Thursday, November 8, 2012

Coming Soon: Not for Glory, Book 3 in The Black Douglas Trilogy

An excerpt from Chapter One:
A pale-faced lad dodged backward. "The king sent me. He wants you."
An unhorsed Englishman screamed as his head was crushed by a slashing hoof. He fell atop a knight already dead. James's own men wore helms and studded leather brigandines, marked with the blue and white Saltire of Scotland under the streaks of dirt and blood and gore. The steel tide surged against the crumbling mass of a panicked foe. They heaved forward a step.
Six hours they’d fought, since the cool of dawn, hacking at an army that seemed without number. His arm suddenly was heavy with the fatigue from a day of hack and slash.   
The English war horns shrilled thin. Harooo Harooo… Retire… Retire…
He blinked the sting of sweat from his eyes. Where was Walter Stewart? In the chaos, James spotted Walter’s blue and white checky pennant. He grabbed Iain’s arm and pulled him out of the line of pikesmen. "Find Sir Walter. Tell him he has command." He shoved his sword into his black leather sheath and jerked a nod to the squire. "Lead on."
The lad turned and clamored across the broken sod, past a sprawled body of a knight, his armor still agleam as his blood soaked into the dry earth. For a moment, a wind from the east gust the smell of the salt sea and cut through the fug of blood and shit. Who could have imagined such a battle? A body in a ripped brigandine marked with a Saltire was pierced by the shattered remains of a pike next to a gutted stallion. A corbie, its black feathers gleaming in the sun, took flight from the guts spilled onto the ground with an angry kraaa. They trudged past it all and the uproar faded behind them into a rumble.
Beyond a ragged stand of alder, leaves drooping in summer’s heat, the king’s golden lion banner hung limp in the still air. The lad pointed. James slapped his shoulder and strode through the welcome shade of the trees as he reached up to wrench off his helm.
Robert de Bruce’s hand rested on the hilt of his sword, his head tilted, as he listened to what the Keith was saying. At the Bruce’s feet sat his helm topped by a gold crown. Enemy blood streaked his armor and cloth-of-gold tabard. He ran a hand through fair hair dripping with sweat. "Jamie," the king exclaimed.
James worked some spit into his parched mouth. "Your Grace."
"Bring him water," the Bruce called and the squire scurried away.
The Keith said, "King Edward fled the field and Aymer du Valence with him with five hundred guards."
James felt his eyes widen as he looked from his good-father to the king.
"Come." The Bruce strode a little way through the alders so they could watch the battle. On the distant hill, Stirling Castle loomed gray against a cloudless noon sky. The king shook his head.  "If someone took command they might still turn the battle."
"They’re in full flight." The Keith pointed toward the battle and past to the deep gully cut by the Bannockburn. "They’re forcing their horses down the gully into the Bannockburn. Already it’s mired with bodies. Some are fleeing for the River Forth."
"Our men so weary they can barely lift a pike," the king said, squinting at the roiling mass of the battle. "How many hours can a man fight? If it turned now, we’d be in desperate case."
The squire ran up with a cup and flagon and thrust the cup of water into James’s hand. He gulped it down. It ran down his throat like rain after a drought.  He held out the cup and let the squire re-fill it. "But without their king?"
"I want to pursue Edward," the Keith said. He slid a glance toward the king. "There is no one left who could rally them. We’ve won."
"We don’t know where Gilbert de Clair is or Robert de Clifford is or Humphrey de Bohun or Ralph de Monthermer. Any of those could rally them. Even broken, such a great army is dangerous. Like a wounded boar." His gaze was fixed on the chaos of the battle. The sound was a roar of a distant sea. Remorseless. "I won’t chance it."
"Did King Edward make for Stirling Castle?" James asked.
The Keith jerked a nod. "I pursued him so far. Mowbray must have refused him entrance. They turned south."
"No, Lord Marishcal. I’ll have sixty of your chivalry. That will leave you a full 400 knights if we have need of them." The Bruce skewered James with a look. "You’ll lead the sixty to follow the curst English king. Aught who lag, you will take but the king... Don't waste your life trying to take him."
James blew out a long breath. His whole body was a mass of weary aches. He looked at the cup of water in his hand, lifted it, and dumped the water over his head. It ran through his hair and down his cheeks to drip from his close-cropped beard, mixing with sweat until he shook his head hard like a wet hound.  
The king and his good-father were watching him. "We’ll skirt the battle and take the North Park road."