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Authors: Shannon Drake

Seize The Dawn

BOOK: Seize The Dawn
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Seize the Dawn


By Shannon Drake
Copyright 2011 Heather Graham



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Falkirk, Scotland July 22, 1298

There could be a strange beauty to war. The sight of the arrows was awesome.

They appeared suddenly in the radiant blue summer sky ...And they were spellbinding, an arcing rain, flying high into the sky, cresting, then falling with a strange grace back to the ground. Then the hurling, whistling whir of them suddenly took precedence. Along with the sounds that followed. Brendan could hear screams, for those Scotsmen who had taunted the expert bowmen of the English army with their backsides discovered too late that grace and beauty were as deadly as stupidity. Arrows connected with flesh, spewing blood, breaking bone. Men shouted, staggered, fell, some wounded, some killed. Horses neighed shrilly, animals died, and knights, not hit themselves, cursed as their mounts stumbled and fell, many wheezing out a death rattle. Foot soldiers scattered; cavalry began to break; commanders shouted.

Hold, you fools! And cover your backsides!'' John Graham, Brendan's kinsman, shouted from atop his tall black steed. They'd had a certain advantage. William Wallace, their leader, knew how to choose his ground for a fight. Though Edward had great numbers of foot soldiers and cavalry—perhaps twelve thousand of the latter and twenty-five hundred of the first— William had chosen to wage war from the flank of the Callander Wood. From there, a fiercely flowing burn, or stream, met with another from Glen Village, and because of this, the terrain the English must traverse was little but mire, soggy wet ground, a morass to wear down horses and men.

But today, the English had come on. Mired, they had rallied. And it was the Scots now breaking. "Hold!" John shouted again. Brendan saw him shake his head with disbelief, wondering what fool confidence had suggested such a show of idiocy. Indeed! What man had not seen the arrows? They had thought to defy the deadly barrage of the English—and so life was wasted. The major assault had not even begun. Along with the screams and shouts, he could hear the jingle of horses' harnesses, the trappings of some of the richer men's mounts. His own great dappled stallion, Achilles, stamped the ground with nervous impatience as a cloud of moist air streamed from his nostrils. More arrows were flying. Men were falling, dying. Edward of England was no fool, and surely no coward, and any of them who had taken him as such were doomed. The English king had ruthlessly destroyed the Welsh—and from them, he had gained his talented longbowmen. He had brought soldiers talented with the crossbow as well: Flemish, Germans, mercenaries—even some of the French he was so constantly fighting.

Even Scotsmen rode with him. Scotsmen who feared that Wallace, their protector, their guardian, could not hold against the forces of the Plantagenet king of England, self-proclaimed Hammer of the Scots.

Scotsmen who were perhaps now changing sides.
"Sweet Jesu, help me!" English riders were following their bowmen. Scottish knights were breaking. Hand to hand battle came closer and closer. The Scots were experts with their schiltrons—barriers created by men arranged with rows of pikes—weapons that held well against the English knights. But even they were failing now. Brendan quickly dismounted, hurrying to the rugged old warrior with the arrow protruding from his thigh. He couldn't wrench out the arrow; the man would bleed to death there on the field. "Break it!" the man commanded. "MacCaffery, I can't—" "You will, boy, you will." Beady blue eyes surveyed him from beneath a fine bush of snow-white brows and hair, so completely entangled, it was impossible to say where the one began, and the other gave off. "MacCaffery—" "Haven't you strength, boy?" MacCaffery was taunting him on purpose. Aye, and the taunting worked. He snapped the arrow, gritted his teeth—and removed the shaft, immediately using his linen shirt to put pressure against the wound. "Fool!" he accused his elder. ' 'Aye," MacCaffery said softly. The old man hadn't flinched,hadn't let out so much as a whimper. "A free fool. And I'll die that way, boy."

Die that way ...Did the old man feel it, too? A strange sense, not so much of fear, but of unease and trepidation. They should not have fought that day! Many of the commanders had said it. They should not have fought. They should have continued their northern flight. They had left the land desolate, stripped; if they had just kept ahead of the English army, they could have starved it out!

Yet almost a year ago now, at Stirling Bridge, the forces of Scotland, forces truly of Scotland—rich men, poor men, diggers of soil, purveyors of gold—had faced the might of the English, and there, they had triumphed. And since that precious time, Scotland had been free. The great baron of the north, Andrew de Moray, had died soon after the battle, mortally wounded in the fighting. But until the very last minute, the great survivor of the struggle, Sir William Wallace, had kept his name alive in official correspondence. Wallace had reigned as the guardian of the realm. He had gained so much power that he had pushed the tide of bloodshed into England, ravaged York, and given something incredibly valuable to his followers as well: pride. Pride. Pride had now turned to foolishness.

"Take heed!" Old MacCaffery warned. Brendan turned, just in time. An armored knight, wearing the colors of the House of York, was bearing down upon him. Brendan wielded his weapon with a desperate power, aiming deliberately for the throat. His opponent went still, hovered in time and space, clutched his neck. Red seeped through his fingers, and he fell into the mire. But another knight was coming on, riding hard despite the mire, and Brendan braced to meet him.

He had first learned the hatred of the enemy at Hawk's Cairn where he'd fought with no talent and no experience, and had survived because he'd been left for dead. That now seemed a lifetime ago. He'd learned. Time had given him strength and judgment—and a well-trained sword arm. He'd learned victory ...And suddenly, he knew. Here, he was about to learn defeat.

But he would never accept it. Just as old MacCaffery, who had risen to his feet despite his wound, and, though the blood drained from him, fought on. Raising his great sword, letting it fall, raising it ... Again and again. And the mire beneath their feet turned red. Brendan heard a shout and turned. His kinsman was down. John Graham was unhorsed, on the ground. His men flocked around him, tried to wrest him from the onslaught of men now decimating the Scots, riding them down.

"Go to him, lad! I'll cover your back!" MacCaffery shouted. Aye, he was a fierce old man, and half dead or nay, there was no man better to cover him. So Brendan ran, and fell to his knees where they were lifting John, and he saw the wound at his kinsman's throat, and heard the rattle of death in his lungs.

"John, for the love of God." He reached for him, would have carried him, but John placed a bloody hand on his chest. "Brendan, run, run with these fellows! They've just gotten Wallace out. Go after him—" "I'll not leave you!" he insisted. "I'll take you from the mire to the wood—" "Brendan! I'm a dead man, and you haven't the time to save a corpse." "John—" "For the love of Scotland, Brendan! Go! This battle is lost, much is lost! But hope is alive and freedom lives in your heart! Go!" John gripped his hand tightly. The grip failed. Brendan rose slowly, clenching his teeth. He looked around. He stood in a field of dead men. Even as he watched, old MacCaffery wavered and fell at last. He had died a free man, defiant to the end.

The English were still coming. Hundreds of horsemen. More and more. Yet their horses stumbled over mud and corpses and blood. A knight dismounted, and came at him. Brendan let out a roar, the battle roar of the Scotsmen, a cry that sounded to heaven and earth and gave even armored and battle-hardened Englishmen pause. Then he stepped forward, slicing, slashing, piercing, wielding his sword with the strength of madness and rage. Men dropped before him, often felled with a single blow. He walked slowly, with purpose, rage and strength growing. John was dead, old MacCaffery was dead, by God, the dead were everywhere and the hated English were coming and coming ... Too many of them. Yet, he realized, he wasn't fighting alone. He glanced to the side, saw the colors and emblem of his own family, and realized his cousin Arryn had ridden in. Together they walked through the shadow of death, steel glistening in the sun, running red ...

Blood and haze. There was so much on the field it was hart to tell who was who anymore. Hard to read the crests on tunics that covered mail, and harder still to tell the woven colors o the wool on the men who fought kilted, without armor. There was a break, suddenly. The English before them ha( fallen. More came ... Yet at a distance. And like the arrows, they were spellbinding, horses and men in their armor and livery beneath the sun and sky, colors flying, great muscles moving ... Beautiful. Awesome. Deadly. "To horse!" Arryn shouted. Some of the man who had fought with them ran.

Brendan shook his head, eyes narrowed. "There are more of them! John is dead, MacCaffery is dead—they're all ... dead," he said, looking at the field. "For them, freedom—or death!" "There will be no freedom if we don't keep the fight alive!" Arryn told him. "Damn you, Brendan, to your horse!" At sixteen, he had known the sweet taste of victory at Stirling Bridge. Now, at seventeen, he knew that he must swallow the bitterness of the defeat at Falkirk. Arryn mounted his horse. Achilles loped behind him. Brendan hesitated but a second more. He mounted his horse and followed. By John's body he paused. "Aye, cousin! For the love of Scotland, I'll ride. And I swear to you, John, I will ride until Scotland is free forever. By God's blood, so help me, I so swear! I will never surrender—myself, or my country."

The English were almost upon him. He waited. And with a fierce and fiery fury he turned one last time, bringing down the first knight to attack him, and the man behind him. It seemed again that there were men all around him. They had come near the wood, near the edge of the trees. As he engaged then, still mounted, striking with his sword, he found himself fighting into the cover of the trees. He was nearly unhorsed; he dismounted of his own volition, turning to fight on foot. One man assaulted him, and he pressed back hard until his attacker was at a tree, and there he killed him. Then he turned, covered in shadow and darkness. Someone stood in the copse, wearing a dark cape over chain mail. Friend or foe? He started forward. For a moment, the figure attacked with strength and aggression, but Brendan returned each strike of the sword. The enemy fell back and cried out, "Wait!" It was a young voice, a female voice. The cape fell from her; she tore the mail helm from her head. Stunned, he stared at her. She was very young—his own age, perhaps? Younger still. In the shadowed light of the forest, her hair gleamed with a golden fire. Her features were as perfect as carved marble, her eyes as bright as stars, as innocent... He made no move against her. He just stared. And it was then that he heard the figure behind him. The enemy at his back. He whirled with a split second to spare. Before the man could slice off his head, Brendan skewered him through the gullet.

Something from the rear hit his head. He fell to his knees, pain shooting through his temples, blinding him.
The girl. The girl had struck him down,
he thought, as the world began to fade. Brendan!" His cousin's voice brought him struggling back. Arryn had reached him. Dismounting, he drew Brendan to his feet. "Come on, we've got to ride harder, further, deeper, into the wood!" Gritting his teeth, Brendan grasped his horse's saddle, and managed to pull himself up. The pain he felt was horrible; the self-anger was worse. No enemy was ever to be trusted! "Brendan! Hold boy, ride!" His vision wavered. Then he saw the host coming hard behind them, slipping into the trees. He nudged Achilles and rode hard. Thankfully, his horse followed his kinsman's. And as they rode, and the English fell behind, he damned himself in an impotent rage and desolation. They had lost. They had fought so long, and so hard ... And he had been downed by a girl. But he had survived. He had been ready to fight to the death, but they had been right—death now would avail him nothing, nor would it serve his country. He would fight again. Never surrender. Never forget, never forgive.

His head pounded ferociously and he nearly fell from his mount, but he held on and stayed alive through will power alone. He must survive now. Nor the love of Scotland! And for vengeance.
One day, by God, aye! One day he would find out who she was!
Vengeance, anger, they were strong emotions for life! Sanctuary ... at last they reached sanctuary in the woods. "Safety, lad, we've reached safety!" He heard Arryn's rough voice, then fell into his kinsman's arms, and as he did so, he knew he would not stay conscious long. Darkness was encroaching all around him. A deep crimson darkness, like the shadow of blood and death ... He would live. For vengeance, and for Scotland.

BOOK: Seize The Dawn
13.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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