Ssssshhh! commanded Roger as he glared at his little brother.

It was only September, but with dusk had also come the cold air of winter. Brothers Duncan and Roger had been walking since daybreak. Both were hardy and strong. Being the sons of the Lord of Closeburn, they were used to long trips on horseback, but not on foot.

Duncan returned Roger's glare as if to challenge him when a crackle diverted both boys' attention. They stood silent, holding their breath. The air was still, without wind or sound, an uneasy silence.

The year was 1291 and Scotland's border country was in a state of political uncertainty. With the fall of Acre, the last bastion of the western Crusaders in the Holy Lands, the attention of both church and state had turned to Scotland. With the death of King Alexander III in 1289, and the death of the Fair Maid of Norway in 1290, England's King Edward was determined to ascert what he believed was his right as Scotland's overlord.

Innitially the matter of succession seemed of little consequence. The Lords of Closeburn had always maintained an excellent relationship with the royal families of both Scotland and England. Hundreds of years of history had taught The Kirkpatricks that taking sides was an activity to be avoided. With their lands located on the border of both nations, a battle between the two was a certain formula for disaster.

Recently, however, the increased presence and the activities of of King Edward's soldiers in Scotland gave the borderers reason to regret their prior apathy. Edward's soldiers increasingly demanded entrance into borderer's homes, leaving only after emptying the resident's entire store of winter provisions. Resistance to the soldiers demands resulted in severe consequences. One more than one occasion the head of the household was immediately executed. As far as Edward was concerned, the Scots were heathens and barbarians. His soldiers were his representitives and their demands, like his own, were not to be challenged.

The trail ahead lead striat to their home, no more that five minutes ahead. However, both boys sensed something wrong. Without further conversation they veered right on a path that lead to a small hill overlooking the castle. Despite their best efforts, dried branches crackling beneath the boys' feet, betraying their desire to travel undetected. The night air remained silent, without wind.

(To Be Continued)