I'm exited to announce a new time-travel historical romance based on William Wallace! RISE OF A LEGEND - Coming November 5, 2015
Available for preorder now!
The Back Cover:
Running away from her catastrophic life, historical journalist Eva MacKay joins an archaeological dig at the battleground of Loudoun Hill. Unearthing the seal of William Wallace, Eva gains notoriety. But her dreams of Bowie knives—the weapon that murdered her husband—morph into great swords and dirks.
Drawn to a ruined monastery, Eva drifts into the worst nightmare of all. Awaking to the sharp point of a madman’s sword, she’s hurled into the midst of a bloody thirteenth century battle. Just when certain death is eminent, brutal arms surround the lass, dragging her deeper into unknown terror.
When Eva realizes she’s been hauled to the hideout of rebel William Wallace, a revelation dawns—she’s landed the story of a lifetime—if she can stay alive and find a way home to tell her tale.
The death of King Alexander III in the year of our Lord 1286 was the catalyst for England’s invasion of Scotland. After Alexander was found dead on the shore at the bottom of a stony outcropping, the kingdom spiraled into a time of dark treachery.
With no forthright heir to the throne of Scotland, the ruling Guardians quickly undertook an investigation of the royal ancestry and found two men with the most legitimate claim to the succession: John Balliol, Lord of Galloway and Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale—grandfather of the future King Robert the Bruce.
These two men now readied themselves to battle for their rightful place as king. Aye, these were brutal times, and civil war in Scotland seemed imminent.
In an attempt to maintain peace, Bishop Fraser of St. Andrew’s wrote to King Edward in England, asking for his intervention. After all, Edward had been Alexander’s brother-in-law, and Scotland had been at relative peace with England.
Seizing an opportunity he couldn’t refuse, The King of England arrived and immediately claimed he was the rightful suzerain—or overlord—of Scotland. After much deliberating, he appointed John Balliol to the Scottish throne. Balliol was considered the least likely to pose a threat to England, especially when compared to the powerful, and power hungry Bruces.
Almost immediately, Edward began his humiliation of Balliol, issuing personal insults and demanding public demonstrations of fealty. Worse, the Scots were used like pawns and forced to fight England’s battles. Balliol tried to humor Edward until he was pushed too far and the Scottish king formed an alliance with France.
At this point in history, the English army was the greatest fighting machine in Christendom. And when news of Balliol’s defection arrived, Edward sent his army to sack Berwick on 30th March, 1296. No mercy was shown. No prisoners were taken.
The slaughter continued for three days. It is said Edward only called a halt when he saw one of his soldiers butchering a woman in the act of childbirth.
The atrocity of Edward’s barbarism is still remembered to this day.
Facing the possibility of annihilation, Balliol had no other choice but to abdicate. Edward imprisoned him in the Tower of London and later sent the “puppet king” to France.
Though many of Scotland’s nobles possessed property on both sides of the border, the common majority were outraged that their king had been humiliated and wrongfully imprisoned by a tyrant overlord.
Then a warrior of epic repute came on the scene and united a broken nation.
His name was William Wallace.
Eva sat up gasping. Sweat steamed from her brow as she panted, catching her breath and willing her thundering heartbeat to slow. She fumbled for her smartphone while eerie shadows shone through the slats of the caravan’s blinds. Shoving her fingers in the crease between the mattress and the wall, she found it. Four-forty-four. She shuddered. Why did the nightmares wake her at the same time every night?
Mercy, she’d returned to Scotland fleeing from the terrors of New York—joined the Loudoun Hill dig team. Yeah, hard work and discovering ancient artifacts was supposed to be exciting—supposed to be an auto-reset for her life.
But no one could run from their mind.
She pressed against her eyes and saw the knife again. Drawing in a sharp gasp, she jerked her hands away. Then shook her head. The weapon had always been hewn of blue steel—a bowie knife meant for hunting—or killing. But she’d just pictured an old blade like a dagger or a dirk, maybe even a sword.
Dammit, I’m turning into a nutcase—Eva MacKay, the raving reporter.
She plopped back to her pillow and stared at the ceiling—for about ten seconds. Nope. This time there’d be no going back to sleep. Besides, the team would be stirring soon. In the past two weeks, Professor Tennant had made it eminently clear he liked to start early.
Eva quietly hopped down from her bunk so not to wake her roommates, Linsey and Chrissy. She slid into her skinny jeans, pulled a sweatshirt over her head and shoved her feet into her hiking boots. Reaching for her toiletry bag and a clean pair of undies, she headed for the women’s washroom.
Standing under the pressure-less stream of water, Eva poured a dollop of shampoo into her palm and did her best to scrub up a lather. In the fortnight she’d been working with the dig team, she missed two things from her former lifestyle—whirlpool baths and massages. She wouldn’t mind if the showers at the caravan park had an iota of pressure, but showering under the pathetic stream of tepid water took a good five minutes to just rinse the shampoo from her thick red hair.
Still jittery from the remnants of her nightmare, she hurried with the conditioner and toweled off. Teeth hastily brushed and hair pulled into a ponytail, she opted to forgo makeup, hoping to slip to the dig site for some alone time before the others arrived.
After she grabbed a takeaway cup of coffee and a scone from the Quiet Harpy, she headed for her car—a red Fiat—her indulgence, purchased on the same day her plane landed in Edinburgh. Once sitting in the driver’s seat, the rev of a new engine proved to be far better therapy than a shrink’s couch. With a surge of reassurance, she put the Fiat in gear and headed off.
Eva had no idea what prompted her to slow when she approached the turn for the town of Fail. She not only braked, she drove the car onto an unmarked road and drove as if she knew where she was heading. Nonetheless, the road led east. How lost could she get in Ayrshire? Besides, her phone had a GPS. Perhaps today would bring a new adventure. And driving down the single-track road felt right.
Just around the bend, a ruin caught her eye and she pulled the Fiat off the road. A ray of light from the rising sun illuminated what looked like the remains of an old church. Amber hues flickered golden over the mossy stone. She stepped out of the car and watched the sunbeam gradually travel over the roofless relic.
Pulling her phone from her pocket, she snapped a photo.
When Eva looked up, the sunglow continued to move to the field beyond, leaving the ruin in the shadows of an enormous ash tree.
A sense of calm spread from her chest and through her limbs, as if the sun’s ray had been transported from the church into her body. Blinking, Eva had no idea what had come over her, but at least the jitters from her nightmare finally faded into oblivion.
After one last cursory glance, filled with calm, she climbed back into the Fiat and headed for Loudoun Hill.
The tires skidded through the gravel when she pulled into a parking spot above the way-too-modern looking monument erected in honor of William Wallace—not Robert the Bruce. She sniggered at the irony. The dig was sponsored by the NTS to unearth relics from Robert the Bruce’s battle. And according to Professor Tennant, Wallace’s fight waged on this very ground could only be conjecture since it hadn’t made it into historical documents.
Right. That’s why Wallace’s monument is here—not Bruce’s. She sniggered again.
Eva stepped out of her Fiat and grabbed her gear.
Tools in hand, she headed to the trench with a determined hitch in her stride, making a beeline to the same place she’d been working yesterday. Her shoulders again tensed, forgetting the sense of calm she’d experienced at the ruins a few moments ago. The day before, she’d uncovered a boulder that wouldn’t budge. They had a backhoe onsite, but by the time she’d brushed the dirt from the top of the rock, no one was there who knew how to use it. A historical journalist brought up in the city, Eva wasn’t even about to try.
Maybe because she didn’t want to use a backhoe.
Maybe she could carefully chisel around the rock and dislodge the thing herself?
Her gut clenched. As a matter of fact, she needed to, absolutely must, dislodge it herself.
The caffeine from her coffee kicked in to high gear and she started running with pick, trowel and brush in hand. Jumping into the trench, she eyed the offending rock. She set her tools on the shoulder-level ground and pushed up her sleeves—ready for battle. A quick reach for her pick and Eva sauntered toward the piece of granite.
“You’re not going to stop me today.”
She used the point to dig around the stone as she’d been taught, carefully chipping away pebbles and dark soil as she worked. After clearing a good two inches from the top of the rock, she tugged up her gloves and gave it a good downward shove. The boulder didn’t budge. Putting her weight into it, she tried to work the rock from side to side. When it refused to move, she bore down, pushing so hard her feet lifted off the ground. Nothing.
Losing is not an option. Not today.
She braced both hands on top of the stone. “You’re going down.”
Straining with every ounce of strength, gnashing her teeth, a bead of sweat rolled from her forehead into her eye. With a huff, she released her grip and took in a deep breath. “Double dammit.”
She wiped her forehead with the crook of her arm. “You will not get the better of me. I’ve had enough roadblocks in the past year to last a lifetime.” God, she hated anything that stood in her way. Eva worked the pick more vigorously into the dirt at one side of the boulder, and then the other—heck, a backhoe would do a lot more damage than her wee pick.
Eva’s palms slipped inside her gloves, but she refused to stop. A goddamned piece of rock could be moved, even by her. For goodness sakes, at five-eleven she was no delicate rose. She’d played basketball for NYU. Well, yeah, she may have graduated five years ago, but she still had “it”.
With each stab at the earth, she became more determined. This piece of granite epitomized all the debilitating quicksand in her life—the grief, the fear, the loneliness, and failure, the suffocation of being beaten and crushed by the entire world. And today she would not allow the boulder to win.
She raised the pick over her head and shook it at the sky. “Steve is dead!” she screamed.
Again and again, Eva clawed and brushed earth away from the boulder that seemed to increase in size with her every effort. Conquering this blasted rock served as a symbol of redemption. She had to dislodge the boulder. Her life depended on it.
A tear streamed down her face. Finally, months of pent-up grief released through her arms as she tore into the earth with all her strength and more. She would dislodge the beast and prove to the world she could move on.
Prove to myself.
“I will show you, the world, and every murderer out there. I will not be afraid. I will not be intimidated for the rest of my life. Take your knives and bury them beneath this rock!”
With one more stretching blow, she drove the pick behind the boulder. The enormous thing shifted down with a groan from the earth. It stuck there, precariously jammed in the crevice. Eva skittered backward.
She could have been crushed. The rock had to be at least three feet in diameter.
She climbed out of the trench and stood above her giant boulder. Dropping to her knees, she gave it a forceful shove.
“It’s my turn to win, you bastard!”
The slab of granite dislodged and dropped to the ground with a dull thud, debris and stones showering behind it. Now they’d definitely need the backhoe to pull the darned thing out of the trench.
Eva rocked back onto her haunches and chuckled. “That’s right. No stone will stop me. You might drag me through hell, but you will not take my spirit.” She shook her fist and laughed out loud. “I will be victorious.”
Jeez, it felt good to blow off steam, and thank God no one was around to tell her she’d lost her mind. She reveled in her victory. As the boulder dropped from its hold, a burden had lifted from her chest like a gateway had finally opened. Eva stood with her fists on her hips and took in deep, reviving breaths, each one filling her limbs with renewed energy.
After she slid back into the trench, she stuck her head inside the gaping hole. She removed her gloves and ran her hand over the jagged surface. Stones had come loose and scattered with the dirt. The tip of her finger hit something hard—almost harder than stone, but with a rounded edge. She froze.
Is it manmade?
Eva’s heart skipped a beat as she dug in her pocket for her penlight and shined it on the curious item. Iron, maybe?
Holding the light with her left hand, she reached in with her brush and cleared away the dirt from the rusty piece. Certain she’d found something of interest, Eva used the tip of her finger to gently push, testing to see if it was loose. The thing tipped sideways with a clink.
Fingers trembling, she plucked the item from its tomb and pulled it out, resting it in her palm. Carefully, Eva smoothed away the dirt, then angled it toward the sunlight. A faint imprint of an archer embossed the middle. She blew on the flat side, clearing enough dirt to study the inscription. sialaW inalA suiliF
Could it be a document seal?
Oh yeah. A stamp would be written backward.
She decoded it in her mind. Filius Alani Walais. Her heartbeat sped. She was not just a William Wallace buff, Eva considered herself a diehard super-fan of Scotland’s greatest hero. Had she unearthed the man’s seal?
“What have you got there?” a deep voice asked.
Eva jolted. She hadn’t heard anyone approach, but sure thing, Professor Walter Tennant stood on the embankment right behind.
“I-I think this might be William Wallace’s seal.” Her hand trembled as she held it up. “Um…you might recall I submitted a series of articles on Wallace I wrote for the New York Times. I-I hoped that’s what earned me a place on this dig.”
The professor nodded. “I remember very well, indeed.”
Eva bit her bottom lip and pointed. “See the embossing?”
Walter put on a pair of white cotton gloves, took the brittle stamp and turned it over his hand. “By God.” He sat on the edge of the trench with his legs dangling. “If this is genuine, it could very well be the find of the entire summer.”
Her heart performed a backflip as Eva pointed to the boulder. “Something drove me to dig out that big rock. I thought I needed to prove to myself I could do it, not that there would be a relic wedged beneath.”
Walter blew on the artifact and held it so close to his face, he looked cross-eyed through his coke-bottle lenses.
She stepped toward him. “What do you think?”
“Priceless,” he whispered.
Eva pulled out her phone and snapped a picture, then held the camera out. “Will you take one of me with the seal?”
“Hold your palm flat.”
She did as he asked and he carefully let the artifact slide into Eva’s hand. Raising it as if it were as precious as the Hope Diamond, she cradled the seal to her cheek with the inscription facing the camera—Walter didn’t need to tell her to smile. She couldn’t wipe the grin off her face if she’d wanted to.
After he returned the phone, he pulled a plastic bag from his pocket and held it out. “This is quite a find.”
She tilted her hand and let the seal slip inside. “Are you going to notify the NST?”
“I’ll ring them in a minute and then do some field testing. But this is as authentic as they come, mark me.” He peered at Eva with a pointed look. “You ken there are volumes about Wallace’s life no one knows. So much was left unrecorded.”
She climbed up and sat on the side of the trench beside Walter. “It’s a damned shame if you ask me. Blind Harry said Wallace was the son of Malcolm, but the seal—that seal—clearly states he’s the son of Alan. Even Andrew Fisher agreed the evidence pointed to Alan as William Wallace’s father.”
Walter chuckled. “Your analysis of Fisher’s writings in your article impressed even me.”
“Thank you.” Eva could have floated right to the top of Loudoun Hill—her editor hadn’t been nearly as enthusiastic. “Some say he’s done the most thorough research on Wallace.”
“Some do.” Tennant cleared his throat with a deep rumble. “I wouldn’t discount Blind Harry’s fifteenth century verse. He recounted stories that had been retold for a hundred and fifty years. There might be a modicum of truth in every chapter.”
“But you shot me down when you gave your presentation—said ‘we’re not chasing after a poet’s fairytale’ or something like that.” Eva thought her imitation of the professor’s rolling burr was pretty good.
“I was presenting facts, not conjecture. However when it comes to Blind Harry, people want to believe rather than question.”
“Interesting—but all oral stories change every time they’re retold.” Eva drummed her fingers against her lips. “Regardless of what a fifteenth century poet deemed the gospel, why wouldn’t people want to know the truth? That’s the very reason I went into journalism. I want to report the truth to the world.”
“Quite an ambition.” He held the seal up and peered through the plastic. “But isn’t one man’s truth another man’s lie?”
Her shoulders tensed as if he’d issued a slap. “I don’t think so. It’s the job of the journalist to give an unbiased account of the facts. That’s where history errs—too many reporters skewing the truth.” She could have debated Walter’s statement for the rest of the day, but instead she pointed to the seal. “How do you think that got here?”
“Not sure. Wallace could have lost it himself, or it could have been a keepsake carried by one of Bruce’s men.”
“Wouldn’t it be cool if it was held by Sir Robert Boyd? If my facts are right, he rode with Wallace and then with Robert the Bruce.”
Walter’s eyes bulged behind his comical glasses. “You do ken your history.”
Eva glanced longingly at the stamp. “I wish I knew more.”
On her way to the dig site the next morning, Eva’s car again turned right onto the unmarked road to Fail. She could have sworn the Fiat turned on its own but that would have been absurd. Regardless, the detour wouldn’t cause much of a delay. Giving in to her intuition, she drove straight to the church ruin she’d found the day before.
The sky violet above, magenta and orange hues illuminated the eastern horizon as she parked beside the old ruin. Good, I’m in time to see the sunrise.
As usual, the morning air was cooler than she liked, and she covered her pink NYU sweatshirt with a blue, down-filled vest. The grass a bit boggy, water bubbled beneath her hiking boots with every step. Ever since arriving at the dig she’d been thankful she’d had the wherewithal to purchase a sturdy pair of waterproof boots—red ones.
She stepped across a threshold where the door once would have been. Rectangular quarried blocks covered with moss lay scattered amid the grass, shaded by a canopy of birch and an inordinately tall ash tree. Eva stood for a moment. Tingles spread over her shoulders as if someone had just blown on her neck.
She glanced behind. Nope, she was still alone.
To the east, the oranges and violets of the sunrise pulled Eva toward the old church. She moved into the center of the ruin and faced the sun. Just as the master mason would have planned it in medieval times, rays gradually climbed the lone east-facing wall of the sanctuary. Luminous light sparkled around on the outer corners of the only remaining wall. Somehow it survived the ravages of time.
Her breath caught when a ray streaked down from the wheel-shaped window, as if an angel shone a beam of light straight onto Eva’s face. She squinted.
Goosebumps rose across her skin. Gripped by the sudden urge to sing a refrain from the Hallelujah Chorus, Eva opened her mouth but couldn’t make her voice work. The air around her levitated as the sun centered itself inside the circular window atop the crumbling wall. In fact, her body became weightless. If it weren’t for the angle of her foot awkwardly resting on a stone, Eva would have sworn she was floating.
Continuing up the wall, the sun’s light had nearly passed over the window when a flock of mourning doves took flight from the canopy made by the enormous ash. For the second day, the sensation of weightlessness made the woes lift from her shoulders and her mind soar with the birds.
She stared at the wall, not wanting to move. Her mind clear, her fears gone, Eva found her place of calm serenity.
“This church is magical, isn’t it?” Walter Tennant’s voice whispered directly behind her.
But Eva didn’t jolt this time. Her gaze remained fixed on the window, as if she expected the professor to appear. A dove landed on the sill and stared at her.
Taking a deep breath, Eva turned, faced the archaeologist and pointed. “The sunrise. It lined up perfectly with the wheel window. When I drove past yesterday, I thought it might, but wanted to see for myself.”
Now that the ethereal moment had passed, she studied him with puzzlement. “What…Why…How did you know I’d be here?” Her fists flew to her hips. “And why did you happen by this place at this very moment?”
He chuckled, cupping his chin between his thumb and pointer finger. “No reason, really. I’ve often driven past these ruins.”
“Aye.” Walter took a seat on the remains of the wall and patted the spot beside him. “This once was Fail Monastery. It was established in the Trinitarian Order by John de Graham in twelve fifty-two.”
“Trinitarian?” Eva didn’t recall the order from her studies. “That’s unusual, isn’t it?”
“Nay, not in those times. They had friaries all over—wore white vestments with a large red-and-blue cross.” Walter drew a cross on his chest with his finger.
Eva scrutinized the surroundings—pastoral land sparse with trees, but no other signs of ruins. “If this was a monastery, there would have been a lot more to the grounds than just this nave. What happened? Did it fall victim to The Reformation?”
“Not entirely. And it wasn’t a well-to-do sect. The Trinitarian monks were charged with the duty of rescuing Christian captives from slavery.” Walter crossed his ankles and looked down in thought. “I reckon they were the most Christian-like of all the orders. They never had much—couldn’t compete with wealthier orders because of their generous philanthropy.”
Eva smoothed her hand across the stone at her side. “I think it’s a shame so many great castles and churches have fallen into ruin.”
“I agree. You ken William Wallace could have spent a great deal of time right here. After all, he had an interest in the priesthood.”
She let Walter’s words sink in for a moment while a hundred questions swarmed about her head, but one stood out. “So, since we know Wallace studied to be a priest, was Blind Harry incorrect when he wrote William was married to Marion Braidfute?”
“Ah yes, the master sixteenth-century poet. As I said before, you must read between the lines of Harry’s writings—there are nuggets of truth betwixt the babble.” Walter’s bottom lip jutted out with his shrug. “But no one knows if William was married. Given his education, it doesn’t stand to reason, though. And there’s no record that Marion existed.”
“True, but at that point in time it wasn’t unusual for female births to go unrecorded.” Eva stood and looked at the window again. “I wish I could travel into the past and write his true story.”
“Och aye, me as well, but I wouldn’t be able to sit back and allow history to run its course.”
She faced him. “Oh, I could. That’s the essence of being a journalist—to be impartial and report the facts as they truly occur.”
He rocked back. “Very interesting point of view, indeed. I’m afraid I’d try to intervene. Then Scotland might end up without the greatest hero and martyr who ever lived.” Walter spread his arms wide. “Wallace’s legacy is epic, legendary, larger than life. It has defined Scotland’s sense of pride for over seven hundred years. I’d be mortified if I did anything to jeopardize that.”
She tapped a piece of flagstone with her toe. “I have to agree with you there. I think he was exactly what the country needed.”
“You’d best believe it, lassie.”
She sighed. “If only we knew more about him…I mean really knew.”
The professor stood and stretched. “And that is up to archaeologists and historical journalists like us to uncover and report—maybe we’ll find more clues right here.”
Eva expected him to head to his car, but Walter moved to the very place she’d watched the sun shine through the window. “No one can change the past.” His voice grew ominous. “That is the only rule.”
She gave him a quirky look. He certainly was odd—even for a professor. Though he had an endearing air, sort of like a grandfather—someone she felt comfortable talking with. “May I ask you a question?”
“Depends.” Walter rolled his hand through the air.
“Have you ever lost someone close to you—someone who wasn’t supposed to die?”
Walter removed a large coin from his pocket and smoothed his thumb over the surface. “Aye.” His hand trembled a bit. “Lost my twin sister when we were but in primary school.”
Eva drew in a quick breath. “I’m sorry.”
He opened his palm and looked at the coin. Eva peered a little closer, realizing the piece was very old and had a metal loop as if it might be a medallion worn around the neck.
“Now it’s my turn to ask you something,” he said, closing his fingers.
Eva pulled back—she shouldn’t have been so nosy. “All right.”
“You seem to be born with a silver spoon—you’re smart, beautiful, wealthy. Why did you volunteer for this dig?”
That was easy enough. “I’m a historical journalist with a deep love of Scottish history.” She stuffed her hands in the pockets of her down vest. “Anyone with my background would be thrilled to be here, regardless.”
“Aye?” The look on his face reminded Eva of her father’s expression whenever he caught her in a lie. “I think the reason goes far deeper.”
“You were a favorite at the Times.” He wasn’t going to let up. “Had a stellar career in the making. But you walked away.”
Heat flared up the back of her neck. The last thing she needed to hear was a lecture. “How do know so much about my life?”
He gave her a disbelieving smirk. “You’re a top-notch journalist and you’re asking me?”
Eva folded her arms. Maybe the lecture wasn’t coming, but Walter sure knew how to push her buttons, and she wasn’t going to let it slide. “You said you lost your sister. Well, I lost my husband. A man I was planning to have a family with, a man who meant everything to me.”
Walter tossed the medallion in the air and caught it. “Och aye, I understand your loss well enough. And I feel for you, lass. I really do. But what I want to know is when will you decide to break down that wall you’ve built around yourself and get on with your life?”
She didn’t want to answer—didn’t want to have this conversation, but something in Walter’s stance demanded she reply. Damn him. “When the pain in my heart stops,” she whispered.
“That will come with time.” He positioned the artifact in his palm and smoothed his pointer finger around it. Then his enormous eyes met hers in challenge. “If you could do anything in the world, achieve any level of success, what would it be?”
“Aside from winning a Pulitzer?” She threw her head back with a rueful laugh, relieved the conversation had turned to something easier to discuss. “For me, it’s not about earning recognition. Not really. It’s about telling the story.” She took in a deep breath and met Walter’s pointed gaze, then stepped closer and squared her shoulders. By God, no one could change her mind about her single remaining passion. “I want to find something so intriguing…”
“Go on,” he said.
“…So intriguing, the entire world says wow.”
Walter smiled. “A worthy ambition.” He pulled a leather thong from his pocket and threaded it through the pendant’s loop. “I want you to keep this for me over the summer. It is said this medallion has powers that will direct you toward the path you are to travel.”
“You don’t believe in magic, do you, Professor?” she teased.
He tied both ends and slipped it over her head. “Aye, lassie.” He inclined his chin toward the wall. “A wee bit o’ magic happens every time the sun shines through that window up there.”
She grasped the medallion and read the inscription. Verum est quasi malis navis in nocte.
“It means: truth is like a beacon.” Walter reached in and turned it over. “And on the reverse it reads: but few choose to follow.”
With a couple years of college Latin under her belt, Eva read the inscription on the back. Sed pauci volunt sequi. “If you believe this, then yesterday why did you say one man’s truth is another man’s lie?”
Walter shrugged. “I wanted to see how you’d respond. You see, I believe we need someone who has a fervent hunger for the truth—someone who’s willing to allow history to unravel so she can share her unfettered story with the world—the one that just might make people say wow.”
Not quite sure what to say, Eva looked down at the bronze disk while another breeze tickled the back of her neck bringing on a swarm of tingling goosebumps. “Well, thank you. I’m honored you trust me with such a keepsake.”
“Let us hope your sentiments don’t change after…”
He glanced up at the window and stroked his chin. “The summer’s end.”
She wrapped her fingers around the medallion, surprised that it felt warm after having been suspended in the cool air. “Where did you find this piece?”
“A young monk gave it to me right before I tried to alter the past.” Walter made no sense at all.
“What?” Eva asked.
The professor batted his hand in front of his nose. “Never mind. That story’s for another time and I must be on my way. After your momentous find, there’ll be more reporters at the dig site today, mark me.”
Eva started to follow him, but he stopped and held up his palm. “Stay here for a while. I wouldn’t want you to miss the serenity Fail Monastery brings to those who allow these crumbled walls to speak. I interrupted your moment of solace. Carry on.”
Watching Walter head to his car, Eva puzzled. He’s a bit cryptic that one.
After he drove off, the trees rustled above and a welcomed, woodsy scent fragranced the sanctuary. Suddenly heavy-lidded, Eva sat cross-legged and looked up at the window. “What have you seen in all the centuries you’ve stood there? Happy times and unfathomable desolation, I’d bet. You most certainly were built in a time of brutality—a time when human life was not valued as highly as it is today.”
“You must not change the past,” Walter’s voice echoed in her head. But those hadn’t been his exact words. Regardless, Eva was too tired to rationalize any of the professor’s mysterious prattle.
Placing her elbow on a fallen stone, she yawned. Overcome with sleepiness, she rested her head in the crook of her arm and closed her eyes.
I want to find my wow.
Scottish borders, 1st May, the year of our Lord, 1297
William Wallace galloped his warhorse toward the village of Lochmaben, a score of men following in his wake. Unable to reach the town fast enough, he could not pull his gaze away from the black smoke billowing ahead—a sure sign the messenger had been right.
He’d never prayed so hard for a man to be wrong.
Sour bile churned in his stomach.
Dear Lord, I cannot be too late.
But his gut told him differently. Approaching the cottages near the English fort, the smoke grew thick as fog. Not a woman wept or infant cried. An eerie quiet wafted through the air with the billowing blackness. William drove his horse forward and pulled his mantle across his nose, his eyes tearing at the sting.
Father John Blair rode in beside him. “My God.”
Though the butchering had become a common scene, William would never grow accustomed to it. Scots men, women and children lay face down in the mud, their blood turning the puddles to a sickly maroon. Others hung by the neck, suspended from ropes affixed to the lintel of the burning barn. The ropes creaked on the wood, swinging back and forth in a demanding rhythm, screaming outrage as their lifeless bodies swayed.
“Cut them down,” William growled.
Riding further into the war-torn border village, William’s throat thickened. None of this made sense. A madman had invaded his beloved Scotland and his countrymen paid in blood with these nonsensical raids.
Since Edward Plantagenet sacked Berwick and Dunbar one year past, William had formed a secret militia of a score and ten men. But his efforts were not enough. Worse, the Scottish nobles had been hogtied—any insurrection on their part and the upper class would face ruination. The nobility could lose not only their lands, but indeed their families could end up ruined by the same murderous tyranny William and his men witnessed this day. Forced to sign an oath of fealty, none of the great men in Scotland could stand against the mightiest army in Christendom.
Not unless they are united.
But the day of emancipation seemed a passing dream. Edward had imprisoned the King of the Scots, John Balliol in the Tower of London. English raids grew ever worse. And now the bastards had lured William’s father and other influential men into their clutches.
Many faces of the fallen were familiar.
A gust of wind cleared the smoke a bit. Gulping back a heave, William wished it hadn’t.
Dread iced through his veins as he inched his horse through the boggy street.
Though the man lay flat on his face, there was no mistaking Wallace gazed upon the remains of his father. All shreds of hope dissolved. The back of Da’s legs had been deeply cut, as if the bastards sliced through his sinews to take the big man to his knees. And by the wounds encrusted with blood, they’d attacked his body with spears and knives.
Disbelief clutched William’s heart into a tight ball. He’d experienced hate before, but never an all-consuming malignity that seeped from his skin like a sickly plague. Sucking in gasping breaths, his chest heaved. His gaze shifted left then right. The cowards have fled? “They’d best not sleep.” His voice tremored. “For I will hunt down each of these murderers and watch the life flee from their eyes as they suffer the cold iron of my sword.”
“The blackguards’ tracks lead north.” Blair stepped beside him, his voice sounding like the toll from a lone church bell announcing a funeral.
William wiped his eyes. Gritting his teeth, he dismounted and staggered to his father’s side. His tears were no longer caused by the smoke. They represented the anguish spreading through his limbs—his bleeding heart, stunned to the point where every beat pained him. Longshanks had taken his lust for power too far. William had seen annihilation by the English, carried out in the name of their bloodthirsty king, but never had Longshanks’ sword struck kin. William’s knees turned boneless as he dropped beside his father.
Rage, despair, agony, disbelief all gripped ahold of his heart at once. His hands shook violently as he reached out. His throat thickened and choked him.
Gathering Da into his arms, William clutched the still-warm body to his chest. Rocking back and forth, his every muscle tensed to the point of ferocious tremors. God in heaven, is this a nightmare from which I will never wake?
A chasm spread through his chest and boiled until it erupted from his throat with an earth-shattering bellow, “Nooooooooooooooo!”
His mind consumed by burning fury, bloodlust ate his gut. William would never forget the sight of his father slaughtered, Da’s blood staining the muddy ground.
The past year of tyranny had taken its toll on Scotland’s countrymen. But William would sooner die than lay down his sword and submit. He hadn’t signed over his fealty on Longshanks’ Ragman Roll. He vowed before God he would never bend to the yoke of tyranny. Yes, Longshanks had humiliated and imprisoned Scotland’s true king. The English monarch continued to threaten the nobles and impose insurmountable taxes. And now that he had the ruling class in his grasp, the usurper had taken to raiding small villages and churches—inviting landowners to meetings and slaughtering them, just as he had done this very day.
The bloody English think themselves superior? They’re the most heinous barbarians who ever walked through Christendom.
William’s jaw set firm as he recalled the verse drilled into him by Brother MacRae, a fierce teacher, knight and monk, “Freedom is best, I tell thee true. Of all things to be won, then never live within the bond of slavery, my son.”
“Amen,” Blair said behind him. The priest had witnessed the same lesson alongside Wallace when they studied to be Templar monks at Dundee.
William closed his eyes and clutched his father tighter. The lifeless man in his arms had done nothing to incite the ire of the English. A tenant farmer to their landowning uncle, big Alan Wallace had led a peaceful life, raising his family, practicing piety and humility. He’d been a father, a husband, a hard worker—a man any son could look up to with respect. No, Da did not deserve this end—cut down like a criminal.
The men who did this were the unlawful curs, an abomination to all humanity.
“In the name of Christ our Lord,” William growled through clenched teeth. “I will spend the rest of my days fighting for Scotland’s freedom.”
Hoofbeats thundered from the west.
A single horse pulled to a halt beside them.
“The English are headed north into Ayrshire,” said Edward Little. “Hell bent on murder, they are.”
Blair slammed the blunt end of his pike into the ground. “Good God, ye mean the bastards havena shed enough blood for one day?”
“There can be no rest.” William pressed his lips to his father’s forehead. “John,” he called to his younger brother. “Take Da’s body to our mother.” He gently lay Da down and chanced one last glance at the mutilated corpses of his fallen countrymen.
The smallest and fairest of the three brothers, John had seen far too much death and destruction for a man of one and twenty. “Ye mean ye’re not going with us?”
William swiped his hands over his face and stood. He’d said farewell to his father. Now he needed to look after the living. “We ride.”
Malcolm gestured to the dead. “Will we not bury them first?” A good man, Willy’s elder brother was no warrior. He had too gentle a heart like their father.
But William had a heart hewn from granite.
He pointed to his squire, Robbie Boyd, then to Blair and two of the younger men in his army. “Stay behind and give them a Christian burial.”
“But,” Robbie objected. The lad’s father had been hanged by the English when Edward first tried to force the nobles to sign his godforsaken roll of fealty. The murder of the venerated Boyd knight had been a successful tool used by the English king to strike fear in the hearts of the gentry.
Now an orphan, William had agreed to foster Robbie until he reached his majority. Their union would serve two purposes, first to hide the boy from English talons, and secondly, William would turn the lad into a man—a warrior. “I’ll not hear a word of complaint.”
John led his horse beside their father’s corpse. “Uncle Reginald willna approve if we cause a stir in Ayr.”
William couldn’t believe such dull-witted words had just been uttered by his brother. He clutched the errant jester by the throat. “Those are the words of a coward,” he seethed through clenched teeth. “Ye’d sit idle and allow those murderers to run free? Whose village will they pillage next? Will they rape and murder women until there are none left to wed Scotland’s sons?” William shoved John away. “Are ye willing to stand by and watch the tyranny unfold, just as it has this verra day so near our own home?”
He turned and mounted his black steed, not waiting for John’s reply.
The screeching sound of metal echoed with chilling scrapes and clangs. Men grunted and bellowed. Someone shrieked in pain.
Eva opened her eyes.
Panic shot through her veins.
Her heartbeat raced—as if in the midst of a nightmare.
Jerking up, her head struck something hard—a wooden bench.
Where am I?
Eva blinked, her mind racing. She clapped her hand to her throbbing head.
I was on the ground, but this floor is stone.
The bench above her scraped and teetered.
Eva jolted, clutching her fists to her chest.
Unable to breathe, she stared into the eyes of a madman, brandishing a gory sword dripping with blood.
“P-please, don’t kill me,” she cried, frozen in place, heart hammering.
He sauntered forward, chuckling with a black-toothed grin. Wearing a red surcoat with three rampant lions embroidered on his chest, he looked like something out of a historical reenactment—but way more realistic—smelled like a sewer, too.
Trying to gain her bearings, Eva scooted from his disgusting pall and wedged herself under the bench. “Y-you’re s-scaring me.”
“Ye miserable Scots speak nary a bit o’ sense.” With an evil sneer, the man jerked his sword over his head.
Her heart nearly bursting from her chest, Eva fled on hands and knees. The bench caught on her back and scraped the floor.
The sword hissed.
From the corner of her eye, the blade glistened, just like in her dreams. But Eva didn’t recall the sound before.
Gasping, she dropped to her stomach and rolled away from the weapon’s arc.
God, this was the worst nightmare she’d had yet.
The lunatic smashed his sword into Eva’s bench. Splinters of wood shot through the air.
Screaming, she sprang to her feet and ran. Everywhere she looked, men in red surcoats fought monks dressed in white. Blood splattered everywhere.
She dashed for an altar below a bronze cross. Diving beneath, she crouched into a ball, praying the maniac would find something else to destroy with his bloody sword.
With a whooshing boom, the door burst from its hinges and clattered to the floor.
Lips trembling, Eva peered out from beneath the table vestments. An enormous behemoth of a man barreled into the sanctuary, baring his teeth, swinging a two-handed sword. A mob of bellowing warriors raced in behind him. Each man armed with medieval swords and battleaxes, they charged into the thick of the fight.
With a resounding thud, the altar tottered.
The murderous freak from the pew cackled with a deranged laugh.
She scooted against the wall clutching her arms tight to her shaking body. “Go fight with the other wackos. I’m not a part of your reenactment!”
“I’ll skewer your liver, ye mongrel dog!” The man sliced his weapon beneath the table.
Eva screamed as the blade skimmed inches from her face. “Get the fuck away from me,” she shouted. “I’m terrified of sharp objects. Take it away. Now!”
The lunatic roared, trying to shove the altar over.
The sturdy table tottered then rocked back into place.
Eva forced her body flush against the wall. “Jesus Christ. I am not playing your game.”
Something whizzed through the air.
The smelly creep dropped to the floor, his throat cut, his eyes stunned. Blood oozed over the flagstone, spreading rapidly. The metallic stench of blood mixed with dirt. Eva crouched on her toes, clenching her fists so tightly, her fingernails dug into her palms.
Holy shit. Wake up, Eva.
The cloth lifted and the enormous man from the door peered at her. Christ, his dark eyes bore through her with the intensity of a devil. “We killit all the Inglisch, lad—least thoos who didna touk tal an’ flee.”
Eva couldn’t move. What the hell did he say? She pointed a shaking finger at the dead man. “Y-y-you murdered him,” she whispered.
“Aye, afore the bastart cuid run ye thro.”
Eva pushed her back against the stone wall and stared. Something clicked in her head.
He’s speaking in Auld Scots.
Then her gaze dropped to the corpse. The only time she’d ever seen a dead man was at the morgue when she’d identified Steve’s body.
God, stop freaking me out.
She couldn’t take it.
Only seconds ago, the man was alive—trying to kill her. She clapped a hand over her mouth before she coughed up her miserable scone and coffee breakfast.
The behemoth held out his hand. “Come afore Inglisch spies se us. Ye dunna want to be found here.”
I can wake any time now.
“Haste ye,” A man in a black habit called from the doorway. “We nede ta be heding avay.”
The big man shook his extended palm at her with a deranged intensity in his glare. “Now, laddie.”
She wanted to flee, but her legs wouldn’t move, completely frozen in a crouch. Eva clenched her teeth against her stomach’s involuntary heave. All color had drained from the dead man’s face. Her foot slid forward. The tip of her boot met with dark red blood.
This dream grew freakier by the second.
Steeling her grit, she placed her hand in the man’s outstretched palm. Warm and calloused fingers closed tightly around hers. “Good lad.” His speech became clearer. “We must make haste. Once I ken we’ve not been followed, I’ll see ye home.”
He pulled her out.
The fighting had stopped.
Light streaked above from a wheel window shaped like the one at the ruin.
Numb, she let the big man lead her outside at a run. Lord, he was more than a head taller.
Rays of sunlight peeked through brilliant green leaves. She blinked at the pain of sudden brightness.
This dream is way too vivid.
They stopped beside an enormous horse, the saddle high in the front and back, skirted by blue felt, looked like nothing Eva had seen before—not that she’d ever ridden a horse.
The man pulled a scabbard from beneath his saddle blanket and sheathed his sword, then strapped it to his back. “Ye’ll have to ride with me, laddie.”
She turned full circle, half expecting to see the Fiat.
Now I know I’m dreaming.
“Ye’re not one for words, are ye?” He gave her a quizzical look and gestured to the steed. “Up with ye.”
She shrugged. May as well go with it.
Eva slipped her foot into the stirrup and launched herself into the saddle. She gave the man a nod, finally able to take a deep breath. His face turned up to the sky, his eyes practically pierced through her—the color of blue crystal, they made her heart flutter clear up to her throat. He wore a full beard just like the others. And though he had shoulder-length brown hair curling from beneath his helm, his beard was uniquely auburn.
His eyebrows drew together at an angle. “G’on, scoot behind. There’s nary enough room for us both in my wee saddle.”
Licking her lips she blinked and studied it. With a cringe, she leaned forward, and inched her behind up and over the back and landed askew. The horse jolted aside. Eva tightened her grip and gasped. Sitting this massive beast was almost as terrifying as being attacked by the reenactment madman.
Reins in his fist, the big man climbed up like he was ascending to his easy chair. “Bloody oath, ye act as if ye’ve never been on a horse afore.”
Eva’s throat was so tight, she couldn’t utter a word. She would have told him she preferred to drive her car. Right. If only it were part of this nightmare, she’d speed away.
With a grunt, the behemoth dug in his spurs. The horse lurched and jolted, racing away with such bumpiness, Eva threw her arms around the guy just to stay on. Her entire body tensed as she dug her fingers into the man’s mail-clad waist. Something pricked her finger.
The horse snorted and stutter stepped. “Ease up your arse, else we’ll both end up on our backsides,” he growled like a gruff sailor.
Taking in a deep breath, Eva relaxed her thigh muscles. Immediately, the horse settled into a smooth gait. She pulled one hand away and looked at her finger. A droplet of blood streamed and dripped onto her jeans. She put it in her mouth. The bitter taste of iron oozed across her tongue.
With a gasp, heat flared up the back of her neck. Taste? The horse smelled like the barn animals at the county fair. The man in front of her had a strong scent as well—definitely masculine—spicy—musky—kinda nice.
As a wisp of his hair brushed her nose, the burning from her neck spread throughout her entire body.
Oh my God. This is real.