. . . When it was Sean’s turn, William finally allowed himself to smile, finding it impossible to remain formal. “Sir Sean Douglas Wilbrun, step forward.” Sean stepped forward, solemnly, the absolute model of formality, which made it all the harder for William not to laugh. “Do you accept your post and all responsibilities that lie therein?”
“I do, my lord, and swear my fealty, as is my honor, to uphold and defend your tenants.” Sean paused and looked William in the eye before finishing the oath. “Under pain of death do I break this oath.”
William no longer felt the urge to laugh as he bestowed the rank on Sean. “It is my privilege, and my honor, to name you as Captain of the Guard to the House of Sutherland. Do you accept this appointment?” William extended his arm for the formal handshake.
Sean accepted William’s arm. “I do. Thank you, my lord, it is my honor.” Sean finally smiled and bowed his head, while William placed the silver captain’s badge of Sutherland on his shoulder. As he stepped back in line, loud cheers erupted from the rest of the guard.
A small commotion from the far end of the hall joined the guards’ chorus. William smiled to see the ladies, Elinor, Laurel and Agnes who were watching from the grand stairs. Little Duncan stood with his chest out, smiling and waving proudly to his big brother.
“Go on, accept the accolades,” William said, grinning.
Sean took a step forward, bowed regally to the ladies, then beckoned to Duncan.
The little lad trotted happily over, then stopped short, bowed first to William, then to Sean.
“That is a fine blade you have, there. May I see it?” Sean asked.
Duncan beamed, and presented his pride and joy, a little wooden sword he carried everywhere. “Can I come with you to Sutherland, Seany?”
Sean glanced to William. “You need to ask Lord Sutherland.”
Duncan tilted his head. “Can’t I just ask Will’m?”
The men laughed, Duncan blushed, and William cleared his throat. “It would be my honor for you to join the guard of Sutherland. But you have to take an oath.”
Agnes gasped, drawing her hand to her mouth.
Duncan’s eyes went wide. “I know the words! I know the words! Under pain of death—”
William felt a sudden sick pull in the pit of his stomach. He placed his hand quickly on Duncan’s shoulder before the tot could finish his oath. “Well done, laddie,” he said quietly, taking the wooden sword from the boy, and tapping each shoulder. “I promise when you are a little older, you will come to Sutherland, and join my guard.” William placed his fist to his chest.
Duncan frowned. “How much older? Seven?”
William looked up toward Agnes. She quickly wiped a tear from her cheek and forced a smile. He turned back to Duncan. “Hmm, Sean was twelve when he began his training, and fourteen when he received his badge. . . how would that suit you? Can you wait until you’re twelve years old?”
“But that’s …” he looked down to his fingers, counting, “a long time.”
“Not so long, lad. Besides, I am counting on you to be here to protect the ladies.” He gave a nod toward Agnes. “Your mum is going to need you more than ever when Sean is away.”
Duncan knotted his brow, looking toward his mum. “You’re right. I promise, Will’m. I’ll protect them.” He squeezed the hilt of his little sword, then mimicked the gesture the guards had made placing his fist to his chest.
Sean gave the lad a pat on the back, sending him back to stand with his mother.
The men cheered again as Sean resumed his place in the line. William stepped further down the line, passing by several men before he came to a stop in front of Richard. The cheering instantly silenced when William said, “Richard Fylbrigge, step forward.”
Richard hesitantly stepped forward, giving a sideways glance to his comrades as he did so. William ignored the surprised gawks from the other men, avoiding eye contact with any of them—particularly Sean. “Sir Richard Henry Fylbrigge, do you accept your post and all responsibilities that lie therein?”
Fist to chest, Richard replied appropriately, “I do, my lord, and swear my fealty, as is my honor, to uphold and defend your tenants.”
William waited for Richard to finish his oath, giving him a prod with a raised brow. “Go on.”
Unlike Sean, Richard’s eyes would not meet William’s. Instead, he fixed his gaze on the floor and finished, quickly and quietly, “Under pain of death do I break this oath.”