Knight in Highland Armor

By: Amy Jarecki

Ever since, she’d been placed in charge of checking the factor’s figures. A necessary responsibility that ensured no one ever cheated her father.

By the racket clamoring from below, there were more than a few horses approaching. Margaret rested her quill in the ornate wooden holder and dashed to the window. A crisp breeze blew in off the deep blue waters of Loch Rannoch. Margaret preferred natural light, and would endure a mild chill to have it. Only in the dead of winter did she pull the thick furs over the castle windows.

Gazing to the courtyard below, Margaret’s heart skipped a beat. It wasn’t often the king’s men paid the stronghold of Dunalasdair a visit. No mistaking it, these men wore red tunics with the bright yellow lion rampant over their armor. Something important was afoot.

She craned her neck and leaned further out the narrow window. Mounted on large warhorses, the soldiers appeared incredibly virile. Unfortunate their helms completely covered their faces from her viewpoint. She’d like to glimpse a handsome new face.

Father marched down the courtyard steps and accepted a missive from the leader. Margaret prayed it contained good news.

Perhaps Father would invite the soldiers in for refreshment before they made their return journey. Mayhap they would even stay the night. Surely there would be music in the great hall, and with so many men, it would be necessary to dance with each one to ensure no guest was omitted from the festivities. Margaret clapped with excitement.

The one thing she enjoyed more than helping her father with the estate’s affairs was dancing. Would the king’s men prefer country or court dances? Most likely the slower court dances would be to their taste, though Margaret’s favorite was lively country dancing. She’d been to court not too long ago, where she learned the latest grand dances. They were very stately, of course—and somewhat seductive. She turned from the window and pictured an imaginary courtier—Lord Forbes, the man she’d met at court and with whom, she suspected, her father was secretly negotiating the terms of her betrothal. At two and twenty, the time for her to wed was nigh.

When the dashing and most imaginary Lord Forbes asked her to dance, she fanned herself. “Me? Why yes.” Craning her neck to meet his gaze, she feigned an appropriate giggle. “I’d love to.”

Margaret curtseyed and envisioned him leading her to the line of dancers. She performed the steps, swinging as if her partner had locked her elbow, her skirts swishing along his powerful calves, neatly wrapped with woolen hose. Margaret adored the new style of men’s doublets, so short, a fashionably dressed man’s hose provided much to be admired—right up to his well-muscled behind.

Margaret chuckled at her errant thoughts and continued her dance, spinning across the solar. Oh how mortified her mother would be to know she so admired the opposite sex. Of course, she had very little experience with them, aside from constant needling by her older brothers, and the occasional morning spent watching the guard spar in the courtyard.

Margaret’s brown locks swished against her back when she gaily skipped toward her imaginary Lord Forbes.

The solar door opened.

With a cringe, she stopped midstride. “Father.” The pitch of her voice shot up. “I didn’t expect…”

He held up a folded piece of parchment. “I’ve a missive from the king.”

Heat burned her cheeks. She didn’t care for her father to catch her in a pantomime daydream. “Aye. I saw his men. Are you required at court?”

He cleared his throat and looked not to Margaret, but at the missive in his hand. “Of sorts. Please retire to your chamber. I’ve sent for your mother. I must speak to her at once.”

Margaret stepped toward him. “Whatever is the matter?”

“Do as I say.” He pointed to the door. “We shall attend you shortly.”

Margaret bowed her head and offered a clipped curtsey. “Very well.”

She hurried up the winding stairwell and down the passageway to her chamber. Once inside, she raced to the window. The soldiers below were accepting food from Cook. She slinked away, her shoulders drooped. Obviously they wouldn’t be staying.

What had father meant by of sorts? Were they going to court or not? Where would the king be this time? Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood, Stirling Palace, Linlithgow?

A stone dropped to the pit of Margaret’s stomach. Was Scotland at war? Surely Da hadn’t been called into service. At seven and fifty, Lord Struan had already carried the torch for Scotland, and on numerous occasions.

Margaret paced, her mind rife with concern. The king must know Da was too old to wield a sword. A turn on the battlefield would kill him for certain. Surely her brothers would be able to stand in his place…but then perhaps the king needed Lord Struan as a dignitary. Perhaps Da was required abroad as an ambassador.

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