Character Excerpts

Isabel McDuff

Drawing from Rebel King - Hammer of the Scots

Isabel McDuff, Countess of Buchan

 

The young Countess of Buchan stole her husband’s best war-horses and joined King Robert's war to free Scotland.

 

An excerpt about the arrival of Isabel McDuff from the pages of

Rebel King – Book One - Hammer of the Scots.


 

The king and queen entered the great hall within the hour and there found the bonny nineteen-year-old who claimed to be the Countess of Buchan, sitting alone at the table, picking at the remains of the food the Steward had brought. As soon as she saw the royal couple, the red-haired visitor stood and turned toward them, then bowed low, as noblewomen did at the English court.

“Arise, Lady Buchan,” commanded Robert as he led Elizabeth to a chair on the hearth and seated her. “’Tis too far from London for such formalities this early in the day.”

“Sire,” the woman responded as she stood erect, still in her heavy cloak as it was cold in the great hall without a roaring fire.

While at the fireplace Robert stoked up the weak blaze, adding more fuel to help knock the chill out of the room.

“I welcome ye to my temporary home, Milady. I shall have a word with the Steward for not having prepared the fire to comfort ye.” Then to his wife he said, “My dear, may I present the Countess of Buchan.”

The young woman curtsied, less formally, to Elizabeth as Robert said, “Countess, my wife, the Queen of Scotland.”

Elizabeth acknowledged the curtsy with a smile and a nod. Seeing the Queen’s genuine smile, the Countess felt somewhat more at ease and began quickly to account for her presence.

“With yer permission, Sire, I will explain my intrusion at such an odd hour,” she began. Robert waived his hand to indicate that he wished her to continue as he sat in a large chair near Elizabeth.

“My brother is Duncan, earl of Fife, and, as ye know, yet but a lad of sixteen. He is also, since our father’s death, a ward of King Edward, and so was certainly not able to assume the traditional duty bestowed upon him as the one whose honor it is to lay the crown upon the head of the new King of Scots”

“This one is fast as lightnin’ in the sky,” remarked Robert, amused at the amount of information she had divulged in only half a moment.

The countess drew herself up to full height as her green eyes flashed at what she deemed was an affront, or worse, an expression of disbelief.

“Ye can’t stay out of poor graces with the ladies, can ye, Robert?” said Elizabeth, gently chiding his poor manners. “Forgive yer king, Countess. He wakes badly when he has not completed his slumber.”

“Indeed, Milady, I meant no insult, either to yer person or to yer words. Pray continue,” Robert apologized. This was not at all what she had come to expect of a king, having grown up in the era of Edward.

“Sire, I truly am the Countess of Buchan, and the sister of the Earl of Fife, as I claim. My name is Isabel MacDuff, and I rode with my companions for two nights and a day to get here ere the coronation, which I understand, was yesterday.”

“Aye, it was,” Robert confirmed.

“My Lord King, I came all this way to uphold my brother’s honor and do for ye that that he could not do for ye, yesterday.”

“Which was what, yesterday…?” queried Robert, losing her meaning.

“Put that wee crown on yer head, Robert,” said Elizabeth.

 “Aye, Sire. In lieu of my brother, I have come to crown my King properly as my fathers have done before me, and my brother would do, could he but be here.”

Robert looked at the woman, unsure of what he could trust about what she had said. “Countess, is it not so that yer husband’s loyalties are to King Edward, and that he is also near kin to the Comyn family?”

“It is so, Sire, but…” she started to say, but was interrupted by Elizabeth.

“Which makes it all the more remarkable that she is here!” Elizabeth spoke in her stead, having been taken with the young woman’s ardor and frankness.

She stood and walked to her husband. “Robert, ye are her king! And, if captured, she will pay dearly for what she is offerin’ to do for ye, and for Scotland, now.”

Robert said nothing but sat in his chair, looking at the two women, first one, then the other. He often wished Elizabeth would keep her own counsel, at least before outsiders, though she was most often right in her judgment of honest character and sincerity.

Again, the countess opened her mouth to say something, but Elizabeth frowned and motioned to her to be silent. The young woman stood quietly on the hearth and began to realize some warmth from the fire. Removing the heavy, mud-spattered cloak, she revealed that she carried two weapons: one a sgian dubh, was not common, but neither was it unusual for a woman to carry; the other, a short sword, certainly was. Robert and Elizabeth both noticed the armament hanging from the young woman’s belt when she crossed to the table to lay her doffed cloak there. Robert came to his feet.

“By my grandfather’s beard!” he exclaimed, amused. “This woman comes with more blades than half my foot soldiers!”

Crossing his arms, he strolled around the young countess, gently taunting her, “Do ye come to murder yer king for Edward, or do ye disguise yerself as a man to make safer yer journey to Scone?”

“Neither, Sire.” Her freckled cheeks flushed as she responded to his teases. She turned to face him directly, and said matter-of-factly, “I have come to fight for Scotland!”

Turning his face away and pretending to clear his throat, Robert restrained an impolite guffaw, for he realized that the pretty young girl was speaking from her heart. He also knew that this snip of a girl would not last through the first wave of an attack, much less survive a battle.

He finally asked, trying to be kind, “And how, should I permit ye to join my army, might ye be of benefit to me in a fight? Could ye join the pikemen in forming a wall against Edward’s horsed knights? Could ye wade into his soldiers of foot and lay waste to them with yer claymore? Could ye…”

“Perhaps not with a claymore,” speaking softly she interrupted the king, her cheeks still brightly red, “but I am deft at wielding a short sword. And I have achieved an excellent skill with both cross and long bows, having hunted stag with my father and brothers.”  

For what seemed an eternity to the two women, and but a moment to Robert, the only sounds to be heard were the cracklings of the logs on the hearth, as the king ruminated upon the problem laid before him.

Though he greatly admired her courage and spirit, he could not in all conscience entertain a thought of taking her into battle. Neither did he want to break her zeal or diminish her boldness.

Finally he said firmly, “I cannot take ye into the field with my army.” The countess dropped her eyes in great disappointment. “Yer merest presence on the field would distract my soldiers from their own purpose, leading to their destruction and, perhaps, the loss of the battle.”

He looked at Elizabeth, who kept a stoic countenance knowing that Robert’s decision was just, if discouraging to the countess.

After giving her a moment to adjust to the setback of her desires, he took the girl by her shoulders and said, “Isabel MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, sister to the Earl of Fife, I would be honored if ye would place this crown, again, upon my head, that I might have a proper, traditional coronation.”

“It would be my great honor, Sire,” replied the Countess, after which she went down in another deep curtsy. Of the things she had asked, this was more than she had hoped to receive.

“Steward!” shouted Robert suddenly, as he helped her return to her feet. Isabel was startled and jumped.

“Pay the king no mind for his yellin’,” explained Elizabeth to Isabel. “He takes his whoopin’ too seriously for the comfort of those around him, whether indoors or out.” Robert frowned, feeling put upon for being constantly chided.

The steward right away presented himself before Robert at the table.

“Sire,” said the steward in a low bow.

“Send word to Bishop Lamberton, who is conductin’ mass at the abbey this morn,” instructed Robert, “that in the early afternoon, today, there will be the recrownin’ of the king in the proper fashion.”

“Aye, Sire,” answered the Steward, who started to leave thinking Robert was finished.

“Stay man, I am not done with ye, yet,” continued Robert.

“Aye, Milord?”

“Tell the Bishop that there will be a representative from the House of Fife to do it proper. Then, wake my brothers and sisters and tell them. And see that the earls, if they’re still here ‘bouts, are proper informed. But tell no one else, for they that I’ve said will serve well as the witness body.”

“Milord,” said the Steward as he started to leave, then glanced back to Robert to see if there might have been a last-second addition to his roster of requests.

Robert realized the man’s hesitation, considered an additional command, then waved him on.

The man turned to leave again.

“Wait,” said Robert.

“Aye, Sire?”

“Tell the Bishop, also, that the King and Queen will be along directly for mass.”

“Aye, My King.”

“Seems strange to be addressed so,” said Robert with a grin to the two women as several kitchen servants brought breakfast for him and Elizabeth.

“Seems strange to worry the poor steward so, it does,” retorted Elizabeth.

Isabel hid her smile from the king.

.   .

And so it was that King Robert de Brus of Scotland was, for the second time in as many days, crowned with a simple circlet of gold on the sunny afternoon of Palm Sunday, in the year 1306.

 

 

Copyright 2002 by Charles Randolph Bruce and Carolyn Hale Bruce