she's only just found.
Meanwhile, Arthur's restlessness amid the tedium of a winter border camp draws Bedwyr into risks that could inspire men to swear their swords...or destroy the tenuous alliances holding the Saxons at bay.
DRIVEN BY DUTY is the 3rd novel of the SONS OF BRITAIN series, featuring four people whose unconventional bonds will forge the core of a legendary war band...
...and introducing a fifth, whose arrival will change the course of everything.
Tropes: on the run, bodyguard/charge, secret past, found family, surprise pregnancy
Content Notes: misgendering & deadnaming a trans character, killing (self-defense), pregnancy & childbirth
SONS OF BRITAIN series
They're a long way from legendary. Amid the volatility of 6th-century Britain, Arthur and Bedwyr are just two young men, born to fight and bound to their warlord by blood and oath. But when fierce hearts collide, loyalties can shift, creating bonds far stronger—and ideas far riskier—than their world may be ready for.
Release date: September 13, 2018
Print pages: 222
Content advisory: misgendering & deadnaming of a transgender character, killing (self-defense), pregnancy & childbirth
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Driven by Duty
Late Autumn, 515 CE
Gwen groaned and retched into the clay pot again. Elain, kneeling at her side, swept Gwen’s pale hair off her neck. She pressed her lips to Gwen’s clammy skin, then applied the damp cloth.
Gwen spit and sat back. “Some wedding night.”
“Have you finished?”
“Gods, I hope so.”
Elain helped her to stand, and Gwen climbed into the tall bed under her own power. Elain poured her a mug of cool water, then pushed the clay pot toward the bedchamber door with one toe. The men’s voices rumbled softly through the door.
“Are they still talking?”
“I can’t believe they aren’t in bed. Someone should be enjoying this night.”
Elain crossed to sit on the edge of the bed and smiled at Gwen. “You’re not enjoying it?”
Gwen gave her a flat stare.
“Because I’m having the best time.”
Elain smoothed her hair back from her forehead. “I’m spending it with a beautiful woman.”
Gwen groaned again. “Stop. I must look hideous. Smell hideous.”
She was sweaty and tired-eyed and strong and plump and perfect. “You’re as lovely as ever.”
“I adore you.”
“You must.” Gwen’s dark eyes slanted up to hers. “No accounting for taste.”
Elain kissed her brow and laid her cheek there. “I’m sorry you’re in pain. I’m sorry I caused it.”
“I asked you to.”
“I know. Still don’t like it.”
“It’s for the best.”
The remedy she’d prepared for Gwen would prevent her quickening. As Gwen had told it, Arthur hadn’t planted his seed this night—had only spent on her belly. None of the four of them had thought they’d even need to go that far, but then Uthyr had demanded that the Myrddin witness Gwen and Arthur’s consummation. Thankfully the old woman was blind, and so Arthur and Gwen had been able to perform a false fucking. Because she’d known old Mabyn would examine her, Gwen had smeared Arthur’s seed inside herself, tearing her maidenhead for good measure, and the Myrddin seemed to have accepted the proof. And so their plan had worked.
But Gwen had requested the remedy all the same, just to be certain. Elain hoped she’d gotten the proportions correct. She’d watched Caron make such a thing at the brothel any number of times, but that had been in the lowlands of Rhys’s domain. She’d had a time of finding the herbs among the late autumn undergrowth here in the mountains. But it was done now and, judging by Gwen’s reaction to the mixture, it had worked.
Tucking the blankets around Gwen’s shoulders, she extinguished the lamp and rounded the bed to climb in the other side. Gwen must not have resented her too much, for she slid close and rested her head in the crook of Elain’s shoulder. Elain gave her a squeeze.
“I wish I could make you feel better.”
“Oh you will,” Gwen murmured. “But tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow will be better.”
“Tomorrow we begin fresh.” Gwen’s words sparked with determination. “It’s a good plan we have, and only the four of us could pull it off. No one can touch us.”
“Hush,” Elain teased, “or the gods will hear you.”
Gwen yawned and settled closer, soft and warm. “They have their heroes. What could they want of us?”
One day later…
Fools, the four of them.
How had they thought it would work? How had they ever thought no one would notice something amiss, especially when at least one person had been watching and waiting?
Their tidy little arrangement had lasted all of a night before Cai, resentful and suspicious, had rooted out the truth. A truth that had just gotten Arthur banished and Bedwyr dragged off to the armory to be chained.
And beside her, Gwen, pale and wide-eyed, watching the people she loved get cast adrift from Uthyr’s hall like leaves in a storm.
Elain’s chest constricted. She would be sent on her way as well. She’d been complicit in their deception, and though he’d hired her to carry out his own scheme, Lord Uthyr would never allow her to stay. She was still Bedwyr’s wife, but such fine points would be moot when Bedwyr inevitably escaped to find Arthur.
She could do that much before she had to leave them; she could help them reunite sooner.
Leaning down, she brushed her lips to Gwen’s ear. “I’ll find you,” she said because she couldn’t bear to say goodbye just yet, and then she turned and slipped through the rug hanging at the rear of the hall.
Shouts sounded nearby—Bedwyr giving Cai and Huw a proper struggle on his way to the armory. Edging around the neighboring building, she watched from the chill late-autumn shadows as they managed to get him through the armory door. More shouting, muffled by the structure’s thick walls and thatching, but then Huw and Cai emerged again. A low-pitched exchange before Huw left. Cai watched him go, looked down at his hands, and then leaned against the building.
He would stand watch, then. So much for hoping to talk to Bedwyr herself. Cai would never let them speak alone. She turned for the house they four had shared.
It lay across the path from the meeting hall, the front door open, spilling lamplight and agitated voices into the yard. Just before she stepped from the shadows, Arthur’s father emerged and strode quickly away. Whether for his own house or his apothecary, she couldn’t be certain. Possibly both. If she stopped to think about the effects this night would have on Arthur’s parents, she’d remain rooted to the ground, unable to function. She hoped that, someday, they could forgive her for her part in their loss of their younger son.
When Master Matthias was well away on his own mission, she crossed the path and stepped into the house.
Mistress Britte stood at the table, packing provisions into a sack. Arthur was nowhere in sight. He couldn’t have gone yet, not without whatever his mother was putting in that pack.
The smith straightened with a jerky motion and stared. “Elain,” she said, then seemed unable to say more.
“Where is Arthur?”
Britte glanced first at Arthur’s bedchamber but then spotted his pack in the middle of the main room. Her worried gaze slid to the door opposite.
Before Elain could move, Arthur drifted from the chamber he’d shared with Bedwyr for a single night. His face was pallid, so that his freckles stood out, and for some reason he looked thinner. Or disheveled. Elain shook her head to clear it and crossed the room to him. Lifting the pendant that lay light and warm around her neck, she handed it to him. “Go to Black Rhys.”
He frowned, tipping his fingers toward the light. “What’s this?”
“He’ll know it. He knew of the bargain I made with Lord Uthyr and gave me this. Told me to send it to him if I needed his help.” Not in so many words, he hadn’t done, but near enough for Rhys.
“How should I tell him to help you?”
She turned over his words, confused, before gathering his meaning. “Not me, Arthur. You. The pendant will tell him he can trust you.”
“He doesn’t know me.” He tried to hand it back. “And he wouldn’t defy Lord Uthyr.”
“I know you, and I know him. A lord’s oath and his actual loyalties are sometimes not the same.”
The next moment she was wrapped up in Mistress Britte’s strong arms. “Thank you.”
“Of course, mistress.”
Arthur studied the pendant, rubbing its face with a thumb. “I’ve ruined everything for you and Gwen. I’m sorry.”
She closed his fingers around the pendant. “We’ll be fine, Arthur. You need to take care now. Go to Rhys.” She realized then why he looked strange: he was wearing Bedwyr’s shirt. The torso was too big, the sleeves too short. When she laid a hand on his chest, his heart thumped rapidly behind his breastbone. “Should I tell him?”
His mother flinched at the force in his voice.
“He has to believe I don’t want him,” he said. “It’s the only way he’ll take his rightful place.”
As much as she’d expected. He would protect Bedwyr to the detriment of his own life, and Bed would do the same. They deserved each other in every sense. She would just have to go around him. “Goodbye, then.”
His shoulders slumped in relief. “Goodbye. Thank you. I’ll show this to Rhys.”
The flatness in his voice made her want to embrace him, tell him he wouldn’t be alone. But she had one more thing to do before she could promise it. “Be well. Mistress Britte, may I ask you something outside?” she said, adding, “A woman’s matter?”
They stepped out back. Mistress Britte’s eyes strayed to the door, as if Arthur might leave without saying goodbye.
“I’m here to ask you to deliver a message.”
Mistress Britte’s attention snapped back to her. “Message?”
“I think Bedwyr will try to find Arthur when Uthyr eventually lets him out of the armory. There’s a way to tell him where Arthur’s gone.”
“Lord Uthyr isn’t going to let me talk to Bedwyr.”
“You’re his wife.”
She took Britte’s hands in her own. “It’s a long story, but my station as his wife is null now and not because he loves Arthur.”
Britte pressed her hands in a formidable grip. “He does?”
“I promise it.”
“Arthur’s determined to see Bedwyr take his place beside Uthyr.”
“You’re more practical than that, Mistress Britte.”
“For all the good it’s done.”
“It’s done immense good.” But it hadn’t been enough, had it? She squeezed Britte’s hands. “We all failed them.”
Britte took a deep breath, exhaling it into the dark night. “What is the message?”
A small measure of relief washed over her. “I had a nickname when I lived at Rhys’s: Lancea.”
Strange to say the name again. She hadn’t seen the man who’d given it to her in a long time. But she’d told Bedwyr. She hoped he remembered.
Britte tested the name.
“If you could get that to Bedwyr…”
“He’ll know where to find Arthur. No one else knows the meaning?”
“Gwen,” Britte murmured and shook her head. “Cai’s ruined everything. Cai and Uthyr.”
“I have to go, Mistress. If anyone asks—when someone asks—you saw me leave the village, headed south.
“Goodbye, Mistress. Thank you.”
Britte gave her a brief, iron-bound hug, then turned for the house again.
Elain watched her step inside, glimpsing Arthur past the smith’s shoulder, still looking stunned.
Slipping down the hill into the shadows, she skirted the village until she came to Lord Uthyr’s house. She tucked herself into the shelter of the eave and waited.
Her father’s hand on her back was inexorable, leading her past their staring neighbors, out of the hall, and down the dark path to his new house.
Gwen glanced at the house she’d shared with Elain for scarcely a full day. The door stood open, but no one was about. No smoke rose from the chimney to indicate any life within.
Just so. Those who’d made up the hopes for life in that house were scattered now. Arthur banished, Bedwyr in chains, Elain…
She shivered. Where was Elain? She wouldn’t leave, would she?
Uthyr drove her steps toward his new house at the far end of the village. She could hear Eira’s quick footfalls behind them. Her father’s woman would be keen to witness the dressing down Gwen was about to receive. The man himself strode beside her, silent, his breaths clouding the air around his beard. She didn’t dare look up to see what lay in his eyes.
The house felt over-warm when Uthyr pushed her through the door. Eira scurried in behind them, heading straight for the hearth to light a lamp. The better to see Gwen’s fall.
“Go to the bedchamber.”
At her father’s command, Gwen started for it, but he took hold of her arm. “Not you.”
Eira looked up, surprise blanking her features. “I thought to—”
“But you’ll need—”
“Go to the bedchamber or leave the house. Those are your options.”
Eira straightened, her spine growing rigid with pride. Her narrow gaze flitted to Gwen briefly before she grabbed her skirts in two bony hands and stalked to the other chamber. When the door slammed shut behind her, Uthyr let out a great sigh. He looked at Gwen, his eyes flashing in the light from the hearth. “Sit.”
A full minute passed as he paced the floor next to the bench. Silence felt heavy around her, yet full of her own questions until she opened her mouth to alleviate the pressure. But her father spoke first.
“Did you know?”
What a laden question. Did she know… that Bedwyr and Arthur were bound? That they had been even before they said the words? That they’d been effectively bound all summer as shieldmates, that it had sparked like a wildfire the previous winter, when Uthyr had demanded Arthur bunk down with Bedwyr in the shepherd’s hut and rehabilitate him?
She knew many things, but how many of them had her father sussed for himself?
“Did I know what?”
He shot her an unimpressed look. “That they were fucking.”
The word grated harshly from between his teeth. It was supposed to be a happy thing, a boisterous thing, a slow, curious thing—all of which she hoped her brother had shared with Arthur. Not this thing spoken with blunt contempt. “They care for each other.”
Her father stared at her.
“It wasn’t just—”
“What was the arrangement in the house?”
On this point, she knew exactly what her father was asking. “Bed and Arthur shared Bedwyr’s chamber. Elain stayed with me. To leave them be,” she added quickly.
Uthyr wasn’t warlord for nothing; his shrewd eyes studied her. “Elain shared your bed?”
“As my sister-by-law.” It came out in a croaked whisper.
“What happened last night?”
Last night, the evening of their weddings, hers to Arthur and Bed’s to Elain. After which her father had insisted their unions be witnessed. “The Myrddin witnessed us. Arthur and me.”
“Witnessed what, precisely?”
Our trick. “Our consummation.”
“Arthur planted his seed in you?”
“Would you call him back?”
“He spilled his seed,” she said, hating the way her face flushed. “On my belly. I put it inside.”
“Where the Myrddin found it.”
“Then I took a remedy to keep from quickening.” Her gut still roiled from the effects.
“Why would you do such a thing?”
He was close to catching her out. Why would she do such a thing when having Arthur’s child would have maintained the pretense of their sharing a house as siblings-by-law? Her reason hadn’t been nearly as practical. Not practical at all, in fact. What warlord’s daughter worth her salt made decisions rooted in love?
“I didn’t want a babe.”
Uthyr’s dark brows rose. “Oh, you didn’t, did you?”
“I want to live first.”
He stared at her a moment longer then shook his head. “Spitting image.”
“My sister,” he drawled. “Morgawse.”
Gwen watched her father pace again. He never spoke of his sister. She’d left the village before Gwen was born, under shameful enough circumstances that no one breathed her name anymore. As if she were dead.
“Didn’t want the man our father chose for her,” Uthyr growled. “Wanted a say in the matter. Wanted a man of her choosing. A man who offered no strategic advantage to our people.”
“Lot.” He bit the word out.
“Did she love him?”
He chuckled darkly. “It wasn’t love, child.”
“I’m not a child.”
He stopped and turned to her. “Is that so?”
“Yes.” Though in this moment, she was beginning to doubt.
“You think you know what’s best for our people? What’s best for this family? For you?”
Her father’s mouth opened, but whatever he might have said next was interrupted by the front door swinging open. Mistress Britte stood on the threshold but only for a moment. The next, she charged into the house and began to beat her fists against Uthyr’s chest.
“You fucking bastard!”
Gwen sat, frozen, at the blacksmith’s outburst. Never in her life had she heard Mistress Britte even raise her voice, let alone scream the way she was doing now. And she was strong. She threw her entire body into the blows she dealt Uthyr, enough that he staggered a step before setting his boots.
Wrapping his arms around the smith, he tried to bind her. “Britte—”
“Don’t Britte me, you arrogant, manipulative, cold-hearted demon!” She struggled against him, nearly toppling them both.
Gwen realized with a start that she wouldn’t likely have a better chance than this. As her father sought to contain the onslaught of Mistress Britte’s grief and anger, she rose quietly from the bench and slipped out the rear door of the house.
And into a solid body in the dark.
She grunted in surprise, but then warm hands took hold of her shoulders.
“It’s only me.”
Chilled with relief, she wrapped her arms around Elain. “Where did you go?”
“To speak to Mistress Britte.” She paused, listening to the racket on the other side of the door.
“Did you see Bed?”
“Cai’s guarding him.”
Cai. The one who’d exposed Arthur in public. His own brother. A man who, if Elain was to be believed, wanted Gwen for himself.
“I want to leave,” she said.
Elain’s long fingers gripped her arms. “Leave?”
“The village. My father’s lands. Now, tonight.”
“Don’t. I know what I want. I know my own mind—”
One of Elain’s hands landed softly on her mouth, hushing her. In the house, Mistress Britte had quieted. Gwen could hear the low rumble of her father’s voice. Their opportunity was slipping away.
Elain was still for a long moment, before kissing her softly in the dark. “Wait for me. There’s something in motion. I’ll come back.”
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