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Amanda Scott - [Border Trilogy 2]

By´╝ÜBorder Wedding

Chapter 1

His hands and his feet they ha’ bound like a sheep . . . And they locked him down in a dungeon so deep . . .

Scotland, near the English border, July 1388

Awakening in dense blackness to find himself bound hand and foot, lying in acute discomfort on cold, hard dirt, twenty-four-year-old Sir Walter Scott of Rankilburn became aware of a disturbing sense that all was not well.

Then memory stirred and confirmed the fact.

Lammas Gibbie’s deep voice echoed through the blackness. “Tam, I’m thinking he be moving.”

“Be that you, Wat, or just a few rats fussin’ over summat or other?” the huge man called Jock’s Wee Tammy asked.

“I’m awake,” Wat said, although the raspy voice scarcely sounded like his own. His throat was parched and his head ached. “Someone must have clouted me, for my head’s pounding as if the devil were inside. It’s blinded me, too.”

“One o’ them villains clouted ye, right enough,” Gib said. “Ye’re no blind, though. We’ve nae light is all. Tam and me canna see nowt, neither.”

“How many of us are in here?”

“Just us three in this cell,” Tammy said. “They caught some o’ the others, too, though. We canna hear them, so likely, they’ve stowed them elsewhere.”

Wat gathered enough saliva to swallow before he said, “Sorry, lads. Seems I’ve well and truly landed us all in the suds this time.”

“Aye, well, what comes does come,” Tammy replied.

Wat grunted but saw nothing to gain by pointing out that what was likely to come was hanging for all of them.

“’Tis the Douglas’s fault as much as yours,” Gib muttered. “If he hadna ordered this unnatural state of idleness, we’d no be in such a fix, because Murray would more likely ha’ taken English kine instead o’ yours, but as it is . . .”

Silence fell. James, second Earl of Douglas, although only five years older than Wat himself, had already held his powerful title for four years, since the death of his father. William, the first earl, had been the most powerful man in Scotland—even more powerful than the King of Scots or anyone else in the royal family—and James’s popularity in the Borders had increased the Douglas power even more.

Not only did James Douglas control far more land than the royal Stewarts did but he could raise an army of twelve thousand in less than a sennight, whereas the Stewarts would be lucky to raise a thousand men in twice that time. Unlike kings of England, who could simply order their nobles to provide armies for them when needed, the King of Scots had to apply to his nobles for their support. The nobility was not required to provide it, and the Stewarts, considered upstarts, were unpopular.

Among his many other titles, Douglas was also Chief Warden of the Scottish Marches—the three regions directly abutting the border with England—and as such, he had demanded peace among the unruly Scottish Borderers so that he could better expend their energies in keeping the land-greedy English in England.

For nearly a century, English kings had fought to make Scotland just another region of England, and the present king, Richard Plantagenet, was one who believed it was his God-given right to reign over both countries as one.

Douglas, on the other hand, was equally determined to prevent such a conquest. Having learned that the English were preparing to invade the country yet again and knowing that when the time came, he would have to raise his army quickly, James had forbidden the Scottish Borderers to cross the line without his permission lest the English catch and imprison or hang them. To keep peace among the Scots themselves, he had forbidden them to raid each other’s herds as well.

For years, though, “reivers” on either side of the borderline had raided other men’s herds as a matter of course whenever their families ran out of meat. Although it was illegal and they were subject to dire penalties if caught in the act, the Borderers looked upon reiving as nothing less than economic necessity. They were as likely to raid their own neighbors’ herds as those across the line. And when need drove them, Borderers were unlikely to heed anyone else’s orders, even the Douglas’s.

Wat had often remarked on the futility of those orders, but he knew he could not blame the earl for their predicament now. The responsibility for that was his alone.

His hands and feet were numb. He tried shifting position and stifled a groan when jolts of pain shot through his limbs and set nerves in his fingers and toes afire.

“How long have we been here?” he groaned.

“A good while,” Tammy said.

“Ye snored,” Gib added.

“Snored?” Indignation momentarily replaced suffering. “I was unconscious!”