Enchanting the Highland Rose – (Extended Epilogue)


Extended Epilogue

Northern Hispania, 1322

The sun was terribly bright, and the seagulls squawked so loud that they could be heard from the pink stone harbor all the way to the luxurious palace, made in the Southern style, with black and white striped pillars and glittering domed roofs. A methodic call went out through the city, and Kyle wandered to the balcony, his soft silk robe hanging open, blowing out from his waist in the warm wind.

He leaned his elbows on the smooth stone railing and looked out at the exotic city. It was a fascinating place, and like nowhere he had ever seen. About a fourth of the city’s population answered the call to prayer, and Kyle watched them in the streets and on their roofs and in the markets go to the ground in prayer.

“You’re up early,” Laila said, approaching from behind and gently wrapping her hands around his waist.

“It’s too warm here to sleep late,” he answered, leaning over to kiss her good morning.

“Indeed,” she agreed, kissing him back and then smiling.

“I’m moving out today,” he said to her, his voice growing a bit more serious.

“Yes,” she said, “And I’m coming with you.”

“I thought that was only to happen the once?” he replied with a grin.

“Too late for that already,” she said back, and they kissed once more.

“I am sure the fortress will be even grander than the palace,” Kyle said, raising his eyebrows.

“How can they build such grand things?” Laila asked, glancing out from the balcony toward all the buildings stretching out before them.

“Perhaps, it is the heat,” Kyle answered, spinning her around as to face her head-on.

“It is remarkable, isn’t it?” Laila added, and they shared a long, tentative kiss on the balcony, letting the Spanish breeze blow through their thin garments and tussle their hair.

They stood together for a while longer, letting the climate warm their bones as the sun began to shower the city with its radiance. The harbor’s water reflected the dazzle up at the walls of the port structures, and the happy couple drank in the salt air.

“Kyle,” she said, drawing back, a bit of seriousness creeping into the edge of her mouth.

“What is it?” he asked.

“How would you like to be a father?” she asked, looking deeply into his eyes.

“How would I like it?” he asked, smirking briefly before he settled on her gaze and then suddenly looked down to her torso, the world spinning around him. “Do ye mean…?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Well, I should like it very much!” he exclaimed and lifted her up, spinning her around with the warm ocean breeze. They kissed again and slowly edged back into the palace chambers, letting down each other’s clothes and laying down for a while, letting the morning slip away past their naked, loving forms.

Eventually, it was time to go. The noon bells wrang, and they reluctantly got out of bed, taking a few more playful swipes at each other while they got their garments in order, and finally went out into the day.

They were staying in the East Wing of the palace, and they walked through the lush gardens that draped the walls and city overlooks as they made their way to the main yard. Yard was quite simply an understatement. It was a gorgeous courtyard, complete with fountains and small gardens that filled the corners. The floor itself was a striking checkerboard, and in the middle of it stood a fresh batch of recruits, waiting for Kyle’s instruction.

Word of the Scottish victory over the English almost thirty years ago had spread far and wide throughout the world, and one element of the victory had been particularly important to the Spaniards when they listened—that of the spearmen repelling the English heavy horse.

In Spain, the wars between the Christians and the Muslims raged endlessly on, and one area of warfare that the Spanish continuously found themselves outmatched was that of heavy cavalry. The Moorish riders were fearsome foes and often baited Christian knights too far afield, only for them to find themselves ambushed in the pursuit.

It was a brutal cycle, and it cost the Spaniards more horse and armor than they were prepared to lose if they ever hoped to prevail in this ideological battle for the Spanish subcontinent. So it was that the local lords, from Baron to Dukes, sought out Scottish mercenaries to teach their men the art of the hedge wall of spears and fighting heavy cavalry, and it was this relationship that brought Kyle and Laila to the Kingdom of Castille.

It wasn’t particularly hard work, nor dangerous, for Kyle did not ride off to fight, save for a few times. Mostly he just advised, and Laila was there to correct him when he was wrong and drink in a foreign land’s cultures.

They spent the afternoon in the Spanish sun, running the new Spanish levies through a series of formations with their long spears—much longer spears than they were used to wielding—which made for a tedious training process. But Kyle ran them through the drills regardless, and eventually, they began to learn.

The English were not that foreign to the Spanish, for the English presence at Bordeaux was not terribly far away, and the Norman culture had spread as far as Sicily, but Kyle’s thick accent and his bright red hair drew all sorts of looks and laughs. However, they stopped laughing when they saw how quickly he could put a man on the ground in the training yard and how perfectly he thrust out his spear in demonstration.

“Right, lads!” he called, hunkering down in formation. “And step! One! Two! Three! Four!” and they advanced across the courtyard, thrusting out their spears like the hoplites of old and the Scotsman of the Bruce’s great army.

Laila sat with some of the other ladies in the court, watching the training procedures and smiling when Kyle did just about anything. The other ladies laughed and talked about how clearly in love they were, professing their jealousy and complementing their life. Laila barely heard any of it, just nodding politely and smiling when she thought it proper. That sort of gossiping life was not for her. Instead, she preferred to watch her husband perform his duties, looking terribly good while he did it, and give him notes, carefully building his routine together until he was known as the greatest Scottish mercenary in all of Hispania.

“You were too loud today,” Laila said, rolling over him in bed that night.

“Tae loud?” Kyle gawked. “I’m tae train them. I must be loud.”

“There is a difference between loud and commanding,” Laila said, tracing the lines cut in his chest by his fierce muscles. “You must be the latter.”

They stayed awhile in Castille before moving West to Galicia, down to the Southern border with the Emirate of Portugal, where the fighting was thicker at the time. They both became distinguished, Laila for her wit and charm and Kyle for his prowess and tactical genius.

The King of Galicia heard of the two foreigners in his Kingdom and invited them to the capitol in the North, where they lived just short of the standards of royalty for a time until their child was born, a strong and healthy boy they named Robert, after the King. There were more Roberts born to Scots that generation than any other time in history.

The King was so enamored with the pair that he offered them permanent residence there in his palace, but they declined after considering it for a moment. When the King asked why clearly slightly upset by being told ‘no,’ they simply smiled and said there was more of the world to see.

From Hispania, they went to Italy, where little Roger learned how to walk and hold a sword. There they found patronage in the court of the Count of Sienna and advised on the constant military struggles that the local landowners engaged in time and time again. Italy, they liked, but not as much as Spain.

From Italy, they went to Greece, where the politics of the Roman Empire were overwhelming, and altogether too much, they decided, so they did not stay long as the Ottomans began creeping into Anatolia, winning battle after battle, and so they fled to the Holy Land.

Robert grew to the height of a man in Antioch, and they entered into the Lord of Tripoli service, where they stayed until Robert was eighteen, and thoughts of home became more and more pervasive. They had been abroad a long time, and their son was now a man. It was high time for him to see the lands they hailed from, and so they brokered passage back halfway across the world.

They made port in Sussex and traveled North along the roads of England, showing young Robert the countryside that he had never known, feeling the cold breeze and laughing as their son shivered in the English cold.

“If ye think this is cold,” Kyle chuckled to him, “Wait until we get tae Scotland.”

After a few weeks of leisurely travel, they came to Willby Valley and stopped for a moment to look down at the small castle in the distance. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but it looked far more maintained than it ever had, and the banners blew brightly in the strong North wind.

Beyond the valley to the North stood the tall, proud Scottish mountains Kyle had grown up in, and seeing them sent a chill down Kyle’s spine. They stood there like an immovable statue, welcoming him home with a solemn grin.

“What are those mountains?” Young Robert asked, gesturing with a nod.

“Scotland, son,” Kyle answered. “They are Scotland.”

“We shall be there soon enough,” Laila said, spurring her horse down the track that led through the valley to Willby castle. “Come on then!”

“Ye gonna let her win?” Kyle asked with a grin, and Robert went off after his mother, trying to keep up along the narrow road as they rode down into the valley.

They came at last to the bottom, where the road flattened out and eventually looked up toward Castle Willby, and Laila smiled to see it so well maintained, with new stonework around the base of the walls and new banners hanging from the freshly cut parapets. It was altogether a different castle than the one Laila remembered, but it was still home, and it was beautiful.

Kyle came up beside his wife and son, and the three of them stood on the valley floor, looking up at Willby castle, drinking in the view as the Northern air continued to wash over them, sending more shivers down young Robert’s spine as he struggled to adjust to the air that blew from the frigid North Sea.

“Where are we?” the boy finally asked, glancing strangely between his parents, who seemed to be sharing some long-forgotten memory of the walls they looked upon without speaking. They were quiet for a time and shared a look with one another that Robert found all together a bit uncomfortable but made them smile and laugh.

At long last, Laila turned to him, and with a smile, said, “Home, son. We’re finally home.”

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