“No! You must not open that door. We do not know who is outside,” Joan warned. “If we stay here out of sight, the danger will surely pass us by.”
“I will not allow your child to come into this world on a cold stone floor. I am no midwife, and you need help. I shall peek out and see if there is a way to acquire a guard’s attention.”
“Please be careful. I do not want to give birth here, either, but I would rather live to do so wherever it may be.”
Annabella could not argue with that. She turned her head and leaned toward the door again. This time there was no sound for her to decipher. She carefully lifted the round metal latch on the wooden door and pulled just enough to peep through. There did not appear to be anyone near the cannons nor along the main cobblestone walkway.
She pulled the door open and stuck her head out. The sun shone so bright she had to squint to see the battlements. She could almost find humour in how she might appear to anyone who might be looking her way. But there was no one about.
Annabella swung the door wide and stepped out onto the stairs. The walkway leading to the portcullis appeared abandoned. Where could everyone have gone in such a short time? The air was warm, and a gentle breeze lifted her unbound hair.
A noise behind her made her turn to the left and look out toward the end of the battlements. Three guards ran toward her. Thank God! She had not wanted to encounter a Highlander. She’d been told of their savage ways and how they were wont to rape and pillage. Surely God would judge them harshly when their time came.
When the men had almost reached her, they stopped. All three were large men; the Scottish guards were each impressive, but these were larger still. And one in particular was even more so. He turned in her direction and walked toward her.
“Will you assist us?” she asked him.
“Us assist you?” he asked with raised eyebrows and a smirk. His hair was flaxen and his green eyes sparkled like gemstones.
“Yes. My cousin, the queen, is with child and needs a midwife.”
The man’s smile disappeared. As if on cue, Joan let out a mighty cry from within the chapel. She stumbled out through the door. “I can ride. I want to return to the palace now.”
“But that is a long ride, and in your condition we should go to the infirmary here,” Annabella said, wrapping her arms around her cousin.
Joan leaned forward. “You there. Can you secure a carriage? You will escort me to the palace immediately.”
The man scrubbed his beard as he considered them. “Hamish,” he said over his shoulder, “do you think you can secure a carriage for the queen and her cousin?”
“Aye, Angus. I can.”
“Do it then, man.” He stood at the base of the stairs and swept his hand toward the narrow cobblestone walkway leading out through the gates and onto the esplanade of the castle grounds. “Graham and I will accompany you out through the gates.”
Annabella nodded and linked arms with her cousin, helping her along as swiftly as possible. Someone needed to teach these men some manners. They were in the presence of a queen and yet had not bowed to her. Had she not been so concerned for Joan’s wellbeing, she would have taken the time to chastise them.
“Did you help overpower the filthy Highlanders?” she asked, hoping the answer would be a resounding “aye”. It was an affirmation to which she was not well accustomed, though this part of the kingdom used it frequently.
The two men exchanged a glance and grinned. “Aye, we have dealt with the filthy Highlanders. They will not be bothering anyone here again,” the one called Angus said.
“I am relieved to hear it. Do you know what they wanted?”
“They wanted their laird returned.”
“Their laird? Is he imprisoned here?”
“Aye, he was.”
“He was released, then?” Talking to him was like pulling teeth! He did not appear to want to offer up any information freely.
When they were almost through the gates, Annabella risked a glance behind her. It was very odd that there were no other guards about.
The sound of two horses and a carriage drew her attention back to the esplanade.
“How did you manage that so quickly?” Angus asked.
“Her carriage was already waiting for her. I relieved the drivers and told them we would see her safely to the palace ourselves.”
Annabella could not imagine why the guard, Angus, found this funny. But laugh he did as he lifted the canvas flap at the back and pulled out the stepping stool to help them inside.
Once she settled Joan onto the long padded bench and wrapped her legs in blankets, Annabella turned to the man.
“Thank you for assisting us. Please make haste, but have a care. That is, unless you want to bring a babe into the world with your own hands.”
His eyes grew wide for a moment, then he nodded and let the canvas flap fall back into place. A few moments later, the carriage rattled along the muddy streets. It would take them a few hours to return to the palace this way, but as long as the babe stayed put in his mama’s belly, Annabella was happy enough to leave Edinburgh Castle behind her.