Sunday, May 15, 2011

#SampleSunday - A Kingdom's Cost -- Chapter Three

March 1306

Below the hill, every sort and color of flag and banner and pennant flew over a city of tents. From it streamed smiling and laughing men and women, gaily dressed, up the hill and into the Abbey. James found a place at the back where the warm March sun poured through. He wouldn't put himself forward. That was a right he would win, he knew it. But there might be days--not often, but a few--when being young and dispossessed was an advantage. He'd see them all as they passed. He rested his back against the wall near the door to watch.

Bruce's brothers, dressed in flamboyant velvets, came in, laughing loudly and talking. Nigel Bruce was the oldest of the four, big and broad-shouldered, looking every bit the jouster that James had heard he was. Alexander, the slender one, was said to be a scholar. Edward Bruce was tall and golden with flashing blue eyes, and the other, Thomas, was a leaner, dark-haired version of the king.

James recognized Sir Neil Campbell from when the muscular, red-haired highlander had called upon the bishop, and with him was the blond Englishman, Sir Alexander Seton. Today, the Campbell was fine in a gray silk tunic and on one arm a lady who James supposed was his wife, Mary Bruce, the king's sister. She was bonny, all dressed in blue and laughing up at her husband. Behind them strolled the gray-haired Earl of Atholl.

"Enjoying the minstrel show?" a voice said, close at hand. James turned and faced a man of middling height, sharp-faced with long brown hair going gray and a scar angled across his cheek. "If there weren't a show, someone would say he wasn't the king.”

"But a king must be crowned.” James blinked, confused at why the man would call the coronation such.

"You don't remember me, do you? Robbie Boyd." He held out a hand.

James' eyes widened as he clasped the man’s forearm. He hadn't recognized Boyd at all from those days when this man and his father had been close companions of Wallace's. "You were a friend of my father's. I remember you well.” He grinned. "I was but a lad, and I thought you were eight feet tall."

Boyd laughed. "Then you must have thought Wallace was a true Goliath.” He poked James with an elbow and nodded to a scowling man with Sir Philip de Mowbray at the front of the Abbey. "Look. The Earl of Strathearn with a face like someone threatened to cut off his head."

The man's face was furrowed in a scowl.

"Why would he look like that?" James asked.

"Because I told him I would if he didn't pay homage to the king. Lennox said killing him was a bad idea, but I'm not so sure. Puling weakling. We had to kidnap him to get him here, but we needed to make a good show. Not that it isn’t war. But they won’t say earls weren’t at our king's crowning." Boyd's eyes narrowed. "Even if it's only four."

The thought of the Earl of Lennox and Sir Robert Boyd kidnapping the Earl of Strathearn had him speechless. He stared at Boyd. "You kidnapped him?"

Boyd's teeth flashed in a grin, stretching the narrow scar on his cheek.

James scratched his new beard that was itching like a wolfhound pup full of fleas. True, most of those who should be here weren’t, but the idea of kidnapping an earl was more than he could fathom. Then it hit him that the MacDuff wasn't here. Of course, he was still a lad and in English hands. But who would place the crown on the king's head? It had always been the right and duty of the MacDuffs.

He started to mention it to Boyd just as trumpets, two lines of them, blared a fanfare that made James' ears ring. They resounded again.

Robert de Bruce strode between them into the Abbey and past the spectators up to the high altar. There he took his place on a massive throne. A low murmur went through the crowd. James glanced at Boyd, and the man met his eye, shrugging.

"No piece of rock makes a king," Boyd muttered.

No Scottish king had ever been crowned before without being seated upon the Stone of Destiny that King Edward Longshanks had stolen. It didn't matter, surely, but it left a queer feeling in James's belly anyway.

The new queen, Lady Elizabeth, entered through a side door to take her seat on a smaller throne to the side. Then Bishop Lamberton came out followed by the stooped, gray-haired Bishop Wishart and burly Bishop of Moray, all in richly embroidered, scarlet ecclesiastical robes. The chant of a choir floated through the abbey as the bishops clothed the king in the gorgeous purple and gold royal vestments. The Abbot of Scone swung a censor. The sweet scent of incense filled the air.

Lamberton's sonorous Latin Mass rolled over them, full of swelling anthems and dramatic pauses. Halfway through, James smothered a laugh at Boyd's sigh. As dramatic as the coronation was--it was long. But James caught his breath when the choir broke into a swelling Gloria in Excelsis.

The bishop brought the sacred oil and anointed the king.

James jumped when the trumpets sounded. And again.

Bishop Wishart strode to the altar and took the crown. It was a simple substitute for the one stolen by the English king, nothing more than a golden circlet. Again the trumpets sounded. The bishop placed the crown on the head of Robert de Bruce.

All around him, people jumped and cheered.

"God save the King," James roared with everyone in the Abbey. Boyd was grinning again as he joined in the shouts. "God save the King!"

Someone pushed past James and a line began to form. Soon it stretched out the door. James craned to see what was happening. The Earl of Strathearn stood first in place and Philip de Mowbray behind him. Bruce took Strathearn's hands in his, but the mumble that followed was indecipherable from where James stood. From the look of it, the rest of the day would be homage taking. James elbowed his way to the door with a wave to Boyd. James' homage and his loyalty, the king already had of him.

Below the buildings of the Abbey of Scone where it thrust into the sapphire sky, James wandered through the tent city that sprawled on the flats of the river. Near the slope of the hill, colorful silken pavilions of the lords and ladies sat under flapping banners, Bruce, Mar, Atholl, Lennox, Stewart, Hay, Lindsay, Strathearn and Campbell and the bishops and abbots. He passed tent booths where merchants cried, hawking their wares. Meat sizzling over braziers, sending up a scent that made his mouth water. Boys wander through the growing crowd crying pies for sale. James stopped under a merchant's sharp-eyed gaze to look at a brooch with a fine blue stone, but he had no lady to give it to or money to buy it. He strolled on.

Anyway, what was important lay ahead beyond more flying banners. The tourney grounds stretched out to beyond his sight.

The silver that the bishop had given him along with a gift from the king had bought a charger after he had returned the bishop's palfrey to the horse-master. James chuckled at the memory of the man's glare. Earlier in the day, he'd paid for a new shield with the blue chief and three white stars of Douglas. Tomorrow would be the tourneys, and he would have his first chance to show what he could do.


A Kingdom's Cost is now available at Amazon and Smashwords for only $2.99.

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