A King Imperiled (Opening of the first chapter)

A King Imperiled

James Douglas of
Balvenie. He waddled out the door of the tower that was the royal residence of
Edinburgh Castle. In spite of the damp and chill, Balvenie was wearing no cloak.  Sweat dribbled down his round cheeks into the
folds of his double chins. He paused, smoothing his black velvet doublet over
his belly, blocking the way like a ponderous mountain.
“What are you
doing snooping about?” Balvenie asked.
 Patrick Gray pressed his lips together to hold
back a sharp retort. “My lord father summoned me.”
“He must have
meant you to wait for him at Holyrood Kirk. We have important matters afoot
here preparing for the coronation. It’s no place for a whelp.”
Preparing for the
coronation, Patrick wondered, but he was not going to ask this man. James Douglas, Earl of
Balvenie, was eaten with envy for the power his cousin the Black Douglas had.
Everyone said so. Balvanie was a rich holding, but not even a tiny fraction of
the holdings of his cousin. He resented that his cousin had had the ear of the
king until the king was murdered. He no doubt resented the fact that his cousin
would soon be lieutenant general of Scotland, but Patrick saw no reason the man should take out that ire on himself.
Bland faced, Patrick
gave a polite nod. It was best to avoid arguments with any of the Douglases,
even this one. “No, My Lord, he said he awaited me here. I’d best hie to find
him.”
“Do so then,”
Balvenie said, passing into the watery morning light.
 Patrick hurried through a long enfilade of
stuffy rooms and waves of the scent of moth-herbs, wet wool, and oak smoke from
hearth fires. A few people huddled in corners whispering. Rumors must have run
like wild fire since the king’s murder. Had the gossips learned that the leader
of the assassins, Robert Stewart, would be put to the torture? That he had already implicated
his grandfather, the Earl of Atholl, Patrick wondered.
The glances at him
were wary. No one went anywhere for the nonce without a hand on their sword.
Some nodded to Patrick as he passed but no one spoke.
When Patrick
closed the door behind him, the inmost chamber was silent. His father, face haggard,
stared into a small fire on the hearth. Without looking up he said, “Patrick. I
expected you sooner.”
He sighed under
his breath. He had been travelling since yesterday morning from their home at Longforgan
and in the saddle for most of the past three weeks riding with the Earl of
Angus as they hunted down the men who has assassinated King James. He had
stopped at an inn only long enough to change out of clothing that had been
rain soaked and mud and dirt splattered to the shoulder.  He hadn’t even eaten since the night
before. 
At a table
scattered with documents, a flagon of wine, and a lit stand of candles sat
James Kennedy, Canon of Dunkeld, youngish, thin, with a short beard and
tonsured. He gave Patrick a bleak smile.
Patrick approached
heath and held out his hands. “I saw Balvenie on my way. He said you’re
preparing for the coronation…here? Not in Scone?”
Kennedy motioned to
the flagon of wine on the table. “You look fit to fall over from exhaustion,
Sir Patrick. Drink whilst we talk.”
Patrick’s father
grunted, but with unusual patience for him, folded his hands behind his back
and waited as Patrick poured and took a seat.
Kennedy folded his
hands atop the pile of documents. He continued, “Of course it is unheard
of to have the coronation in Edinburgh. But the Earl of Atholl is still on the
loose and Scone is too near his lands. We will take nae chances with the life
of our new king.”
Patrick had just
taken a drink, so it took a moment for him to swallow and ask, “You cannae
think they would make an attempt on the prince’s life?”
“We do.”
The boy was only
six. He’d not considered that they’d murder a child. “Aye, I suppose they would
have to kill him as well.”
Patrick’s father
shrugged, propped an elbow on the mantel, and considered his son like a
merchant regarding his wares. At fifty, he was still as lean and fit as he must
have been at thirty. He was dressed in his finest doublet of green satin and
blue silk. His height and broad shoulders were still impressive and his thick,
gray hair gave him gravitas. “So tell me about catching up with Robert Stewart.
How went the business?”
Evidently his
questions were to be ignored. Patrick sighed again. “As filthy as you’d expect
and knee deep in snow for much of the chase. He was abandoned by most of his
followers before we caught them. We only gave him a beating, since the queen
wanted him alive.”
“Go on,” Kennedy
said. As he listened to Patrick recount their long, hard ride through the
Highlands led by the Earl of Angus, the churchman’s face creased occasionally
into an attentive frown.  When Patrick
described riding down Robert Stewart’s party, he leaned forward and tilted his
head. He poured a cup of wine and took a sip. When Patrick finished, he said,
“After the coronation, Robert will nae last long. He’s being put to the torture
and in two days he’ll be beheaded.”
“So they meant to
kill young James?” Patrick asked again. “And to make Atholl king?”
“Not to make
Atholl king, no, but if the lad were dead and one of his sisters married to
Robert Stewart, that would have had the same affect. They would have ruled in
her name.”
Patrick’s father
cleared his throat. “That will nae happen and our new liege lord shall be kept
safe. That’s why I sent for you.”
“Keep him safe?
Me? How so?”
“This afternoon
wee James will be crowned. He will have a household of his own, gentlemen of
the bedchamber, a master of his guard. And the master of the guard will be you.”

“Wait.” Patrick
held up both hands and reared back. Since when did his father and Kennedy have
the managing of the prince. 

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