The Cathedral

Toledo Cathedral

The Cathedral

Shadows grow long and solemn
In cool columned halls of stone
While pale footsteps echo like voices
And dim candles flicker and glow

The ceiling stands distant and lofty
With carving that dances like lace
While stone clouds sit still and silent
And gather round a blank, white stone face

The organ now rumbles and whispers
From pipes that are fashioned of gold
Aged, but yet still remembers
The sound of the myst’ries untold

In aisle and alley and corner
In prominent angle and space
Great figures of eras long passing
In stone, find their last resting place

Visions of great Bible stories
In varying tones and hues
Spread like a gilded curtain
There before dark, age-worn pews

A figure stands here on the altar
Welcoming all who are lost
With arms spread in patience and comfort
Whose shadow there covers the cross

The saints here all line every window
Madonnas stand silent and nod
I see the Christ suff’ring and bleeding
But where is the living God?

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Willy’s Covenant: Chapter 4

<<< Chapter 3

————————————-

Chapter 4

The sky was already tinged with shades of red and faint gold when Willy at last directed Bonnie down the lane that led to the house of one Mr. Crenshaw, the owner of a small shipping company and a friend of Mr. McKenzie. The large stone house loomed like a grey ghost in the remnants of morning fog that surrounded it. There didn’t seem to be any movement from within, but that wasn’t incredibly surprising considering how early it still was.

The house was old, though not as old as the McKenzie house, and was set up on a hill that looked down on the seaport town of Irvine. Even from that distance, Willy could still see the white sails of the ships resting in Irvine’s relatively new Fullarton Harbour.

The shadow of the Crenshaw house fell over Willy like a cloak, and he pulled Bonnie to a stop not far from the front door. The young man tried to rub the exhaustion out of his eyes before he slid from the saddle, his boots crunching in the dirt of the driveway. The satchel he had slung over his shoulder began to wiggle, and Willy could barely undo the latches before Artair poked his little head out from beneath the flap.

“I know you want out, but you had best stay there a wee bit longer, lad,” Willy chuckled, patting the puppy on the head. “Though I must say, you’ve been a good boy. This is far too small a bag for you.”

The puppy whined and licked the man’s hand.

“You must be hungry, as well,” the young man sighed. “I certainly am.”

Tucking Artair back into the satchel for the time being, Willy stepped up to the front door and knocked. A few moments later, he heard rustling from inside, and the door opened to reveal a middle-aged man still clad in his nightshirt.

“Can I help you?” the man inquired cautiously.

“Are you Mr. Crenshaw?” Willy inquired.

“I am.”

“Mr. McKenzie sent me.”

A light of recognition came to Mr. Crenshaw’s eyes.

“Put your horse in the stable,” he said as he motioned toward a partly stone, partly wooden edifice not far from the house, his voice hushed. “Then come inside. Be quick about it.”

š***

Mr. Crenshaw had already dressed for the day by the time Willy stepped into the main room.

“Take a seat, lad,” the older man said, crossing over to a bottle of what looked to be whisky and pouring some into a couple of small lead crystal glasses.

Quietly Willy sank down into a chair. He hadn’t been sitting long, however, when Artair began to squirm in his satchel, and before the young man could react, the puppy had jumped out and onto the floor.

“Artair,” Willy growled, reaching for the puppy. “Get back here.”

Mr. Crenshaw paused in surprise, blinking at the pair as the younger Scotsman picked the greyhound puppy up off the floor.

“I’m sorry,” Willy apologized, sitting back down in his seat. “It’s a long story.”

“I’m not asking a thing,” the older man replied, shaking his head as he handed one of the glasses to his visitor.

“Now, then,” he said, taking a seat opposite of Willy and sipping at his brandy as he eyed the younger man before him. “You look pretty well done in. I take it the dogs have been at the old McKenzie place, then?”

“Aye,” Willy sighed. “Last night. About 9, I’d say. Was a miracle they didn’t find me. I can’t stay here anymore. I’m putting everyone in danger. Mr. McKenzie said you’d help me.”

Mr. Crenshaw pursed his lips in thought, nodding slowly.

“Aye,” he said, glancing out the window to his right which looked out over the port city beyond. “Aye, there might be something we can do. I’m no use in a fight.” He chuckled slightly. “At least, not in a fight that uses anything other than fists. But I respect you, and your mission. It’s a shame you can’t even be safe in your own country.”

Mr. Crenshaw downed the last of his whiskey in a single gulp, then set the glass aside and stood to his feet.

“I’ll go down to the port. See what I can do. The king’s got the harbor locked up tight, though. Been that way ever since Bothwell. There are patrols out seaside, too, and they’ve got no qualms about boarding and searching any ship bound for Ireland.”

“Have other Covenanters gone there as well?” Willy inquired. He wasn’t sure whether to be frightened or excited about the thought.

“Aye,” Mr. Crenshaw nodded. “Or at least, that’s the thought. Fine, wild country, that. A man could hide for years and no one would ever be the wiser.”

The older man started off toward the door, but Willy quickly stood to his feet.

“Mr. Crenshaw,” he said.

Mr. Crenshaw paused to look back at him.

“Aye?”

“Is there somewhere I might be able to sleep?”

Artair yipped and bit lightly at the young man’s chin.

“And, if it isn’t too much to ask, some food for myself and my dog.”

“Ah,” Mr. Crenshaw smiled slightly, turning in a different direction, presumably toward the kitchen and larder. “I suppose we could find something for the both of you.”

***›

Thunder rattled the windows nearby as Willy woke to the feeling of a large hand shaking him awake. The young man sat up quickly, causing Artair, who had been sleeping peacefully on the young man’s chest, to whine as he slid down into Willy’s lap.

“Easy, now,” Mr. Crenshaw said, chuckling. “No need to hurt yourself.”

“Is something the matter?” Willy asked, rubbing his face with his hand in an attempt to bring some life back into it and wake himself up.

“That depends greatly on your meaning,” the older Scotsman replied, stepping back as Willy threw his legs over the side of the bed. “I’ve already loaded your horse onto one of my ships. It’s moored now just up the coast past the harbor. Getting there should be no trouble, but…”

Mr. Crenshaw glanced out the nearby window as another bolt of lightning struck across the sky, lighting the landscape up as though it were daytime.

“The storm is getting bad. It’s risky business, sailing tonight, but the Royalists have been watching me closely since early this afternoon. Most likely because they suspect Mr. McKenzie. We’ve all got our necks on the block with this. I’ll not go down without a fight, but I hope you are aware of what may come.”

A lump began to form in Willy’s throat, but he swallowed it down and, scooping Artair up under one arm, replied, “Aye.”

For a moment, Mr. Crenshaw eyed him. Then with that, the older Scotsman turned on his heels and motioned for the younger man to follow him, saying, “Get what you need and follow me. We’ll take a pair of my own horses down as soon as you’re ready.”

š***›

Heavy drops of rain had already begun to fall as Willy jogged into the stables a few minutes later. Already Mr. Crenshaw had saddled two of his horses – a large bay and a smaller chestnut – and the man swung into the bay’s saddle when Willy stepped through the door.

“Hurry and get up, lad. We don’t have much time to spare.”

The younger man nodded in acknowledgement, then flipped open the top of the satchel Lizzie had given him and placed Artair inside. The puppy whined in protest as Willy closed the flap back over him and tied it firmly shut.

“I know, lad,” the young man said as he grabbed his mount’s reins and swung up into the saddle. “Not for much longer, now.”

“Ready?” Mr. Crenshaw inquired as the horses danced with the rumbling of thunder outside the stable.

Quickly, Willy pulled the hood of the coat Mr. McKenzie had given him up over his head.

“Aye. Let’s go.”

Mr. Crenshaw dug his heels into his mount’s sides, and Willy followed suit as they took off at a lope out the stable doorway. The horses’ hooves rumbled like a drum roll down the gravel drive. Ice-cold rain droplets stung Willy’s cheeks as the wind sang past him, and with each flash of lightning he could easily make out the contours of the boiling black clouds above.

The two men slowed their horses to a fast walk as they swung around a curve in the road and down the hill. A flash of lightning lit up the harbor beyond, the white sails of the moored ships shivering like a ghostly retinue in the wind, and Willy’s mount shied slightly to one side. The young man pulled back on the reins, trying to regain control of his mount. Not a moment later, Mr. Crenshaw had pulled up beside him, motioning urgently to the side of the road while nodding his head in the direction of Irvine. Willy glanced up in time to see the glow of a couple lanterns flicker at the bottom of the hill, bright red coats glimmering like blood with each flash of lightning. Immediately, the pair swerved off the road and down behind a rise in the hill, away from the patrol they had seen only moments before.

Already cold driblets of water coursed down Willy’s bare neck and his coat felt heavy with rainwater. The foul weather was beginning to make his arm ache, making the ride that much more difficult to bear.

Another flash of lightning struck across the sky, illuminating the form of a small sailing vessel moored in a natural harbor up ahead, and a moment later Willy slid to the ground a few feet from a small skiff held in place by one of Mr. Crenshaw’s servants. Another man, who looked to be a sailor, sat at the oars of the skiff, his expression grim.

The servant trotted up to Willy the moment his feet hit the ground, nodding briefly at him before taking hold of his mount’s reins. Boots sloshed against the wet earth as Mr. Crenshaw dismounted and stepped forward, leading his horse behind him.

“Mr. Gilliland,” the older man said, holding a hand out toward him. “God be with you.”

“Thank you,” Willy nodded, shaking the man’s hand firmly. “You as well.”

At that he turned and hurried to the skiff, stepping carefully inside as it rocked against the crashing waves. The oarsman didn’t say a word as he pushed away from the shore. Angry waves dashed against the skiff’s sides, tumbling over the edges in what seemed to be bucket loads and soaking Willy’s feet even more than they already were, if that were even possible.

A particularly large wave knocked the skiff against the hull of the ship, and the oarsman pulled the oars into the little craft, grabbing a large, waterlogged rope that hung over the side of the ship before the waves could carry them further out to sea. Shadowed faces appeared over the rail above them, and a moment later a rope ladder clapped against the wooden hull, hanging just above Willy’s head.

“Climb,” the oarsman instructed, motioning with his hand toward the rope ladder that fluttered in the wind.

Willy swallowed hard as he looked up at the flimsy series of knotted rope strands, then reached up and shakily pulled himself to his feet. The skiff dipped down on a wave and the young Scotsman tightened his grip as he felt his footing give way, and it was several moments before he found the balance to begin climbing. Horses, he was accustomed to; walking, he was accustomed to; anything regarding a ship, however…

The young man floundered on the rope ladder as he slowly worked his way up, flopping from one side to the next each time the ship rose and fell on a wave. He could almost hear James laughing at his comical display, and he might have laughed at himself if not for the gravity of the situation. He was beginning to think that he would never make it to the top when he felt several pairs of strong, calloused hands grab him by the arms and hands and pull him up onto the deck. Some of the sailors threw more ropes over the edge, and a moment later the oarsman who had been guiding the skiff appeared over the railing, the other sailors hauling the skiff up onto the deck simultaneously.

Willy stood shivering on deck as he watched the sailors busy themselves with the ship. Honestly, he knew that he probably ought to be doing something to help them, but ships were far from his specialty.

“Here, lad,” came a deep, gravelly voice from behind him.

Willy turned as he felt a heavy hand come to rest on his shoulder. The man standing next to him was obviously a sailor, but his style of dress was slightly different, and Willy wondered if he might be the captain.

“Follow me,” the man said, motioning toward a set of steps that led down below the main deck. “It’s best you not stay out here.”

Willy was more than happy to oblige as he followed the sailor below deck and into a dank chamber with several hammocks hanging from the ceiling. The room smelled strange, heavy with odors both familiar and unfamiliar to the young Scotsman. Most likely, Willy thought, because it couldn’t be aired out and was generally inhabited by multiple unwashed men.

The hammocks swayed to the side as the ship dipped on a wave and Willy stumbled back into the wall behind him. He was beginning to think that even standing was a hazardous endeavor. The sailor, though, seemed unfazed as he walked across the tiny quarter and pulled a blanket off one of the hammocks.

“Here,” he said, returning to Willy and holding the blanket out toward the young man. “I’ve got to go back on deck, but you should take some of those wet clothes off and wrap up in this. Likely to catch a chill otherwise. We’ll come get you when we land.”

“Thank you,” Willy nodded appreciatively as he shed his coat.

The sailor nodded back, but didn’t wait for further conversation as he set off back the way he had come.

Carefully, Willy sank to the floor, untying the latches of his satchel. Artair spilled out in a heap and quickly skittered to his feet, sparing no time in exploring his new surroundings as Willy shed his shirt and boots and wrapped up in the blanket. The puppy wobbled as the ship pitched, and he seemed to be growing accustomed to walking on uneven ground until one particularly violent wave crashed against the hull of the ship. The craft shuddered with the impact, then took a surprisingly fast dive in one direction, crashing the puppy’s nose against the wall before sending him sliding backwards across the small space.

Willy braced himself to keep himself from tumbling to the side, and he couldn’t help but chuckle when Artair rolled up against him. The puppy righted himself as the ship evened out again. The little creature shook himself as if to be rid of the entire experience, gave the wall one very disdainful glare, then laid down against Willy’s thigh with a huff.

“That’s a good lad,” Willy smiled, patting the puppy on the head.

The puppy wagged his tail and pressed himself even closer to Willy.

Quietly, Willy leaned his head back against the wall, listening to the roaring of the waves and the shouting of sailors outside. The ship creaked and groaned as the sea battered it from all sides, and more than once Willy had to brace himself and grab Artair to keep them both from sliding around the small room like helpless toys.

“What do you think it’ll be like?” Willy asked at length, his voice barely audible above the creaking of the ship and the roaring of the elements outside. “Ireland, I mean. What will I do? Where will I go?”

The young man could feel a knot forming in his stomach as he thought about it. Ireland. To the English, Scotland was a wild place. How much more so, then, would Ireland be? How could Ireland be better than staying and fighting in his own homeland? Only, the English didn’t have as firm a hold on Ireland as they did on Scotland. And, of course, there was talk that other Covenanters had fled to Ireland, too. Perhaps…

Artair stirred next to him and Willy bit back a flood of emotion that nearly overwhelmed him. He was going to a country he had never known, a foreign land where he had neither hearth nor kin. He had fought for God, and now he was to be a stranger in a foreign land, a hunted brute separated from everyone and everything he had ever known and loved. He hadn’t even gotten to tell his mother or father good-bye. Not since leaving for Bothwell, at least, and even then, he had been so sure of victory that he hadn’t really given them a proper good-bye. If he had only known… But how could he? How could he have known that God would give them a victory at Drumclog, only to watch them slaughtered and scattered at Bothwell Bridge? How could he have known that James would have been captured and practically enslaved by the English? How could he have known that he would have to hide like a criminal in his own country and run away, all alone, to a foreign and wild land without knowing if he could ever return? He couldn’t have known that, because he had been so sure God was with them.

Again Artair shifted, this time turning and flopping the front half of his body in Willy’s lap.

“Well, lad,” Willy said, picking the puppy up and looking him in the face. “You’re all I’ve got now.”

The puppy snorted and cocked his head to one side, but wagged his tail some at the same time.

“You don’t think so?”

The puppy yipped and squirmed. Willy set Artair back on the ground and immediately the puppy sprawled across the young man’s lap again, heaving what seemed to be a sigh of contentment and wagging his tail for effect.

Willy smiled slightly as he watched the puppy. Perhaps Lizzie had been smarter than he realized. If he had nothing and no one else, he at least had Artair, didn’t he? A feeling, almost like a whispering touch, passed over Willy’s body and he shivered slightly. There was someone else though, wasn’t there?

Again Willy thought of the battle that had gone so horribly wrong. “If God be for us…” he had said, but had they actually been for God? He thought about all the in-fighting, about Mr. Hamilton’s insistence on brutal punishment of any and all who opposed them, and about Willy’s own pride after the victory at Drumclog. They had won with preachers and pitchforks, they said. But hadn’t they really won with God? Had they, in the end, given the preachers and pitchforks more praise than the God who had used them to win the battle? Was it not a question of whether God was for them but, rather, whether they had been truly for God?

It was then that Willy realized the wind had died down, and that the sailors had become quiet as well. At first he was worried that something terrible had happened, but a moment later the muffled sound of a sailor shouting caught his ears.

“Land, ho!”

Letting Artair slide to the floor with a protesting whimper, Willy stood quickly to his feet, pulling the blanket tighter about his bare shoulders as he stumbled up the steps and back out onto the deck. A brisk breeze met him as he exited the hold. The storm clouds had rolled back some, lingering in the distance to the south, but behind the ship the sun rose like a warm golden disk, highlighting the first lines of a rolling emerald green that rose up on the horizon to the west.

“Would you have a look at that,” came a voice from nearby.

Willy glanced over at the sailor from before, the one he assumed was most likely the captain.

“Almost looks as though there was never a storm about,” the man continued. “And that was no mere storm, either. I’ve never seen the like of it.”

For a moment Willy stared at the sailor, but as the other man strode off, the young Scotsman turned his eyes back toward the horizon. Already the rolling emerald green had grown, stretching north and south as far as the eye could see. Slowly, a half smile crept onto the young man’s face. If God could get him through that terrible storm, could He not also get him through the storm of conflict he now faced?

“For a persecuted church and her martyrs, against a godless church and king, I will take my stand,” he breathed silently, his eyes trained upon the rolling green of the new land before him. “But more than that, for the God for whom we fight, I will lay down anything, even my life. May He be first always and never forgotten. This…this is my covenant.”

Willy’s Covenant: Chapter 3

<<< Chapter 2

——————————————-

Chapter 3

Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance as Willy gingerly stretched his arm out, testing the muscle that had been damaged by the musket ball. He winced slightly at first, but the pain soon subsided as he worked his arm back and forth. The wound was still sore and would need more time to heal, but it had already healed enough that he could use his arm some.

It had been just over a month since Willy had come to live with the McKenzies. He ought to have been in Ireland already, but a recent series of storms had delayed his departure. It had been a tense five weeks, as the Royalists had been scouring the land for those who had managed to escape the battle at Bothwell Bridge, but so far they had seemed to miss the McKenzie household. Willy could only pray that Dalzell and Claverhouse would be so preoccupied with finding the elusive James Ure that they wouldn’t have time to bother with someone as inconsequential as Willy himself.

Now having endured as much stretching as he could for one evening, the young man lowered his hand, gingerly resting it on the shoulder of Lizzie, who lay sleeping with her head on his lap. It hadn’t been long after the evening meal that the little girl had come to him, puppy in her arms, insisting he tell her a story about fairies. As if he knew any stories about fairies. She had settled for a tale about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and now Willy had both Lizzie’s and Artair’s heads lying on his lap, the pair the perfect image of contentment.

Just then, the sound of footsteps caught Willy’s ear and he turned as Mrs. McKenzie came into the room.

“You’d make a better governess than a soldier, I’d say,” the woman teased, poking the logs in the fire with a metal rod, stirring the flames back to life. “Perhaps we should hire you. Keep Lizzie out of mischief. Though knowing you, you’d be causing as much mischief yourself, aye?”

The woman smiled first at him, then down at her daughter before taking a seat in the chair next to the fire.

“And when have I ever caused mischief?” Willy laughed, giving Mrs. McKenzie a lopsided grin.

“When, indeed!” the woman chuckled.

A crack of thunder shook the mansion, and both Mrs. McKenzie and Willy jumped as the sound of the front door opening and slamming shut erupted from down the hall. The pair turned at the sound of quick, heavy footfall, and a moment later Mr. McKenzie appeared in the entryway, rainwater dripping from his coat and the brim of his hat. His chest heaved with labored breaths, as though he had been running for a very long time.

“John!” Mrs. McKenzie exclaimed. “What in heaven’s name? Where have you been off to?”

“Willy, get up,” Mr. McKenzie said, his tone nearly frantic. “I was just at the Burns house when a troop of Royalists came through. Turned the whole place inside out looking for Covenanters. We need to get you out—”

His voice faltered as someone began to pound on the front door.

“Open up, in the name of the king!” came the muffled command.

Lizzie sat up sleepily at the commotion, and she was still rubbing the sleep from her eyes as Willy bounded to his feet.

“What should I do?” the young man asked, his head nearly spinning with fear as cold adrenaline washed like blood into his veins.

“We need to get you out of here,” Mr. McKenzie whispered, moving back down the hall. “I’ll hold them off as best I can. Now hurry!”

Willy turned a pair of wild eyes toward Mrs. McKenzie, hoping she would have some useful advice, but she looked nearly as frantic as he did.

“Try the back door,” the woman said, pushing the young man toward a second entryway on the opposite side of the room.

“Wouldn’t they be watching that door already?” Willy inquired, pausing to look back at the woman.

Mrs. McKenzie paused at this, but their momentary stupor was broken when Lizzie trotted up to Willy, tugging on his shirt to get his attention. She motioned as if she had a secret to tell, so Willy bent down to listen to what she had to say.

“Go through the window in the bedroom with the blue curtains,” the little girl said in a whisper loud enough for even Mrs. McKenzie to hear. “There are big bushes there that never get trimmed. No one’ll see you.”

“I’m not even going to ask how you know this,” Mrs. McKenzie whispered with a shake of her head. “Thank you, Lizzie. And not a word about it to the soldiers, you hear?”

The little girl set her jaw firmly and nodded.

Then with that, Willy took off down the hall, being sure to move as quietly as possible. Already he could hear the sound of the Royalist soldiers pushing their way into the house, and if he hadn’t known any better, he might have been afraid that the wild beating of his own heart might give him away.

The room Lizzie had indicated was dark as Willy entered. Moving like a blind man, he felt his way toward the faintest outline of a window on the opposite side of the room. The soldiers’ voices began to draw nearer as his trembling fingers found the edge of the window pane and he began to inch it up as quietly as possible.

The sound of loud banging and shouting in a room nearby caused Willy to jump, and it was all he could do to keep himself from falling noisily out the window in his haste to get away. It sounded like the soldiers were throwing furniture around now, and the young Scotsman could only imagine the mess they must be making.

Being careful not to step on any twigs or leaves that might betray his location, Willy slowly crawled through the window and lowered his feet down on the other side. A guard nearby coughed slightly and the young man froze in place, but it didn’t seem that the soldier had noticed him. Willy then turned to close the window behind him, sliding it slowly down so as to attract as little attention as possible.

Just then, the sound of loud voices and heavy footfall came to a stop outside the door to the room Willy had just come from. At the same moment, the window caught in its track, and short of yanking on it, the young man was sure there would be no way to close it now.

His heart beating a wild rhythm in his ears, Willy clenched his teeth and strained to close the window, putting in as much force as he dared. The door knob on the other side of the room began to turn, but it seemed the soldiers were distracted talking to each other. If only he could get this window closed. If he didn’t, the soldiers would most certainly suspect something. The night was cold, and even now Willy could feel a steady drizzle soaking his hair and shoulders. No one with any sense would leave a window open in weather like this. It would be too suspicious.

“Lord,” he prayed silently, “if you’re listening, please…please don’t let them find me.”

Immediately the window began to slide again, and Willy barely had time to close it and sink below the window sill before the sound of soldiers’ voices flooded the room inside. The young man exhaled a quiet, shuttering breath, and it was only then that he realized how long he had been holding it.

The bush truly wasn’t all that big. It was more suitable for hiding children than it was for hiding adult men, but with the night being as dark and dreary as it was, Willy hoped that the soldiers wouldn’t think to look behind a bush for their runaway rebel. The young man was almost to the point of relaxing when the sound of booted feet came his way, and he froze when one of the guards came to a stop not more than three yards away from him. A moment later, another soldier appeared around the corner of the house, his pace brisk and stiff.

“Did you check the barn?” the second soldier asked tersely.

“Yes, sir,” the other soldier replied, standing up straight and saluting what appeared to be his superior.

“All the plants? And the garden? You’ve looked everywhere?”

“Yes, sir, we’ve checked every bush and corn stalk on the property. We’ve found no one.”

The man Willy assumed to be an officer turned and scowled into the darkness.

“They act as though they have something to hide,” he said, his voice low. He paused momentarily, then turned to leave, adding as he went, “Fall in. We will return in the morning to be sure.”

Willy watched as the soldiers disappeared around the corner of the house, then leaned his head back against the stone of the wall behind him, his whole body trembling.

“Thank you, Lord.”

š***

“You heard them say that?” Mrs. McKenzie asked as she and Mr. McKenzie watched Willy saddle his horse.

“Aye,” the young man nodded, tightening the cinch on his saddle. “They couldn’t have been standing more than a few meters off. Lord knows they should have found me.”

The couple stepped aside as Willy led his mount toward the barn door. He paused at the entrance and swung up into the saddle, ignoring the throbbing in his arm.

“You have the map I drew for you, aye?” Mr. McKenzie inquired as Willy settled in his seat.

“Aye.”

“Here,” the older man said, handing a hooded coat up to the Covenanter. “This should help keep the chill out, at least. Can’t say much for the rain, though.”

“Thank you,” Willy smiled, gratefully accepting the coat. “I’m sure it will be better than no coat at all.”

The young man moved to put the coat on, then paused and glanced around.

“Where is Lizzie?”

Mr. and Mrs. McKenzie exchanged sympathetic glances.

“She’s taking your leaving rather hard,” Mrs. McKenzie replied. “Refused to come out of her room after we told her. I suppose, being a child, she thinks that if she doesn’t say good-bye, you won’t leave.”

“Poor lass,” Willy sighed. “I can’t stay, though. It would put us all in danger.”

“We understand that, lad,” Mr. McKenzie nodded. “She will, too. In time.”

“Well, I had best be off,” Willy said, turning back toward the barn door. He was about to spur Bonnie forward when he spotted movement from across the yard.

“Wait!” a voice familiar voice shouted.

A moment later, Lizzie came puffing into the barn, a satchel clutched tightly in her arms. Her pale cheeks were tear streaked and her bare feet were muddy, but she still had that familiar, determined gleam in her eyes.

“Child, what are you doing out here with no shoes on?!” Mrs. McKenzie exclaimed.

The little girl didn’t respond as she held the satchel up toward Willy.

“Take it. It’s a going-away present,” she said, her eyes trained on the young man who loomed above her. “And don’t open it ‘till you get to your boat.”

“What is it?” Willy asked, accepting the gift hesitantly. It was rather heavy, he noted.

“It’s a present. That means it’s secret ‘till you open it,” Lizzie replied, her bottom lip quivering.

“Ah,” the young man smiled, looping the satchel strap across his chest. “Thank you, Lizzie.”

Mr. McKenzie picked up his daughter as tears began to pool at the corner of her eyes again, lifting her up so she could give Willy one last hug. The girl threw her arms around the young man’s chest as she began to sniffle.

“I’ll see you again, won’t I?” she asked, looking up at him through her bright green eyes as tears trickled down her cheeks.

Willy swallowed hard as a knot began to form in his throat.

“I don’t know,” he replied honestly.

“You had better come back,” Lizzie commanded, frowning at him. “And bring a fairy back, too, if you catch one.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Willy chuckled as Mr. McKenzie stepped back.

“Thank you. For everything,” Willy said, looking around at the three people who had been like family to him for so many years. “God be with you.”

“And you, lad,” Mrs. McKenzie replied, giving him a sad smile.

Taking one last look at the people he was leaving behind, Willy raised his right hand in salutation, then bent low over Bonnie’s neck and spurred her forward. Abandoning himself to the rain and the night, Willy finally allowed a few tears to slide down his face.

š***

It might have been midnight by the time Willy drew Bonnie to a stop under a stand of trees tucked just out of view of the road. The sky had cleared up some, and small slivers of moonlight glittered between the rolling clouds above. The journey had been slower than Willy would have liked, but it was imperative that he keep as far away from the road as possible should a Royalist patrol decide to travel down that same road.

The young Scotsman slid to the ground with a groan. It was surprising how out of shape he had become in the past month, and the soreness in his muscles attested to the fact that he had done no riding since the battle at Bothwell Bridge. After tying Bonnie to one of the smaller trees, Willy sank to the ground. His movement stirred something in Lizzie’s satchel, and the young man jumped several inches sideward as whatever was in the satchel began to squirm.

Quickly undoing the latch, Willy flipped the satchel open and sat stunned as Artair crawled out of the bag. The puppy stretched and yawned as though he had just woken up from a nice, peaceful nap on a pillow and not from a long, desperate trip by horseback.

“That little imp,” Willy finally said as the realization of what Lizzie had done finally hit him.

Artair jumped up and began licking his face.

“Lizzie…what is a fugitive supposed to do with a puppy?”

Artair yipped at the question as though he had some sort of answer, though if he did, Willy certainly couldn’t understand it. The young Scotsman shook his head in disbelief.

“Well, I suppose you’re stuck with me now,” he sighed at length, lying down on the wet earth in an attempt to get some measure of sleep before continuing his journey. “You can keep watch, aye?”

The puppy yipped and began to chase his tail. A sigh escaped Willy’s lips as he threw one arm over his eyes to shield them from any dull silver moonlight that might slip past the clouds.

“Or not,” he muttered, “as the case may be.”

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Chapter 4 >>>

Willy’s Covenant: Chapter 2

It’s official! My honors project passed! Now all that’s left is to do a final edit and get it printed and bound. For those of you who happen by the Southwestern Adventist University library this summer, you’ll probably see a copy of the project on the shelves in among the other honors theses that have been printed and catalogued over the years. Realistically, though, I recognize that not many will manage to make it to little ol’ Keene, Texas any time soon, so for those of you who can’t, I’m posting all four chapters here on my blog. I’ll be posting chapter by chapter, as the overall project is too long to put into one post.

If you haven’t gotten the chance to read chapter 1, I’ve placed the link below. Otherwise, you’ll find chapter 2 here in this post. Happy reading!

<<< Willy’s Covenant: Chapter 1

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Chapter 2

White froth dripped from Bonnie’s mouth and neck as Willy turned her up a long dirt path toward a small stone mansion on the hilltop not far away. The young man wasn’t sure how long it was since he had been shot, an hour maybe, but his whole world was spinning and it was all he could do to keep from falling from his mount’s back. He had stopped only long enough to tear some pieces off the shirt he wore beneath his blue-grey Covenanter uniform, but even with the makeshift bandage, he knew it would only be a matter of time before his bleeding arm would get the better of him.

The sound of dogs barking caught Willy’s ear as he neared the house, and a moment later two sleek-bodied greyhounds were dancing back and forth at Bonnie’s side, barking and yipping more in greeting than in aggression. The exhausted horse snorted a warning and jerked her head when one of the hounds came too close, causing Willy to lurch forward slightly. The young man gritted his teeth at the sudden movement, a new wave of pain reminding him of the little lead ball still wedged inside his left arm.

“Alfie! Charlotte!” came the sound of a child’s voice.

The two dogs loped away from the horse at the sound, back toward a little girl who stood in the yard with a black-and-white greyhound puppy wriggling in her arms. She was a small child, about nine years old, with wavy, dark blond hair and curious green eyes. She cocked her head to the side slightly at the sight of the young man slumped over his horse’s neck, but when Willy forced himself to sit up, the girl’s curiosity quickly gave way to a look of horror.

“Willy!” she exclaimed, rushing to Bonnie’s side. “Willy, what’s wrong?”

“Go get your pa, Lizzie,” the young man replied, his voice strained as he pulled Bonnie to a stop. “Please. Hurry.”

“Yes, sir.”

In an instant the girl dashed into the mansion, yelling “Pa! Pa, come quick!” the whole way there. Willy smiled slightly through his pain, allowing himself to lay back down on Bonnie’s back as he waited for help to arrive. That was Elizabeth McKenzie for you. The girl had a good set of lungs and plenty of energy to spare.

It felt like it had been ages since Willy had been to the McKenzie home, though he knew that in reality it had only been a few months. The McKenzies were close family friends of the Gillilands, and if there was anyone who could help Willy out of the mess he had gotten himself into, it would be them.

Chickens and dogs scattered when the front door to the mansion crashed open and Lizzie barreled out, followed closely by Mr. McKenzie, Mrs. McKenzie, and what seemed to be anyone within half a mile and within earshot of Lizzie’s yelling.

“Willy!” Mr. McKenzie gasped, hurrying to the young man’s side. “What in heaven’s name happened to you?”

“A battle down at Bothwell Bridge,” Willy replied, gasping in pain as he sat up slowly, attempting to steady his spinning vision. “Got a hole in my arm the size of my thumb, and my head feels like I’ve had a hundred pints.”

“Nonsense,” Mrs. McKenzie stated, hands on her hips. “You’d be laid out flat as a sheet if you’d had that many. John McKenzie, get this poor boy off his horse and up to bed.” She then turned to one of the servant boys. “Go fetch the doctor, lad. And don’t say a word to anyone but him, neither.”

Immediately the servant boy hurried to the stable to fetch a horse as Mr. McKenzie and one of the other servants helped Willy slide from his saddle. The young man felt his legs give way the moment his feet touched solid ground, and it was only thanks to the help of Mr. McKenzie and the servant that he avoided falling flat on his face in the middle of the yard.

“We’ll have to carry him,” Mr. McKenzie stated, trying to adjust his grip on Willy without hurting him further. “Someone get his horse cleaned up and into the barn.”

Willy moaned in pain when Mr. McKenzie and a couple of the servants lifted him off the ground. Lizzie moved toward him, her eyebrows knit in concern as she clutched the puppy still dangling in her arms, but Mrs. McKenzie grabbed the girl by the shoulder, pulling her back to her side.

“No you don’t,” the woman said, turning her daughter in the opposite direction. “Now put that creature away and come help me fix up some bandages for Willy.”

š***

It was dark out as Willy stirred from sleep. He had been slipping in and out of consciousness ever since Mr. McKenzie and the servants had moved him to the bed, and after the torment he had faced when the doctor came to take the musket ball out of his arm, Willy couldn’t help but feel mildly surprised that he was even still alive at all. It had certainly felt like he was dying during the procedure.

The door to his room squeaked ever so slightly and the young man turned to see a pale face peeping through the crack between the open door and the doorframe.

“Lizzie?” Willy asked, straining his eyes to see in the dark.

The door squeaked again and the little girl slipped into the room. She was clad in a white woolen nightgown, her dark blond hair pulled back into a loose braid. She tiptoed on bare feet to his bedside and crawled up onto the bed next to him.

“You are alive,” she breathed in a not-so-quiet whisper. “Ma said you were, but you’ve been lying in here forever, and I thought you’d died after the way you were screaming when the doctor came.”

“I thought I had, too,” Willy chuckled quietly in reply, wincing when Lizzie’s movement caused his arm to shift. “So, you got up in the middle of the night just to see if I was alive?”

“Of course,” the little girl responded, putting her hands on her hips and looking at him as though he had just said something very stupid. “Ma wouldn’t let me come in, so I had to sneak in. She said you needed rest.”

“Well, you had better go back to bed before she catches you,” Willy smiled, closing his eyes as he felt the exhaustion overtake him again. “Wouldn’t want her to get angry, now would we?”

He lifted one eyelid slightly to look at her, and even in the dark he could tell she was pouting as she crossed her arms over her chest.

“Then can I tell you about Artair when you wake up in the morning?” she asked.

“Artair?”

“My puppy.”

Willy laughed slightly, lifting his right arm and giving the girl a gentle push off the bed.

“When your Ma says it’s all right, you can tell me all about your puppy.”

A broad grin lit up Lizzie’s face, and with a giggle she trotted back the way she had come, peeking through the cracked-open door one more time before closing it with a soft clack.

Willy snorted softly at the girl’s antics, then turned his gaze up to the ceiling as he relaxed back into the bed. Despite how tired he had felt only moments before, he now couldn’t seem to close his eyes, and his mind wandered back to the events at Bothwell Bridge.

He had been so sure of victory. If they could manage to defeat the Royalists with a bunch of ill-equipped farmers and ministers at Drumclog, why not there, at the bridge, where they should have had every advantage as they funneled the enemy soldiers into firing range? No one, not even professionally-trained soldiers, should have been able to overtake that position.

Willy’s first instinct was to blame Mr. Hamilton. He was their commander. It was his responsibility to keep the troops organized and well-supplied. So why? Why had he not been there? He should have been there. He should have…

If God be for us, who can be against us?

Willy balled his right hand into a fist as his eyes narrowed and he clenched his teeth into an infuriated grimace. The verse that had once given him such courage now made his blood boil. If God be for them, indeed. What of Mr. Hamilton and his betrayal? Where had God been in the midst of it all? The Covenanters had been fighting for Him, hadn’t they? Hadn’t they?

The thought of James crossed Willy’s mind then, and quickly his anger melted into shame. James had always been by his side, had always been the voice of reason where Willy himself seemed to have none. James had thought the animosity among the Covenanters would do nothing but harm the movement. Perhaps he had been right after all. If it hadn’t been for Willy’s stubbornness, for his insistence that God would be with them no matter what…if it hadn’t been for that, they could have gone home before the battle had even started, and James wouldn’t…

Willy choked back a sob as the image of James pinned beneath his horse flashed through his mind, and quietly he turned his head until his cheek was pressed into the fabric of his pillow. A few stray tears slipped down his cheek, but he made no move to wipe them away. This was going to be a very long night.

š***

The sun was shining brightly when Willy stirred from sleep again. He wasn’t sure as to exactly when he had fallen asleep, but his pillow was still moist with tears, if that was any indication at all. A light breeze shifted through the open window nearby, carrying with it the sound of horses nickering, dogs barking, and Lizzie laughing.

A light knock rapped gently on the door, and Willy turned his head away from the window to look in the direction the sound had come from. The door opened and in stepped Mrs. McKenzie, a bowl in her arms.

“Look who’s awake,” she smiled, walking over to Willy’s left side and setting the bowl on the bedside table.

Willy glanced over and watched as a faint steam rose from the bowl. It must have hot water in it, he thought.

“The doctor says you’re lucky,” Mrs. McKenzie continued, pulling a roll of clean bandages and a packet of what looked to be herbs out of her apron pocket and placing them on the bedside table before turning back to the young man. “The shot wasn’t very deep. You should be back up and causing mischief in no time.”

Willy gave her a weak smile before turning his face back toward the door that now stood partially open. For a moment, there was silence, then Mrs. McKenzie patted his shoulder and said, “All right, now sit up so I can change this bandage. And don’t you go moping on me, neither. Isn’t like you.”

Without a word, the young man sat up, careful not to put any weight on his left arm. He watched as the woman removed the bandage and began to clean up the wound. So far, no evidence of infection had set in, which was good. If it did, he’d be without an arm…or worse…but he supposed it was still better than the fates of those he had left on the battlefield.

“Is there any word about the others?” Willy asked at length, wincing in pain as Mrs. McKenzie dabbed a wet cloth around his wound.

“Aye,” the woman replied solemnly. “They say three or four hundred are dead; some thousand are being kept at Greyfriar’s kirkyard. Shame. To use a church as a prison yard. Lord knows what will happen to those poor souls. Mr. McKenzie is out looking for information as we speak. I’m sure he’ll have more for you when he returns.”

Willy grunted weakly in reply. A church yard. Of course it would be a church yard. Faithless dogs. He had no doubt the selection of Greyfriar’s was in mockery of the Covenanters themselves. The very people who fought for religious freedom were now held prisoner in the shadow of religion.

The young Scotsman was so lost in thought that he didn’t even notice Mrs. McKenzie had finished bandaging his arm until she patted him on the shoulder.

“Now then,” she said, holding up a large piece of cloth, “here’s a sling for you. Once we get your arm fixed up, you should go outside and get some fresh air. No sense in staying bedridden with an arm wound, now is there?”

Almost as if on cue, Lizzie’s voice erupted from just below the window.

“Willy!” the girl called at the top of her lungs. “Are you awake yet?”

“Mercy, lass!” Mrs. McKenzie replied, leaning out the window to look down at her daughter. “If the poor boy wasn’t awake before, he would surely be now. And half the countryside with him, I’d say. Run along now. Willy will join you shortly.”

The woman then turned back to the young man sitting in the bed.

“Won’t you?” she said. It was less of a question and more of a statement.

A half smile crept onto Willy’s face.

“I don’t suppose I have much of a choice,” he laughed softly.

š***

“Look at him. Isn’t he cute?” Lizzie asked, holding the black-and-white greyhound puppy up as close to Willy’s face as she possibly could. She only managed to reach as far as the young man’s chest.

“He’s a lively wee lad, isn’t he?” Willy smiled, rubbing his thumb over the puppy’s head.

The little creature craned its neck, trying desperately to lick the hand petting it.

“What did you call him?”

“Artair.”

“Artair. Very…noble name, aye?”

“Aye!” Lizzie giggled. “Too bad you hurt your arm, or you could hold him. I think he really likes you. Here.”

The girl set the puppy down on the ground and picked up a stick which lay nearby. She held the stick up to Willy as Artair danced around the young man’s feet, biting at the toes of his boots and yipping happily.

“Throw it for him. He likes to play fetch.”

For a moment, Willy looked at the stick doubtfully. It didn’t take long for Lizzie to notice his hesitation, and the girl placed her free hand on her hip in dramatic exasperation.

“Well, that arm isn’t broken, is it?” she asked, pointing at his right arm with the stick in her hand.

“No.”

“Then here. It’s not that hard to throw a stick.”

Willy laughed, shaking his head at the girl’s insistence, then obliged. He weighed the stick in his hand for a moment, then waggled it in Artair’s face before throwing it across the yard. With a yip, the puppy bounded around and took off in pursuit of the new-found toy.

“Fast, isn’t he?” Lizzie asked, grinning up at Willy.

“Very,” the young man nodded.

A moment later, Artair returned, his head cocked to one side, one end of the stick in his mouth, the other dragging on the ground. Lizzie reached for the stick when, all of a sudden, the sound of hoof beats began to echo across the countryside. The girl scooped the puppy up in her arms and Willy pulled her back toward the house as Mr. McKenzie, astride a dark grey horse, galloped into the yard. The horse snorted as the man pulled it to a stop.

“Willy. Lizzie. In the house. Now,” the man said as he slid from the saddle. “I’ll be in momentarily.”

Lizzie cocked her head at her father in concerned curiosity, but Willy took her by the hand and pulled her toward the house. Now was not the time to question a command. Whatever it was that had Mr. McKenzie on edge, Willy reckoned they would all know soon enough.

š***

It was several minutes before Mr. McKenzie appeared in the main room of the mansion. Already every resident and servant had gathered into the room on the man’s command, and the small gathering exchanged confused and worried glances amongst one another when Mr. McKenzie came to stand before them.

“General Dalzell has joined forces with Monmouth and Claverhouse,” the man spoke at length, clearing his throat slightly. He was trying to remain calm, but Willy could tell he was nervous. “It would appear that those held prisoner at Greyfriar’s kirkyard will be allowed to live, though the…conditions…may be less than savory. Those who fled the field, however…”

Mr. McKenzie turned toward Willy.

“No quarter is being given. Most of us know the reputations of Dalzell and Claverhouse already. They now have permission to do whatever they please with the Covenanters they find. Those who are found are not spared. Those who harbored them…are not spared either. There are homes of our fellow countrymen that burn as we speak. So as of this moment, there will be conditions placed on this household.”

The man began to pace back and forth at the front of the room.

“No one is to speak of Willy. If anyone asks about his horse, I just bought her. Lizzie will need to stay inside for the time being, as well. I don’t trust her around the soldiers. Am I understood?”

A chorus of solemn, muttered ascents were all the reply he got.

“Good. You’re all dismissed. Except for you, Willy. I need to have a word with you.”

The young man could feel a sinking sensation in his gut as he followed Mr. McKenzie into his study. The man didn’t say another word until the door was shut and locked behind them.

“I’m sorry, lad,” Mr. McKenzie said quietly as he turned toward Willy, his expression sympathetic, “but you can’t stay here for long. There is nowhere safe for you. Not here. Not in Scotland. I’ve already spoken with an associate of mine. We’ve booked passage for you on a ship bound for Ireland. You’ll leave a month from now, as soon as that arm of yours heals up enough for you to travel.”

“Ireland?” Willy asked, his expression baffled. “I don’t know anything about Ireland. Where would I go?”

“That is between you and God, lad,” Mr. McKenzie said with a shake of his head. “This is as much for your sake as it is for my own. You’re strong and smart. You’ll sort it out.”

Willy ran a hand over his mouth, trying to gather his thoughts as the reality sank in. Between him and God, was it? That might have sounded fine a day ago, but now…?

“God doesn’t seem to have much interest in me,” Willy muttered, shaking his head.

“Is that so?” Mr. McKenzie replied, raising one eyebrow at him.

“What with my cousin James falling on the battlefield…and now this…”

“Your cousin James is at Greyfriar’s kirkyard, Willy,” Mr. McKenzie corrected quickly, placing a firm hand on Willy’s shoulder so that the younger man would look at him. “He’s alive. And his odds of seeing this through are better than even yours. I’ve already gotten word that they’re sending him to the New World as an indentured servant. Not the best outcome, but it’s something. He yet has a chance. And you do, too. Don’t give up on God so soon. He doesn’t seem to have given up on you.”

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Chapter 3 >>>