Over the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed sharing the world of ‘Sisters of The Bruce’ with you. And here is the final instalment – in bold.
A rider thundered along the track as if the very hounds of hell growled and slavered at his heels. Fiery rivulets of light streaked across the midnight sky. The air fizzled and spat and the heavens howled in despair. Now the rain came as horizontal shards biting into his skin. On he rode, driven by the horror of what lay behind him.
The rutted track came to an abrupt halt. The walls of the castle loomed large. Through smoky arrow slits, faint lights glowed. He clattered across the drawbridge, the beat of his horse’s hooves ringing in his ears. Manoeuvring his way through the small gap between the creaking oak gates, he fell from his mount. Though his skin was lathered with sweat, the man’s belly churned with an icy terror.
“A great host approaches!” he croaked, his voice, barely audible.
From the guards nearby, a frantic shout rent the air: “The English are coming!”
The ashen-faced household stumbled from their beds. Standing in tight-lipped silence, they looked to the chatelaine of the massive fortress of Kildrummy.
“We will deal with this! To your posts!” Kirsty Bruce cried and swept out of the bailey, her cloak dragging in the mud as she turned sharply on her heel. She masked her fear well – a few short weeks past, the Bruce kinfolk had only just managed to evade capture after the rout at Methven. Their desperate return brought tears of relief and sorrow to the Kildrummy household.
Now, the anticipated news had come. An enormous English host was pillaging Scotland. None would be spared. All knew the command to ‘Raise the Dragon’ had been given. It was imperative: the kinfolk of Robert the Bruce, crowned King of Scotland and foresworn enemy of the brutal Edward I of England, must reach safety.
The adults gathered now in Kirsty’s solar. At the window, Queen Elizabeth, Mary Bruce and Isobel of Buchan peered into the gloom. A streak of light caught Niall Bruce’s strained features. He must play for time and hold the castle steadfast. Some of the household would dress as Robert’s sisters so the Earl of Pembroke would not be alerted to their escape. Once again, Kirsty blessed these loyal souls who were as family to her.
“We leave at first light.” The others nodded as Kirsty gave the sombre order. Like vanguards of doom, the heavens rumbled a low, menacing response.
A few hours later, the women and young Marjorie, the king’s daughter, led their horses, hooves slipping on the wet cobblestones, down through the dark, vaulted tunnel.
Farewells were quick and muted. Fears lay unspoken, but none could hide their raw devastation. Niall’s sisters hugged him, aware only of the unstinting strength he offered in return. Marjorie clung to him in desperation. Wiping her tears away, he pulled her close. “Courage, lass,” was all he said. In the eerie half-light, they escaped through a fine veil of mist and fled north.
Niall remained, grim-faced and silent, until a deep sigh escaped his lips. With a heavy heart, he made his way up once more to the battlements.
Who knew what lay ahead for any of them?