Knight in Highland Armor

By: Amy Jarecki



The man reached inside his cloak. “I’ve a missive from the king.”

Colin accepted the folded velum and ran his thumb under the seal.

“What is it?” Argyll asked before Colin had a chance to read the first word.

Colin shot him a sharp glare and focused on the scrolling penmanship. He thought he’d be relieved when he read the news a match had been made. But Colin’s palms perspired. He’d tried to push aside the fact he had asked for a flesh-and-blood woman to move in and share his home—mostly to raise his son. He arched his brow and met Argyll’s inquisitive stare. “Do you know of Lord Struan’s daughter, Margaret Robinson?”

Argyll, at two and twenty, was still unmarried. Perhaps he’d seen the lass at court. But his nephew shook his head. “I cannot say I’ve met her, though Lord Struan is a good man.”

“Aye, that he is.”

“Has the king made a match, then?”

Colin folded the missive and slipped it into the leather pouch on his belt. “Our sovereign has found a stepmother for Duncan. We must away to Stirling. I’ll need to spirit her back to Dunstaffnage before I leave for Rome.”

Argyll didn’t budge. “Wait a moment. You’re planning to wed a woman you haven’t met because Duncan needs a mother? You’re not the type of man to accept simply anyone.”

“How do you suggest I proceed, given the urgent message from the grand master? I’ve no desire to marry, but my son must be raised as a proper nobleman—and only another member of the nobility will suit.”

Colin hated it when Argyll studied him with wide eyes, as if he hadn’t uttered a sensible word. “And what do you assume will be Miss Margaret’s reaction to your pragmatic solution for Duncan’s upbringing?”

Colin shoved his nephew in the shoulder. “Love, cherish and obey. Remember that when you marry. Obey is the most important word in the whole ceremony.”

“But it’s in Latin.”

“Aye—however, it carries no less meaning.”

***

Margaret had only been to Stirling Palace once, and that had been a joyous occasion. Only a year ago, she’d met Lord Forbes at the baptism of the king’s third child, Alexander Stewart. Though their introduction had been brief, she’d found Forbes handsome. But her hopes had been dashed for good. Before they departed Loch Rannoch, Father informed the backstabbing lord was betrothed to an English woman.

No white knight would come to her rescue.

Along the two-day journey south, she became ill—that was what she told herself. First, she considered running away, racing her mare into the forest and hiding—amongst the outlaws? Not the most practical idea she’d come up with.

She’d pleaded with her parents until they could hear no more. The further the procession rode from Loch Rannoch, the more she grew short of breath. At one point she actually swooned. The cadence of the hooves on the stony trail tolled the knell of doom. With nothing to do but sit her horse and stare boldly ahead as if she were Joan of Arc, she rode in a state of paralyzed abandon.

Perhaps the Black Knight desired a stalwart woman who was willing to meet her fate head-on.

Late afternoon on the second day of their journey, in the distance, the palace loomed atop a cliff, presiding over the countryside like a volcano ready to erupt. Margaret’s palms slipped on her reins. She hated being out of control of things that concerned her. I swear on everything that’s holy, I’ll never be used as a pawn again.

Though her father led the procession at a steady walk, they arrived at the colossal palace far too quickly.

Shod hooves clambered over the timber bridge. Approaching the central triplet gatehouse, Margaret’s mouth grew dry. Capped with crenelated wall-walks and tall, conical roofs with a drum tower at each corner, there would be no escape. The chains of the portcullis bellowed and creaked as the heavy gate rose to welcome them through the great arch emblazoned with the lion rampant of royalty.

Trumpets announced their arrival in the courtyard. Before she could dismount, a swarm of servants surrounded them. A groom held her horse and another placed a mounting block beside her mare and offered his hand.

A chambermaid grasped her other elbow. “This way, m’lady. We’re all agog with the wedding. The queen has appointed you with the finest chamber in the White Tower.”

“Thank you,” Margaret mumbled, allowing the maid to pull her through the bustling courtyard into a dimly lit, whitewashed square tower. Her feet moved, but she felt as if she were floating. All that lay ahead was a bad dream. Certainly, she must wake soon.

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