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Authors: N. Gemini Sasson

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The Honor Due a King

BOOK: The Honor Due a King
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THE HONOR

DUE

A KING

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The Bruce Trilogy:

Book III

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N. GEMINI SASSON

Cader Idris Press

Table of Contents

Title Page

The Honor Due a King (The Bruce Trilogy, #3)

Prologue

Ch. 1

Ch. 2

Ch. 3

Ch. 4

Ch. 5

Ch. 6

Ch. 7

Ch. 8

Ch. 9

Ch. 10

Ch. 11

Ch. 12

Ch. 13

Ch. 14

Ch. 15

Ch. 16

Ch. 17

Ch. 18

Ch. 19

Ch. 20

Ch. 21

Ch. 22

Ch. 23

Ch. 24

Ch. 25

Ch. 26

Ch. 27

Ch. 28

Epilogue

Afterword

About the Author

Books by N. Gemini Sasson:

In the dawn of a kingdom, 
loyalties and lies collide.

The truth will change England and Scotland forever.

In the triumphant aftermath of Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce faces unfamiliar battles. His wife Elizabeth, held captive in England for eight long years, has finally returned home to Scotland. With his marriage in ruin and hopes for an heir quickly fading, Robert vows to fulfill an oath from long ago—one which will not only bind his daughter to a man she does not love, but challenge the honor of his most trusted knight, James Douglas.

While Ireland falls to the Scots, King Edward II of England must contend with quarrelsome barons. Hugh Despenser is the one man who can give him both the loyalty and love he so desperately craves. War with France looms and Edward’s only chance at peace rests with his queen, Isabella—a woman who has every reason to seek her own revenge.

Tormented by his past, James returns to a solitary, ruthless life of raiding into the north of England. When a bewitching spy promises him the ultimate victory, James must weigh whether to unveil the truth and risk losing her love—or guard his secrets and forever preserve Robert’s faith in him.

THE HONOR DUE A KING

Copyright © 2011 N. Gemini Sasson

All rights reserved.

Published  2011 by Cader Idris Press

Cover art by Lance Ganey: 
www.freelanceganey.com

ISBN: 
978-0982715871

The Bruce Trilogy: Book 3

You may contact the author with comments or questions via her web site at:

www.ngeminisasson.com

Or become a ‘fan’ on Facebook:

www.facebook.com/NGeminiSasson

You can also sign up to learn about new releases via e-mail at:

http://eepurl.com/vSA6z

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T
his is a work of fiction. The names, characters, and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

For Jacques de Spoelberch,

who was the first to believe

and whose faith helped a dream endure.

May ‘Our Bruce’ live on in the hearts of many
.

Prologue

James Douglas – Spain, 1330

I
believe, as sure as I have bled for such belief, that crowns were made for men like Robert the Bruce.

Two years gone since he died. Two years I have wandered aimless as a leper from one day to the following. So much I have aged in that short, hollow span.

When the storm clouds gather now, my right forearm aches where Neville’s axe grazed my bone. Each morn, when I lift my head from my pillow and stretch my fingers toward the sunlight of yet another day, I feel a brittle stiffness in my hands – too many years clenching the hilt of my sword; a pinching at the base of my spine – bent from a hundred falls; and every cramped muscle, resisting wakefulness, longing to rest yet one more blissful hour.

Seventy battles I have seen, but I have wearied of fighting – the taste for blood soured on my tongue like over-ripe fruit gone rank. And yet without it, I have aged twenty years in just these two.

Did I think I would stay young forever? Peace, so long in coming, has made me not refreshed, but restless, a traveler without a map, no reason for being.

I should savor these years as Robert did at Cardross, even as his health gradually fled from him: hawking, hunting and sailing on the Firth of Clyde. Robert’s son is a fine lad now. My own boys are but infants. Yet I have walked from them with only a fluttering kiss because of a promise made to my king on his deathbed and a purpose which has bound me ever since Longshanks’ siege on Berwick when I was ten.

For so long, I have been a soldier – a soldier who serves his king above all else. Pray I am afforded enough years to prove myself as good a husband and father as I have been a knight.

Lanterns sway from the rafters. Their flames flicker and dim, then spring to life again. Every plank and beam from stern to prow moan against the strain of a tempestuous sea. The storms have been many. The crests of the waves as high as the sails themselves. The boat lurches as it battles another wave and I clutch the silver casket beneath my fingers as it slides sideways.

My promise was to carry my king’s heart to the Holy Land. So I left my beloved Scotland, sailing first to Sluys in Flanders on a single-masted cog to seek out worthy knights to join us. King Alfonso of Spain has asked for our help to dislodge the Moors from his borders and so before going further east we are headed there.

Another knight, Alan Cathcart, sits across from me, smiles in greeting and offers a hunk of salted pork. The smell of fat turns my stomach inside out and I turn my head aside, declining the offer.

Above deck, the sailors call out to one another, but their tongue is strange to me. I pray we make anchor at Seville before the sea swallows us. In time, the storm subsides and the shouts from above cease.

From Seville, I will hire a rowing galley, hug the ports and arrive whole, if not better rested. Robert was the sailor, never I. Journeying by sea still robs me of my appetite. I shall be in the Holy Land before the heat of summer bears down on my thinning scalp and home by Christmas. Then, gracious Rosalind – oh, dare I dream of loving you longer and learning to know you after all those years I deemed myself unworthy? I beg forgiveness for going from you, dearest Rosalind, but this is one duty I cannot forego. It is an honor far exceeding any earldom.

As the waves thrash against the sides of this ship, its prow rising and dipping in its crooked course from flat, gray Flanders toward sun-bright Spain, there is much to look back on ... and so little to look ahead to. Forty-four years I have walked this earth. Hardly old, but I have lived hard enough for ten men.

Never has Scotland known a greater king than Robert the Bruce, but where my purpose found me, he made his own. When Robert was born, none ever knew he would one day wear a crown, but the dream that first belonged to Robert’s grandfather became his own and never escaped his heart.

A shadow looms and I look up to see young Sir William Sinclair. His beard is sparse and silken. The flesh around his eyes and mouth as smooth as a bairn’s. Already several years older than I was when I joined Robert, why is it that he seems much too young to suit himself up in armor and pursue Moors?

It is warmer now. A long finger of sunlight pries through the cracks of the door to aboveboard.

“Port, Sir James,” Sinclair says. “The King of Castile sends a messenger. A galley awaits on which we can travel upriver and join him. Osmyn has fortified Teba. The siege is on.”

I raise my tankard of bitter ale and take a small swallow, forcing it down. My stomach disagrees. I wait a moment for the nausea to pass. “A dalliance, Sinclair. Granada’s infidels first. Jerusalem shall wait ... as it has for centuries.”

Between calloused hands, I cup the silver casket. With great care, I lift the chain affixed to it and slip it over my head.

“Not quite sixteen years since Bannockburn, Robert,” I say to him, for I know he hears my every word. In life, he knew my thoughts even. “But I am attempting penance. Give a good word to Our Lord for me, if you will.”

Ch. 1

Edward II – Berwick, 1314

A
harsh wind raced over the sea and whipped at my face in scorn. Hugh Despenser the Younger dabbed a bunched strip of linen into a bowl of water and wiped the grime from my forehead. Too spent to resist, I did not turn my face away or take the cloth from him, letting him rub soothingly at my temples. But in time, the pressure of his fingertips became an annoyance – claws digging into my skull – and I finally slapped his hands away.

Hugh pushed a hunk of bread into my palm and begged me to eat. I flung it at his feet, shoved him aside and rushed to the gunwale, where I clung weakly, and puked up nothing. The riggings slapped against the sails and the waves heaved as our ship veered shoreward in its course.

“You’ll feel improved, my king,” he encouraged as he placed a gentle hand on my quivering shoulder, “when there is dry land under your feet.”

“If it’s anywhere in Scotland, I’d rather you set me adrift at sea on a flaming pyre.”

“Berwick straight ahead, sire. When we left, it was yet an English possession.”

“When we left, Stirling was ours. All we had to do was get there.” I snarled and crumpled down cross-legged onto the decking.

Sinking to his haunches, Hugh touched my knee. “It was but one battle, sire. Brood not over the slain. You were preserved to fulfill some purpose. That I know.”

Oh, kindest Hugh. You know as well as I, that is not what they are saying now. Not the Scots, not my commanders, not my soldiers. Not in my beloved England or on the continent.

They are saying that Edward II, King of England, is a coward, a fool and a failure. He marched to Stirling a hundred thousand strong and on the road at Bannockburn the Scots, a fraction in number, laid him low. His sire toppled the crown from Balliol’s head and kept it for himself. His son ... Edward of Caernarvon, lost it. Lost it to a traitor and a host of half-naked hill-men.

Hugh’s hand slid over mine. His second finger bore the calluses of a scribe and his palms were smooth, as though he had never in his life wielded a weapon. Although his gesture solved nothing, it gave me comfort, if only for a moment. A sailor’s rumbling shout signaled an approaching dinghy. Hugh rose and peered over the side of the ship, one slender hand shading his pale brow.

“Who else, besides Gilbert,” I murmured, “was among our fallen, Hugh?”

Before the battle ever began, that blood-craving Judas, Robert the Bruce, slew my nephew and childhood companion Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester.

He took a breath, held it, and sank back down beside me, close. “I have not reviewed the lists yet. With the broken retreat, it will be hard to say for some while, who is dead and who is not, but I know of your steward, Sir Edmund ... and Lord John of Badenoch ...”

“Son of the Red Comyn?”

“Yes, I believe so. Sir Robert Clifford, as well.”

“Clifford?” I stared at my hands, blistered raw from gripping the reins of my horse all the way from Stirling to Dunbar. Bruises ran the length of the inside of my thighs from clutching my mount’s ribs. Fire raged in my joints. “Thousands, wasn’t it? Thousands.”

So many dead. God’s soul, so many.

He rose to his feet and reached down to me. “They’re waiting, sire.”

I placed my hand in his and felt the strength of his grip as he pulled me up.

***

T
hree days later, Hugh came to my chambers at Berwick Castle bearing yet more ill news.

I shifted the neckline of my ill-fitting borrowed tunic, having lost my entire wardrobe in the flight from Bannockburn, and trailed my fingertips across a sweat-dampened collarbone. There had been no wind since we had made land and if not for the castle’s prominent position on a high hill, the fetid air from the town might have suffocated me.

I poured Hugh a goblet of wine. He took one sip and set it down on the table. So unlike my beloved Piers, who would have downed the entire contents in greedy gulps and then boldly asked for more.

Ever since my sire died seven years ago and I took the throne, I had been betrayed so many times that I guarded my trust behind an iron door, as though it were my kingdom’s greatest treasure. Hugh, in his subtle devotion, was the first to breach that barrier after my companion Piers Gaveston was murdered by my cousin Lancaster’s crows. I had loved Piers beyond belief. I had even been willing to give up my crown for him, but Piers would not have it so.

“Everything. All at once,” I told Hugh, as I reclined in my cushioned chair to receive the blow. “Better from your gentle lips than from the snout of one of those chiding barons.”

“The Scots did not pursue us with more men to Dunbar,” he began, “because their forces were engaged elsewhere. Your baggage train, in its entirety, was taken by the Scots. Among the items they claim to have are your Royal Shield and the Great Seal. Sir Philip Mowbray handed Robert the Bruce the keys to Stirling the very day he turned you away from there.”

BOOK: The Honor Due a King
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