The Douglas Bastard
(A sequel to The Black Douglas Trilogy)
By J R Tomlin
The Black Douglas is dead. With Scotland’s greatest knight no more, the throne is up for grabs as enemies try to devour the kingdom.
An orphaned youth returning from exile, Archibald, the Black Douglas’s bastard son, fights for a land being torn apart from within and without. If Archibald is to survive, he must learn to sleep with a claymore in his hand and one eye open because even his closest friend might betray him…
This is an adventure set in the bloody Second Scottish War of Independence when Scotland’s very survival is in question.
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Read an Excerpt:
The six of us pages trailed out of the chapel after morning mass, down to the practice yard in the outer bailey of Château Gaillard. The day had dawned cloud streaked and mild, a typical summer’s day in Normandy. Sunlight gleamed on the high white stone walls.
Malcolm Fleming had indeed made me a page. I was given two tunics with the royal livery that I belted low around my hips, and I slept in the same room with the other pages. Will Ramsay had the next bed. He picked a fight with me over who would fill wine goblets at the low table the first day. When I would not give up the flagon, Will came at me with fists, knees, and elbows. I flung him onto his back and was using his hair to knock his head on the floor when Sir Robert grabbed us up by the back of our necks, gave us both a good shake, and told us that now we were friends.
Like the other pages, I had work and lessons to keep me busy. One of Friar Walter Blantyre’s monks taught us reading French and Latin and lectured on etiquette. We were taught the basics of riding and using a sword. The monk was not in charge of that. Usually, one of the older squires, William de Mure, taught us, but sometimes Sir Robert de Keith, the Marischal, came to ensure we were being properly schooled. There was always armor to be cleaned, horses to be groomed, pouring water for handwashing before meals, and filling the wine goblets.
I even enjoyed it, and of course, I got into fights sometimes. My worst enemy was Uilleam of Ross.
Several serjeants were working with their spears when we arrived at the practice yard, but it was too early for the knights and squires. Sir Robert stood beside de Mure as we filed in. I took one of the thickly padded gambesons from a hook in the storage shed, donned it, and put a battered cervelliere on my head, then I took one of the wooden wasters from a rack along the wall.
“Now, let us see if any of you have learned anything at all,” Sir Robert said. He paired four of the others off to spar and turned to me. “See what you can do against Uilleam. You two should be a good match.”
I grimaced. When I had beaten Uilleam a week before, he had filled my boots with horseshit while I slept. He was two years older, nearly as tall as me and burly and thick-necked. At least he would give me a contest, but beating him would surely bring more retaliation. He was a bully when he could get away with it, but I was not about to let anyone defeat me in front of Sir Robert.
My opponent swung his waster over his head in a high guard we’d just practiced the week before. I moved my sword to the side above one arm and then slashed at Uilleam’s face. He hacked down to keep from being hit. As the wasters thudded together, I rolled his blade and made a side strike. Uilleam just managed to catch it and stumbled from the force. I jerked mine free and swung from the other side. It hit his cervelliere with a clang and sent him staggering. When he clumsily swung from the side, I knocked the blow aside and rammed a shoulder into his chest. His feet flew out from under him, and he sat down hard. When he rolled onto his hands and knees and started to get up, I whanged him hard on the back. Uilleam flattened with an oof.
“Enough!” the squire shouted. “Sir Robert didnae say for you to kill him.”
“Hoi, Uilleam.” I rolled my eyes and nudged his leg with my foot. “Are you killed?”
Glaring up at me, he gave a shake of his head, his lips clamped shut so hard they were white.
“They cannae kill each other with wasters, William.” I thought that Sir Robert‘s mouth twitched with a slight smile. “But remember, Archibald, that you dinnae usually want to kill your opponent.”
Puzzled, I looked at the practice blade in my hand and back to him. “You don’t?”
“It is bad form to kill in a tourney. And they are profitable for a strong knight.”
I twisted my mouth to the side as I thought about it. “So you should nae kill the men you fight.”
“In war, sometimes you must, but a dead knight cannae pay a ransom either.” The other boys stopped what they were doing to listen as Uilleam clamored to his feet. De Mure glared at them. “Did I tell you to stop? Since you are too weak to keep on with your practice, you will swing at the pell with weighted wasters until the bell rings for terce.”
I walked a little to the side of the others as they shot glares at me. Except for Will, I rarely walked with the others. But today, even he looked angry at the extra practice, but then he came over and bumped me with his shoulder.
“It isnae your fault.”
When I exchanged my waster for the heavier wooden blade, I wondered what wood they made them from to weigh so much. Then I methodically began to swing at the thick, scarred wooden pell that was the height of a grown man. If it hadn’t been bad enough beating Uilleam, now they would blame me for the pain of swinging the heavy practice weapons until our arms felt as though we could never lift them again.
“Harder!” the squire shouted. “Do not strike it softly. That gains you no strength. And hit with precision and technique as I showed you.”
Under my gambeson, sweat trickled down my sides, and my arms began to ache, but I refused to slow down the steady, careful whack, whack of the wooden blade against the post. Some of the others thought I was unimportant because I was a bastard, but I would prove them wrong. They would see what a bastard could do.
J.R. Tomlin is the author of nineteen historical novels. She has close ties with Scotland since her father was a native Scot, and she spent substantial time in Edinburgh while growing up. Her historical novels are set for the most part in Scotland. Her love of that nation is traced from the stories of Robert the Bruce and the Good Sir James her grandmother read to her when she was small, to hillwalking through the Cairngorms where the granite hills have a gorgeous red glow under the setting sun. Later, her writing was influenced by Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Nigel Tranter, and Sir Walter Scott.
When JR isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, playing with her Westie, and killing monsters in computer games. In addition to spending time in Scotland, she has traveled in the US, Europe, and the Pacific Rim. She now lives in Oregon.
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