WILLIAM DOUGLAS PACED BEHIND THE frozen earthworks that guarded Castle Rising, an old royal mint so grim and neglected that it made London Tower seem hospitable. As the Earl of Mar and patriarch of his clan of Lanarkshire warriors, he had survived English assaults on the bloody fields of Neville’s Cross and Poitiers, but never had his fortitude so lagged as it did now. Drafted by King David to serve as a ransom surety for the onerous Treaty of Berwick, he was homesick for Scotland, having been away for over half a year. He stole a glance over his shoulder at the East Anglian peat beds that lay north across the low broads. If he and his squire could break free of their warden, they might reach the Borders and hide in the tangled briars of Ettrick Forest, just as King Robert’s mossers had done half a century ago.
He asked himself again: Why would the She-Wolf demand to meet him?
Did the brooding harridan seek to be entertained by his humiliation in defeat? No fellow Scot would shame him for wishing to shun the task at hand, for inside that ice-corniced mausoleum prowled the most dangerous and reviled woman in all the Isles. Isabella of France, the hoary old queen mother of England, had been at various turns in her infamous existence an insatiable adulteress, a regicide and usurper of the throne, a changeling who wore armor into battle and perverted nature by making love like a man, a sorceress who had beguiled her own son by slithering into his bed at night, a necromancer who held séances with her beheaded—
The gate portcullis cranked up, and a detail of English pikemen in hobnailed boots marched from the tower and across the ice-glazed boards.
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