Authors: Margaret Skea
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Historical Fiction, #Scottish
‘I have no wish,’ Hugh was equally quiet, ‘to make the kind of impression that William aims for, supposing I had the money to waste.’ He nodded in the direction of the
man behind William: ‘Who’s that, d’you know? I shouldn’t have thought him William’s type.’
‘No idea, but I agree, he doesn’t look altogether comfortable in the company he keeps.’
Hugh said casually, ‘I think that I begin to like him. If you wish to open a door or two on my behalf, make some discreet enquiries as to his identity and the reason he finds himself in
At Broomelaw, the weather turned. Kate didn’t normally mind the rain, if so be it was the soft westerly rain that carried the salt tang of seaweed along with the flocks
of gulls blown inward like a tide. Munro thought the gulls a curse, with their raucous cries, their scavenging, and the mess that followed them everywhere. Kate preferred to think of their grace as
they wheeled and circled and lit on the barmkin wall as lightly as if they weighed but a few ounces rather than the pound and three-quarters of a full-grown bird. There was something oddly
attractive to her in the way they fought fiercely over the scraps she scattered for them. Though she had to admit, to herself, if not to anyone else, that their skitters didn’t improve the
quality of the patch of grass surrounding the tower, but rather, the opposite.
Coarse though it was, it struggled to survive the tramping of boots and of the horses that, however much she remonstrated, seemed to find their way onto it, whenever there was an arrival or a
leaving. She had tried once roping off an area to preserve as a garden – on the west side where it would catch the evening sun – but had given up in disgust when Munro leapt the rope to
head for the outside cludgie, refusing to take the longer route by the path, succeeding in making, instead of a general scrubbiness, a defined track. If she couldn’t get her husband to
comply, then small chance servants or anyone else paying attention to her wishes. But lately, the Cunninghame calls increasingly taking Munro away, she had replaced her ropes and had watched with
pleasure the fresh green shoots that spring brought. And so, although the present rain was not a soft mizzle, but pelted down, pooling in every dip and hollow around the base of the tower, Kate sat
in the solar and thought of the benefit to her grass that, once the fierceness of its onslaught had diminished, it would afford.
The wind was another matter altogether. When she took herself out to check on the suckling cows, their calves but a few days old, she found that she could hardly stand against the gusts that
came, not from the friendly west, but whipping over the hills to the north. They tore down the valley; bending the tall pines before them, so that fresh growth that should have tipped the bough
ends bright green, fell instead amidst the dusty tan of last year’s needle fall.
It made her think of Munro and of the distance between them. Anger remained, the smouldering remnants of a fire, tamped down by the uncomfortable recognition that it had been his desire to
protect her and the bairns that had driven him to his part in the business at Annock. And the equally uncomfortable thought, that she had not been so tested.
She spent an uneasy week, largely confined to the house, while the shutters rattled continually and draughts funnelled under the doors. The wind blew down the chimneys, so that the fires burned
fitfully and her eyes stung with the smoke that billowed in bursts from the hearth. It was difficult to wait, with no word, no idea if he could manage to avoid trouble, no knowledge of how long he
would remain at the court. What made the wait all the harder was the knowledge that attendance on the King was fraught with hidden dangers as well as potential rewards. Munro had the benefit of
James in some five years, and though capable of trading quotations in Latin if he chose, he placed little value on book learning, considering education best kept for bairns, or for the latter years
when physique was failing. And fine for him.
The old envy stirred in Kate: that boys, aye grumbling, were shipped off to college as a matter of course, while she, though taught her letters, remained at home to gain other, more practical,
accomplishments. Devouring the few books and pamphlets that had come her way, she had rolled around her head the names of authors that her brother had groaned over, the shape and sound of them:
Horace and Bude, Froissart, Ascham, Ronsard, sharp with elicit pleasure, like the bite of early brambles on her tongue. She had imagined losing herself in a maze of books, the air heady with
poetry, thick with prose. The King, they said, had a library of some six hundred volumes; classic and modern, in a host of languages and on every imaginable theme. She thought on them now, envy
became an ache. Some she knew would fascinate: herbals and the like, the text and illustrations both. Others she likely wouldn’t care for: on war or sport or the responsibilities and
privileges of kingship. Yet all these and more fed James’ mind and framed his thinking and set him as far apart from Munro and his ilk as sun from moon. And therein lay the danger. Her
husband was no player. If James’ attention should light on him. . .
Anna burst into the solar, Robbie chasing her, grasping for the ribbon that flew loose at her waist.
‘Whoa.’ Kate spread her arms and the twins skidded to a halt. She gathered them against her and breathing in their warm scent, the hard knot that had lain beneath her breastbone
since Annock, began at last to dissolve. A minor laird Munro had been born and a minor laird she prayed he might remain. And she his wife.
Sunlight from the tall alcove windows spread across the dais of Stirling’s Great Hall and spilled onto the floor below, raising the temperature in the already airless
chamber well beyond comfort. Munro, watching as William stepped into the pool of light, was glad on two counts not to follow. There was a shift in the group around the King, the poets moving back,
others surging forwards, jockeying for position, hoping to catch James’ eye. Maitland, clearly losing patience, stepped in, blocking other hopefuls.
James took the proffered parchment and laid it on the table in front of him. He beckoned to Robert Montgomerie and Glencairn. Robert stepped sideways and ushering forward the men directly behind
him, presented them to James.
‘Braidstane, sire, and his younger brother Patrick, recently come from France . . .’ he cast a glance towards Glencairn, ‘. . . to sort their father’s affairs.’
Munro ran a hand round the back of his neck.
James acknowledged Braidstane. ‘Indeed, it is no doubt a comfort to have kin about you.’ He switched his attention back to Glencairn. ‘There have been over many funerals of
late, and it isn’t to our pleasing.’ He scratched at his leg, so that Munro, speculating on the beasties that likely shared the King’s chambers, much like his own, found his mind
drifting to the cleaner accommodation to be had at home. James’ raised voice brought him back with a jolt.
‘It isn’t altogether regarding the past that we have bidden your attendance, but rather that you and those with whom you have had differences . . .’ he was focusing on
Glencairn, ‘. . . may comport yourselves to our pleasing in the future.’
Glencairn’s back was stiff, clearly steeling himself to play the charade out.
‘It is our wish that you shall solemnly affirm, before God and this company as witnesses, to abjure any violence between you, your families or followers from this time forth.’ James
gestured to the parchment that Maitland had unrolled, his voice round and full-bellied as the best French brandy. ‘Yet words are easy spoken and as easily forgot. I have had Maitland prepare
Letters of Affirmation. A signature can hardly be denied.’
Glencairn dipped the quill in the inkpot and signed with a flourish, Robert Montgomerie following with a touch more deliberation. James waved them back and gestured to William and to Hugh to
take their place, his eyes widening as William bowed over the table, the brooch and the pearls that shone in it close to his hand. The man in front of Munro shifted, craning his neck to get a
better view and Munro was forced to move likewise. From his new vantage point, it was clear that Glencairn too was eyeing the brooch, his expression grim. William stepped to the side allowing Hugh
to take his place, then all waited as James signed, the scratch of the quill magnified in the long hall. He raised his eyes, a small smile hovering round his mouth, reached out to William and
beckoned again to Glencairn.
‘We have thought on the business at Annock and . . .’ The candle sconce behind James’ head hung with congealed wax, putting Munro in mind of long, grasping fingers. ‘. .
. some small token, as an earnest of your serious intention . . .’ James was looking pointedly at the brooch.
Glencairn, sweeping the hat off William’s head, said smoothly, ‘Perhaps this, though only a trifle . . .’ unclasping the brooch.
James’ tongue darted over his lips. ‘We will accept it.’
‘Sire,’ Glencairn bowed and retreated, jerking William with him.
John Cunninghame, his eyes fixed on Glencairn, beckoned Munro, indicating that they should retire also.
‘Wait. The game isn’t over yet and Glencairn will hardly be so good company that we should rush to join him.’ Munro gestured towards the Montgomeries who held their position in
front of James, Hugh still to the fore, Robert Montgomerie a fraction behind, a hint of anticipation in his gaze.
Hugh’s voice was confident and clear. ‘I have nothing about me, sire, fit to offer, nevertheless I too would like to give an earnest.’ He paused for just long enough for James
to take his attention from the brooch. ‘If it please you, my uncle and I,’ he nodded towards Alexander, ‘plan some sport for Thursday – a small thing, but I’m told the
chase will excite. We would be honoured by your presence.’
James passed the brooch to Maitland, who, examining the quality of the pearls was, if one could judge by the glint in his eyes, pleased at the latest acquisition. There was renewed animation in
the King’s voice as he called Alexander to his side.
‘We will accompany you, but where?’
‘The greater the surprise, the greater the sport, sire.’ Alexander Montgomerie’s reply was smooth. ‘Shall we meet below the castle at first light and ride on
James rolled up the Letters of Affirmation and rose from his chair, encompassing the whole Montgomerie party in his smile. ‘It pleases us, and . . . ’ with a glance at Glencairn that
seemed to dare him to think otherwise, ‘ . . . it is not such a trifle.’ He tapped Robert Montgomerie on the shoulder with the roll of parchment. ‘You have a fine family,
Montgomerie, gey fine. But now I must turn to other, more tedious matters.’ With a moue that suggested both apology and reluctance, he began to move down the hall; the company parting before
him like the Red Sea before Moses, Maitland and others of the council in his wake.
Munro, stepping aside with the rest, continued to watch the Montgomeries as Robert placed his arm about Hugh’s shoulder, nodding satisfaction. Glencairn, turning abruptly, swept past
William and what was said to him in the passing, though spoken in a hiss that made it impossible for others to hear, was, to judge by the set of William’s lips, not complimentary. Again,
Munro felt a tug on his arm.
John said, ‘Our presence may be missed.’
‘What harm curiousity?’
‘That isn’t a quality Glencairn prizes.’
‘You go on then,’ A pause. ‘I’ll not be long behind you.’
John shrugged, turned away.
The knot of Montgomeries were making for the door. Munro dipped his head and trusting to the press to save him from notice, slipped in behind them, straining to hear their conversation.
‘Neatly done, Hugh.’ Robert Montgomerie’s tone was warm, ‘We will have you a courtier yet. Though I wouldn’t have put statemanship as your strongest
‘Nor is it, but I have a good tutor in our uncle. And as it was he who thought of the ploy, he, I trust, can carry it through.’
‘I thought it already arranged.’ Robert’s voice rose a fraction. ‘It is a dangerous thing, Alexander, to trifle with the King.’
‘Have no fear, nephew, it will be done and well.’ Alexander spoke with confidence. ‘There are many who would wish to please the King and I have not a few of them in my pocket.
It isn’t yet arranged only because I didn’t think of it until this morning. The details will be sorted, and in a timely fashion. Look you to your choice of horse, the rest is my
Munro risked a glance and saw it was the poet who spoke. He saw the crease of worry clear from Robert’s brow as Alexander continued.
‘I find it convenient on occasions to accept payment in kind and this is just such a one. Enjoy your dinner as I suspect Glencairn, and more particularly, William, will not.’
Indeed, it was an uneasy meal that Glencairn and William took, though as they kept to their lodgings, none bar Munro was able to enjoy the ill feeling between them. Glencairn
was furious: with William for the stupidity of flaunting the brooch before the king, and with himself for failing to notice the wearing of it and thus avoid its loss. So that the ale was flat, the
bread stale, the cheese lacking in flavour, the cuts of beef, set on a side table that they might serve themselves, tough and stringy; the whole twice as expensive as it should be, and not worth
the half. Relations between them did not improve when a messenger arrived to say that they were bid to remain at the court, and to accompany James and the Montgomerie party on the proposed