Duncan Campbell wakes to discover he is imprisoned with a woman in his enemy's dungeon in the Highlands of Scotland. The disenchanted warrior hopes his last few moments on earth will be spent in the arms of the sweet-voiced Isabel. If only she will cooperate.
Isabel Douglas has no intention of obliging the crude captive. The penniless noblewoman considers herself too tall and thin to be desirable. She intends to become a nun. But first, disguised as a boy, she must deliver an important letter to Scotland's hero in hiding, King Robert the Bruce.
Together, the pair make a daring escape that plunges them into the bleak countryside in the middle of winter. In the struggle to survive, they learn the true strength of their feelings for each other. But when Duncan's animosity towards the king becomes evident, Isabel must decide between her heart and her country.
Most people have heard of Robert the Bruce. He was the fourteenth century king who led Scotland in their battle for independence against England. What many of you don’t know is that he grew up surrounded by strong women.
His mother, Marjory, Countess of Carrick married a man named Adam Kilconquhar. Marjory was a woman of power, her title awarded by birth not by marriage. When Adam died on crusade in 1270 his friend Robert Bruce (Or Robert de Brus) travelled to her home at Turnberry Castle in Ayrshire to give her the news. Marjory took a liking to Robert and imprisoned him until he agreed to marry her. They were married in 1271. They must have been reasonably happy because they had at least ten children, including three daughters, Christina, Isabel, and Mary.
Isabel Bruce married King Eric II of Norway in 1293, and she was widowed six years later in 1299. She never remarried or returned to Scotland, but chose to live out her days independently as Queen Dowager. It is known that she was a supporter of the church, acted as a mediator in land disputes, and arranged her daughter’s marriage to Valdemar Magnusson of Sweden.
Sisters Christina and Mary were not so fortunate.
After his defeat at the Battle of Methven, Robert sent his wife, daughter, sisters, and Christina’s husband, Christopher Seaton, north to his brother Neil for safety. They were betrayed and captured at Tain in Easter Ross. Neil and Christopher were executed. The rest of the women were sent to England where King Edward I decided their fate. Edward was lenient with Christina, a grieving widow, and she was imprisoned in a convent at Sixhills in Lincolnshire, England.
After her release in 1314 she married Andrew Murray, Andrew was appointed the Guardian of Scotland after Robert’s death. In 1333 the English launched a second invasion of Scotland. And in 1335 English forces besieged Kildrummy Castle. A spirited Christina, now in her sixties, led the defenders holding out until her husband, Andrew, could march north and mount a counter attack. She died in 1357 aged 84.
I feel Mary had the hardest life, when captured by the English, Edward I ordered her to be held in a cage made of wood and iron and suspended from the walls of Roxburgh Castle. She was forced to survive the cold Scottish winters outside with very little in the way of creature comforts. She had no privacy and the only person she had contact with was her guard who was not permitted to converse with her.
Isabella MacDuff who had crowned King Robert I and was travelling with the Bruce women also suffered a similar fate. Her cage was hung from the walls of Berwick castle. It is believed Isabella died during this ordeal.
In spite of the many hardships she endured Mary survived and after her release, in 1314, married Neil (Naill) Campbell, a supporter of Robert. Neil died in 1316. Mary went on to marry Alexander Fraser of Touchfraser and Cowie. One can only hope that the men she married treated her well and that she was happy in her later years. She died in 1323 in her early forties.
As much as I admire the Bruce women they were not the inspiration for my story A Woman of Honour, but it is set against the backdrop of the first Scottish War for Independence. Robert is on the run somewhere in the West of Scotland and the Bruce women have been captured. My heroine, Isabel Douglas, has been ordered by her guardian to travel to the Island of Iona. Where she is to take holy orders and avoid capture by the English. It is only by chance that she finds herself in a dungeon with Duncan Campbell, Niall Campbell’s brother.
Excerpt from A Woman of Honour
Duncan Campbell drifted into consciousness and opened his eyes to absolute blackness. He lay perfectly still on the cold, dirt floor listening. A small rustle of fabric echoed in the darkness. He cocked his head, getting a sense of the sound’s location, then rose to his feet.
“Tell me who you are before I tear you apart,” he roared, seizing his opponent. Whoever it was didn’t answer, just silence. A fist punched him on the nose. Pain ricocheted through him, and he grabbed his face. In the dark, he lost his balance and fell in the dirt, cradling his head in his hands.
“Oh my, are you all right?” asked a small voice.
“No, I’m not.”
“You threatened me, and I wanted to give you fair warning I will fight back if you touch me.”
The lyrical voice stunned him. A woman? She spoke Gaelic with a strong, lowland accent. He shook off the pain and asked,
“Where am I?”
“Dunstaffnage Castle. Don’t you remember your capture? I’ve heard of people getting a bump on the head and not remembering their own name. Is that what happened to you? Did you bump your head?”
Lord, she was talkative.
“I remember I was hit from behind scouting the bast….Are we in the dungeon?” He rose to his feet.
He grunted. On the bright side he hadn’t gone blind. On the other hand they were in a dank, windowless cell with no hope of escape. There wasn’t even a sliver of light coming through the door.
After being thrown out of England for refusing to drink tea, Marlow Kelly made her way to Canada where she found love, a home and a pug named Max. She also discovered her love of storytelling. Encouraged by her husband, children and let’s not forget Max, she started putting her ideas to paper. Her need to write about strong women in crisis drives her stories and her curiosity regarding the lives and loves of historical figures are the inspiration for her characters.
You can visit Marlow at www.marlowkelly.com