From a chapter named “BLESSED EVENT”
LOUDEN WOOD, ABERDEENSHIRE, SCOTLAND
MARCH 21, 1637
It was early morning in the stone cottage. Light streamed through a crack in the door, illuminating the rumpled bed. Keira slowly became aware of her surroundings. Sleep had been elusive, due to an empty belly and the bitter cold. The peat pile was empty and the firewood was soggy. “Dear Goddess. Help me to bear another night.”
She snuggled against the pillow and listened to snow buntings twittering in the pines. The old rooster usually greeted daybreak, but he was gone now. They’d made a stew yesterday with the last of the root vegetables. “Poor Fowler.” Keira pushed back the blankets and got out of bed, resting her feet on the dirt floor.
She sank to her knees and prayed with all her heart. “Goddess, hear me. Today is the spring equinox. At full moon, we sow the seeds of the harvest and honor the rebirth of mother earth. Truly a blessing as food is scarce. Still, we are grateful. Michael and Torry brought back a doe, sustaining us for a few weeks. There is hope we’ll survive this difficult time. My mind spins with questions that cannot be answered. The children stare as I dole out the remaining flour, their faces pale and gaunt. Will they starve before my eyes? Janet’s belly swells, the position of the child suspicious. Will it be breech? My dreams are filled with Dughall Hay, singing and reciting poetry. Will he come for me soon? I pray fervently, intent on changing what will be. You speak to me in whispers, telling me to be still and listen.”
She stood and slipped on her brogues, digging her toes into the fur lining. A mouse scurried across the floor, searching for crumbs. It stared boldly, with whiskers twitching and black eyes shining. “Ach… You know I won’t hurt ye.” She poured water into the bowl and splashed her face. The icy liquid brought gooseflesh to her thin arms. Keira stripped off her nightshirt and dressed in woolen tights and a shift. She slipped on her coat, picked up a milk bucket, and went to the door. Someone knocked. She opened it and saw Aileana, her red hair peeking out from under her cap. The young lass looked gaunt.
“Priestess… Can I walk with ye to the barn?”
“Aye. What are ye doing out so early?”
“Michael took Torry and George bow hunting. He wants to bring back a deer or a boar.”
Keira’s stomach growled. “An honorable task. We’ll ask the Goddess to help them.” She came outside and faced the young girl, holding her hands. “Lady of light, Goddess of the hunt. Drawn bow, silver quiver, dogs at your side. Help our men sustain us for another moon. Grant them strength and skill.”
Aileana smiled. “Blessed be.” They hugged and started towards the barn. “Priestess. Is today the day?”
“What day, child?”
Aileana frowned. “I’m not a child. You said that Janet’s baby would be born after the equinox.”
“Ah that. You have to be patient. Only the Goddess knows when the child will come.”
The story continues in Dark Birthright:
Picture courtesy of Davy Tolmie. According to Wikipedia, “Dunnottar Castle is a ruined medieval fortress located upon a rocky headland on the north-east coast of Scotland, about two miles (3 km) south of Stonehaven.” I wrote about a real battle that happened here in June 1639 between Covenanter and Royalist forces – Lord Montrose and Lord Aboyne.
Here is an excerpt from ‘Dark Lord’ – book two in the Dark Birthright trilogy:
June 14th, 1639 (3 days later)
From Aberdeen to Stonehaven
The citizens of Aberdeen plied Lord Aboyne with stories about the Covenanters. Some joined his ranks when he announced his intention to march against Montrose. He now commanded more than four thousand men. Eager for action, they marched south to take revenge on the rebels. He directed his ships to follow the coast, hauling their cannons, artillery, and ammunition.
Lord Montrose and Lord Drake were camped near Dunnottar Castle. They never expected Lord Aboyne to follow. Anticipating a truce, they’d sent home most of their troops – Montrose’s to Angus and Drake’s to the Highlands. They were now a force of eight hundred.
When they learned that Lord Aboyne was marching against them, they positioned their troops near Stonehaven. Guarding their rear was Dunnottar Castle, an impregnable cliff-side castle. The owner provided them with artillery – two brass nine-pounder cannons and six field culverins. The gates of his fortress were left open to receive them.
Lord Aboyne halted for a night at Muchalls and sent forth a party to investigate. Upon return, they devised a plan to plunder a Covenanter’s mansion. They didn’t expect trouble because the house was relatively unguarded. Lord Aboyne didn’t wait for their ships to land to claim their artillery. He led the raid the next morning, flanked by his brothers and Sir John Gordon.
Lord Montrose was outraged when he heard about the attack. “They molested our allies! Now we must face them.” He crafted a letter and handed it to Dughall. “Send a man to intercept their army. He must present this to Lord Aboyne and wait for a response. I expect that he’ll accept my offer.”
“I will take it,” Fang said.
Dughall had come to appreciate this man. He was as loyal as a dog and fearless in battle. He placed the letter in his hand. “Give this to my cousin and wait for his answer.”
Fang grunted and was on his way.
There were shouts and squeals as men and horses moved artillery, positioning the pieces around Megray Hill. The canons were unwieldy, even though they were on wheels. Field culverins were brought forth on wagons because of their excessive weight. The twenty-nine caliber guns included a swivel for support and aiming. It was an awesome display of power.
Dughall was curious about the strategy. “Why are we moving the artillery here?”
Montrose smiled. “Lord Aboyne will accept my challenge to a duel. His army must pass through here. I told him to meet me at Dunnottar Castle.”
“Ye plan to fight him one on one?”
“Nay. Let him think that.” Montrose chuckled. “Megray Hill offers no cover. It’s a perfect place for an ambush.”
Dughall bristled. “So it’s a trap.”
“We have to do it. We’re outnumbered.”
The young Lord didn’t like it.
With artillery in place, they proceeded to create piles of shot and ammunition. Gunpowder barrels were cracked, torches were lit, and musketeers checked their ball and powder. Pikers gathered in phalanx formation, ready to defend the musketeers as they reloaded. Standard bearers waved the Covenant flag. Drummers stood by, ready to relay orders. Fang returned, carrying a message for Montrose. His challenge was accepted. The royal army was just over the rise.
Montrose shouted, “Hide the artillery! Stand in front of it!”
Dughall watched as soldiers formed human walls in front of the deadly guns. Everyone waited.
Fang appeared with an eight-foot pike in hand. “My Lord. I must help the musketeers.”
“Go with God, my friend,” Dughall said. As he ran away, the young Lord unsheathed his sword.
Jamison grasped his weapon. “We’ve been ordered to stay on the sidelines. But if anyone attacks, I will defend ye to the death.”
Soon, Lord Aboyne’s army appeared over the rise. They advanced in orderly fashion, displaying the royal standard. First, Sir John Haddo led the guard onto Megray Hill. They were a hundred gentlemen on horseback, armed with swords and pistols. Scores of musketeers followed with match cords lit and bandoliers open. The brave Highland companies marched behind them, brandishing swords. Wisely, Lord Aboyne and his brothers rode at the end of the procession. They flaunted their weapons, eager for battle.
Montrose tensed. “That’s all of them. Open fire!” The drummers relayed his command.
The rebel soldiers moved aside, revealing the heavy artillery. Gunners scrambled to load powder and shot and apply fire to the fuses. Musketeers and pikers moved to the sides and assumed offensive positions. Montrose ran off to oversee a line of cannons.
Jamison whooped. “It’s a perfect trap!”
Dughall frowned. “I don’t like it.”
“It’s not fair. We got them here under false pretenses.”
“War isn’t fair.”
“Make way!” a man shouted.
The cannons fired in a volley, launching nine-pound shot into center of the advance guard. The ground shook and the sound was deafening. Dozens of men fell along with their horses, missing limbs and other parts. The surviving guardsmen shifted to the sides but couldn’t avoid the carnage. As gunner crews swabbed and reloaded the canons, the culverins opened fire, hurling three inch shot into the advance guard. Limbs were severed. Bones were cracked. Men and horses screamed in agony. The injuries were horrific.
Fang’s eyes gleamed as he watched the carnage. They were outnumbered three to one, but the artillery gave them the advantage. Clouds of white smoke drifted across the battlefield in a deadly haze. He stayed with the rebel musketeers as they assumed a firing position.
Forced to the front, the enemy musketeers took aim and fired. The sound was sharp and loud. The smell of burning sulfur permeated the air as they exchanged fire with the rebels. Bodies dropped on both sides. Drums sounded over the screams of the wounded and dying.
The rebel musketeers started to reload. There were quite a few steps to this process. They had to put a small amount of powder into the pan, a lot into the barrel, then insert the lead ball. A bit of grass wadding and a scouring stick was used to push it down the barrel. The enemy musketeers advanced on them, using the butt of their guns as weapons.
Fang sprang forth with the pikers to defend his musketeers as they reloaded. He fought like a madman, speared a man through the heart, and could barely dislodge his weapon. Now, the drums were beating a different code, telling him to get out of the way. With his heart in his throat, he ran back to the cannons.
The gunners stood back and covered their ears. “Make way!” The mighty guns roared. Once again, the enemy line was breached, shattering men to pieces. One musketeer was a monstrous thing, gushing blood. A cannon ball had smashed off his head. Men near him found bits of flesh clinging to their dusty, sweat-stained clothes. As the body fell, they turned and ran, slipping and sliding on blood.
The Highland companies gave their battle cries as they advanced through the gore with their claymores gleaming. There were shouts, screams, and loud pops as the field culverins fired into their midst. For the men under fire, moments became hours. The royalist army was in chaos….
I hope that you enjoyed the snippet. Read more about the trilogy at: