Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Intelligencer is off the the editor! Here's a look at Ch. 1

Intelligencera person who gathers intelligence, especially an informer, spy, or secret agent.

"Careful you don't give her a good show," said Cormac the minstrel, lanky and grinning, one shoulder resting on the wall.

"Wheesht. I'm giving no one a show," Sir Law Kintour said. He reached for a tiny jar sitting in the window, pulled out the cork releasing a sharp, musty smell. The canoness had told him swallowed it was poison, but when the cream was rubbed on his scars it eased them a bit.

When there was a tap on the door, Cormac opened it. Anny Cullen stood there with a steaming bowl in her hands. At twelve, she had started to look much like her mother, sturdy and muscular. She smiled at him shyly.

He watched as she put the bowl on the wobbly little table in the middle of the room and pulled a long rag out. She twisted it hard to wring out the excess water.  He held out his hand. "Give it. You'd best run along to help your mam." He took the rag gingerly away from her since it was still steaming in the chill morning air.

"Careful and don't let it cool off."

"You could have brought us up some bread and cheese when you came," Cormac grumbled. He gave her his best attempt at a piteous look, but it worked poorly with the wry twist to his mouth.  

"If you want bread and cheese, you go down and tell my mam." She frowned at him, but then her round, freckled face lit up with a smile for Law. "Go ahead, Sir Law. You dinnae want to wait. It will only help while it's still hot."

Law smiled but he thrust his chin toward the door. "Not until you're gone, now shoo."

"You will use it?" she asked.

"I shall." He forced a smile over his gritted teeth, just anxious for her to leave. "Thank you, lass."

"You're welcome." With a glance over her shoulder, Anny left and the door closed behind her.

Law unfastened the laces of his tights and pushed down the one on his left leg. He rubbed a bit of the thick, numbing ointment on, and gave Cormac a look. Cormac had seen the ropy, red scars before, mangled by a lance during the Battle of Verneuil in France, but Law still didn't like showing them. But Cormac had taken out the deadly sharp sgian-achlais  he had taken to carrying in an armpit sheath and was cleaning his fingernails.

Law breathed out a soft snort. You could take off a finger with that knife but shook his head and quickly wrapped the steaming cloth around his thigh and sucked in his breath at the heat on the sensitive scars. He trained the day before with wardens of the burgh to keep himself in fighting fit, and now his bad leg felt like it was being ripped with a lance all over again. Even after these months, he missed his life before. It had been good, but in the end the battle lost him his lord, his rank, and his dearest friend. Now he had nothing but his armor in a bag, some worn clothes, and a limp. He still had a fading bruise that covered his forehead from when he was attacked a few weeks before by a mad friar. 

Cormac held out his hand, examining his nails closely. They were longer than most men's because the clĂ rsach that he favored was plucked with the fingernails.  "She's sweet on you, you ken." He seemed satisfied with the state of his nails and slid the blade away.

Law lived in a small room above a shabby tavern run by the girl's mother and father, although she was now old enough to do some of the serving. "She's still a wean," Law said. "What is she? Twelve?" Law grimaced at the heat from the cloth wrapped tightly around his leg. It hurt so that he could barely keep still, but it was beginning to ease the deep pain in his leg. He could feel the muscles unknotting as the heat seeped in. Though still a bit tight lipped, he said, "She'll soon find someone else to make doe eyes at. You, mayhap."

Cormac threw up his hands. "Not if I can help it. Her mam would have my hide and hers if she looked at a Hielander. Any road, soon enough they'll look for a sturdy burgher for her. Neither of us are such a prize."

He grunted. Cormac was right that he was no prize. A landless knight was never a sought after, and he even less than most. He might have been born into the small nobility from a family with ties to the great Douglas clan, but he had fallen as low as a knight could. He still had his gold spurs and his arms, but what good did that do him with a lame leg? He wasn't so bad looking, or so he'd some had told him even if it was at night in a hot embrace. He was taller than most men and lean and muscular with a full head of light brown hair, but a lord didn't take a knight into his service for his looks, but on how well they could fight. He might hold his own in a street brawl, but he would never be fit for battle again.

Cormac smoothed his red and white striped doublet and re-tied one of the green ribbons on his sleeve while Law unwrapped the cooled cloth from his leg and pulled his stocking up. He turned to look for his boots to find Cormac holding one and shaking his head over its worn state. "That's pathetic. Dinnae you ever buy new ones?"

"Give it here," Law said.

Cormac tossed the boot to him and turned to open the door. "I'd better find someone to pay for my songs," he called back. "Bidh mi 'gad fhaicinn." He ran down the rickety stairs.

"Aye, see you later, Cormac."

Law drew on the boot, found the other and followed Cormac down the stairs. The minstrel had disappeared although he'd be back later to play for the inn's customers. For now, the only people there were Anny sweeping the bare wood floor, Mall stirring a big pot that had a scent of thyme that must be for dinner, and Wulle talking to the only customer, a tall red-haired man named Andrew Bouquhen, a candle maker with a shop not far away.

There was barley bread and a big round of cheese on the long table that separated the room from the barrel of ale, so Law helped himself. Mall nodded, and he knew she'd add a chit to his tab for his room did not include meals. The he carried them to seat at the back of the inn. He put a sliver of cheese on a bit of the barley bread and chewed them. Simple but hearty and he was not going to complain. Besides, he was glad not to have any reason to go out. Here inside, the rich cheese and the soft crackle of the peat fire in the open hearth were as warm as a grandmother’s embrace. He chuckled at the thought. He must be getting soft.

Mall brought over a cup of ale. He was about  to take a swallow when he noticed a small, bow-legged man standing in the doorwas, picking bits of straw off his blue knitted cap.

"You're letting in the damp," Mall scolded.

The man closed the door, raised his blue knit cap to Law, and clapped it back on his head. “You’re Sir Law Kintour, are you?”

Law contemplated his half-finished piece of cheese, the fire and the cup of malty ale. He sighed. “Aye. What is it you need?”

“Mistress Elspeth Buchan said to fetch you, sir,” he said. “The maister has gone missing and she wants you to come right away. She’s that upset about it.”

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A King Imperiled (Opening of the first chapter)

A King Imperiled

James Douglas of Balvenie. He waddled out the door of the tower that was the royal residence of Edinburgh Castle. In spite of the damp and chill, Balvenie was wearing no cloak.  Sweat dribbled down his round cheeks into the folds of his double chins. He paused, smoothing his black velvet doublet over his belly, blocking the way like a ponderous mountain.
“What are you doing snooping about?” Balvenie asked.
 Patrick Gray pressed his lips together to hold back a sharp retort. “My lord father summoned me.”
“He must have meant you to wait for him at Holyrood Kirk. We have important matters afoot here preparing for the coronation. It’s no place for a whelp.”
Preparing for the coronation, Patrick wondered, but he was not going to ask this man. James Douglas, Earl of Balvenie, was eaten with envy for the power his cousin the Black Douglas had. Everyone said so. Balvanie was a rich holding, but not even a tiny fraction of the holdings of his cousin. He resented that his cousin had had the ear of the king until the king was murdered. He no doubt resented the fact that his cousin would soon be lieutenant general of Scotland, but Patrick saw no reason the man should take out that ire on himself.
Bland faced, Patrick gave a polite nod. It was best to avoid arguments with any of the Douglases, even this one. “No, My Lord, he said he awaited me here. I’d best hie to find him.”
“Do so then,” Balvenie said, passing into the watery morning light.
 Patrick hurried through a long enfilade of stuffy rooms and waves of the scent of moth-herbs, wet wool, and oak smoke from hearth fires. A few people huddled in corners whispering. Rumors must have run like wild fire since the king’s murder. Had the gossips learned that the leader of the assassins, Robert Stewart, would be put to the torture? That he had already implicated his grandfather, the Earl of Atholl, Patrick wondered.
The glances at him were wary. No one went anywhere for the nonce without a hand on their sword. Some nodded to Patrick as he passed but no one spoke.
When Patrick closed the door behind him, the inmost chamber was silent. His father, face haggard, stared into a small fire on the hearth. Without looking up he said, “Patrick. I expected you sooner.”
He sighed under his breath. He had been travelling since yesterday morning from their home at Longforgan and in the saddle for most of the past three weeks riding with the Earl of Angus as they hunted down the men who has assassinated King James. He had stopped at an inn only long enough to change out of clothing that had been rain soaked and mud and dirt splattered to the shoulder.  He hadn’t even eaten since the night before. 
At a table scattered with documents, a flagon of wine, and a lit stand of candles sat James Kennedy, Canon of Dunkeld, youngish, thin, with a short beard and tonsured. He gave Patrick a bleak smile.
Patrick approached the hearth and held out his hands. “I saw Balvenie on my way. He said you’re preparing for the coronation…here? Not in Scone?”
Kennedy motioned to the flagon of wine on the table. “You look fit to fall over from exhaustion, Sir Patrick. Drink whilst we talk.”
Patrick’s father grunted, but with unusual patience for him, folded his hands behind his back and waited as Patrick poured and took a seat.
Kennedy folded his hands atop the pile of documents. He continued, “Of course it is unheard of to have the coronation in Edinburgh. But the Earl of Atholl is still on the loose and Scone is too near his lands. We will take nae chances with the life of our new king.”
Patrick had just taken a drink, so it took a moment for him to swallow and ask, “You cannae think they would make an attempt on the prince’s life?”
“We do.”
The boy was only six. He'd not considered that they'd murder a child. “Aye, I suppose they would have to kill him as well.”
Patrick’s father shrugged, propped an elbow on the mantel, and considered his son like a merchant regarding his wares. At fifty, he was still as lean and fit as he must have been at thirty. He was dressed in his finest doublet of green satin and blue silk. His height and broad shoulders were still impressive and his thick, gray hair gave him gravitas. “So tell me about catching up with Robert Stewart. How went the business?”
Evidently his questions were to be ignored. Patrick sighed again. “As filthy as you’d expect and knee deep in snow for much of the chase. He was abandoned by most of his followers before we caught them. We only gave him a beating, since the queen wanted him alive.”
“Go on,” Kennedy said. As he listened to Patrick recount their long, hard ride through the Highlands led by the Earl of Angus, the churchman’s face creased occasionally into an attentive frown.  When Patrick described riding down Robert Stewart’s party, he leaned forward and tilted his head. He poured a cup of wine and took a sip. When Patrick finished, he said, “After the coronation, Robert will nae last long. He’s being put to the torture and in two days he’ll be beheaded.”
“So they meant to kill young James?” Patrick asked again. “And to make Atholl king?”
“Not to make Atholl king, no, but if the lad were dead and one of his sisters married to Robert Stewart, that would have had the same affect. They would have ruled in her name.”
Patrick’s father cleared his throat. “That will nae happen and our new liege lord shall be kept safe. That’s why I sent for you.”
“Keep him safe? Me? How so?”
“This afternoon wee James will be crowned. He will have a household of his own, gentlemen of the bedchamber, a master of his guard. And the master of the guard will be you.”

“Wait.” Patrick held up both hands and reared back. Since when did his father and Kennedy have the managing of the prince?