Authors: Laura Landon
Not Mine to Give
A Scottish Historical by
Prairie Muse Publishing
Castle - Scotland
July 21, 1314
She pulled her wrapper tighter around her nightdress and ran down the stairs of Kilgern Castle, the words of her frightened maid still ringing in her ears. The priest from clan Ferguson was downstairs, demanding to speak to her.
She raised the candle higher as she crossed the wide entryway, then ran to the other side of the great hall. Her heart pounded in her head while her mind raced through the myriad of possibilities that would bring a priest to
Kilgern Castle in the middle of the night. She rejected the most obvious. Ian could not be dead.
The priest quit his frantic pacing before a hearth that had long since given out any heat and extended his hands. She grasped his fingers and kissed his knuckles as she bent her knees. When she looked at him, her breath caught in her throat. Dried blood spattered the front of his gown, and the look in his eyes raged with fear.
“Is something wrong, Father?”
The priest wiped the sweat from his brow. “Aye, milady. There is much wrong.” The priest lifted one hand to the cross that hung from his neck. “Is it true that you are English? That your father is the Earl of Wentworth?”
She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “Yes.”
“Swear to me, milady, that you will protect with your life what I am about to give you and you will give it to only one man — to your father. Swear that you will do what you must
so that no more Scottish blood flows to keep what does not belong to Scotland.”
The priest gripped her hand almost painfully and she couldn’t stop her heart from thundering even louder.
“Swear it,” he repeated.
He reached into the pocket of his robe and lifted out a book. She didn’t have to be told that it was the priest’s well read Bible he placed beneath her hand.
“Swear before God.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “I swear.”
With an audible sigh of relief, he made the sign of the cross, then placed his Bible back into his pocket. Carefully, he opened a large velvet bag, then lifted into the air a round object covered with white satin. His movements were slow, reverent, as if he held in his hand the most precious object in all the land. With great care he removed the covering and handed her a crown.
The Bishop’s Crown. The crown that had adorned the head of every monarch in English history.
It was magnificent. She stared at the priest in confusion then brushed her hand over the emblazoned metal. It was cool to the touch and a stab of strange power pulsed through her.
She held in her hands the Bishop’s Crown. A crown that belonged to England.
Castle - Scotland
July 29, 1314
Duncan Ferguson closed his eyes in an unguarded moment of exhaustion, then clenched his teeth, unable to hold back a harsh breath when his jailer’s blunt club struck him in the ribs.
“Keep them eyes open,
Scot.” The toothless guard they called Crites brought the club down again, this time striking Duncan’s right shoulder from the back. “You know his lordship won’t take kindly to you nappin’. He don’t intend for you to be enjoyin’ his hospitality so much you won’t be wantin’ to leave.”
Crites jerked on the cord that bound Duncan’s hands behind his back.
Duncan sucked in his breath but held his body stiff as a fresh stab of pain shot down his arms. He separated his mind from his body, a trick he’d learned long ago. As waves of pain sliced across his shoulders, he registered every moment of agony; every burning slash. He would never forget.
The dull clang of keys from outside his cell alerted his guard and Crites straightened his foul smelling body as if he considered himself more important than the ignorant lackey he was. Duncan shifted his bruised shoulders, but only his right arm moved. The left was numb, either from lack of movement or repeated blows.
“You be lucky today, Scot. His lordship is come to see you again. Twice in the same day.” Crites pulled his filthy jacket over his protruding belly and muttered a vile oath when the clasp refused to fasten. “You’d best tell him what he wants to know.” He poked at one of the gashes still trailing blood down Duncan’s arm. “You ain’t quite recovered from the last time he came to see you.”
Duncan fisted his bound hands and readied himself for more abuse. He hadn’t survived months of battling the cursed English only to die in a stinking dungeon cell this close to home.
A cold shiver raced down his spine and he braced himself. He’d lost track of the hours — days — he’d been here. He hadn’t moved except for the few moments Crites had untied him each day from the rough, wooden pole in the center of the small cell to let him relieve himself. Or, when the pompous fool had tried to force a bowl of rancid gruel down his throat.
Metal ground in the lock. “Make it easy on yourself, Scot,” Crites warned. “You know how fond his lordship is of that strap that hangs at his waist.”
A thin line of spittle drooled down the coarse man’s chin and he wiped it away with the back of his hand as the heavy cell door opened. With a shrug of his shoulders, he looked at Duncan and smiled a toothless grin. “’Tis a shame for you to lose more of your bonny hide.”
Duncan looked neither left nor right as William Bolton, Earl of
Rivershorn, strode into the cell then stopped directly in front of him. Even though Duncan’s left eye was swollen almost shut, it was impossible to miss the determined glare in the other man’s eyes.
“I am most distressed, Ferguson. Crites tells me you ate no food again today.” Bolton circled the pole in the center of the
room, jabbing each bruise on Duncan’s arms and naked chest with the blunt handle of his leather strap. “How will you ever find the strength to tell me where you’ve hidden the Bishop’s Crown if you don’t eat?”
A deafening silence permeated the dank cell, and when the sharp crack of Bolton’s strap struck Duncan’s chest, Crites rubbed his hands together and lifted a corner of his mouth in anticipation.
“I’ve grown tired of your stubbornness, Scot.” Bolton paced before Duncan like a spoiled child on the verge of a tantrum, then stopped and swung out his right hand. The handle of his whip struck Duncan squarely across the jaw. “Where is the Bishop’s Crown?”
Bolton raised his hand again and brought the leather strap down with a snap. It didn’t take long for a red welt to cross Duncan’s upper arm, then angle to his waist.
“You stubborn, pigheaded fool. The crown does not belong to you. Nor does it belong to Scotland. It was stolen from our King and the people of England on Midsummer Day. I will have it back and the band of your bastard Scots that took it.”
Bolton paced the small cell like a man possessed. The red on his face darkened to a purple and his glare took on a demented look. “I will have England’s crown. It sickens me to think of such a magnificent object in the hands of the vile Scots.”
Bolton brought the whip down again. This time the ends of the leather strap hit the dirt at Duncan’s feet. Then, he walked around him with deliberate slowness. “You think yourself so in command, Scot. You’ll not remain silent for long. I will have the crown.”
Duncan glared at the Englishman before dismissing him with a turn of his head. He would see the man rot in hell before he would ever help him find the Bishop’s Crown.
Without warning, Bolton turned and flicked his wrist. The whip cracked across Duncan’s chest, opening his flesh from his shoulder to his waist.
“You fool. How can you think England will let you have their crown? How can you think England will not retaliate for what your clansmen did?”
Bolton paced back and forth in front of Duncan, then stopped. “Perhaps you’ll consider trading the crown for this.” He reached into his pocket and held up a large gold and silver medallion encrusted with the Ferguson crest. An eagle in full flight wore a crown of small jewels upon its head.
The breath caught in Duncan’s throat. It was impossible for him not to react. This is what he’d risked his life to recover. This, and the crown. After months of fighting at Robert Bruce’s side, he’d come home to find all save one of his family dead. His home had been severely damaged, and the medallion that represented the lineage and nobility of his ancestors was now in the hands of a murdering Englishman.
“I thought this might bring you about. You bloody Scots are such a territorial lot. You cling to your customs and traditions with a ferocity that is appalling.”
Duncan stared at the medallion. In earthly terms it held very little value. To Duncan, it was priceless. Whoever wore it around his neck laid claim to
Lochmore Castle and the surrounding land. The Ferguson medallion had been a part of his family’s history since the first Ferguson, a Celt, had stepped on Scotland’s soil. The relic had been passed down to each head of the clan, and as long as Duncan was alive, no one other than he would wear the medallion.
Bolton dangled the pendant before Duncan like a bone before a starving mongrel, then wrapped his fingers around the precious metal and raised his fist in the air. “I want the Bishop’s Crown.” His voice was a low hiss. The cold glint in his eyes gave evidence to his insane obsession. For an eternity, Duncan leveled his gaze with unwavering hostility. But said nothing.
The leather thongs slashed across his shoulders and back once, then twice, then stopped. Duncan held his body rigid and steadied his glare on the Englishman, refusing to look away.
With deliberate slowness, Bolton lifted the cord over his head and let the crest drop against the deep red of his velvet jacket as if he were proud to have it there. The medallion, never before worn by anyone other than a Ferguson, now rested on the breast of the hated English. Duncan’s stomach roiled and he swallowed the bile in his throat.
“Tales of your skill and bravery have spread all through England, Ferguson. Even to your fellow Scots you have become quite a hero.
Mayhaps these tales are naught but the exaggerations of drunken soldiers.” Bolton trailed the blunt handle of his strap across the strained muscles of Duncan’s chest, then over bulging biceps ready to spring. “Mayhaps your impressive size and strength has attracted those inclined to active imagination, but not necessarily concerned with fact?”
Bolton lay the handle of the leather strap against Duncan’s cheek and pushed, forcing him to look on him.
“Or, mayhaps, you are not nearly as sly and cunning as tales would have us believe. We’ll see how brave you are when your flesh burns with pain and you cannot stop from begging me to end your torture. Then you will tell me where you’ve hidden the crown.”
Bolton lowered the hard leather from Duncan’s cheek. “Could it be you need even more persuasion, Scot? Something more important than a medallion to loosen your tongue?” The grin on his face was evil as he bellowed out his order. “Bring her here.”
Two large guards stepped into the room. A small girl stood between them.
Duncan couldn’t breathe. No air would fill his body. The English bastard had his sister Brenna.
Her legs buckled, unable to support her limp body. With great effort she lifted her head, her large, brown eyes looking at him with a silent pleading that ripped his heart from his chest. Her haunting stare begged for help and Duncan struggled to free himself from the leather straps that held his hands behind his back.
“Leave the lass be. She does
na know anything about the crown.” The wind to his chest came in short, jagged gasps and shards of blinding white light flashed before his eyes. He burned with a rage unlike anything he’d ever felt before.
“Brenna, lass.” Duncan stared at the black circles around his sister’s empty eyes and saw nothing more than an open appeal for his help. “Brenna, you will be
aright. I will na let anything more happen to you.”
Duncan looked at the rent in his sister’s gown and the scratches on her body and silently cursed all Englishmen to hell. For one so young, she had already lived a lifetime of torment.
Bolton walked over to Brenna and cupped her chin in his hand. The act was vile and Duncan’s reaction explosive. Her soft whimper filled the room but Duncan could do nothing to help.
“I think I will take your sister with me.”
“Then give me the crown.”
Duncan ignored the fire in Bolton’s eyes. “I do na have it!”
Bolton flicked his wrist and a long slash opened another gash on Duncan’s chest and stomach, then another and another. Bright red blood trickled down Duncan’s body. His stomach clutched in a painful, burning grip.
“Your sister will come with me to England. You have until the eve of the New Year, Scot. She will be safe until then.” Bolton stroked Brenna’s cheek then glared at Duncan so there was no mistaking his meaning. “If I don’t have the Bishop’s Crown in my hands when the bells chime with the New Year, I will give your sister as a present to every soldier in England.”
Duncan struggled with the straps that bound him and fought the anger that burned within him. “If you take her, I promise you will not live to see the New Year.”
“You will stop me?” Bolton threw his head back and laughed, then turned to the two guards. “Take her to England.”
With a flash of fury, Bolton brought the whip down over Duncan’s flesh again. “You will get your sister back when I have the Bishop’s Crown. Not before.”
Duncan watched the guards drag Brenna’s body from the cell. Bolton remained. The salivating expression on his face turned Duncan’s stomach. He would kill the bastard. So help him, he would.
Duncan struggled with the bonds that held his hands behind his back but could not loosen the leather straps. God help him. He did not breathe again until the outer door closed and he could no longer hear his sister’s muted cries for help.
Bolton fingered the medallion. “I will return. Think of your precious talisman around my neck and consider what it will cost you to let it lie there. Think of your sister in the hands of my soldiers. When you are ready to give me the Bishop’s Crown, I will give you back your precious trinket and your sister.”
With that, William Bolton turned on his heels and walked with an arrogant gait from the dank cell.
Duncan leaned his head back against the rough timber that had held him captive for days. He would kill Bolton for taking his sister. If he had to, he would die before he would willingly let the Ferguson crest adorn such a vile creature. And his death may be required in the end.
God help him. He didn’t have the Bishop’s Crown.
“Crites. Crites, move your
arse.” A faceless voice from beyond the cell door alerted Duncan and roused his snoring jailer. “Bolton sent down a tankard of ale as reward for the fine job you done with the prisoner.”
Crites stumbled to his feet. He shook his head then staggered to the door and took the pint being handed him through the small opening. He puffed out his chest like a proud peacock and smiled a wide grin with what was left of his brown, rotting teeth.
Duncan silently cursed the fool on the other side of the door for disturbing the guard. As long as he slept, Duncan was afforded at least a little respite from the club Crites was so fond of leveling on his flesh.
“By the saints! I could tell the earl had his eye on me when he came down earlier. He knows a good and loyal subject at a glance.” Crites took a deep swallow of ale and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. With a haughty stride, he swaggered in front of Duncan and aimed the club at his middle.
“Take heed, Scot. The master don’t let a good job go unrewarded. He takes care of them that does right by him.” Crites shoved the long club at Duncan’s stomach then took another swallow and belched.
“I’d wager he won’t return to England without me. You and your heathen Scots will be
freezin’ your arses in this God forsaken land, and I’ll be livin’ in grand style on English soil. If you’re still suckin’ air that is.” His boisterous laughter filled the cell. Crites took another swallow and shoved his club into Duncan’s middle again.