Book One In The Stones Of Destiny Series
Scotia’s duty is to protect the Stone of Destiny—the key to Scotland’s salvation, and the reason she and the women who guarded the Stone before her had become the best warriors in the world. Yet those women had never met a man like Ian MacKinnon. He’s journeyed to her castle to learn her legendary skills so he can exact vengeance against the English. His viciousness on the battlefield stands in stark contrast to his tenderness in the bedroom. But he will soon move on, leaving Scotia to face a conflict for which she has no training: her duty to the Stone versus her desire to follow her heart.
I have interwoven fact and fiction so closely in The Warrior Trainer that I believe a few clarifications may be in order.
Scotia is a true historical figure. The first records of her come from Egypt, where she was known as Meritaten, a pharaoh’s daughter. She was given in marriage to a Greek linguist who came to the Egyptian court to teach the Pharaoh Akhenaten the Greek language. In Greek, her name translated to Scotia. Scotia’s husband, Niul, found the Stone of Destiny on the Plains of Luz on his way to Egypt.
Scotia and Niul took the Stone with them when they returned to Greece. They had many children, one of which was named Scotia, after her mother. The second known Scotia married a Greek king named Milesius. During this time, Scotia became known as a warrior woman and a master of the martial arts. When her husband died in a battle, Scotia decided to lead her people, the Milesians, to the Isle of Destiny as was prophesied to Niul’s descendants by a Hebrew Prophet named Moses.
With her two sons, numerous followers, and the Stone of Destiny, they arrived off the shores of Ireland, named after the local Queen, Eiré. The Milesians and Queen Scotia were victorious over Queen Eiré, but both queens died in battle. Scotia’s people eventually took the Stone and moved north to a remote country known as Albania. They renamed the country Scotia, after their dead queen, and the new rulers were called Scoti.
The Stone of Destiny was moved several times after its arrival in Ireland. When the Stone was located on the Isle of Iona and at Dunnad it was used to inaugurate the High Kings. In the sixth century, the Stone was moved to a fortress named Dunstaffnage. In the ninth century, the Stone was moved again, to protect it from Viking raiders, to the Abbey of Scone and was used for the inauguration of the Scottish kings. At this point in history the Stone of Destiny became known as the Stone of Scone.
In 1296, Edward I of England stole the Stone and placed it under the throne in Westminster Abbey where the English kings were crowned. Some say the Scots knew Edward was coming, and that the monks of Scone hid their precious stone, replacing it with a lump of common sandstone. The real Stone was said to be composed of black marble with intricate carvings in the shape of a seat. The current Stone, weighing 336 pounds, is reputedly of sandstone with a single Latin cross carved on its surface. It has been theorized that the original stone remains hidden in Scotland and is kept safe by a secret society.
On Christmas Day 1950, four Scottish students took the Stone from Westminster Abbey in order to return it to Scotland. In the process of removing it from the Abbey, they accidentally broke it in two. The two halves of the Stone were smuggled separately through road blocks and across the border where the Stone was passed to a senior Glasgow politician who arranged for it to be professionally repaired by a stonemason. The Stone was then left by its temporary custodians four months later on the altar of Arbroath Abbey. And again, rumors circulated that the Stone had been copied and a false Stone returned.
In 1996, the Stone of Destiny was returned to Scotland in preparation for the 1999 re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament. Today, it has a place of honor within the Throne Room of Edinburgh Castle where it is on public display behind armored glass surrounded by a sophisticated security system. However, it still remains the property of the English Crown and will be returned to Westminster for any future coronations.
In The Warrior Trainer, I took creative license in making the Stone of Destiny much smaller than it is so that it could easily be moved by a single person.
I also took the liberty as author to give Queen Scotia a daughter in addition to her two sons, who are not mentioned in the story. This daughter, the Warrior Trainer, would carry on her matriarchal duty by training her countrymen as warriors, and by protecting the most valuable symbol of Scottish independence, the real Stone of Destiny.
Since it has been proven time and again that real life is often stranger than fiction, I hold on to the firm belief that Scotia’s story, and her lineage, could have continued just as I imagined.
The Warrior Trainer was nominated for RT BOOKreviews Best First Historical Romance in 2008.
The Warrior Trainer was the winner of the American Title II Competition sponsored by RT BOOKReviews and Dorchester Publishing in 2006!
“Gerri Russell writes with a passionate intensity that will sweep readers straight into her richly imagined world.” — New York Times Bestselling Author Jayne Ann Krentz
“Russell debuts with an action-packed, emotion-driven story that immediately captures your attention. Readers yearning for strong heroines and masterful men will find them here, along with a carefully plotted story. Russell’s fresh voice secures her a place on the to-buy list.” —RT BOOKReviews
“The Warrior Trainer is a romantic, action-packed story. Scotia is as hard as stone. except when it comes to those she loves. The characters are lovely and the story line will keep you coming back for more. I highly recommend this debut novel from talented new author Gerri Russell.” — Fresh Fiction
“The Warrior Trainer is an intelligent, heart-wrenching historical romance that convincingly and seamlessly weaves actual history and mythical fiction together in a work of literary craftsmanship. Gerri Russell has succeeded in rendering emotions, both ecstatic and agonizing, onto the written page. Pangs of joy and grief will linger long after the read is done. The Warrior Trainer is a wonderful gift from a very talented author.” — Romance Junkies
Ian woke to a throbbing in his temple. He tried to flex his shoulders, but found his hands were secured behind his back. He frowned, then regretted it when the movement brought a sharp pain to his head. ‘Twas bad enough that he, a formidable warrior in his own village, had been defeated by two antiquated biddies. But did they have to restrain him as well? Such things never happened to him. He was far too careful and clever for that. At least he had thought so, until now.
He pulled at the ropes that bound his wrists together. They gave ever so slightly. He tugged again. The binding separated more, giving him the room he needed to wiggle his hands free. His captors might be sly, but the two of them could learn a thing or two about tying knots. A moment later he released the bindings at his feet, then made his way to the door of what appeared in the darkness to be a bedchamber.
He should be grateful they had not taken him to the dungeon. Ian allowed himself a sly grin. He knew neither of the ancients could be the Warrior Trainer. For some reason they were protecting their mistress. And Ian wanted to know why.
He opened the door cautiously, peering into the corridor beyond. Shadows lurked in the unguarded hallway, creating pockets of darkness along the gray stone walls. He stepped out of the room, then paused while he willed the throbbing in his head to subside.
Since the pain was not obedient to his wishes, he ignored it and crept quietly along in the shadows toward the staircase. He could see no one.
It would be so easy to descend the stairs, head for the door, then leave. Leave. The thought grated more than he expected it to. If he left now, he would have to accept defeat. The Four Horsemen would go unpunished, perhaps even return to the village and destroy his clansmen. Worst of all, how would he face his foster father again, knowing he had failed to do as he asked? He must stay to fulfill his duty.
Ian set his jaw. To start, he would find the real Trainer. He slipped down the stairs, then and paused, taking time to survey the unfamiliar surroundings. His plan was simple. Find her, demand her help, learn whatever secrets she harbored about fighting, then return to his clan. Time was of the essence if he was to avenge Malcolm’s death and save his people.
Using the shadows as a shield, Ian crept into the great hall on the left. The room was neat and orderly with the chairs pushed against the wall, tables free from clutter, and the rushes freshly laid. Here was evidence of a well-kept home.
Four young women stood near the hearth, one of them stoking the fire. Their backs were to him, and for that Ian was grateful as he picked his way across the hall, heading toward the corridor on the other side. Once inside the corridor, two doorways flanked the right and left side. He checked them both and found them empty before moving on to the doors further down. After he checked the sixth chamber and found nothing, a stab of irritation shot through him. How many more rooms could there be in the main part of the keep? Already he had turned three corners, leaving only one side of the castle left to explore.
He continued down the corridor until he came to yet another doorway. He tried the latch and the door opened easily to reveal a much larger space than the others. This room stretched upward, topped off by an elaborate vaulted ceiling that gave the chamber an open, airy feeling similar to the church near his village. But this was no church. Swords, axes, pikes, daggers, and various pieces of armor lined the walls, their highly polished metal gleaming beneath the light cast from a series of arched windows at both sides of the room.
So many dangerous weapons–military strength worthy of any warrior. Except this warrior was female. He tensed at the thought. Women were meant to hold babes in the delicate and nurturing arms, not weapons of destruction. Perhaps she had not yet met a man who incited her to change?
Ian smiled at the thought, but he was not here to pursue anything other than training. Once his commitment to his foster father had been satisfied, he would leave this castle and its mysteries behind.
He strode to the wall of swords and reached for a lethal-looking blade. But the touch of cold, sharp steel against the front of his throat stilled him.
“Move and I shall give you a wound you shall wear to your grave,” a husky voice threatened from behind.
Ian inclined his head only enough to communicate his agreement. He let his arm drop from the sword, cursing himself for not grabbing it sooner. “Are all the residents in this castle as friendly as those I have met so far?”
A second dagger pricked the flesh just below his ribs, causing a sharp pain. So much for humor.
His irritation quickly shifted to intrigue. What kind of woman was this trainer of warriors? No woman had ever spoken to him with such authority before. And there was no denying she was a woman. Her body pressed against his back–a combination of strength and hard metal wrapped in the soft scent of heather.
“If you release me, I shall do as you ask,” he said.
The blade against his chest disappeared and the one at his throat eased. In that instant, he twisted out of her grasp. He meant to move away, but the sight of her held him captive just as tightly as her arms had done. Aye, she was definitely female. Even though the upper body was concealed behind a brigandine covered in faded red velvet, the plated armor did little to hide her curves. The lower half of her was concealed by an assortment of leather and metal armor, yet the curve of her hips teased the soft red fabric of her skirt. But none of those things entranced him as much as the sight of her long, thick, sleep-tossed hair. It appeared dark in the uncertain light, perhaps red, perhaps brown. Locks of untamed curls spilled over her shoulders, teasing the edge of her chest armor as she returned her dagger to a sheath at her waist. An odd combination, that wild, feminine hair against the cold, masculine armor.
“You are the Trainer?” Ian asked, trying to conceal the slight breathlessness that stirred in his chest.
“I should be the one to ask who you are, trespasser.” She drew a long, thin length of leather with two small weights at each end from her belt.
“Ian MacKinnon of the clan MacKinnon.” He kept his gaze on her weapon–a weapon that had the capability to render him immobile if he chose to attack. But would she use it? Or was she playing some sort of game?
“Why are you here, Ian MacKinnon?”
A devilish part of him wanted to find out if she was half as tough as she appeared. He took two steps toward her.
She swung the two ends of the leather in a circle at her side, filling the distance between them with a threatening burst of air.
A false move on his part and he was certain she would wrap those leather strands about his neck before she let him anywhere near her. So much for testing her. Ian paused. “I seek the Trainer.”
She snorted inelegantly. “You are a poor liar. If you had come to see the Trainer then why would I find you in this chamber stealing a sword instead of in the great hall preparing to make your introductions?”
“I was not given a choice,” he said, suddenly feeling impatient at the time he had wasted sparring verbally with this woman. If she was the Trainer why did she not just acknowledge it and they could move forward with the training? Ian folded his arms over his chest. “Had I the choice I would beg pardon and ask to speak with you.”
“And you think that would have gained you an audience?” She swung her weapon in a slow, methodical circle.
“I had hoped it would serve my purpose as well as anything else.”
“If your only purpose is to fight me, then you are a fool.”
In an instant the leather strands snaked around his arms. Two heavy weights struck his chest, forcing the air from his lungs. The powerful throw sent him off balance. He tried to move sideways, to twist himself free of the bonds, but she was too quick. She caught him in the stomach with her foot and sent him sprawling on his backside.
Slowly she stalked toward him, a tigress on the prowl. She straddled him with her leather-covered legs, then sat on his chest. She stared at him calmly, her face still and strangely sad, her mouth unsmiling, her green eyes so solemn he wondered if she ever smiled.
“You wanted to meet the Trainer?” she asked. Consider yourself introduced. Now that the pleasantries have been observed, you may leave.”