By Jackson E. Graham
Scotland, Early 1298. One mile south of Neidpath Castle.
Failbhe (FAL-uh-vuh) Fraser rode on horseback through the small fishing town of Peebles. The sun cast joy upon all who walked under its rays, a temporary break in the usually dreary Scottish weather. The River Tweed’s flowing waters roared in the distance. Failbhe was a fit man of twenty—a Scottish knight from Neidpath Castle. Brown hair flowed down to his shoulders, and penetrating eyes of emerald scanned the surroundings. Woven in his family’s colors, his woolen shirt was partially obscured by the thick, dark cloak he wore. He headed for Traquair House to deliver a message to the Laird. The main road—no more than a dirt path—carved a straight line through the town, with houses and shops cast to each side. Townsfolk walked to and fro absentmindedly, going about their business. The weathered wood structures reminded Failbhe of the tool sheds dotting the courtyard of Neidpath Castle. Traveling incessantly since sunrise, his legs tired of the monotony of riding in the saddle. Failbhe’s gaze fell upon a large wooden sign reading “Tavern Murray,” hanging above the entrance to one of the buildings. Failbhe paused. It was not a place he would choose to visit, but thirst resolved the matter. He cautiously entered the tavern, keeping an eye out for troublemakers.
Failbhe pushed open the ramshackle door and blinked a couple of times to adjust his eyes to the dim light. Numerous lanterns hung from the ceiling, candles sputtering. Twenty mismatched tables crowded the room. Smelling the heavy odor of fish in the room, Failbhe wrinkled his nose. The customers were regular townsfolk, mostly fishermen, farmers, and tradesmen. A loud laugh exploded from one sitting near where Failbhe stood, and he instinctively put several feet in between the man and himself. As he settled down uncomfortably on one of the rather hard stools, a large man with a stained apron approached.
“What can I get for you this fine afternoon?” the man asked. A scraggly beard clung to his haggard face. Failbhe glanced at him.
“Cold water please,” he ordered. The thought of eating fish was not appetizing at the moment due to the pungent stench in the room. Nodding, the server retreated to a small counter crowded with various drinks and spices. It didn’t take long for the man to fill a mug from a barrel under the counter. Failbhe drained the cup, water cascading down his parched throat. Over his shoulder, he casually examined the customers. Most were too occupied with card games and small talk to notice him.
Among all these simply-dressed men, however, one stood out. A regal-looking man sat alone in the corner, his back to the wall. Blonde hair curled around his collar, grabbing it like the hands of a curious child. He wore long white stockings, a blue mantle, a reddish-brown surcoat over a white shirt, and pointed boots. The white insignia of a lion embroidered on his surcoat betrayed his nationality.
What is this Englishman doing in Scotland? Failbhe thought to himself. King Edward I of England had repeatedly humiliated the Scottish monarch, John Balliol, for several years since his rebellion, reigniting the deep hatred between the Scots and the English. Perhaps this violent undercurrent reminded the man to keep to himself. He was in dangerous territory. Failbhe turned to ask for another drink when he heard chairs crashing behind him. Spinning around, he saw three men approaching the foreigner. They were itching for a fight.
“Well, what do we have here? An Englishman in Scotland?” one of the men exclaimed. Threateningly, they advanced on the terrified stranger. Failbhe’s mind raced. Should he help this endangered man? The man was English after all, and Failbhe’s family had aligned with the Scottish cause, being politically connected with William Wallace and the Battle at Stirling Bridge. The English targeted his kin as potential enemies of the crown. But he knew protecting the weak and defenseless was a crucial aspect of the code of chivalry, and therefore the right thing to do. In a rush, Failbhe left his seat and strode towards the squabble, placing himself in between the troublemakers and their intended victim.
A man with a vicious appearance regarded Failbhe with a sneer and spat at his feet. “What is this dog to you? Get out of our way!” he bellowed, attempting to reach around Failbhe.
The knight grabbed the man’s arm in an iron grip. The contender yelped in pain. “Cease,” Failbhe said in such a simple, yet menacing way that the man hesitated before responding. Unfortunately, the ruffian’s mind remained unchanged. He sneered at Failbhe once more and swung a right hook at the knight’s jaw. Failbhe dodged the punch with agility and skill only a trained warrior possesses.
“Unwise maneuver,” he warned. He seized the man by his collar and heaved him across the room with such force that everybody in the room ducked for fear of being hit. With a thunderous clatter, the scoundrel swiped a table clean of its tableware and fell to the ground, shocked. The other two rogue’s eyes widened in terror. Wildly, they fled away with their stricken leader, tripping over several chairs in their rush to safety. Failbhe turned to the Englishman.
“Are you well?” he inquired. The man gaped at him in utter astonishment.
“But why?” he stammered, visibly shaken. Failbhe didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Honor comes before personal prejudice.” The newcomer stared at his rescuer in confusion.
“I am in your debt!” he cried, reaching for his money pouch. Failbhe shook his head.
“Do not trouble yourself. Only remember my words,” he advised. Before the Englishman could object, Failbhe bid him farewell with a smile, paid for his drink, and left the tavern.
England, Spring 1314. Aydon Castle.
Sir William Benton sat behind his desk in Aydon Castle. The spacious room he occupied contained not only his desk, but his bed and necessaries. He composed a letter to an acquaintance of his in Scotland who—despite the detestable treason going on in that country—remained loyal to the crown. Pausing in his writing, he ran his hands through his hair and growled in frustration. The ideal words did not come to his mind, and he needed some time to think. He rose from his seat, ponderously moving to an immense window overlooking the courtyard of his fortress.
Long white hair cascading down his shoulders and a full beard, Benton’s imposing height paralleled his standing within his jurisdiction. He was known for his wisdom, and within his blue eyes resided an expression of nobility which commanded respect. An exquisite robe trimmed with ermine fur covered his back, and his green shirt was embroidered with an impressive emblem—a lion rampant in front of two crossed swords. Staring out over the forest, his mind drifted to the time—seventeen years ago—when he had been saved from cold-blooded ruffians by a Scottish knight. Benton never learned the man’s name because of his quick disappearance, but the face of the man was still ingrained in his memory.
Turning his thoughts toward more important matters, he reviewed what had occurred over the past few years. Benton had imprisoned a Scot involved with the Battle of Falkirk. Today, he would appear before Benton to answer the accusations, and later be transported to a larger court to either be acquitted or condemned. While he thought, a loud knock sounded at the door to his office.
“Enter,” he commanded. Benton turned slightly towards the entryway. The heavy door creaked open, and two guards marched into the room while roughly escorting a shackled man. The prisoner wore filthy, tattered, and foul-smelling clothes. Long brown hair—unkempt due to rough accommodations—and a matted beard hinted at suffering. Despite his haggard appearance, the man’s emerald eyes seemed to pierce deep into Benton’s soul, his mouth firmly set. Benton recognized the resolute face, but couldn’t place any specific name to it. He put his hand to his head and closed his eyes in concentration, searching for the man’s identity. It came to him. Striding across the floor, he stood behind his desk. At Benton’s gesture of dismissal, the soldiers left the room.
“Sir, come to me!” he eagerly beckoned. The prisoner advanced. Benton looked the man in the eyes. “I am Sir William Benton. What is your name?” he inquired in a polite tone. The man’s eyes searched Benton’s face.
“My name is Failbhe. This is not the first time we have met,” he replied. Benton nodded in agreement.
“You are the man who stepped between me and certain peril, are you not?”
“I am,” he answered, giving a single nod.
“Providence must have brought us together, for some reason,” Benton marveled aloud. Failbhe assumed a more relaxed countenance, more at ease with the man, although still on guard. “Now answer this: were you associated with William Wallace, or has there been a mistake?” Benton questioned, once more assuming a serious tone. Drawing himself up with a sense of national pride, Failbhe nodded.
“Yes,” he responded. Benton, distraught at this comment, sank into his lavishly carved oak chair.
“It is so,” he signed. “I have vowed to fulfill my nation’s demands,” he sighed. Before he could command the sentries to lead him away, however, the echo of a potent phrase played in his mind: “Honor comes before personal prejudice.” Straightaway, his face turned from an expression of regret to determination.
He stood and called for one of the soldiers, who entered. “Hand me the complaint detailing this man’s charges!” he demanded. The sentry withdrew several papers from the satchel at his waist, and Benton snatched them from his fingers. Briskly, the man spun on his heels and marched out of the room. Benton strode to his fireplace on the opposite side of the room, shredding the notice and tossing them into the fire. Eager for the flesh of paper, the flames consumed the now useless document.
“Sir Failbhe, you are to be released,” Benton declared. Failbhe knew that his advice from the tavern had been taken to heart. Pleased to be able to finally return the good deed, Benton stood and, grabbing a key from his belt, reached for the former prisoner’s shackles.
“My thanks,” Failbhe replied, with gratitude. Benton smiled and, completely overlooking his appearance, clasped Failbhe’s hand. “Honor to whom honor is due,” he concluded. Failbhe grinned warmly, and turned to leave.
Sixteen-year-old Jackson E. Graham lives with his parents and younger brother in North Idaho. He started reading at age four and began to write soon after. Jackson’s main genres are fantasy and historical fiction, and he has written three novels—which he plans to self-publish—and several short stories.
Besides writing, he loves reading, playing and composing music, and fighting with swords. He sings and plays the fedóg, guitar, and piano. Jackson has had a lifelong love of dinosaurs and used to freak people out as a tiny tike by spewing long names such as Pachycephalosaurus. He even created his own dinosaur name: Predominicus (yet to be discovered). One of his many dreams is to discover a dinosaur fossil. Jackson firmly believes God has given us all a story—a story that glorifies Him to the utmost.
You can visit Jackson’s website here: http://jacksonegraham.wix.com/jackson-e-graham