Thursday, May 30, 2013

A pre-preview of 1603~The Midwife's Revenge: The Midwife's Secret III

The Midwife’s Revenge


c Viktor Levi,


December 21, 1570, Edinburgh Castle 


I had dreamed of ending my life cradled in Kirkcaldy’s arms, but not like this, not laid out on the cold cobbles of the courtyard of Edinburgh Castle with the knight’s wife and daughter hovering in the distance wondering if there was something they should be doing, some gesture that would ease my passing, if not for me, for him.  My vision of death has been as an old woman lingering at the end of life long enough for the knight to hold my hand a final time and tell me that he loved me, and that he would join me soon.  I had not planned to die young and mangled, and in excruciating pain. I stave off Death because I need the knight to understand why I have let it come to this.  I beseech my long lost god to grant me the strength to speak, and in return I promise to be quick about it. Then the Reaper will be welcome. I am by trade a midwife, trained by Margaret Houston, the practitioner who delivered the prince who is now our king. I was with  her at Edinburgh Castle for the delivery.  I remember the bonfires and the bells.
But the results of a midwife’s labors are not always happy. I have watched many other women die, some drowning in the despair that follows a still born birth, others leaving a healthy child behind to be passed to the care of a surrogate.  Often such women would look at me and ask if they were dying.  Whether they wished to hear the message I felt duty bound to deliver, I always answered them.  They deserved an opportunity to send a message to a loved one or to express a final wish.  Knowing that the truth was the last thing they wished to hear, I told it as gently as I was able. However harsh the truth, I cannot withhold it from myself when I have been so free to share it with my sisters.
Earlier when I tried to speak, the knight made an effort to quiet me.  This time he senses my urgency and yields.  He has always had the gift to see into my heart.
“Daisy” I hear myself murmuring. “Promise ya will protect her.”
“Are you speaking of the child in the cradle, the one you carried here two years ago --the one you call your ward?”
I try to smile through cracked and swollen lips so he will know that he has guessed correctly.
‘Can ya tell me what has become a’ her?”
“A midwife from Ayr came to warn me that they were coming, so I hid the bairn away.  I took her back to Rossend Castle and left her with your brother. I told him that she was yours to make certain he would keep her safe.”
He bends close so I can hear him.
“Who was it that was coming for you, Sweetheart?”
“Morton.  His men did this. But it is Daisy they are seeking.”
I watch him shudder.
“Have they broken you in this hideous way just to spite me because they think the child is mine?”
Why am I not surprised by his vanity?
“Ah, Kirkcaldy, this is not about you. This has nothing to do with you” I scold.  “You will understand once you know from whence I got her.”
 Although it hurts me terribly, I let loose something that sounds like a snicker.  Conceit was so much a part of Kirkcaldy that I found its presence reassuring.
“Ah swear to you, Dear Heart.  I dinnae care who the father is.  You should know that.”
'Tis more a question of who Daisy’s mathair  is, Kirkcaldy.  I got her at Loch Leven.”
The geography of her birthplace is all he needs to hear to guess the rest.
“Sweet Jesu!”
With the scant breath I still have in me, I labor through the rest of it.  The words are stealing my remaining strength, but Kirkcaldy needs to hear these things.
When Marie Stuart passed the child to me, she said she would send for her later in the spring, but if that became impossible, I was to deliver her to the Guises, her powerful relatives in France. Until then, she said, it would better if no one knew whose child I suckled.  She made me swear not to divulge my secret unless death kept me from my mission, and even then, to share it only with someone I trusted to carry out her wishes after I was cold and dead.  “My greatest hope is that my daughter finds a life of her own choosing far away from this wretched place. Her bloodline is a curse,” she said. “My Majesty is my anathema. If I am not there to do so, teach her that her heart is hers alone to rule. The only kingdom worth the effort is the one in Heaven.”
Those were the parting words of the unfortunate Queen of Scots until I received her latest letter, this one smuggled from her velvet prison in Bess of Hardwick’s elegant house.
‘’Prithee teach my daughter that the only offering that pleases God is a mind that dwells in constant prayer in a living, chaste body, devout and humble. There is no glory but in Heaven.” Those were her final words and if I were a religious woman they would be mine as well.  First I must finish my pretty speech and get on with dying. I suspect that lying in my own filth in a body broken by the Earl of Morton’s rack absolves me from my vow of silence.  The knight had better sense than to try to hush me up.
“If she truly was my natural daughter, I would wish her the freedom to choose her destiny and let dogs fight over the crown of Scotland.  Guide her as best ya can, My Love.”
So, I finally have said my pretty little piece.
The knight draws me closer, not so much to keep me from my rendezvous with Death, but so I will not meet it cold and alone. On the soul of his much-loved mother, my champion swears that he will keep my secret safe and that he will mock my murderers by delivering the child to Joinville in my stead. It is not an easy vow for him to make. No matter how sorely he hates Morton and the lairds whom he calls ‘the hideous hounds of hell,’ he hates the Guises every bit as much. Nevertheless, he promises and seals it with a kiss.
“Sweet Jesu” he says in a voice that seems very far away, but I know that he has not left me, because I feel his tears mingling with the snowflakes falling on my cheek.
I hear strange singing at a distance-- sea sirens calling, or perhaps angels.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Another favorite scene from my new book, The Other Daughter.

In this scene, Daisy, who is now in her early 20's, still lives in the goldsmith Will Cockie's house in the Canongate with her brothers  Wills and Gilbert.  Under entrepreneur Janet Fockart's tutelage she has become a well known money lender. Her great uncle SirJames Melville of Halihill is leasing rooms and sharing them with Will Hepburn, the king's browdinstair, the man who crafts  the royal canopies and banners. But the worldly son of Marie Stuart's infamous third husband can no longer suppress his feelings for Kirkcaldy's posthumour daughter who he thinks is smitten by her nephew Andrew Ker of Ferniehirst.  He decides to sneak away from the Cockie House while he still has command of his feelings. Hepburn men have a reputation for running from their commitments.

photo by Darja Vorontova, Dreamstime
If she had not been up early supervising Gil as he fired up the coal to heat the forge, she would not have seen Hepburn out of the corner of her eye as he lugged his satchel to the door. She snagged his sleeve just as he was sneaking out of the house like a common burglar. When she tugged at his garment he turned back to face her and rolled his eyes.

“I cannae stay here, Daisy.”

“And rather than to tell us to our faces you are stealing away like a house thief?  We deserve better thanks than that, Will Hepburn!”

He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.  “I simply cannae stay here – not so much as another day. I dinnae belong here.”

“Does Uncle Melville snore that loudly?”

He set down his satchel but he did not let her drag him into the kitchen when she tried to make him stay.

“Not like this, Will Hepburn.  Do not steal away without an explanation to return three years later with a new language on your tongue and a head filled with tales of foreign ports, but not a word between.”

“‘Tis unwise for me to stay, Lass. Comin’ was a mistake.”

He threw up  his hands in frustration. Then he stooped to gather up his belonging and passed through the door while Daisy stood just inside the threshold and waited for the door to snick.  Her stomach churned in a mix of fear and  personal hurt.  She who was always so impetuous and quick to act stood transfixed with no idea of what to do.

“If ya fetch him back, Sweetheart, you’d best be prepared to keep him,” Melville said from halfway down the stairs.  

“I have no idea what you mean, Uncle,  and I have no idea why he is leaving.”

“Then you are as dense as the metal of young Gilbert‘s anvil. And equally in need of a worthy hammering.”

She had not expected such a retort from Melville. She wanted to brush by him and close herself in her  room to cry or perhaps throw herself on the floor in a screaming fit, but she did neither. She spun on her heels and headed out the door. By the time her slippers hit the cobbles, she was shouting like a she-devil and making windmills of her arms, dragging her lame left leg as best she could as she  hustled down the street in Hepburn’s wake.

Her voice was  loud enough to be heard at World’s End Close, the line of demarcation between the Canongate and Edinburgh.

“Damn you to hell, Will Hepburn!. Do not be taking so much as another step!”       

He stopped in his tracks but he did not turn around until he heard the strange shuffle of her gimpy gait.  He lowered his satchel to the cobbles and put his hands out to the side, but did not turn around until was certain there was no stopping her.  Then he pivoted to  face her, but he did not move to close the gap between them.  Tears glistened in the sunlight and tracked through the dust on his cheeks. He tried to suppress them in a squint that failed.

 “Do not dare walk away from me, ya coward!” 

“You’ve got that right straight, ya have, Lassie.”
He had faced torture and death and been less terrified than he was of the feelings he had for the frenzied girl.

 He winced as he watched her stumble forward on her damaged leg.  If he had seen such determination in his adversaries in battles and brawls, he would have run away to hide. When she reached him, she clenched her fists and poised to strike him in the chest, but he was too fast for her.  He grabbed both arms above the elbows and pulled her to his chest while she kicked him in the shins. The many citizens strolling down the Canongate to the palace stopped to gape. Some whistled while other cheered.

“Go back inside, Daisy.  You’re making a spectacle of yourself,” he scolded, but his voice was not the least bit harsh.  Daisy buried her face in his jack and began to sob.

“Hush, Lass,” he said as he stroked her hair. “Half of the Canongate is watchin’ us and thinkin’ we’re havin’ ourselves a lover’s quarrel.”

She raised her eyes to his, and her look conveyed a challenge that stunned almost as much as the words that followed:

“Are nae we?”

“I dinnae hear ya right.”

“Are nae we havin’ ourselves a lover’s quarrel, Will Hepburn?” 

Her voice was strong, resolute. This time there was no mistaking her words.  He pushed her far enough away so he could truly look at her, but he did not release her. For some reason, she was grinning.

“You’re supposed to be in love wi’ Ferniehirst.”

She refused to look away from his bewildered stare.

“Seems as we both were mistaken as tae the truth of that particular story, Mister Hepburn, but seeing as I have it sorted out, it would behoove ya to catch up.”

“Not Andrew?”

“Nay, not Andrew. Some other bonehead of my acquaintance.”

The crowd had not thinned and someone cheered when she stumbled back into his arms. It sounded  as if some among the bystanders were placing bets. 

Will kissed her forehead, but she did not seem content to settle for anything that ambiguous. She locked her hands behind his neck and kissed  him soundly on the mouth while the assembled gawkers gasped.  Hepburn was in no hurry to break it off, but eventually he had to breathe.  He raised his hands at the elbows in a gesture of surrender that drew hoots from the crowd.

“If we keep this up much longer, someone will be hawking cakes and ale to the bystanders. ‘Tis time to take this show inside,” he said. He  gathered her under one arm and hoisted his satchel to the other and smiled broadly at the cheering crowd.  

A voice in the throng called out: ‘Awrite, Friends.  I’m betting on the bonnie little wadwife. Who’ll be betting on the browdinstair?” 

Hepburn gave a departing wave to the crowd. He was in a desperate hurry get back inside the house.

“Good thing I left the door ajar,” Daisy said before she slammed it shut behind them.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A scene from The Other Daughter

As some of my blogger friends know, I have been offline recovering from eye surgery and putting the finishing touches to The Midwife's Secret II:  The Other Daughter.  The following scene is dedicated to my forever friend Camile Mesrobian who breathes life into my characters, and my new friend Ginger Myrick, who taught me that it is possible to tell a poignant love story without graphic steamy sex.  I followed Ginger's lead in fashioning what I hope is  a powerful scene between two characters in my soon-to-be-issued second segment of The Midwife’s Secret component of my Queen of Scots Suite.  The exchange occurs between Charles, Duke of Mayenne, married leader of the Catholic League, and Marguerite de’Kircaldie, an ordained Benedictine nun at Saint Pierre les Dames.  

“Is there something you wish to say to me, Charles?—something that you find especially difficult, even more so than what you confessed to me earlier?”

He rose and walked behind the bench, leaning against it as if to separate him from Marguerite’s  physical presence, as if he were using the bench as a barricade. 

“I am going to ask you a terrible question, Sister Marguerite Kircaldie,  and  you are going to hate me for having asked it.”

She saw that his pain was real, and that whatever it was affected him deeply

“I could never hate you, Excellency.” 

“You will learn, Sister Marguerite.”

She laughed a mirthless laugh..

“No, it is not possible.  Hatred is no part of my nature, and if it were, you would be the last person alive… whom I could ever hate.”

She began sorting through the apples on the sideboard to mask her nervousness.

“How do you do it, Sister? How are you able to be so full of sunshine even when there are dark clouds all around?”

“Why would you assume it to be the sun, Charles? Why not the light of God?  And I take it that was not the question you were so hesitant to ask.”

He laughed at himself.

She tilted her head. She did not frown but her nose twitched.

"Charles, are you ill? 

“No, Sister, I am not ill. I am merely fat.”

It was her turn to laugh.

“No one is merely fat, Charles.  Merely and fat are contradictions in terms, I think.”

He joined her in laughter, but his did not last long.

“Do you love me, Marguerite?”


She dropped the apple.

“Oh my God!”

She sank to her knees on the tiles.

She looked at him as if he had just told her that someone dear had died. Perhaps someone had. Then she sucked air and tightly closed her eyes as if she were sealing her soul inside her body.  He could barely hear her when she finally spoke.

 “How could you be cruel enough to ask me that?” 

She pretended to rub her nose, but she was really wiping tears from the corner of her eyes.  Neither was fooled by the gesture. 

“And yes, Charles.  I truly do believe that by the time your questions settles from the air where it hangs between us, I shall discover that I, too, can hate.”

“I am so very sorry that I asked it.” Then he rethought his answer. “Actually, no, I am not.”

Then she stood.  She was a tall woman, and the habit made her appear taller. Her face was flushed with a mix of embarrassment and anger. Both of her hands were drawn into tight white-knuckled fists.

“You were there the day they brought me to Les Grande Jardin.  I was three or four or five depending on which dissembler I listened to as I grew older.  I spoke no French other than my parroted greeting, Bonjour, Madame et Monsieur.  Je m’appelle Daisy.  

“You were there when the woman whom I thought was my sister was ushered into a coach and sent away. Then you and your family kindly announced to me that she was nothing at all to me but a surrogate and an escort. Do you remember that day, Charles?

  “She was all I had—my lifeline, and I was there surrounded by strangers who did not even know my name, who insisted on calling me Marguerite, and who laughed behind my back.  When Lady Ferniehirst left me, Charles, you were the one who held my arms and kept me from running after the coach.”

“You kicked and clawed like a wild animal you were so distraught.”

“Why should I have been distraught, Charles?  I was to be afforded the charity and protection of the mighty House of Guise!  I was to be taken to a strange place where stern women dressed in black made strange sounds or did not talk at all -- a place where other children also lived but with whom I was forbidden contact.  They sang songs in the garden, but  I was forbidden to listen.  I ate with the nuns and prayed with the nuns and slept with the nuns and chanted with the nuns, a perfect little five year old Benedictine, just a tad too young for vows, so there I stayed. The amusement in my life was the adventure of Saint Doda’s   Hole, a dead place in the chapel floor where I was taken to hide when outsiders visited.

 “And in spite of it, I grew to love it, to embrace it, and I also embraced the holy vows of Chastity, Cloister, Poverty and Obedience. And thus I remained chaste, cloistered and obedient, but never poor, because somewhere along the way I was enriched by my faith in God and the Holy Virgin and the connection I felt to my Holy Order.  And you, who knew better than anyone because you were there –you were in the barn and knew how much I had suffered, how gravely  I had sinned, how much I had to repent, how hard  I  struggled to move beyond the ugliness, and how much it meant to me to find the strength to finally take my vows.

“So how dare you ask me such a question, Charles?  How could you be so cruel?”

He picked up his gloves from the bench where he had laid them and walked to the library door.

“Forgive me if you can,” he mumbled.

“Oui” she said


Her voice rose to a pitch he had never heard, not even as he entered the barn in response to her screams.

“Not ‘Oui, I forgive you, Charles’, because I do not forgive you.  You asked a question and I have answered it. You asked me if I love you, Charles, and the answer to your question is ‘Oui.’  So there you have your answer.  And it is terrible, is it not.”

When he turned there were tears flowing down his cheeks.

“I have loved you since you were a little girl.”

“…The little girl who ruined your shins and stomped your toes and dug her fingernails into your wrists?”

“A different love then, but yes, even then.  I loved your spirit, your determination.”

“You danced with me.”

“You were such a pretty little thing, all dressed out in crimson velvet, with ribbons in your hair.”

“You lifted me high above your shoulders in a Volta, while your grandmother bit her lip until it bled.”

Her own tears began to flow.

“If you had known, Marguerite, would it have made a difference?”

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A tour of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots art gallery

When I was finalizing The First Marie and the Queen of Scots in the Spring of 2011, I was in a quandary about the cover.  My artist son  was in the midst of a design when other deadlines interfered and he was unable to proceed.  My daughter in law Dr. Christina Bocklisch was visiting from the EU and found an alternative sketch I had done. "What's wrong with using this?" she asked.   I submitted three cover concepts to the designer at Createspace, two of which were mine,  and he selected the same design that Christina liked--Hence the original cover of First Marie that has become a hallmark of my Queen of Scots Suite.
The mock up to the right is a cut out of my original watercolor  placed on two different plaids and embellished with a stickpin ornament on the hat.  Two thousand  people have purchased or downloaded the first edition with a refined version of this cover design.  The most  amazing thing about my cover is it is the first drawing I have done since 1984 when I did a pencil sketch of a jury during a final argument in a homicide my boss was trying. The second surprise was my blood pressure dropped to normal while I was working on it.  I had already hired my son to do some interior artwork  but I decided to do a few more.  The 25 interior illustrations in the original addition are a combination of his work and mine, and their principal contribution to the finished product was to provide me with a tangible image of my characters as  they and I aged.
The prologue illustration  depicts the Halifax gibbet which had been imported by the Earl of Morton and renamed 'the maiden.' The scene portrayed,ironically, is Morton's execution in 1583.  The illustration and design concept is by Russ Root.The illustration as it appears in the published book is adjusted so make the image taller, to more accurately depict the taller houses common in Edinburgh and to heighten the gibbet.   The next illustration, also by Russ Root, illustrates the plate for Part One of the story. The jousting knight is symbolic of the time the Queen of Scots and her  Four Maries spent in France.  I have also used this versatile image in The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots for the same reason --my protagonist William Kirkcaldy  arrived in France in 1548, first as a prisoner and for the final seven years of his stay as a celebrated knight and warrior in the service of Henri II, who always doffed his hat in Kirkcaldy's presence.
The Four Maries were sent to France with the queen at the insistence of Marie Stuart's mother the Dowager Queen of Scotland, Marie de' Guise.  The main character in my story is Marie Flemyng, who was the chief of the Four Maries and the queen's first cousin.  All four of the Scottish girls had very different personalities which I attempted to illustrate in the following scene.  When Marie Stuart was a child, she was rumored to cross her fingers behind her back when she fibbed.  In my illustration, Flemyng is the shortest, depicted in the foreground.  She was petite and in my research, blonde like her mother. The moniker 'Flamy', short for La Flamina had nothing to do with her hair color.  It had to do with her surname which was a take off on the Latin term for citizens of Flanders, which was the ancient origin of her father's family. The chubby girl is Marie Beaton,  the tall stern girl is Marie Seton, and the one with plated hair is Mary Livingston who may  have been given the moniker 'Lusty by Marie de Guise because of her athletic nature.

 The next scene shows the queen consoling Flamy when the Scottish girls were sent to live in a convent so they would not interfere with Marie's assimilation into the French royal family . The narrative of this farewell describes a signet ring given by the queen of Flamy to seal a promise that she would be rescued soon.
The third scene,again by Russ Root, illustrates a fictional version of an actual attempt by Scottish dissidents to poison the Queen of Scots' dessert.  That illustration also appears in The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, and inspired me to devote a large portion of that book to the building relationship between Kirkcaldy and the youthful Marie Stuart when she was a girl in France. It relates in time to the  next illustration which depicts a scene that was instrumental in shaping Marie Flemyng's understanding of her identity and exactly where she fit into the scheme of things not just at the Valois court, with the Scottish royals as well.  Her mother Lady Janet Flemyng, the queen's Scottish governess has given birth to a bastard son of the King of France, and she is being sent back to Scotland in disgrace.  The French queen Catherine de' Medici is also pregnant with King Henri's child but it is the king's principal mistress Diane d' Poitier who has insisted on Flamy's mother's banishment.  At this point, The First Marie expands beyond the story of a stressed friendship between the queen and her petite blonde cousin into something greater.

Russ Root's graphic design that introduces Part Two is another drawing that we see again in Last Knight. The queen in the illustration is the youthful Elizabeth Tudor but represents the three queens who figure prominently in the second phase of the story - Elizabeth, Catherine de' Medici, and Marie of Guise.  It is a period of transition for Flamy. To her surprise she is befriended by 'the Florentine shopkeeper's daughter' the stern Queen Catherine.  The Queen of Scots has married the dauphin Francois.  During the wedding celebrations, Flamy has been spying for her brother James, the Scottish Chancellor and her cousin Lord James Stewart, bastard half-brother of the Queen of Scots, who suspect something is amiss. When Chancellor James Flemyng and the other Scottish representatives at the wedding fall ill, it is Queen Catherine who tries unsuccessfully to save Flamy's brother's life.  In the aftermath, William Maitland of Lethington is sent to France to investigate.  He is a married civil servant and she is an adolescent lady in waiting, but the seed of all that follows is sown at their first encounter.

 But King Henri II  dies in a jousting accident, and Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots is now Queen of France, consort to her young, frail and unimpressive husband Francois II.  The dynamic between the cousins Marie Stuart and Marie Fleming has forever changed, and the First Marie becomes more and more drawn to her Scottish roots.  Just when she is forced to face the fact that she will never return to Scotland, King Francois contracts meningitis and dies.  If Marie Stuart wishes to remain a queen, it will be as Queen of Scots.  Catherine de' Medici has no affection for her demeaning former daughter-in-law.   Thus, a disappointed Queen Marie Stuart and her Four Maries sail to Scotland.  They have been absent for 13 years.
 Russ Root's illustration for Part Three shows Marie Stuart as a warrior queen, which is how she sought to present herself during her reintroduction  to her homeland.  It is a period when the queen attempts to assert her personal rule, but unfortunately that is not what she was trained for.  In spite of a military success against the great Catholic house of Huntly in the north, she is dependent upon her brother Lord James Stewart and her foreign secretary Maitland to conduct the affairs of government.  Her goal is not  to make a success of her personal rule in Scotland as much as it is to assert  a claim to the English throne, and she seeks to do it by enticing Elizabeth Tudor to name her as her heir.   In the meantime, her First Marie is drawn more and more to Maitland, who is now a widower.   When the queen tires of her role as a warrior queen, she starts shopping for a husband, and that marks the beginning of her end.  She picks a shallow handsome English aristocrat Henry Stuart, frequently called Lord Darnley, who is her cousin. Both are grandchildren of  Margaret Tudor. Besides being taller than Marie Stuart who stands close to six feet in height, he is an accomplished dancer, a fine French speaker, and possessed of a claim  as strong as hers to the English crown.  He is also self-centered, amoral, vindictive and immature. In spite of protests from Elizabeth and a potential rebellion of her lairds, she marries him anyway.  When in a few months he has reduced her to tears of humiliation and caused her estrangement from those who tried to assist her, she cannot be rid of him because the Queen of Scots is pregnant.  Darnley drives Maitland from the government and provokes her brother to a full scale rebellion that fails. The pretty queen who rode booted and spurred at the head of an army at Corriche Burn has been reduced to a fretful pregnant woman with no clear way to save herself.  Darnley has driven all but Marie Seton from her chambers. He has  developed second stage tertiary syphilis and suffers from paranoia. He blames his wife for his own inadequacies and suspects that the child she carries is the son of her Piedmontese foreign correspondence secretary David Rizzio. True to character, he teams with the ambitious and conniving but powerful Earl of Morton and they deal with Rizzio and Marie by having the secretary murdered in the pregnant  queen's presence, hoping for a miscarriage. Marie stands by in shock, unable to help.  But she has not played her last card yet.  She has sent to France for the return to Scotland of an important member of the Garde Ecosse-- a friendly face from her days as Queen of France.  Before he left Scotland, he was a notorious Border Reiver, bruiser and  womanizer,  and he had a history of defying authority, but he had never betrayed Marie of Guise when she was her daughter's regent, and he was fiercely loyal to the Queen of Scots.  He had a reputation for being the last man standing in a street brawl and he was not above committing regicide to get his way. He was James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, a sworn enemy of her brother Moray and Secretary Maitland, and he hated the English with a passion.
 The illustration representative of part four is Russ Root's design depicting the battle at Carberry Hill, with Kirkcaldy of Grange astride his warhorse, whom I have called Eachan, which means "Brown horse" in the language of the Highlands.  This segment of the book deals with the developing love between Maitland the the First Marie, whom he calls Mally,  the name her father and brothers had given her when she was wee.  The renaming is symbolic of her change of allegiance.  She is now fiercely Scottish, sometimes even more a patriot than Maitland. The battle scene purposefully portrays the rebel lairds as a ragtag band.
 In 1567, the Queen of Scots has given birth to a healthy son.  Her husband Darnley is plotting to usurp her and is soliciting aid from anywhere he can find it. The queen has fallen under the thrall of the Earl of Bothwell.  With foreknowledge that Bothwell, her reconciled brother Lord James  who is now the Earl of Moray, and a rehabilitated William Maitland are planning a means to get rid of Darnley, the queen avoids knowing the details.  She pardons all of Rizzio's murders but one and looks through her fingers at the hints of conspiracy.  After a strange series of events that eventually lead to Darnley's bizarre murder,  she marries the principal suspect, some say after he raped her.  The citizens are shocked. Their once beloved auburn-haired Boadicea who had so charmed her subjects is now regarded as Bothwell's 'hoor'.  Unable to grasp the depth to which she has fallen, she and Bothwell engage Morton and a host of protestant lairds including Kirkcaldy of Grange at place called Carberry Hill, and by nightfall, Bothwell has been allowed to flee the field, but the queen is now a prisoner.
She is taken to Loch Leven where she suffers a miscarriage, and she agrees to abdicate under threat of death.  The country is now in the hands of her brother, Maitland the Earl of Morton.  Making full use of her feminine wiles, Marie Stuart  escapes Loch Leven Castle and raises a strong force that substantially outnumbers her enemies  but her force lacks the military talents of Morton,Moray and Kirkcaldy.
In a panic, Marie Stuart flees to England and to the tender mercies of her cousin Elizabeth.  At this time, a series of damaging documents called the casket letters mysteriously surface.  There is wide belief that they are forgeries.  In my novel, they are the product of Mally Flemyng, Lady Lethington, who is blackmailed by the Earl of Morton,  who forces her to produce them in order to save Maitland's life.  Morton has a document that implicates both Maitland and Bothwell in Darnley's murder.  The fact that Morton was the key conspirator in the plot and that his Douglas relatives left evidence at the crime scene does not impact  Mally's decision to give in to Morton's demands. Morton has destroyed the documentary evidence linking him to the regicide and kept the rest. Maitland does not realize what his wife has been forced to do until he is present at hearings held in York at the behest of Elizabeth. The queen's brother Moray shows them to Maitland on the night before they are introduced and he recognizes his wife's handiwork and recognizes how far she is willing to stoop to save his life.

The story does not end on that note and neither do the illustrations. There are five more, but they are spoilers.  I am including one from the Epilogue. It takes place twenty-five years after the fall of the Queen of Scots at Langside.  Mally and her daughter Margaret Maitland (Lady Roxburgh) are visiting the Flemyng estates at Cumbernauld where Marie Flemyng was born.  In the illustration she is dropping a signet ring in a little drinking glass that was hers when she was wee (the glass is a historically documented item.). In the novel, the ring was given to her by Marie Stuart when the Four Maries were banished to the convent at Pleussy and  was meant as a pledge of rescue. It changes hands three times in the course of the story.
 I agree with  Camille  M.  The First Marie is not a historical romance, but mixed in with the comprehensive history  is an enduring  love story. It can be found at

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Linda Root, Indie writer: The scene from Last Knight and the Queen of Scots ...

Linda Root, Indie writer: The scene from Last Knight and the Queen of Scots ...: The scene from Last Knight and the Queen of Scots that I find most characteristic of the novel is one that takes place the day after Marie S...
The scene from Last Knight and the Queen of Scots that I find most characteristic of the novel is one that takes place the day after Marie Stuart surrendered to Kirkcaldy of Grange at Carberry Hill.  At Carberry, Marie agreed to disburse her troops and go with the lairds to Edinburgh if they would allow her husband James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell and Duke of Orkney leave the battlefield unmolested. She was told that she would be taken to Holyrood where she would remain Queen of Scots, but with some restrictions on her powers until she freed herself of Bothwell's thrall.  They parted with a passionate kiss and Bothwell rode away.  I did a drawing of the scene as I perceived it, with Bothwell showing faintly in the background.  At any rate, by the following day, both Marie and Kirkcaldy realize that the lairds of the congregation have no intention of adhering to the negotiated terms.  While no one has told her what the lairds have planned for her, her base treatment at the hands of an Edinburgh mob is enough to warn her that the lairds have changed the game. To silence Kirkcaldy's protests that his honor had been tarnished,  they show him a letter allegedly written to Bothwell by Marie during the night.  That sets the stage for the following exchange between them  in  a fictional dramatization of an actual event.

THE LAST KNNIGHT and the Queen of Scots- The Adventures of Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, by Linda Root,  pps 578-584:

        Kirkcaldy did not want to go inside the awful little room.
Bile rose in his throat in a manner he had not experienced since the day he had thundered into the kitchen at Saint Germain and knocked the spoon from Mally Fleming’s hand. Then he had saved Marie Stuart from her enemies. Now he had become one of them.
       It had been wrong to come here.   
       The room smelled of grief and fear. The horror of it set him frozen in the doorway. The Queen was cowering on the barren floor. Her borrowed, rumpled kirtle was wrapped around her like a shroud.  She did not raise her eyes at first, but when she did, he saw a flash or raw hatred that faded to disdain. She had not capitulated. She was still the Queen of Scots.
         She drew her knees up and locked her long, bare arms across them, resting her chin upon her hands.  They no longer trembled as they had the night before.  She stabbed him with the same gaze he remembered from her childhood when something had been denied her.
        “You promised, Kirkcaldy. You gave me your word.”  She had echoed the same reprimand that he had been muttering to himself throughout the long night. But Maitland had been correct. His guilt had diminished when shown the letter.
           “I saw the note you penned to your paramour,  Madame.  It absolved me of my vow.”
             Now she saw the purpose behind the stylus and the writing paper, and the reason why a servant had been commandeered to deliver the table when even crippled Maitland could have managed it with ease. He was to be the witness!
           “Haw!” she scoffed. She shook her head back and forth until her wild hair fell forward.  She brushed the stray locks out of her eyes with her right hand, and again wrapped her arms around her knees, locking herself up again.  She raised her head and sneered.
             “That has always been your trouble, Grange.  For all of your girth and height, you are sometimes such a small man, so easily manipulated by those around you.”
             The words stung to the quick.  He struck back childishly.
             “And Bothwell is someone bigger? It was he, not me, Madame, who in three short months manipulated you into tossing a crown down Carberry Hill to Morton’s feet.  It was he who in a few minutes of gentle talk from you was happy enough to get on his horse and ride away, abandoning you to whatever fate befalls you. Which of you rides free to Dunbar now?”
            “He was not happy to leave me there, Sir,” she corrected.
             She adjusted the torn garments to cover her breasts, and prepared to stand.  Kirkcaldy had been her liege for far too long to watch her struggle. He rushed to help her, but she curled her hand into a fist and warned him to keep back.  It was painful to watch her stranded on her knees. She planted a bare foot on the cold stone floor and straightened the first leg and then the other, steadying herself against the little table as she rose. When she drew herself to her full height, they met eye to eye. 
            “Indulge me one last time, Kirkcaldy.  Last night when you left me to the mercies of the rabble outside of my window and bolted the door behind yourself, did I appear to you as someone who was capable of writing a love letter? And where exactly on my near naked body had I hidden my parchment and my writing instrument?  And if not hidden, how do you suppose I acquired them?  Who gave them to me and why? Are you that gullible, Sir?” 
               She had abandoned the use of the royal plural. There were no protocols in force.
             “They gave you writing materials so that you could write to Elizabeth renouncing Hepburn and requesting safe passage home for your brother Lord James.”
              “Aha! Maitland writes a clever dialogue.”  She laughed, but then turned sullen.
                “Madame, Maitland and your brother James only wish to free you from the devil’s thrall.”
                “I have no brother called James. The one I had is dead.”  She looked at him with the hardened eyes of the street whore that the mob outside had accused her of being.  He wanted to take her in his arms, to give her comfort, not in a sexual way, but as a father to a child. He wanted to fall on his knees before her, and renew the vows he had taken in France.  He felt a tear forming and he squinted hard to keep it prisoner.  It was betraying him just as he had betrayed the queen.
               Then the Queen of Scots uttered the deepest sigh he had ever heard.
               “I trusted you,” she lamented.  It was not a reproach, but a statement of fact.
               “I would have died for you, Madame.  We all would have died for you.” 
                She let out another sigh, this one steeped with exasperation.
               “And Bothwell changed all that?”
                 All he was able to do was nod.  She raised her hands to her elegant neck and shuddered, this time not quite so heavily.
                “But you did not die for me, Sir! Poor Sweet Davie died for me, and I suppose we could give the benefit of the doubt to feckless, stupid Henry, who certainly died because me, but no one else has died for me, not even François, who merely died. Perhaps he was the lucky one.”
               “Bothwell rode off and left you alone on the hill,” he retorted, as if it absolved the rest of them of myriad acts of treachery and deceit.
               “Because I commanded it!  Aye, Kirkcaldy, my last words to my husband were spoken as a queen, not as a wife, and may God condemn me for that.” Her voice crescendoed as she spoke. Something in her manner changed—a small adjustment to the light in her eyes. 
              “He did not seem to ponder it very long, Madame.”
               Kirkcaldy had stated the obvious, but it still did not answer the queen’s argument.
               “If Bothwell was the devil who drove me to that cursed hilltop, Sir, then why me?  Why are you not out there chasing this Satan of your creation? Why am I the one locked in this hideous room, with a mob outside waiting to set faggots to the hem of my gown?” 
              Then she looked down and gave a wry chuckle. 
               “--As if I had either hem or gown.” 
               She walked toward the window, but stopped before she reached it.
               “The English sent Saint Joan of Orleans a new frock to wear to her emolument.  Perhaps Elizabeth will do the same for me.”
                 Kirkcaldy reached her side. He wished to place his hand on her shoulder, to placate her, but she spun to face him. Her eyes sent a warning that he dare not touch her. All he could offer was speech, and even then he would be wise to watch his words.  She who had trusted him enough to place herself in his care had nothing left for him but scorn.
             “There is no plan to burn you, Madame, or to otherwise harm you or your son.”
               Her eyes skewered him again.
               “Entertain me, then, with an answer to my question:  If it is Bothwell that you find so odious, why am I here whilst he is free?”
              “It is you who set him loose, Madame.”
             “Ah, yes, Kirkcaldy. The subject must obey his sovereign.” 
              The irony was thick enough to repel a broadsword. Kirkcaldy had no further answers to the queen’s question. When she had surrendered to him at Carberry, he thought he had spoken truly-- that the lairds marched to free the queen from Bothwell’s thrall.
              There had been a bond signed by more lairds than he could list. They had sworn that their sole objective was to separate the captive from her captor until her senses were restored. Freeing Bothwell had been the prize offered to get her to acquiesce. Killing him would have been a better move. Without Marie beside him, Hepburn was without the power to cause any serious damage. His inability to raise more than a token force of mercenaries and border ruffians was evidence of that. The plan to which Kirkcaldy had subscribed was to deliver the Queen into house arrest at Holyrood, surrounded by all of her elegant furnishings and treasures, with her ladies to attend her. There would be minor alterations to the composition of her household, and a prohibition against the Mass. Ladies from protestant families would replace the remnant of French women remaining in her personal service. Marie Seton and Jane Kennedy would remain. As soon as she was settled in, she would be allowed visitation with the prince and permitted to travel to Stirling for his birthday.  She would retain her crown, and be titular Queen of Scots, while Maitland, Morton and her brother formed a triumvirate ruling in her name.  Such a scheme had served her well enough when she first arrived in Scotland. She would divorce and remarry in the Protestant faith when the time was ripe. That had been the plan. Locking her up had not been part of it. Her humiliation had not been part of it.
              Kirkcaldy was not naïve enough to believe his own lame assertion that a single love note of uncertain authenticity had changed it all. As soon as the queen convinced Bothwell to ride into the sunset, the rules apparently changed for everyone but him. He sickened with suspicion that Marie Stuart was telling him the truth--the letter was nothing more than a fraud produced to coerce his silence—one of Maitland’s tricks. Perhaps his erstwhile friends had used the queen’s trust and his own sense of honor to trap them both. He was easily manipulated by men cleverer than he—a sword to be unsheathed for others to wield as they saw fit.
            “If you renounce him, Majesty, your life will return to normal. The lairds will have no other choice.”  He thought he spoke honestly. Then she did laugh, aloud and robustly, a laugh of a lunatic, like Arran’s laugh. But when the queen spoke, there was no madness in her taunt.
            “When exactly, Sir, has my life been normal?  You were with me in France and know better than most. And as for the Earl of Bothwell, I would indeed follow him to the edge of the world in nothing but a petticoat of whatever color I choose-- white or red makes no matter--for reasons you will never understand.” 
             Then she stopped speaking for a moment, to catch a thought she apparently found amusing. “…if indeed I had a petticoat, instead of this borrowed rag.”
              She lifted the edge of the dirty garment.
             “Perhaps if I crawl to yonder window and bare my breasts to the crowd, some snot-nosed hag will loan me hers.”
             Then she became wistful.
             “Do you have any idea how novel it was to be treated as nothing more or less than a desirable woman?  The Duke of Orkney may have made rough use of tender flesh, but at least it has been real. And to act as if he has despoiled me of my virtue is a crude joke. I had been ravished a thousand times by many men before I ever reached the Almond Bridge. The others were more subtle, but more cruel. My life as queen has been an endless series of ravishments.”      
              She was silent for a moment, and Kirkcaldy thought she had finished, but she had been reflecting on the story of her life.  
             “…I should have melted down Elizabeth’s garish font and taken my son to France.
               They both realized that it had gone too far for that.
              “Is there anything I can offer to relieve you of your distress, Madame?” Kirkcaldy asked and immediately wished he had not said it. The queen sucked on her lower lip and shook her head.  She raised the elegant hand that clutched the rags of her undergarment, and seemed about to wave him off, but instead she dropped her arms and faced him.
               “A sgian dubh would be nice, but if you cannot find a way to part with yours, you might leave your cloak behind so I can have something to cover my naked breasts.”
                After he removed his cloak and placed it on the cot, Kirkcaldy bent at the waist and began to back out of her presence.
                “Do not bother with such absurdities, Grange. Turn your back on me like the others have done and bolt the door behind you when you leave.”