Englishman Roger Mortimer is constantly fighting with the Marcher lords, with an eye to the acquisition of Wales as English territory. Returning home after a feast, armed with a note of safe passage, a group of Welshmen is attacked by the soldiers of Roger Mortimer. During the fray, the Welsh King Cadwallon is assassinated while the Prince hides, his small friend protecting the fallen King's. At the mercy of the soldiers, young Gwirion refuses to give up the location of his Prince, although he is tortured, beaten and left for dead.
Years later, Gwirion is rewarded for his valor by a grateful king, Maelgwyn op Cadwallon of Maelienydd. At Cymaron Castle, Gwirion is a constant companion and best friend of the King, maintaining pride of place. Maelgwyn (known as Noble) marries the niece of Roger Mortimer in hopes of a temporary peace but soon realizes that the peace is only a ruse. Yet he hopes to bear an heir with Isabel Mortimer, a stranger in a foreign land, one more primitive and barbaric than her native England.
Isabel hopes for some control over her subjects as Queen but is humiliated before the Court time after time, often at the hand of Gwirion, who evidences considerable enmity towards his rival, much to Noble's amusement. The King keeps his own counsel, balancing Isabel and Gwirion as his pawns. Isabel's most natural response is to oppose the King's every wish, her stubbornness stimulated by a sense of powerlessness, although she is in thrall to his physical attentions.
Galland manipulates some really spectacular plotlines through her three protagonists: the King, more wily and Machiavellian than is first apparent; Isabel, in the midst of a tribal civilization, drawn to her husband yet fearing him, hating Gwirion yet saving him from the King's wrath; and Gwirion, tied to his assigned role as King's fool, pleased to perform but grown weary of eternal youth, unbalanced by Isabel's presence yet indebted to her compassion. In a series of skillful maneuvers, the trio parries and feints, each contemplating their fate.
This excellent fictional adventure is based on fact, much of 1190s Wales as depicted. Cymaron glows with the bonfires of barbaric feasts as the Welsh King fends off the English invaders, his fool entertaining the masses and the young Queen grappling with her helplessness as the wife of a brutal man, her naiveté both a weapon and the cause of her undoing.
Sword-slinging, bloody, artfully romantic and complicated by human emotions, the story is fueled by love, jealousy and greed, Galland’s characters animated and multi-layered. In this complicated web of twelfth-century political intrigue, a marriage of convenience and friendship bound of honor, the plot propels toward a shocking ending that leaves the citizens of Cymaron Castle gaping in shock.