The Douglas Bastard: The Coffee Pot Book Club Blog Tour.

Young Archibald, the Black Douglas’s bastard son, returns from exile to a Scotland ravaged by war. The war-hardened Knight of Liddesdale will teach him what he must learn. And with danger on every side, he must learn to sleep with one eye open and a claymore in his hand because even their closest ally may betray them…


Bent over to be sure no silhouette showed, he made his way through the trees to the road, and I followed beside Hugh, fallen leaves crunching under our feet. Behind, Sir William’s men hurried after us. Bare branches rustled overhead with a sound like the whisper of ghosts. 

This would be the first time I took part in a true battle. I had seen men fall, even struck blows. But this time was different. In the dark, I was nervous. My heart hammered. More than nervous, I was afraid. I recalled my lessons and touched the hilt of my sword. My mouth was dry, and my stomach felt hollow, but eagerness mixed with the fear. This is what I was meant for, just like my father. I would follow in his footsteps, and I would be a great knight—if I lived.

“On your hands and knees,” Sir William whispered. “Pass the word back. Follow in twos and threes and spread out.” He tucked the pike under one arm and draped his cloak over it, letting its length drag behind.

I dropped onto the hard ground. Behind him, I crept up the slope, angling away from the road. The hard ground scraped my palms and knees. Cold sweat dripped from my armpits. My sword smacked against my thigh; I sucked in a breath and kept crawling. Hugh was panting as he crept. A voice yelped, and someone whispered, “Wheesht.”

At last, we were more than halfway up. Even in the black of night, the castle’s white walls gleamed. Light from braziers in the watchtowers peeped through arrow slits.

There was laughter on the parapet, and a hoarse voice said, “What’s that?”

“Look! Something is down there.”

I froze in place, my heart trying to hammer its way out of my chest. 

“Alarm!” A horn blasted a warning. It sounded again. There was a loud click overhead and a thrum as a bolt released. It thudded into the ground.

“Retreat! To the horses!” Sir William bellowed. He stood and began backing away. “Now!” He spun and trotted, shoving men ahead of him to speed them. “Archie, to me!” 

I grabbed Hugh’s arm and shoved him back the way we had come. “Run!” 

Grunting, he lumbered clumsily back down the slope. Gamelin threw down the bag with the ladder and ran with long, loping strides.

Sir William shouted, “To the horses!” 

I looked over my shoulder as I ran. A silhouette appeared from a tunnel that must be the sally port. Another dark shape appeared. Hugh was running right in front of me. He tripped a dozen strides from the trees and fell flat on his belly, sliding a few feet. Grabbing his arm, I hauled him to his feet. 

“I will cover your back. Go!” Dropping my cloak, I drew my sword. To my surprise, the pursuers were strung out, but shouts from the castle warned that more were coming. Their swords flashed, but I could not tell if they wore mail.

A guard bellowed in triumph. With my sword lowered to my hip, the point behind me, I waited. He ran to me, sword raised over his head. I swung. The point of my blade ripped into his belly and up. Gutted, he gave a gurgling scream. I stepped forward, letting the swing take my sword high over my right shoulder. The next man ran straight into my sword as I swung diagonally. The blow nearly took his head from his neck. 

Two in front of me stopped and backed up a step. They would have help within minutes, so they could afford to wait. I took a step back. If I turned to run, they would be on me before I could take another step. Shouts from the guards running closer filled the air, but I dared not take my eyes off those in front of me.

Then I heard the telltale clack of a crossbow. It would have worried me more if there had been any light, but I dodged to the side. The bolt hit the top of my shoulder, a lucky hit. 

I grunted and switched my grip to one-handed. 

Then horses’ hooves thundered behind me. Colban pulled up, leading my mount. A hand grabbed my belt from behind. “Up!” he growled and hoisted me up. I threw my leg over, and he slapped my horse on the rump. Then we flew into the trees. 

“Head for home,” Sir William shouted.

My shoulder throbbed, but I kicked my horse to a canter. Sir William led us on a zigzag course through the dark. He dared not gallop through the trees where roots would surely trip a horse, but soon there were no more sounds of pursuit. 

“Why aren’t they coming after us?” I asked through gritted teeth.

Sir William snorted. “For all they know, we are leading them into a trap. And the castle is safe.”

“A trap would be a braw idea,” Gamelin muttered.

“It wouldnae give us the castle. And that is what we must take.”

Finally, after an eternity, we rode through the gates of Hermitage Castle. A groom took my horse, and I staggered into the keep. “It isnae so bad, but I’ve bled like a stuck pig.”

“You are lucky. It is only a slice.” Hugh poured wine gone to vinegar on it. “I owe him a debt that I must somehow repay.” 

I yelped because it burned like the very devil, but a few mugs of ale put me asleep.

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