A Warrior's Promise

By: Donna Fletcher

Chapter 1

            Charles ran like the devil was after him. His worn boots pounded the dirt, leaving a wake of dust in his trail. He couldn’t let the soldiers get him. He couldn’t. They would give him a thrashing for sure and then? He shivered as he ran, not wanting to think of what would happen if they discovered his secret.

            He hadn’t been able to help himself. Hunger had gnawed at his gut until it had pained him. It had been two full days since he had eaten, and he had to have food, even if it was a stale piece of bread cast carelessly to the ground by a noblewoman.

            No sooner had he scooped it up than the woman had started screaming, “Thief! Thief!”

            It had been little more than a crumb and done nothing to ease his pain. While the woman looked like she had not suffered from missing a meal in some time. It mattered not. Once the trio of the king’s men had heard, they jumped into action and run straight at him.

            He barely had time to put distance between them, and fright gave his bone-tired body the strength to flee. He dodged and darted in and around marketgoers and ware-barterers, slipped under makeshift tables, jumped over barrels, and yanked free of the hand that grabbed at the back of his wool vest. His skinny legs pumped as fast as they could to avoid the soldiers gaining on him, perhaps even toying with him, making him believe he’d escape them when he truly didn’t have a chance.

            His dark eyes darted in panic, desperate to find an avenue of escape. At the last minute, he spotted it: big, broad, and solid. Surely, he could take shelter beneath it. With all the strength he had left, he dove for the solid mass sliding along the ground and coming to rest on his belly between the two limbs that stood rooted to the earth. Then he hurriedly wrapped his arms around one thick leg and held on for dear life.

            A quick tilt of his head had his eyes settling beneath the Highlander’s plaid, and he gulped. Good Lord, he was a big one, which meant he was strong and could protect, and the lad needed protecting.

            “Please. Please, help me,” he begged, peering past the plaid to the giant Highlander, who stared down at him with a look of bewilderment.

            “Hand him over,” one of the three soldiers ordered, while almost colliding as they came to an abrupt halt.

            The urchin hid a smile, relieved at their reluctance to approach the large man.

            “And what will you do with him?”

            The urchin liked the sound of the Highlander’s voice; it confronted and dared all in one breath. He was not a man to argue with, but one to fear and respect.

            “That doesn’t concern you,” the soldier said with trembling bravado.

            “Why wouldn’t it?” the Highlander demanded sharply.

            “He stole from a woman and must pay the price,” another soldier spoke up, not daring to step from behind the soldier in front.

            “What is the price?” the Highlander asked.

            “A good whipping and service to the woman to pay off his debt,” the soldier in the front said, a bit more daringly.

            “It was nothing more than a crumb off the ground,” the urchin snapped. His dark eyes glared menacingly, while his arms clung tenaciously to the Highlander’s thick-muscled leg.

            “It wasn’t your crumb to take,” the soldier snapped.

            “The lad looks in need of more than a crumb,” the Highlander said much too calmly.

            From the way the three soldiers took several steps back, each tripping and trying to get out of the others’ way, the urchin knew that the Highlander must have sent them a menacing look.

            “He broke the king’s law,” one soldier said from behind the other two.