General Alexander Leslie
A snippet from my novel “Dark Lord” from a chapter named “Seeds of Rebellion”.
August 17th, 1637 – Edinburgh, Scotland
It was hot and dry in the old section of the city, atypical for this time of year. Dust rose from cobblestone streets, choking the hardiest of inhabitants.
Alexander Leslie hiked a sea bag on his shoulder and gazed at the sign on a tavern. The establishment had changed hands since he’d been here last, fifteen years ago. The framed sign featured the innkeeper’s name “J. Adams” above a painted image of a man with a gelding. This told him that the inn had stables in addition to beds for travelers. Alexander placed a hand on the stout wooden door and pushed hard. The portal groaned and opened suddenly into a spacious room with oak plank floors. His first impression was good. Light flooded the chamber from high windows. Rough hewn tables and benches were loosely arranged, occupied by men from a variety of professions.
He felt comfortable here. There were tradesmen, merchants, sailors, and nobles; drinking and talking in small groups. As he walked to the back, he caught fragments of conversation about politics, economics, and the recent unrest. Scruffy dogs lay at their masters’ feet, absently scratching fleas. The room reeked of ale, tobacco, and unwashed bodies. Near the fireplace, a buxom girl in apron and cap rebuffed the advances of a toothless patron.
The lass noticed him, her face lighting up with feigned recognition. “What shall it be, good Sir? Ale? Whisky? Or a taste of something more intimate?” She gave him a coy smile, indicating that she was available.
Alexander hesitated. She was bonny enough for a roll in the hay, but he was bound to stay faithful to his wife. His father, Captain George Leslie, had sired four illegitimate children. His mother had been described as a wench from Rannoch. Because of his upbringing, he was unwilling to do that to his children. “Tankard of ale, lass. That will do for now.” He dropped his sea bag on the floor and sat at the nearest table. As the woman fetched his drink, he thought about his half-siblings. He had a brother in France, another in Spain, and a sister in this fair city. Though she died before they met, he’d learned that she had a daughter. Three years ago, he’d inquired about the lass named Jenny Geddes and learned that she was an indentured servant. “My niece”, he said, “is no better than a common slave. I mean to buy her freedom.”
The lass brought a drink to the table and brushed his shoulder with her bare arm. He mumbled that he was expecting a gentleman and sent her on her way. At fifty-seven, Alexander was an attractive man. A life long soldier in the Swedish army, he had a chiseled look and tight body. He’d earned a reputation as a strategist, been knighted by the Swedish monarch, and had risen to the position of Field Marshal. Now events in his native country compelled him to return. Having amassed a fortune abroad, he could supply an army with cannons and muskets.
The door creaked and opened into the tavern, admitting a well dressed nobleman carrying a gold-topped cane. He stopped and scanned the room, resting his eyes on the seaman. Alexander guessed that this was the man who had summoned him. The nobleman wore an article of clothing they’d agreed upon; a white silk scarf with gold piping. He signaled discreetly, inviting him to his table.
John Elphinstone, 2nd Lord Balmerino, carefully removed his scarf and crossed the room. He placed the garment on the table and waited to be acknowledged.
“Alexander Leslie, at yer service.” He took out a brooch and plunked it on the table. It was a symbol of the Swedish army. “My calling card, as we agreed…” He smiled and extended his hand.
Lord Balmerino shook it. “Glad to have ye on our side.” He took a seat opposite him. “The years have been good to ye. Ye don’t look a day over forty.”
Alexander made a small sound of agreement. “Soldiering is a Spartan existence. Fighting… Guarding… Training the troops… It would be a mistake to go soft.”
The man seemed eager to get down to business. “I trust that ye got my letters.”
“Aye, as well as those from Sir Thomas Hope. Does this mean that the nobility will back a rebellion?”
Lord Balmerino nodded. “Aye. We’re being slowly stripped of our influence and lands, for the sake of his majesty’s Bishops and clergy. Most of us will commit men and supplies; some are willing to enlist their sons. There are a few holdouts in Catholic strongholds, but I think that we can bring them to our side.”
“Good.” Alexander took a sip and rolled the ale across his tongue. It was a bitter variety. He needed specifics. “I heard about the riot and subsequent arrests. What are we in for?”
Lord Balmerino signaled to the serving lass, ordering a round of drinks. He leaned forward and spoke covertly, “After the riot, thousands of men fanned out across the country, spreading the news and carrying petitions. Within weeks we will have them back so that we can face the Privy Council. They will have to inform the King.”
Alexander frowned. “He’s a stubborn man. What will he do?”
Lord Balmerino was solemn. “The King is not like his father. He will never give in to the will of the people. We’re in for a wild ride, my friend.”
“Can we raise an army by spring?”
“The people are on fire with religious fervor. The lairds and chieftains should have no trouble gathering troops. But their weapons are primitive.”
Alexander was tense. “Leave that to me. I shall return to Sweden to make arrangements. Within weeks, boat loads of cannons and muskets will be on their way.”
“Good!” The man smiled. “Of course, we will require yer leadership as well.”
“That goes without saying. It is time for this old soldier to serve his country.”
“Admirable.” Lord Balmerino plunked a bag of gold on the table and pushed it in his direction. “Here is a thousand pounds, a small down payment for yer services.”
There was an argument nearby which caused them to take notice. Angry voices rang out as a drink was spilled. There didn’t seem to be any immediate danger. They returned to their conversation.
“On another subject… Did ye inquire about my niece Jenny Geddes?”
Lord Balmerino smiled. “She’s a fiery lass; a true asset to the rebellion. She led the riot inside St Giles.”
Alexander was surprised. “A woman did this? Did they throw her in the Tollbooth?”
“Nay. I’m told that she left the city to marry a man from a northern estate.”
So Jenny had gained her freedom. “Where is she now?”
“Drake Castle; the jurisdiction of the Duke of Seaford… She married his right-hand man.” He looked pensive as he fingered the silver brooch. “It’s a fortunate thing. We need an organizer in Aberdeenshire.”
Leslie nodded in agreement. “What do we know about the Duke?”
“The young man has a reputation. Months ago, he killed his own father in a sword fight to the death. They say that he has the Sight. Some claim that he has supernatural powers.”
Leslie smiled. “Ah, the rumor mill… We should all have such things said about us. It gives us an advantage in battle. What are his religious leanings?”
“The man’s a Catholic who used to be Protestant, yet seems uncommitted to either.”
“How did that happen?”
“He’s the long lost son of Robert Gordon, who lost track of him before he was born. Gordon reclaimed him at sixteen from lowly circumstances.”
Leslie sipped his ale. “What circumstances would those be?”
“It’s said that he was raised by a common fisherman.”
“Did Gordon force him to the Catholic faith?”
“It could be useful.” Alexander’s interest was piqued. “He can’t stay neutral in these times. I will visit my niece when I return from Sweden and assess the situation.”
The woman brought two tankards and smiled at the soldier as she placed them on the table. She lifted her skirt slightly as she turned and headed for the kitchen.
Lord Balmerino chuckled. “Ye’re a lucky man to have influence with bonny young women.”
Leslie reddened. “Never mind that… The harlot means nothing to me.” He leaned forward to ensure their privacy. “The day grows short. Tell me about the will of the people.”
Lord Balmerino smiled. “The people are committed to the cause. What we need is a standard to unite them under.” He withdrew a drawing from his cape and unfolded it on the table. “What do ye think?”
Alexander Leslie studied the sketch, which showed a handsome flag bearing the motto ‘For Christ’s Crown’. He instinctively knew that something was missing. “Can we change this?”
Leslie was pensive as he traced the flag in the sketch. He drew upon his years of military experience. “A standard must portray will and purpose. With yer permission, I would like it to say ‘For Christ’s Crown and Covenant’.”
“A stroke of brilliance!” the noble remarked as he quickly refolded the paper, “We shall ask them to sign a covenant.”
Dark Lord is book two in the Dark Birthright Trilogy.
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