… 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?”
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.”
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…
Dark Destiny is book three of the Dark Birthright trilogy. The books are available in paperback and eBook.
Lord Skene is a legendary character. Here is a link to an article about him. Of course, my portrayal is fantasy.
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