|UK edition||Publisher||:||SilverWood Books|
With ringing triumph, Cunedda finished his speech. 'There is another Pendragon - still young, I grant, we need wait for him to come of age. We, Uthr and I, had hoped we need not reveal him until he was ready, but that was not to be.' Cunedda chivvied Arthur before him and shouted above the rising excitement, his voice ringing out almost to the watching mountains. 'Here, before the hallowed sanctity of our Stone, I give you your next King! I give you the Pendragon - Arthur!'
He stepped back, leaving Arthur to stand alone as a great clamour rose up into the sky. The lad smiled now, the pain and sorrow fading with that great roar of acclaim. Cunedda was wrong: five had known Uthr had his heir. Arthur had known him to be his father. Why else had he loved the man so, and the man been so fond of the lad? He grinned, broadly triumphantly, at the pride in Cunedda's face, the unexpected pleasure on those of his sons. Arthur winked boyishly at the exultant Gwenhwyfar.
Unexpected, Cunedda knelt before the lad, offering his sword as a token of his loyalty. Few heard the words he
spoke, above that tumult of approval raised by those watching men. It did not matter, all knew the oath of allegiance.
'To you, Lord, I give my sword and shield, my heart and soul. To you, Lord, I give my life, to command as you will.'
Arthur could not hide his consternation at so great a man kneeling at the boy's feet. With shaking fingers, he touched Cunedda's offered sword, then impulsively he raised the man and embraced him as a friend.
If it were possible, the roar increased. Men of Gwynedd yelled their delight at seeing their Lord accepted by the new Pendragon, and the men of Uthr, heartsore and bruised, shouted and cheered, relieved to have their anxiety and uncertainty so splendidly lifted.
One by one the sons of Gwynedd stepped forward to follow their father's example. Etern too knelt.
'I am not yet come to manhood, I cannot swear oath to you. But this I can swear, Arthur, that when the time comes you will not be wanting for a more loyal sword, for mine shall be yours, whenever you have need of it.'
Arthur choked, almost unable to speak. He clasped his friend's arm and stammered, 'Then I shall indeed be blessed with a greater fortune than I deserve!'
As Etern, wiping away a tear, stepped aside, Gwenhwyfar, with head high, strode forward. The sun burst through a low covering of misty cloud, making her hair and jewels sparkle with dazzling brilliance. She knelt solemnly before Arthur, her grace and hint of woman's beauty showing clearly through the lankiness of her child's body, catching every watcher's attention. The noise abated. No woman took the oath of loyalty. What was this girl-child about?
She held Arthur's eyes, and her voice, young though it was, carried clear and bold. 'I too am of the blood of Gwynedd. Were I born male I would swear my oath, but I am woman born. I have no shield or sword.'
Arthur took her hands in his. Like a fool he felt the sudden urge to cry. Looking down at her earnest face, his dark eyes seeing deep into the hidden secrets of her tawny flecked green, he realised how much he wanted her for his own.
Tremulously Gwenhwyfar said, 'I have something else to give, Lord.' Her heart was hammering. 'When I am a woman grown I shall have a greater gift to pledge. I offer you, my Lord Arthur Pendragon, to use how you choose, my unborn sons!'