Title HEIR TO A PROPHECY
Author MERCEDES ROCHELLE
Genre HISTORICAL FICTION
Publisher SERGEANT PRESS
Book Blurb Shakespeare's Witches tell Banquo, "Thou Shalt 'Get Kings Though Thou Be None". Though Banquo is murdered, his son Fleance gets away. What happened to Fleance? What Kings?
The road to kingship had a most inauspicious beginning, and we follow Fleance into exile and death, passing the Witches' prophecy to his son Walter. Born on the wrong side of the blanket and raised in disgrace, Walter was caught inside of a destiny he barely understood. In an effort to untangle Banquo's murder and honor his lineage, Walter moved through events that shaped the course of England and Scotland. His relationships with the great men of his time drove his destiny: Harold Godwineson, Alain of Brittany and finally Malcolm III. After a long and treacherous journey through Wales, England, and France, Walter fulfilled the witches’ prophecy as the first Steward of Scotland and ancestor of James I—for whom Shakespeare wrote Macbeth.
CHAPTER 1: AMBUSH
Fleance barely slowed his step as Banquo stopped again, removing a rock from his shoe. He and his father were already late to the king's banquet, and a half mile still stretched between them and the castle gate. It had seemed like a fine idea a couple of hours ago, taking a walk to get away from that hostile environment. There had been too many uncomfortable pauses in conversation, too many unfinished phrases, too many sideways glances. But now, dusk was quickly deepening into night, and it was getting difficult to see into the forest. There was probably a spy in every tree, for all he could tell.
"Blast this uphill climb," he grumbled as Banquo adjusted his cloak clasp. He glanced at his father wryly; this reticence was most unusual for him. His father grunted a response, but finally shifted his belt, shaking off his lethargy. Picking up their pace, father and son strode deep into the forest.
It was a quiet night, punctuated by the crunch of stones underfoot. Not a cricket was heard, nor birds, only the sigh of leaves rustling far overhead.
"It shall be rain tonight," Banquo said.
From behind came the cry: "Let it come down!"
In an instant, three dark forms were among them. Banquo was their main target, and two of them fell upon him, slashing the startled man in the face. The worthy lord was blinded by his own blood even as he shouted, "Villains, Murderers! Fly, Fleance, Fly!"
Though past his physical prime, the old warrior still was more than a match for both opponents. With a practiced motion, Banquo swept his sword from the scabbard, aiming an overhead cut at his nearest attacker's head. If the blow had hit, he would have cleaved the man's skull. But the blood was flowing so fast into his eyes that his aim was flawed. The blade only glanced off the other's shoulder, eliciting a howl of pain.
Enraged, the murderer dived at Banquo, catching him in the throat with a dagger. Letting go the knife, the man stepped back, clutching his arm; he was astounded that Banquo was still on his feet. For a moment, it seemed that their victim would respond with a last lunge. Then he staggered, gurgling, and collapsed into the arms of his murderers.
Fleance was already in motion before his father had shouted. Shoving his torch into the third assassin's face, he set the man's mask aflame. Screaming, clawing his face, the murderer went down, his feet kicked out from under him.
Fleance allowed himself a brief sneer. Then, wasting no more time, he moved toward the others when he saw the killers slashing Banquo's face. The boy hesitated, reluctant to abandon his father. But the assassins were too good at their work. Even from this distance he could tell that Banquo was already finished; his body gave no more sign of life.
It was also clear that their companion’s screaming made no impression on them; the assassins must have assumed that the victim was himself. Cursing, Fleance took advantage of the confusion. He stamped out his torch, kicked his assailant once more as the man was struggling up, and ran for his life.
Murder gave the forest a sinister cast. The trees seemed to bend their limbs before him, seeking to block his way. Fleance's breath came in short gasps, heightening the pain in his side as he ran frantically the way he had come.
His first thought was to go to Macbeth and raise a search party to ride down these outlaws. Then, a deeper, more telling conviction assailed him, though he knew not whence it came: perhaps the murderers were not there by chance. Perhaps they were paid assassins, in which case he could trust no one.
He considered, leaning against a tree and catching his breath. He wasn’t going anywhere without a horse, and both horses were still stabled at the castle. Going any closer to that accursed place was the last thing he wanted to do; however, he reminded himself that no one besides the assassins would know that there had been any trouble.
It was a risk. Perhaps they would lie in wait for him near the stables and finish the job. But he had a feeling that they would be too busy tending their wounds. Despite himself, Fleance smiled grimly.
He looked slowly around the tree and up the path. Everything was quiet. He took one step then another, resisting the urge to break into a run. This was no time to panic. He needed to keep his senses about him. He looked one more time in all directions, then began striding quickly toward the castle, hand on his dagger.
No one stopped him at the castle gate and Fleance went directly to the stabler’s door. He knocked quickly then stepped back, looking around. There was no indication he was being followed yet.
The stabler took his time answering, his face breaking into a scowl when he recognized Fleance; he hadn’t expected anyone to leave for some hours yet. But when the youth held out a penny, his mouth curled into a greedy sneer and he quickly came out, making the coin disappear as he passed.
Fleance watched him go into the stable, resisting the urge to shout at the other to hurry up. The man seemed to take an inordinately long time, then he came out—alone.
"What about t’other?"
"I only need one now. Is he ready?"
The man shrugged. "Whatever you want." He opened the stable door and Fleance sighed with relief to see that his horse was saddled. Without another word he mounted, offering no explanation for his hasty conduct and rode off, leaving the man scratching his head.
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Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. She believes that good Historical Fiction, or Faction as it’s coming to be known, is an excellent way to introduce the subject to curious readers. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.
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