Saturday, May 4, 2013

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.”



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