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The Thistle and the Rose

By:May McGoldrick


Northern England, September 9, 1513

The fog and rain, mixed with the smoke of the English cannons, enshrouded the low fields at Flodden with a gray cover no man could see through, but King James knew that his moment of destiny was at hand.

Rallying his Scottish troops with the war cry of his Stewart ancestors, the king wheeled his white stallion, swept the fifteen foot spear from the hand of his page, and charged down the hill into the ranks of the English infantry.

For four hours the blood flowed onto the slippery hillsides, but the long Scottish spear was no match in close combat with the eight foot English halberd, that grotesque crossbreed of spear and ax.

Before the gloom of day gave way to the darker gloom of night, ten thousand of Scotland's finest men lay dead in the muck, stripped of their armor and their dreams of a new Scotland. The northerners' camp followers—women, boys, clerics, and servants—were also dead and plundered, their throats cut by English border troops under the merciless Lord Danvers.

King James's son Alexander, the Archbishop of St. Andrew's, two bishops, two abbots, and twenty-six of Scotland's great earls and lords were hacked to death on that bloody day—Scotland's nobility annihilated in a single stroke.

And James lay naked with the rest, his red beard matted around the broken shaft of the arrow that had spilled the lifeblood of a king.

There would be no one left to protect the loved ones to the north, the warriors were virtually gone. And the English knew it.

To the victors belong the spoils.

Chapter 1

The Central Lowlands of Scotland, February, 1514

The Devil of Danvers had brought hell to her door. Celia knew from experience that the fire now raging in the rear sections of the oak and plaster manor house would soon engulf the entire structure. It was clear that the English marauders were trying to force the inhabitants of the late Caithness laird's new hall out the great oaken doors that had been barred in defense. This night raid was to be a bloody one.

Instead of wasting their powder blasting the entryway or wasting their time preparing a battering ram, the demons had piled hay from the nearby fields against the back of the building and laid their torches to it. This was a plan that Danvers had used all across Scotland—destruction of the great houses and slaughter of the innocents.

Celia peered through the notch in the upstairs shutter and saw the troop of horsemen waiting for the manor folk to begin pouring out. Some had dismounted, and the torches they carried flared as they raced to and from the man who clearly was directing the assault. Even from this distance, Celia could see that he was a giant and she could almost see his pig eyes sparkling with pleasure at this sight he had engineered.

Celia shuddered. She knew this man. Lord Danvers, the Scourge of Scotland.

But there was no time for these thoughts. Celia knew he would slaughter the entire household. Since the king's destruction at Flodden Field, the man's name had struck terror into the hearts of mothers across Scotland.

He was the murderer of children.

But he would never get her little Kit, Celia vowed, not as long as she had life in her body. She turned to look at the wet nurse Ellen, who stood in the corner with the baby in her arms.

At that moment the wiry little priest scrambled into the bedroom, sword in hand. His face was smudged with soot.

“You're right,” he shouted. “There are only a half dozen or so behind the house. The clooty-footed Satan that's running these demons knows no one will be foolish enough to try going out through the fire.”

“Then, by God, Father William, we will!” Celia shouted back. “Where is Edmund?”

The roar of the fire was deafening now, but the priest heard her.

“At the base of the stairwell,” he shouted in her ear as she swept past him.

Celia took Kit from Ellen's arms and looked into her face. There was terror in her eyes, but Celia knew she would hold up.

“Ellen, take only the big satchel and stay in front of Father William. William Dunbar's not just a poet; he's a fighter, too.” She half smiled and Ellen nodded. She would do as she was told.

Celia looked tenderly into the folds of the soft bunting that Kit was wrapped in. She felt a pain in her heart at the thought that anyone might hurt him, that he might not grow up to see the wonders this life has to offer. Celia held him close to her and smelled the good baby scent.

Looking into his face once again, Celia thought that Kit's gray eyes matched those of his father's. He looked at her trustingly. She knew her little soldier would not even cry. The baby moved his mouth as if to coo, but Celia could not hear it. Father William tugged at her sleeve. They had to go now.

Down the stairs the small group ran. The smoke was thick below, and the pandemonium of terrified servants was at a fevered pitch. Some were fighting to unbar the great oaken doors, while others were fighting to keep the door closed.

Celia looked about her at the chaos of the scene. Earlier in the day, Caithness Hall had been the model of order and taste. It would never be that way again.

What a waste, she thought. What a crime.

The laird of Caithness Hall had died with his king, like so many others. She knew these people would not listen to her. She was, after all, half English. These people had no one to command them. This undefended manor house was like so many in Scotland; Celia knew the people of Caithness Hall were doomed.

Celia saw Edmund, her uncle, immediately, in spite of the chaos. The great warrior, long sword in hand, pushed his strong, middle-aged body through the crowd, and Celia pointed to the rear of the house. Edmund's eyes widened with surprise, but without hesitation he turned and pushed a path clear for his niece and her companions into the Great Hall.

The wall at the rear of the hall was a mass of flames. Celia could see by the extent of the flames above that the ceiling at the rear could fall at any moment. When Edmund shot a glance back at Celia, she pointed to the study door ahead and to the left.

Edmund led them along the left wall to the study door, kicked it in, and entered. The others followed through the falling embers. As Father William slipped through the door after the others, a huge crash could be heard from the Great Hall. This room was also ablaze, but the manor house was collapsing around them.

Celia handed the baby to Ellen and pulled a sword down from the wall by the fireplace.

She turned, coughing, and shouted to her uncle, “Unbar the shutter, Edmund. We go out here!”

Edmund could not help but smile with affection at this bonny lass who commanded like a general. Her black eyes flashed with anticipation of the battle that lay outside that window. He could see the frown of concentration that furrowed her brow; she was ready for anything that lay ahead. She was a fighter with brains. In the years he had been with her, since his sister died, Edmund had seen her grow in the company of her father's men—rough men, sailors and warriors. Edmund had taught her all he knew about fighting, and he'd seen several men pay dearly for misjudging the strength contained in that slender, feminine body. And her skills in combat were a secret no man would ever imagine in a woman.

As the old warrior pulled the bar from the window, the oak shutter swung inward with great force, and Edmund felt the rush of night air into the room. The marauding soldiers must have pulled open the outer shutter earlier, he thought. Edmund wondered why they hadn't smashed through with their halberds. Orders were to torch the place, most likely.

With the rush of air, the manuscripts in the study flamed up in a surge of heat. Edmund leapt through the window, with Celia close behind.

As Father William and Edmund helped Ellen and the baby through the fiery window casing, Celia saw that the stables beyond the formal garden were still in darkness. The raiders had not yet turned their attention to the Caithness livestock.

From the corner of her eye, Celia saw them. Five soldiers were running toward them. She could smell them coming before she even knew how many there were. She threw off the heavy cloak draped over her shoulders. The light armor covering her upper body flashed in the light of the burning building.

As they came, she saw the wild gleam of blood-lust in the eyes of the first one. He was holding a sword in his left hand. His eyes settled for a leering moment on the prize before him, but then his gaze swept past her to where Edmund was helping Ellen.

It was a fatal mistake. From her left side, Celia swung her sword at the helmeted head and struck the soldier below the ear. As he dropped to the ground beside her, she spun and swung the sword again at one of the two raiders that were now upon them.

The one on the left deflected her blow with his halberd, but Celia now was inside the lethal range of the weapon. Spinning again, she chopped the marauder's right leg at the knee, driving him into the other soldier as Edmund swept over them with upraised sword. With two quick strokes, the knight finished the fallen warriors as Celia turned to face their next adversary.

In an instant Edmund stood beside her, cloak in one hand. When the last two came close enough, the knight lunged with the quickness of a man half his age, engulfing with his thick cloak the spear and axehead of the halberd. Grabbing the shaft with his other hand, Edmund lifted the soldier holding on to it and slammed him into the burning wall of the house.

The last soldier paused in momentary amazement as the aging warrior, swinging the now freed weapon like a club, launched a blow at his head, sending him sprawling into the Promised Land.