Friday, December 6, 2013

The Green Woman - a novel in the making.

Yes, it's been a long time since I have blogged, and  there is a reason.  This year I decided to do the NaNoWriteMo novel writing exercise in which writers attempt to write a 50Kword novel during the 30 days of November.  And yes, I did it.  And I started late and finished early.

The idea is not to produce a finished, ready for the presses novel.  Writers are advised not to worry about editing or research--that can come later if the product warrants it.  So here is a glimpse at my historical paranormal mystery, The Green Woman.   The copy is raw, but what follows gives you an idea of what can be produced in less than a month if you neglect everything else.

      a novel by
Fashion by Josie Natori



CHAPTER ONE:  Once Upon a Time…

 The host who had taken my credit card and checked me into the castle that afternoon had not mentioned a costume party being held on the premises that evening, but I should have been forewarned. I knew that Ferniehirst Castle was a popular wedding site and often hosted private parties.  I had read the brochure.
My publisher had the entire site reserved for a book launch party on Sunday in the Great Hall, and I had understood that the castle was closed until the weekend, and I had mistakenly assumed that there were no intervening private bookings.  My entire reason for groveling for an early check-in was a chance to explore the castle without interference from my friends. While I had no intention of haunting the corridors with a candle to light my way as if I were Lady Macbeth, I would have appreciated a word of warning before sauntering to the guest kitchen in something as clinging as my favorite green Natori caftan.  It was not quite Victoria’s Secret, but hardly something I would have worn to an audience with the Queen. 
When the porter delivered my bags to the en suite accommodations in the afternoon, I had already been told that of the six newly appointed guest rooms, mine was the only one occupied until Friday when the others in my party began to trickle in.  Their late arrival was enough to make me stand up and cheer.  I had looked forward to visiting the castle for a long time and I was not the least bit keen on sharing my experiences with a group of people I loosely claim asfriends Colleagues would be the better word.  If truth be told, with the exception of my editor Katy Wjocik, I could barely endure riding an elevator with the others in the group.
Traveling as a part of the group that my publisher Simon Dirst referred to as ‘The Team’ was about as popular with me as riding in a closet casket with a flatulent corpse. But on this trip, the Fates were with me, because my publisher Simon and his administrative assistant Elle, who was the only person I had ever met who had been named after a magazine, were stopping off in London to cut a book deal with Princess Michael of Kent or some other lesser royal, and the photographer they had engaged to cover the launch had been invited to take photographs at a party being thrown by Wentworth Miller.  That left my agent Carol whose star chart had advised against flying from Sunday night through Thursday, and my editor and soul sister Katy, who as much as she loved me, refused to spend a single extra nanosecond in Simon’s company and was coming late and leaving early. She would not have come at all if I hadn’t promised to let her raid my shoe rack of my several pairs of Swedish Hasbeens and fix her up with my athletic younger brother when we got back to California. To pull it off I would probably have to confess to Iain exactly where I had last seen his autographed 2013 Red Sox Series Series ball, even though it would mark the very last time that Iain would agree to dog sit my Giant Wooly Alaskan Malamute puppy who call name was Max, short for Max Headroom.
The castle did not open to the general public other than during July and only accommodated private parties by prior arrangement and a fifty percent advance. The deal Simon had cut with the site manager had been from Friday noon through Tuesday. Because I was flying into Edinburgh on Tuesday, his salve girl Elle had booked me into a hotel on the Royal Mile. But once I realized the extent of my good fortune and that the others were not expected until Friday night, I saw no reason to plant myself in a hotel room in Edinburgh if there was any hope of talking the site manager into an early check-in.  Once my colleagues showed, I would belong to them, but until then, I had been given an unanticipated opportunity to explore the castle and the grounds on my own time just as the protagonist in my books had done. The launch may well have been my excuse for coming, but it had never been my reason. 
I rang up the number on my printed itinerary, and I spoke with the man who seemed to be in charge. At first he had been reluctant to agree, citing something about insurance and the fact that the kitchen in the guest wing was not equipped to serve meals until the weekend and there would be no maid service until Saturday.  I was not that easily discouraged.  I assured him that I was an able bodied American woman accustomed to fending for myself and totally capable of making a bed and navigating the short drive into Jedburgh to take my meals.  As long as the kitchen facilities in the guest wing had a fridge, an ice bucket and a teapot, I would be fine.  Besides, even though the launch had been Simon’s idea, ultimately I was the one who would be paying the substantial bill.  Or maybe the man just liked my voice and my book jacket photo.  Whatever had convinced him, he finally agreed. I charged the one day rate cancellation penalty at the Edinburgh hotel on my American Express card, collected my rental car from the hotel car park and headed for the Borders.
 After the ministerial act of checking in, I spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the Riverwalk.  I knew the history of the place so well that when I stood on the bank above the Jed Water I could imagine a band of reivers crashing out of the woods.  I am one of those people prone to develop a romantic attachment to certain specific places. When I was a child it was the field I cut through on my way to public school in order to avoid the group of feisty Irish Catholics headed for Christ the King. When in college it was the abandoned orange groves that the college was holding for future growth.  In its wild unkempt state the defiant grove continued to blossom and bear fruit.  While much of the timber in Northumberland and on the Borders had been cut and much of the forestland was gone, there was a similar defiance in the lush woodland along the banks of the Jed Water. I felt as if I had always been here.
I recalled what Sir Walter Scot had written about this wild, compelling land: ‘Every valley has its battle and every stream its song.’

Scotland in late June is in twilight until near midnight, although by my standards, the evenings are far from warm.  Even in high summer, there is no such thing as a balmy evening on the Borders.   I bundled up as I would for a March evening drive into the SouthernCalifornia high desert town where I live, and I headed into Jedburgh. I arrived in the city hours after the closing of Jedburgh Abbey and the Queen of Scots House, which is now a popular museum, but I had not planned to tour them until the following day when I could take my time and savor what I found.  There would be time to visit the tourist’s haunts after the book launch was out of the way.  What I needed now was food.
 I was not in the mood for a hotel restaurant.  Sitting alone in a well lighted dining room watching lovers gaze into one another’s eyes while I pretended to be reading an unbearably dull book would be exceedingly depressing.
I went hunting for a friendly pub.  
If at first the crowd seemed unaccustomed to sharing space at the long mahogany bar with a lone American woman while they watched World Cup Rugby on the HDTV mounted above the bar, they were fine with me after I announced that my brother Iain played on the Eagles, the American member of the International Rugby Union. I had not known that Rugby was to Jedburgh what American football is to South Bend, Indiana and Starkville, Alabama, home of the Crimson Tide.  My self-introduction led to an enthusiastic offer to join me in a comparative analysis of the local ales in appreciation of my familiarity with the Rugby term ‘scrum half.’   I was treated as a celebrity.  I wished I’d worn my Eagles Supporters polo but my new friends seemed to like my cashmere tank just fine.
We were boisterous enough to have driven the brooding guy in the blue on white Societa Sportiva Calcio tee shirt back into the streets.  My luck, I thought.  There he was,  brutally handsome, in a youthful Marcello Mastriani sort of way, and I had to go drive him off with my vestigial Cleveland Sports fan manners.  Or maybe he was just so far into Napoli soccer that he couldn’t stand to watch a rugby match. Another pint and I had forgotten what the Italian footballer had looked like.  One more and I had forgotten what I looked like.  Then it was time to go.
Four pints of ale, two propositions and a proposal of marriage later I was ready to go back to the castle.  The food had been excellent, the company entertaining, and I would have stayed longer had I been booked into the Spread Eagle Inn where the Queen of Scots had stayed in the autumn of 1566 or some other spot within staggering distance of the pub.
I promised the lads to stop by again before I left the Borders and invited the lot of them to drop in on my Sunday book launch.  They did not seem the type to be that interested in historical novels, but free food and drinks seemed to win them over.   I left the pub with a fuzzy glow.  It was most fun I’d had in a bar since the Indians made it to the Series—well, perhaps not quite that long ago.
I headed back to Ferniehirst well before dark, which, of course, leaves a somewhat misleading impression of my time spent belly-to-the-bar. When I left the pub and walked to my car, the sky said eight but my watch said ten-half, which is Brit-speak for a long time past the witching hour.  Had I been stopped by the polis, my performance on sobriety tests would not have been pretty.
A monster SUV, I think it was a Land Rover, pulled out of the car park right after I did and I considered moving to the roadside to let him pass so I would have a set of tail lights to follow, but since had no idea where the SUV was headed, I decided against it. I had only two miles to travel and the road to Ferniehirst was not exactly bumper to bumper at close to midnight on a weekday.  The final leg of the journey was on what property owners in Scotland call a limited access road, which means that the right to pass and the duty to maintain the roadway are within the discretion of the land owner. A few potholes here and there announced that the farmers near Ferniehirst coveted their privacy. 
 In spite of the fact that this was a road I had only traveled once and therefore I should have been paying attention, I let my mind wander from the driving task, which was not particularly prudent since I had a belly and a bladder full of the local ale and a nasty dose of jet lag.  I did not recall turning off the highway until I reached the grounds without the slightest clue of how I got there. But driving in some sort of dissociative state is not a rare occurrence.  It even has a name—cognitive distracted driving.
 I had looked it once up on Wikipedia. However, it was one of life’s experiences taken best when sober. 

When I reached the car park at Ferniehirst, I did not waste time scouting my surroundings because by then I badly needed a lavy.  But although my nature call was inspiring me t rush right along, I am certain there had been no cars in the car park when I returned, and there had been no hint whatever of a party going on:  thus, - when I settled in my room with my very marked-up  copy of  Steel Bonnets by G. MacDonald Fraser,  I was surprised to hear laughter wafting  up the stairs, from the direction of the Great Hall.   The noise from below was not so raucous that it would have kept me awake and I would have ignored it altogether had I not decided to brew a glass of herbal tea. And yes, American brew ‘brew’ and Brits brew tea.
The kitchen in the guest quarters is for the exclusive use of the occupants of the six guest rooms, five of which I knew would be vacant for at least three more days.  I was not the least concerned about heading to it in my green Natori gown.  I had no intention of venturing down the stairs to crash someone else’s wedding. My own had been mistake enough.
But in retrospect, I should have known myself well enough to have grabbed a robe or wriggled into a pair of jeans, because while the tea was brewing, my curiosity overcame my prudence and I made my way to the head of the stairs.  I was aware of two separate sets, one opposite the entrance to the kitchen and the other down the hall near the longue.  I am one of those people who actually studies the floor plans posted in my doctor’s office displaying the exit route in event of fire, floor or earthquake in a parade of little green arrows.  I like to plan my physical escapes in advance.  The emotional escapes are a bit trickier.
According to the floor plan I remembered from the webpage, the narrow flight of stairs I had selected did not reach the ground floor. They opened into a corridor on the First Floor, where a wider set of elegant stairs accessed the ground floor near the entry to the Great Hall.  I descended far enough to confirm that indeed there was a function of some sort going on downstairs. 
But as I peeked down the stairwell, I was utterly confused.  Either I had become disoriented and taken the wrong staircase or there had been something hallucinogenic in my ale.  Nothing was where I expected it to be.
From what I could observe of the function in the Great Hall, the group congregated there hardly warranted so large a room.  I guessed the crowd to number less than thirty, and while it was not a large group, it certainly was a strange one.  When I saw the mode of dress, I at first assumed it was a Scottish theme wedding without kilts.  Then I looked closer.  If it was a wedding, someone had forgotten to invite Romance, Joy and Conviviality. I had seen happier faces at gravesites. I also noted far fewer women than men, and the group seemed sexually segregated.  I did not stop to ponder who was getting married.  I was wondering who had died. Even Nathaniel Hawthorne would have written a happier scene.
   The room décor seemed more rustic that I had remembered it and the sconces were not lit.  The only light came from candelabra on the banquet table and sideboard. The women hovered together at the far end of the room and from my vantage point, it looked very much as if they were busy with needle work, no small trick in so dim a light.  There was no music or dancing, and it was definitely not my idea of a celebration. If anything, it was a complete anachronism.
And then it struck me – an anachronism. Anacronism was indeed the operative word, and it thoroughly explained what I was witnessing.  I felt both foolish and relieved.
There were countless sub-groups of the Society for Creative Anachronism scattered around the world, and many of them were in the UK.   I had given a lecture and reading at an event at the U.S. headquarters in Milpitas, California and the members were every bit as committed to historical accuracy as the group in the Great Hall. They were just a great deal happier.  California sunshine has that effect, even as far north as Milpitas.  What better venue for a chapter meeting of the SCA than a site as culturally rich as Ferniehirst.  Had I not been tired and a wee bit drunk, I would have recognized the meeting for what it was immediately without the drama and uncertainty.  From the appearance of the costumes, some tailor or seamstress in Jedburgh of Kelso was making a fortune selling Jacobean costumes as authentic as anything I had seen in the museums of Edinburgh and London. 
I was confident that I had solved the mystery, but I was still curious as to how the participants had arrived without leaving cars in the car park.  Then I recalled an enterprise in the Desert called Brenda’s Bingo Buss which specialized in hauling Soroptimists and members of the Republican Women’s Club to Laughlin, Nevada for an occasional day of wrestling with the one arm bandits in the casinos along the Colorado River. The group I had observed had no doubt arrived by chartered bus from Jedburgh, and the bus was probably hidden from view and parked behind the barn. 
With all of my nagging questions answered, I headed for my room.  My first problem was that I hadn’t the slightest idea of how to get there.  And then it all went weird again.
Somehow I had gotten myself totally turned around.  There were clusters of men about, but either they had chosen to ignore me because of my state of undress, or they simply had not seen me.  I definite was not suitably attired to go sashaying up to one of the somber women in the Great Hall to ask directions.  But obviously I had not been thinking clearly.
All I needed was to take a minute to get my bearing and the solution was apparent. I meandered back toward the entrance to retrace my steps.  I found the stairway near the entrance and hurried to the second floor.
Scottish and English houses number the floors in their multi-storied buildings differently than Yanks do.  One enters on the ground floor and climbs or takes an elevator to the first floor.  Our accommodations were on the second floor, which is three flights up.  It apparently makes perfect sense if you happen to be British and none at all to an American.
 At any rate, after I negotiated the wide stairs as far as the first floor landing, they went no further, and only when I saw a doglegged short hallway did  I find the next flight up.  The stairwell was much narrower than I expected which is probably why the luggage laden porter had avoided it, but according to the floorplan I had perused, it would  deliver me quite nicely to a hallway that accessed the second floor kitchenette where I had left my tea.
I only made it half way up when I saw a man heading down.  He had a quick, determined step and we might have collided if I hadn’t announced my presence with a cough.  He  stopped short and so did I.  We faced one another like two drivers going in oppositie directions on a one lane bridge.  He looked to be in his thirties and was taller than most Scots. His hair was loose and long, and in the dark corridor seemed almost black.  His stance exuded confidance and something else—the current American slang for it was attitude.  He wore a quilted jack of ruby velvet styled like something that the Scottish rock star Ian Anderson of  Jethro Tull might wear in concert. He had a long face with chiseled features and while I was too far from him to see the color of his eyes in the diminished light,  I felt them boring into me. 
Then he spoke.
“When Ah first saw ya climbin’ up  ah though ya were an apparition, you being near naked and a wee bit greenish just like in the ghost stories my da used tae tell  and all, but closer up ya seem real enough,” he said. “Plenty a’ room to let ya by,” he added, resting against the stairwell to make room for me to pass. 
Did he think I had been born yesterday?  There was not a chance in hell that I would put myself within his reach.  I had no intention of capping off my first night on the Borders in a skirmish with an arrogant drunk in a stairwell—and  not just a drunk. His  comment on my clothing had been inappropriate and rude.  In any other setting I would have been confrontational.  If this had been in an elevator in a public building I would called him on it, or at least responded with a snappy retort, but this was not an ordinary night.  I had no intention of  squeezing past him on the narrow staircase, so  I a spun on my ballerina slippered  feet and ran.  With him standing near the landing I had no choice but down, and as I descended, I heard him laughing at me.
 When I reached the ground floor,  the double doors into the Great Hall were opened to an interior nothing like I had remembered it. I ran past the doorway without a thought of entering.  I tried to recreate the path taken by the porter on my arrival and chastized myself for not paying more attention  instead of trailing after him as if I were a grand dame boarding the Lucitania behind a servant with a cart of streamer trunks. 
I was not alone in the corridor.  Men had gathered in clusters and as I rushed by them,  they seemed to be.speaking Scots. Since this was rural Scotland there was nothing  the least bit strange  in that. Although I did not speak it,  I had assimilated enough of it when I was doing my research to know it when I hear it.  I nearly collided with a pair of costumed men who were absorbed in animated  conversation as I scurried past, but they did not seem to notice.  If truth be told, it was as if they could not see me. 
The confusing floor plan and left me stymied. I had made Ferniehirst  into a research project while  I was writing my last two novels and thought I understood the layout and the changes produced in the recent restoration.  But I could not find access to the wings,  and I ran into a hallway that ended in a ‘t’ that should have been an ‘l’.  A room that I was certain opened into other rooms had no egress.  I even checked behind the curtains and tapestries for hidden doors.  Not all of the inconsistencies could be blamed on pamphets I had read or webpages I had visited.
I was certain I would be able to recognized the entrance to the turret library.  Even in my haste to reach my suite that afternoon I had stopped to take a peek inside.  For someone who is a writer, a library is a treasure room and the books inside are precious jewels.  However,   the entrance to the library was not where I had remembered it to be, and I could not blame that on the ale I had consumed.  I had been completely sober when I arrived in the afternoon, and after my encounter on the stairs,  I was entirely sober now. It was the library that was off kilter.
When I did find the library door it appeared to access the circular library on a tangent when  I had been certain that it had opened into the room where the circumference of the turret protuded into the hall.  I was also surprised to find it locked and latched.  That afternoon the man who greeted me explained that the turret library was usually locked at night because of the value of its contents,  but he offered to make an exception and  keep it open since I was the only guest. It was to be the site of the private reception the laird was hosting after the book launch and I would be welcome to peruse it at my leisure to see if there were materials I might find useful in my remarks.  It seemed that I was expected to make a speech.  At least  I had not impressed him as a likely book thief. 
Obviously he had forgotten about the party booked into the Great Hall when he made the offer and later thought better of  leaving the library unsecured when there were outsiders on the premises.  Libraries and studies  in British properties as old as Ferniehirst are often filled with first editions and their walls adorned with painting of long dead ancestors, which is probably why so many of them are rumored to be haunted. I had read that the library at Ferniehirst was full of first editions of celebrated tomes on the history of the Borders  and decorated with a parade of portraits of  famous and infamous Kers.  I also knew that was a thriving clandestine market for anything elegant, old  and large enough to make an impressive wallhanging or coffee table book, and there were plenty purchasers  who lacked  regard for such triviliaties as  provinence, something conveniently blamed on the Russian nouveau riche.  No wonder it was locked.    I was making far too much a mystery of  matters  that were simply explained.
At least I seemed to have evaded the party guests and escaped any further unsolicited comments  from the man on the stairs. I slowed my pace to something resembling  a power walk  and tried togive theimpression of someone who knew where she was going,  in case anyone was looking.  I ventured into an alcove and found a strange staircase that appeared to curved back toward the turret,  and after a few cautious steps upward, I was numbstruck.  I had discovered  one of the counterclockwise  staircases that made Ker houses unique—a staircase with a counterclockwise spiral that had  given an advantage to left-handed defenders--kerry- fisted men, they were called.
After my encounter with the man on the other set of stairs  I felt more in need of protection from those coming down that from intruders headed up, and what common sense I had gave notice that this was not a good night for me to venture into narrow stairways.  But  I had never let prudence overcome curiosity, and I could not resist  the urge to explore.  This was one of the features of the castle that appears  prominently in my novels,  and it was the castle’s  history that had drawn me here—a symbol of theuniqueness of  the castle’s inhabitants and the  wildn nature  of the Border Reivers. 
A left-handed man with a Jed Axe on a counterclockwise staircase had a decided advantage in a closed-quarters fight.  Walter Laidlaw had written a poem about it that is read aloud each year at the beginning of the Jed Heart Festival.  It commemorates with pride the occasion when the Fernirhirst Kers purged the castle of its  English invaders  and after butchering them decapitated them and played  football with their severed heads. 
There were similar stairs in the museum called Queen Mary’s House in Jedburg, which I had planned to visit in the morning.  The house had  never belonged to Marie Stuart, the tragic Queen of Scots. It was  a residence the queen  had leased from her  friend and supporter  Sir Thomas Ker of Ferniehirst after her lodgings in the Spread Eagle Inn caught fire.  She had been in Jedburgh for the assizes in the autumn of 1566, to establish her authority on the Borders and to escape the bizarre misconduct of  her syphyllitic husband Henry Stuart, the notorious Lord Darnley who was briefly her consort.  When she had refused to peititon Parliament for a grant of the crown matrimonial, his  debachery  had  sunk to  the depths of hell and the queen began to fear for her life, or so the legend goes.  In any  event, the queen of Scots became very ill while lodged  at the Ker house in the town.  At one point, her attendents and physician  believed that she had died and her chambermaids  opened the windows of her bedchaber so her soul could escape to the heavens. Fortunately a  French surgeon who name was Arnaud was travelling  in her party and he was not convinced that the queen was dead. He ordered the servants to close the windows and he commanded the  queen’s ladies-in-waiting to massage her extremeties. They he had called for mirror and when the queen’s faithful Marie Seton held it before the queen’s face,  a fine mist condensed upon the glass, coming from Marie Stuart’s mouth and nose.  After the surgeon forced some watered wine down her gullet,  the semi-conscious queen  suffered a spell of projectile vomiting during which she expelled evil smelling  green bile, which some folks in her party considered evidence of poison. No one has  isolated the nature of her illness. Like most events in her life, it is still debated.  Modern diagnosticians  suspect pneumonia and nearly all romantic writers think of arsenic.  Elizabeth’s  spymaster Walsingham,  a radical anti-Marian, had bragged of  poisoning women by dusting the drapes  of their beds with arsenic.  The other popular suspect was the queen’s  husband Henry, who arrived in Jedburgh after the worst of her illness had passed, made a few obsequeous  gestures and rode north again,  and thus, the mystery remained unsolved. But then, Marie Stuart’s life was a series of who-dunnits.
There also are similar counterclockwise stairs to the ones in Jedburgh at the ruined fortress of the Cessford Kers near Roxburgh. Left-handedness is a family trait. I had read that there was a higher incidence of lefthandedness in the various branches of the Ker family  than recorded anywhere else other than in the ancient Biblical  tribe of Benjamin.  That eliminated two possible lines of genetic research from my family tree.  I could barely hold a pen in my left hand without it fumbling, let alone use it to wield an axe.
 Since I was more fascinated by the staircase than frightened of the man in velvet who had startled me, and no one seemed to be in hot pursuit,  I sat on the stairs and held out both hands to touch the walls in some sort of ritual that I hoped would bind me to this ancient place, a declaration that I  had finally made it here.  If I had been less responsible I would have carved my initials into the rock with a fingernail or hairpin.
Visiting Ferniehirst had been number one of my list of things to do before I die for many moons. The counterclockwise staircase was among the features of the castle  which had drawn me here.
When I closed my eyes and looked inward , I could sense the presence of the Ferniehirst Kers descending the stairs with Jed Axes swinging free, vanguishing the more restricted right-handed Scotts of Bucchleuch, and  yelling the battle cry  ‘A Ker’ as they went about busting heads and severing limbs.  As gruesome as it must have been,  in a strange way I saw an element of romance in the old stories.
In spite of my fascination with the stairs, I could not escape the thought that they should not have been accssible from the spot where I had found them. My study of the various renovations at Fernehirst had mislead me into believing that the lower levels of the kerry spiraled staircases such as this one had been blocked off  or removed in a remodel during the middle of the twentieth century during a period when the castle had been converted for use as a hostel. I had read the the stairs upon which I sat wasonlu accessible from an obscured passage not much bigger than a crawl space opening into a higher level of the library.  Obviously the account I had read was dated before the recent renovations performed after the present owner reclaimed the residence from the Scottish Land Trust that had been operating the  hostel.  I laughed at my attempt to attach a paranormal explanation to a mystery I was certain I could solve with an updated set of blueprints and some architectural drawings more recent than the ones printed in the materials I had studied when I wrote my books.  
No matter how interested I was in my surroundings, I could hardly spend the night hunkering in a stairwell.  I had not recovered from my strange encounter with the man in the ruby velvet coat waistcoat but I was convinced that he was no more sinister than the placement of the stairs—I pegged him as a  club member  looking for a Men’s Room.  I decided to forego this particular flight for fear it would abruptly end when it met up with the newly rehung first floor ceiling.   When I reached the ground floor, I walked quickly through the gallery to the stairway used by tourists during the month of July when the castle was opened to the public.  There was no one else in sight or sound.  The interior seemed familiar, right down to the floral arrangements in the  foyer.  On a sideboard I found  a placard displayed, announcing my Saturday book launch.  I judged that it had  provided little enticement to the standoffice group of anachronistic  Scots who had apparently called it an early night and left. 
Thanks to my fertile imagination,  my first night at Ferniehirst had been an adventure I would  lookback upon with amusement. I remember my childhoodbelief that there were lions and tigers living in our basement, a fear I carried with me until we moved to  Southern California where the only basements were the bargain basements at the high tickets department stores in the malls.  I thought I had outgrown the childhood fantasies, but then, I was a writer. No matter how much a slave I was to historical accuracy,  I had chosen fiction for a reason.
            Luck was with me. Everything about the place seemed familiar and my sense of control returned.  I climbed the proper stair case and easily located  my room.  I locked myself  inside and helped myself to a brandy from the bottle I had stashed inside my  suitcase.  I had no interest whatsoever in a glass of tea,  hot or cold,  and I had done enough wandering around the castle to last at least until  mornining. I was slightly chilled but the brady would do a better job of warming me than anything plucked from a tea tree.  I draped a shawl on my shoulders as much to cover me as to warm me and I walked to the window. Night had finally descended on the Borders,  but it was not entirely dark. There was a moon. I could see the archery field in the distance where the owner kept a herd of Icelandic sheep.  They were as white as new snow. The only car in the car park was mine. The house had become sepulchral,  as silent as any tomb.  The only unnatural light was from an electric fixture by the entrance.  It was as if I were the only living thing on the castle grounds.
Sleep was out of the question and I had lost my  desire to revisit MacDonald Fraser’s fine history of the Border Reivers,  even though it is one of my favorite books.  I put his account of  the steel bonneted warlords who  had inhabited this wild land aside to enjoy on another day.  Reading of reivers seemed superfluous when I could not shake off the inane thought that I had encountered the ghost of one of them. He had a commanding presence, and an air about him.  That did not disqualify him as a Borderer.  The aristocrats among them had often been the most vicious of the lot, a list replete with Kers and Scotts and Maxwells.  Kers had served as wardens of the Middle March, often rustling livestock at night and tracking the rustlers in the morning. There was a popular joke making the rounds when they were serving as wardens  noting that the Kers  had a very poor record of catching themselves. 
I reflected on at the bizarre events of the evening and decided that there was a logical explanation for each of them , but I still could not relax.  It had nothing to do with having been lost in the castle.  It had to do with the man.

The story develops along several lines, and  the reader is not quite certain how much of my protagonist's adventure is real and how much is a creation of her fertile mind.  One thing does become obvious early on --the man in the stairwell suspects that she is the one who is the ghost, the legendary Green Woman of Ferniehirst.   Writing this one was great fun.

No comments:

Post a Comment