Saturday, August 27, 2011
Andrew Discovers the Terrible Price of Defeat: Freedom's Sword
The morning dawned with a muggy heaviness. Sweat gathered under the iron bracelets on Andrew's wrists, stinging in the open sores they'd rubbed. A length of chain no more than two feet in length ran between the irons on his ankles. His hair, dank and matted, hung in his eyes. At full daylight, with fifty other prisoners, he was herded towards the rutted dirt road by a handful of mounted men-at-arms. His hands got clammy and cold as he wondered where they were being taken through the shadowy pinewoods. He pictured the piles of bodies after the battle and someone dragging Brian by the feet leaving a crimson track in the dirt. His stomach turned and he gagged.
This was the first time he and his father had been moved since they were taken prisoner. His father... the earls of Atholl and Buchan... and two hundred or so of their men... the ones who hadn't died in the fighting.
Back bruised black and stiff from the blow he'd taken, stripped of his armor, clad in a penitent's rough brown sackcloth, Andrew awaited the will of the conquering English king. Until now, the only change had been when Sir William Douglas, taken prisoner after the slaughter of the city of Berwick-upon-Tweed, had been added to their number.
A grassy hill opened before them and in the center stood Strachthro Church. Prodded by the pikes, he tramped toward the gray stone building, exchanging puzzled glances with the other men. Manacles rattling, he climbed the steps. His father stumbled over the chains on his ankles, and Andrew grabbed his arm.
Inside, a man-at-arms used the butt of his pike to jostle Andrew against the cold stone of the wall. As his father was pushed back, he gave Andrew a dazed look. His father had not been clear-headed since the blow that had split open his scalp in the battle. Blackened blood matted his streaky blond hair. None of the prisoners made a sound as they were shoved against the walls.
From outside came the sound of clanking armor and stamping, snorting horses. The doors were thrown open and a shaft of July sun made a golden carpet across the polished floor.
A huge bay destrier tossed its head as its rider, gray-haired and heavy jowled, dressed in steel armor etched with gold, rode through the doorway. Iron-shod hooves struck sparks, scoring the granite. Bareheaded, he rode. His helm with its golden coronet hung from his saddle. Hoof falls, clanging, echoed from the narrow walls and high-beamed ceiling as King Edward of England rode up the length of the church to the very altar steps, not glancing once at the prisoners lined up on the side.
Sweet Jesu... Andrew's heart pounded.
Behind the horseman strutted a fat man with a ponderous belly in shining half-armor over velvet hose and tunic. Then strode in men in armor covered with emblazoned surcoats, three dozen at least. The crests of Warrenne, Aymer de Valence, the Bishop of Durham, Percy, and Gloucester he recognized. The rest were strange to him, lesser lords and knights of England no doubt.
At the end of the tail of armored men strolled a blond man, shining armor under a sable cloak, broad shouldered and comely--Robert the Bruce, the younger, who had only months before inherited the earldom of Carrick. Though the Bruce was three years his elder, he'd been a friend once when they'd both been squires. No more. Andrew glared, but the Bruce stared down at his feet.
The bland-faced king of England pulled the warhorse up and in a half circle. It dropped a steaming plop of shit on the floor. His fleshy companion took a place, straddle-legged, at his stirrup, and the rest ranged on either side of the steps. The Bruce hung back near the doorway, frowning.
King Edward raised a hand. "Bring him in."
A chill went through Andrew at more clanking sounds from outside. Now they'd find out why they had been hustled to the church. Nearby, Sir William Douglas gave a low growl, his dark face flushed.
The first through the door was a man-at-arms, well-turned out in iron-studded leather, a sergeant perhaps. Over his shoulder ran a rope he grasped in both hands.
The rope led to a noose about King John de Balliol's neck; his shoulders slumped. Andrew dragged in a ragged breath, too horrified to move. His king. Bareheaded, King John was in a red velvet tunic and hose, but the sun shone off his cloth-of-gold tabard with the rampant lion of Scotland worked in rubies, dazzling the eye. On each side walked another guard.
King John lurched forward as the man-at-arms jerked on the rope. The shackles that bound his feet clamored. He stumbled, grasping something to his chest. One of the guards caught a shoulder and shoved him upright.
As John de Balliol, King of the Scots, shuffled into the middle of the church, the men around King Edward watched in silence. Andrew's father gave a cry, "Your grace!" No one else spoke. The man at King Edward's stirrup spat on the floor. Well to the side, Robert de Bruce looked once towards King John, his lip lifting into a sneer before he looked down once more.
King John continued his clanking way towards the mounted Edward of England. In King John's hands were the Royal Regalia of Scotland, the crown and the scepter.
The great warhorse stamped as the regally clad man stopped a stride away. King John craned his neck to stare upwards. Edward's blue glance swept the watchers before he lowered it to the man in chains before him.
King John made a choked sound and cleared his throat. "My Lord."
Edward's teeth bared in a grin. "Past time you remembered it." He glanced at his nearest companion. "Cressingham, see you to it."
The man at King Edward's stirrup stepped forward, his silver half-armor catching the light. He bowed towards King Edward before turning to the Scots king.
"John de Balliol, traitor. Miscreant." Cressinghim's rich voice was ragged with unveiled scorn. "I charge you in the name of the dread Lord Edward, King of England, of Wales and of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Guyenne and Lord Paramount of Scotland. I charge you with refusing his commands, renouncing your allegiance to your liege lord and raising arms against him in rebellion."
The man he addressed continued to stare silently upward at the English king.
"You have dealt openly with King Edward's enemies and consorted with traitors. In all things, you have failed in the submission due him. You have led astray the realm that our king, in his generosity, granted you."
At last, John de Balliol, white-faced, turned his head to gaze at Cressingham. "Granted me? A throne that was mine by right?"
Robert de Bruce coughed. His hot eyes stared at Balliol, and Andrew sucked in a breath. How much has that hatred cost?
"Continue," King Edward barked.
Cressingham took an angry step toward Balliol and thrust out a finger, jowls trembling. "You will say these words after me. Before these witnesses who were traitors with you. At your king's command."
Wildly, Andrew shoved away from the wall. With a shoulder, he rammed into the guard, hurling him out of the way. "No!" He stumbled on the shackles he'd forgotten. "You have no right." He shook off a hand grasping his arm as he stared into John de Balliol's face. "You can't!"
A shadow moved. He sensed an upswept movement, a weapon swinging. There was barely time for a dodge to the side and a half turn. The smash came on his shoulder with shattering pain and he groaned. Saw another blow coming.
He ducked under the pike's butt, but it caught his head. He was flat on the cold floor. A kick to the side of his head knocked him dizzy. Thoughts scattered and flew. They used their boots on arms, legs, stomach, and back. He curled up, arms over his head. A warm trickle ran down his face and dripped onto the stone.
Freedom's Sword is available for only $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords in eBook form and in paperback for $8.99 on Amazon.