Scotland, 1286 a.d.
The Scottish Wars for Independence
King Alexander of Scotland has died, leaving only his three-year-old granddaughter, Margaret, as heir to the throne of Scotland. Margaret's regents, known as the Guardians of Scotland, arrange a treaty that provides the marriage of Margaret to Edward Caernarvon, son of King Edward I of England. While on her way to England, Margaret dies; fourteen rivals for the throne emerge. The Guardians arrange for King Edward I to arbitrate, in order to avoid civil war. Edward names himself Lord Paramount of Scotland, ordering all Scots to pay homage to him. He names John Balliol as King of Scotland, and forces John to swear allegiance to England, regarding Scotland as a vassal of England.
After Edward I returns to England, King John establishes a Scottish parliament, making plans to defy England. The Auld Alliance is created, an alliance between Scotland and France that continues until 1560. Edward orders John to give up certain castles on the border between Scotland and England; when John refuses, Edward threatens to invade. The First Scottish War for Independence has begun.
Chapter One - Heading Home
"There is no instinct like that of the heart."
- Lord Byron
She tucked a strand of her flaming red hair behind her ear, making sure her dark hood covered all of it. Her eyes, green as the trees around her, gleamed in the setting sun. She was fair, her skin so pale she never used powder, her lips so full and pink that she never needed rogue. She was beautiful, she was dangerous.
She was wearing a jet black hood and robe; the long, flowing material was light and thankfully easy to ride in. She had on riding boots, men's riding boots as she had no patience for the fragile women's shoes. Tucked under her robe, on a chain around her neck, was a small leather pouch. Inside this pouch was information so secret and so dangerous, it made her heart pound and her cheeks flush at just the very thought. Her hands unconsciously tightened into a fist. The weight of the leather around her neck was a burning reminder of what she needed to do, of how dangerous this ride was.
Footsteps behind her caused her to raise her head sharply; she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw who it was.
"James," she exhaled slowly. "You gave me a fright."
Her older brother stared intently at her; his eyes, a mirror image of hers, bore into her gaze. He was holding the reins of a dappled gray horse; it shook its head, its mane shimmering in the fading light. She reached out and gently stroked its velvety nose. "Alright, Laise?" she whispered.
"Kenna, are you sure about—"
"James, please," she cut him off in a sharp whisper. "We both know I am the faster rider. I am the one who discovered the information. I shall be the one to deliver it."
He shifted his weight anxiously. "I just fear for you, Kenna –"
She shook her head, her fair face anxious. "I am afraid too, James. Please. I just want to get started."
They kept their voices to a hushed whisper; times weren't safe for them now. They stood in the shadows, between two large houses that provide cover enough for the siblings. James exhaled slowly, but finally nodded. His little sister was right. She was lighter, she was quicker, she could get the information to the King faster then he could. He cupped his hands and she slid her foot into them, throwing herself into the saddle.
"Stop at the monasteries for food along the way," James told her, looking up at his little sister. Her bright red hair was covered by her dark hood; her cloak was loose, and she rode straight, like a man. Unless someone stopped and actually got a look at her face, they would never even know she was a woman.
Her knuckles were white around the reins and Laise sidestepped, anxiously chomping down on the bit. Kenna's green eyes were wide with fear and with excitement; adrenaline was coursing through her body. She stared down at her older brother; she held out his hand and he took it, wrapping his warm fingers tightly around hers.
"I shall do this, brother," she said, her smooth voice hiding her fear.
He nodded. "I know you will. Be safe. Gods speed."
"And you too," she whispered. James was staying behind in the viper's nest that was the Court of England. He would be in just as much danger as she was, though it was not such obvious danger. He had the job of listening, learning, gaining trust. As handsome as James was, he hadn't had trouble rising at Court. The trouble was avoiding awkward questions, knowing when to push for information and when to let it go.
James and Kenna were both spies in the Court of England. Kenna worked as a maid, listening to conversations she normally wouldn't have access to, then trying to figure out how she could use them to her advantage. James was a courtier, trying to weasel his way in with the cream of England and earn their trust, so he could use their secrets against them.
Scotland and England were on the brink of war. Edward I, with his bullying, offensive ways had pushed the Scots too far, and they had finally mustered up a semblance of rebellion. King John of Scotland had organized a parliament, and when Edward demanded John give up certain castles, John had refused.
Both Kenna and James had been witness to Edward's rage when he learned of James's defiance. But Kenna was the one who had, while cleaning the King's chambers, come across information that would be worth her weight in gold to the Scots King.
Information that was now tightly tucked inside her cloak, in a leather bag around her neck. She felt the weight of the bag and knew it urged her onwards.
Laise's restless pacing jolted Kenna out of her thoughts; she looked down into the clear blue eyes of her brother. "You keep yourself out of trouble, James."
He smiled at her, a sweet smile. "Don't I always?"
She allowed herself an ironic smile back. "Goodbye, James," she whispered, giving his hand one last squeeze. "Goodbye, Kenna."
She readied herself, then gave Laise a swift nudge with her boot; the horse jumped forward, straight into a gallop, turning out of the alleyway and onto the main road. Laise's hooves turned up a dusty curtain that followed them as they rushed along the dirt road. She was headed north, towards Scotland, she was heading home.
The wind blew into her fast and stung her green eyes, her hands already cold on the reins. She settled down, crouched down in the saddle, prepared to give Laise her head until the horse could run no more. The thundering sound of the horse's hooves pounded in her ears; they headed out on the old forest road, trees and bushes and small houses blurring before her eyes as her horse's gray mane blew into her face. She allowed herself a small glance under her arm to see her brother quickly fading in the distance. The wind bit at her cheeks, and night was falling, but that was too her advantage. She trusted Laise to keep the road in the dark and her errand was so secret, so dangerous to the English that she must travel in the night.
Laise was the fastest horse Kenna have ever been on, and they ate up distance quickly. The moon was large in the darkening sky as Laise's gray coat shimmered in the moonlight. Kenna longed to let down her hood and feel the wind in her hair, but she didn't dare. Her bright red hair was a dead giveaway that she was a Scots.
She let a smile grace her face; the first smile she had felt in ages. She was heading for home, for her family's castle, for her family.
Little did she know, she was really heading for disaster.