All about this book is a giant yes.
The Douglas Bastard (A sequel to The Black Douglas Trilogy) by J R Tomlin will release tomorrow in the historical fiction genre.
The Black Douglas is dead. With Scotland’s greatest knight no more, the throne is up for grabs as enemies try to devour the kingdom.
An orphaned youth returning from exile, Archibald, the Black Douglas’s bastard son, fights for a land being torn apart from within and without. If Archibald is to survive, he must learn to sleep with a claymore in his hand and one eye open because even his closest friend might betray him…
This is an adventure set in the bloody Second Scottish War of Independence when Scotland’s very survival is in question.
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0968X5V3Y
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0968X5V3Y
Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B0968X5V3Y
Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B0968X5V3Y
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1606972264
Squire William Mure’s horse munched contentedly on hay from the bag hanging in its stall as I brushed the dust and dirt from its coat. Breathing in the barn smells of leather, liniment, hay, and wood shavings mixed with a tang of urine, I leaned my head against the animal’s warm neck as I worked. A sparrow flew in through the open doors and perched for a moment in the loft.
It was easier being alone here in the quiet of the stable, but even here, I missed my mother—her laughing eyes as I begged for a sweet, the songs from Scotland she sang me by the hearth in our chamber at night. It had been different when she was alive. I would have given anything to have her here, to ruffle my hair so I could pretend that I minded, and then to tell me stories about my father’s adventures. But now, she was buried in the cemetery next to the chapel.
I turned at the angry voice.
Uilleam of Ross glared at me, red-faced. “You made me look bad in front of Sir Robert.” His fists hung loosely at his sides. Behind him were two of the other pages. Domhnall and Muireadhach were sons of the Earl of Lennox, who had died fighting the English. So all would be powerful nobles. If they could help it, neither ever spoke to me. They were conceited braggarts without a bit of courage between them.
“So you want another beating?” I put the comb down on a nearby stool. It was three against one, but they did not scare me. I would end up bruised and bloody, but I was sure he could hurt them even worse. “I may be a bastard, but I can beat you anytime that I want.”
“You think you’re tough, but we will prove you belong in the kitchen, scrubbing pots,” Domhnall sneered.
As I opened my mouth to answer, Ross barreled into my stomach, head down. I staggered but had been in enough fights not to let that go unanswered. I threw a punch that rocked his head back. In moments we were rolling on the straw-covered ground. Blood was trickling from Ross’s nose. One of the other boys kicked me in the back. As I struggled away from Ross and tried to rise, another kicked me in the shoulder.
Uilleam grappled me as he rose to his knees, shoving my head down into the straw next to the snorting, stamping horse. Uilleam sat on my chest and whaled at my face while Domhnall held down one arm and Muireadhach sat on my legs. I tasted blood as I flailed and heaved, trying to throw them off. I managed to knee Muireadhach in the crotch. He retched. I twisted and slammed my elbow into Uilleam’s already bleeding nose. There was a yelp of pain, and I scrambled free. I drew back my arm to hit him again when both brothers slammed into me from behind. I hit the ground face down.
Uilleam kicked me in the side, whining, “You will pay for that.”
I was rolling away when a furious shout cut through their panting. “Stop!”
I scrambled to my feet.
“The stable is no place for fighting.” Fists on his hips, the squire stood glaring at us. “If your quarrels injure one of the horses, you will learn how harsh Sir Robert can be on pages.”
Uilleam held his hand to his nose, and blood dribbled through his fingers. “He broke my nose.”
I grinned, glad it wasn’t my rather large Roman nose that was broken.
The squire flicked a brief glance at the dribbling blood. “Count yourself lucky if you never have worse. Now go clean yourself up, then be about your tasks. Archibald, you will finish brushing my horse.”
I picked up the grooming brush as the others left, glowering back at me with looks that promised an eventual payback. My mouth throbbed, and I could feel it swelling.
“Is that the Lord of Douglas’s bastard?” a deep voice asked close at hand.
Looking up in surprise, I wiped the blood away, touching the split in my lip. The stranger had dark-brown hair and a thin, hard face with a downturned mouth. He stood in a wide stance, long-legged and broad-shouldered. Over his polished armor, he wore a surcoat with a blue band and three white stars on it above a red heart.
“Och, Lord Liddesdale, yes, that he is.”
The man nodded slowly. “How is he in training?”
“Well enough. He is strong and growing large, so he will eventually make someone noble a good follower if I can beat some humility into him.”
“His father was my cousin,” the man said in a pensive tone. “Mayhap it would help if I had a talk with him.”
“Archibald, Sir William of Liddesdale wants to speak with you. Listen to what he says.” De Mure turned and walked away, throwing over his shoulder, “See that my horse is perfectly groomed after Liddesdale is through with you.”
“Making enemies isnae going to take you far, lad,” the knight said when we were alone.” He crossed his arms. “They will eventually fight at your side or have your back. Or they may not if they hate you.”
“They jumped me!” The injustice stung. “They’re cowards, and I don’t want them to have my back. I may be a bastard, but I fight better than they do.”
“Offending people who could be friends willnae help. And one of those lads is the Earl of Ross, now that we have his lands back.” He snorted. “Neither of us are their equal in our titles.”
Through gritted teeth, I said, “I need to finish the horse.”
Sir William’s eyes narrowed. “When I am through with you.”
I stared angrily at the courser. Sir William gripped both my cheeks in strong, hard fingers and turned my face. “Look at me when I’m speaking to you, lad.”
I looked. He was old, at least thirty-five years. He had a crooked, sharp nose and thin lips. “You think it’s hard being a great lord’s bastard in a safe, snug castle in France? In Scotland, we have fought the English and shed blood for every inch we have won back.”
His words made a flurry in my stomach. “You just came from Scotland?”
“Aye.” He rubbed his fingers over his mouth. “I came to talk to the King anent when he will return home and to take men back with me to Scotland.”
“I dinnae remember Scotland. What . . .” My heart sped up. “What is it like?”
“It is not much like it is here,” he said with a curl of his lip. “There are high mountains, wide forests, few cities. And there is always fighting.”
“And you are driving the English out. Everyone says so!” I frowned. “Do you think there will be some left for me when I am grown?”
“Och, you are like your father.” Sir William’s mouth twitched in what might have been a smile. “God kens that you look like him. I think you will be his very image when you’re grown.”
“My mum always said so.” My chest swelled with pride. “I will be a great knight like he was. I am learning as fast as I can with the sword, and I’m as good as the squires on a horse.”
“Braw feats indeed.”
My heart was thudding like a running horse, and the words gushed out before I could stop them. “Will you take me back with you when you return? No one thinks me of any account here, so they will not care. And I will work hard. Let me be your page.”
“My Hermitage Castle is nae safe place to live, Archibald.” Sir William rubbed his chin. “And I will be heading to battle to take back Cupar Castle and Perth.”
I was lightheaded with excitement. “But you need your horse groomed, your armor cleaned. I can do that, and I will learn to fight. I can do whatever you need me to do. I’m strong. Even the squire says so.”
“So he did.” William stared at me so hard that he flooded my face, and I clenched my fists to keep from squirming under that dark gaze. “But you do not know what you are asking, lad. The uncle you were named for was killed by the English. Your half-brother died with him at Halidon Hill when he was only seventeen. Do you understand that?”
“I ken that.” I pulled my shoulders back and thrust out my chest, trying to look as large as I could. “I want to go back to Scotland with you.”
I had dreamed of it at night lying abed in the room I shared with the other pages. Pictured the mountains and rivers of my mother’s soft, wistful songs. Pictured being one of the mailed knights in battles like in the frescoes on the walls of the great hall—like my father, the great Black Douglas, had been.
Sir William rubbed his thumb back and forth across his lips, frowning. “I will think on it, lad. But it wouldnae be an easy, soft life.”
“I don’t care! If you take me, I will be a good page. And I will learn to be your squire. I swear it!”
The knight gave a single short nod. “Finish the task you were given, go clean yourself up, and meet me in the reception hall. We will see what King David and Sir Malcolm Fleming say.”
King David had always been my friend. He would agree. I was sure of it.
J. R. Tomlin is the author of nineteen historical novels.
She has close ties with Scotland since her father was a native Scot, and she spent substantial time in Edinburgh while growing up. Her historical novels are set for the most part in Scotland. Her love of that nation is traced from the stories of Robert the Bruce and the Good Sir James her grandmother read to her when she was small, to hillwalking through the Cairngorms where the granite hills have a gorgeous red glow under the setting sun. Later, her writing was influenced by Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Nigel Tranter, and Sir Walter Scott.
When JR isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, playing with her Westie, and killing monsters in computer games. In addition to spending time in Scotland, she has traveled in the US, Europe, and the Pacific Rim. She now lives in Oregon.
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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/J.R.-Tomlin/e/B002J4ME1S