The Battle for Duncragglin
Used with permission of Tundra Books. All rights reserved.

Prologue

Distant thunder rumbled as the men prepared to ride.

"We’d best be quick if we’re not to be caught in a downpour," said the captain of the guards.

The king agreed.

The wind whipped overhanging branches and swirled leaves about them as they rode hard and fast along the winding and hilly road from North Queensferry to Kinghorn.

The rush of the wind in the trees sounded like the continuous crashing of surf on a shore, but when they were halfway to Kinghorn, they clearly heard a voice calling from the darkness.

"King Alexander, where do ye ride tonight?" the voice moaned through the wind.

The king felt the hairs on his neck rising as he recalled Lord Douglas’s warning.

The captain of the guards signaled for his small company to halt and take up positions about the king. "Who’s there?" he demanded. "Reveal yourself."

The guards shifted nervously in their saddles, their swords ready. With the roar of the wind, it was impossible to tell where the voice had come from.

Another voice groaned above the din. "King Alexander, King Alexander . . ."

And yet another goaded, "Your queen . . . your queen awaits."

"My God, the devil is out tonight," a guard muttered, quickly crossing himself.

The captain’s arm shot up to signal his men. "Your Grace, we must be away with haste. I fear an ambush."

"Wait!" King Alexander shrugged off his robe and flung it at an astonished guard. "Put that on and ride as if ye were king,” he said. “I will slip away at the next bend and ride unnoticed along the cliff trail that follows the shore. If there is an ambush, they will have missed their prey."

"Your Grace!" the captain cried. "We cannae leave thus."

"It is my command. Go!"

The captain’s arm dropped, and the guards spurred their horses into a gallop. Around the next bend, as planned, the king veered his horse onto a side trail. The dark woods closed in around him.

The king smiled at his own cleverness. No one could have seen his maneuver in this darkness. His assailants would find, to their dismay, that the king’s guard had naught but a guard for a king.

Familiar with the terrain from his childhood years, the king guided his horse through the twists and turns of a narrow trail that came perilously close to the drop down to the shore.

King Alexander loved the view over the Forth from the top of these cliffs, particularly on a clear day when he could see all the way to the Bass Rock and to where the saddle-shaped hills of Arthur’s Seat overlooked Edinburgh Castle.

Lightning flashed, illuminating the frothing crests of waves breaking over rocks far below. King Alexander kept up a hard pace, knowing he was near Kinghorn Castle. He wanted to be comfortably within its secure walls before the rain came pounding down.

There was another explosion of light and the king’s horse reared. In that brief moment, King Alexander saw that the trail was blocked by a hooded figure.

"Stand aside," the king commanded angrily, his sword instantly drawn.

The only reply the figure gave was to thrust his long, crooked staff up high. A sheet of lightning crackled across the sky, revealing a pale, hollowed face with blood-red eyes.

Terrified, the king’s horse bucked, launching the king from his saddle. The last thing the king heard as he tumbled over the edge of the cliff was an echoing laughter.

Moments later, the king’s broken and mangled body lay shattered on the rocks far below.

...

And so begins, Death of a King.

Excerpt from Death of A King, © 2013, Andrew H. Vanderwal, published by Tundra Books.