The Legend of a Rogue by Darcy Burke

“Do you?”

She nodded. “I write them down. Someday, I hope to publish them.” Her father wished she would marry instead, preferably to the young physician he’d recently hired to join him in tending to the people of Dunkeld as well as Birnam on the other side of the River Tay. Will you please tell me more about Lann Dhearg? And Rhydderch and his brother? I’d love to hear whatever you have to share.”

“It would be my privilege. Perhaps in return, you’d agree to show me around the fair?” He offered her his arm.

“I’d be delighted.” Elspeth put her hand on his coat sleeve. He was garbed entirely in brown, save the white of his shirt and the slight green tinge to his waistcoat. His clothing was made from fine, quality wool, indicating he was not poor. “What is taking you to Inverness?”

“Visiting family.” He guided her from the lawn near the cathedral toward the High Street and the stalls set up there. “Highland games near there, actually.”

She looked at his profile, thinking he presented a striking figure with his aristocratic nose and dark sable hair gathered into a queue at the back of his neck. “How exciting. You’ve been before?”

“Every year since I was small.” He peered down at her. “You didn’t think I was from there?”

She shook her head. “Not with your accent. In fact, I would say you are from the area of Rhydderch Hael. He was a king of Alt Clut.”

“You have a good ear,” he said with a hint of admiration.

“I’ve listened to a great many oral stories. I’ve become good at detecting where people are from. I’m still waiting for you to tell me about Lann Dhearg. Is there a chance Rhydderch was your ancestor?”

He laughed. “That would be remarkable, wouldn’t it? You are correct that I am from that area. Stories of him—and other kings—are still told. You should visit sometime, for there would be much for you to hear.”

“I would love to.” In truth, she wanted to travel all over Scotland and into Wales and England. But as a young, unmarried woman, she didn’t have the ability to do so. Nor would her father approve. He had, however, provided her with space for her growing library and supplied her with ink and parchment.

“In the meantime, I will tell you what I know,” Mr. Williams said. “Although, there isn’t much more beyond what I already told the young lad. Two swords were made—Dyrnwyn and Lann Dhearg. One was for Rhydderch and the other was for his younger brother, Constantine.”

“I thought Constantine was his son.”

“He was named for his uncle.”

“Did he also inherit Lann Dhearg?” Elspeth asked, her mind working with excitement over finding a new story to record.

“I can’t imagine so, since he abdicated the throne and devoted his life to religion.”

“Of course.” Elspeth knew Rhydderch’s son was Saint Constantine. “I am getting ahead of myself in my enthusiasm. You said the sword was lost. Do you know what happened to it when Constantine died?”

“Unfortunately, I do not. It is mentioned in a description from the tenth century regarding Owain ap Dyfnwal, who was a King of Strathclyde. He formed an alliance with Alba and Mercia, and was said to have carried a ‘red sword.’ Many believe that was Lann Dhearg. However, that is the only mention of it.”

“And yet, the legend persisted.” Elspeth had learned that stories were easily lost. It was easy to discount one story from over a century ago, harder when there were two stories, as in this case. It was harder still if there were several tales about a person or an object. She tipped her head to look up at him as they entered the market square. “Do you think it is that—a legend?”

He lifted a shoulder. “Probably. But as you say, it has persisted. I suppose a part of me hopes it really exists. Do you think the thirteen treasures do?”

Elspeth exhaled. “Like you and Lann Dhearg, I want to believe they do. Especially the Heart of Llanllwch.”

“Why, so you can make someone fall in love with you?” His tone was teasing, but there was something else to it too.

Elspeth paused, and as he drew to a stop beside her, he turned slightly. “No, it’s just more appealing to me than a sword or a halter or a cauldron.” She named just a few of the treasures.

Mr. Williams laughed, a warm, robust sound that made Elspeth smile. “For me, it’s the cloak. I should like to be able to render myself invisible.”