Sunday, December 8, 2013

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A King Ensnared Now Available

On the dangerous stage of medieval Scotland, one man--in an English dungeon--stands between the Scots and anarchy.

Robert III, King of the Scots, is dead, and Scotland in 1406 is balanced on a knife’s edge. As he eyes the throne, King Robert’s ruthless half-brother, the Duke of Albany, has already murdered one prince and readies to kill young James Stewart, prince and heir to the crown. 

James flees Scotland and his murderous uncle. Captured and imprisoned by the English, he grows to be a man of contradictions, a poet yet a knight, a dreamer yet fiercely driven. Hardened by his years in the Tower of London and haunted by his brother’s brutal murder, James is determined to recover his crown and end his uncle's misrule. But the only way may be to betray Scotland and everything he believes in. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

King Henry V Gives an Ultimatum

A chapter much further along in the same Work in Progress:

All the gaolers had been whispering that Henry would soon leave England for Calais to plot with Emperor Sigismund and John of Burgundy to finish the defeat of the French. Charles could not hear the duke’s name without cursing him for his treachery. The talk of it only frustrated James, locked as they were in the Tower although James had come to prefer it to Windsor. The men-at-arms were always glad to give him a round with the sword. Wrestling was now his favorite though. And when Charles wasn’t cursing the treachery of the Burgundians, he was good company. James had promised him a new verse since it occupied the time to go over each other’s work. He frowned over what he had written:

Bewailing in my chamber, thus alone,         
Despaired of all joy and remedy,       
For-tired of my thought, and woe-begone…           

James tossed down his quill and ink splattered across the page. Where could he go with the verse except more of bewailing his estate? He had had enough of it. Perhaps in the bailey yard he could find someone who would work him until he was too tired to think, too tired to moan that he was a prisoner still—after ten years that had stretched out like a long black tunnel—dark days without end.

He jumped to his feet, took a deep breath and released it. Very well. To the bailey yard. The man-at-arms flinched when James banged open the door. James gave him a curt nod, knowing he would follow. Taking the steps two at a time, James plunged down the winding stairs and out into the smoky sunshine, through the bailey and into the practice yard. He slapped his hands on his hips. “I can beat any man here in a wrestling match” he shouted “Will any of you try to prove me wrong?”

“I can prove you wrong any day, Lord James.” The sergeant, one James had seen wrestling Berolt some time back, sneered. He worked his heavy shoulders as he strode toward James. James unfastened his doublet and tossed it aside. A murmur of anticipation was spreading through the grounds. He swung his arms to get the blood flowing.

The man stopped in the center of the practice yard in a half-crouch, arms cocked, a grin lifting a corner of his mouth. Moving around him in a slow circle, careful to stay beyond his reach, James said, “You ken my name. Wha’ is yours?”

“Adam,” he said, wheeling to keep James in sight. “Not that it matters when I have you pinned. I plan on making you eat dirt, Scot.”

Darting forward, James grabbed for an arm lock. Adam slapped his hands away and went for James’s shoulders. James let him close and Adam had him by the arm, using his hip to throw him to the ground. James grabbed him around the chest and took Adam down with him. They rolled as James used his powerful shoulders to throw Adam off. They jumped to their feet and backed away. “Make me eat dirt?” James jeered. “I’ll feed you horse shite first.”

Adam rushed in and seized James in a bear hug, lifting him off his feet. He squeezed and James thought his ribs would shatter. The man had more strength than any James had ever fought before. Desperately, he put both his hands to the man’s chin and pushed, forcing his head back. Adam grunted, squeezing harder but James straightened his arms, locked his elbows, and broke the hold.

James took a step back and Adam kept coming. He was burly and fiercely strong, but he wasn’t fast. They circled and James considered how to take advantage of the man’s slowness.

James feinted and Adam answered with a dodge. That gave James an instant of opportunity. He stepped in close, grabbed him around the waist, wheeled to behind him, and threw him over his own shoulder to the ground. He spun and jumped down on him to pin him. Then James grinned. “Shall I make you eat shite, Sassenach?” The man was growling and heaving his body but James had him pinned. The ring of guards who had gathered to watch were whistling and calling out for Adam to get up. “Throw him off, Adam. Have at him,” one shouted.

James had to force Adam’s shoulders down to win. Sweat dripped off his head and shoulders. James had his knees on the heavier man’s hips, a hand on each shoulder. Grunting, he put his full weight on his opponent’s pitching shoulders.  Adam slapped a hand on the ground in surrender.

“What is to do here?” a voice bellowed.

James looked up to find King Henry glaring at them, his mouth in a hard line. “Up from there both of you. Now!”

The watching guards had scattered like a flock of geese. James cuffed Adam’s shoulder and rose to his feet. He looked around and found his doublet. As he donned it, the king barked, “You. If you have nothing better to do than fighting our prisoners, I’ll see that your commander mends matters.” At his elbow, Beaufort looked on silently, dressed in flowing red robes of silk and reeking of some flowery perfume while the king’s guard’s looked on open-mouthed.

Adam was backing away, stuttering apologies and excuses as he went. Henry’s scowl at James would have flayed the hide from a boar, had one been there. As it was James laced his doublet and then bowed with a half-smile. “Were you seeking me, Your Grace?”

“God damn you, James. Playing at fighting with guards? You have more important things to think on.” He looked around the practice yard as though expecting some help to appear. “After all these years, have you gained no sense? You forced to hold you under harsh durance from your obstinacy and learn nothing.” 

Beaufort gave the king an unctuous smile and laid a pudgy hand on his sleeve. “I understand your disappointment in Lord James. It gives me no joy to see a nobleman play the ruffian. Yet you must remember your own dignity and the matter you came to discuss with him is serious. It is best discussed privily, do you not think, Your Grace?”

King Henry’s face flooded with color and he shook off his uncle’s hand. He turned on a heel and stormed into the White Tower, down the narrow corridor, and into the chapel, never once bothering to glance if the others followed. He stood for a few minutes seeming to stare at the watery light which filtered through the stained glass windows. When he turned, his expression was mild. “When my father allowed you at his court, I always said you were a fine hand with a harp.”

“His Grace does me too much honor. I dally with both harp and with sword.” James crossed his arms and grinned. “I am trying to convince your Constable of the Tower that we need a tennis court. I believe I would enjoy that as well as I do wrestling.”

“So you are happy enough to remain my prisoner. You will not seek your freedom? Are you truly so craven?”

“No, Your Grace.” James fought to keep the anger out of his voice and failed. “It is you who denies me freedom whether I would seek it or not. Have you forgotten?”

“Denied it?” Henry had the gall to look incensed. He pointed at James. “I deny you nothing. You deny it to yourself. Swear your fealty to me, and you have your freedom. I require nothing more. And count yourself blessed, because I am defeating the French even with Douglas and his followers from Scotland taking their side. Albany is too craven to do so himself, but thousands of the Douglas followers are in France.” Henry stepped closer to glower into James’s face. “I shall defeat them with or without your fealty.”

“The king is all kindness,” Beaufort said. “I have advised his grace against freeing you, but his conscience pricks him that he promised the late king.”

James slowly shook his head. “I cannot. You know I cannot.”

“I do not know that.” King Henry stepped even closer to him and spoke slowly, softly as though to a child. “Think, James. Soon I shall have France in my hands; after I shall not long leave an enemy at my northern border. But I would not lead my armies against a sworn liegeman. It is the only way you can save Scotland. The only way you will free yourself. I weary of waiting for you to see sense.”

To his amazement, James was sure Henry believed what he was saying. “You truly believe that my people would accept an English overlord? That they would nae throw me off if I did such a thing? Because I assure, you they would.”

“The French are coming to accept me, however much they have fought the idea of being ruled by an English king.”

“Have you terrorized them enough that they will in truth? Burning all the way to Agincourt… The slaughter of prisoners…”

A deep red climbed up from Henry’s velvet color until the deep scar on his cheek stood out bone white against his flaming face. “There was no slaughter!” When James just raised an eyebrow, Henry visibly took a deep breath. “You know naught of battle. I could not risk the prisoners rising in the midst of my men.”

James opened his mouth to ask if Henry had forgotten to have his prisoners disarmed that they would be such a danger, for James knew they had been disarmed, but from the look on the king’s face, decided that there was wisdom in silence. He snapped his mouth closed. After a pungent pause, James motioned around them. “Aye, it is true I know more of imprisonment than of battle. But I will not give away my kingdom. Not to any man on this earth.”

“God damn you!” King Henry shouted, the words roaring out of him as though he could no longer contain his ire.  “I am out of patience. Enjoy your imprisonment if you can.”

“So be it, if I must, but I will not kneel to you to give you my fealty.”

Henry’s eyes narrowed and he jabbed a finger at James. “Get out of my sight. Out! Run back to your cell like a craven.”

James turned on his heel. As he marched from the chapel, he could feel Henry’s stare stab his back. As he reached the doors he heard Beaufort say in his sleekit tone, “The Scots will be nothing for you to defeat, Your Grace. Now we must prepare for your departure to Calais.”

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Young King and His Enemies

As he bent over the book on his table, James lay down his quill and ran a finger across a bright illustration that filled half the page. A wheel held a woman in finery at its height but had flung a king in ermine and a ragged peasant onto the ground. Kings, princes and beautiful ladies awaited their turn on the wheel. He was chewing his lip and frowning over it when a sharp thud on the table made him jump.

The black-robed monk, Brother Odo, rapped the thin birch cane on the table again and James looked up into his piercing stare. The monk was a small man, no taller than James, slender and quick, with sharp features and threads of gray in his dark hair. The tonsure atop his head shone as though he polished it. James bit the inside of his cheek to stop his grin, which hurt less than that rod would have had it smacked his hand.

“You were not given Boethius to daydream over.”

“Aye, Brother. I only wondered wha’ the wheel meant.
“The wheel means a wheel. Consolatio Philosophiae is but a story that that Boethius wrote whilst imprisoned, as are you. Now you are to use your time more productively than staring at pretty pictures.” He pointed a narrow finger at a word. “Tell me what those four lines mean—in English.”

A word of his own Scots often earned James a stinging rap on the knuckles or sometimes a caning, so James sighed and examined the line the brother was pointing to. His Latin was mainly that of the church prayers and Boethius’s book made him struggle. He took a deep breath, and licked his lips. He could grow to hate this foul tome, though the illustration made him think--perhaps too much.

Who formed my studious numbers,” he translated aloud from the Latin,
Smoothly once in… happier days,
Now helpless in tears and sadness
Learn a mournful tune to.… to…” He sighed, bracing himself. “attollo… I don’t remember.”

“Raise!” The birch whistled when the rod slashed across James’s shoulders. “Learn a mournful tune to raise.”

It was only the sound that made James wince. The cane stung but was nothing to a blow from Gruffudd’s practice blade. His knuckles were skinned from sword practice the day before and his shoulders were bruised from being knocked from his horse riding at the quatrain. Besides, even Bishop Wardlaw said that the sting of a cane was a fine aid to memory.

Brother Odo made a disgusted sound in his throat and motioned to the parchment, much marred where James had sanded out errors. “Write it out. Cleanly, boy.” He thumped the cane down on the table. “I expect the next ten lines written out when I return in the morning.”

“Aye, Brother Odo,” James said, meekly keeping his eyes on the parchment until the door thumped closed behind his tutor.

Smoothly once in happier days

But there was no point in thinking of happier days. Those days were done, though later he would give more thought to that wheel. James thought Brother Odo might be mistaken about it having no meaning when it cast men from the heights to the depths. The tutor always wanted to talk about the translation of the words and never what the story meant. He suspected the monk had no imagination at all. Shaking his head, James closed the book. He would write out all the lines even if it meant burning down his last candle, but for now in the practice yard, he would find Gruffudd and William and perhaps some of the other prisoners and something fun to do. He jumped up, checked both in the corridor ways to be sure Brother Odo was out of sight and hurried down the narrow stairs, out into the sunlight.

He gaped at a line of riders streaming through the open gates, two dozen in polished steel. And there rode the earl of Albany in the middle with Master John Lyon who had brought word of King Robert’s death. James did not know the big man beside them, red-faced under his dark, wiry beard and belly straining against his embroidered doublet.

Orkney vaulted from his horse and tossed his reins to a sergeant who was muttering a protest which the earl ignored as he strode toward James. “Your Grace. I have news I would give you privily.”

The stranger was climbing heavily from the saddle. “He’s no more ‘grace’ than I am. Less than my lord father,” the man rumbled.

James looked past Orkney who was slowly shaking his head and took a slow deep breath. 

“Murdoch?” James asked Orkney in a carefully controlled tone. If he had ever seen his cousin before, James could not recall it.

Orkney jerked a nod.

Murdoch Stewart, earl of Fife, eldest son of the Duke of Albany, swaggered across the bailey yard. “If it isn’t my little cousin, James.”

Thrusting his trembling hands into his armpits, James narrowed his eyes at the man. “Aye. As was my brother, Robert.” His face felt scalded with heat. “Were you at Falkirk Castle when he was murdered? Cousin.”

Murdoch threw back his head and laughed, exposing trembling jowls under his beard. “Aye. And I was there when parliament voted that we had no fault in his death.” His laugh broke off like a snapping branch and he scowled. “Before the Battle of Homildon Hill when I was taken prisoner.”

James drew in a slow, steady breath and then another. He swallowed down the tears of fury at Murdoch’s laughter. He had no doubt that his brother’s murder was at least partially Murdoch’s doing, but screaming at him or weeping like a lass would gain nothing. “Well, my lord…” he forced the words out. “We are both prisoners now. Whether you think I am entitled to be ‘graced’ or nae. Our differences must wait until we regain our freedom.” A pulsing pain began to throb behind one eye at having to speak to the man he must acknowledge as cousin.

“My father will ransom me. You may be sure.” Murdoch glowered at James and then at Orkney and back to James from eyes that were bloodshot. “But do not expect him to agree to any ransom for you to be freed. Whelp.”

“Your father is not the only noble in Scotland,” Orkney said.

“But he is the regent.” Murdoch shoved past Orkney. “Bring my supplies. I am thirsty,” he called over his shoulder. A servant, who James realized had a badge of the Albany Stewart’s on his shoulder, hefted a tun of wine onto his shoulder and plodded after Murdoch. Orkney squeezed the bridge of his nose and let out a long breath.

“His being moved here from Nottingham Castle was part of my news for you. From wha’ I have heard he spends much of his time drinking so, I doubt his presence will be something you are forced often to suffer.”

“I suppose I knew I would see him one day.” James looked at Orkney’s thin lipped face. “Part though? You said that was part of your news?”

The bailey yard was raucous with noise, men-at-arms talking and leading away their horses to the stables and a couple of sumpter horses being unloaded whilst William and Gruffudd stood near the armory watching. Orkey took James by the arm and led him into a corner where a wall met the tower.

“My ransom has arrived. I was allowed to return only to bid you farewell.”

James felt his stomach lurch. Once Orkney left, he would be truly alone.

“Don’t look so, lad. William will remain with you and I convinced King Henry to allow you a chaplain, so Master Lyon will remain. He can arrange messages between us. Once in Scotland, I’ll do everything for you that I can. There is nothing I can accomplish here.”

“But my ransom…?”

“Albany has--” Orkney took a pained sounding breath. “He has stolen your lands. All your regality. You have nae funds for ransom, if King Henry would agree to it.”


“Henry has sworn you’ll be released is if you swear fealty to him. Fealty as King of the Scots.” 

Orkney scrubbed at his face with one hand. “If you agreed to it, I have no doubt he would give you an army to take Scotland. The damned English have done such before. The Balliols, Toom Tabard and his son, both of them, were put on the throne by English armies.”

“But—wha’ would that mean? If he put me on the throne? Would he throw down the Albanys?”

James’s heart gave a lurch at the thought of destroying his enemies. If they would kill him, why should he not use the English against them?

“It would mean that you owed King Henry obedience, and how much power true power he would allow you, I cannot say. All Scotland would be under his heel. And never—never would our parliament accept such an agreement. Nor would I.”

“So… I would be king at his pleasure and Scotland defeated. And make enemies of my few friends.” James tried to wrap his mind around the idea. “And if he didn’t like wha’ I did, wha’ then? If I did the best for Scotland and not for him?”

“If we already weren’t under their heel, we soon would be because there is no way we would win against him or even more against Monmouth. You would--” Orkney shrugged. “Probably you would lose your throne although he might let you keep it if you knelt at his feet.”

“He has put no such proposal to me,” James said. “Did he to you?”

Orkney nodded. “Though he says that you are yet too young to lead an army. But others might in your name in a year or two—especially once they have put down the rebellion in Wales. I told him no. Eventually, the demand will be put to you directly.” Orkney grabbed his shoulder and gave him a shake. “And you must tell him no.”

James swallowed. “Though it will mean they keep me locked up.”

“It will cost you dear, lad. But saying yes would cost us all more—including you.”

“But… How do I regain my freedom?” Too many thoughts were spinning through his head. 

In Scotland, I can work toward freeing you along with Bishop Wardlaw and the Lauders. You have other friends there as well. But you must take my oath.” Smiling a little, Orkney knelt on the ground and held up his clasped hands. “Take my hands between yours.”

He clasped his ink-stained hands around Orkney’s larger ones.  
“I do liege homage to you, my lord, James, king of Scots, and I will keep faith with you against all creatures, living or dead, and I will defend you and all your successors against all malefactors and invaders, as God help me and his saints.”
Blinking, James knew he should say something. He was sure he had seen his father do this, though it was long ago. James licked his lips and said, “I—I take you as my man and will keep faith with you and defend you and your heirs as is my duty as--as your liege lord.”

James raised his eyebrows for Orkney’s approval and the earl gave him a brisk nod of approval. He stood, and for a moment, he grasped James’s arm. “Do not lose heart, Your Grace. However long it takes, we will free you.”

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Son Mourns

The room was blessedly silent. James leaned his head against the cool, damp stone and hammered his fist into it as hard as he could. It hurt when the skin split and blood dripped down his wrist—a welcome pain. It made the pain in his chest seem less.

How could he? To give up.  Their father had let Robbie die. Now he had abandoned James—alone—imprisoned.

James turned and propped his back against the wall, cradling his bleeding hand against his chest and blinking back the burning in his eyes. He wouldn’t weep. He wouldn’t! Not for a father and king who cared so little for him.

The door creaked half-open and Gruffudd stood in the opening, a flagon in his hand. “Sir Thomas sent this for you. He’s not so bad once you’re in his good graces, and I think you need it.” He closed the door behind him and poured some wine into a cup.

James nodded but he looked away, swallowing. He felt as though there was a stone in his throat. Perhaps the wine would help, so he took it with his left hand, his right still dribbling blood.

“Have anything to wrap that?” Gruffudd asked.

James took a deep drink of the wine—sweet and not much watered. With a sigh he hooked a stool with his foot and sank down on it. He turned his hand to examine the split. “It’s nae so bad. It will stop soon.”

When Gruffudd had helped himself to a cup of wine, he flung himself on James’s bed, propping up a knee with an arm flung over it. “Your bed is softer than mine.” He gave a wry twitch of his mouth.

“Is it?” James poked at the shallow split on the side of his palm for a minute, but the bleeding had already almost stopped. He looked up at Gruffudd and the words tumbled out. “Your father. Do you—honor him?”

He gave James a rather apologetic look. “My father is a strong man, you see.” He shrugged and took a sip of the wine. “Too strong mayhap. He could not abide the English ruling over us. Grey de Ruthyn seized out lands and because we are Welsh the English shrugged at it.” He swirled the wine in his cup and looked pensive. “That doesn’t matter. But… Aye, I honor him--failed him though I did.”

“I—I did not—honor mine.” James looked sadly at his cup of wine and swallowed down the rest in a gulp. “He was a poor king. I kent that when I was still but a lad.”

“I’m sorry.”

He couldn’t stand the hot anger burning through him, and he jumped to his feet. The stool toppled. He hurled the cup against the wall. “Damn him!” It clattered onto the floor, a smear of wine marring the wall.

Gruffudd shook his head. “It may be that he could not help it. He was as he was.”

James’s shoulders slumped. He righted the stool, eyes burning with tears he would not let fall. He walked slowly back and forth across the room before he sat back down. Propping his elbows on his knees, he sank his hands into his hair and gripped. “He let them kill Robbie. Did nothing. He never did anything. If he was so grieved at my capture, why did he nae do something? Only my mother did—when she lived. Wha’ kind of king is that?

“You will be different.”  

“Why do I feel so—so lost though?” His voice choked. “I should nae care.”

“He was your father. He would not have grieved so if he hadn’t cared for you, lad.”

James rocked where he sat and tears began to run down his face. “That makes it worse. Don’t you see?”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A King: Caged

More of my current work-in-progress:

The courtyard rang with steel upon steel. Under his mail and helm, sweat trickled down James’s face and his back as Gruffudd pressed his attack. Their blades met in a harsh clash and slid down until the guards locked. He looked up into Gruffudd’s narrowed eyes. James heaved as hard as he could, throwing his opponent back.

His sword up, ready for the next swing, the tip of James’s sword hovered a hand’s breadth from Gruffudd’s. Stronger and older, if James didn’t defeat him quickly, he wouldn’t, so in a sudden fury of movement he slammed an overhand blow that would have rung Gruffydd’s helm like a bell—if it had landed. But it didn’t. Gruffudd slipped to the left, out of danger, and brought his own sword across and into James’s face. James yelped as jumped back, spun to the side and slashed up and around to hack at his opponent. But supple as a snake, Gruffudd dodged. Another hack almost slashed across James’s stomach but he made a fierce downward blow to knock it away.

Their blades locked again. James’s breath was coming in great heaves. He gulped desperately for air.  Leaning with all the strength he had left into the blades, his muscles strained. Gruffudd smiled and threw him back. James circled him, panting but sword low and ready. Looking into Gruffudd’s eyes he saw a flicker of amusement. James brought his sword up. Gruffudd moved in, twisted behind him, and brought a wide cut from behind to slap his blade on James’s neck hard. A bead of sweat dripped from his chin onto the sword.

“Yield you?”

“Aye.” Gruffudd pushed him away with a slap to the shoulder, and James rubbed a stinging welt across his neck. “That hurt.”

Gruffudd ripped his helm from his head and tossed his head to get his dripping hair from his face. “Better, Lord James. You lack strength yet, but for your years,”—Gruffudd nodded—“you do not fight badly. You might stay alive against me when you are fully a man.”

James took off his helm and leaned his head back. The May breeze felt good on his sweaty face. He leaned on his sword, caught his breath with a shudder, and took a moment to enjoy even faint praise from Gruffudd. Cheerful companion he was but a skilled fighter, and the challenge was exciting.

“Let me see your neck,” Will said, glaring at Gruffudd. “You shouldn’t hit him so hard.”

“Princes die in battle like any man.” Gruffudd looked with an unfocused stare toward the top of the castle gate where his uncle’s head rotted and then jerked his gaze back. “He’ll only learn if he knows what hurt truly means.”

The earl of Orkney, his face flushed red, came out the Tower door and hurried across the yard. “Lord James!” he called. A gray-haired priest in a soiled black robe and a gaoler in livery trailed after him.

James tried to sheath his blunted blade but his hands were bruised and clumsy. He got it in the battered sheath on the second try. “My lord?”  

Orkney paused a few steps away to tug at his doublet. He shook his head, not quite looking at James.  James had never seen Orkney look so—odd. James’s guard nearby shifted, his armor creaking, and a raven croaked whilst Orkney looked everywhere except at James. He finally sank onto one knee and looked into James’s face. “Your Grace…” he said in a voice that shook and James froze at the title. “Your Grace, I am…” James could hear him swallow. “Dire news, sire. I must tell you… Your father--the king is dead.”

He opened his mouth. Nothing came out.  William dropped to a knee.

“Your Grace,” Orkney said. “You understand…”

James nodded wordlessly as the priest stepped forward. The man bowed deeply and said, “At Bute Castle, sire. When—when word was brought to him of your capture, he turned his face to the wall. Would nae speak nor eat nor drink. And he died the third day.”

“Dead…” Cold rushed through James and there was a sound in his ears like a rushing tide. “He… He did not even try then. To save me.” James’s voice was a whisper. He swallowed down a burn behind his eyes and looked up at the sky where a muddy coin of the sun shone through the drifting layer of smoke.

His father. The king. Who had been no true king--not in his deeds. His chest caught and he could not breathe. He struggled—jerked in a gulp of air. The world spun. Closing his eyes, he just breathed until his head cleared. Then he opened them and looked at the men around him who watched him, waiting.

He was the king now. He must act as a king should. That is what they were waiting for, but he didn’t know how. Again his mouth worked. “My lords…,” he choked out. He unbuckled his sword belt and shoved it into William’s hands. Slowly he walked toward the White Tower. “Let me be. I—I must think.”

Monday, September 9, 2013

Proposed blurb for A King Ensnared:

What do you think? Would it tempt you to read it?

Robert III, King of the Scots, is dead, and Scotland in 1406 is balanced on a knife's edge of anarchy. The king's ruthless half-brother, the duke of Albany, has murdered one prince and readies to kill another as he eyes the throne. Young James Stewart, heir to the throne, flees his murderous uncle only to be captured by the English. A man of contradictions, lover, tyrant, dreamer and dynamo, he is haunted by his brother's brutal murder and hardened by his own years of English imprisonment. He is determined to return to free Scotland from his murderous uncle, but that mean might betraying his nation and everything he believes in.

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Captive Prince

More of my current Work-in-Progress: 

A week later:

Through the high, narrow window of James’s Tower room, morning light spilled across the floor, bars laying dark stripes on the threadbare carpet. His straw-stuffed bed was hard and uncomfortable. James thrashed and kicked off the light coverlet. In his bare feet, he ran to the little garderobe and pissed into the hole as William, on his pallet on the floor, muttered complaints before he rose.  

On the little table next to the door, a slab of dark oak with iron bands, William filled their basin from the flagon of water. James washed his face and hands, donned clean hose, shirt and doublet from the chest that had been brought from the ship the week before and pulled on his boots. Then he climbed to stand on his bed to look out the window past its iron bars. He took a deep breath and leaned his forehead against the rough stone. Sunrise was a wash of red across cloud of smoke that never seemed to clear from above London. He absently rubbed at the strange pressure in his chest as he wondered when he would ever see a blue sky again.

“That bed will nae be fit to sleep in,” William said. “With you standing on it like that in your boots.”

In the yard below, James spotted a man-at-arms, following a dark haired man who sauntered across the patch of ground within view. It was certainly not Sir Thomas. Possibly another prisoner of this foul place?  A roar nearby made him flinch and was answered with another.  He turned to look around the bare chamber, with its narrow bed, small table and two stools, a thin carpet on the floor. But a fire burned on the hearth, they had been brought food by a gaoler every day, and the lions in the menagerie were only a sound in the distance. William said he had never heard of prisoners being given over to the beasts, but he looked nervous every time they split the air with their roars.

William looked up from pulling on his own clothes. “The English will allow you to buy more comforts when you receive moneys from Scotland. Your lands will…” William’s comment died off at an echo of voices from down the corridor. He kicked at the edge of the carpet with a sneer. “We will use it to send for thick carpet and hangings to stop the draft and decent plate for your table.” Even in the summer’s heat, behind thick stone walls the air was chill.

James propped up the wall with his back. “I don’t care about that. I just want out of this room. I want to see the earl and to know if there is news.”

“The king said you were to have tutors. I’m sure they don’t mean to keep us locked up forever.”

James flopped down onto his bed. There was nothing to do here. He threw his arm over his eyes and bethought of sitting high on the tower of Rothesay Castle whilst his mother still lived, the land green all around until it slanted down to the rolling sea. Masts bobbed on the horizon, men in the fields scythed oats, a little goosegirl poured out grain for her flock. He tasted capercaillie stuffed with apple and pine nuts and thyme with sweetened caudle to wash it down. He could still hear the sound of the chapel bell, his brother’s laughter as he rode out the gate, his mother’s lilting voice. She wore the green that she loved, and it set off the red gleam of her hair and the gold of her coronet. He saw his sire’s drawn, pallid face when they put her in her tomb. And he felt gooseflesh as the cold sea splashed over his feet as he waited that dark night for the ship Maryenknyght. The memories made his throat ache so he sat up with a sigh.

“It’s near time to break our fast,” William said.

James didn’t answer but he supposed William was right and the clatter of feet in the corridor made him slide to the edge of the bed. His belly rumbled, ready for the bread that would stave off their hunger until dinner. There was a noise of the bar being lifted and the locks rattled and the door creaked open.

James stood up in surprise when Sir Thomas Rempston stepped through the door. “Lord James,” he said with a neutral sort of nod. “I have found a tutor for you, a monk from Eastminster Abbey well recommended by the abbot. He has both French and Latin I am told. And the king has provided some coins for your upkeep so if there is aught that you require for your wellbeing…”

“My freedom!” James exclaimed. At Sir Thomas’s raised eyebrows, James lowered his voice. “Surely, Sir Thomas, I need not be constantly confined so.”

“It is not my intent. Once I am assured that you understand your position here, I will give you the freedom of the keep. But if you abuse that in any way, I shall confine you as is my duty.” He crossed his arms and held James’s gaze. “Do you understand?”

James knew his eyes widened but he tried to keep his face blank. “Aye, sir, I do. I mean no abuse. I shan’t challenge your authority.”

“Good. There are others in the Tower who will be company for you.” He snorted. “I have no doubt you’ll soon make the acquaintance of Gruffydd Glendwr. He’s the nearest in the Tower to your age.”

“Then I may leave this room? Go outside?” James couldn’t help the eagerness of the questions. Why should he be grateful for being let out of a cage he should never have been locked in?

“Except for the walls, the deeper dungeon and chambers that are barred, I grant you and your squire freedom of the keep.” Sir Thomas scowled at him. “In time long past, one of the Glendwrs tried to escape by jumping from the wall and fell to his death. Stupid! Since then prisoners are forbidden there. You’ll be escorted by a guard, but he’ll not impede you unless you try to escape. But do not doubt --if you cause any problems I shall be told.”

James fiddled for a moment with a loose thread on his doublet, looked at the floor, and then nodded. “I understand you, Sir Thomas. I have no desire for durance more than I must suffer.”


“The earl of Orkney? Will I be able to see him? I must need speak wi’ him.”

Sir Thomas let out a breath. “He displeased the king with his impudence, but. . . I suppose there is no harm whilst he awaits his ransom.” He gave James a somewhat kinder look than before. “The menagerie will entertain you, I believe. We have five lions and a leopard for the nonce. Your confinement need not be so terrible.”

James knew very well how terrible a confinement could be. He still dreamt of Robert in an oubliette, desperately gnawing his fingers as he starved to death in the dark. But this was better and James tightened his mouth into a line to hold back a smile of relief to be outside if only for a few hours. “I ken it could be worse, Sir Thomas.”

“Sensible boy.” Sir Thomas nodded and turned on this heel to leave.

Behind him, a gaoler carried in a tray with a loaf of hot bread and a flagon of fresh water.  James muttered a word of thanks as it suddenly occurred to him that it was a good idea to keep the gaolers sweet. He decided to mend his manners though the gaolers were rough men and his inferiors. The man grunted and tromped out.

Grinning, James broke off half the loaf and tilted his head to William who grabbed up the rest. 

“Let’s go!” He strode fast, not allowing himself to run, out the door and down the corridor.   Flickering torchlight touched the granite slabs underfoot and shifting shadows danced across the rough walls. The winding steps down were narrow and slick with wear and damp, but James barely slowed his tumultuous rush.

He pushed the heavy door open and stepped into the most precious sunlight he had ever seen. That it was dimmed by the ever-present London smoke mattered not. He was in the light and the air. He gaped at the high gray walls and the bailey yard. A guard in glittering steel paced atop whilst another with halberd in hand stood at a corner.  

The door crashed closed and he looked over his shoulder to see that they were indeed shadowed by one of the gaolers in the livery of the Tower rather than armor, but he had a sword at his waist. His heavy shoulders and thick neck below a blunt face made James assume he could use the weapon. James decided that he should give him no reason.

A laugh came from around the bend of the tower and a lithe figure wearing a battered helm and armor sauntered into view. When the man saw James, he pulled his helm off and held an arm wide in welcome. He examined James through large, dark eyes under arched brows.  

“Well met, my lord,” the man said in a strong singsong accent. “I heard we had new companions in this charming abode.” His black curling hair was dripping with sweat.

James blinked at him and after a moment nodded in greeting. Obviously not a guard, the man was mayhap twenty with a sarcastic twist to his narrow lips.

“Forgive me. I am Gruffydd ab Owen Glendwr, eldest son of Prince Owen Glendwr.” He snorted a wry laugh. “And fellow ‘guest’ in this fine English Tower.”

James was reminded a bit of Robert Lauder. At least there might be fine company in this dour place. “I’m James.” He shrugged. “Earl of Carrick and son of King Robert of Scotland, if any of that matters here.”

Gruffydd threw a casual arm around James’s shoulder. “Aye, it does, lad. You’d not want to be a villain in this place, stuck in the lower dungeons. Though my lack of coin makes my stay less pleasant than some.” He looked past James to William and nodded a greeting.

“William Giffart, my lord,” Will said. “Lord James’s squire.”

But James was moving back from Gruffyd. He reached for the blunted practice blade in his new friend’s hand. Bouncing on his toes and turning the blade in his hand, he said, “They let us practice in the yard?”

“With blunted blades, certes, but we may practice at sword and even tilt at the quatrain when Sir Thomas feels kindly.”

James’s face split in a grin, but then his face fell a little. “My sword work isn’t as good as I would like, Gruffydd.”

“Then the three of us shall practice together.” The Welshman winked. “They call me a fair hand with a blade, so I’ll teach you what I know. It will keep us from dying of boredom.”