1 April 1294
William de Bohun
“Bohun! Get a move on! It’s nearly dawn!” The not-so-dulcet tones of his friend Christopher shouting at him from the corridor roused William from a deep sleep.
He blinked his eyes and lifted his head, disoriented about where he was, though the feeling dissipated immediately when he recognized the room in the guesthouse he shared with the other young men at Chester Castle.
“I’m coming! I’m coming!” He grumbled the words, annoyed at himself for waking late but also at Christopher for waking him. He’d been dreaming about Aine, a girl he’d met in Ireland. He hoped he would see her again, but right now this blasted rebellion was interfering.
The door flew open to reveal Christopher, fully dressed but not yet wearing his armor or sword.
Huw, the tallest of the three, bobbed up and down behind him. “King Dafydd has been asking for you.”
That got William to his feet like nothing else could have. Excitement was building in his chest, not just at the summons from the king, but also at what today would bring. This was the morning of mornings. They were finally moving out, and he was thankful his friends wouldn’t consider leaving him behind. The plan today was to begin the march across England as the latest step in showing the world that David was not only alive but willing to fight for his throne and his country. William himself was long past the point of admitting that he would follow David anywhere. If that meant more battle, then he would be right beside the king when it happened. He wasn’t David’s squire anymore, but a squire of the king never quite gave up the job.
“Where’s the king?”
“On the wall-walk.” Christopher gestured to Huw. “We’ve already had our talking to. We’ve been waiting for you.”
“What kind of talking to?” William wracked his brains for some reason he might have garnered the king’s displeasure, but couldn’t come up with anything recent.
“You’ll see.” Huw sounded pretty cheerful about the coming chastisement.
And since whatever William could have done wrong had been done by his friends too, his stomach settled enough for him to realize he was hungry.
While for men like King David or William’s father, the last two weeks had been a blur of preparation for war, William and his friends had been given little of importance to do. After the battle of Tara, all three of them (four with Robbie Bruce, who’d gone with James Stewart to Scotland) were knights now, but none of them had a squire or valet yet. The three of them had whiled away the hours in training, as they had most of this past year, or leading scouting parties from Chester, which was a good-sized town, refortified by King David after the death of the Earl of Chester ten years ago.
While his friends went down the stairwell, William made his way to the doorway at the end of the corridor that led to the curtain wall. The news that King David was on the wall-walk was in no way a surprise, especially on a day that had dawned clear, and they could see for miles. If the king wasn’t in his quarters or the hall, he was usually to be found on the ramparts, often walking with Arthur, or Alexander when he was fussy.
David was without his sons today. He stood with bared head, though in cloak and boots, facing away from the rising sun, his hands resting on the stones of two adjacent merlons. Chester Castle stretched a hundred yards along the River Dee, taking up a dominant position in one corner of the town of Chester.
William’s room was in the guest house, a large stone building built into the western curtain wall, putting the wall-walk some thirty feet above the level of the bailey. Below him on the other side of the wall was the moat with its connection to the sea, one of the many improvements that David had made since taking over the castle.
To William’s right, the bailey teemed with men and horses and, on second glance, wasn’t quite as chaotic as it had first appeared. Ieuan, who was in charge of the king’s men, wouldn’t tolerate anything but an ordered muster. Besides, most of the soldiers who’d come at David’s call had been camped in the fields around the town, not inside the castle itself, and most of them had started their march at first light, under the command of their captains and minor lords from whose domains they’d come.
“You asked to see me, my lord?”
“I did.” David turned to him, and William was relieved to see the benevolent expression on his face. The king was feeling good today too.
So William risked a query. “Did I do something wrong?”
David laughed. “Not unless there’s something I don’t know about—”
“I’ll see you in hell!” The shout echoed in the still morning air, heard clearly above the movement of men and horses below them.
William turned his head towards the opposite battlement from which the shout had come and was forced to put up a hand to keep the newly risen sun’s light from blinding him. He could barely make out the figure on the opposite wall-walk a hundred feet away, but the silhouette appeared to be that of a crossbowman.
The realization that the king’s life was in danger came over William like someone had thrown a bucket of cold water over his head. At the same instant that the crossbowman released his bolt, William shouted, “Get down!” and launched himself towards David, his only thought to shield him from the bolt as best he could. But David was already moving too, reaching for William and trying to move him out of the way in order to take the missile himself.
The crossbow bolt ripped across the bailey.
Pain exploded in William’s side.
And the world went dark.
One … two … three …
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