Author's notes: DISCLAIMER: See Prologue.
The small party of two riders had traveled for nearly a fortnight toward The Scot‘s fortress on the border that separates Scotland and England. Barely stopping to rest, as time was of the essence, the lone man and woman were weary from their journey. Fatigue, lack of sleep, and barely concealed hunger ate at them relentlessly.
They had began their trip after Kitten’s rescue from the prisons of Outremer, and stopping only to rest a few hours, tend to the horses, and take a short respite of fruits, dried meats, and water, they had made very good time.
Christian of Acre, known as The Abbot to the Brotherhood, for his care and offering of spiritual guidance to prisoners of Outremer, as well as his habit of wearing a monk’s robes to conceal his clothing, glanced at his female companion. Kitten, as she was called by the few involved in her rescue and her fellow prisoners, sat straight in her saddle. She had ridden well, never complaining, even though he knew she must be aching from the constant loping movement of her mount.
They had kept an even, calm pace when possible, but Christian knew she was not comfortable. With the haste to make their destination before morning, they had only stopped to relieve themselves. Their meals were eaten in the saddle, and conversation was light.
“Are you well, Kitten?”, he asked concerned. “Do you need to stop for a rest? We can spare a few moments.”
Kitten looked at him in gratitude for his thoughtfulness. The Abbot had made her welcome in his presence, and more importantly, made her feel as though she was finally safe from the demons who had captured and abused her. She would be glad to reach the haven his friend commanded.
She smiled tiredly. “I am fine, thank you for asking. I have not ridden this much since I was a young girl, but I will make it.” She turned her eyes back to her front, staring into the trees. “I have to.” she muttered quietly.
She placed a hand protectively to her middle, caressing the child nestled beneath her breast. All of her hopes were pinned on this babe. Regardless of his or her conception, the child would be her new beginning. Her reason to go on.
The Abbot caught the gesture, and frowned slightly. Knowing of the reception she would have received in what the public termed polite society, he was glad once more that he was taking her to The Scot. She would be safe, and find healing, understanding, and more importantly, protection in the shelter of his capable hands.
A woman, unmarried with a child on the way was not treated well amongst the masses. Never minding that her condition was forced upon her, and in no way was the blame her own, she would still have faced ridicule and scorn. He sighed to himself. It would not be easy, but he had a feeling she would continue to survive, and with any luck, thrive on her own within The Scot’s walls.
“Does the babe move?” he asked softly. “Is he paining you?”
“No, the babe is well. He only moves a bit now and then. I believe he is well protected. I am grateful for your concern. ‘Tis more than I could have hoped to receive.”
“You deserve that and more Kitten. And once we reach the castle, you will have it. You will see.” he assured her.
Taking a deep breath, Kitten changed the subject. Asking the question that had been plaguing her, she inquired about the mysterious Scot he spoke of. “Your friend, this Scot, who is he? Why am I going to his home?”
Christian looked at her, surprise in his eyes. This was the most she had spoken since their journey began, and he was glad to engage her in conversation. She had been so silent and reserved, no doubt caused by her treatment at Saracen hands. He was relieved to be able to draw her out of her self, if only for a short time.
“Not much is known of The Scot. He was a prisoner at the same time I was, and is called The Scot because of his brogue, and well, because he is a Scot,” he grinned.
“He regularly placed himself between others and the guards, protecting the weaker ones from being beaten and abused. He endured more than any man should. We all suffered in that dirty place, but I think he more than most. He willingly took punishments for others, and often. He is a hard man, never smiling, rarely speaking, and tends to remain hidden in the shadows, never allowing himself to be seen.”
“Why? I understand the silence, as people always want to hear details of a person’s pain, but hiding? Why would he hide?” Kitten asked curiously. It did not make sense that a hero, and he must be a hero if Christian trusted him as much as he seemed to, would hide himself away from the world. She wanted to know more about this enigma known as The Scot.
Christian debated whether to speak further on this topic. He had only meant to reassure her, not get into the ins and outs of his friend’s personality. Many things he did not know, most he would never reveal.
The Brotherhood of the Sword had formed as a tight knit group in prison, tending, looking over, and protecting one another. A burden, and an honor that continued years after their freedom was realized. It was this code of honor they lived by: they offered protection to one another, the protection of fighting skills, sword and hand, as well as the protection of silence. They kept each other’s secrets. Always.
Kitten spoke softly, breaking Christian’s train of thought. “It is alright. I did not mean to pry. I only wanted to understand. I will not ask you to speak of things you prefer to have kept unknown. Forgive me.”
“No, it is fine. I was only lost in my thoughts for a moment.” he replied. “Some things I can’t tell you, others he would not mind me speaking of. I will tell you what I can.” He leaned forward into his saddle, trying to find a comfortable position. The night air was caressing his skin. Thankfully it was summer and the cold was not to come for months yet.
Once he was settled, he began his recollections again. “No one knows, not even I, The Scot’s true name. He has never spoken of it. I only know that he sought his brother in the Holy Land, where he had disappeared to years earlier. Scot thought it possible his brother had been captured and was being held prisoner. He did not say who his brother was, only that he had been put from the family as a young boy.”
Kitten frowned in sympathy. How could anyone toss their child away as though they held no importance? What had happened to this poor boy? Had he survived?
“How sad for him, as well as his brother. I can’t imagine having a sibling, and losing them in that way. Did he find him?” she asked?
“No. Scot was captured by the Saracens while he was trying to protect a band of pilgrims. There were women and children in the caravan, and the men put up a hell of a fight, but in the end, those not killed were taken. He ended up in our block of cells. That is how we met. He never found trace of his brother, that I know of that is. He still inquires though.”
“Surely someone has information. A boy, well a man now really, can’t just disappear never to be seen or heard from again.”
“You would be surprised Kitten, at what a man can do when his life depends on it. The Scot’s life, all our lives, have depended on our fighting skill, and ability to either blend into crowds, or to be invisible to the eye. We paid for our lives in blood and sweat, sometimes tears. But we lived. Some of us, by the Scot’s sacrifices. That is why he hides.”
Christian could see she was processing every word he spoke to her, understanding Scot’s pain, as well as his determination. She had both in spades. Hadn’t she suffered the worse humiliation a man can inflict on a woman and lived? She had regained her freedom, and soon would regain her dignity, as well as her pride in herself.
This was not a weak woman. No, she would be alright. Perhaps, even the Scot would be as well. Spending time with Kitten could only benefit him. If he let her near him. Which, Christian thought silently, that is as likely as Adara tossing him over her shoulder and making sport of his body. Hmm.
Breaking away from that line of thinking before he disgraced himself in front of Kitten, he resumed his explanation.
“There was a time, one of the younger boys was being harassed by the guards, for what crime I can’t recall. But he had been beaten the day before, and another lashing would have ended his life. The Scot placed himself in front of the boy, and challenged the guards. He knew, we all knew what the punishment would be. It would be bad, for not only had he put himself in their sight, he had challenged their authority. He was willing to give his life for this child, and the guards were happy to take it.
The Scot was a target for them anyway. He never gave them the satisfaction of crying out when they struck him. He bled well enough to amuse them, but he never screamed. They enjoyed his defiance as much as they hated him for it. The harder they hit, the stronger he held himself. The hatred would burn in his eyes, and he never looked away from them. He faced them on foot, or on his knees, but he never gave in.
Until this night. He screamed for them. The sound carried all the way into our cells. It was near inhuman. It is a cry that I will never be able to put from my mind. It is almost as if hearing someone’s should being ripped from their body. I have never heard anything like it, and hope never to hear it again.”
Christian sighed, wondering if he should continue. He did not want to give away a confidence, but he also did not want to frighten her. He had kept these things to himself so long, he had to let some of the horror out. He only hoped that by the telling, it would lessen it for him, and maybe, give her an understanding of what she faced within the Scot’s keeping. Oh, he would not harm her physically. But his words could cut as deep as any weapon. The Scot didn’t intentionally offend women. In fact, he tried to keep out of their way. But, for Kitten to recover, and possibly help Scot as well, she had to be in his presence. He hoped that by telling her these things, she would understand why The Scot acted the way he did.
She froze in her seat on the mount, and turned to face Christian. She knew, whatever it was, it was bad. She also wasn’t sure she really wanted to know. She asked softly anyway. “What did they do to him Christian? Dear God, what did they do to him”
Christian sighed. “They burned him. After they beat him to near unconsciousness, they held him down, and dropped hot coals from a fire onto his face. Nearly the entire left side of his face was damaged, and his left eye was seared closed. That is what caused his screams. Strong as he is, he just could not keep silent at that moment. None of us think badly of him for it.
They returned him to the cell half dead. Angel, another prisoner in our cell block, and I patched him up as best as we could. It wasn’t much. I didn’t think he would last the night. It took a week for him to regain consciousness. Another fortnight before he was well enough to stand.
We kept the guards away from him by convincing them that he would die. After he was well enough to tend himself, he retreated into himself, and started hiding his face. Angel fashioned a patch for his eye from her dress. He was no longer the same after that. He still protected the others, still took beatings for them, but was no longer vocal. He became withdrawn, silent.
I think he is ashamed of the way his face looks. He is no longer handsome. That is why he allows no one to see him. He has endured enough. He will not suffer anyone using his injury for their gossip. And no one who knows him, would dare speak of it. I implore you, do not give him reason to unleash his wrath up on over his injury. If you see him, either look the other way, or pretend you do not notice. And do not look him in the eye.”
Before Kitten could comment on his warning, Christian turned back to search out the landscape, ever conscious of possible danger. He spied the castle in the distance. They were close to their destination. The castle was just over the next rise, and they would be there within the hour. Christian relayed this information to Kitten, and she looked into the distance.
There it was, her salvation. Her sanctuary. She did not know why, or how this feeling came to her, but the moment she spied the walls of the castle, The Scot’s banner flying freely in the breeze, she felt as though she had come to meet her destiny. This place called to her, and her soul answered back. ‘I am home’.