Broughty Castle from the landward side. 15th century tower with late 19th century outer works. (Photo: James Kemp)

The King’s Peace is a standalone short story set in the same universe as the Yngvild stories, but from a different cultural perspective, that of the Dael Riatans, inspired by some local history. There’s a load of world-building for this on my wiki site, as well as in my notebooks.

I wrote this for Write Club, but also because it expands a bit of my universe that I’m using for a game I’m planning to run. Key character bios are


Many of these names are taken from Gaelic, or old Scots. So they don’t necessarily sound the way you would expect in English.

Murchadh = Murray

Suibhne = Sweeney

Uisdean = OOshdin

The King’s Peace

The servants cleared away the depleted platters from the last course. All the choice morsels gone, and the magnificent displays wrecked by the knives and spoons of the nobility present. The King, a well-fed young man in a pale pink silk suit with a sparkle in his eyes, sat in the centre of the high table in front of the great fireplace, the once roaring fire now a heap of glowing coals. Behind him a tall muscular man in a green suit decorated with gold braid and the badge of the King’s Guard stood two paces from the table. Close enough if he stepped and leant in that he could touch the King, yet far enough back not to be seen or sensed.

On the King’s right sits their host, Alasdair Suibhne the 7th Earl of Douglas, clad in the traditional black of the Douglases. As the servants clear the last of the food away, leaving only drinks for the nobles the King leans over to whisper in the ear of the Earl.

I am minded to speak in private with the 5th Earl of Uisdean and his brother so we can together keep the King’s Peace.’

Certainly, your majesty, we can clear the hall for you.’

That would please me no end.’ The King smiled and turned to the man on his left, lavishly dressed in a sea green silk doublet with pearls sown in swirls on it. A gold chain set with emeralds ran over his shoulders and across his chest. A strawberry blonde beard chased with white followed his jawline, leaving the star-shaped scar on his cheek clearly visible. Next to him, sat another reddish-blonde haired man with a sun-kissed face that was almost identical, less the beard and scar, to the Earl of Uisdean’s. Fearchar’s clothes were a pale blue silk, with diagonal ribbons of the same sea green as his elder brother.

Your Grace, Now that we’ve enjoyed the hospitality of His Grace the Earl of Douglas I would speak with you and your brother so that we may ensure the peace is kept between us.’

Of course Your Majesty, I would like to put an end to the matter between us.’

Let us speak in private then, with your brother and my steward to witness our reconciliation.’

That would please me, your majesty.’

The Earl of Douglas stood, ‘If it please your majesty, we should leave you now.’

The King stood, ‘it does, your grace.’

With a scraping of chairs, the rest of the assembled nobles and gentry rose, bowed towards the King and left the room.

A goblet in hand, the King turned to watch the fire while the others left the room.

The door closed, and the gentleman in green that stood behind unsheathed his sword and placed it on the table, point towards the chairs they’d been sat in.

How private do you think this conversation will be?’ the King said.

Private enough, your majesty.’ The Earl looked around, ‘but if Caer Suibhne is anything like my hall there are at least two watchers somewhere.’

It should not surprise me, but I do think it ought not to matter much.’

Your Grace, my lord, if you could place your swords on mine please.’ The King’s Steward gestured with an open palm at the table. ‘We can begin.’

Fearchar drew his sword, a wavy bladed long sword with little adornment beyond a swept hilt. The hand grip showed long use, although the edge of the blade was bright and the whole well oiled. He placed it carefully on the table next to the Steward’s sword and then stepped away from the table. .

The Earl followed suit. His sword was smaller, a blue enamelled blade with a gilted scallop as a hand guard. More badge of office than fighting weapon.

‘Alas, I am unarmed and cannot add my sword to these three.’ the King flourished his hand around as he spoke. ‘come, let us talk’.

The steward had turned three chairs to face the fire, the King’s on one side, the Earl in the middle and his brother on the other side.

All three sat, the Steward stood back where he had during dinner, a couple of paces behind the King.

‘Your Grace, I have been thinking on this matter for some time. We need a binding resolution that cannot be unpicked to ensure the King’s Peace is kept. Are you ready for that?’

‘I serve the best interests of Dael Riata, your majesty. So I am ready to serve as best I can.’

‘Good.’ The King drank from his glass. ‘There are three things I need from you. First, I need to know that you will not ever bear arms or raise rebellion against me.’

‘I have already sworn my oath not to do that, and will gladly repeat that.’

‘Second, I need the Uisdean fleet to be on its best behaviour and not causing trouble with other states.’

‘and the third thing, your majesty?’

‘I need you to make amends for my mother.’

‘I am not proud of what was done, but it was in the best interests of Dael Riata.’ the Earl hung his head, shaking it slowly from side to side. ‘With hindsight I regret it deeply. We thought her cousin would treat her well. What happened.’ the Earl looked up. ‘None of us wanted that. You have to believe me.’

‘We can’t undo what was done. All we can do is make the best of where we find ourselves.’

‘Eustus, your majesty?’

‘The Earl of Ardmor made sure I got the best education the university could provide.’

‘Indeed he did. I expect you have a solution in mind to our situation. So what is the other side of the bargain, your majesty?’

‘As a King, I can’t be seen to reward those that raise rebellion, it sets a bad example and might encourage the wrong people.’

‘It was some time ago now.’

‘It was. So I think I can offer you some things that wouldn’t risk my throne.’

‘Such as?’

‘So long as the conditions set out are kept I will guarantee that a Murchadh is the Earl of Uisdean, and that all the current lands held by you remain with the title.’

‘A Murchadh?’

‘You, for as long as you live, I’m not asking you to step aside. Your brother will inherit, unless you father some children between now and then.’

‘Apologies, I ought not to think ill.’

‘Talking of apologies, there’s one I’m going to need made.’

‘If it ends our feud I am ready to make an apology.’

The King nodded. ‘Yes.’

The Earl’s eyes went wide, he jerked away from the King as a sword sliced swiftly separating his head from his neck. Before his brother could react, the Steward pivoted on the point of the sword and drove it into his chest, pinning him to the chair as his pale blue and sea green silk doublet stained claret with his blood.

The Earl’s head fell and rolled across the floor as blood fountained from his neck, spraying the wood panelling above the fireplace, and spattering the others.

‘Treason!’ The king rose and pushed the Earl’s body away from him.

‘Treason!’ the King shouted again.

Swords clattered as the Steward threw them on the floor from the table before kicking it over.

The King backed away from the bodies, holding a bloody napkin to his face. His chest covered in gore, and a faint mist of red all over his previously spotless pale pink suit.

The Steward grabbed his sword and pulled it from Fearchar’s corpse. He pushed the chair over, dumping the body onto the floor.

‘Help! Save the King!’ he shouted.

The doors banged open. Two men ran in, servants in the Douglas livery. Their eyes grew wide at the bloody scene before them. One doubled up and vomited on the flagstones, narrowly missing a rug.

Behind them more men came running, including a guard in a polished breastplate and helmet with a halberd.

Treason!’ the King pointed at the corpses on the floor in front of the fireplace. Although both bodies had stopped pumping out blood the pool was slowly spreading and forming rivulets as it found the lower lying parts of the great hall’s floor.

Are there more?’ the guard held his halberd in both hands point forward.

I think the immediate danger has passed.’ The Steward said. ‘But it might be safer to confine the rest of the Murchadh retainers to their quarters.’

Good idea. Make that happen.’ Said the King.

The guard turned and grabbed the servant that had vomited, who was hastily wiping his mouth with his sleeve. ‘Take a message to Mister Soutar, tell him what happened, and that the Murchadhs need confined on the King’s orders.’

The servant nodded and fled the scene, as two more guards arrived.

Your majesty. Are you injured?’ the Steward held out a hand towards the King, who had a bloodied napkin still pressed to his face.

It is a minor scratch, but perhaps we might repair to my rooms so that I can have my attendant look at it.’

Let me help you.’ The Steward put his sword point to the scabbard to return it.

No, keep your sword to hand, who knows who we might meet on the way.’

The steward brought the sword back to the ready. ‘Guards, I need you to help me escort the King to a place of safety.’

Calum, Seoras, lead the way. I’ll bring up the rear.’ The first guard said.

Calum and Seoras lead them out through the doors, side by side with their halberds held horizontally, left hand under the chin and their right to balance it behind them. They walked steadily through the castle corridors with the King following a few paces behind them, the Steward at his side. The other guard walked backwards behind them his halberd pointing backwards, ready lest an enemy try to creep up behind them.

As they walked they could hear the alarm being raised around the castle. Shouts and the sounds of running grew louder and more omnipresent as they closed on the chambers assigned to the King.

Stand!’ a green armoured King’s Guard in full plate challenged the party, levelling his partisan toward them.

The Suibhne guards stopped.

Who goes there?’ the King’s Guard shouted.

The steward pushed between the Suibhne guards. ‘The King and escort.’

The King’s Guard let go of his pole arm with one hand and bashed the door he stood in front of twice with his armoured fist.

Thank you, gentlemen, best you go report to Mister Soutar.’ The King, still holding the napkin to his face, nodded to the guards before walking through the now opened door.

The Suibhne guards departed and two more King’s Guards joined the two that had been guarding the door in the corridor.

You can put the sword away now, I think.’ The King said once they were inside the chambers and the door closed.