Sunday, March 13, 2011

Freedom's Sword -- Chapter Two

For Sample Sunday, I'm posting the start of Chapter Two of my new novel, Freedom's Sword, available for Kindle now on Smashwords and still being processed for sale on Amazon.


Wisps drifted in the vale below and the world turned from gray to azure to green in the morning light. A warm breeze brushed Andrew's face like a lass's kiss. He wondered how he could think of a lass at a time like this. High above, it blew scuttling clouds. Troops behind him shouted angry exclamations mixed with curses. He bent from the saddle to look down the rocky slope dotted with outcrops and yellow-bloomed gorse. A thin trickle of the Spotts Burn ran through the middle of the wide vale dotted with scattered trees, a trickle seeping along the rocky way.

His father's men held the left flank. Sergeants rode beside the men-at-arms shouting orders to form into lines. The slope up was rocky with loose scree and men struggled with their sliding, skittering mounts.

Sir Waltir mac Donchie glared toward the center, half a mile away, where John Comyn's troops were in a writhing mass of disorder. Their own troops were eager for glory, shouting as they ranged themselves into lines. "I've done what I can, my lord," he said, "but they're still green as a spring meadow."

On the opposite ridge, beyond the Spotts Burn, the English were halted. Above them, a gold and black banner flew beside the red cross of St. George.

His lord father nudged his horse a step forward. As they watched, the English army formed in each direction in a triple line so long they spread out of sight. An English trumpet sounded. It was answered by another and another.

"What think you?" his father asked Sir Waltir, raising his voice over the cacophony.

"I'm not sure why Warrenne is delaying. He is not the best commander the English king has. He may still be deciding when to attack."

Andrew jumped from his saddle and led his destrier closer, its blue enameled armor clanking, to squint into the morning's glare. Pennants with devices he couldn't make out in the distance fluttered, white, green, blue, and red, above the gleaming tips of lances. The distance gave the army they faced an odd silence except for the sounding of their trumpets. God save us, look at all of them. That there are so many knights in all the world.

With a clatter of rocks flying from under his horse's hooves, John Comyn joined them. He balanced a hand on the helm in front of his saddle. "We're too many for them. They will retire."

Andrew wanted to ask: without a fight? But it wasn't his place. A flurry of tinny flourishes sounded. Once more, there was movement on the opposite side as more English chivalry moved into position, but still they held their place.

"My lord earl, if I have leave to speak..." Sir Waltir said.

Comyn looked down his thin nose but waved permission.

"De Warrenne won't dare return to his master without a fight. He will not retire without blooding his sword."

Comyn's lip curled. "Know him well, do you?"

"I fought him in Guyenne for the French king, my lord. King Edward Plantagenet is no master to have his commands ignored."

The Comyn thrust his chin toward the arrayed army. "I believe my own eyes. They don't look eager for battle."

A horseman trotted up and gave a brief bow. "My Lord of Atholl has his men on the right flank and says he awaits your decision for the charge."

"Aye," John Comyn said. "Take him word. Charge on my trumpets' sound."

In the center of the opposite line, John de Warrenne rode out, magnificent in silver armor upon a chestnut destrier, his standard-bearers flanking him, banners moving lazily in the warm air. He raised an arm. A distant horn sounded two long thin notes. In the long line, destriers stamping and tossing their heads, knights wheeled their mounts. They began a sliding descent.

Andrew gaped. They were moving away, diagonally to the Scots, toward the east. They were not charging. Behind, more turned and followed. Slowly, like a frozen river unjamming on a sunny day, the glittering host moved.

"I knew it!" Comyn spun his horse in a close circle towards where his own men were still flailing about, horses forcing their way up and lances askew as they tried to avoid running into each other. "We'll attack while they retire. Sound the charge!" He stood in his stirrups, waving a signal.

His trumpeters answered with a long blare.

"Again," he shouted, waving an arm over his head. "At them before they escape."

Brian handed Lord Avoch his helm. He jammed it on and took his lance as well, couching it. Andrew jumped into his saddle and grabbed his shield from his back. Guarding his father was his only job. His heart thudded so hard it rang in his ears.

"God have mercy upon us," his father said before he turned to Sir Waltir. "Sound the charge."

Haaaarooooooo Their trumpets sounded. His father gave Andrew a long look. "Stay close." He stood in his stirrups. "Moray! Moray! For Scotland and King John!" He bent over his horse's neck and kicked it to a canter.

Andrew set his horse into motion and plunged down the slope, shield raised, knee to knee with his father. The drumbeat of galloping horses shook the ground. "De Moray!" he shouted. On its hocks, his horse slid down the slope, rocks and pebbles flying. Their men took up the war cry. They shouted and screamed. Beside him, Brian hunched over his lance with a ululating bellow. His ears rang with the cries. Scotland! Scotland! Scotland!

The English continued their retiral. The shouts and hoofbeats of Comyn's troops seemed to go further away. Andrew glanced over his shoulder. The whole line of Comyn chivalry was split off, climbing the steep slope to hit the English from the rear. When he looked back, the glittering line of English knights whom they pursued had slowed to a walk.

A distant trumpet blew twice. Another. A new line of English horse thundered into sight at the top of the ridge. The hoofbeats were a rumble of drums. The line thundered down on them.

The fleeing line of English knights pulled up, jerked reins, horses reared, pawed the air. They wheeled. The sun caught the points of their lances like a thousand flames.

The trap snapped shut.


Conan the Librarian™ said...

Guid stuff lassie.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Thank you! I really appreciate that coming from you. :)