Stirling, Scotland: July 1304
Bishop William de Lamberton grasped his squire by a shoulder, pushing him towards the open doors at the end of the long, high-arched hall. James twisted out of Lamberton's grasp and whirled to face him. A youth of sixteen, dark-eyed and slender as a knife, James flushed with anger.
"I won’t swear fealty to him."
Lamberton sighed. James was being unusually difficult. "Do you want your lands back? Your father's title?"
James drew himself up. "You know I do. I must have them." He shoved shaking fingers through the black tumble of his hair. "My people need me, and it's where I belong. I've sworn to get back what was stolen from my father--a sacred oath."
"Then you must bend a knee to King Edward."
The lad stared past him to a hole that gaped in the far wall of Stirling Castle, captured only two days ago by the English king. The air reeked of smoke. Overhead, beams were blackened from fire.
"They tried to surrender, and the king wouldn’t let them. He kept bombarding the castle with his siege engines, on and on." James's voice was ragged with anger. "I was in Berwick-upon-Tweed when the town was butchered, my father's page. I saw... My lord, from the walls of the castle, I saw what the English king did in the town. The thousands he put to the sword. The screams--all the night and all the next day until there was no one left to scream. They starved him to death in a dungeon. How can I swear fealty to him?"
Lamberton grabbed the lad's shoulders and gave him a shake. "You can because you must."
James' dark cheeks flamed red. "I can't. I want what they stole, but I can't." He tried to jerk free but Lamberton clamped his hands on James's shoulders with a jerk.
Never since returning from France where his father had hidden him had James defied Lamberton. But always underneath his obedience, James had a flame that burned, barely tamped down.
Lamberton gave James another shake. "You’re going to obey me." By the cross, he understood the lad's anger, but against the stakes of freeing Scotland, he couldn't let that sway him. James having the power of his father's barony would be too useful not to try for.
His whole body stiff and his wide mouth pressed into a grim line, James stared into the shadows before he bowed his head. "I'll do it, my lord, but only because you command me." But his voice was stiff with protest.
"Then let us get this finished and behind us."
Lamberton released him, trusting him to follow through the wide double-doors of the great hall. The noise of men's voices and the color of their fine robes filled the room. Liveried servants hurried to place platters of food on the table that stretched the length of the hall. Under the stench of smoke, a scent of roast venison and onions drifted on the air. Around the table clustered men cutting dripping slices from a haunch of meat.
At one end of the room, dressed in a rich velvet tunic with a leopard sewn in rubies on the front, King Edward Longshanks sat in a massive, high-backed chair. Nearby, Sir Robert de Clifford stood, still in dark armor, talking to the sharp-featured young Aymer Valence, Earl of Pembroke. A page poured wine into a goblet the king held. Even seated, Edward Longshanks towered over him. He was Longshanks indeed, even taller than William Wallace. Past his sixtieth year, Edward of England was as lean as a man twenty years younger, even handsome in a regal way. A short gray beard covered his cheeks and chin, framing a hawk nose, a stern mouth and piercing blue eyes. They stabbed Lamberton with a suspicious look as he bowed deeply.
The king motioned him forward. "Bishop Lamberton," he said in a voice that could carry across a battlefield, "what have you? I did not call you to my presence."
Again, Lamberton bowed. At the best, he had to work to keep the king sweet. He was sure King Edward never forgot that the hated Wallace had raised him to the bishopric of St. Andrews. "I bring you my squire who would swear fealty to you, Sire. He'll serve your grace well as he has me."
Lamberton stepped aside with another half bow to the king, since James had lagged behind him. The lad had his eyes cast stubbornly down, but that might be as well. Best the king didn't see that wild look and it made him appear humble enough even for Edward.
"Your squire, eh?"
Lamberton motioned James closer. "I ask you to grant him his inheritance as his father is dead, Sire."
"What's this inheritance he claims?"
"The lands of Douglasdale, Your Grace."
"Douglas." The king jumped up from his seat. "You dare bring me the son of that traitor?" Edward Longshanks hurled the goblet at Lamberton. It hit his chest, wine soaking his robe and splashing across his face.
In the sudden silence, Lamberton heard James gasp.
Wine dripped down Lamberton's cheeks but he dared not wipe them. "Sire, surely the sins of the father. . ."
"Silence! Douglas died in my dungeon and I am his heir." The king thrust his jaw towards Lord Robert Clifford.
"I gifted the lands to one who has served me well. No traitor shall have them."
"Surely, Sire, the son is no traitor."
The king's face empurpled with rage. "His father was always my enemy--always. A friend of the outlaw, William Wallace. I'll not have the boy. Get out. Out! Before he takes Wallace's place on the scaffold."
Lamberton bowed deep before he turned. Blaming James for his father was harsh even for King Edward. He'd forgiven men who'd been in open rebellion, but now the only choice was to get the lad out of the king's sight.
Another plan ruined, but a small one.
With a hand on James's shoulder, Lamberton urged him towards the door, the lad with a ramrod spine of indignation. No one spoke. No one else moved. Lamberton barely breathed until they reached the shattered stone rubble of the gatehouse. He took a deep breath. They'd live yet another day.
James untied Lamberton's gray palfrey. His hands shook and his lips were white, they were so tightly clenched.
For a moment, Lamberton got James's full stare, black, wide-eyed, and fuming. After a moment, he removed his gaze to scatter it over the shadowy reach of the valley.
Lamberton took the reins from his hand. "Don't take it so hard, lad. I'll find a solution." He swung into the saddle.
James gave a jerky nod. "I know you mean to, my lord." James jumped into his saddle, settled his feet in the stirrups and gathered the reins. "But I fear this I must solve for myself."
Lamberton sighed and then nodded down the rutted road towards town, its watchtowers and church spires dark against the gathering dusk. Stirling town had surrendered with no fight. Now it was full of English soldiery, but there were yet places a bishop could be secret. "I have someone to meet. After dark."----------------------------------------------------
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