A King Imperiled
James Douglas of Balvenie. He waddled out the door of the tower that was the royal residence of Edinburgh Castle. In spite of the damp and chill, Balvenie was wearing no cloak. Sweat dribbled down his round cheeks into the folds of his double chins. He paused, smoothing his black velvet doublet over his belly, blocking the way like a ponderous mountain.
“What are you doing snooping about?” Balvenie asked.
Patrick Gray pressed his lips together to hold back a sharp retort. “My lord father summoned me.”
“He must have meant you to wait for him at Holyrood Kirk. We have important matters afoot here preparing for the coronation. It’s no place for a whelp.”
Preparing for the coronation, Patrick wondered, but he was not going to ask this man. James Douglas, Earl of Balvenie, was eaten with envy for the power his cousin the Black Douglas had. Everyone said so. Balvanie was a rich holding, but not even a tiny fraction of the holdings of his cousin. He resented that his cousin had had the ear of the king until the king was murdered. He no doubt resented the fact that his cousin would soon be lieutenant general of Scotland, but Patrick saw no reason the man should take out that ire on himself.
Bland faced, Patrick gave a polite nod. It was best to avoid arguments with any of the Douglases, even this one. “No, My Lord, he said he awaited me here. I’d best hie to find him.”
“Do so then,” Balvenie said, passing into the watery morning light.
Patrick hurried through a long enfilade of stuffy rooms and waves of the scent of moth-herbs, wet wool, and oak smoke from hearth fires. A few people huddled in corners whispering. Rumors must have run like wild fire since the king’s murder. Had the gossips learned that the leader of the assassins, Robert Stewart, would be put to the torture? That he had already implicated his grandfather, the Earl of Atholl, Patrick wondered.
The glances at him were wary. No one went anywhere for the nonce without a hand on their sword. Some nodded to Patrick as he passed but no one spoke.
When Patrick closed the door behind him, the inmost chamber was silent. His father, face haggard, stared into a small fire on the hearth. Without looking up he said, “Patrick. I expected you sooner.”
He sighed under his breath. He had been travelling since yesterday morning from their home at Longforgan and in the saddle for most of the past three weeks riding with the Earl of Angus as they hunted down the men who has assassinated King James. He had stopped at an inn only long enough to change out of clothing that had been rain soaked and mud and dirt splattered to the shoulder. He hadn’t even eaten since the night before.
At a table scattered with documents, a flagon of wine, and a lit stand of candles sat James Kennedy, Canon of Dunkeld, youngish, thin, with a short beard and tonsured. He gave Patrick a bleak smile.
Patrick approached the hearth and held out his hands. “I saw Balvenie on my way. He said you’re preparing for the coronation…here? Not in Scone?”
Kennedy motioned to the flagon of wine on the table. “You look fit to fall over from exhaustion, Sir Patrick. Drink whilst we talk.”
Patrick’s father grunted, but with unusual patience for him, folded his hands behind his back and waited as Patrick poured and took a seat.
Kennedy folded his hands atop the pile of documents. He continued, “Of course it is unheard of to have the coronation in Edinburgh. But the Earl of Atholl is still on the loose and Scone is too near his lands. We will take nae chances with the life of our new king.”
Patrick had just taken a drink, so it took a moment for him to swallow and ask, “You cannae think they would make an attempt on the prince’s life?”
The boy was only six. He'd not considered that they'd murder a child. “Aye, I suppose they would have to kill him as well.”
Patrick’s father shrugged, propped an elbow on the mantel, and considered his son like a merchant regarding his wares. At fifty, he was still as lean and fit as he must have been at thirty. He was dressed in his finest doublet of green satin and blue silk. His height and broad shoulders were still impressive and his thick, gray hair gave him gravitas. “So tell me about catching up with Robert Stewart. How went the business?”
Evidently his questions were to be ignored. Patrick sighed again. “As filthy as you’d expect and knee deep in snow for much of the chase. He was abandoned by most of his followers before we caught them. We only gave him a beating, since the queen wanted him alive.”
“Go on,” Kennedy said. As he listened to Patrick recount their long, hard ride through the Highlands led by the Earl of Angus, the churchman’s face creased occasionally into an attentive frown. When Patrick described riding down Robert Stewart’s party, he leaned forward and tilted his head. He poured a cup of wine and took a sip. When Patrick finished, he said, “After the coronation, Robert will nae last long. He’s being put to the torture and in two days he’ll be beheaded.”
“So they meant to kill young James?” Patrick asked again. “And to make Atholl king?”
“Not to make Atholl king, no, but if the lad were dead and one of his sisters married to Robert Stewart, that would have had the same affect. They would have ruled in her name.”
Patrick’s father cleared his throat. “That will nae happen and our new liege lord shall be kept safe. That’s why I sent for you.”
“Keep him safe? Me? How so?”
“This afternoon wee James will be crowned. He will have a household of his own, gentlemen of the bedchamber, a master of his guard. And the master of the guard will be you.”
“Wait.” Patrick held up both hands and reared back. Since when did his father and Kennedy have the managing of the prince?