Echoes From The Past – Episode 58


It was still early morning when yet more troops arrived at Dunskillen Castle, only this time they had a more elevated leader than Captain Lewis Hepburn. Horses clattered into the courtyard, and a well-armoured youth banged at the door while the rest stood back. After some time, Hepburn opened the door, brandishing his sword.

“Put up your sword!” the youth exclaimed. “The King commands it.”

Hepburn’s grip on his sword tightened.

“Which King would that be?”

“King Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots.”

Hepburn looked beyond him to the group of horsemen, and picked out the figure with the coronet round his helmet. This was certainly not Edward, whom he had heard described as a wilting specimen with no presence at all. This man looked strong and confident, if a little battle weary. Hepburn sheathed his sword, and stepped out into the courtyard.

“Your Majesty?”

Robert’s horse moved forward.

“You are not Dunskillen. Where is he? Is he inside?”

Hepburn went down on one knee.

“The laird declared for Edward, sire. I understand he has not long left the castle. I would have sent my men after him, had they not been exhausted after the battle. But they are yours to command. I’ll wake them.”

The King shook his head.

“It’s not worth the effort. We will have his property instead.” Robert dismounted stiffly, and handed over the reins of his horse to his groom. “Get up, man,” he said to Hepburn. “Did Dunskillen leave any food behind him, or did he take the lot?”

“He left food and wine, sire,” Hepburn said with a grin, “and his wife.”

Robert’s brows rose.

“Did he, indeed? The Lady Marjorie, if I remember right. So, is she a traitor, too, not fast enough to get away?”

“Oh, I doubt that. She had no idea what her husband was thinking. She’s been reduced to a scared rabbit by what has happened.”

Robert half laughed.

“Well, we can’t have that. Let her find us some bread and meat instead of us hauling her off in chains. We’ve quite enough prisoners as it is, worth much more than Lady Dunskillen.”

One of the smallest chambers had been given to Thomas and Mirin, with Friar Petrus still in attendance. Like everyone else, they were disturbed by the arrival of the King. Mirin paled with fright. She had heard he was a magnanimous man, but it might well be stretching even his tolerance to give house room to an English soldier. Lady Dunskillen was summoned from her bedchamber, but no-one came to their door. They stayed quiet, and pretended to sleep.

It was Hepburn, with King Robert in the great hall, who heard the list of barons that the Scots had captured. There were famous names among them – Sir Maurice de Berkeley, Sir John de Segrave, and the infamous Earl of Angus. And some Englishmen had transferred their loyalty to Robert, among them Sir Philip de Mowbray, commander of Stirling Castle before the Scots took it back. So even if Thomas were to be discovered, his future might well be with Robert.

He had bidden farewell to his Wessex family years before, his master Sir William de Vere lay dead on Bannockburn field, and his heart had committed itself to Scotland and to Mirin. Like Sir Philip, Thomas might well be just the kind of man the new Scotland could use.

Once he had eaten and drunk his fill, Robert suddenly looked at the captain as if he had only just remembered something.

“Did you say your name was Hepburn?”

“Yes, sire. Captain Lewis Hepburn.”

“A Borders man?”

“A true Scot, but a Borders man, yes.”

“The same Lewis Hepburn who rescued my young friend Walter the Steward?”

Hepburn saw again the lad being hauled off his screaming horse and all but dispatched by an English soldier, before the captain intervened. He raised his brows in surprise.

“So the boy lived? I’m glad to hear it.”

The King looked at him, and nodded slowly.

“He told us of his miraculous escape, and hoped you would survive so that he could thank you himself. Let me do it for him, Hepburn.” He looked about him at the small, comfortable and very pleasing castle, unexpectedly vacated by its owner. “You are the new Laird of Dunskillen.”

Hepburn drew in a swift breath.

“Sire!”

“You may well wish to carry on being a soldier, of course, but this is your place to do with as you wish. From here on, you are the laird.”

“Your Majesty is too generous.”

“From what I hear, you’ve earned it. May there be Hepburns at Dunskillen for many years to come.” The King stood up, and looked around him. “And now that the old laird is accounted for and his treason exposed, we will rest for a couple of hours, and return to Stirling Castle. There is much to do.”

Thus it was that Captain Lewis Hepburn took over the running of Dunskillen Castle, training troops for the King while living the life of a country laird. Although he always suspected that Thomas was English, it was never discussed. Instead, as soon as Thomas had recovered, the captain used him and his skills to train the higher ranks in the arts of being a horseman and a knight.

In the end, the captain stayed only a few years in Dunskillen before the Borders drew him back. By then, Thomas and Mirin Forester had two sons, Hector still ruled the Black Cockerel, and Murdo had become a scholar of such stature that men in a far-off place called Oxford expressed an interest in his learning. So the captain left Thomas in charge of the fine little castle, which the Forester family occupied for over a century before it changed hands. But there was always an unspoken expectation that the Hepburns might return, some far-off day.

lucycrichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 150 years of 'Friend' fiction!