William rolled over in his sleep and clutched the blankets tighter around his shoulders. He could tell that the fire had burned down because the air was cold, and a chilly draft was seeping under his covers. He was too comfortable to get up and tend to the dying flames though so he just scrunched himself into the blankets more and drifted back off to sleep.
“William, it’s time to get up.”
William opened his eyes a crack to see his mother standing by his bed. “Already?” he mumbled.
“Yes, ye need to be going or you’ll be late for school,” she told him. “Breakfast is ready and hot.”
She left the room and William sighed and rolled out of bed. He went to his dresser and splashed his face from the bowl of water sitting there. Once it settled again, he stared at his reflection in the bowl. Dark brown hair that fell down to his shoulders and was always a bit messy, well shaped face and strong jaw and bright blue eyes. Aye, he had his father’s looks but his mothers eyes.
He quickly dressed in a new green tunic his uncle had bought him and sighed as he pulled on the leggings to go with it. He cast a longing look at his plaid, but knew it was asking for trouble wearing it in the city with the English garrisoning there now. His blood boiled at the very thought that they had come to Scotland thinking they could take it without a fight. But they had. No one had put up a fight. At least not here. He tightened his broad belt and hung his long dagger from it.
William laced on his boots and left his room to go eat breakfast. He found his mother and uncle and younger brother, John, sitting at the table already, with steaming bowls of porridge in front of them. William took his seat and poured milk from a nearby pitcher onto his porridge.
“Good morning, William,” his uncle said to him with a smile. “You look very fine in that new outfit.”
“Thank ye,” William said and shot John a glance which he returned with a giggle. “Good morning to ye too.” He was silent through the rest of breakfast even though his mother and uncle talked between each other and his brother was forming his porridge into two armies. His mind was elsewhere. As soon as he had finished, he stood up to leave.
“I guess I’ll be going now,” he said. “I’ll see ye later.”
“Here’s your lunch, Will,” his mother told him, handing him a package wrapped in a cloth. William took it and put it into his belt pouch. “Be safe.”
“I will, Ma,” he said and left the house.
He had lived with his uncle in Dundee for about six years now. His father, Alan Wallace and older brother, Malcolm, had gone off to fight the English when he was only ten and his mother had taken him to live with her brother in the seaside town. His uncle had insisted he go to school and learn his writing and languages and things. William knew that everyone hoped he would take up the priesthood like most second sons, but he never saw himself as a priest. He wanted to be the one out fighting alongside his father. Alan Wallace had taught his son to love Scotland, and William remembered all the tales his father had told him as he was a bairn sitting on his knee, of the wrongs done to their country by Edward Longshanks, the English king. They had had a king of their own, but he had fallen over a cliff in a storm and had his neck broken. Without an heir to carry his name on, Edward took the opportunity and claimed Scotland for himself. He put a man named John Baliol on the throne, but Baliol soon became tired of being under English rule and laws and defied Longshanks. He paid for it dearly, for Edward stripped him of his kingship and had him shipped to the Tower of London to rot. William clenched his fists with the thought of it. He hoped that some day he would get the chance to fight Longshanks’ army and maybe even meet the Tyrant King who liked to call himself the “Hammer of the Scots”. William snorted. “Hammer of the Scots,” he muttered to himself. “He’ll find we’re an anvil.”
He had gotten to his school then and he stopped outside and sighed. He looked at the other lads walking around and took a step forward, going into the building.
He had never thought he learned much in school. Of course now he could speak Latin and French and write in the languages as well, but his penmanship would never be what the teachers hoped and his Latin grammar left something to be desired. He rested his chin on his fist as he sat at his table and looked up at the bookshelves in the room. He fingered his quill and flicked flakes of dried ink off it by scraping it against the desktop. They were copying passages from a huge Latin tome at the moment, and William looked at it in distaste as he inked his quill and started to copy it on his parchment. He turned to the lad, Thomas, who sat next to him and shared the book.
“This is bloody boing,” he whispered to him.
“Aye,” Thomas replied. His penmanship was far better then William’s but he had the same views as his friend.
“Why not Beowulf?” William wondered as he scraped his quill too hard and left a splotch on the paper he knew his teacher--tormenter, he added silently--would deem unsightly. “It’s far more interesting then this.”
“Aye, but it’s not a Latin tome,” Thomas said.
“Quiet in the back,” the teacher said and looked at the two lads dolefully.
William gave a quiet sigh and rolled his eyes comically at Thomas. “I forgot that you couldn’t talk. Heaven forbid!” Thomas smothered a laugh before the teacher turned his stern eyes on the lads again.
“Master Wallace, come up here,” he said and William stood with a sigh and went up to the table his teacher sat at.
“Aye, sir?” he asked.
“Where were you yesterday, Master Wallace?” the teacher asked.
“Not here,” William said truthfully and several of the students laughed quietly.
“Obviously,” the teacher said, not amused. “Since you were not here, where were you?”
“At the burn.”
“I was fishing.”
“Did your mother and uncle know you were at the burn?” The teacher raised his eyebrow.
“No,” William said defiantly, not feeling the least bit uncomfortable from the questioning. He had been in this position far too many times to care anymore. “But I dinna think they’d really care either.”
“I’ll see about that,” the teacher said and quickly scribbled a letter out on a parchment and folded it up. “Give this to your uncle and make sure it gets to him this time and does not accidentally get into your mother’s washing basket. This is a warning, but I tell you this now. One more absence, Master Wallace, and I won’t ask questions. You will get a beating and I will personally call on your uncle and tell him that you are doing nothing more here then wasting his money, is that understood?”
“Aye, sir,” William told him and snatched the letter from him, marching back to his table with his head held high.
Thomas shook his head at him. “Ye have to stop getting on his bad side, Will. He’s beaten ye before.”
“It didna hurt,” William said indifferently. “If I still lived in Elderslie where I grew up as a bairn, I’d be done with school and would be off fighting with my Da now. I’m done with it here.”
“Dinna do anything daft, Will,” Thomas said, keeping his head bent over his work so that the teacher would not suspect them of anything.
“I willna,” William said, going back to his work. “The last daft thing I did was leave that wee poem on my desk last week for the teacher to find.”
Thomas clapped a hand to his mouth to smother a laugh. “That wasnae daft, I think he deserved it. But he was unco mad at ye to be sure!”
“Aye, he was,” William said and smiled in rememberance at the thought.
Before long, it was thankfully time to break for lunch and William and Thomas went out to sit on the side of the street to eat their food in the light. Two other lads came to join them. One jostled William on the shoulder and grinned at him.
“Ha, Will, that was braw the way ye acted. Always cool in a situation, our Will Wallace is!”
“Oh, I’ve had him after me too many times to bother me any more, Duncan,” William told his friend but couldn’t help a bit of a grin.
“Aye,” said the other lad, Richard. “But if ye keep championing us here, I can only imagine what ye’ll be able to do for the whole of Scotland someday against the English.”
“Aye, he’d make a good champion,” Thomas agreed. “I would follow ye, Will.”
“I’ll be sure to remember yer loyalty when the time comes,” William said half in jest.
Duncan knelt in front of William and bowed his head. “You have my fealty, brave knight,” he said, and William shoved him onto his backside amid their laughter.
“Are ye going to show yer uncle that letter, William?” Richard asked.
William shrugged. “I’ll do my best to loose it like all the others,” he said with a small smile and the other lads grinned.
“Ye do ken that the teacher will find out after a while though Will,” Duncan said. “He always does.”
“I’m no’ afraid of him,” William told them nonchalantly. “What can he really do to me? He willna beat me enough to do any damage and if he decides to kick me out, then that’s no’ to bad is it?”
“I suppose no’,” Thomas said. “But I dinna think ye’re uncle would be very happy.”
William shrugged. “Nae, probably not.”
They finished their lunch and by that time, the teacher had come out to tell them it was time to resume their lessons.
William stood and turned to his friends with a rueful face. “Time to go back to our dungeon.”