The Price of Freedom

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beginning to recognize as the man’s attempt to smile. It wasn’t much of a smile, not nearly so bright as the one he’d bestowed on the dog. His eyes warmed briefly, from inky black to rich brown.
    â€œRest easy, Lady Kathryn. Bruce is a reasonable man. He will find you a good husband. Until we hear from him, you will remain inside the walls of Homelea.”
    â€œOh, but I must visit St. Mary’s.” Her last visit had been two weeks ago and the child’s first birthday was next week.
    â€œWhy?”
    Stunned by his question, she struggled for an answer. “I visit every week.”
    â€œAnd again I ask, why must you risk your safety by going there?”
    â€œMy safety?”
    â€œThe English need access to the river crossing on your lands as much as Bruce does. Do you think they won’t try to regain control of Homelea? Of you?”
    â€œI care nothing for your plans for war. I simply wish to visit the abbey as I’m accustomed to. There is an elderly nun of whom I am very fond, and I take her food and other items to give her comfort.” It wasn’t exactly a lie, just not the whole truth, Kathryn assured herself.
    â€œVery well. I will provide you with an armed escort and you may go.”
    â€œWhen?”
    â€œIn a few days.”
    Kathryn didn’t want to wait, but from his forbidding expression, she knew better than to argue with a man who liked dogs better than people.

FOUR
    R ODNEY CARLETON, newly named Earl of Fairfax, looked about the room at those Edward had hastily summoned to attend a war council. The Earls of Pembroke, Ulster, and Dunbar were in attendance. Edward seemed barely able to conceal his glee at whatever news he planned to share. The king quickly called his noblemen to order.
    â€œGentlemen, Bruce has finally given us the means to subdue the rebel Scots once and for all.”
    â€œWhat is the news, Your Majesty?” asked Ulster.
    Ulster remained a valued member of the inner circle despite his daughter’s imprisonment at the manor of Burstwick-in-Holderness. Edward’s own father had arranged the marriage of Ulster’s daughter, Elizabeth de Burgh, to Robert the Bruce in an effort to wed the Scotsman’s loyalty to the English king. Only her father’s continued loyalty to England had saved Elizabeth from being tried as a traitor.
    Rodney returned his thoughts to the present as Edward continued. “We are still in command of Stirling. Our commander there, Sir Philip Mowbray, arrived here in London last week under a grant of safe conduct. It seems Bruce’s impatient brother has committed Bruce to the capture of Stirling Castle.”
    A murmur arose among the gathering and the king raised his voice to be heard. “A bargain has been struck whereby, if I do not rescue Stirling from Bruce’s siege by Midsummer’s Day, then Mowbray will yield the castle to Bruce.”
    â€œAnd is Bruce bound by this agreement?” Dunbar inquired, his voice incredulous.
    â€œYes, he is. Mowbray and Edward Bruce pledged their sacred honor. Robert must see this through and meet us, at last, in a pitched battle he cannot win. No more must we abide his irregular warfare. He will meet the might of England and be vanquished.”
    Edward pounded the table in front of him. “We shall assemble a mighty army and defeat these vexing Scots once and for all. The relief of Stirling shall be our battle call and will cause all of England to rally to our cause.”
    â€œHere, here,” shouted a chorus of voices.
    At this, Carleton spoke up. “We shall prevail, Your Majesty. The Scots have seen much of war these past years, and it has taken a toll. How soon do we begin preparations?”
    Edward smiled in malice. “Immediately. I have sent writs to eight earls, including the four of you here today, and eighty-seven barons, summoning you to appear with your forces at Berwick by June tenth.”
    Heads nodded as

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