A snippet from my novel “Dark Destiny”

 

Lord Skene

Lord Skene

… A snippet from my novel ‘Dark Destiny’…

Castle Skene, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, May 1649

Castle Skene lay in a wild glen, a secluded valley with a loch running through it.  Many inhabitants spoke Gaelic and their stark features reminded one of ancient Celts.  It was a thinly peopled region due to the bare hills, sparse  cultivation, and standing stones.  The squat dwellings of peasants emitted smoke from fresh peat, the earthy smell mingling with the scent of pine trees.

By the edge of the loch stood Castle Skene, a foreboding granite structure protected by a massive outer wall.  Its construction was medieval.  Two tall towers stretched to the sky, connected by a main building and catwalks.  The thick walls kept the warmth in during winter months, but prevented the summer heat from entering, necessitating hearth fires year round.  Hardly any windows were to be seen on the side that faced the valley.  The front had some, but they were little more than slits, designed to repel attacks without artillery.  None had dared to attack recently.  They feared the Lord of the castle.

The weather was overcast and gloomy.  It had rained hard that morning and was threatening a repeat performance.  Lord Skene stood at a bench in his laboratory, working on an experiment.  He was interested in chemistry, an art that involved the preparation of gold and silver.  The hypothesis was simple: All metals are compounds.  The baser ones contain the same as gold and silver, but are contaminated with impurities.  These can be purged away with the application of intense heat and a substance called the philosopher’s stone.

“Ah…” Skene held a bottle to his nose and sniffed.  “Lapis philosophorum…  A powder red in color…  It smells strongly…  I shall test this tonight.”  There was a knock on the door.  Skene  placed the bottle on the bench and stared at the oak portal.  “Who is it?”

“Fagan, Sir.”

His anger flared. “Come!”  The massive door opened with a creak, admitting the terrified servant.

The short, spindly legged man lifted a lantern.  “My Lord?”

Skene glared.  “How dare ye interrupt me in my laboratory?”

Fagan’s knees knocked beneath his kilt.  He looked down as he spoke, “Forgive me, my Lord.  But there is a messenger at the gate.  He says that it’s important.”

Skene growled, “Idiot!  They all say that.  I should throw ye in the oubliette.”

The servant fell to his knees.  “Have mercy, my Lord!  I am a simple man, unskilled in the ways of the world.  I will not do it again.”

“Get up!”

The servant scrambled to his feet.

Skene glared. “Who is at the gate?”

“Uh…”  His voice trembled, “A holy man…  A monk in a white robe…  He comes with a message from Deer Abbey.”

“Hmmphhh!”  Normally, Lord Skene answered to no one.  But he had an obligation to these monks since they entrusted him with James Gordon.  “Escort the monk to my study.  Light the fire, straighten my desk, and then provide us with refreshments.”

Fagan bowed like a willow in the wind. “As ye wish, my Lord.”  The servant fled the room.

Skene returned to his bench and placed a stopper in the bottle.  He took out an ornate key, unlocked a claw-footed cabinet, and hid the vessel on a shelf. He placed a book beside it, a rare copy of the ‘Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa’.  The experiment would have to wait.  He locked the cabinet and scanned his clothes for traces of the rare powder.  “These monks are inquisitive. They must not suspect what I’m doing.”  Pocketing the key, he headed for his study…

Author’s notes:
Dark Destiny is book three of the Dark Birthright trilogy.  Read about it at: http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com
Lord Skene is a legendary character. Here is a link to an article about him.  Of course, my portrayal is fantasy.
The Wizard Laird’s Dance with the Devil

 

 

 

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A snippet from my novel “Dark Lord”

General Alexander Leslie

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.

“Lord Balmerino?”

“Aye.”

“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?”

“Aye.”

“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?”

“To what?”

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.”

Author’s note:
Dark Lord is book two in the Dark Birthright Trilogy.
Available in paperback and popular eBook formats.
Read about the series at

http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com

A snippet from my novel “Dark Birthright”

Lord James Drake

Lord James Drake

A snippet from my novel “Dark Birthright”, from a chapter named “Visitation”.

Drake Castle, Aberdeenshire, December 1620

Lord James Drake, Duke of Seaford, sat in a brocade chair in his wife’s bedroom. That morning the priest had performed last rites, crushing his hope for a recovery. His heart was heavy as he watched his son Andrew kneeling at his mother’s bedside. “So this is how it ends,” he thought. “God in heaven! How could ye take her before me?”  He fingered the ivory rosary beads, but words of comfort escaped him.

Andrew patted her limp hand and kissed her forehead. “Goodbye, Mother.” He stood and faced the Duke, squeezing his shoulder. “Father. She’s talking nonsense. She knows I’m here, but she sees Christal as well.”

James’ eyes filled with tears. “Christal! Oh God, my heart is an open wound. I can’t bear to lose both of them.”

“I loved my sister as well.”

“She must be dead,” he sobbed. “I offered a king’s ransom for her return. No alliance is worth this agony! Why did I ask her to marry him?”

“Father. It’s not your fault. The Earl is a despicable man.” Andrew sniffled. “The end is near. I’ll leave ye alone.”

James trembled as his son hugged him. The young man sighed and left the room. He moved his chair close to the bed and sat at her side, holding her hand. Jeanne’s breathing was labored and body frail from the long struggle. Healers from as far away as Aberdeen had tried to save her, admitting defeat.  She wanted to die.

Her sunken eyes focused on his face. “James…”

“Jeanne.” A tear slid down his face. “Don’t leave me, lass.”

She smiled, reminding him why he stayed faithful all these years. His heart was breaking.

“James. Christal is here to help me to pass. Do ye not see her?”

He felt a chill, as though something passed through him. “Dear God.” He gripped her hand. “That bastard killed her, didn’t he?”

A shadow of pain passed over her face. Her body shuddered.

“Don’t die.”

“Shhhhh… I don’t have much time. Christal asks that you find her son. He’s in grave danger.”

James felt a ghostly hand on his cheek and stiffened. His voice choked with emotion. “Christal’s son? How will I know the child?”

Jeanne closed her eyes and nodded, as if to a presence in the room. “The lad bears the mark of the Gordon clan on his right shoulder.”

James swallowed hard. “Where is he? Tell me.”

Jeanne opened her eyes and tried to speak, but her voice was weak. “Look to the sea, Husband.”

“The sea? This is Scotland. It’s all around us. Where does the lad live?”

Her lips moved, but no sound came out. He leaned forward as she whispered. “Farewell, James. I love ye.”

“Nay!” he cried, grasping her hand. “God help me. I can’t live without ye, lass.”   Jeanne closed her eyes, a smile fading on her lips, and released a last breath.  She was gone.  James stood and held a hand on her chest, hoping to find a heartbeat. There was none. “Oh God! Let me die with her.” He buried his face in his hands and cried, shaking in grief.

Andrew entered the room and made the sign of the cross. “Poor Mother. She never recovered from Christal’s disappearance.” He clutched his father’s shoulders. “Her suffering is over. She didn’t deserve it.”

James sobbed openly. “She’s dead. Oh God, why couldn’t it be me?  How can I go on?”

Andrew drew him close. “I need ye, Father. I’m not ready to be Duke.”

The older man gulped air and steeled himself. “Of course. Duty calls. I love ye, Son.” He stiffened as he remembered her last request. “I have to go on.  There’s a child I must find.”

Andrew frowned. “What child?”

James’ eyes were wild. “My grandson! Christal’s son.  She was in the room when your mother passed.”

Andrew looked skeptical. “Father… You haven’t slept in days.”

“I tell ye she was!”

Andrew hugged him. “Come to the chapel with me. We’ll pray for Mother’s soul, and then you can tell me about it.”

Read more about the trilogy at:
http://www.DarkBirthrightSaga.com

See a video book trailer at:

http://youtu.be/DeqlCvLhryA

These novels are illustrated by fantasy artist Jane Starr Weils.