Knight in Highland Armor

By: Amy Jarecki

Highland Dynasty Series—Book One

Chapter One

Dunstaffnage Castle, Firth of Lorn, Scotland, 29th August, 1455

The cries of the motherless baby shrieked through the passageway and filled his chamber. Seated at the round table beside an immense hearth, Colin cradled his head in his hands. He could do nothing to stop his newborn son’s cries. Yes, he, the feared Black Knight of Rome, had also been powerless to prevent Jonet’s death. He’d now lost two wives. The first to the sweat, and last night, his dearest Jonet’s lifeblood drained into the mattress while baby Duncan suckled at her breast.

The relentless high-pitched screams gnawed at Colin’s insides. He’d stood beside his wife while her face turned from rosy to blue. It happened so fast, the midwife had little time to react. Colin had barreled through the stone corridors, shouting orders. He’d sent for the physician, though by the time the black-robed man arrived, Jonet had passed.

Colin hated his weakness. His heart stuck in his throat. His eyes burned with unshed tears. Why did death follow him like a shadow? He’d seen more than his fill. A Knight of the Order of St. John, a Hospitaller, Colin had seen unimaginable brutality and death in his seven and twenty years. The war against the enemies of Christendom had earned him the reputation of Black Colin, a knight feared throughout the Holy Land and beyond.

He combed his fingers through his hair. A dark cloud of despair filled his insides. Jonet was his beloved. Beautiful, with luscious raven hair and a winsome smile, she embodied his ideal of femininity.

He bit his fist and forced back his urge to weep. He had not shed a tear since the age of seven. By God, he would not show weakness now, not even while sitting alone in his dimly lit chamber.

Colin’s gaze dropped to the missive lying open on the table. He steadied his hand, picked it up, and reread the critical request delivered this morn.

…Your brothers continue to fight in your absence. Since Constantinople fell to the Turks, the infidel Muslims have increased their efforts, raiding Rhodes and surrounding islands. Though I understand your duty to your family following the death of your father, the esteemed and venerated Lord of Argyll, we desperately need your leadership and your army forthwith.

I fear our stronghold at Rhodes and indeed our Order will fall if we cannot marshal our efforts and drive our enemies out of Christendom once and for all.

I respectfully appeal for your return to Rome for a third term, for once a Knight Hospitaller, you are bound to the Order for life.

Dutifully, your brother in Christ,

Jacques de Milly, Grand Master, The Order of St. John

Colin slapped the missive onto the table and shoved back his chair. The crying intensified. He stood and paced, clenching his fists. So many things demanded his attention. He’d executed not a one with a modicum of success. After the death of his father, his first priority was to see his nephew, the new Lord Argyll, established in his lofty role. Until order on that side of the family was restored, he’d overseen the obedience of the crofters who paid rents. Fortunately, with England embroiled in civil war, threats to the Campbell dynasty were minimal—merely feuding clans and marauding outlaws.

The crying stopped. Thank God. At last he could think clearly. Wallowing in his own self-pity would serve no one, and most certainly would not hasten his voyage back to Rome. His nephew had assumed his role of Lord Argyll with little resistance. At least that significant hurdle had been surmounted.

A light tap disturbed his misery.

Colin faced the heavy oak door. “Come in.”

Effie, the woman who’d nursed him as a babe, now in charge of Duncan’s care, entered and curtseyed. “The wet nurse has arrived, m’lord.”

“I assumed the same, given the sudden quiet.”

Sadness filled her eyes. “He’s a strong lad.”

He scratched the two days of stubble peppering his face. “Aye, if his lungs are any indication, he’ll become a feared knight of Christendom.”

“Following in his father’s footsteps, no doubt.”

Colin forced a smile, though the ache in his heart made the effort near impossible.

Since the death of his ma, his old nursemaid had played the part of a mother figure, though his reliance on her advice had waned considerably after his marriage to Jonet and tours of duty for Rome. Effie stepped further into the room. “You look troubled, m’lord.”

Hot ire flared up the back of his neck. What did she expect, a man hewn of iron? He met her concerned gaze and inhaled. Of course, Effie meant well. “I’ve received a missive from Rome requesting another crusade.”

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