Authors: J. R. Tomlin
A KINGDOM'S COST
Book I of The Douglas Trilogy
A Novel of Scotland
By J. R. Tomlin
A Kingdom's Cost
© 2011 by J. R. Tomlin
No part of this book may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage or
retrieval system, without the permission in writing from Jeanne Tomlin.
This book is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or
are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
First Edition April 28, 2011
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2. List of
Map of Scotland
– Castle Locaations
It is in
truth not for glory,
nor honours that we are fighting,
freedom--for that alone,
honest man gives up but with life itself.
Declaration of Arbroath (1320)
Dazed, knocked to his knees by the
merchant's blow, James Douglas leaned against the brick wall. He turned his
head towards the River Seine. He might escape in that direction. The market
square smelled of the stench of the river a few feet away.
Blood ran down the back of James Douglas'
neck. He grabbed the merchant's club as the man took another swing at him. "I'm
no thief! It was an accident."
The barrel-chested man ripped his weapon
loose from James's hand. "Look at what you did!" The merchant kicked
one of the pears that had fallen from his stall.
James slid forward on his knees trying to
get far enough to make a dash for the river. His old deerhound, MacAilpín,
barked at the merchant's side. Snarling, he snapped at the man's leg.
"Etienne, get this dog off me." The
merchant backed up a step.
The merchant's friend ran up and kicked
James's hound to send it flying.
Oh, St. Bride,
he's all I have left.
gathered his legs and flung himself at Etienne's knees. The man stumbled back. Across
the market, MacAilpín whined. The merchant's friend clouted James on the side
of the head, making his ears ring. The man kicked him in the belly. He landed
flat on the stone cobbles. His head bounced with a thud.
A woman yelled that she needed to buy a
melon for her mistress's dinner.
"Almost made me miss a customer,"
the merchant said. He stomped a few feet away, grumbling. "They're in that
basket. All fresh this morning."
James clenched his teeth. He rolled once
towards the river. "MacAilpín, come," he called. A whine answered. Blood
from the back of James's head plopped onto the cobbles.
"Where do you think you're going?"
the merchant shouted. "Knocking down my fruit. Losing me money. You'll
The man ran towards him. James gave himself
a desperate shove against the ground. As he rolled, the merchant's foot
connected with his face. Blood gushed from his nose. Across the square, his
"Mange du merde, pute," the
The ground disappeared from under James. He
plunged into a dark cold as the Seine enveloped him. Rank water filled his nose
You're going to die.
He drifted off altogether.
* * *
When he came back, it was quiet. He didn't
know where he was, except that he was lying face down in stinking mud. His hair
lay in dripping, black strings across his face. He dug his fingers into the
muck. In a dim way, he wondered if he should be attending his father.
He drifted off again.
No, the letter
said my lord father died in a dungeon.
Nothing hurt. Shouldn't it hurt? Mayhap
something had broken inside. He tried to move to find out. Dire mistake. His belly
cramped and bent him like a bow. He gasped with the crushing agony of it.
Holy Virgin Mary, what did he do to me?
After a long time the cramp passed, and he
lay in the sunlight, too weak to do anything but pant in relief. He was too
shattered to move. Thoughts drifted like blowing leaves. That he'd seen thieves
die from such beatings. That mayhap he was so hurt he'd never be able to move.
He lay still in the mud as the shadows
lengthened in the waning afternoon. His face felt like a pillow stuffed with
lumps of coal. He managed to breathe through his mouth, his nose clogged with
Eventually, he lifted his head and took
heart that his body didn't cramp. He wasn't getting worse.
He knew from the practice yard that the
best way to deal with being knocked flat was to take your time. The daylight
had dimmed as shadows crawled towards the riverbank. A breeze chilled him and
he shivered. Dark was good. It would hide him. Mayhap if he moved carefully,
cautiously, he could get to his feet.
He tried moving, dreading the pain. He
moved his arms, his legs, tried to sit up. Couldn't do it. His muscles
trembled. Lifting his head, he considered a huge chestnut tree a few feet from
the riverbank. He crept across the ground, crawling, as far as the trunk and
propped himself against it, panting.
He rested there for a while, hurting but
alive. Increasingly, he thought he would stay that way. Strength returned, no
longer a distant memory. He could stand if he tried. He grasped the rough trunk
of the tree and pulled himself upright.
Tottery, he held onto a drooping branch. It
wasn't so bad. He ached all over but he could move.
Limping through the dark streets, he kept
to the shadows against the buildings, using the slimy walls to stay on his
feet. He hid in the dark whenever anyone walked his way.
The half-moon hung high in the black velvet
sky when he stood propped in the kitchen doorway of the Auberge du Grand Cerf. Heat
from the fire in the hearth bathed his face. The serving girl, Ysabeau, turned
from the tun of wine with a full pitcher in her hand. Her mouth dropped open. "Mon
dieu! Your face..."
He held up a hand.
"Madame Jehannette," she yelled
for her mistress. She banged the pitcher down on a table.
He was trembling and feared he might spew
all over the floor.
"Did they catch you hunting in the king's
He shook his head no and pain shot through
his head. The room revolved. Legs wobbling, he leaned against the wall.
"You're about to fall over." She
grabbed him around the waist and lowered him to the ground. He wanted to tell
her that he could stand, but the words didn't seem to come.
"Why are you bawling, girl?" Madame
Jehannette stalked in, hands on her ample hips, her skirts swishing.
"He's hurt. I'll get water and a
cloth." She left him propped against the whitewashed wall as she leapt to
her feet and scurried away.
"Someone beat him." Madame pursed
her lips. "I told you not to take up with un Écossois." She pulled a
cloth from her sleeve and dropped it next to James's hand. "Don't get
blood on my clean floor, boy."
"I'm sorry, Madame," he mumbled
around his stiff tongue. He wiped at the crusted blood on his face.
She shook her head. "Eh, well...
You've been a good boy selling me meat for the stew pot. I won't complain as
long as you don't make a mess."
Ysabeau squatted beside him. She dipped a
cloth in water and, pushing his hand away, stroked the wet cloth across his face.
Her breath caught with a little sob. "Shhhh..." she said although he
hadn't made a sound. He closed his eyes over gray mists that floated around
him, sparkling with diamond-bright pin stars. Ysabeau stroked back his hair.
He would have liked to put his arms around
her and rest his head on her small breasts as he had the times she'd let him
lie with her. She'd said he was too young, even though she was only a little
older, but he hadn't been. The memory helped. He was grateful she was
there--that she would help him. He tried to tell her, but what came out was her
Madame clicked her tongue against her
teeth. "I suppose he may have a cup of wine."
Wine sizzled when Madame put a poker in the
flagon to warm it. Even through his stuffed nose, he smelled the pinch of
cloves she added.
"You don't want to get his blood on
your gown," Ysabeau said. "Let me do it, Madame." Ysabeau
pressed the cup to his lips and he took a sip. "Who did this to you? I've
never known you beaten in a fight."
James shook his head and rainbows sparkled
behind his eyes, red and purple and green. "It wasn't a fight. I knocked
fruit off his stand. He hit me from behind." He shut his eyes to stop the
sparks. "The Abbot gave me a letter. From England. That no more money would
come for my schooling. The money my father sent with me is long since used. He
said to go."
"They never even fed you proper."
She made a sound in her throat. "If there was money, they never used it
He wanted to tell her what else had been in
the letter but his head was too muzzy. He heard Madame talking about foolish
boys who knock into a merchant's stall and cause damage. That it was his own
fault he was hurt, but she took the cup and was refilling it. He had to agree
with her that it was his own fault. He'd run crying for his father like a
bairn, not watching where he was going.
"Anyway," said Madame, "why
is there no more money? Your father's a baron, no?"
"He's dead." The short sentence
was all he could manage.
"Ah, your wars with the English King. That
Edward! He thinks to take part of our kingdom, too."
He gave a quick nod that made the room
spin. "He took everything."
"Let him stay, Madame," Ysabeau
said. "He can sleep by the fire. He's strong. He'll hunt and work."
Madame shook her head. "No, there's
not work for another. My Pierre and you are enough. He'd cost too much to feed,
still growing the way he is."
After Ysabeau finished cleaning his face
and the split in the back of his head, Madame said he could rest for an hour or
two beside the hearth.
What am I going
As he tried to decide, the kitchen faded into gray half-sleep. He
ran through the forest with a brace of rabbits, dodging the French king's
huntsmen. If they caught him, they'd hang him of a certainty. A shout made him
open his eyes and he tried to decide if it was real.
Voices came from the other side of the
kitchen. Madame saying again: No, he couldn't stay. Ysabeau worrying that the
merchant who'd beaten him might be looking for him.
His face throbbed with heat. He moved his
arms, stretched his legs. Stiff. Nothing was broken even though his shoulder
was too sore for him to use his left arm. He could manage.
"You don't look so bad," Madame
said as he walked gingerly towards them.
"Thank you for helping me." He
tried to speak clearly through his swollen mouth. "I'll be on my way."
Madame smiled, pleased that he wouldn't
beg. "Where will you go?"
"You're too hurt." Ysabeau looked
at her mistress. "Madame, let him stay for the night."
"I'll get back to Scotland, somehow."
His voice was muffled from his nose being stopped with blood. He gently felt
the bridge. It was fat but seemed straight. With his hawk nose, he had to be
glad. If it were crooked as well, it would be hideous.
Ysabeau looked pained, but he knew she
couldn't contradict her mistress. "You don't have money for a horse--or a
ship once you get to the sea."
"I can work my way. Once, I get to
Scotland..." He narrowed his eyes. He'd have to think about that. What
then when he got back? But it was his home. The only one he had, and somewhere
was the king who had killed his father and stolen everything.
Madame took out her purse. She put a single
coin into James's hand. "You've brought me many rabbits for the pot and
that haunch of venison. And you'll fight the horrible English king." She
sighed. "Ysabeau, get Pierre's old cloak. He can't take to the road
Ysabeau turned and went to get it from the
hallway. She sniffled, crying.
James flexed his shoulders. Every inch of
him hurt, but not as badly as it would tomorrow. At least he would be on the
road, and no one would know he didn't usually limp along like a beggar. He
fastened the wool cloak around his shoulders. "Merci, Madame. Ysabeau, je
tu reverrai un jour, je l'espère." But would he ever return? Only God
Ysabeau kissed his cheek and he tried not
"Bonne chance," Madame said.
He went back out into the night. He'd work
his way to the sea, but first he had to find MacAilpín. The thought that the
dog might lay suffering, waiting for James to come help him was like a rock in
He'd been running blind when he'd smashed
into the merchant's table. It took an hour of wandering in the dark to find the
edge of the market where he'd been beaten. In a corner, he stumbled over the
hound's body. His legs were stretched out stiff and his rough coat still sticky
with blood. "Devil take them," James said through gritted teeth. "God
damn them to hell."
For a long time, James squatted next to the
body. His father's steward had bound up the stairs, the pup in his hands,
yelling that he had something for James. Years ago... A lifetime ago...
James cradled his pounding head in his
hands. He owed his father--something. Not vengeance. There wasn't enough
vengeance in the world for what the English had done. But he'd at least get
back what they'd stolen. Somehow, he'd do that. "I swear it," he
whispered. He couldn't even begin to think how. First, he'd have to get to
Scotland. A long, weary walk to Calais and then take a ship, working his way. Mayhap,
he could find Bishop Lamberton, who'd been his father's friend.
James' eyes stung. He clenched his jaw and
swallowed to suck back the tears. He wouldn't weep. Never again.