As Catharine Glover and her father, Simon, walk to church, an unidentified young nobleman, muffled in a cloak, joins them and asks the young woman’s permission to come to her window the next morning to take part in the traditional Valentine’s Day ritual. When she sensibly refuses to make any alliance above her social standing, he leaves in anger. A welcome guest, Henry Gow, appears at the Glovers’ home that evening; he has just returned from a trip on which he sold armor throughout Scotland. Although Simon approves heartily of Henry’s suit for Catharine’s hand, she is disturbed by the young man’s propensity for quarreling. Henry’s fiery spirit leads him to rise up vigorously that evening against Conachar, Simon’s Highlander apprentice, who jealously pours a tankard of beer on the armorer and then tries to stab him.
Henry’s martial bent is put to better use the next morning, when, coming to present himself to Catharine as her valentine, he discovers a group of men attempting to climb through her bedroom window. While he and Simon are fighting them off, Henry severs the hand of one assailant. Again, a mysterious nobleman is involved. When Simon hears his voice, he sends Henry into his house and frees the other man. In gratitude for Henry’s protection, Catharine agrees to be his valentine, but she will not promise to marry him. She assures him that she is not in love with Conachar, who has just returned to his Highlands home, or any other man.
While King Robert is discussing the rising power of the earl of Douglas with his confessor, the earl arrives at the castle just in time to see his son-in-law, the duke of Rothsay, kiss a traveling entertainer. The “Black Douglas” is infuriated and threatens to kill both the prince and the innocent young woman. The duke of Albany, King Robert’s brother James, and another nobleman calm the two men. Rothsay commits the entertainer to the care of Henry, who has just entered the courtyard while engaged in a scuffle with some of Douglas’s men. Although he is reluctant to accept such a charge, especially on the day he has become Catharine’s valentine, he takes the young woman home with him and then sends her on to Dundee the next morning.
The meeting of the king’s council that follows Rothsay’s foolish flirtation reveals the tensions surrounding the weak and easily influenced king. After King Robert prevents a duel between the archrivals the earls of March and Douglas, March stalks out to join the English. Albany and the prince, too, are struggling for control over king and country. As these personal conflicts smolder, the men discuss the enmity between the clans Quhele and Chattan and decide to settle the clans’ differences by setting the bravest men from each clan against one another in a combat to be fought before the king. After Douglas leaves, the king and Albany question the prince about the early-morning disturbance at Simon’s house, reported to them by Sir Patrick Charteris, the provost of Perth. Confronted with a ring found at Simon’s house, Rothsay confesses that he was present; the ring belongs to Sir John Ramorny, his master of horse. Rothsay agrees to dismiss Ramorny, whom both older men regard as an evil influence over the young prince.
Conachar comes back to Perth briefly when Catharine requests that he give refuge to Father Clement, her confessor, who has been accused of heresy. The Highlander tells her that he is the son of the chief of Clan Quhele and that his real name is Eachin (Hector) MacIan. As he promises protection for Father Clement, he also hints at his love for Catharine.
Ramorny, whose hand was cut off in Perth, plans vengeance on his assailant with Henbane Dwining, an apothecary who is jealous of Henry’s power and influence. Having gained only a mild revenge by spreading the tale of Henry’s association with the itinerant young woman entertainer, he is eager to help Ramorny plot Henry’s assassination. That night, as Shrovetide revelers mill about Perth,...
(The entire section is 1641 words.)