The Scottish army was fanned out, with the Cavalry on the right wing near the beach. Alexia and her fellow cavalrymen were fast asleep, lulled by the sound of the waves. The early morning was peaceful and quiet. The redhead blinked her eyes open, not sure what had woken her. Taking a deep breath of cool misty air, she stretched and sat up. A quick trip to the bushes and she returned to her tent, thinking about going back to bed. Her stomach rumbled, so she grabbed a piece of bread and a slice of cold beef. Quickly eating it, she brushed the crumbs from her shirt and opened the flap to her tent.
A muffled boom of gunfire. Alexia spun around, her eyes searching inland. A sharper crack and the distant sound of shouting. Realizing a battle was in progress she ran to the tents, shouting at her tent mates.
"To arms! To arms! The Roundheads are attacking!" she screamed. Men scrambled from their sleeping places, donning their clothing and reaching for weapons. Alexia headed for her horse and quickly grabbed the blanket and saddle. Her horse was skittish and sidestepped. It took several agonizing minutes to get the equipment mounted properly. Around her, others were doing the same, shouting and cursing as they tried to rally.
Bracing her foot into the stirrup, she got onto her horse as she heard the rumble of charging horses. Alexia quickly lifted her musket and barely had time to fire. She had the briefest of satisfaction when one English cavalryman fell from his horse, before beingoverwhelmed by the swarming enemy. The borderer felt a burning sting to her face and began falling to the side. Her horse panicked as her hands held onto the reins, then stumbled. His leg twisted in the soft sandy soil, breaking, and Alexia was pinned beneath his heaving sides.
She was unconscious during the battle, never witnessing their defeat. The Scots tried their best to stand against the English, but the fight left them as their lines were broken. Many fled, only to be hunted down and shot in sport. Those who attempted to swim downriver were used as target practice by the English troops, who betted on how many shots were need to kill them.
The bodies on the field lay two to three deep in places. Cromwell took over 10,000 prisoners that day. Many of the Scots had just thrown down their weapons, never firing a shot. Those not killed in battle scattered, praying they could escape Cromwell's wrath. Casualties for the Scot army ran over 3,000.
"This one is alive Captain!"
Alexia felt rough hands drag her from beneath her dead mount. She moaned as the circulation returned to her legs.
"Toss him in with the others corporal," a bored voice returned.
Rough hands grabbed her arms and she was half aware of being dragged along. Opening her eyes didn't help. Her vision was blurred. Weak and disoriented, she didn't resist when chains were clamped onto her. She fell once more into darkness.
When she awoke once more, someone was holding her in their arms, forcing a cup of water to her lips. Choking a bit, she managed to swallow a small amount before opening her eyes. The blurry image of Donald greeted her.
"Damn, we be alive?" she asked gruffly. Donald laughed without humor.
"Aye, we be alive. Barely. The bloody bastards caught us with our trousers down and wiped the field with us. I had a musket ball go through my arm and couldna hold onto my weapon any longer." Alexia now noticed the dark stain of dried blood that covered his sleeve. "It looks as though you caught a sword to your face Alex. It dinna go deep though. Ye ought to have a good scar for now on. Ye know how the ladies love a good scar and tale. They'll be hot to bed ye after this," he teased.
Alexia moaned and blushed. "Ye know about last night?"
"Aye, twas a good tale. I heard ye mightily impressed dear Molly." He didn't dare add more, not wanting others to know Alex was a woman. His mind paused. If he spoke to the English and told them about Alex, they might let her go. But to what? His mind asked. Nay, twas better she die a soldier rather than in prison or worse. Perhaps they planned on executing them all.
Unknown to Donald, Cromwell already had plans for the prisoners. Half would be released, too wounded to travel. Besides, it wasn't possible to handle 10,000 prisoners. The ministers and officers would stand trial. The rest would be sent over to the colonies. Workers were like gold to the under-populated Americas. The Scottish common soldiers would be sold as indentured servants. In the meantime, they would be marched to England so none of their comrades could attempt a rescue.
Alexia and Donald weren't among the lucky ones released. Their wounds weren't serious enough to let them go. They were gathered and huddled together in chains then pushed forward. It would be a hard march to England. One hundred and eighteen miles to be exact.
They were pushed hard. The Roundheads wanted to return home quickly. Their supplies were low. There wasn't any food to spare for the prisoners.With untreated wounds, no food, and wet weather, the men began dropping like flies. Occasionally, as they passed Scottish towns and villages, women would toss bits of food to the men.
Starving, they grabbed at the food like animals. The stronger often won out. Alexia managed a get hold of a wee piece of cheese and quickly stuffed it into her mouth, afraid another would steal it. It did little to ease the gnawing hunger in her belly. The only thing that helped was stopping at pools of water, where they were allowed to drink as much as they wished.
The lass would hungrily hunt for anything edible in the water, eating lilies, weeds, and once, a small fish that was too slow for her greedy hands.
Each night, they would fall exhausted from their traveling. The prisoners would huddle together for warmth.
Nearly to England, the English stopped for the night in Morpeth. In unburned fields grew cabbages. The prisoners ate the raw cabbages in large numbers. After living on a starvation diet for so long, the raw food sickened most of them.
They marched on. Already, more than 1000 of them had fallen dead on the way. Many more would yet die.
They reached Durham and their march was done. They were locked up in the large cathedral there. Those in authority made arrangements for coal and food to be supplied to the prisoners but little actually reached them. Greedy hands sold the supplies to others for bargain prices and filled their pockets. The Scots began burning everything they could inside the cathedral, sparing only the clock for it bore the Scottish emblem, the thistle.
Alexia dropped weight on her already too thin frame. The only thing of benefit in this was that her menses had stopped altogether. It was one last thing to hide from the men. She often sat huddled next to Donald, too weak to move about. Some food managed to reach the prisoners, but it didn't last long or go far. She watched as one by one, bodies were carried from the church and tossed into a mass grave behind the building. (Their remains would be forgotten and discovered in 1946.)
The Lass of Moss woke, shivering and cold. Donald's arm drooped limply over her shoulder. She nudged him in the ribs to wake him. He didn't move. Dread filled her heart as she sat up and looked upon his face. It was ashen and blank. Biting her lip, she reached out tentatively and touched his neck. He was dead.
Leaning forward, she gripped his threadbare coat and wept silently against him. It wasn't fair, that he died before she did. Now she was truly alone in this dreadful world with no one to guide her. She wept until nothing was left inside of her, gripping his body until a guard tore him from her grasp and dragged him away.
The transport ship was an old wooden vessel. Alexia looked up at from the dock, wondering where she'd end up. No one would tell her group anything. They were forced onto the ship and locked into small holds. Chained together in the dark, all they could do was sit and wait during the long voyage across the ocean.
One blessing during the voyage, they were given regular meals. Nothing lavish of course, but it kept them alive. Alexia felt as though she may have gained a few pounds. Once a week, they were brought to the decks and washed down with seawater and soap. The captain disliked the odors that came from their holds. While they were bathing, their prison hold was scrubbed down.
On Sundays, they were brought up to listen to a brief sermon by the ship's priest. Alexia tuned him out, not listening to the man as he told them to be grateful for their lives, to be humble, and to obey those in charge of them. She felt nothing, much like she did after the death of her family. The female prisoner would eat when given food, follow quietly when led about, and nothing more. She didn't cause trouble but neither was she eager to obey.
Finally, they reached the colonies. It was early spring and the warmth from the sun was welcomed by one and all. The prisoners were led to barracks and locked inside until someone paid for their passage. They were effect, now white slaves in the New World for the next 4-7 years.
A man approached Alexia in the barracks, escorted by several guards. He looked over the gangly youth and nodded. "He'll do," the gentleman said. She was told to go with her new master and led from the barracks.
"I am Deacon Jonathon Waller. I am a fair man but listen to me well. I'll not tolerate a surly attitude nor disobedience. Do as you're told and we'll get along. I'm sure you've been told of the rules of your services and I'll not need to repeat them," he stated solemnly.
"Aye Master Waller." Alexia told him. Her new master sighed heavily.
"Well, at least your brogue isn't so thick that I can't understand you. Were are you from lad?"
"From near the Scottish border, a few days walk from Old Caerlaverock Castle. My father was a tenant farmer there," she told him.
"So you know something of the land. That's good. I have a small horse farm a few miles from town. You are one of three servants I'll have working on it. I have a blacksmith who wants an assistant and although you are slight in weight, I believe you'll fill out in time. You have large hands and strong shoulders. If you work your service well and give me no trouble, I'll pay you a fair severance fee and offer you employment. Our smith is getting on in years and by then, I think ready to retire. What say you Mr. Browne?"
What could Alexia say? It was more than fair. She just hoped she could keep her gender a secret. She wasn't sure how the man would react to the knowledge she was female. Women of good character would not act as she had. It was better never to speak of it and hope for the best. She agreed to his terms and joined him on the wagon.
Mrs. Waller was a portly woman in her early thirties. Her eyes were kind and Alexia warmed to her quickly. She was taken under the woman's wing and given fresh clothing to wear after a bath. A small oaken tub was placed behind a privacy curtain in one corner near the fire.
Clean and in fresh clothing, she felt better than she had in ages. She glanced at herself in a costly looking glass and stared in wonder. She indeed bore a scar from her brow to mid cheek. It was puckered and pale on her fair skin. Never a vain girl, she decided it helped with her mannish image.
"A pity about the scar young man, but I doubt it will frighten off too many of the ladies. It gives you a distinguished air Mr. Browne." Abigail Waller told her.
"I doubt if I'll marry Mrs. Waller," she said quietly. She certainly couldn't hide her gender if she was insane enough to marry! But…Alexia longed for someone to be with, especially now she knew about the pleasures of the flesh. She remembered Molly's sweet skin and gentle hands. Lost in thought, she wasn't aware of the kind woman's eyes watching every nuance of her face.
"Did you leave someone behind Mr. Browne?"
"Nay, although there was once someone I thought special. And please, call me Alex if ye would. Ye call me Mr. Browne and I look about for my father," she grinned.
"Alex then. Is your family still in Scotland?"
"Nay, they were killed by a border raid a few months before I joined the army. I'm the last of my family." Alexia swallowed hard, feeling the pain of their loss after all this time. Mrs. Waller clucked her tongue sympathetically and patted her back.
"Well, you have a place here lad. It will turn out alright. The Lord never closes one door without opening another." She led him to the kitchen, where the other servants took their meals. Sitting, the redhead took in the others.
Mrs. Waller stood next to the tall youth and began introducing everyone.
"This young lady is Beth Ireland, our cook and housekeeper," a shy blue eyed lass smiled at her and returned to stirring her pot. "And this gentleman is George Blackburn, who trains our horses and tends the barn." The wary man nodded and held out his hand. They shook briefly while another was introduced.
Pointing at another young man, she continued, "This is Matthew Clarke, who works doing a little of everything." A huge elderly man entered the kitchen from outside. "And this is gentleman is the one you'll be assisting, Allen Holts, the blacksmith."
"So this be the one to help me eh? You had better feed him Mrs. Waller, he looks like a slight wind would blow him about," he said, his tone not completely unkind. He would be a hard taskmaster, she was sure.
The woman chuckled as she looked around the room. "Now where is Lydia?" she said, annoyed the woman was once again late for supper. She turned to Alexia, "Lydia helps with the laundry and sewing. I suppose you'll meet her later. Take care of young Mr. Browne everyone," she asked of everyone and left the room.
Beth set food on the table and everyone sat down. Prayers were said and they ate rather silently. Perhaps her arriving made them shy to speak. Alexia ate her meal, enjoying it immensely. She complemented Beth lavishly as seconds were heaped onto her plate. The woman beamed shyly and sat down.
The outer door opened and a young woman entered hurriedly. She apologized for her tardiness and said a quick prayer over her plate. Alexia studied the new arrival.
She had dark Brown hair that was shiny and long, covered in a maidenly cap. Olive skin was highlighted by amber colored eyes, and had a trim womanly figure. She had full lips and high cheekbones. The young woman ate daintily without speaking, but the food disappeared quickly. Once finished, she left the room into the house.
"That was Lydia," whispered Beth. "Her mother was taken captive by wild savages. She escaped but came back pregnant with Lydia. Her poor mother took one look at her when she was born and died. She was fostered to one of the families in town. She doesn't talk much."
Alexia didn't ask anything but her thoughts went to the lovely lass who had left all too quickly. She was compelling and exotic. The former soldier had felt stirrings inside of her, akin to how she felt touching Molly that night so long ago. For the first time in her life, Alexia wished she was actually a man, so she could court a woman openly.
The sun began setting. Allen offered to show Alex her quarters and wished everyone a good night. Alexia stared at the ceiling of her tiny room and thought about the lass named Lydia.
To Be Continued.
Return to the Academy