The Cathedral

Toledo Cathedral

The Cathedral

Shadows grow long and solemn
In cool columned halls of stone
While pale footsteps echo like voices
And dim candles flicker and glow

The ceiling stands distant and lofty
With carving that dances like lace
While stone clouds sit still and silent
And gather round a blank, white stone face

The organ now rumbles and whispers
From pipes that are fashioned of gold
Aged, but yet still remembers
The sound of the myst’ries untold

In aisle and alley and corner
In prominent angle and space
Great figures of eras long passing
In stone, find their last resting place

Visions of great Bible stories
In varying tones and hues
Spread like a gilded curtain
There before dark, age-worn pews

A figure stands here on the altar
Welcoming all who are lost
With arms spread in patience and comfort
Whose shadow there covers the cross

The saints here all line every window
Madonnas stand silent and nod
I see the Christ suff’ring and bleeding
But where is the living God?

Willy’s Covenant: Chapter 4

<<< Chapter 3

————————————-

Chapter 4

The sky was already tinged with shades of red and faint gold when Willy at last directed Bonnie down the lane that led to the house of one Mr. Crenshaw, the owner of a small shipping company and a friend of Mr. McKenzie. The large stone house loomed like a grey ghost in the remnants of morning fog that surrounded it. There didn’t seem to be any movement from within, but that wasn’t incredibly surprising considering how early it still was.

The house was old, though not as old as the McKenzie house, and was set up on a hill that looked down on the seaport town of Irvine. Even from that distance, Willy could still see the white sails of the ships resting in Irvine’s relatively new Fullarton Harbour.

The shadow of the Crenshaw house fell over Willy like a cloak, and he pulled Bonnie to a stop not far from the front door. The young man tried to rub the exhaustion out of his eyes before he slid from the saddle, his boots crunching in the dirt of the driveway. The satchel he had slung over his shoulder began to wiggle, and Willy could barely undo the latches before Artair poked his little head out from beneath the flap.

“I know you want out, but you had best stay there a wee bit longer, lad,” Willy chuckled, patting the puppy on the head. “Though I must say, you’ve been a good boy. This is far too small a bag for you.”

The puppy whined and licked the man’s hand.

“You must be hungry, as well,” the young man sighed. “I certainly am.”

Tucking Artair back into the satchel for the time being, Willy stepped up to the front door and knocked. A few moments later, he heard rustling from inside, and the door opened to reveal a middle-aged man still clad in his nightshirt.

“Can I help you?” the man inquired cautiously.

“Are you Mr. Crenshaw?” Willy inquired.

“I am.”

“Mr. McKenzie sent me.”

A light of recognition came to Mr. Crenshaw’s eyes.

“Put your horse in the stable,” he said as he motioned toward a partly stone, partly wooden edifice not far from the house, his voice hushed. “Then come inside. Be quick about it.”

š***

Mr. Crenshaw had already dressed for the day by the time Willy stepped into the main room.

“Take a seat, lad,” the older man said, crossing over to a bottle of what looked to be whisky and pouring some into a couple of small lead crystal glasses.

Quietly Willy sank down into a chair. He hadn’t been sitting long, however, when Artair began to squirm in his satchel, and before the young man could react, the puppy had jumped out and onto the floor.

“Artair,” Willy growled, reaching for the puppy. “Get back here.”

Mr. Crenshaw paused in surprise, blinking at the pair as the younger Scotsman picked the greyhound puppy up off the floor.

“I’m sorry,” Willy apologized, sitting back down in his seat. “It’s a long story.”

“I’m not asking a thing,” the older man replied, shaking his head as he handed one of the glasses to his visitor.

“Now, then,” he said, taking a seat opposite of Willy and sipping at his brandy as he eyed the younger man before him. “You look pretty well done in. I take it the dogs have been at the old McKenzie place, then?”

“Aye,” Willy sighed. “Last night. About 9, I’d say. Was a miracle they didn’t find me. I can’t stay here anymore. I’m putting everyone in danger. Mr. McKenzie said you’d help me.”

Mr. Crenshaw pursed his lips in thought, nodding slowly.

“Aye,” he said, glancing out the window to his right which looked out over the port city beyond. “Aye, there might be something we can do. I’m no use in a fight.” He chuckled slightly. “At least, not in a fight that uses anything other than fists. But I respect you, and your mission. It’s a shame you can’t even be safe in your own country.”

Mr. Crenshaw downed the last of his whiskey in a single gulp, then set the glass aside and stood to his feet.

“I’ll go down to the port. See what I can do. The king’s got the harbor locked up tight, though. Been that way ever since Bothwell. There are patrols out seaside, too, and they’ve got no qualms about boarding and searching any ship bound for Ireland.”

“Have other Covenanters gone there as well?” Willy inquired. He wasn’t sure whether to be frightened or excited about the thought.

“Aye,” Mr. Crenshaw nodded. “Or at least, that’s the thought. Fine, wild country, that. A man could hide for years and no one would ever be the wiser.”

The older man started off toward the door, but Willy quickly stood to his feet.

“Mr. Crenshaw,” he said.

Mr. Crenshaw paused to look back at him.

“Aye?”

“Is there somewhere I might be able to sleep?”

Artair yipped and bit lightly at the young man’s chin.

“And, if it isn’t too much to ask, some food for myself and my dog.”

“Ah,” Mr. Crenshaw smiled slightly, turning in a different direction, presumably toward the kitchen and larder. “I suppose we could find something for the both of you.”

***›

Thunder rattled the windows nearby as Willy woke to the feeling of a large hand shaking him awake. The young man sat up quickly, causing Artair, who had been sleeping peacefully on the young man’s chest, to whine as he slid down into Willy’s lap.

“Easy, now,” Mr. Crenshaw said, chuckling. “No need to hurt yourself.”

“Is something the matter?” Willy asked, rubbing his face with his hand in an attempt to bring some life back into it and wake himself up.

“That depends greatly on your meaning,” the older Scotsman replied, stepping back as Willy threw his legs over the side of the bed. “I’ve already loaded your horse onto one of my ships. It’s moored now just up the coast past the harbor. Getting there should be no trouble, but…”

Mr. Crenshaw glanced out the nearby window as another bolt of lightning struck across the sky, lighting the landscape up as though it were daytime.

“The storm is getting bad. It’s risky business, sailing tonight, but the Royalists have been watching me closely since early this afternoon. Most likely because they suspect Mr. McKenzie. We’ve all got our necks on the block with this. I’ll not go down without a fight, but I hope you are aware of what may come.”

A lump began to form in Willy’s throat, but he swallowed it down and, scooping Artair up under one arm, replied, “Aye.”

For a moment, Mr. Crenshaw eyed him. Then with that, the older Scotsman turned on his heels and motioned for the younger man to follow him, saying, “Get what you need and follow me. We’ll take a pair of my own horses down as soon as you’re ready.”

š***›

Heavy drops of rain had already begun to fall as Willy jogged into the stables a few minutes later. Already Mr. Crenshaw had saddled two of his horses – a large bay and a smaller chestnut – and the man swung into the bay’s saddle when Willy stepped through the door.

“Hurry and get up, lad. We don’t have much time to spare.”

The younger man nodded in acknowledgement, then flipped open the top of the satchel Lizzie had given him and placed Artair inside. The puppy whined in protest as Willy closed the flap back over him and tied it firmly shut.

“I know, lad,” the young man said as he grabbed his mount’s reins and swung up into the saddle. “Not for much longer, now.”

“Ready?” Mr. Crenshaw inquired as the horses danced with the rumbling of thunder outside the stable.

Quickly, Willy pulled the hood of the coat Mr. McKenzie had given him up over his head.

“Aye. Let’s go.”

Mr. Crenshaw dug his heels into his mount’s sides, and Willy followed suit as they took off at a lope out the stable doorway. The horses’ hooves rumbled like a drum roll down the gravel drive. Ice-cold rain droplets stung Willy’s cheeks as the wind sang past him, and with each flash of lightning he could easily make out the contours of the boiling black clouds above.

The two men slowed their horses to a fast walk as they swung around a curve in the road and down the hill. A flash of lightning lit up the harbor beyond, the white sails of the moored ships shivering like a ghostly retinue in the wind, and Willy’s mount shied slightly to one side. The young man pulled back on the reins, trying to regain control of his mount. Not a moment later, Mr. Crenshaw had pulled up beside him, motioning urgently to the side of the road while nodding his head in the direction of Irvine. Willy glanced up in time to see the glow of a couple lanterns flicker at the bottom of the hill, bright red coats glimmering like blood with each flash of lightning. Immediately, the pair swerved off the road and down behind a rise in the hill, away from the patrol they had seen only moments before.

Already cold driblets of water coursed down Willy’s bare neck and his coat felt heavy with rainwater. The foul weather was beginning to make his arm ache, making the ride that much more difficult to bear.

Another flash of lightning struck across the sky, illuminating the form of a small sailing vessel moored in a natural harbor up ahead, and a moment later Willy slid to the ground a few feet from a small skiff held in place by one of Mr. Crenshaw’s servants. Another man, who looked to be a sailor, sat at the oars of the skiff, his expression grim.

The servant trotted up to Willy the moment his feet hit the ground, nodding briefly at him before taking hold of his mount’s reins. Boots sloshed against the wet earth as Mr. Crenshaw dismounted and stepped forward, leading his horse behind him.

“Mr. Gilliland,” the older man said, holding a hand out toward him. “God be with you.”

“Thank you,” Willy nodded, shaking the man’s hand firmly. “You as well.”

At that he turned and hurried to the skiff, stepping carefully inside as it rocked against the crashing waves. The oarsman didn’t say a word as he pushed away from the shore. Angry waves dashed against the skiff’s sides, tumbling over the edges in what seemed to be bucket loads and soaking Willy’s feet even more than they already were, if that were even possible.

A particularly large wave knocked the skiff against the hull of the ship, and the oarsman pulled the oars into the little craft, grabbing a large, waterlogged rope that hung over the side of the ship before the waves could carry them further out to sea. Shadowed faces appeared over the rail above them, and a moment later a rope ladder clapped against the wooden hull, hanging just above Willy’s head.

“Climb,” the oarsman instructed, motioning with his hand toward the rope ladder that fluttered in the wind.

Willy swallowed hard as he looked up at the flimsy series of knotted rope strands, then reached up and shakily pulled himself to his feet. The skiff dipped down on a wave and the young Scotsman tightened his grip as he felt his footing give way, and it was several moments before he found the balance to begin climbing. Horses, he was accustomed to; walking, he was accustomed to; anything regarding a ship, however…

The young man floundered on the rope ladder as he slowly worked his way up, flopping from one side to the next each time the ship rose and fell on a wave. He could almost hear James laughing at his comical display, and he might have laughed at himself if not for the gravity of the situation. He was beginning to think that he would never make it to the top when he felt several pairs of strong, calloused hands grab him by the arms and hands and pull him up onto the deck. Some of the sailors threw more ropes over the edge, and a moment later the oarsman who had been guiding the skiff appeared over the railing, the other sailors hauling the skiff up onto the deck simultaneously.

Willy stood shivering on deck as he watched the sailors busy themselves with the ship. Honestly, he knew that he probably ought to be doing something to help them, but ships were far from his specialty.

“Here, lad,” came a deep, gravelly voice from behind him.

Willy turned as he felt a heavy hand come to rest on his shoulder. The man standing next to him was obviously a sailor, but his style of dress was slightly different, and Willy wondered if he might be the captain.

“Follow me,” the man said, motioning toward a set of steps that led down below the main deck. “It’s best you not stay out here.”

Willy was more than happy to oblige as he followed the sailor below deck and into a dank chamber with several hammocks hanging from the ceiling. The room smelled strange, heavy with odors both familiar and unfamiliar to the young Scotsman. Most likely, Willy thought, because it couldn’t be aired out and was generally inhabited by multiple unwashed men.

The hammocks swayed to the side as the ship dipped on a wave and Willy stumbled back into the wall behind him. He was beginning to think that even standing was a hazardous endeavor. The sailor, though, seemed unfazed as he walked across the tiny quarter and pulled a blanket off one of the hammocks.

“Here,” he said, returning to Willy and holding the blanket out toward the young man. “I’ve got to go back on deck, but you should take some of those wet clothes off and wrap up in this. Likely to catch a chill otherwise. We’ll come get you when we land.”

“Thank you,” Willy nodded appreciatively as he shed his coat.

The sailor nodded back, but didn’t wait for further conversation as he set off back the way he had come.

Carefully, Willy sank to the floor, untying the latches of his satchel. Artair spilled out in a heap and quickly skittered to his feet, sparing no time in exploring his new surroundings as Willy shed his shirt and boots and wrapped up in the blanket. The puppy wobbled as the ship pitched, and he seemed to be growing accustomed to walking on uneven ground until one particularly violent wave crashed against the hull of the ship. The craft shuddered with the impact, then took a surprisingly fast dive in one direction, crashing the puppy’s nose against the wall before sending him sliding backwards across the small space.

Willy braced himself to keep himself from tumbling to the side, and he couldn’t help but chuckle when Artair rolled up against him. The puppy righted himself as the ship evened out again. The little creature shook himself as if to be rid of the entire experience, gave the wall one very disdainful glare, then laid down against Willy’s thigh with a huff.

“That’s a good lad,” Willy smiled, patting the puppy on the head.

The puppy wagged his tail and pressed himself even closer to Willy.

Quietly, Willy leaned his head back against the wall, listening to the roaring of the waves and the shouting of sailors outside. The ship creaked and groaned as the sea battered it from all sides, and more than once Willy had to brace himself and grab Artair to keep them both from sliding around the small room like helpless toys.

“What do you think it’ll be like?” Willy asked at length, his voice barely audible above the creaking of the ship and the roaring of the elements outside. “Ireland, I mean. What will I do? Where will I go?”

The young man could feel a knot forming in his stomach as he thought about it. Ireland. To the English, Scotland was a wild place. How much more so, then, would Ireland be? How could Ireland be better than staying and fighting in his own homeland? Only, the English didn’t have as firm a hold on Ireland as they did on Scotland. And, of course, there was talk that other Covenanters had fled to Ireland, too. Perhaps…

Artair stirred next to him and Willy bit back a flood of emotion that nearly overwhelmed him. He was going to a country he had never known, a foreign land where he had neither hearth nor kin. He had fought for God, and now he was to be a stranger in a foreign land, a hunted brute separated from everyone and everything he had ever known and loved. He hadn’t even gotten to tell his mother or father good-bye. Not since leaving for Bothwell, at least, and even then, he had been so sure of victory that he hadn’t really given them a proper good-bye. If he had only known… But how could he? How could he have known that God would give them a victory at Drumclog, only to watch them slaughtered and scattered at Bothwell Bridge? How could he have known that James would have been captured and practically enslaved by the English? How could he have known that he would have to hide like a criminal in his own country and run away, all alone, to a foreign and wild land without knowing if he could ever return? He couldn’t have known that, because he had been so sure God was with them.

Again Artair shifted, this time turning and flopping the front half of his body in Willy’s lap.

“Well, lad,” Willy said, picking the puppy up and looking him in the face. “You’re all I’ve got now.”

The puppy snorted and cocked his head to one side, but wagged his tail some at the same time.

“You don’t think so?”

The puppy yipped and squirmed. Willy set Artair back on the ground and immediately the puppy sprawled across the young man’s lap again, heaving what seemed to be a sigh of contentment and wagging his tail for effect.

Willy smiled slightly as he watched the puppy. Perhaps Lizzie had been smarter than he realized. If he had nothing and no one else, he at least had Artair, didn’t he? A feeling, almost like a whispering touch, passed over Willy’s body and he shivered slightly. There was someone else though, wasn’t there?

Again Willy thought of the battle that had gone so horribly wrong. “If God be for us…” he had said, but had they actually been for God? He thought about all the in-fighting, about Mr. Hamilton’s insistence on brutal punishment of any and all who opposed them, and about Willy’s own pride after the victory at Drumclog. They had won with preachers and pitchforks, they said. But hadn’t they really won with God? Had they, in the end, given the preachers and pitchforks more praise than the God who had used them to win the battle? Was it not a question of whether God was for them but, rather, whether they had been truly for God?

It was then that Willy realized the wind had died down, and that the sailors had become quiet as well. At first he was worried that something terrible had happened, but a moment later the muffled sound of a sailor shouting caught his ears.

“Land, ho!”

Letting Artair slide to the floor with a protesting whimper, Willy stood quickly to his feet, pulling the blanket tighter about his bare shoulders as he stumbled up the steps and back out onto the deck. A brisk breeze met him as he exited the hold. The storm clouds had rolled back some, lingering in the distance to the south, but behind the ship the sun rose like a warm golden disk, highlighting the first lines of a rolling emerald green that rose up on the horizon to the west.

“Would you have a look at that,” came a voice from nearby.

Willy glanced over at the sailor from before, the one he assumed was most likely the captain.

“Almost looks as though there was never a storm about,” the man continued. “And that was no mere storm, either. I’ve never seen the like of it.”

For a moment Willy stared at the sailor, but as the other man strode off, the young Scotsman turned his eyes back toward the horizon. Already the rolling emerald green had grown, stretching north and south as far as the eye could see. Slowly, a half smile crept onto the young man’s face. If God could get him through that terrible storm, could He not also get him through the storm of conflict he now faced?

“For a persecuted church and her martyrs, against a godless church and king, I will take my stand,” he breathed silently, his eyes trained upon the rolling green of the new land before him. “But more than that, for the God for whom we fight, I will lay down anything, even my life. May He be first always and never forgotten. This…this is my covenant.”

Willy’s Covenant: Chapter 3

<<< Chapter 2

——————————————-

Chapter 3

Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance as Willy gingerly stretched his arm out, testing the muscle that had been damaged by the musket ball. He winced slightly at first, but the pain soon subsided as he worked his arm back and forth. The wound was still sore and would need more time to heal, but it had already healed enough that he could use his arm some.

It had been just over a month since Willy had come to live with the McKenzies. He ought to have been in Ireland already, but a recent series of storms had delayed his departure. It had been a tense five weeks, as the Royalists had been scouring the land for those who had managed to escape the battle at Bothwell Bridge, but so far they had seemed to miss the McKenzie household. Willy could only pray that Dalzell and Claverhouse would be so preoccupied with finding the elusive James Ure that they wouldn’t have time to bother with someone as inconsequential as Willy himself.

Now having endured as much stretching as he could for one evening, the young man lowered his hand, gingerly resting it on the shoulder of Lizzie, who lay sleeping with her head on his lap. It hadn’t been long after the evening meal that the little girl had come to him, puppy in her arms, insisting he tell her a story about fairies. As if he knew any stories about fairies. She had settled for a tale about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and now Willy had both Lizzie’s and Artair’s heads lying on his lap, the pair the perfect image of contentment.

Just then, the sound of footsteps caught Willy’s ear and he turned as Mrs. McKenzie came into the room.

“You’d make a better governess than a soldier, I’d say,” the woman teased, poking the logs in the fire with a metal rod, stirring the flames back to life. “Perhaps we should hire you. Keep Lizzie out of mischief. Though knowing you, you’d be causing as much mischief yourself, aye?”

The woman smiled first at him, then down at her daughter before taking a seat in the chair next to the fire.

“And when have I ever caused mischief?” Willy laughed, giving Mrs. McKenzie a lopsided grin.

“When, indeed!” the woman chuckled.

A crack of thunder shook the mansion, and both Mrs. McKenzie and Willy jumped as the sound of the front door opening and slamming shut erupted from down the hall. The pair turned at the sound of quick, heavy footfall, and a moment later Mr. McKenzie appeared in the entryway, rainwater dripping from his coat and the brim of his hat. His chest heaved with labored breaths, as though he had been running for a very long time.

“John!” Mrs. McKenzie exclaimed. “What in heaven’s name? Where have you been off to?”

“Willy, get up,” Mr. McKenzie said, his tone nearly frantic. “I was just at the Burns house when a troop of Royalists came through. Turned the whole place inside out looking for Covenanters. We need to get you out—”

His voice faltered as someone began to pound on the front door.

“Open up, in the name of the king!” came the muffled command.

Lizzie sat up sleepily at the commotion, and she was still rubbing the sleep from her eyes as Willy bounded to his feet.

“What should I do?” the young man asked, his head nearly spinning with fear as cold adrenaline washed like blood into his veins.

“We need to get you out of here,” Mr. McKenzie whispered, moving back down the hall. “I’ll hold them off as best I can. Now hurry!”

Willy turned a pair of wild eyes toward Mrs. McKenzie, hoping she would have some useful advice, but she looked nearly as frantic as he did.

“Try the back door,” the woman said, pushing the young man toward a second entryway on the opposite side of the room.

“Wouldn’t they be watching that door already?” Willy inquired, pausing to look back at the woman.

Mrs. McKenzie paused at this, but their momentary stupor was broken when Lizzie trotted up to Willy, tugging on his shirt to get his attention. She motioned as if she had a secret to tell, so Willy bent down to listen to what she had to say.

“Go through the window in the bedroom with the blue curtains,” the little girl said in a whisper loud enough for even Mrs. McKenzie to hear. “There are big bushes there that never get trimmed. No one’ll see you.”

“I’m not even going to ask how you know this,” Mrs. McKenzie whispered with a shake of her head. “Thank you, Lizzie. And not a word about it to the soldiers, you hear?”

The little girl set her jaw firmly and nodded.

Then with that, Willy took off down the hall, being sure to move as quietly as possible. Already he could hear the sound of the Royalist soldiers pushing their way into the house, and if he hadn’t known any better, he might have been afraid that the wild beating of his own heart might give him away.

The room Lizzie had indicated was dark as Willy entered. Moving like a blind man, he felt his way toward the faintest outline of a window on the opposite side of the room. The soldiers’ voices began to draw nearer as his trembling fingers found the edge of the window pane and he began to inch it up as quietly as possible.

The sound of loud banging and shouting in a room nearby caused Willy to jump, and it was all he could do to keep himself from falling noisily out the window in his haste to get away. It sounded like the soldiers were throwing furniture around now, and the young Scotsman could only imagine the mess they must be making.

Being careful not to step on any twigs or leaves that might betray his location, Willy slowly crawled through the window and lowered his feet down on the other side. A guard nearby coughed slightly and the young man froze in place, but it didn’t seem that the soldier had noticed him. Willy then turned to close the window behind him, sliding it slowly down so as to attract as little attention as possible.

Just then, the sound of loud voices and heavy footfall came to a stop outside the door to the room Willy had just come from. At the same moment, the window caught in its track, and short of yanking on it, the young man was sure there would be no way to close it now.

His heart beating a wild rhythm in his ears, Willy clenched his teeth and strained to close the window, putting in as much force as he dared. The door knob on the other side of the room began to turn, but it seemed the soldiers were distracted talking to each other. If only he could get this window closed. If he didn’t, the soldiers would most certainly suspect something. The night was cold, and even now Willy could feel a steady drizzle soaking his hair and shoulders. No one with any sense would leave a window open in weather like this. It would be too suspicious.

“Lord,” he prayed silently, “if you’re listening, please…please don’t let them find me.”

Immediately the window began to slide again, and Willy barely had time to close it and sink below the window sill before the sound of soldiers’ voices flooded the room inside. The young man exhaled a quiet, shuttering breath, and it was only then that he realized how long he had been holding it.

The bush truly wasn’t all that big. It was more suitable for hiding children than it was for hiding adult men, but with the night being as dark and dreary as it was, Willy hoped that the soldiers wouldn’t think to look behind a bush for their runaway rebel. The young man was almost to the point of relaxing when the sound of booted feet came his way, and he froze when one of the guards came to a stop not more than three yards away from him. A moment later, another soldier appeared around the corner of the house, his pace brisk and stiff.

“Did you check the barn?” the second soldier asked tersely.

“Yes, sir,” the other soldier replied, standing up straight and saluting what appeared to be his superior.

“All the plants? And the garden? You’ve looked everywhere?”

“Yes, sir, we’ve checked every bush and corn stalk on the property. We’ve found no one.”

The man Willy assumed to be an officer turned and scowled into the darkness.

“They act as though they have something to hide,” he said, his voice low. He paused momentarily, then turned to leave, adding as he went, “Fall in. We will return in the morning to be sure.”

Willy watched as the soldiers disappeared around the corner of the house, then leaned his head back against the stone of the wall behind him, his whole body trembling.

“Thank you, Lord.”

š***

“You heard them say that?” Mrs. McKenzie asked as she and Mr. McKenzie watched Willy saddle his horse.

“Aye,” the young man nodded, tightening the cinch on his saddle. “They couldn’t have been standing more than a few meters off. Lord knows they should have found me.”

The couple stepped aside as Willy led his mount toward the barn door. He paused at the entrance and swung up into the saddle, ignoring the throbbing in his arm.

“You have the map I drew for you, aye?” Mr. McKenzie inquired as Willy settled in his seat.

“Aye.”

“Here,” the older man said, handing a hooded coat up to the Covenanter. “This should help keep the chill out, at least. Can’t say much for the rain, though.”

“Thank you,” Willy smiled, gratefully accepting the coat. “I’m sure it will be better than no coat at all.”

The young man moved to put the coat on, then paused and glanced around.

“Where is Lizzie?”

Mr. and Mrs. McKenzie exchanged sympathetic glances.

“She’s taking your leaving rather hard,” Mrs. McKenzie replied. “Refused to come out of her room after we told her. I suppose, being a child, she thinks that if she doesn’t say good-bye, you won’t leave.”

“Poor lass,” Willy sighed. “I can’t stay, though. It would put us all in danger.”

“We understand that, lad,” Mr. McKenzie nodded. “She will, too. In time.”

“Well, I had best be off,” Willy said, turning back toward the barn door. He was about to spur Bonnie forward when he spotted movement from across the yard.

“Wait!” a voice familiar voice shouted.

A moment later, Lizzie came puffing into the barn, a satchel clutched tightly in her arms. Her pale cheeks were tear streaked and her bare feet were muddy, but she still had that familiar, determined gleam in her eyes.

“Child, what are you doing out here with no shoes on?!” Mrs. McKenzie exclaimed.

The little girl didn’t respond as she held the satchel up toward Willy.

“Take it. It’s a going-away present,” she said, her eyes trained on the young man who loomed above her. “And don’t open it ‘till you get to your boat.”

“What is it?” Willy asked, accepting the gift hesitantly. It was rather heavy, he noted.

“It’s a present. That means it’s secret ‘till you open it,” Lizzie replied, her bottom lip quivering.

“Ah,” the young man smiled, looping the satchel strap across his chest. “Thank you, Lizzie.”

Mr. McKenzie picked up his daughter as tears began to pool at the corner of her eyes again, lifting her up so she could give Willy one last hug. The girl threw her arms around the young man’s chest as she began to sniffle.

“I’ll see you again, won’t I?” she asked, looking up at him through her bright green eyes as tears trickled down her cheeks.

Willy swallowed hard as a knot began to form in his throat.

“I don’t know,” he replied honestly.

“You had better come back,” Lizzie commanded, frowning at him. “And bring a fairy back, too, if you catch one.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Willy chuckled as Mr. McKenzie stepped back.

“Thank you. For everything,” Willy said, looking around at the three people who had been like family to him for so many years. “God be with you.”

“And you, lad,” Mrs. McKenzie replied, giving him a sad smile.

Taking one last look at the people he was leaving behind, Willy raised his right hand in salutation, then bent low over Bonnie’s neck and spurred her forward. Abandoning himself to the rain and the night, Willy finally allowed a few tears to slide down his face.

š***

It might have been midnight by the time Willy drew Bonnie to a stop under a stand of trees tucked just out of view of the road. The sky had cleared up some, and small slivers of moonlight glittered between the rolling clouds above. The journey had been slower than Willy would have liked, but it was imperative that he keep as far away from the road as possible should a Royalist patrol decide to travel down that same road.

The young Scotsman slid to the ground with a groan. It was surprising how out of shape he had become in the past month, and the soreness in his muscles attested to the fact that he had done no riding since the battle at Bothwell Bridge. After tying Bonnie to one of the smaller trees, Willy sank to the ground. His movement stirred something in Lizzie’s satchel, and the young man jumped several inches sideward as whatever was in the satchel began to squirm.

Quickly undoing the latch, Willy flipped the satchel open and sat stunned as Artair crawled out of the bag. The puppy stretched and yawned as though he had just woken up from a nice, peaceful nap on a pillow and not from a long, desperate trip by horseback.

“That little imp,” Willy finally said as the realization of what Lizzie had done finally hit him.

Artair jumped up and began licking his face.

“Lizzie…what is a fugitive supposed to do with a puppy?”

Artair yipped at the question as though he had some sort of answer, though if he did, Willy certainly couldn’t understand it. The young Scotsman shook his head in disbelief.

“Well, I suppose you’re stuck with me now,” he sighed at length, lying down on the wet earth in an attempt to get some measure of sleep before continuing his journey. “You can keep watch, aye?”

The puppy yipped and began to chase his tail. A sigh escaped Willy’s lips as he threw one arm over his eyes to shield them from any dull silver moonlight that might slip past the clouds.

“Or not,” he muttered, “as the case may be.”

—————————————

Chapter 4 >>>

Willy’s Covenant: Chapter 2

It’s official! My honors project passed! Now all that’s left is to do a final edit and get it printed and bound. For those of you who happen by the Southwestern Adventist University library this summer, you’ll probably see a copy of the project on the shelves in among the other honors theses that have been printed and catalogued over the years. Realistically, though, I recognize that not many will manage to make it to little ol’ Keene, Texas any time soon, so for those of you who can’t, I’m posting all four chapters here on my blog. I’ll be posting chapter by chapter, as the overall project is too long to put into one post.

If you haven’t gotten the chance to read chapter 1, I’ve placed the link below. Otherwise, you’ll find chapter 2 here in this post. Happy reading!

<<< Willy’s Covenant: Chapter 1

————————

Chapter 2

White froth dripped from Bonnie’s mouth and neck as Willy turned her up a long dirt path toward a small stone mansion on the hilltop not far away. The young man wasn’t sure how long it was since he had been shot, an hour maybe, but his whole world was spinning and it was all he could do to keep from falling from his mount’s back. He had stopped only long enough to tear some pieces off the shirt he wore beneath his blue-grey Covenanter uniform, but even with the makeshift bandage, he knew it would only be a matter of time before his bleeding arm would get the better of him.

The sound of dogs barking caught Willy’s ear as he neared the house, and a moment later two sleek-bodied greyhounds were dancing back and forth at Bonnie’s side, barking and yipping more in greeting than in aggression. The exhausted horse snorted a warning and jerked her head when one of the hounds came too close, causing Willy to lurch forward slightly. The young man gritted his teeth at the sudden movement, a new wave of pain reminding him of the little lead ball still wedged inside his left arm.

“Alfie! Charlotte!” came the sound of a child’s voice.

The two dogs loped away from the horse at the sound, back toward a little girl who stood in the yard with a black-and-white greyhound puppy wriggling in her arms. She was a small child, about nine years old, with wavy, dark blond hair and curious green eyes. She cocked her head to the side slightly at the sight of the young man slumped over his horse’s neck, but when Willy forced himself to sit up, the girl’s curiosity quickly gave way to a look of horror.

“Willy!” she exclaimed, rushing to Bonnie’s side. “Willy, what’s wrong?”

“Go get your pa, Lizzie,” the young man replied, his voice strained as he pulled Bonnie to a stop. “Please. Hurry.”

“Yes, sir.”

In an instant the girl dashed into the mansion, yelling “Pa! Pa, come quick!” the whole way there. Willy smiled slightly through his pain, allowing himself to lay back down on Bonnie’s back as he waited for help to arrive. That was Elizabeth McKenzie for you. The girl had a good set of lungs and plenty of energy to spare.

It felt like it had been ages since Willy had been to the McKenzie home, though he knew that in reality it had only been a few months. The McKenzies were close family friends of the Gillilands, and if there was anyone who could help Willy out of the mess he had gotten himself into, it would be them.

Chickens and dogs scattered when the front door to the mansion crashed open and Lizzie barreled out, followed closely by Mr. McKenzie, Mrs. McKenzie, and what seemed to be anyone within half a mile and within earshot of Lizzie’s yelling.

“Willy!” Mr. McKenzie gasped, hurrying to the young man’s side. “What in heaven’s name happened to you?”

“A battle down at Bothwell Bridge,” Willy replied, gasping in pain as he sat up slowly, attempting to steady his spinning vision. “Got a hole in my arm the size of my thumb, and my head feels like I’ve had a hundred pints.”

“Nonsense,” Mrs. McKenzie stated, hands on her hips. “You’d be laid out flat as a sheet if you’d had that many. John McKenzie, get this poor boy off his horse and up to bed.” She then turned to one of the servant boys. “Go fetch the doctor, lad. And don’t say a word to anyone but him, neither.”

Immediately the servant boy hurried to the stable to fetch a horse as Mr. McKenzie and one of the other servants helped Willy slide from his saddle. The young man felt his legs give way the moment his feet touched solid ground, and it was only thanks to the help of Mr. McKenzie and the servant that he avoided falling flat on his face in the middle of the yard.

“We’ll have to carry him,” Mr. McKenzie stated, trying to adjust his grip on Willy without hurting him further. “Someone get his horse cleaned up and into the barn.”

Willy moaned in pain when Mr. McKenzie and a couple of the servants lifted him off the ground. Lizzie moved toward him, her eyebrows knit in concern as she clutched the puppy still dangling in her arms, but Mrs. McKenzie grabbed the girl by the shoulder, pulling her back to her side.

“No you don’t,” the woman said, turning her daughter in the opposite direction. “Now put that creature away and come help me fix up some bandages for Willy.”

š***

It was dark out as Willy stirred from sleep. He had been slipping in and out of consciousness ever since Mr. McKenzie and the servants had moved him to the bed, and after the torment he had faced when the doctor came to take the musket ball out of his arm, Willy couldn’t help but feel mildly surprised that he was even still alive at all. It had certainly felt like he was dying during the procedure.

The door to his room squeaked ever so slightly and the young man turned to see a pale face peeping through the crack between the open door and the doorframe.

“Lizzie?” Willy asked, straining his eyes to see in the dark.

The door squeaked again and the little girl slipped into the room. She was clad in a white woolen nightgown, her dark blond hair pulled back into a loose braid. She tiptoed on bare feet to his bedside and crawled up onto the bed next to him.

“You are alive,” she breathed in a not-so-quiet whisper. “Ma said you were, but you’ve been lying in here forever, and I thought you’d died after the way you were screaming when the doctor came.”

“I thought I had, too,” Willy chuckled quietly in reply, wincing when Lizzie’s movement caused his arm to shift. “So, you got up in the middle of the night just to see if I was alive?”

“Of course,” the little girl responded, putting her hands on her hips and looking at him as though he had just said something very stupid. “Ma wouldn’t let me come in, so I had to sneak in. She said you needed rest.”

“Well, you had better go back to bed before she catches you,” Willy smiled, closing his eyes as he felt the exhaustion overtake him again. “Wouldn’t want her to get angry, now would we?”

He lifted one eyelid slightly to look at her, and even in the dark he could tell she was pouting as she crossed her arms over her chest.

“Then can I tell you about Artair when you wake up in the morning?” she asked.

“Artair?”

“My puppy.”

Willy laughed slightly, lifting his right arm and giving the girl a gentle push off the bed.

“When your Ma says it’s all right, you can tell me all about your puppy.”

A broad grin lit up Lizzie’s face, and with a giggle she trotted back the way she had come, peeking through the cracked-open door one more time before closing it with a soft clack.

Willy snorted softly at the girl’s antics, then turned his gaze up to the ceiling as he relaxed back into the bed. Despite how tired he had felt only moments before, he now couldn’t seem to close his eyes, and his mind wandered back to the events at Bothwell Bridge.

He had been so sure of victory. If they could manage to defeat the Royalists with a bunch of ill-equipped farmers and ministers at Drumclog, why not there, at the bridge, where they should have had every advantage as they funneled the enemy soldiers into firing range? No one, not even professionally-trained soldiers, should have been able to overtake that position.

Willy’s first instinct was to blame Mr. Hamilton. He was their commander. It was his responsibility to keep the troops organized and well-supplied. So why? Why had he not been there? He should have been there. He should have…

If God be for us, who can be against us?

Willy balled his right hand into a fist as his eyes narrowed and he clenched his teeth into an infuriated grimace. The verse that had once given him such courage now made his blood boil. If God be for them, indeed. What of Mr. Hamilton and his betrayal? Where had God been in the midst of it all? The Covenanters had been fighting for Him, hadn’t they? Hadn’t they?

The thought of James crossed Willy’s mind then, and quickly his anger melted into shame. James had always been by his side, had always been the voice of reason where Willy himself seemed to have none. James had thought the animosity among the Covenanters would do nothing but harm the movement. Perhaps he had been right after all. If it hadn’t been for Willy’s stubbornness, for his insistence that God would be with them no matter what…if it hadn’t been for that, they could have gone home before the battle had even started, and James wouldn’t…

Willy choked back a sob as the image of James pinned beneath his horse flashed through his mind, and quietly he turned his head until his cheek was pressed into the fabric of his pillow. A few stray tears slipped down his cheek, but he made no move to wipe them away. This was going to be a very long night.

š***

The sun was shining brightly when Willy stirred from sleep again. He wasn’t sure as to exactly when he had fallen asleep, but his pillow was still moist with tears, if that was any indication at all. A light breeze shifted through the open window nearby, carrying with it the sound of horses nickering, dogs barking, and Lizzie laughing.

A light knock rapped gently on the door, and Willy turned his head away from the window to look in the direction the sound had come from. The door opened and in stepped Mrs. McKenzie, a bowl in her arms.

“Look who’s awake,” she smiled, walking over to Willy’s left side and setting the bowl on the bedside table.

Willy glanced over and watched as a faint steam rose from the bowl. It must have hot water in it, he thought.

“The doctor says you’re lucky,” Mrs. McKenzie continued, pulling a roll of clean bandages and a packet of what looked to be herbs out of her apron pocket and placing them on the bedside table before turning back to the young man. “The shot wasn’t very deep. You should be back up and causing mischief in no time.”

Willy gave her a weak smile before turning his face back toward the door that now stood partially open. For a moment, there was silence, then Mrs. McKenzie patted his shoulder and said, “All right, now sit up so I can change this bandage. And don’t you go moping on me, neither. Isn’t like you.”

Without a word, the young man sat up, careful not to put any weight on his left arm. He watched as the woman removed the bandage and began to clean up the wound. So far, no evidence of infection had set in, which was good. If it did, he’d be without an arm…or worse…but he supposed it was still better than the fates of those he had left on the battlefield.

“Is there any word about the others?” Willy asked at length, wincing in pain as Mrs. McKenzie dabbed a wet cloth around his wound.

“Aye,” the woman replied solemnly. “They say three or four hundred are dead; some thousand are being kept at Greyfriar’s kirkyard. Shame. To use a church as a prison yard. Lord knows what will happen to those poor souls. Mr. McKenzie is out looking for information as we speak. I’m sure he’ll have more for you when he returns.”

Willy grunted weakly in reply. A church yard. Of course it would be a church yard. Faithless dogs. He had no doubt the selection of Greyfriar’s was in mockery of the Covenanters themselves. The very people who fought for religious freedom were now held prisoner in the shadow of religion.

The young Scotsman was so lost in thought that he didn’t even notice Mrs. McKenzie had finished bandaging his arm until she patted him on the shoulder.

“Now then,” she said, holding up a large piece of cloth, “here’s a sling for you. Once we get your arm fixed up, you should go outside and get some fresh air. No sense in staying bedridden with an arm wound, now is there?”

Almost as if on cue, Lizzie’s voice erupted from just below the window.

“Willy!” the girl called at the top of her lungs. “Are you awake yet?”

“Mercy, lass!” Mrs. McKenzie replied, leaning out the window to look down at her daughter. “If the poor boy wasn’t awake before, he would surely be now. And half the countryside with him, I’d say. Run along now. Willy will join you shortly.”

The woman then turned back to the young man sitting in the bed.

“Won’t you?” she said. It was less of a question and more of a statement.

A half smile crept onto Willy’s face.

“I don’t suppose I have much of a choice,” he laughed softly.

š***

“Look at him. Isn’t he cute?” Lizzie asked, holding the black-and-white greyhound puppy up as close to Willy’s face as she possibly could. She only managed to reach as far as the young man’s chest.

“He’s a lively wee lad, isn’t he?” Willy smiled, rubbing his thumb over the puppy’s head.

The little creature craned its neck, trying desperately to lick the hand petting it.

“What did you call him?”

“Artair.”

“Artair. Very…noble name, aye?”

“Aye!” Lizzie giggled. “Too bad you hurt your arm, or you could hold him. I think he really likes you. Here.”

The girl set the puppy down on the ground and picked up a stick which lay nearby. She held the stick up to Willy as Artair danced around the young man’s feet, biting at the toes of his boots and yipping happily.

“Throw it for him. He likes to play fetch.”

For a moment, Willy looked at the stick doubtfully. It didn’t take long for Lizzie to notice his hesitation, and the girl placed her free hand on her hip in dramatic exasperation.

“Well, that arm isn’t broken, is it?” she asked, pointing at his right arm with the stick in her hand.

“No.”

“Then here. It’s not that hard to throw a stick.”

Willy laughed, shaking his head at the girl’s insistence, then obliged. He weighed the stick in his hand for a moment, then waggled it in Artair’s face before throwing it across the yard. With a yip, the puppy bounded around and took off in pursuit of the new-found toy.

“Fast, isn’t he?” Lizzie asked, grinning up at Willy.

“Very,” the young man nodded.

A moment later, Artair returned, his head cocked to one side, one end of the stick in his mouth, the other dragging on the ground. Lizzie reached for the stick when, all of a sudden, the sound of hoof beats began to echo across the countryside. The girl scooped the puppy up in her arms and Willy pulled her back toward the house as Mr. McKenzie, astride a dark grey horse, galloped into the yard. The horse snorted as the man pulled it to a stop.

“Willy. Lizzie. In the house. Now,” the man said as he slid from the saddle. “I’ll be in momentarily.”

Lizzie cocked her head at her father in concerned curiosity, but Willy took her by the hand and pulled her toward the house. Now was not the time to question a command. Whatever it was that had Mr. McKenzie on edge, Willy reckoned they would all know soon enough.

š***

It was several minutes before Mr. McKenzie appeared in the main room of the mansion. Already every resident and servant had gathered into the room on the man’s command, and the small gathering exchanged confused and worried glances amongst one another when Mr. McKenzie came to stand before them.

“General Dalzell has joined forces with Monmouth and Claverhouse,” the man spoke at length, clearing his throat slightly. He was trying to remain calm, but Willy could tell he was nervous. “It would appear that those held prisoner at Greyfriar’s kirkyard will be allowed to live, though the…conditions…may be less than savory. Those who fled the field, however…”

Mr. McKenzie turned toward Willy.

“No quarter is being given. Most of us know the reputations of Dalzell and Claverhouse already. They now have permission to do whatever they please with the Covenanters they find. Those who are found are not spared. Those who harbored them…are not spared either. There are homes of our fellow countrymen that burn as we speak. So as of this moment, there will be conditions placed on this household.”

The man began to pace back and forth at the front of the room.

“No one is to speak of Willy. If anyone asks about his horse, I just bought her. Lizzie will need to stay inside for the time being, as well. I don’t trust her around the soldiers. Am I understood?”

A chorus of solemn, muttered ascents were all the reply he got.

“Good. You’re all dismissed. Except for you, Willy. I need to have a word with you.”

The young man could feel a sinking sensation in his gut as he followed Mr. McKenzie into his study. The man didn’t say another word until the door was shut and locked behind them.

“I’m sorry, lad,” Mr. McKenzie said quietly as he turned toward Willy, his expression sympathetic, “but you can’t stay here for long. There is nowhere safe for you. Not here. Not in Scotland. I’ve already spoken with an associate of mine. We’ve booked passage for you on a ship bound for Ireland. You’ll leave a month from now, as soon as that arm of yours heals up enough for you to travel.”

“Ireland?” Willy asked, his expression baffled. “I don’t know anything about Ireland. Where would I go?”

“That is between you and God, lad,” Mr. McKenzie said with a shake of his head. “This is as much for your sake as it is for my own. You’re strong and smart. You’ll sort it out.”

Willy ran a hand over his mouth, trying to gather his thoughts as the reality sank in. Between him and God, was it? That might have sounded fine a day ago, but now…?

“God doesn’t seem to have much interest in me,” Willy muttered, shaking his head.

“Is that so?” Mr. McKenzie replied, raising one eyebrow at him.

“What with my cousin James falling on the battlefield…and now this…”

“Your cousin James is at Greyfriar’s kirkyard, Willy,” Mr. McKenzie corrected quickly, placing a firm hand on Willy’s shoulder so that the younger man would look at him. “He’s alive. And his odds of seeing this through are better than even yours. I’ve already gotten word that they’re sending him to the New World as an indentured servant. Not the best outcome, but it’s something. He yet has a chance. And you do, too. Don’t give up on God so soon. He doesn’t seem to have given up on you.”

————————

Chapter 3 >>>

Hey There, Dreamer

lyngilleland:

Beautifully put. For anyone who, like me, has been so tired and stressed they can’t seem to find the energy to write, here’s a little encouragement from author Amanda Bradburn. I hope it inspires you the way it inspired me.

Originally posted on An Ink-Made Maiden:

Hey there, writer, dreamer, artist. Things been tough lately? Work or school seems to eat up all your time and by the time you get to that plank page . . . there’s no room in your energy store for anything? The moment you put pen to paper, there’s no good inspiration left anywhere? And unlike when you were a kid and could think for hours on end about your stuff (books, artwork, dreams), now your mind is filled with the dates of the French Revolution or how many omelets to make tomorrow or when the next shipment comes in that you’ll have to inventory or stock. And amidst all the things you have to remember, all the things you want to remember start to fade.
It’s the transition. The time in your life when you really have to start thinking hard about who you are and what you want…

View original 172 more words

Willy’s Covenant: Chapter 1

When I chose “Willy’s Covenant” as my project to complete the requirements for the honors program, I knew that it wouldn’t be easy. What I didn’t anticipate, though, was just how hard it would actually be.

I am a fantasy writer by trade. Yes, I do research; just not this kind of research. As such, “Willy’s Covenant” has certainly forced me to leave my comfort zone, but I’d say that, so far, leaving my comfort zone has paid off.

As promised, I have posted the first chapter of the story below. Chapter 1 contains a depiction of the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, the fight that my ancestor William Gilliland is said to have participated in right before he had to flee to Ireland. To write this scene, I used James Ure’s first-hand account of the battle, and you will recognize that name as you read since I included him as a minor character in Chapter 1. I did take a few creative liberties with the account because I don’t actually know where William Gilliland was during the various events, and as for his cousin James, I don’t actually know if they were cousins, but there was a James Gilliland who also participated in the battle.

Some of the quotes, such as Mr. Hamilton’s “And hang next!” are direct quotes from Mr. Ure’s account of the battle, and as far as I know, every character mentioned in this first chapter was a real person who participated in the Battle of Bothwell Bridge.

As always, constructive criticism is appreciated, and I hope you enjoy the story!

—————-

 Battle-of-Bothwell-Bridge

Chapter 1

“Then ‘the lawyer of the Covenant,’ Archibald Johnston, Lord Wariston, later to die a martyr’s death, lifted on high a beautiful ram’s skin, four feet long and three feet eight inches wide, on which had been inscribed the noble words of the ‘National Covenant of Scotland.’ He read every word slowly and clearly, for all to hear. Objectors were invited, but there were none…The signing went on until eight at night. There was many a wet eye, for the Covenanters well knew the sorrows that might follow…Some signitories added after their names ‘Until death,’ and some ‘did draw their own blood and use it in the place of ink.’”
-Scottish Heroes by Harry W. Lowe (pg. 18)

***

A fine mist hung low over the Scottish countryside as the sky began to shift from the deep blackness of night to varying hues of cold, wet grey. The dark form of the Clyde River cut a curling swath through the dale, disappearing around the rise of the hills that surrounded it on either side. Its quiet, hissing rush mingled with the pale whinnies of horses and the shifting of over 6,000 pairs of feet in the dew-softened ground of the south bank. The faces that filled the multitude gathered here were solemn, the smooth hands of ministers and the weathered hands of farmers hardly discernible from one another as each supported a musket braced against their shoulders.

From his position at the back of one of the ranks, 19-year-old William Gilliland leaned against the firm shoulder of his grey thoroughbred, Bonnie, as he strained to see above the heads of his comrades, who also seemed to be pressing forward in nervous anticipation of what might come. Though the morning was still rather dark, Willy could just make out the form of what he knew would be the Bothwell Bridge, a sizeable stone structure that spanned the Clyde and separated the solemn gathering from the trouble they were sure would be brewing on the other side.

How long had it been now since Mr. Hume and his fellow envoy had crossed that dark, arching bridge and into the Royalist camp beyond? Perhaps it had only been minutes, but to Willy it seemed like it had been an eternity.

The hurried thumping of footsteps caught the young Scotsman’s ear and he turned his pale blue eyes toward the source of the sound, quickly spotting his older cousin, James, who was now weaving through the other soldiers and heading toward him.

“Any word?” Willy inquired as his cousin trotted to a stop next to him.

“Not yet,” James replied, shaking his head. “Though Mr. Hamilton thinks they’ll fight.”

“After beating them with pitchforks at Drumclog?” Willy laughed. “Do you really think so?”

“It’s what Mr. Hamilton says,” James shrugged. “Though it does seem daft. And on the Sabbath, at that. I hope he’s wrong, but I fear he may be right.”

“Well, then, let them come,” Willy said, stretching nonchalantly. “After all, ‘if God be for us, who can be against us?’”

A sigh escaped James’s lips as he ran one broad hand through his dark brown hair.

“If God be for whom?” he questioned, resting the butt of his musket on the toe of his boot and staring down at his feet. “You and I both know our very ranks are divided.”

Willy drew in a deep, thoughtful breath at his cousin’s comment, casting his gaze to the grey sky above him. It was true, there was quite a bit of tension amongst the troops. It had been brewing for some time, ever since Drumclog three weeks before. On the one hand was Mr. Hamilton, the man in charge of the little force of which Willy was a part. He was the fighting sort, and adamantly held the belief that they should give no quarter where there was no quarter due. On the other hand was Mr. Ure, a minister by trade, who was of a more forgiving sort, willing to give mercy as long as the enemy wouldn’t fight. It should have come as no surprise to any of them, then, that the disagreement had come to a head only just the night before. Actually, Willy thought, if one were be surprised at all, they ought to be surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

“Ah, don’t think too hard on it,” Willy laughed at last, clapping his cousin on the shoulder before looking back to the bridge where a small band of about 300 of their men now waited, crowded around a single cannon. “We may be all out of sorts right now, but why should God not be with us? Should He be with those dogs who worship their king? Why, the battle’s already been won, I think.”

“God willing,” James mumbled, turning his gaze in the same direction as his cousin’s. “God willing.”

Just then there came a commotion from off to the side, and the two young men turned to see Mr. Hamilton making his way between the ranks, his aid leading his bay horse behind him. His gaze was set straight ahead, and as Willy craned his neck to see what his commander might be looking at, he caught a glimpse of two figures walking briskly across the bridge and up the road toward them.

“That looks like Mr. Hume,” Willy said excitedly, thumping James’s chest lightly as he let go of Bonnie’s reins and pushed past his cousin. “Let’s have a look, then.”

“Willy!” James hissed back, catching the younger man by the arm. “They don’t appear be too happy. I don’t think it went particularly well. We should stay in our positions.”

“It’s just a look,” Willy protested, pulling out of his cousin’s grasp. “Come on. See, we’re not the only ones.”

James followed after his cousin grudgingly, and soon the pair found themselves pushing through their comrades in an attempt to get closer to the front. It seemed everyone had the same idea; they all wanted to know what the Royalists had to say.

Mr. Hamilton was leaning up against a gibbet and smoking from a pipe when Willy and James finally pushed to the front. He was a shorter man, but he carried an air of superiority about him, his chest puffed up ever so slightly as though somehow it would make him look bigger and more intimidating than he actually did. His long, dark hair hung in waves about his shoulders, well-groomed despite the crude living quarters the fighters had all stationed themselves in. His face was nicely shaven, save for the Van Dyke beard he wore, and more than once Willy had humorously commented on the way the man’s mustache would quiver if he were the least bit upset or nervous.

The two cousins exchanged wondering glances when they spotted the gibbet the man leaned against, however, as it hadn’t been there when they had come to the bridge and neither one of them had noticed it being constructed. Already a hangman’s noose swayed from the end of the wooden beam, and Willy had no doubt for whom the deadly loop was intended.

“I suppose our dear Lord Monmouth sends his greetings,” Mr. Hamilton mused sarcastically as Mr. Hume and his fellow messenger came to a stop in front of him.

“If you can call it that,” Mr. Hume replied sourly. He didn’t seem to be in the mood for humor.

“And what does he say?” the commander inquired, drawing in a deep breath from his pipe.

The messenger drew in a deep, solemn breath, his steely expression never leaving his face.

“He says that our petition ought to have been more humbly worded,” Mr. Hume said.

“Indeed,” Mr. Hamilton chuckled ruefully, spitting on the ground for emphasis. “And?”

“And that if we are to ‘lay down our arms and come in his mercy, we should be favorably dealt with.’”

Immediately Mr. Hamilton broke out into laughter at this.

“And hang next!” he bellowed in reply. “The faithless dogs. I’ll not go groveling for the likes of them. Send my reply. Quote me, if you like!”

Already a wild hum echoed over the crowd as Willy watched Mr. Hume’s associate turn and hurry off down the hill again.

“To your ranks, men!” Mr. Hamilton shouted, swinging up into the saddle of his mount. “To your ranks!”

A groan escaped James’s lips, but he didn’t say anything as he turned to follow Willy, who was already pushing his way through the crowd to the position he had been assigned.

“Listen up, men!” Mr. Hamilton shouted as Willy and James found their places and braced their muskets to their shoulders. “Today we face the very men who would place a man above God. They scoff when they hear our name, mock the term ‘Covenanter’ and deem us mere radicals. But we have fought these men before, shamed their armies with preachers and pitchforks. We have won against them before and we shall win again! Let this day go down in history as the day the Covenanters won freedom for God! Let them never forget the 22nd of June, 1679!”

A roar burst from the crowd as men shook their muskets in the air. Almost simultaneously, an explosive boom echoed across the river valley, and the Covenanters turned as chunks of earth scattered in all directions further down the hill.

“Now!” Mr. Hamilton shouted, drawing the saber that hung at his belt and raising it high in the air.

“Now for God! Now for Glory!” Willy shouted, his voice joining in with the shouts of the thousands gathered around him.

Already Willy could see the bright red coats of the Royalist soldiers glowing in the dim light at the opposite end of the bridge. Smoke split from the Covenanter cannon and the Redcoats darted out of the way as earth exploded in all directions.

“Hold off until they take the bridge,” Mr. Hamilton commanded.

For a moment they watched as puffs of gunpowder smoke flickered along the bridge beyond. Cannon fire littered the soft ground with potholes, and men on both sides ducked and dodged with each volley of musket fire, some quickly replying, others never getting up.

“We should be down there,” Willy growled, tightening his grip around his musket. “Why do we wait?”

All of a sudden, Mr. Hamilton wheeled his horse around, calling out to a man on foot, “Mr. Lermont, you have control over your men!”

The man to whom he spoke cast a bewildered gaze at their leader as he set off further up the hill. Willy narrowed his eyebrows at the sight. Was it his imagination, or was Mr. Hamilton’s face a shade paler than usual?

A contingent of redcoats rushed the bridge and Willy watched in wonder as they came closer, some making it as far as halfway across the bridge before turning back and fleeing.

“Leave the horses!” Mr. Lermont called out suddenly. “The Royalists must not take the bridge!”

Willy could feel his heart racing as his group charged forward down the hill, the roar of over a hundred voices mixing with his own. Musket balls whizzed by on either side of him as he and James ducked behind a fallen log along the bank of the river.

“Watch the dogs run!” Willy laughed as he braced his gun against the log and fired, a puff of gunpowder smoke momentarily blurring his vision as he ducked back behind the log and began the laborious process of reloading his weapon.

“You’re enjoying this far too much,” James stated breathlessly, his face pulled into something of a grimace as the shot of his musket roared in his ears.

Again Willy laughed, ramming the new musket ball down into the barrel with his rod and turning back to aim. His eyes widened and he hesitated when his eyes turned to the other side of the bridge. Shouting echoed in his ears, the volume nearly matching the sound of musket shot and cannon fire, as what looked to be nearly two hundred Redcoats swarmed the Bothwell Bridge, possibly a hundred horsemen following closely on their heels. For a moment, it looked as though the Covenanters guarding the bridge might be retreating, but a moment later they faced about, a small handful at first, then others, all led by a tall, fair-faced man Willy immediately recognized as James Ure, the Covenanter commander who stood in opposition to Mr. Hamilton.

Quickly the Royalists at the front of the advancing regiment knelt to one knee, leveling their muskets while the soldiers behind them aimed over their kneeling comrades’ shoulders. Mr. Ure’s regiment dove to the ground as the Redcoats fired their muskets. Not a moment later, the Covenanters were back on their feet, rushing like madmen down the length of the bridge toward the Royalist soldiers before them.

“Come on,” Willy said, lightly tapping James’s shoulder to make sure he was listening. “We should help them.”

“No, Willy, we should stay…here.”

But Willy was already rushing up behind Ure’s men as the Royalists turned about and started retreating back the way they had come. With a groan, James darted after him.

“For God’s sake, Willy, would it kill you to stay where you’re told?” James called after his cousin.

“Aye!” Willy grinned over his shoulder. “Perhaps it might!”

The pair paused along with the rest of the Covenanters around them as they all leveled their muskets, firing a volley at the retreating Redcoats. Immediately the enemy turned around, this time joined by the rest of the Royalist forces, and answered with a volley of their own. The whole northern riverbank lit up with flashes of fire and puffs of gunpowder smoke. Willy froze as a musket ball whizzed past his face, and he stumbled slightly as a cannonball exploded only a short distance away from him, killing two of his comrades instantly.

Again the Redcoats swarmed the bridge, this time twice the number. Their starched uniforms glowed a menacing shade of crimson in the first light of the rising sun as it broke through the valley fog.

“Fall back!”

It was Mr. Ure’s voice, and he didn’t seem to be far off.

“To the moor, men!”

Already the other Covenanters were pivoting on their heels, wasting no time in following their commander away from the deadly shots aimed their way. Willy growled in frustration as he turned back to fire his musket one last time. The Redcoats were already nearly halfway across the bridge and Willy’s jaw dropped slightly as one of the Royalist soldiers at the front of the line paused only long enough to shoot a wounded Covenanter who had been moaning in agony from a wound in his thigh.

A roar of rage escaped Willy’s throat as he lunged forward, aiming his musket at the soldier and ignoring the musket balls that shot past him at nearly every angle. He couldn’t go far, however, before he felt a firm hand grab him by the upper arm, pulling him in the direction of the hill.

“Forget it, Willy!”

It was James.

“But they-”

“I know.”

“He was unarmed!”

“I know!”

Cannon fire erupted only a few feet away, causing both young men to stagger and raise their hands to shield their faces from the flying debris. If Willy had wanted to stay at this point, he wouldn’t have been able to, as the battle-weary Covenanters pressed up on either side of him and James, pushing them along as they all fled away from the bridge, pausing only once or twice to slow the progression of the king’s soldiers.

Mr. Learmont and Mr. Ure were both shouting orders as the cousins came up the hill, and many of Mr. Ure’s men were already hunkered down in the brush, obviously planning some sort of ambush.

“Those who have horses, mount them now!” Mr. Learmont was shouting. “Those on foot, form a line, get down and ready your weapons. Pikes at front, muskets behind.”

“Where is Hamilton?!” Mr. Ure called to his fellow commander as he led his horse over to where the men were hunkering down. “We need assistance. Now.”

“God knows where that scoundrel slunk away to,” Mr. Learmont replied sourly. “Either he turned tail and fled or he’s spiting us for our part in last night’s dispute, but speculating won’t do us any good now. Mr. Ure, send some of your men with mine to guard the horse.”

Willy turned away from the two commanders, his blood boiling.

“Mr. Hamilton. That coward. I knew he was acting strange, but this…,” he said bitterly.

“You heard Mr. Learmont,” James replied, forcing the younger man to turn around again and pushing him forward. “It’ll do us no good to speculate now. Come on. We should get our horses.”

Quickly the cousins pushed their way past their comrades until they came to where their horses were tethered. They swung up into their saddles, trading their muskets for pikes, and waited for whatever might happen next.

For a moment there was silence as they waited, the cool air of the moor hanging limply about them. Then, all of a sudden, the faint, methodical drone of marching feet began to throb in Willy’s ears. Quietly, at first, then growing louder. The whinny of several horses not belonging to the Covenanter ranks echoed up over the rise in the hill. Willy’s horse answered them and danced in position as if anticipating the battle that would soon resume.

Then there! The first row of Royalist soldiers appeared over the horizon, followed by another rank, and then another. To Willy, it seemed that the line of red stretched for miles on either side, and the multitude just kept growing.

“Reinforcements,” James choked. “Lord have mercy on our souls.”

“Lord, let us not see defeat,” Willy replied, tightening his grip on his pike. “Though we have been betrayed by men, God will not betray us. Not while we fight for Him.”

James opened his mouth to reply, but couldn’t say anything before a volley of musket fire rent the still air of the moor. It seemed to be coming from all sides, and Willy turned to see more Royalist soldiers coming up from his left. A few of the riders alongside him bolted forward, and out of instinct, Willy followed suit. There were some who were firing from their hiding places on the ground, the thought of ambush pushed far from their minds with the coming of the reinforcements the Royalists had apparently only recently obtained.

Willy pulled his horse to the side as several of the Redcoats fired their muskets. James brought his horse up beside him a moment later. A contingent of Royalist horsemen met them and pikes flashed wickedly in the sunlight as Willy threw Bonnie’s reins to the side, narrowly avoiding impaling his little grey thoroughbred on an enemy pike, then swung his own weapon up and forward, driving his pike deep into the chest of one of the enemy’s horses. The creature screamed as it fell, yanking the pike out of Willy’s hand and nearly taking him with it.

The young man and his horse doubled back around and James brought his horse up beside them again.

“It’s no good!” he called out above the sound of men shouting, muskets firing, and horses screaming. “Our men are running. We must retreat, Willy!”

The young man clenched his teeth angrily, but he knew his cousin was right. For all their hopes and prayers, a victory at Bothwell Bridge was not to be had.

“Let’s go!”

With a nod, Willy dug his heels into Bonnie’s side and the two riders bolted back the way they had come. It was chaos here. A swarm of men, red and blue-grey coats, rounded on each other, fired muskets, tripped over the bodies of the fallen. The scent of gunpowder hung thick in the clean Scottish air, and dark crimson pooled in the soft earth that had been churned by thousands of feet, both man and beast. No nightmare, Willy thought, could be so real as this one was.

The crack of several muskets firing roared nearby, and Willy yanked hard on Bonnie’s reins when he saw James’s horse go down out of the corner of his eye. He turned to see the creature lying dead on the ground, his cousin’s left leg trapped beneath the heavy body.

“James!”

The older cousin grit his teeth as he pushed himself up on his elbows.

“Go!” James shouted. “Get out of here!”

“No. Let me-”

Willy’s words caught in his throat as a searing pain shot through his left arm and he cried out as he grasped the place where the musket ball had embedded itself in his flesh.

“Don’t worry about me!” James exclaimed. “Go! Now!”

Trying to ignore the pain, Willy let go of his arm and grabbed hold of Bonnie’s reins once again. Already a large portion of the Covenanters had fled the battlefield. God only knew what would happen to those who didn’t escape.

The young man bent low over his mount’s neck as she charged across the moor and around the bodies of the dead and wounded, guns playing on every side. Men were shouting, but at this point Willy couldn’t tell what they might be saying. His mind was too full of what had just happened: the battle, the betrayal, James…

Already the sounds of the fight were fading. Bonnie was a thoroughbred after all, a fast runner, good at distances. But even she couldn’t run forever, and heaven only knew how long he could hold on, battle-weary and bleeding. Still at a gallop, Willy turned his mount toward the west before burying his right hand in Bonnie’s mane and holding on with every ounce of energy he had left. There was somewhere he could go; one place and one place only that might be safe.

“God,” he choked bitterly as he leaned over Bonnie’s neck. “Where are you now?”

——————————–

Chapter 2 >>>

The Naming Game

I suppose the thing I love most about writing is creating the characters. With every character, I have the chance to explore the inner workings of the human mind as I understand it, to create my own imaginary heroes and friends, and to imagine what life might be like for every character I create. It’s the same reason I have over a dozen created characters on Skyrim (a videogame, for those of you who might not be familiar with the title), too. But every created character needs a name, and I have, over the last few years, been thoroughly surprised by the number of people I have met who find this process to be extremely difficult.

The topic came up yesterday during Rough Writers. For those of you familiar with my blog, you’ll remember that my club and I have been working on a joint project, and recently we have begun to write the first stories based in our world, called Cartref. The majority of the races we have created so far in our world use words based off of real languages. Two of these races use our own variant form of Irish Gaelic. I am notoriously picky when it comes to character names (especially when it comes to Irish, because I’ve always been proud of my Scotch-Irish heritage), so the first of the stories I read based on one of these two races, I will admit, made me cringe just a bit because the names were so gratingly not Gaelic. Last night we read a manuscript based on the second of the two races. This time I had a different sort of comment to make.

The character’s name was Ailbho. It’s a decidedly Gaelic sounding name, so that wasn’t a concern. But there was a problem: I wasn’t certain as to how it ought to be pronounced and, I soon discovered, the author wasn’t entirely certain either. I have an advantage over most readers in that I am familiar with Irish Gaelic. I could guess at the pronunciation, but I knew that if I was having trouble, other people would, too.

In an attempt to avoid falling into the litany of cliches known to fantasy, I have spent hours on end pouring over lists of most hated fantasy cliches. For those of you planning on writing fantasy, I highly recommend at least looking at one or two of those lists. And because of the time I have spent doing that, there was one that really stuck in my mind: people hate unpronounceable names. On obsidianbookshelf.com’s page entitled “Everyone’s Most Hated Fantasy Cliches,” one person wrote, “If I pick up a fantasy book, and I can’t pronounce the names in the blurb without getting a headache, it’s back on the shelf for that book. Meh.” I pointed out this concern to my fellow club member, and the discussion soon turned to the naming of characters. That’s when I decided to write this blog.

Every author has their own way of naming their characters, but I do have some suggestions that have helped me over the years that I’ve spent learning how to write properly.

1. Name Lists

My number one source for character names has, for many years, been a website called babynamesworld.com. The format of the website has changed since I first began using it, making it much more confusing for me to navigate, but the concept stays the same. Name lists are a writer’s best friend. Well…one of them. I don’t know anyone who knows every name that has ever existed over the course of time and, though I can’t say the name lists are all-inclusive either, they do contain names that you may like but not be familiar with. Very few of my own characters were named without my looking at a name list. This becomes particularly useful when you’re going for a certain feel in your story. For instance, in my Star Series, which could best be described as medieval fantasy, I heavily referenced lists of Gaelic and Germanic names for a large portion of my character and place names. Many of these characters also have names that allude to something about their personality, their appearance, or their race. For instance, the chief/king of the forest elves in the Star Series is named Rolf, a Germanic name meaning “famous wolf,” as the forest elf realm of Alfedan is the home of the talking wolves.

2. Make it Up

Though most of my characters are named using lists, some of them have gotten names via a little creativity. The names of the characters in Prism World were entirely the result of my own imagination. In regards to the Phantoms, that isn’t necessarily surprising. They are, after all, named after aspects of their personalities and craft. Thus, the fast-moving, revolver-wielding protagonist is named Lightning; her dagger-wielding antagonist is named Blade; and her soft-hearted mother is named Mercy. But there have been other stories I have written where character names were even more uniquely chosen. In an old story I never finished, entitled Wolves of Archrys, the main characters, magic-wielding wolves, were named not by logic or by name lists but, rather, by an atlas. In this case, I randomly pointed to places on a given page of an atlas and laced together the first and last parts of location names until I got character names I liked. Thus, I had characters with more or less unusual names such as Rewcoln, Arion, Vanston, and Balscan. Whether that turned out well or not, though, I think I’ll let you decide. (I am, after all, rather biased on that score.)

3. Reference Other Stories

I have always been told that a good writer is a good reader. Not sure where that puts me, since I’m proud of myself when I get through three full books a year, but the concept remains the same. Just as one can become familiar with plots and mechanics through reading, one can also gain name inspiration by doing so, too. This doesn’t apply only to books. Movies, videogames, songs, poems…they can all become fodder for names. During the initial work I did on Prism World, back before I decided to put the story into print, I was on something of an anime craze, namely over the anime entitled Pandora Hearts, which is a hodge-podge of elements taken from the myth about Pandora’s box and the stories of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, among other story elements. In this anime, one of the main characters is a girl named Alice, a powerful monster of sorts who is searching for fragments of her memories which are scattered through the world. I was fascinated by the character and, subsequently, her name as well. She is strong, impetuous, bossy, and opinionated, and though I didn’t think much of it at the time, I know that my impression of this character is what influenced my portrayal of Alice Lee in Prism World.

4. Do a Little Research

This one isn’t generally as fun, but it can help quite a bit if you run out of ideas. This is particularly the case when it comes to naming locations in a story, but can also help with character names, too. This concept goes along with the creativity suggestion above, actually, but includes a little more method and a little less random pointing at atlas pages. For an example of this, I would have to go back to the Star Series. In the series the mountain range that encompasses Alfedan and Ardenia is called the Harzian Mountains. This comes from the real life Harz, the tallest mountain range in northern Germany. Reality works. Even in fantasy.

Of course, there are always potential issues as well. Here are some things you might consider avoiding.

1. Unpronounceable Names

The very word gives me a headache. In order to create an effective story, it’s always a good idea to have characters whose names are familiar enough that the reader can feel familiar and attached to them. Not to say that the names can’t be exotic, but they at least need to be pronounceable.

2. Dashes and Apostrophes

Please, please, please. On behalf of the fantasy community, please avoid names with apostrophes and dashes. Or, at least, use them sparingly. If you look around in real life, names with apostrophes and dashes are actually rather few and far between. Yet, for some reason, a large percentage of fantasy writers have somehow come to the conclusion that every other name needs to look like a kindergartener got a hold of a notebook and started writing random letters and symbols in haphazard orders. Ok, so maybe I’m being dramatic, but still…

3. Keep it in Context

Honestly, if you have a race whose cities, race name, and social organization are already named using a real life language, it stands to reason that you might want to continue using that language to name your characters, too. You wouldn’t want a character from a city called Erin (Ireland) to be named Alibaba. Well, maybe you would, but it doesn’t make much sense to me. Unless you’re going for a comic effect. That might work.

4. This isn’t a Rhyming Game

I’m actually a little ambiguous on this one, but I thought I might as well put it here anyway. My mentor, Glen Robinson, has always sort of preached the mantra, “Don’t have two main characters with names that start with the same letter. It confuses the reader.” To a certain extent, I agree with him. It’s just as confusing in real life. For instance, I have a friend named Chelsey and a friend named Kelsey. You can imagine what kind of confusion occurs when I start talking about one or both of them. Similar sounding names can get confusing, but I’m not sure I agree with Dr. Robinson when he says not to use names that start with the same letter. The letter, in and of itself, doesn’t confuse me. Thus, I can have character combinations such as Razi and Rayne and still know exactly which character is which. And especially when you get to stories such as the ones I write with ensemble “casts,” where you can easily have four, five, six main characters and just as many points of view. Perhaps that is a problem in and of itself, but that’s for another time.

In the end, character naming still remains largely a matter of personal taste, but if one is writing for an audience, it does require a measure of sacrifice on the part of the author in order to accommodate the needs of the readers. My best advice on that score is to develop a network of readers who will give you feedback. The more people who comment on an issue, the more likely it is to become a big problem later on.

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