Author's Note- This is my second Wallace fic. This is actually more so a fiction story based on events leading up to the Battle at Bannockburn in 1314. It still has parts of the movie Braveheart in it, but while my first Braveheart fic was about a Scottish common girl who bled with Wallace, this is the tale of a noble English lady trying to find her own strength through the help of William and Robert the Bruce. Hopefully you'll like it.
Chapter One: A dream that could still be
"The prisoner wishes to say a word…" The cardinal proclaimed, a smirk forming along his upper lip as he relished in his conquest of breaking the prisoner.
A glorious word resonated from the mouth of the bleeding prisoner, his voice harsh and cracking, but every soul who watched could understand what he had said. Tingles shivered down my spine into every limb of my being. My eyes glazed for a man I did not know, and as the axe came down my own heart bled with feeling, for I had heard the tales of this man. This warrior who had rallied his people to stand against our ruthless king. This brave heart.
The crowd stood motionless, unsure of what they were experiencing. We were told that this man had been a savage murderer, a treasonous scoundrel who raped women and killed children. But as we watched him die, every single one of us could feel deception in those stories. And so, without mockery and praise, the crowd dispersed the scene, ready to go home and eat supper with their families, while in the back of their minds thanking God that this man had stood up to the crown, because we were too cowardly to do so ourselves. I had willed myself to watch as the axe came down. Something inside me had told me I had to see. I looked on to his face, and was surprised to see him smiling, his eyes glistening towards someone in the crowd. When the axe had fallen, I put my hand to my mouth to keep from crying out.
"Away from the window." My mother said casually. I had watched the execution from the tower in London, though my parents had refused to do the same. "A noble lady should not see such barbarous things. You must be kept pure, Aris." she said, sniveling her nose and shutting the door behind me. I had never seen a man die before, let alone tortured. I turned back to my high view of the courtyard, as the crowd began leaving. Soldiers collected the body as servants began scraping the blood from the platform. As one picked up the head of the fallen warrior, several snickered and began plucking hairs from it dishonorably, their crude remarks leaving me with a feeling of emptiness.
I let one tear slide down my cheek. No one should have to suffer as he did. I leaned against the window, letting my head rest against it, until two figures caught my eye. They had stood still the entire execution, never shouting or hurling food at the prisoner. From my perch I tilted my head as one of them reached the end of the platform. I squinted my eyes to see the fellow slowly pick up a small cloth that Wallace had dropped. The man quickly walked away, so as not to arouse suspicion. He gave the cloth to his red bearded bulky friend, who gently placed the cloth to his forehead, his eyes closed in remembrance. That same tingling sensation shot through my body. These were his friends, my mind told me.
A knock on the door disturbed my thoughts. "Pardon me, milady, but supper is served downstairs."
Wiping away the tear that had stained my cheek, I attempted a smile. "Right. Thank you Branwain." Amid the laughter and eating I sat silently, my face set in stone, my mind reliving what I had just witnessed.
Mother turned to me. "Dear, you're not eating. Do you feel alright?"
I could not look at her. In my mind I could only see his piercing blue eyes as the had gazed into the crowd, searching for someone. "Perhaps someday" I muttered, and she did not hear me. They never hear me.
"The lady Aris of Perth" the speaker commented, as my escort took my hand and led me into the ballroom of the castle. It was my eighteenth birthday, in the year of our Lord 1312. My father, Duke Gareth of Perth, had been given the Scottish post in 1308. After the death of Wallace in 1305, his martyrdom had become legendary, and in 1306 the Scots had declared Sir Robert the Bruce their king. The Scottish Rebellion against the crown of England had not died along with Wallace. The Bruce had defeated the English several times, and he controlled all of Scotland north of the River Tay. Just two years ago, he had taken over Linlithgow and Dumbarton, and word had reached my father that the Bruce had planned to regain Perth once his forces were strong enough.
The move from London to Scotland had not been easy. My only brother had taken ill on the journey and died. Several weeks later my mother, who had never been an easy woman to love, died of grief. My father was heartbroken and left with only myself and my younger sister as heirs. The time for marriage was at hand, for father's own health was steadily deteriorating. I defied him at first, refusing to marry the first noble father chose. My sister gave into it, and now she writes me in Edinburgh, where she is currently pregnant with her cruel husband's offspring. I did not want that life.
Three months ago, my father had had enough of my silliness. "You are making a mockery of me by refusing every courtier! My debt is growing with this cursed war, and I must have a wealthy benefactor to take over if you are to stay noble, Aris! I am arranging a ball, and on your eighteenth birthday I will announce my successor!"
For three months I locked myself away in the library, refusing to join father for suppers, immersing myself in literature. When father was away for business, I often snuck off to the stables and stole our prized mare, racing off the castle grounds. I have never known freedom. And after tomorrow, when my husband shall be announced, I will be locked into a loveless marriage from which my sole purpose will be to produce an heir.
Our debt was growing due to the rising costs of supplies and men we had forfeited to the crown, due to the Scottish Rebellion. My father took out his anger on our serfs, often chaining and torturing a few as examples when our crops failed. He hated the Scots. He hated his post here in Perth. Once I had snuck down to the south chambers…a place I was not allowed to go. I hid behind a wall, but could here a man screaming in agony only a few feet away as a whip cracked against his skin menacingly over and over again.
"Please milord, I have done nothing…" he pleaded.
"You're a scout for Robert the Bruce, that's what you are. I won't let Perth fall like Dumbarton. Guards!" My father raged, his eyes fiery with revulsion. "Take him to the lake. Make sure his body is not found, I don't want the others to turn on me."
"No sire! I haven't done anything wrong! Please! Please!" he pleaded, tears flooding his face. I wanted to stand up, I wanted to tell father there was no reason for this….but I did nothing. Fear had overtaken me.
A few months ago I once more began to see father for what he truly was: a monster with power, a man called noble because of his title, not his morals. My servant had come crying to my room, begging me to stop him.
"What's the matter Bree? What has happened?" It took a good minute for her to calm down and let the words escape her lips.
"Its my sister, Lady Aris. Lord Gareth has evoked the right of prima nocte, and she has refused! Lord Gareth executed Sean….my brother in law…all because he wouldn't let her share a bed with him on the night of her wedding!"
This had to be some sort of ruse. "Bree I don't understand. Prima nocte was banned years ago…there's no way father could…"
But her tears told the truth. "King Robert the Bruce banned it, my lady. Lord Gareth does not answer to him…" By now she could barely make out a whisper in her words. She looked back up at me, something she was never supposed to do. "I beg you, milady. I have been good to you since you arrived at Perth. I do not ask for much, but please….my sister is all I have. I don't know what I'd do without…without…"
"Shhh…" I comforted, taking her arms into mine. With my fingers I placed a few stray strands of hair behind her ear. "I won't let father harm her. You'll see….it will all be made right." If only that were true. Father would not speak with me, and that evening I watched as he took her into his bed, her cries heard throughout the castle.
A few days later, as Bree fiddled with the fire, I spoke. "I…I'm sorry I could not stop him" my voice cracked. She stopped what she was doing, and stared hard into my eyes.
"You tried, milady. That is more than any noble has done." But I could have tried harder.
"Is she alright? Your sister?"
As the fire began to crackle, Bree wiped off the soot on her apron. "She will not speak to me….to anyone."
"I am truly sorry, Bree."
"The English have been raping and ravaging our country for a hundred years, milady. It is not you who is responsible."
I paused for a moment, and as she turned to leave, I called out to her. "Wait. Come here." Taking her hands into mine, I stared into her distressing pupils. "The only thing worse than evil is when good people do nothing to stop it. I cannot erase what my father has done, Bree….but one day…I am sure of it.…one day I will not let the suffering of your people endure, not at the hands of my father atleast."
Once my name was called, I walked down the stairs in my elegant new dress that father had spent a lot of money getting. According to my servant, I looked rather fetching. Funny really, I felt rather wretched. The ball had begun.
As the courtiers began one by one asking me to dance, I looked over at my father, who was smirking with delight.
"You seem nervous." One duke commented as he took my hand. I did not answer, but smiled the way my father wanted me to smile. I let him dance with me for two songs, and then moved on to the next chap. After five courtiers I began to grow weary with boredom.
"May I have this dance?" Another interjected, but this one surprised me. His accent was most assuredly Scottish, and father had clearly stated I was to only marry an English born noble. I grinned, knowing this would be the best way to defy father.
"Certainly, milord." The man was young, most likely a few years older than me and quite handsome with his misty blue eyes. He had pulled back his rich brown hair, but when it was down I suppose it would reach his shoulders. As he took my hand into his, I noticed his strong grip, quite different from the other courtiers. And as we danced, he improperly stared at me the entire time, in utter curiousness. But with that curiosity came a distinct trace of fear that he did not want to show. I found my own eyes illicitly staring back, and it was as if our eyes were playing a game of their own as we waltzed.
"You are quite a fair dancer" he said after two songs.
"You do not have two left feet yourself. I am quite tired, perhaps you would not mind a break?" I asked as he escorted me off the dance floor. He took me out onto the balcony as the ball progressed onward. It was a breezy night in Perth, still warm considering it was in winter season.
"Something tells me you don't want to be here right now." He stated bluntly, sitting beside me on a bench.
I chuckled. "And what makes you think that? I have done nothing but smile and laugh the entire night."
He searched my face in a most uncomfortable manner, raising an eyebrow. "You have an art for deception."
It was my turn to furrow my brow. "You are most forthright."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Forgive me. I do not mean to pry. But its curious to see such a beautiful young noble hide behind a smile."
For a moment I was speechless, unsure of how to react to this. "It is rude to make assumptions. And this coming from a boy has yet to introduce himself."
He grinned, showing off one dimple in his left cheek. "You never asked."
"It is not my place to ask. It is for you to tell immediately after dancing with a lady. That is the proper way of introductions."
He chuckled and came close to my ear. "Something tells me you defy proper principles, milady" he whispered.
Shocked by his unnerving answer, I got up and stood with my arms crossed.
"I have half a mind to return to the dance, instead of taking this rude abuse!"
He continued to sit and looked back into the ballroom. "Would you rather return inside and dance with those fellas?"
I looked back to see a wave of courtiers eagerly awaiting my return in hopes of getting a dance. I groaned, infuriated by my choices.
He smiled once more. "Care for a ride?"
"I am not here to go galloping off with some stranger I barely know into the forest when I have guests waiting!"
He finally stood. "I suppose not. But if I introduce myself, will you stop calling me a stranger?"
I put my hands to my hips. "I care not for your name, sir." Inside I desperately wanted to know.
"I am Patrick, Cousin to the Earl of Henshire."
"Henshire? Why I am friends with the daughter of the Earl of Henshire…she….she does not have any cousins…" I stated, confused by his answer. With my response his smile quickly faded, and was that nervousness I saw?
"Yes, well, second cousin twice removed, that sort of thing. If you would excuse me, milady."
As he left the balcony, he whisked himself into the ballroom until I could see him no more. Confused by his baffling behavior, but not wanting to return quite yet, I remained on the balcony, overlooking the lake. Inside I heard nothing but music and laughter, as if this was supposed to be some festive occasion. I sighed, letting the wind wrap its arms around me. Oh, to be free. To leave this prison of nobility and seek adventure as a commoner. Suddenly I heard voices down below, as many silent shadows swiftly moved toward the tower. Suspicious, I leaned my head over to see about twenty men huddling below, swords out.
Inside I could hear ladies begin to scream. "Their storming the gates!"
I ran back inside, desperately seeking my father. I found one of the servants and asked where he was.
"I do not know, milady. Robert the Bruce is right outside the castle gates, demanding our surrender!"
"Does father know they have already breached the wall and have men awaiting by the north tower?"
"The north tower? What do you mean?" he asked, and my heart began to race. Father only thought they were coming from the South gate, which meant someone from the inside had snuck in the others.
I ran as fast as I could through the halls, running up the stairs. No one knew of the insider presence.
On top of the gate my father stood with his archers, looking down on none other than Robert the bruce himself.
"Lower your gate, Duke of Perth, and you and your guests will live. I wish for no bloodshed to take place tonight. You may even take your belongings with you back to England, but I will regain this land."
"You insolent bastard!" father screamed back. "I will have none of this! Archers!" he shouted, as the archers released their arrows. A battering ram was brought out as the Bruce retreated behind his men unharmed.
"father!" I called.
"Aris! What are you doing out here? Get down below this instant!"
Two of his men took hold of me. "No Father! You must listen! The Scots have already breached the castle! They are in the north tower!"
But he was already walking away. I pleaded with the guards, but they brought me to the dining hall along with the other guests as I wrestled to get out of their grip. Some of the ladies were crying, as the noblemen tried to comfort them.
"We must leave this area. Come, we can go to the east corridor where there is a secret path down to the lake. Hurry!" I exclaimed.
One of the noblemen scoffed. "Milady come back. We will fight off these barbarians. There is no reason to worry."
Quite annoyed with the way everyone was treating me, I slinked away from the dining hall and made my way towards the library undetected. I could feel the shaking of the walls due to the battering ram. Inside the library one of the shelves could be opened, and from there I lurked into the eastern armory. By now I could here fits of yelling above me. "They're inside." I exclaimed to myself.
Though I had never used a weapon in my life, I took one of Father's swords, and placed a dagger inside my corset. The screaming got louder. I made my way from the armory upstairs to my room, where I looked out the window. The Scots must have opened the gate from the inside, because the battering ram had been abandoned. Scores of Scots raced their way through the main gate, crushing my father's forces.
A part of me froze. This is my chance…I could leave and never be the wife to some pig of a husband…this idea grew within me, and I used this moment to change out of my dress and into a simple trousers and tunic. Putting on my boots, I began loading a few coins and jewelry into my bag, along with my dagger. My sword I wore in its sheath on my belt. Hurredly I ran from my room and slipped past a few guardsmen fighting the Scots. I took the east corridor to the secret path…entering below the castle into the cave that led to the lake. Along the cave I became more and more resolved to this notion. I could be free.
I made my way to the stables undetected, and inside the horses were restless. I quickly saddled father's fasted mare, and opened the door. Outside I could see part of the castle burning, and fear rose within me. Though I certainly did not like my father, I did not want to see our innocent guests hurt.
It could easily be said that the Bruce had won back the castle. A part of me wanted to return, to make sure everyone was alright….but if I returned I would go back to England with my father, terribly in debt and married to the first courtier that came along. Suddenly I realized I was not alone. Ten men opened the stable door and proceeded to take the horses out. I hid inside, desperately hoping not to get caught.
"Easy as pie, that was. Think his Majesty will spare the Duke?" one spoke.
"Doubtful. I've heard quite a number of stories about this man. He's particularly fond of torturing his peasants." another answered. My heartbeats were getting faster and faster as the men came closer to my stall. Give me strength Lord, I prayed, my hands shaking.
"What's this? This horse is all tacked and ready-"
I emerged from my hiding place, knocking one man to the ground with my elbow as I ran to the exit door. A man from behind me gripped my wrist, and I kicked him in the stomach, forcing him to let me go. "Its just a stable boy, lads, don't hurt him." One exclaimed.
I unsheathed my sword and gritted my teeth, praying they would get out of the way. As four closed in on me, I slashed it wildly, I think scraping the arm of one. I ran back to the horse that was saddled and mounted him. Kicking him fiercely, I charged at the remaining men who blocked the door. One of the soldiers took the blunt part of his blade and hit my stomach, causing me to fall to the ground. Pain shot through my head, I think I had landed on it. But I would not go down. I know what soldiers do to women after pillaging a castle. I would not be a victim. I tried to get up and began to slash my dagger violently in every direction.
As one grabbed hold of me, I drove a small cut into his leg. All the while the door opened once more, admitting more men into the stable. Another grabbed hold and punched me square in the eye. I tried to fight back, and as I turned around to face another foe I felt something sharp pierce my side. I looked into his eyes, and it was obvious he had not meant for me to run into his blade. The pain was not as bad as I had imagined. But it was hard to stay awake. Two men slowly helped me to the ground.
"Twas an accident" the boy who had stabbed me said. My head hurt fiercely, and my eyes began to close.
"Easy does it lads. Fireball little warrior, ain't he? Luckily the wound ain't deep." By now the pain had increased, and I wanted to slap the man who said that. They think I'm a boy? Surely I did not look that bad…
"We won the siege! The castle is ours!" One man stated as he entered the stables.
"Get some bandages…"
"Aris?" I heard, and turned my head slightly to the right. Patrick had just entered, his face bloody as he held his sword. My eyes narrowed at such treachery, and I found my head getting lighter as darkness claimed me.
The mists surrounded me as I walked along the streets of London. I made my way to the empty courtyard and up onto the platform. The cold air left me shivering as my teeth chattered. I looked down on the cross, down at a man whose body was covered with blood. I knew him from somewhere, as if it were a dream. I looked down at his body, but I was not afraid. His eyes were closed, but I knew they were a vibrant blue. In his right hand was a small piece of cloth, stained with blood from a love long dead. Slowly I let my hand touch his cheek. It was surprisingly warm. I let my knees fall onto the platform, as I traced my fingers along his face. I don't know why, but tears began to fall from my eyes unto the floor, shattering the wood beneath. I let my forehead sink unto his chest, hearing my own heartbeat resonating loudly. I picked up the cloth, and rightfully placed it on his heart. The mist began to open along the courtyard as the wind blew fiercely. Standing back up, I turned to leave. A hand touched my shoulder, and as I turned around I had to look up in order to see his face. He stared long and hard into my eyes, searching my soul as if I was naked. In his piercing gaze I could find sorrow, guilt, angst, hope, and faith. As his warm hand caressed my cheek, I succumbed to my emotions and placed my arms around his back, embracing him tightly as the tears began to fall once more. "I watched you die. I watched as they laughed and tore you apart. I let it all happen."
His voice was just as I had expected, rough and certain. "There was nothing you could have done. It needed to happen."
"I have let my family play the role of oppressor. I do not wish to have this title."
"And yet you are what you are. The question is, how can you use your title to do good?"
I let go of the embrace and looked up into his eyes once more as I sniffled. "I do not understand. Why can't I just flee and live the life I always wished?"
He smiled and placed his hand under my chin. "Never run away from your problems. Embrace it, and fight for your liberty. Hiding only brings shame."
Biting my lower lip, I nodded. He nodded back, and turned to go. "William?" I called.
He turned his head. "I…I'm sorry you did not win your freedom."
He grinned. "You have a long journey ahead. And one day you'll realize what freedom is."
He began t walk away, and soon the mist surrounded him, leaving me alone once more to dwell on our encounter.
"Aris….Aris…" a voice called out, as the sun made its way up the sky. The mist was leaving…..
"Aris" the voice sounded once more, and slowly I began to open my eyes. It was blurry at first, but soon I could make out a boy with misty blue eyes.
"Patrick…." I whispered, my consciousness fully regained. Pain shot through my body, and I let out a small whimper as I winced.
He took my hand. "Your alright. Your safe."
"You betrayed us…" I said, my voice hoarse and scratchy. Water was given to my lips, and I drank a little.
He sighed deeply. "It wasn't supposed to be like this, I assure you."
"Where's my father?"
"He's fine. Him and the others were sent back to England with a message to your king. Now, no more questions. You must rest."
He placed his hand on my forehead. "You have a fever."
"Take your hand off me sir, or I shall remove it myself."
"Little fireball, this one…" the same man called from a few feet away. It took me a moment, but I realized I was in my bedchamber in Perth. "Took us five men to bring her down…" he chuckled. "The Almighty says she's a lucky girl."
A knock on the door. "King Robert the Bruce approaches" One of the men said.
He was taller than I expected, with rich brown hair, though a few strands of gray were beginning to form. His eyes were big and kind, unlike the descriptions the English soldiers had given. He knelt next to me and examined my wound. "Forgive my men, Lady Aris, they did not mean to hurt you." He spoke regally, as if his words of forgiveness were true.
I did not know what to say to it, so I simply narrowed me gaze and kept my lips shut. He smiled warmly. "Your family and friends are safe. They are on their way back to London as we speak, delivering terms to the king. I expect you will see them in a month or two."
"Am I your prisoner then?"
"Think of it more as our patient. You could not be moved, so we kept you here with us. But do not fear, your father knows you are alive, and I promise, no more harm will come to you."
I looked around, and my eyes caught the man who had kept calling me a little fireball. I had seen him once before…as if in a dream…or another life.
"Your servant Bree claims that you have sympathy for our cause. I assure you, we mean you no harm. We only wish to take back what is rightfully ours." There was passion in his words, and he twitched his left eye often when he spoke.
Once again I began to feel lightheaded, and my vision began to blur. He smiled warmly again, and placed his hand on my forehead. "Rest child. We shall talk more when you are well."
His words were soothing, and it was almost as if I could hear an old song playing a mournful tune as he spoke. I nodded, and let myself once more give in to sleep.
Disclaimer- I own nothing of the movie Braveheart