Roby James

The Soldier's Daughter

Prologue

Melrose Abbey, Scotland — April 1304 A.D.

"For such a small child, she has—remarkable—skills," said Brother Waldef mildly to the battle-hardened man beside him. The two stood near the river, watching the eight-year-old girl wield her small sword. It was an imitation of the mighty, double-edged claymore that hung at the side of the lean warrior, except that her hilt was much narrower and shorter to allow her to successfully control it with her short-fingered two-handed grip.

Sir William Wallace noted the footwork that automatically placed the little girl in a position to deflect the blows of the taller twelve-year-old boy with whom she battled. Wallace was fiercely proud of his daughter, and the power of the emotion was a constant surprise to him, for he was a man who had always been removed from his own emotions. It was the careful barrier he'd built between his self and his feelings that enabled him to be the soldier he was. Since the rout of England's reputed military leader, John de Warenne, at Stirling Bridge seven years earlier, he was also Scotland's hero. Withal, he was resented by the earls for his less than noble birth, tolerated now because, without him, Scotland would have fallen to the hated forces of Edward I.

Brother Waldef studied the man beside him for a moment, then asked, "Will, do you love her, or are you just proud of making a little warrior of her?"

Wallace turned even blue eyes on the monk. "It matters not," he replied. "She is my secret and my weakness. And I'd not have weaknesses now. That's why I've asked you to write to her aunt." He was an instinctive military genius, but he was not lettered, and he had had to entrust his secret to this plump Cistercian he'd known for a decade. He had to send a letter, and its contents must never—never—be made known.

"Does she know who her mother is?" the monk asked.

Wallace smiled. "You're very curious, Brother," he said, but there was no accusation in his voice. "I've never told her." That didn't answer the question, but Brother Waldef didn't press it again.

The little girl was tiring. She realized it, spun, and brought the flat of her sword against the back of the boy's knees, buckling his legs. As he fell, she laid the point of the sword against the back of his neck and commanded, "Don't move, varlet."

Wallace said in a quiet voice, "Enough, Jilliana."

The child stepped back and put the sword point into the greensward instantly. The boy scrambled to his feet. "That wasn't fair!" he said hotly.

Jilliana Wallace looked up at him without the slightest hint of sympathy in her midnight blue eyes. "I won, didn't I?" she asked, her voice contained in spite of its childish treble.

"You'd do anything to win," accused the boy.

She threw a quick glance at her father and raised her small chin. "Of course," she said calmly.

Brother Waldef called, "Come here, Jilliana."

She laid her miniature claymore gently on the grass and came to stand before the monk, looking up at him with a patient anticipation older than her years. He realized that her heritage was clearly stamped on her face, and that she had more of her mother's characteristic, startling beauty than her father's rough features. She would be incredibly beautiful if the promise was fulfilled as she grew.

Jilliana had much darker coloring than her father or most Scots—her hair was a rich black, and her dark blue eyes had strange silver highlights in sunlight. The monk had meant to ask her a different question, but her poise prompted the one that sprang to his lips and surprised even him. "Do you ever cry, child?"

She cocked her head to the side in a charmingly endearing motion and answered boldly, "I cried when I was a babe, but I've not cried since."

Plump as he was, he squatted in front of her so that his face was on a level with hers. "I shall pray life gives you naught to cry about," he said.

Jilliana smiled at him. It was only a courteous smile, but the monk was startled at the loveliness and maturity it added to her small face. "Thank you for your prayers," she said, "but I fear you will make them in vain. Life will surely give me reasons to cry. I simply will not cry about them."

Wallace felt a jolt of pride slice through him. He was tempted to throw his arms around his daughter, but he did not. Instead, he said, "Retrieve your sword, Jilliana. We must leave Brother Waldef to his work now." Of the monk, he asked, "You will send word when you hear from Dame Mary?"

"Of course," said the monk, as the child walked back to her sword. "Why did you not ask me to write to her mother?"

"Her mother wants her not," Wallace replied easily. "Her father only recently forgave her for her marriage. He'd not be disposed to recognize a bastard, even were she not mine."

Sir William Wallace's secret was one neither Scotland nor England would welcome. His daughter was the granddaughter of his most hated foe, Edward I, Plantagenet King of England, subduer of Wales, besieger of Scotland.

It had been, of course, a complete fluke. He didn't know if Joanna ever thought back on that night they'd been brought together in the storm in Northumbria, and he still wasn't certain who had raped whom.

Joanna of Acre was a gloriously dark, wild, tempestuous, imperious woman then only twenty-three years old, and the six-month widowed Countess of Gloucester. She'd made up her mind to see the Borders, and when Princess Joanna made up her mind, God himself couldn't change it, as her father, and her now dead first husband, Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, and forty years her senior, had soon learned. Claiming that she couldn't remain in Clerkwell because its memories were too much for her, she set off with a very small retinue for the North, riding with the wildness of her youth. Her late mother, Eleanor, had birthed her on Crusade and had always called her "my Saracen."

William Wallace was almost her own age that year, just twenty-four, and roughly capable, not a wooer, lover, or troubadour. He'd been safe so far on this trip, because no one knew who he was or suspected he'd be gathering his own intelligence in Northumbria, but he was deciding to return to Scotland when the storm struck. He had sheltered from the sudden, violent storm that blew in off the North Sea in the barn of an abandoned croft.

The woman rode in by herself, having been separated from her outriders in the gathering darkness, and he'd heard her movements and lighted a torch. They'd looked at one another across the hay-strewn floor for a few moments, and then she turned and unsaddled her horse, tossing the saddle to the hay with ease. Wallace put the torch in a half-broken wooden brace on one of the roof supports and tied her horse next to his own.

They didn't speak a word to one another, just suddenly were entwined hungrily. Whether he had made the first move, or she had, he would never know. He loosened his clothes, yanked her skirts above her waist, and thrust into her where they stood, bracing her back against a post. She lifted her legs around him and cried out as he joined with her. He slid his hands under her buttocks to support her weight.

Joanna had had an old husband, and she revelled in this stranger's youth, strength, and anonymity, biting at his lips, clawing at his neck, where she could reach his heated skin. The very forbiddeness, the wickedness, of the coupling had brought her to climax almost instantly. He lowered her to the hay to find his own release, rested briefly, amazed that she toyed with him, encouraging him, rousing him. Then he took her again, this time from behind, pulling her hips back against him as he knelt. It hadn't mattered to him who she was, just as it mattered not to her who he was. He took her twice more before dawn, and when the storm outside finally abated, in tandem with the one inside, he asked her her name.

In a spirit of absolute mischief, she told him, stunning him into disbelief that he had lain with Edward's daughter. She smiled at his reaction, and then asked him how she could find him should she need to. He was young, but not young enough to know that he might dissemble and walk away; and yet she had gifted him with a truth that gave him power over her, and he told her who he was. The name meant nothing to her yet—it would not until Stirling Bridge, the following year.

"If there's a child of this, I will bid you know that," she said. "'Tis too late to pass it off as my husband's."

Yet, finding herself pregnant, Joanna outraged her father by wedding a squire among her late husband's retainers, a baseborn man named Ralph de Monthermer, so that the babe would appear to be his. When she bore the daughter, her new husband asked her to return it to the blood father. "I might have kept a boy," he said thoughtfully to his lady the morning of the child's christening, "but I'd not dower another man's girl—not while your father stands against me."

Joanna called her "Jilliana—J for me and ana for me, and illi for her father. Fitting, I think." After the christening, they put about the common tale that the babe had died and sent her northward with a trusted servant and a wet nurse.

Wallace received the child just after Stirling Bridge, and surprised himself by keeping her. He never doubted she was his, not after seeing the Plantagenet seal on the letter Joanna sent with her, which Brother Waldef read to him and then burned. It amused him at first to develop a warrior girl, overlaying her mother's amazing tempers and passions with his own control, instructing her in warfare as all he knew to give, rejoicing that she took to it as he would expect of one of his blood. When she was seven, he let her begin practicing his lessons on his own squire, young Giles Gray. He was deeply gratified as her skills increased to the point that she began to best the older boy, for Giles was himself a promising fighter. He kept her dressed as a boy, in tunic, hose, and boots, and made certain she could ride well and think as a soldier should.

And then, unexpectedly, he realized that he had ill-prepared her for any life but his own. Without the support of the Scottish clan chiefs—the Bruce, the Douglas, the Moray, the Mentieth, the others—he could fight only so long, and then he was done for. He wanted Jilliana to have a life beyond him.

Joanna's younger sister Mary—the best child in the entire generation of Edward and Eleanor's making, including the future King Edward II—had been pledged to the veil at the age of four, taken into the Benedictine monastery at Amesbury at six, and was now twenty years a nun. Mary had always understood that she was a Plantagenet and the daughter of a king. She lived, for a nun, a relatively independent life, keeping her own staff of servants in the monastery, often travelling throughout the land and to her father's court, and she had reached an equitable arrangement with God over how she and He would conduct their marriage. She was chaste, and happy to remain so, but she understood the world well, and she was much loved by the people because of her decency and her generosity.

Wallace asked Brother Waldef to find a way of requesting that she take her niece into her retinue. "I believe I may not long survive," the monk wrote to the princess-nun for the soldier, "and I would not have Joanna's daughter left alone in the world."

Mary read the letter twice and never doubted the truth of it. Joanna had confided in her sister about the coupling in Northumbria when Mary attended her at the birth of the child. She had not fully believed so strong and healthy a babe would die so quickly, and the letter solved for her a mystery that had troubled her for some time. Now she knew the name of the stranger in the croft and fully understood why her sister had not wanted to tell her. She penned the response herself. "Send her to me at Nun Moncton in August."

Soldier though he was, Wallace quailed at telling his proud daughter that he was sending her away. He waited until the last possible night. Then he packed all of her belongings in a single bundle, except for what she would wear on the morrow. It was meager, but sufficient for a soldier: two tunics, a light cloak and a heavy one, two pairs of faded hose, her hairbrush, one pair of shoes, one extra pair of boots, her set of daggers, her miniature claymore, and a small purse filled with silver and tin coins. He would send her riding pillion behind Giles, and he knew with the prescience of the Celts that he would never see her again.

Jilliana shared the sense of uneasiness without the slightest idea why. She sat awake on her straw pallet and waited, hearing him moving about the large room below her loft, wondering at the unfamiliar sounds, for he was doing something she was unused to hearing him do. When at last he climbed the ladder, he found her alert and wary, an attitude he would not have credited, even in his own child.

"You have aught to tell me," she said. It was a flat statement of fact.

Wallace sat down on the pallet and took her small hands in his. She already had well-earned calluses. "With the dawn, you are to leave here. Giles will take you to your next place in life, in the service of your aunt, Dame Mary of the Benedictines. You will learn to read and write and sew, and many other things that I cannot teach you." She opened her mouth to protest, but he went on before she could speak. "You will obey me in this, Jilliana. It is your duty." She blinked, her eyes seeming huge in her tiny face, as he finished, "You will never forget that you are a warrior, as that, too, is your duty."

She understood from the "never" that he was saying good-bye to her, and she tightened her jaw, fighting against the hard lump that had closed her throat. She was still too young not to ask it. "Will I see you again, my father?" Her voice trembled shamefully, but he did not seem to notice.

For the first time in his life, he regretted deeply that he was only a soldier, without gentle and honeyed words. He said only, "A soldier cannot answer for the next day."

She said, "Then I will hold you in my heart, 'til I die." Her arms went around him fiercely, and she held him with a strength of muscles trained to hardness beyond that of most boys her age. He embraced her, rested his chin on her raven hair and prayed God to keep her safe in this uncertain world.

She did not cry.

Princess Mary hid her surprise at the solemn little girl who stood before her, dressed like a soldier and clearly unafraid. The woman was astonished at the resemblance she already saw to Joanna and thanked her absent Husband she'd chosen to meet Jilliana alone in the convent garden. Giles Gray, standing behind his commander's daughter, had bowed quickly, awkwardly, and now shifted from foot to foot, his hand on his sword hilt to keep it from clinking as he moved.

Mary deliberately folded her slender white hands in her lap. "You should at least bob a curtsey to me, little one," she said kindly to the child.

To her astonishment, Jilliana bowed her head almost infinitesimally and said in a piping voice with a slight northern burr, "I am not dressed to curtsey, lady aunt, nor have I had instruction in such."

"We will teach you all you need to know," Mary said, trying to sound reassuring.

The midnight blue eyes never looked away from her, and the princess found herself wondering a bit about the strength of the gaze. "My father has already taught me much," the little girl said calmly. "I'd not forget it, for new learning."

Plantagenets understood power. Mary knew how to wield it and how to recognize it. She hid a smile. So much of Joanna stood here before her, but it was tempered under an iron control—ridiculous in an eight-year-old, impossible for her mother, but infinitely admirable nonetheless—such that many of Mary's brothers and sisters had never mastered.

"What has your father taught you, Jilliana?" Mary asked, still keeping her voice gentle.

The child seemed to weigh the question, a frown touching at her forehead. "That I must be strong and brave always," she answered at last. "And how to ride and fight and win." She glanced back at Giles. "I can outfight Giles already. He can tell you."

Mary spared a quick glance for the uncomfortable boy and knew that Jilliana was telling the truth about that. She looked back at her niece. "What if I told you that to stay with me you would have to stop fighting like a boy does?" she asked.

The child's answer was instantaneous and filled with fact. "Then I'd not stay with you, lady aunt," she said firmly. "I would have to run away."

"We would bring you back."

"I'd run away again." It was not in any way defiant, just truthful.

Mary decided to push a little further, realizing to her additional surprise that she was enjoying the conversation. "Children without protection often die," she said mildly, and was somehow perversely pleased when Jilliana nodded matter-of-factly.

"Soldiers also often die," the girl said with conviction and perhaps the absolute immortality of the young. "I do not fear death."

Her father had taught her these things, too, Mary thought to herself. She felt her Plantagenet sense of deviltry rise in her, a sense Joanna had in much greater measure, but a sense God had not seen fit to strip away from Mary when she put on the black habit. What would Joanna have been like with a sword in her hand? Perhaps Mary could find out.

She looked again at Sir William's squire. "Unsheath your sword, lad," she said.

Startled, Giles did as he was bid.

Mary smiled at the little girl. "Show me what your father taught you," she said, and this time it was a command.

A return smile momentarily lit Jilliana's face, and then vanished as she bent to her bundle and drew her own child-sized claymore. For the second time in five months, she sparred against Giles on the grounds of one of God's houses. As the princess watched the child's fluid prowess, she thought about what she might do with this little misfit. Instinctively, the nun knew that allowing the girl to go on retaining and developing these martial skills was an outrageous act, but the idea of it pleased her enough so that she knew she would not put it entirely aside. Wallace had taken great pains to impart some vestige of his outstanding skill to his daughter, Joanna's daughter, and he had asked Mary to raise a child whose character was already well formed.

Mary Plantagenet knew something about choices, something about freedom, and something about the strength of a Wallace or a Joanna. As she watched Jilliana perform the soldier dance with skill and grace, she made one of her typically privileged decisions and said, "Cease." Her voice had been soft, but the child heard it and instantly lowered her blade.

"Thank you, lad," said Mary to the boy, having never asked his name. "You may leave Jilliana's bundle on the steps of the Lady Chapel and depart. She will be safe with me."

He bowed and rushed to comply, eager to be away.

Jilliana stood still, looking at Mary.

The nun said, "We will make an agreement, you and I, as adults do." The child waited, unblinking, still breathing hard from her exertions. "We will agree that you will learn what I have to teach you, and if you do as you're bidden gladly and with industry, you will be permitted for some time to go on practicing these—unapt—skills you value."

"I agree, lady aunt," said Jilliana immediately.

Mary smiled, thinking that the child was both gallant and practical, and Jilliana smiled back at her.

"You must not call me 'lady aunt' now," Mary cautioned her. "While you are in service to me, you must call me Dame or Dame Mary, as that is my title before God our Master."

"Yes, Dame Mary," Jilliana said obediently, and then spoiled the moment by leaning on her sword. "I will serve you, as my father bade me do."

Mary wondered what she had agreed to, and found that she looked forward to discovering. She suspected the child had many skills, and she would enjoy nurturing them.


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Wildside Books
June 2001
ISBN: 1587153637

Excerpt Copyright © 2001 by Roby James




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