Review: Arrowood by Laura McHugh

Layered Pages

ArrowoodArrowood is the most ornate and beautiful of the grand historical houses that line the Mississippi River in southern Iowa, where the days are long and humid and communities are small and closed. It has its own secrets and ghostly presence: It’s where Arden’s young twin sisters were abducted nearly twenty years ago—never to be seen again. Now, Arden has inherited Arrowood, and she returns to her childhood home determined to establish what really happened that traumatic summer. But the house and the surrounding town hold their secrets close—and the truth, when Arden finds it, is more devastating than she ever could have imagined.


My thoughts:

As Arden returns to her ancestor’s home-Arrowood- in Southern Iowa the author describes an imposing second empire style with three stories in a town called, Keokuk that had once seen grandeur in its days. A town that was once was and now is…

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The Porteous Riot

Edinburgh has over the centuries seen many a grim affair darken it’s famous old streets and had reason to be thankful for the forces of Law and Order being on hand to protect the innocent, and to punish the guilty. Just occasionally however the roles were reversed and it was the defenders of the innocent who were the guilty. One such man who earned the abiding hatred of Edinburgh was Captain John Porteous. When his crimes against the people of the city went unpunished, it was the people who delivered justice. The story begins on a dark night, not in Edinburgh, but on the other side of the Firth of Forth in the county of Fife…


On the night of 9th January, 1736, Collector of Excise James Stark rested in to the Pittenweem Inn, Fife but no sooner had he settled down for the night than when he was wakened by loud banging on his room door. The noise was caused by a smuggler, Andrew Wilson, and two compatriots attempting to break down his room door, intent on robbing him. Wilson’s other partner in crime, fellow smuggler George Robertson was downstairs on lookout.
Realising what was happening, Stark managed to grab one bag of excise money before he jumped from the window and hid in a nearby stable where he spent the cold winter night buried under a heap of straw.
Wilson and his fellow thieves, having broken the door down, made off with £200 Stark had left behind, as well as his bible, penknife and even the silver buckles from his shoes. Wilson, Roberston and another man, Hall, then made their way east but were quickly apprehended at Anstruther in Fife, where Stark’s £200 and other belongings were recovered. The three men were taken to Edinburgh, where they were thrown into the city’s notorious Tolbooth Prison to await trial. The Tolbooth Prison stood on the High Street section of the Royal Mile, in front of St Giles Kirk. Accursed by the inhabitants of the city, it was well known for its terrible conditions and cruelty.
When the trial came, the men claimed that the robbery had been a spur-of-the-moment affair. The magistrates were not fooled and Wilson, Robertson and Hall were handed down sentences of death by hanging. Hall later had his sentence revoked in return for turning King’s Evidence against Wilson and Robertson. Sentence was set for Wednesday, 14th April 1736.
On Friday, 9th April 1736, Wilson and Robertson attempted to escape the Tolbooth in a way which must have been carefully planned. In the cell one flight above theirs, two horse thieves had been clasped in irons, suspended from an iron bar from the ceiling. They managed to break free of their irons, then made a hole in the floor and hauled Wilson and Robertson into their cell. The two smugglers had been provided with saws by visiting friends, which they used to cut through the window bars. Friends of Wilson and Robertson also dressed up as women and sang psalms loudly in the Royal Mile to cover the noise of the thieves egress. One of the horse thieves managed to get through the narrow window and climbed down a rope to freedom. Wilson insisted on going next but got stuck in the window and was still lodged firmly halfway in, halfway out when the guards arrived.

On the Monday, 12th April, Wilson and Robertson were taken to the Tolbooth Kirk for the customary sermon for the condemned. Two guards sat either side of them on one pew with two more guards behind. Robertson suddenly sprang up, broke free of the guards and made for the door. Others in the kirk moved out of his way and he quickly escaped. Wilson tried to follow but was quickly brought down by the guards. Some citizens believed Wilson did this purposely to allow Robertson the chance to escape and he was admired for his actions. The City Guard, already despised and known as the ‘Toun Rats’ under the command of the hated Captain John Porteous, was called out to put down any disturbances to the execution, provided with a special order of powder and shot ordered by the Lord Provost. A party of 150 soldiers of the Welsh Fusiliers were also ordered into the city to provide extra security if needed, a move which angered Porteous who saw it as an insult to him and his men.
Porteous was renowned for his arrogance and hated for his cruel treatment of prisoners. He was also a drunkard and the execution of Wilson only went ahead once he had eaten his midday meal and was half drunk on wine. The execution took place on the appointed day, Wednesday, 14th April 1736, in the Grassmarket. Wilson’s execution went without incident. Afterwards however, there were rumours among the crowd that Porteous had been cruel to Wilson before the execution. These rumours spread and the mob soon became angry. Missiles started to be thrown at those officiating over the execution and the hangman was first to be hit as he was cutting down Wilson’s body. Porteous had the Town Guard surround the scaffold and they and he soon also came under a hail of missiles. The Town Guard retaliated by opening fire into the crowd. Porteous himself, it was claimed shot the first victim himself and was heard making angry threats to members of the Town Guard who refused to fire into the crowd. Some decided to fire above the crowds heads. Unfortunately, one of their bullets hit a young man watching from a tenement window, killing him instantly. Four more in the crowd were killed, making six deaths in all.
If the crowd were already angry, they were now ugly and outraged. Captain Porteous took the wise decision to withdraw his men and march them back to their quarters in the High Street. As they marched up the West Bow, the mob followed, still throwing missiles. Soldiers at the rear turned and fired again, wounding more of the crowd.
The people of the city demanded justice for the outrageous behaviour of the Town Guard. Porteous was arrested and brought before the magistrates, who had no choice but to commit him to the Tolbooth Prison, to await trial. He was brought to trial on 5th July 1736 and charged with Murder and Maiming. Captain Porteous claimed in his defence that he had only threatened the crowd in case they had attempted to seize Wilson’s body and revive him.
Captain John Porteous was nonetheless found guilty and sentenced to hang. Several of his friends petitioned Queen Catherine, in the absence of her husband, King George II, for a pardon. She granted a Porteous a six week reprieve and it was believed a full pardon would soon follow.



Porteous Mob, 8th September, 1736

 Porteous Mob, September, 1736 by Anonymous

As the rumour spread through the town that Porteous was going to go unpunished the Edinburgh Mob began to gather and demand justice. Their ranks quickly swelled into the thousands and on the night of the 7th of September 1736  they attacked the town Guardhouse where they seized muskets and Lochaber axes. The men of the Town Guard fled to the safety of Edinburgh Castle leaving Porteous alone in his cell in the Tolbooth, listening to the mob in the street outside baying for his blood.

With no’one to stop them the Mob assaulted the stout door to the Tolbooth but it withstood their best efforts until someone laid a fire against it and finally it gave way. The Mob surged into the grim prison and snatched the shrieking Captain Porteous from his cell and dragged him over the cobbles of the Royal Mile back to the scene of his massacre. All the while he was beaten, kicked and pelted with filth as his cries for mercy went unheeded.

porteous-mob-leading-him-to-executionAs the Mob pulled him down the steep slope of the West Bow they broke into a draper’s shop for a length of rope, leaving a guinea to pay for it as they left. The vast crowd secured the rope from a dyer’s pole close by the shadows of the gallows where he had ordered his men to open fire on the people. Those people now took the vengeance on the unlucky policeman as he was lynched. Even as he struggled for life he was beaten and battered before the crowd dropped him to the ground before pulling his still living body aloft again. This was done three times before death finally claimed Porteous and his awful suffering finally ceased under the blows of a Lochaber axe. His corpse was left to dangle for the amusement of the masses who as quickly as they had formed now split asunder to return to their normal tasks as though they had never been part of the lynching.



Government attempts to find the ringleaders of the riots were in vain, despite a reward of £200 being offered – a fortune in those days. None would talk and the few men arrested were soon acquitted due to lack of evidence. No’one had seen anything out of the ordinary that evening in early September!

Captain John Porteous was buried in Greyfriar’s Churchyard, near the Grassmarket and the scene of his cruel death. For many years his grave was only marked by a simple post marked ‘P 1736’ until Edinburgh Corporation placed a small inscribed memorial on his grave.

The hated Tolbooth Prison is long gone but just beside St Giles Kirk there are a set of cobblestones laid out in the shape of a heart – the ‘Heart of Midlothian’ – at the site of where the prison door once stood. It is today a tradition for the citizens of Edinburgh to spit on the heart as they go by for good luck and as a continuing act of contempt for that reviled institution.

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The Tinker’s Daughter cover reveal

mary revised flare cover final  titles

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The Thief of Melnisgarten


Melnisgarten 2A complete short story. Also my first foray into fantasy fiction in almost 30 years!

The ancient man sitting by the blazing fire cradled a tankard of ale between his long, thin fingers as he surveyed the expectant faces before him. “Aye, so you want me to tell you a story then?” He gave a slight shrug which nearly dislodged the heavy plaid draped over his shoulders. With a small scowl he adjusted it back into position revealing, just for a moment, the weather beaten armour of cracked leather and rusted mail below. “Well, when you get to be as old as I am you have no shortage of stories to tell, true enough,” he chuckled softly. “I could tell you of the fabled lost cave of the Spider Queen that I heard myself for the first time when I was even younger than you mangy mob!”

His laughing audience of men and women filled the smoky interior of the dimly lit tavern in the centre of a village nestled below the Rainbow Mountains in the central Southlands. Most were simple farmers and labourers who gathered here in the Kings Arms every night to enjoy an ale and a gossip with friends and family. The appearance of the ancient mercenary several days earlier had provided them with the novelty of someone new to talk with, visitors were a rarity this far from the main trade roads and so he was constantly besieged for the latest news from the world beyond the narrow horizons afforded them. Their world stretched only as far as the edge of their fields and woods and few ever ventured more than ten miles from home throughout their lives. A visit to their neighbouring village, some six miles away, was seen as a journey to the edge of the world which held all manner of risk, adventure and unknown dangers.

The old mercenary chuckled again as he ran a hand through the chest length grey beard while the candles made his bald head seem to glow in their light. He shook his head. “No. Not that one,” he decided after he took a sip of his ale. “I’ll tell you a true tale instead. One that I know only too well for I was there at the time and saw much of what follows for myself.” His rheumy eyes studied the expectant faces before him as he said, “very well then. Fill your tankards with ale or that good cider you brew here in your fine village of Cotgrave then gather close and listen while I tell you the true story of the thief of Melnisgarten!”

“I doubt if you have ever heard of Melnisgarten have you? No, I didn’t think you would have. Few have, and that may be just as well when you consider what befell that poor land.” He released a long sigh. “Aye, once upon a time it was a fine country filled with happy people, people just like your good selves here in Cotgrave. It lies far from here on the very shores of the south coast virtually closed off from the rest of the world by the Dragonsback Mountains that seal it in to the north, east and west with only a few narrow passes over the high valleys haunted by all manner of fell beasts. Trolls, goblins and Dark Elves dwell there and only large, well-armed parties ever dare risk taking those routes. No, the only safe road to travel is to the south and that is by boat. There are a cluster of fishing villages below the five hundred foot cliffs that form the southern border accessible only by foot along twisting paths down the face of the very cliffs themselves. Not a place for the faint of heart I can assure you. Even I shook like a leaf when I was crawled down those rock steps I don’t mind admitting!”

For a moment he was silent as his thoughts drifted back over time before he shook them away. “Aye, anyway, it was that very remoteness that made Melnisgarten a peaceful place to live. Below the surrounding mountains the land measured only fifty miles east to west and little more than that north to south, but it was a fertile land of fields and woods that provided more than enough to feed the population with meat, grain and the fish from the sea. While the rest of the Southlands tore themselves apart in war after war, Melnisgarten existed in peace and quiet. They had no king there. No, they had a parliament made up of a spokesman elected from every town, village and hamlet in the land. These men in turn would elect one of their number to act as First Minister and he would serve for a year before stepping down. It was an unusual system of government, but is was one that worked for them and ensured that all in Melnisgarten had equal rights in the eyes of the law.”

“But something happened to change that, didn’t it?” one young woman said.

He smiled kindly towards her. “Aye, something happened right enough,” he replied sadly. “As I said Melnisgarten was a peaceful, happy place, but all it ever takes is one bad apple to spoil everything for everyone else. In this case it was an ambitious man who gave himself the title of Baron Greyshuck. Over the course of several years he gathered around him a force of men willing to do his bidding. He undermined the existing government and spread discord throughout the land until he was finally in the position where he could seize power. The elected representatives were turned out of parliament and sent back to their homes with a simple message: they could keep their position just as long as they did exactly what Baron Greyshuck told them to. Any deviation from his orders would mean they would be replaced, often with terminal force! To further ensure that his rule went unchallenged he recruited a force of mercenaries’ a thousand men strong whose only loyalty was to Greyshuck and his gold. These men did not see Melnisgarten as a peaceful, prosperous land. They saw it as open invitation to use it for their own pleasure and I regret to say that all manner of outrage was committed in those days by men without kindness or conscience to temper their acts.” He looked at the assembled faces as he added, “you are thinking: was he one of those mercenaries? No, I wasn’t although I was there. It is more than fifty years since Greyshuck rose to power and back then I was just a simple lad trying to make his way in life as best he could, but I never did anything that troubles my conscience I can assure you.”

“So were you the thief you mentioned then?” the young woman again spoke out with wide eyes in a pleasant, rustic face.

The old man smiled merrily towards her. “No, he was another man but I was happy to call him a friend. His name was Ossian and he was known as the greatest thief of all time. It was said he stole the golden dragon’s tooth from mad King Jarnk, the sword of Attilos from the greatest warrior of those days. It was even said he could have stolen the Virgin Queen of the Eastland’s virginity during her very coronation if he wanted to, and she would never have even known it was gone! All I know for sure is that if he set his mind to something, he achieved his aim. Aye, Ossian was a real character to be sure but he could never have achieved the half of what he did without the help of his accomplice, and he claimed, lover. A fairer maid I have never seen than the lady Màiri. Her skin was as pale as snow, free from any blemish, her eyes as blue as summer skies and her hair like a field of golden corn.” The old mercenary gave a short laugh, “you can tell that I was little bit in love with Màiri can’t you? Alas she only had eyes for Ossian and no other could ever compete with her love for him, and his for her. Anyway, back to my story. At the time I found myself after much travelling in the city of Melnisgarten itself. To be fair it was not much of city when compared to our own capital city, Kelt, with a population of perhaps only 20,000 souls at the time with the homes, shops and alehouses gathered around a small castle in the very heart of the city. Even back then, Kelt had a population of more than 100,000 so Melnisgarten felt more like a town than a city to a Southlander like me! The castle in Melnisgarten had been the seat of government in happier times, but now was the lair of Baron Greyshuck. Once colourful banners had hung from its battlements but now it was the bodies of those who had displeased him which decorated its walls.”

He paused to take another drink from his tankard before wiping his chin and beard with the back of a kidney-spotted hand. “Aye, those were dark days to be sure. I had decided the best thing I could do was keep my head down, conclude my own business and make haste to leave Melnisgarten in my wake as quickly as possible. It was while I was taking care of that business that my path would first cross with Ossian. Two of greyshuck’s men had caught sight of the lady Màiri and were keen on using her for their own foul pleasure. I found Ossian in a back alley trying to protect her from them and without thinking about what I was doing I pitched in to help him. The mercenaries’ had their backs to me and never knew what had hit them! We left them lying unconscious in the mud and hastened away to the tavern where they had rented a room. There, over a good meal and several tankards of ale we became fast friends. To be honest, I would have crawled over a bed of fire to spend even a single moment in the company of Màiri, but Ossian and I found out we had much in common. Both of us hailed from the city of Kelt and had grown up only a few streets from each other. We were of the same age yet had never met before that day in Melnisgarten several hundred miles from home! Over the course of that night we told each other our story, where we had been, what we had done and shared more than one secret that we had never breathed to another soul. For the next few weeks we became the closest of friends and shared more than one mad adventure while avoiding running afoul of Baron Greyshuck or his men. I had by then concluded my own business and good sense told me it was time to be on my way to pastures new but still I lingered on in Melnisgarten. Aye, part of that was to do with my affection for Ossian, and more to do with my wish to spend just another day in the company of fair Màiri, no matter how foolish my love for her was!”

His eyes glowed with a mixture of sadness and joy at the recollections his story were provoking within him. “She never saw me as anything other than a friend though. Her heart belonged to Ossian, and Ossian alone. It was their love which was to prove their undoing though.” He released a long sigh through his nose. “Ossian may have been the greatest thief who ever lived but Màiri wasn’t. She was caught stealing a golden bracelet by some fat shopkeeper named Mendrum who threatened to hand her over to Greyshuck for justice. You can guess that this would have been a death sentence for her. The only hope she had was that Ossian would do something for Mendrum, so that he would say nothing about the alleged theft. I should add that Màiri claimed that Mendrum was lying. Ossian and I both believed her for she was no thief but we had not been with her at the time. I offered to silence Mendrum once and for all! My dagger had tasted the blood of evil men before then and was thirsty to drink again, but Ossian refused. Even when faced with threats he could not condone murder.”

The mercenary shook his head. “Perhaps if he had listened things would have worked out differently. Ossian and Màiri were summoned to a secret meeting by Mendrum, I was left kicking my heels in the tavern until several hours later Ossian returned alone looking ashen faced. Mendrum had locked poor Màiri away in an attic room within his home guarded by hired thugs. Her safety would only be guaranteed if Ossian was to do a job for that walrus Mendrum. The job? No less than steal the Black Books of Baron Greyshuck where he listed all those he considered his enemies and those he suspected of treachery. Every last person whose name was listed in those books knew that they were under suspicion and could vanish without explanation, or hope for mercy. Mendrum claimed that if the books were taken and destroyed then the people would, finally, be prepared to act against Greyshuck. Without the threat of the Black Books hanging over their heads they could breathe more easily and the dying embers of resistance would be fanned. Or so Mendrum claimed!”

“I was all for storming Mendrum’s house, rescuing Màiri and slaying the fat oaf but Ossian would not hear of it. Even the thought of his beloved being put at risk reduced this proud man to a weak kneed puppy. No, he was resolved to do all he could to save her and if that meant stealing these books, then that is what he would do even though they were held in Greyshuck’s castle guarded by a thousand heartless mercenaries’! There was nothing I could do but offer him what assistance I could. That was little enough to be honest. He was the thief, not I. In the end I could do no more than accompany him the next day as he scouted out any possible weaknesses to be exploited in the castle’s defences. The walls, with their grisly hangings stood fifty feet high, the gatehouse was guarded by never less than twenty heavily armed and armoured men. Short of sprouting wings I could see no way to enter it, but then I was not Ossian! He saw the one weak spot, the one chink in their armour. By one wall stood a small foetid pool where the castle sewer emptied out. Just visible through the stinking weeds and rushes he saw a barred tunnel only inches above the stagnant surface of the pool. It was here that he resolved to gain entry. I thought him mad but he was determined. That very night we crept through the dark streets of the city until we had reached the edge of the open ground surrounding the castle. There we waited as patrols bearing torches came and went until Ossian had worked out how long he had between their patrols. He stripped down to his skin, smeared himself with mud and placed his clothes and tools in an oilskin to protect them from the water and filth. With a final word of encouragement from myself he was off and slipped into the pool as silently as an otter.

All through that night I sat there and watched and waited for him, all the while expecting to hear a hue and cry raised from within, but as the sun began to rise I was forced from my perch and returned to the tavern with a heavy heart. That was the last I saw of him for two days.”

“Those two days were as long as any day I have ever known. Each minute seemed to last an eternity and I was trapped in a web of indecision. I have no idea how many times I found myself gazing at that accursed castle, or found my feet had led me to the street where Mendrum’s house stood. More than once I almost lost all control and came close to attacking it in some mad delusion that I could rescue Màiri from her imprisonment!”

“It was late on the second night since he had entered the pool as I sat forlornly in my room at the tavern that Ossian returned. I had never seen him so exhausted or unkempt, which is no surprise when he told me all that happened.”

He set the tankard down on the worn tabletop before him and rested his hands on either side of it as he shook his head in recollection. “This is what he told me and it still grieves me to recall it. Once in that stinking pond he managed to prise open the bars sealing the tunnel to discover it only wide enough to allow him to squeeze his way along it pushing his oilskin before him. It was just as well he could not see what he crawled through, the smell was bad enough with just enough space to keep his face above the reeking water and filth which surrounded him. It took him most of that night to find a route out of that sewer, a narrow pipe stretching upwards. It was the narrowness which allowed him to wedge his way up until he reached an iron grill which was locked. Happily locks were no obstacle to a man such as Ossian. He had that lock open in the blink of an eye and once out of the pipe found himself in the dungeons of the castle. The cells contained only the dead and the dying, clearly Greyshuck once he had thrown a man into those grim cells forgot all about them until their rotten corpses were dragged out weeks or months later! Ossian unlocked one such cell where only the dead lay and there cleaned himself as best he could safe from prying eyes, and dressed himself. By now he could go no further for he knew that dawn could not be far away. All through that endless day he hid himself in that cell, he had taken the precaution of locking himself inside it lest any gaoler think to check on the welfare of his guests. His precautions were not required though as not a soul thought to bring food or water to any prisoners who still lived.”

“Ossian sat there in silence while time passed by with only a long dead man for company until he estimated it was time to move forward. He unlocked the cell and made his way onwards. Time after time he was forced to hide himself as servants and guards came and went as he explored the castle but finally he found what he was looking for; Greyshuck’s private chambers. Here he was forced to use of all his skills as a thief to find and disarm an endless series of traps and alarms before he could breathe a little easier and explore the rooms given over exclusively for the baron’s pleasure. The tyrant himself was not within, clearly he kept late hours for darkness had long since fallen.”

“The Black Books were found in a hidden niche in one wall of the bedchamber protected by further traps and alarms all of which Ossian managed to find a way past. I doubt if there was another man anywhere in the Four Lands who could have managed it, but Ossian did! That was how good he was. The three books of names turned out to be no larger than those shopkeepers use to keep their notes in, we had thought they were sure to be massively tomes with iron clasps rather than these nondescript pocket-books! Still they held life or death for hundreds of Melnisgartens’ citizens within their pages. Thanking the Creator he had found them Ossian wasted not a minute longer in retracing his steps. At this hour of the early morning the castle was much quieter and Ossian managed to reach the dungeons without any real difficulty but as he stripped himself he heard men coming and was forced to hide himself once more in a cell with a dead man. Outside he could hear the gaoler beating some poor soul within an inch of his life before tossing him into another cell. He never so much as even glanced into the cell where Ossian nervously hid. Finally the man left but by then it was too late for Ossian to leave by the pipe, there was no way he could escape from the pond in broad daylight and he had no desire to spend a day lying in the stagnant water waiting below for darkness to return. So once again he spent a day in that cell forced to breathe in the stink of a dead man which was scarcely better than the foulness of the sewer awaiting him later.”

The old man hid a smile at the looks on the faces before him, all were clearly imagining the horror of the scene facing Ossian and the choice he had faced. Spending a day lying in others filth or sharing a grim cell with a corpse was not a choice anyone would gladly face. He took up his tankard and frowned slightly to discover it was empty. A fresh tankard was quickly supplied and he went on.

“Aye, so my friend sat there in darkness all through that day until he estimated it was time to make his escape. That was a thing about Ossian, he could judge the passage of time in utter darkness as well as any other man could working in his field below the light of the sun. With his clothes, tools and, of course, those three precious books all safely sealed within his oilskin he let himself out of the cell and lifted the grill to the pipe. Down he went into a darkness more complete than that within the cell until he lay full length in the water and filth of the tunnel. Once again he squeezed his way along its length until he reached the barred exit. Beyond he could see the lights of the city reflected on the stagnant surface of the pond and knew he was almost safe. Only the risk of the patrols now stood between him and freedom. He made his way beyond those bars and now hid himself within the weeds and rushes until he judged the time had come to escape.”

“Finally he could reach the shelter of the houses where he found a horse trough to wash the filth from himself and then dress again. From there he now joined me to show those damned books that had caused so much trouble. All that was left to do was pass the things on to Mendrum and retrieve poor Màiri from his clutches!” He shook his head once more. “If only life was that simple!”

“Ossian took the books and set out for Mendrum’s house a moment later with me by his side should he have need of my sword although he was sure that I would have no need for it. Together we stood before the man’s dwelling and hammered on his door until the house was roused from slumber. The door was finally opened by one of Mendrum’s hired thugs who unwillingly allowed Ossian to enter, I was only allowed to follow once I had been disarmed. Now with half a dozen of these large, well-armed men serving as escort were we taken to see Mendrum and Màiri to discover the truth behind the whole sorry tale.”

“In a finely appointed hall we found the fat merchant sitting behind his table with Màiri tied to a chair in another corner, what stopped Ossian rushing to her side was the fact that Mendrum was dead! His throat had been slashed open. Sitting calmly beside him was a middle-aged man in the finest clothes money could buy. It took us both a moment to realise that it was Baron Greyshuck himself who faced us. The whole thing had been a set-up. Mendrum had been used by Greyshuck to find the most skilled thief in the land in order to put his own security to the ultimate test. Now that he knew it could be breached heads would roll. Mendrum’s had just been the first of many in the days which followed. Why he had been killed I never learned. Ossian was now relieved of the books but found out that his skills would cost him more than he had hoped to pay. There would be no freedom for either himself or Màiri. Greyshuck had taken a fancy for her as the fairest maid in Melnisgarten and would have her as his own. Ossian was presented with a fresh choice to make. He could become responsible for Greyshuck’s security in order to make sure that no’one else could ever find a way within the walls of the castle, or he could join Mendrum with his throat cut! Poor Màiri was also given a stark choice. Become Greyshuck’s mistress willingly and Ossian and I would be allowed to live, or unwillingly and consign us to death.”

He released an endless sigh. “What choice did she have? Allow herself to become a tyrant’s plaything and spare the life of the man she loved or refuse knowing that it meant his death! And what choice did Ossian have? If he agreed there was always the chance he could retrieve the situation and save both Màiri and himself from Greyshuck. To refuse would mean that chance would never come and he would consign Màiri to a life without hope of rescue. In the end they agreed to the cruel terms offered them.”

“What happened next?” the young woman asked urgently.

“What happened next?” the old man replied with a small smile. “Well that is a story for another night.”


First published as part of The Fellowship of the King magazine.

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The Misfortunes of War


The signing of the Covenant in greyfriars Kirkyard

The signing of the Covenant in greyfriars Kirkyard

In A Rip in the Veil Matthew Graham reveals to Alex Lind, following her tumble through time from 2002 to 1658, that he enlisted as a dragoon when only a young man to fight for the Covenanters but was left so sickened by events that he returned home. This post is to shed some light on what he may have seen and done that so upset him, mainly the events following the battle of Philiphaugh.

However before we can describe that we need to travel even further back in time to the events that first induced him to take up the sword. Luckily I have Anna here to offer additional background on Matthew himself.

When King Charles I sought to force Episcopacy onto Scotland he was sowing the seeds that would eventually lead to his downfall. The introduction of the Common Book of Prayer in 1637 led to violent riots in Scotland which held true to their Presbyterian faith which set no man above any other. For the Presbyterians there could be no head of the church other than God himself. It also led to the signing of the National Covenant which called for a return to the values of the church prior to 1580 and a rejection of everything which was seen as interference between man and God, this included having the king in London dictate how Protestant Scots could worship.

A General Assembly of the Church of Scotland held in Glasgow in 1638 decided that the Bishops would be deposed and the new prayer book abolished. This was a direct challenge to Charles I as the Covenanters gathered strength and formed an army under James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose and Archibald Campbell, 8th Earl of Argyll to protect, and enforce, their determinations.

King Charles felt he had no choice now but to face this challenge and in 1639 raised an army of his own in England to put down these rebellious Scots. Gathering a force of 20,000 men he marched them north to Berwick-upon-Tweed. The Covenanting army of only 12,000 men under the command of Alexander Leslie, a veteran of the 30 Years War in the service of the Swedish monarch King Gustavus Adolphus. While these opponents sat in a stalemate there were skirmishes between other smaller Covenanting and Royalist forces in the north-east of Scotland.

Back on the border it became clear that neither army really wanted to fight. To break the deadlock an agreement was reached known as the Pacification of Berwick, which called for another General Assembly of the Church of Scotland where all the disputed questions could be settled amicably. This saw the end of the so-called First Bishop’s War.

Foot soldiers armed with pikes.

Foot soldiers armed with pikes.

This General Assembly simply restated their earlier demands and settled nothing between the Covenanters and the king.  In 1640 following moves by Charles to encourage support for further action in England against the troublesome Scots. His moves failed. Meanwhile the Covenanters crossed over the border under Leslie and Graham and quickly occupied Northumberland and County Durham forcing Charles to agree to leave these English counties in Scottish hands until he could find the money to pay the Scots expenses for invading his country! His position was not an enviable one. He was forced to recall Parliament in order to ask for the funds to pay off the Scots. Parliament used the opportunity to impeach and execute his chief supporters including Arch-Bishop Laud. The end of this second Bishop’s War had long reaching repercussions for Britain as a whole and paved the way for what would become the War of the Three Kingdoms (or the English Civil War as it used to be referred to)

Over the course of the next few years the Covenanters were busy between their forays into Ulster to protect Protestant settlers there from Irish rebels, and with keeping a wary eye on the growing warfare now raging between Royalists and Parliamentarians in England.

By 1643 with the Parliamentary forces having suffered a series of setbacks they turned to Scotland for support and signed a covenant with the Covenanters which the Scots hoped would see Presbyterianism replace Episcopacy in their southern neighbour. The involvement of the Scottish army was instrumental in restoring the fortunes of Parliaments’ army but had dire consequences back home in Scotland, and it here that Matthew Graham truly enters the story. So, Anna, what did Matthew think about all this?

Anna: First of all, we must remember that Matthew was a boy – born in 1630, he was young enough to believe there was glory in fighting for God, not quite realising that with fighting came death and blood, and troops running amok. Raised in a Presbyterian home by a father who’d proudly signed the Covenant and who most certainly was not about to have a king or a bishop as an intermediary between him and the Good Lord, Matthew grew up convinced that the Scottish Kirk was right, and he was far too young to comprehend the political aspects of the conflict. For Matthew, it was simple: his Kirk needed defending.

Armour worn by a Dragoon on display at Huntly House

Armour worn by a Dragoon on display at Huntly House

The Scottish Civil War 1644-45

A vicious civil war broke out across Scotland with former allies now become bitter enemies. James Graham, Marquess of Montrose found that he could not now bear arms against his king and raised an army to fight for Charles I. This force was composed of Irish Catholics and some Catholic clans from the Highlands. His use of Irish troops was an anathema to his former friends in the Solemn League of the Covenant, the fact that he won six battles between 1644 and 1645 did nothing to raise his esteem in their eyes.

Montrose’s victory at the Battle of Aberdeen on September 12th 1644 became notorious for the sacking of the city by the Irish troops who murdered over a hundred civilians including women and children during three days of looting, raping and slaughter.

The Covenanters were determined to have their vengeance for this outrage but suffered further defeats as Montrose rode south through Scotland leaving Montrose largely in control of Scotland. The majority of Covenanting forces were busy in England defeating the Royalist forces there. Montrose now determined to hurry to his King’s assistance.

 However his Highland clans refused to march south into England to fight there, instead they returned home to protect their homes and land from the Campbell’s. This left Montrose with a much reduced army of only some 500 Irish infantry and a small number of horse, who marched towards the border where they made camp near the town of Selkirk.

Heading north to meet them was a covenanting force of 5000 horse and dragoons (Matthew Graham would likely have been among them) and 1000 infantry. This army was commanded by David Leslie, General of Horse.

Anna: Matthew was shocked by what he perceives as his namesake’s betrayal. He was also more than dazzled by David Leslie, and was quite convinced he was big enough and strong enough to play a part in the events that would once and for all set the king in his place. Malcolm Graham, his father, had no intention of allowing his fool of a son to join up – Malcolm knew full well that when armies clash people die, and while he was proud of his son’s convictions, he also recognised them for being what they were: youthful dreams in which those who are right ultimately win, without soiling themselves in the process. Malcolm’s attempts to talk some sense into his lad fell on deaf ears, and one night Matthew just sneaked off…

On the 13th of September 1645, exactly one year on from the dark events at Aberdeen, Montrose and his men would suffer the cost of that victory.

The Battle of Philiphaugh

The Battle of Philiphaugh

Leslie advanced up the valley of the Tweed knowing his enemy was somewhere ahead but their location was unknown due to a thick mist that morning. He divided his force into two wings which advanced until the Royalists were spotted only half a mile ahead. One force was thrown headlong into attack while the other wind made a flanking manoeuvre. Despite the overwhelming numbers Leslie had on his side it proved to be a hard fight. Montrose’s Irish infantry were placed behind defensive dykes and hedges which held back at least two charges before the flanking attack proved decisive.

Montrose was unable to rally his now shattered troops despite bravely leading a cavalry charge against the Covenanting Dragoons. He was forced to flee the field with a small force of 30 mounted men who cut their way through the surrounding forces and rode for their lives.

For the infantry there would be no escape. Surrounded, vastly outnumbered and now leaderless they had no choice but to surrender. 100 Irish troops survived the initial fighting and they, along with their wives and children, were herded together in a field under the swords and guns of their captors.

Leslie had promised them quarter but some Presbyterian ministers who were with him forced him to remember the massacre at Aberdeen and the innocent blood spilled there. They persuaded him that his mercy was misplaced and an affront to God.

The death of the innocents

The death of the innocents

What followed was what drove Matthew Graham from the army and back to his family farm. The 100 men, and as many as 300 Irish women and children, were butchered in the field without mercy. The site of the battle, and slaughter, is marked by a simple stone monument.

It is no wonder that Matthew turned his back on this slaughter – but what happened then?

Anna: Around the 20th of September, a shocked Matthew finally crested the lane that led to his home. His father was in the yard, and at the sight of his son, Malcolm Graham did not berate or yell, he just opened his arms. Matthew fell into them, attempting to explain what he’d seen, and how he’d hidden under a bramble, hands clapped over his ears to stop himself from hearing, eyes squished shut not to see. It hadn’t helped much. Never again, Matthew told his Da – just as a troop of Horse came riding down the lane.

It didn’t help that Malcolm begged and wheedled, it didn’t help that Matthew’s mother cried, or that Matthew himself looked about to faint. He had joined up and was expected to ride with his troop. Their brethren in England needed help to once and for all squash this king and his Episcopalian ideas, and Matthew Graham, no matter that he was yet downy cheeked, had pledged himself to the cause. A weeping Matthew was dragged off, astride his horse. It would be close to four years before he saw his home again.

 From the idyllic young man who joined the Covenanters in a fit of youthful enthusiasm, to the battle hardened man who witnessed unimaginable horror – both at Philiphaugh and elsewhere – his was a heavy cross to bear. How much did this shape the man he became?

Anna: Matthew lost all illusions as to war. When he met Alex, he was still firmly convinced he had fought for the right cause, but what he’d seen done in the name of the cause sickened him. So instead of trusting blindly in his officers, Matthew quickly learnt to trust his own conscience, his own sense of morality – which is why he looked the other way when desperate royalists slipped away from the siege in Colchester – or why he risked dire punishment by smuggling precious water into the besieged town, knowing full well there were women and bairns in there.  No young man should spend his formative years in an army, but many did back then. Some lost touch with their humanity. Some, like Matthew, grew into men of convictions.

The betrayals he suffered later at the hands of his brother could only have added to the weight he bore on his shoulders.

Anna: Absolutely. Even worse, the men he had fought for turned their backs on him, more than happy to believe the concocted story Luke fed them. That hurt.

Thankfully his future lies with a beguiling young woman from the far distant future, and the hope that things can only get better.

Anna: And for now, let’s leave him with that hope, shall we?

To discover the wonders of The Graham Sage for yourself please visit Anna’s page on Amazon.

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And So It Begins…

This wonderful tour has been put together by IndieBRAG, here are the stops:

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Schedule for the Book Blitz

September 21- The Maiden’s Court

September 22- Of History and Kings

September 23- everyday happy foods

September 24-  Just One More Chapter

September 25- Layered Pages

September 25 – The Many Worlds of Charlene Newcomb

September 26th- Stuart S. Laing

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Anna Belfrage Banner-AB (2)

Blog Schedule

  1. September 21-

The Maiden’s Court

  1. September 22-

Of History and Kings


  1. September 23-

everyday happy foods

  1. September 24-

Just One More Chapter

  1. September 25-

Layered Pages

  1. September 25 –

The Many Worlds of Charlene Newcomb

  1. September 26th

Stuart S. Laing

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment